Turkeys and Thanksgiving and Such

November 21, 2012

This is a time when everyone (including my lovely family) is writing and talking about what they will cook and make for the Thanksgiving meal. As vegetarians and folks who are aware that many Native Americans refer to Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning, it is not quite as exciting for us.

Don’t get me wrong. I really love everyone taking time to be thankful and give attention to our families. I also am very aware that most folks, like us, don’t really tend to associate our holiday traditions with the supposed first Thanksgiving meal. Aside from the ridiculousness taught to most elementary school kids, pilgrims and Native Americans are not really part of Thanksgiving for many of us.

So I get that my feelings about Thanksgiving could be read as crazy liberal stuff, crazy vegetarian stuff. I am certainly not going to raise this with my family or neighbors because I don’t want to be seen as the strange one ruining the fun talking about Native Americans and trying to stand up for turkeys or something. We eat a vegan fall meal in our home on Thanksgiving and welcome anyone who wants to join us.

But, in a way, this is sort of my concern. Because violence get normalized when those who point out the violence (historical or present day) are the “weird” ones.

So, on the one hand, I want to avoid disrupting a nice day by good people who are just trying to have a good meal together. On the other hand, I want not to normalize the history and the killing that is quite literally at the center of this holiday, with the turkey in the middle of the table.

So here is the story we tell in our family around Thanksgiving:

Our son was born at home, at the end of a dead end road in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Our house was up against ten acres of woods and it was quiet and I can’t think of a better place for him to have been born. It was a chilly spring day that he was born. I wasn’t able to get out of bed for over 24 hours. Finally, when I got up for the first time my partner said, “Look out the window!!” I looked out into our back yard, which was right up against the forest and there were 14 wild turkeys, a deer, two bunnies, and a squirrel sitting out in our yard. It was misty out, early in the morning, the day after our son had been born.

We tell him that the animals in the forest knew that a new creature had been born in the woods and they came to welcome him. In a way, I’m sure that is not quite true. But, in another way, I have to wonder if it is. We had never seen any turkeys or deer until this moment – just the occasional bunny and our squirrels.

We tell our son that the turkeys were excited to see him especially because they are simple, peaceful animals and it is a message to us that we do best when we also live simple and peacefully.

We tell him the story of how, many years ago, people lived in the land we now call Plymouth, his birth place, and people came from Europe and wanted to live there too. We haven’t gotten to the details (i.e. the massacres) but in general we point out that it is hard when different people want to live in same place and we need to be thoughtful about how we live with others – the harm we cause and the ways we can lessen that. We tell him that his birth location and his welcome by the turkeys and other animals of the woods is a gift to him to remember the ways that we can live more peacefully, with a spirit of welcome. Eating animals in general seems strange to him since he has never eaten animals and rarely sees others do so. But, we hope that, over time, his birth story helps him remember his connection to animals and to history such that it calls him to make a different sort of world than the one we have.

I get that it might seem hippie or cooky to some. But, for us, it is a small way to say that there is enough killing in the world. There is enough pain and enough violence and we’re just going to do our best to lessen how much of that we take part in, recognizing that we can never fully extract ourselves from this broken world with broken systems of violence that we are a part of. But, at the very least, we’ll try not to celebrate it and try to opt out when we can.

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On Disciplining Children

November 7, 2012

I’ve learned so much from reading about other families’ experiences with raising children, so I try to take time to share when I can to share with those who might benefit. I am on a great local facebook group of parents (mostly moms) where there is a pretty civil tone and at the same time a really diverse array of parenting approaches. Someone asked tonight, “How do you discipline your kids? It is a little early, (my daughter is only one) but I was just thinking about different opinions regarding spanking, time outs and the like. What works for you?” There were a lot of traditional responses about time-outs, spanking, and natural consequences. This is (mostly with a few edits) how I responded and I thought I would share:

We don’t discipline at all and it has worked very well for our family. For us, this means no time-outs, no punishments, no raised voices, minimal coercion, no hitting or spanking, and limited positive reinforcement. I certainly think that there are many loving, caring ways to raise healthy and well-adjusted children, but we take the view that we treat him how we would like him to treat others. We don’t want him to learn that the way you get other people to do what you want is to punish them, coerce them, or hurt them. We want him to learn that you talk to them, kindly, and explain. You are patient. You reason with them and show by example. You compromise. And, ultimately, you have to honor the decisions that other people make – you shouldn’t force them or manipulate them. Our three-year old seems pretty well-adjusted and we often get compliments on how well he gets along with other children. Not to brag, but just to point out that there haven’t been any dramatic “wild child” consequences (as had been predicted by some family members when word of our approach got out).

I did not post this on facebook, but I would add that I think this approach is harder in the short-term. We certainly could do with more cooperation, less negotiation, and, generally, things just going more the way we want them to more often and more quickly. But, I really believe that our children learn how to be in the world by the way that they see their parents treat them and others. As our son cognitively develops, I think he understands why we do and don’t do certain things. Why we help each other, why we are kind to each other and that these are his own insights rather than just doing things because he knows that he should or that there are consequences. Giving him that space and time to come to conclusions on his own – and different from the ones we wish for – has been both hard, but extremely rewarding because when he does come to things on his own rather than as a result of pressure or threats, it is really a pretty amazing thing to witness.  For us, it is both about the process and the result. I get that children can “turn out well” if you parent in a different way. But, our child is a full person now. So, for me, it is not just about treating him this way because we want him to turn out well (although that is of course part of it) but because we really do believe that we should treat people how they want to be treated, even when they are a child.

I have learned a lot from years of reading Mothering Magazine (so sad that it isn’t published in hard copy any more), from reading blogs of parents who unschool and use non-violent communication, from mothering.com message boards, from listserves, from facebook groups, from books, and from kind families that are willing to openly share their struggles, successes and changes. We are always learning and changing. I’ve had to learn how to be more gentle with myself and with others. Thus, I put this out there not as a way to judge, but to say what has worked well and made our family life rich, rewarding, and in many ways quite peaceful. It is so nice that there are few battles and that I have given up being responsible for making my son be how he “should,” instead trusting him to learn and grow at a pace that make sense for him. Thus far, understanding and change comes. Not always right when I want it, but in his own time as he grows into who he is as a small person. It isn’t easy, but it really has been just about the highlight of my life, I think. I feel so peaceful and at ease about our parenting approach. And there is hardly anything in my life that I feel peaceful and at ease about, so it has been a huge gift.


On How We Treat Our Children

October 7, 2011

We don’t discipline our son. We don’t spank him. No time outs. No punishments of any kind. We’ve never raised our voice to him. We have never mocked him. We speak to him lovingly, sometimes firmly, sometimes laughing. We try to treat him how we would like to be treated. We try to respect the fact that he is a full person with his own desires and thoughts that are not somehow less because he is a young person. We are very attentive to the process of how we are, together, as a family and not just the “outcome.”

For the two years and six months that he has been with us, I don’t really tell this to many people. I’ve casually and gently said that we recognize that there are many ways to raise children and we’re not judging other people; that this is just what works best for our family. And in many ways, this is true. On the one hand, this world asks so much of us. It is so hard. It is hard to be a parent in a world that does not support families or parents or value children. It is hard to be in a world where there is violence all around us and there are 101 guides and experts telling us what to do, all different things each week and month. Where we are struggling financially, spiritually. Where we are tired. I have had, in so many ways, a lucky and privileged life and who in the hell am I to tell someone else that they are not raising their children the “right” way?

Yet. Yet. Yet yet.

I’ve been discussing with my mom our parenting choices. She is supportive of our approach and does her best to be with our son as we would be with him: gentle, loving, supportive, teaching, guiding, listening. But at the same time, she defends with rigor parents who spank their children or, for instance, who take their young children to hunt, arguing that those parents love their children and they are “turning out well” and so to each his or her own. We do it our way. They do it their way.

Shortly after an intense conversation about this, I listened to a gut-wrenching report on NPR about a study about parents yelling at their children and spanking them. Small children. Who would not do what their parents said or wanted. Like, I heard parents hitting their kids and screaming at them on the radio. This wasn’t abuse in any traditional sense (“other bad people”). It was just regular families like the one down the street, randomly sampled, and it showed how routine and typical it is for parents to hit small children and scream at them over both large and small issues.

And something changed within me. I will no longer hide how we parent. I will not pretend that I think our approach is one among many approaches – hit them or not, yell or not, be kind or not, kill animals for fun or not, watch violent television or not… all personal decisions about what is best for your family.

Because how we raise our children is not just about our families. It is about the world we live in. And hearing on NPR children being hit and screamed at… I mean, I am shocked that people are surprised we have a “bullying” problem in this country. It is not a “bullying” problem, it is a kindness problem. If we treat our children unkindly, do not show them the respect we wish them to show others, and use violence with them, how are we to ever expect that they will grow up and reject violence? And unkindness?

I have been so profoundly lucky to have access to and read about people’s ideas on parenting. I think the most influential to me have been Mothering Magazine and a blog by Kelly Hogaboom. I have also been so lucky to have a partner who is not only with me on this, but teaches me about this – that trusted and continues to trust that when we explain things gently and repeatedly to our son, he will understand this in his own time and it will be real understanding rather than something he does because he is threatened.

This does not mean we are perfect (oh. my god. are we not. perfect.) or that we don’t mess up all the time or that we are not missing big important things that he will need therapy for someday. Or that it is not harder to do it this way. That it is not sooooo hard. This does not mean that I will go around glaring at parents who act differently than I think they should. Or will I be some sort of consensual family living evangelist. But it does mean that I am no longer going to pretend “I do it my way and you do it your way and, hey, it is all just fine.” It isn’t just fine. I have been lucky that people have been willing to gently and with deep compassion challenge me to be a different kind of person and different kind of parent. They risked that I would feel judged, that I would be nasty, that I would reject them. And I am thankful that they risked that. I think I will be willing to risk that in my life now.


Occasional Post from Absentee Blogger

April 19, 2010

Even though I no longer actually write down the posts that I compose in my head, somehow it brings me relief and pleasure to occasional briefly write about what I would write about if I would make time. 

All is well at Camp Baby Toddler. Although I know all parents feel a bit overwhelmed and crazed with their cuddle bug, I feel like somehow the fact that our little one does not sleep ever ever ever more than eight hours per twenty-four hours legitimizes, somehow, the ensuing madness and chaos that is our life. Or at least makes me feel less inept. At our Mama-Baby play group last week a mother was kindly trying to give me advice (which I appreciated, useless as it was) about how they try to include their son in daily activities (thus not “over-doing” the adjustment of their own needs to their son). But, she told me, “After 7:30, then that’s our time. We stick to that pretty clearly.” I had a hard time not spitting my water out in hysterical, semi-diabolical laughter since we feel extremely lucky if our boy goes to sleep by 10pm. It is usually more like 11 or 12. And yes, I know I know, we could just put him in a bed and let him cry until he falls asleep of exhaustion and discouragement. But we just can’t do this for a range of reasons, and that is that, so our life is a whirlwind of lovely, crazy, hard, rewarding, sleep-deprived madness.

If I was not studying for my comprehensive exams and being a parent and sort of trying to keep our house from turning into a public health disaster, I would write about our church’s transition and growth as our minister of many years retires (and what is like to be one of the few young families in a church of mostly retired families), my on-going struggle to make sense of my relationship with Christianity, and how to graciously and kindly deal with watching your parents get a bit older and transition into different ways of being/different approaches to life.

Also, as a journey along on this whole parenting thing, I really learn a lot, especially from three blogs that I’ve added to my (generally shrinking) Google reader: Ph.D. in Parenting, Raising My Boy Chick and Kelly Hogaboom. Might I especially recommend this recent post, “on which it somehow did not take a turn for the Awkward,” by Kelly Hogaboom to OWL facilitators and parents far and wide considering how to teach our children about sexuality.


The Hardest Choice

June 8, 2009

The article below is a beautiful and heart-breaking piece about abortion past the first trimester. It is so difficult for me to understand how people cannot hear stories like this.

The Hardest Hardest Choice: Why I Had a Second-Term Abortion.


Life With Baby

June 2, 2009

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard

I am trying not to be worried that my house will never be as clean as I want it. Crumbs are not poisonous. They are not specks of doubt flung around announcing my inability to manage my life.

I was telling my partner – I need to think in terms of sanitation..the house must not pose a health hazard – rather than trying to actually keep it clean. I can understand a bit more now where good old Betty Friedan was coming from.

My sweet angel wants to be held. Always. I am not of the cry it out school of parenting. Or the school that thinks you can spoil your baby. He needs what he needs. He need reassurance. He needs my arms and my breast and my heartbeat. Still adjusting to his life that is his own and not 100% woven together with mine. As I said in an earlier post: It is flattering, but exhausting.

Yet. I want to life a life that is about love and peace and gentleness and kindness. Maybe I am some sort of cliche, but these things actually have meaning for me – they are not words – but a life that I long for and believe in. And it cannot be lived if I am running around like a mad woman muttering about papers that are not written or sleep that is not had or crumbs that have not been dust-busted.

So, I try to lose myself in my mesmerization. Let myself feel it. The soft skin. The wonder of our boy. The way his eyebrows are just little fuzzes that I can rub against my cheek while he is sleeping on my shoulder. Just let him sleep on my shoulder rather than try to put him down in order to do something else.

The way his breath smells sweet. The magic of watching him learn how to giggle.

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

So I will do what I need to do – the work, the school, the cleaning, the errands – as I can. But when I cannot, I will smell his sweet baby breath. Sit and wait for the wild turkeys to come and get the corn we have put out for them.

Pray.

Breathe.

Cuddle.

And try to let go.


New Year New Year: a bit of rambling/visioning/thinking and an annoucement of sorts

January 10, 2009

Hello 2009. We are 9 days into you. I wonder how this will go?

I tend not to be a big new year resolution person because I am not really good at keeping big promises and because I am always trying to improve things and I adding to that isn’t really so helpful. Really, I don’t know. I just don’t do them much. (As I write this, I realize I did it two years ago right here on this blog where I vowed not to buy new clothes for a year and I stuck with it very well for five months. But usually I don’t do resolutions, and maybe my failure five months into my 2007 resolution helped to solidify this.)

Anyway, so I guess I want to reflect a bit on the upcoming year and how I would hope that it might go for me and my family.

So I guess I am sort of private and this blog isn’t really a personal journal, but it I suppose I will want to write about this more at some point so:

drum roll

is about a month and a half until we welcome a little baby into our family. So that makes for a very different year. I have been reading about pregnancy since I was 15, and excited about having a baby since I was old enough to hold my baby cousins. I’ve always wanted a family and it has always been a big part of how I envision my life.

I would read about or talk to women who would say that they didn’t like being pregnant, and I would think, “They must not love it enough. They must not have read enough about all the natural remedies that can make it better. They must not have a midwife and a doula and a support system.”

Until I got pregnant and have been very very very sick ever since. I do not believe in a God that teaches us lessons, but if I did, I am sure this would be one of God’s humbling lessons to Elizabeth about how you can’t control everything in your life and you shouldn’t judge other people so harshly, especially until you have walked a mile or seven and half months in their shoes.

I should probably clarify that there are women who have been more miserable than me in pregnancy and, as far as we know, nothing is really really wrong. I have not been hospitalized. Baby seems healthy. I seem healthy (enough). But every day is a day to get through. Which does not facilitate the pregnancy pre-baby, round belly, pregnancy joy that I had been envisioning.

Soooo, my point here is that in the New Year, I am going to try to let go a bit more and realize that I cannot read and plan my way out of the struggles and road bumps in life, and that sitting counting the hours and the days until something is over or better does not make for mindful, joyful living. In high school, it was “Oh, how I can’t wait until college.” In college, “Oh how I can’t wait to settle down with a partner and be done with college.” In my Masters studies, “Oh, how lovely that will be if I can get into a Ph.D. program.” Each semester: “Oh, how nice it will be to be done with papers.” And, as much as I have tried to not think it, it has often been, “Oh, how wonderful it will be for the baby to be born and not be pregnant anymore.”

And so goes our life.

My life has, far too often, been about achievement. I wanted to be the line leader in Kindergarten. The best reader. The best community service do-er. Get more scholarships. Seem more special. Write better papers. Be the best future minister.

In one way, of course, this is good. It is good to work hard, right? To do good. But, of course, we can do it too much.

And, at the end of the day month year, our wall is covered with diplomas and our drawers are stuffed with A+ papers and the congregation loves the sermon and we have missed What We Are Here For. Which, for me, is to love others. To be loved. To drink hot chocolate and hear others’ stories and be present to people and be present to myself. To cuddle the cats. To love the colors of the trees. To ease the suffering of others.

I have seen this so much in the last months as I tried to not collapse finishing my classes, waddling around like a sick hippopotamus on speed trying to read enough, write enough, do enough, and watch myself be perky and cheerful to others, as if I was watching some other person who could not turn off her fake cheer and show how tired she was.

I do not want to show this sort of life to our baby. I do not want to miss first coos, and the magic of a baby growing up while I scramble to Do It All. And I do not want him or her to learn that to live is to Do Good and Do Right and Achieve. I have not spent enough time playing. Or laughing. Or drinking hot chocolate. And I want my little one to do this more.

I know this is cliched and I almost don’t want to post it because it seems to me like it could be some sort of email spam story about treasuring our friends and our life and our children. All that is missing is a note at the end that if you don’t pass this on to 10 people you will be cursed.

It reminds me of a thousand sermons about being in the moment. A thousand books about Women Who Do Too Much and our rushed 21st Century World and how we need to Slow Down.

Perhaps there is a reason that there are so many damn books and sermons on this – because it is hard.

So, as we prepare to welcome a new little person into our lives, I have given myself a little new year nudge, realizing that it will never be a goal I will Achieve, but that it is an important path to be on and remind myself of.

Be present. Be gentle. Love. Let myself be loved. Slow down. Remember what will be important as I look back on my life.

Mess up.

Try again.

Be thankful.

Amen.