Care & Feeding of Us

The roar of hammering and sawing has begun! The reshaping of the kitchen is underway! The reducing of our whale-size house and belongings–down to a respectful salmon-size, is practically levitating.

And, right in the middle of this ocean of movement…. comes a poem. A poem that has me rocking back and forth on a stair, in an empty house, in an evening sunbeam, crying. It gently strips away everything, back to a key ingredient for everyone I know–and especially the elderly and the teens I know and love. Love yourself. Love yourself. You only get one life, and its completely yours, for your own creative meandering. Embrace the whole agonizingly exquisite thing.

LOVE AFTER LOVE

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

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What is a Slow Life?

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#slowlife

I recently saw this hashtag on Instagram and a photo that embodied it. Since then, I’ve been on a big kick to figure out what it means. Here’s a succinct, beautiful description:

“Most of us today are consumed with speed. We work quickly, play quickly, love quickly – all while multi-tasking. We drive in the fast lane and eat fast food. We text instead of talk, pursue quantity instead of quality, and swallow life whole instead of taking the time to savor it.

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All this speed takes a toll. Our relationships suffer. Our productivity suffers. Our finances suffer. And our health, both mental and physical, suffers.
The antidote is to slow down. Yet with so much speed embedded in our DNA, slowing down can be a real challenge.

The very word has negative connotations. When we think of slow we typically think that someone is dumb, or that we are falling behind.

But in the context of how we live our lives, slow can save us.

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Carl Honoré, whom the Huffington Post calls the godfather of the Slow movement, says, “the central tenet of the slow philosophy is taking the time to do things properly, and thereby enjoy them more.”

So slow isn’t dumb, it’s purposeful. And slow won’t cause you to fall behind, it will allow you to catch up – with your friends, your family, your digestive system.

A slow life restores balance. Some things we do want to do quickly, but not everything. Ride your bike. Take a walk. Hell, stay home.

In a slow life you will pursue mastery in your work. Gaining comprehensive knowledge and expert skill will become more meaningful than mindlessly climbing a ladder.

Likewise, your work will not define who you are. Granted it’s a significant part, but only a part. Your character is more important.

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In a slow life you will gather with your friends and family and laugh, cry, hug, cheer, and simply be there for one another. You will listen as earnestly as you speak. Your relationships will come to mean more to you than your job.

In a slow life you will focus on food. You will value its cultivation and preparation as much as you relish the meal. When you think of food you will automatically think of friendship, rather than associate it with something fast.

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In a slow life you will choose a home and a community that nurtures you and your lifestyle. Quality and comfort will become the touchstone of your physical surroundings.

In a slow life time will become circular, rather than linear. As opposed to a simple unit of measurement, the concept of time will expand for you as anxiety turns to joy.

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A slow life is a simple – though it need not be a spartan – life. The quality of the “things” in your life will come to mean so much more than the quantity. Clutter means chaos.

A slow life is more healthy, more jubilant, and more compassionate. It is less stressful, less taxing, and less harmful.

A slow life is a better life.”

-Duncan Hurd

The central tenet of the slow philosophy is taking the time to do things properly, and thereby enjoy them more. 

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Forget College: invent yourself

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Has anyone else noticed how much pressure and scrutiny is coming down on our teens? To design a profound life by age 18?  By senior year, you better have a great, big, status-oriented career goal to tell everyone about. And trust me, people are going to coming out of the woodwork asking.  Teens are no longer inheriting their family business or farm—they’re expected to invent their lives starting at about 17.  So much pressure.  Just 30 years ago, most senior high students weren’t asked, so where are you going to college? What are you going to do with your career? The obvious response these days, from about 90% of boys my son’s age is: “I don’t know. I sure like playing video games though.”

We were at the beach, ironically to get senior photos taken, and some guy in his 50’s wanders by and says “So where are you going?” Me, the photographer and my son stood in silence, surprised at this short-hand.  I found it annoying. His presumptuous, middle class, college-bound, flippancy. Its classism.

I liked my son’s steady response: “oh, I’m sticking around here.”

But the pressure. I’m stung by it every day. You see, my son is not going to college. He’s doing a gap year, or maybe many gap years. As far as any of us can tell, he doesn’t know what to do except go get a joe-job and start earning money. He wants a car and an apartment with friends. This is about as far as he can see. Okay, he has applied to several fire stations in the area, hoping to get sponsored for fire fighting training. But. He may not get chosen.

We decided as a family a ways back, that a degree for a degree’s sake isn’t worth the debt. Wait until you know what you want to study or specialize in and then commit –heart and bank. But, holy cow, the river floweth with parents and eager seniors all around us–heading off to college! And we’re standing on a rock in the river feeling the undertow, the pressure, the fear of NOT sending him off to college.

Meanwhile, in Italy, where we just visited for a couples weeks, Georgio is graduating with honors from his high school, and guess what? There’s NO college for him. There’s NO pressure for college. There’s NO jobs beyond labor jobs in Italy. Interesting huh? The country has no money, no strong economy, no big trade supplies. This was shocking to learn, and for about an hour I wished we were Italian and that the only expectation on my son was to head out to prune the olive grove.

Life is long, and our paths are non-linear, and we change and grow and suddenly know and act from that knowing. This idea calms me down, and helps me trust my son has his own process, his own life path, his own perfect unfolding, in perfect timing. Here’s a great quote by Anais Nin:

“We do not grow absolutely chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations”

Here’s a painting that starts as a self portrait and ends up wildly different than I originally planned. That’s my life in a nutshell too. There’s not one element of my life today that I imagined for myself when I was 18, 25, or 29. Only at age 30, did did I begin making a choices that show up in my life today at 52.

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“One of the most widespread superstitions is that every human has their own special, definite qualities: That a person is kind, cruel, wise, stupid, energetic, apathetic, etc. People are not like that… we are like rivers… every river narrows here, is more rapid there, here slower, there broader, now clear, now cold, now dull, now warm. It is the same with people. Every one of us carries the germs of every human quality, and sometimes one manifests itself, sometimes another, and the person often becomes unlike themselves, while still remaining the same person.”

~Leo Tolstoy

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In the end, I’m not sure who I was painting. It started out as a self portrait. But, I had to make changes, I had to respond to something inside of me while I was painting, that would help make the next dab of paint make sense. It was all in the moment. In the end, I can look back and scan for meaning. But, like life, I was just doing what was in front of me at the time.

“Do I contradict myself? I contain multitudes.”  ~Walt Whitman

 

The Sound of Yourself~ Graduation

Well the time has come. My son has finished high school. He has a diploma. He graduated. We held a graduation party and invited friends from all sorts of previous school backgrounds. Its a rite of passage for our son and us, and for everyone. For me, it marks another shift in our relationship to him, and his growing independence toward being his own person. I feel a mixture of melancholy, relief, and pride.

In the end, there’s a big difference between school and learning, and we were creative and daring about both. Thank you to the Montessori and Waldorf communities, homeschool organization, and Running start/Whatcom community college programs.

Thank you to the teachers–inside and outside of school–who built a relationship with him, reaching him and teaching him the most.

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Here is a quote that deeply resonates with me and has been a guiding principle these past few years, as we strove and struggled to make sense of what a true education would be for him:

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Creating a Secure Relationship

Relationships. Relationships. Relationships. Life seems to be full of them. In intimate relationships, how do we get really good at them? Lots of wonderful new study and science on attachment has some useful insights. Here are a couple of articles that I’ve blended for brevity and usefulness by Lon Rankin and Stan Tatkin. (First there’s an overview, and then there’s 10 helpful commandments. Italics are mine). “Every species of mammal uses the limbic system—the social, emotional, relational part of the brain—to create strong bonds that provide safety and a felt sense of security. Adult-child bonding is especially crucial for the development of the complex human brain and nervous system, and the development of an internal felt sense of security in the world—both real and perceived. When parents are too often inattentive of their child’s emotional needs, this bonding does not happen optimally, and the injury of insecurity can prevail.

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Memories, especially negative ones, are extremely powerful in influencing our perception of the world and our behaviors. Our subjective experience is colored by our past. All experiences, at any age, involving fear and threat are “velcroed” into the memory system in the interest of self-protection, but memories from childhood have particular potency. Children do not survive very long without parental attention and protection, and times of parental inattention, misattunement, and neglect are perceived as profoundly threatening. These memories become deeply wired into the brain and imprinted in the mind. (This is the basis for the value of inner child work in modern psychotherapy.) Many people in relationships are reacting from these often implicit and unconscious, velcroed threat memories, and their activation in everyday.

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…understanding the workings of this internal safety and security system, and the importance of this area…couples can move from projected, negative, internalized relational blueprints toward secure functioning within the primary partnership. In moving couples in this direction, partners “hold each other in mind,” especially in these places of old injury. They can take on the mantle of the attending parent in these areas of distress by holding their partner and their partner’s history in mind.

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…secure functioning is characterized by a balance of valuing both self and the relationship. Therefore, we encourage couples to tend their own historical and present-time hurts, as well as be there for their partner’s hurts. Two strong, secure, internalized partners regulate these past injuries and their repetitive projected activations together. Old hurts are securely attended to in a mutual manner, rather than being allowed to take over and threaten the partnership.” -Lon Rankin

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Here are Stan Tatkin’s fabulously securing tips for smooth functioning relationships:

10 Commandments of a Secure Relationship

1. Thou shalt protect the safety and security of thy relationship at all costs.
2. Thou shalt base thy relationship on true mutuality, remembering that all decisions and actions must be good for thee AND for thine partner.
3. Thou shalt not threaten the existence of the relationship, for so doing would benefit no one.
4. Thou shalt appoint thy partner as go-to person for all matters, making certain thy partner is first to know—not second, third, or fourth—in all matters of importance.
5. Thou shalt provide a tether to thy partner all the days and nights of thy life, and never fail to greet thy partner with good cheer.
6. Thou shalt protect thy partner in public and in private from harmful elements, including thyself.
7. Thou shall put thy partner to bed each night and awaken with thy partner each morning.
8. Thou shalt correct all errors, including injustices and injuries, at once or as soon as possible, and not make dispute of who was the original perpetrator.
9. Thou shalt gaze lovingly upon thy partner daily and make frequent and meaningful gestures of appreciation, admiration, and gratitude.
10. Thou shalt learn thy partner well and master the ways of seduction, influence, and persuasion, without the use of fear or threat.

Painting & Parenting 


I’ve been painting and pondering parenting. On Father’s Day. Here’s a gorgeous thought from William Martin in The Parent’s Tao Te Ching~ dedicated to Howard, who’s way better at this, than me:

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Be careful of rules for your children. Rules diminish responsibility. Be careful of rewards for your children. Rewards diminish self esteem. Be careful of punishments for your children. Punishments diminish trust.

Let lessons be imposed by the nature of things, not by your own agendas or your own needs…

Don’t tell me this is overly simple. Perhaps the most courageous act of any parent’s life will be that moment when, even though it breaks your heart, you stand aside and let your children take the natural consequences of their actions.”

 

Here’s the final version of this painting, recycling a canvas, with the hand and eyes finally capturing her mood. 🌿

 

3 Steps to Disconnecting from Our Phones and Reconnecting with our Teens

From Brainstorm, by Dan Siegel~a positive examination of the teenage brain~

January 10, 2014 Mental Health, Mindfulness, Parenting

“These days it’s hard to hang out with parents of teenagers without hearing disparaging comments about how digital devices are devouring our kids’ time and attention. Or how our driving adolescents are driving us mad when they text on the highway, risking life and limb for the sake of a quick LOL or WITW or OMG. All for the sake of what (SOW? I don’t think that one will catch on)? If I hadn’t myself sometimes fought the urge to check my own phone in response to that tempting buzzing sound, I’d find this pattern of repeated dangerous behavior something unique to the teen years.

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The media is filled with concerning comments about the need for curbing how much time is spent interacting with smartphones, tablets, and computers. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s seen a young parent text for blocks with their infant in their arms. Or been in an elevator full of people who, instead of engaging in the informal conversations that connect us to each other in community, are each on their gadgets, typing furiously away.

One thing that emerges from the scientific framework of interpersonal neurobiology that I work in as a psychiatrist and educator is that our self, our mind, is not only a product of our body and its nervous system, including the brain, but it is also a relational process. What this means is that we are not only shaped by what our brain does, but we are created by our relationships.

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Relationships can be defined by how we share information with one another. And that exchange of information is a two-way street.

One of the experiences that may arise from texting, for example, is a sense of connection with others, a sense of being seen, and even a sense of defining who we are. We are certainly shaped by our relationships—even through our social media accounts—giving us a sense of not being alone in the world.

And even more to the point, these communications reveal how our sense of identity can be created by our connections.

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As a father, I have found it an exciting and sometimes overwhelming challenge to weave the studies of development—how we become who we are—with parenting practices in our home. When our kids were younger, my wife and I decided to try to walk the talk by engaging in what I call reflective dialogues, conversations that focus on the inner nature of our mental lives. This means in our conversations we SIFT our experience by exploring four things that are the life of the mind beneath behavior:

Sensations

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Feelings, and

Thoughts.

Too often I have found, both with friends and with patients, that the inner mental life becomes lost amidst a bombardment of external information.

The Internet can contribute to this surface attention as it often distracts us from going deeper with each other in real time, focusing instead on one-way visual and auditory inputs that have a sense of being never-ending. If we’re not careful, these kinds of surface streams of stimuli can give us a sense of never being done, never being complete, never having accomplished something that is finished. We feel bad, and we are left empty at the surface.

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With such a clear vision from modern science, what can we do to make life on the road safer, and life at home in the face of the lure of the Internet more connecting? Here are three simple solutions:

1. Engage your own “mindsight” circuits.

When we SIFT the mind, we engage the “mindsight” circuits that support how we have insight into our own inner lives, and empathy for the inner experience of others. Mindsight is something that can give us a deeper sense of knowing others, and of knowing ourselves. It helps to begin with yourself, to know your own inner world, so that you begin with making sense of your inner life.

2. Turn off the gadget and turn toward each other.

When we engage with others in reflective dialogues, including with friends and family, we are making time to explore the inner life of each person, to share the SIFTing of our minds, and to find meaning in the connection. That’s a conversation between two people, an interactive experience that goes beneath the surface to illuminate the inner life of the mind.

3. Focus on reflective dialogues with those around you.

What we focus our attention on shapes the brain. Science would support the view that if we can have more reflective dialogues that engage our mindsight circuitry, we’ll have a deeper sense of who we are. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have developed an inner sense of clarity that will make it more likely we won’t be so desperate to respond to that phone call or that text while barreling down the road. That would be a great change for everyone.

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by Dan Siegel

Disciplining young children with “3 Tickets”

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Does your young child repeatedly get back out of bed, leave their room, refuse to go to sleep? Does your young child refuse to share with a sibling, constantly bicker or squabble with a sibling? Even hit? Do they refuse to eat the healthy food you prepare for them? Do they refuse to help clean up in a timely manner? Do you find yourself repeatedly giving the same request, or getting into power struggles with a very small person? You are not alone.

images-6I once came from the parenting philosophy “Let children unfold in their own glory, as they are naturally harmonious and cooperative young beings.” Over time, I realized kids actually need tons of, well, parenting.  With the amount of influence TV and other children/families have on our kids, our soft touch and gentle coaxing may not be enough. Most kids need lots of explicit information about our values and expectations and then they need a system of clear consequences for not cooperating.

imagesHere’s one of my favorite ideas from parenting expert John Rosemond called “The Ticket Method”:

Here’s a brief summary of the ticket method: List no more than three specific misbehaviors on an index card (e.g. throwing tantrums, refusing to obey first-time instructions, being mean to the dog). Those are the misbehaviors you are targeting for elimination. Post that list on the refrigerator. Stand your child in front of the list and go over the new system, with clarity and good cheer, explaining what happens if they “lose” all of their tickets.

Next, using a magnetic clip, clip a certain number of ticket-shaped pieces of colored construction paper to the refrigerator, above the target behavior list. The child begins every day with, say, five tickets. Every time he/she acts out one of their target behaviors, the parent vocalizes that out loud and walks dramatically to the refrigerator and removes a ticket.  Kids hate that.

Remember: the first four tickets are “free.” They are the child’s “margin of error” for any given day. When the child loses their fifth (last) ticket, they spend the remainder of the day in their room (first reduce the room’s entertainment value) and go to bed an hour early. As the child’s behavior improves, losing fewer and fewer tickets per day, reduce the margin of error gradually, but to no less than two. Or, keep the same number of tickets but add more target behaviors.

Another favorite application of the Ticket Method: When kids are bickering in the backseat of the car. Pull over, hand them each 3 tickets and tell them: “You may not argue or raise your voices for the rest of the car ride. The child who still has a ticket when we arrive at the destination, gets to go to bed at the regular time tonight. The child who has no tickets left will go to bed right after dinner.”

Tip:  Things get worse before they begin to get better. When things get worse, parents often conclude that the strategy isn’t working and the system, whatever it is, promptly collapses. As a result, the child learns how to get her parents’ goat, and the next time they try a systematic approach to the behavior problems, the child tests even more strenuously. And around and around we go. Stick with it.

Tip: Choose a small amount of specific misbehaviors, and only take tickets for those target behaviors. Or things will spin out of control fast.

images-7Tip: Be super clear with yourself and partner about exact consequences before setting this system in motion with your child. Example: no play date, or no playing outside after school, or going to bed early (my personal favorite), no screen time, etc.  Nothing messes things up worse, than parents who triangulate and fight about this stuff in front of  kids. Avoid that.

I know its hard to believe that kids thrive on this kind of clarity, this kind of authority, and this kind of discipline system. But honestly, its 10 times better than yelling, nagging, complaining, losing your cool, living in chaos, screeching and crying in front of them, or taking a lot of breaks from them because they “stress you out.” Create clarity in your home. Create a system with consequences. Then you can really “chill out.”

Ideas? Questions? Feedback? I’m eager to hear.

Parenting tool #2: Clarifying consequences leads to good behavior

In Parenting tool #1, we covered how kids should be doing a chore a day, and how this leads to being a good household citizen. Now lets explore consequences– when kids are not meeting mom and dad’s expectations.

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Expectations are the behaviors we consciously and unconsciously have of our kids. You will be polite, you will push your dishes in the sink, you will pick up after yourself, you will put in 100% effort, you will get good grades, you will be a good sport, you will balance screen time with hobbies, you will do your chores without being nagged, you will not swear, you will eat all of your dinner, you will stay in your bed and go to sleep, you will cooperate, you will play fair, etc. etc.

Tip: Try to make your expectations explicit with your kids. I personally used to let a lot of stuff hang in the ether, like my own dad did, assuming my kid just understood my expectations. And when he went off track I was upset,  emotional, and barely constructive. As a result, my kid was usually recovering from his own reaction, and rarely learning my expectations.

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Example: my son invites a couple young friends over for a playdate, eats in the kitchen with them, goes from room to room playing with everything everyhwere, and then the other kids go home. My son heads upstairs for some screen time….leaving behind a trail of mess. I go up and yell and lecture about all the mess, toys, food, etc. and he cries and feels bad. What should I have done instead? Sat with him at about age 6, and said something like this:

“When your friends come over, you are all responsible for picking up after yourselves: in the kitchen, in the living room, in your own room. Before they leave, ask for everyone’s help to pitch in and clean up. If you do not ask for their help, then you will have to do it on your own. If you fail to clean up, then you will go to bed an hour early for a week.” He would have asked questions and I would have helped problem solve them.  After that, if he failed to clean up,  I would merely be a consultant on the matter, sending him to bed early–and not a lecturing, angry, over-bearing mom.

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Consequences:

Remember, we are not trying to be our children’s friend, we are the authority figures. Of course we love them deeply, but there are several key ingredients to remaining a strong authority for your kids, and one of them is enforcing consequences– consistently. Its hard! Have a talk with your kid about what you expect, and the consequences for not meeting that behavior. And then consistently enforce the consequence if they drop the ball.

Example: Ending the morning chaos routine

Make up a short list of tasks, age appropriate, for children to do. Get dressed, eat breakfast, put dishes in sink, brush teeth, get own coat, supplies for the day, and back pack, and be ready to leave the house at 7:45 am (have a digital clock handy for them to read). Sit down with them and go over the list. Answer any questions and problem solve with them. Let them know, “Every minute past 7:45 that you are still getting ready, you will go to bed 10 minutes earlier that night.” Six minutes = an hour earlier. They’ll complain and moan, but as Rosemond stresses: “give a latitude of attitude.” This means kids can even huff off and slam a door. Let it go, you’re clearly winning this one, and this is them firing up their engines!

Every morning the privilege of going to bed at the regular hour is returned to them. Unless they are 1 minute past 7:45 am the next morning.

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Example: Getting kids to bed at a regular time

“I expect you guys to have your pajamas on, teeth brushed, use the bathroom, wash hands, and be in bed ready for books by 8:30, or you’ll go to bed an hour earlier tomorrow night.”  If at 8:30 they are in pajamas but got sidetracked chasing each other around, then the next night they go to bed an hour early. Each night, the privilege of going to bed at the regular hour is returned~but only for those who can be ready by 8:30 the next night.

Expectation: Walk dog after school each day 10 mins
Consequence: stay inside after school the next day

Expectation: forgetting to do 5 min daily chore
Consequence: going to bed an hour early

Expectation: playing cooperatively with siblings
Consequence: BOTH children to bed an hour early (which will enrage the innocent one, but avoid the tattle-tale and triangle that forms with a parent)

Are you starting to see a theme? LOL. Yes, many behaviors can be modified quickly by suggesting that more sleep may help with the behavior you’re expecting. Children HATE going to bed early, and it becomes a fabulous currency with them. Of course there are other consequences such as losing play dates, staying in after school, loss of screen time, extra chores, losing a sleepover, etc.

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Be consistent. Be consistent. Be consistent. You will be so sorry, and lose so much authority if you aren’t consistent with consequences.

A few last nuggets:

The expectation is only as good as the consequence. Think ahead, or you’ll have off-track behavior, and no consequence planned. Suddenly the verbal struggle begins. Maybe even yelling. Which ultimately reduces your authority. Name your expectations, the consequences for the not meeting those, and be clear.

Make sure the consequence fits the crime. Making a child go to bed an hour early for a month, because they forgot to feed the cat, will wreck your child’s trust in you.

Make sure the consequence places the burden on the child’s shoulders and not your own. Example: mom and dad were looking forward to a quiet evening together, but Michael’s consequence is not going to that sleep over, and they feel obligated to give up their evening. No. Get a sitter, set him up in his own room, or delay the consequence until the timing is right for YOU.

As always, I’m eager to hear your feedback, input, and ideas on this hot topic!

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