Storm Clouds in our Children’s Communities

It has been awhile since I’ve posted.  Suffice it to say that Life happened once again priorities shifted to give time to family.  I’m joyful in being able to be a part of an extended family who I can share with, endure with and celebrate with.
I’m finding that I can now resume some of my previous routines, one of which is posting here.      On the last leg of our car trip last year, we managed to drive the Highway to the Sun in Glacier National Park on the last day the road was open before closing for the season.  The workers at the Welcome/Information Center were scrambling to pack everything and “get off the mountain.”  One of the oncoming storm images my husband captured remains with me:

100_1449      There is a storm a’ coming.  You can see it, feel it, taste it.  It is frightening in its awesome sense of power and carelessness of the lives it will touch and impact.  There appears that there is nothing an individual can do to change any aspect that the storm will wrought on those in its path..

Here’s the storm that was presented yesterday afternoon in my home state:

  1. IMG_5129-620x465    Marysville, WA.  I cried as I read the news reports coming out every few minutes.  The absolute burden of horrific change for so many people.  No going back and changing the outcome, no ability to pretend another school shooting had not occurred.
    Unlike the storm clouds in Glacier National Park–we CAN DO something about our community of children.  We can stand up as individuals, as members of groups to DEMAND that we build safe communities based upon the acknowledgment of the following:
    1. attachment
    2. belonging
    3. social equality
    4. restorative justice
    5. expectation of a non-violent, peaceful-seeking communityDo you notice that guns were not mentioned in the above list?  When we yell at each other about the right to bear arms and who can do that and what arms we can bear–we allow ourselves to deviate from the underlying issues–we allow ourselves to blame the politicians and the Big Money for our school shootings.
    WE  can change our communities–each community, one at a time.  Changing the expectation of safety and belonging.  WE can do this.
    When we see our storm clouds and know that we need to provide safe shelter for all, the gun issue will be a next civilized step in providing the world we need for healthy children.
    Be gentle with your children–life is full of storm clouds.
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Enter the Dragon

It is just passed Valentine’s Day and my grade schooler is suddenly cranky, acting sleep deprived and testing boundaries.    With a lot of patience, I try to find out what is upsetting her.  Here’s where it gets a little sticky.  Because every time I ask, “What’s wrong?”  My daughter says, “Nothing!”  –or–“Leave me alone!” –or–simply gives a roll of her beautiful brown eyes as she turns her back and walks away from me.
She seems tired.  Maybe she needs more sleep.  I set a 9pm absolute bedtime and then I find her reading under her covers.  I take away all the electronics.  This does not please her.
“When you are no longer cranky and look tired, you can have your electronics back,” I said.

dragon-152823_640enter the dragon

“I’m not tired!” she wails.
“Go to sleep!” I wail back.
Each day I look for signs that she is back to normal.  Each day starts with grumbles and ends with tears or moaning or both.  School bag gets dumped on the floor along with coats and boots.  It seems as though it takes too much energy to pick up after herself or follow our home’s expectations.  Maybe I should take her to the doctor.  Maybe she has some infection or horrible illness.
“I’m not sick!” she screams, as she grabs an apple and a cookie and heads for her room.
To be fair, she doesn’t look sick.  She eats okay and I know she’s sleeping.  It’s just she seems to be so lethargic in getting through her normal routines of school, dance (it’s only once a week and she loves it, used to love it), and home.
The above is a snapshot of children in February.  After Christmas, before Spring Break.  It was my therapist experience that I often received unhappy children in February.  I went to the experts:  teachers.  And yes, there seemed to be a correlation between droopy, tired, unhappy children and the month of February.
Quickly, let me give an adult understanding of our own work lives (work is to the adult: as school is to the child).  We have built into our lives an expectation of when we can NOT work–go on vacation.  A vacation can be a weekend or a month-long respite.  The important thing is that we can experience a change in our routine that makes our routine less boring and perhaps less stressful.
But what about children?  For most, thankfully not all, the adults have decided that they can work for NINE months and then have a THREE month vacation.  (Hint:  when we adults were children, how long did it take for Christmas to roll around every year?  Compared to being an adult?)
Time is very different for a child than an adult.  NINE months can be a very long, long, long time.  Happy are the children who are in a school program that works on quarters and they get a vacation every THREE months.  And yes, shorter summer vacations–but fewer grumbles and burned out students.
But what about the child who suffers from being chained to the duty-bound prescription of NINE months of school?  Teachers and I agree:  they need to PLAY more.  Move around, laugh, learn through experiencing.  A lot of teachers plan to have learning activities that involve a sense of play during the l-o-n-g months of February and March.

dragon-152823_640enter the dragon

My tired, whinny, tearful, angry, droopy daughter came home from school much brighter after her teacher told the class that they were putting on a play about a dragon who was rescued by the town’s children.  (And yes, the teacher found a way to work in math, language, spelling, memorization, and of course, interactive play into the script.)
So before you take your sad and temper-prone student to the doctor–try out a vacation from the routine–see what happens.

Be gentle through the long days of February and March.

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An Adoption Story

We took our time at breakfast, not wanting to indulge our anxious expectations by arriving too early at the meeting.  Like teenagers, we pulled out our cell phone and took pictures of us on the “before” part.  We  looked the same, maybe even a bit older than usual.  That wasn’t good.  We put the phone away.  Better to dwell on the kick of adrenaline than “are we too old to adopt?”
“You’re sure we’re doing the right thing?” I asked, suddenly aware of the lifelong commitment we were about to make.
“We just drove a thousand miles in a day and half–of course we’re ready,” he said.
We had the Google map in hand, but we decided to take the longer, slower way to the meeting.  My stomach and head were in a battle for supremacy.  I kept hoping that my heart would win the battle.
We pulled up to the meeting place, and of course we were the first to arrive, even with all our precautions to the contrary.  Like we knew that the other one couldn’t save us from our own thoughts and about to jump-through-my-skin expectations, we split up and wandered aimlessly, keeping the parking lot in view at all times.
And then they arrived, in a big pick-up with seating enough for six construction workers on steroids.  I slowed my steps and watched.  A young couple emerged and then suddenly there she was–Layla.   It was hard to tell in photos over the Internet how my heart would react to the real thing.    I couldn’t help it, I grinned.  Layla.  Short legs, very long black hair (which had not seemed so long in the photos) and a bounce to her step that somehow I hadn’t anticipated.
I looked for my husband.  He was grinning, too.  And I knew, all was right with the world and the step we were taking into adoption.

Internet Adoption pic

Internet Adoption pic

Like a lot of adoptees, Layla wanted to impress us with her ability to not cause problems.  Quiet and tentative, we thought we had a somewhat timid dog.  Imagine after being with us for about year, Layla found her voice, resulting in our eventually having to find a sonic-type noise deterrent that only a dog could hear.  After using this twice  in the car, with the command “QUIET” we once more could ride in peace.
Our totally willing to please dog learned to give sharp barks to get our attention–demanding attention barks.  Something else we’ve had to adjust to and help her learn to be a little more patient.
And even though HeRD of Wyoming told us the story of how Layla had lost a prior foster home due to chasing the neighboring horses, we were totally unprepared for the total concentration of springing to chase every passing vehicle.  When something is in need of being chased, to Layla’s way of thinking, she loses all ability to access common sense brain cells, or even hear or respond to a command.  This need to chase is so ingrained in her that after 3 years, she has to remain on a leash at all times outside of a controlled environment–she is doing better, but without that leash we would certainly lose her to the chase.
Here’s our Lists for our adoption of Layla (and I suspect vice-versa):
The Good List: 
1.  Layla is an excellent companion, looking for love and always ready to play.
2.  She has provided us with a sense of family that we missed after the kids left home.
3.  I call her my treadmill, because she gets me out and walking almost every day.
4.  She comes to us when she is anxious, hungry, and just plain wanting to curl up and be with us.  We’re needed and more–she likes us.  (We’ll not go into the whole dependent aspect of the dog-owner relationship.)
The Surprise Package:
1.  She isn’t exactly the temperament I wanted for a dog to sit quietly and listen to children read to her.  Thus, our ability to get her into a school and used as a listening dog is not panning out.
2.  Instead of a total herding dog, we got a retriever with a nose.  Always looking for the next bird to flush.  How do you train your dog to ignore DNA instincts and enjoy a walk by staying in the path–not zooming to every bush looking for bird feathers?
3.  Somewhere along the line she had a poor experience with being groomed.  It took 2 years of playing with her feet, so that we can now have the vet cut her nails without having to use any sort of tranquilizing medication.  Will we ever be able to brush that long hair so she doesn’t get huge mats of tightly woven hair?
4.  We had to totally change our preceptions about having a quiet, hesitant dog.  Outgoing and wanting to meet and greet everyone, she still presents a challenge in learning to not pull you into the “the next guest.”
The Really Difficult Challenge:
1.  Layla, at least at this point, will never be that dog that can have fun on the beach, park, camping and be OFF LEASH.  It is a total bummer that she has to be on leash, which sometimes makes it difficult in meeting and greeting new dogs—it is much easier for dogs to growl and get aggressive when one or both get tangled up in leashes.  This is the part that we were unprepared for and continue to wish she had a little different personality.  We work on this aspect constantly (thank goodness for a large fenced yard)–but at this point–we don’t think she can resist the urge to chase a moving object or animal.

When I was working as a therapist, I had the honor of working with adopted children and their families.  When I look at our journey with Layla, I often think of the journeys of those families–each family member had their own lists.  The adoption connection between each person in that family was dependent upon what were in those lists.  There was always a Surprise Package awaiting each member, including the adoptee.  Typically the Surprise was in having to change expectations–even those expectations that went unknown until suddenly it was very apparent that something was very different from what had been anticipated.
The Good List packed a lot of heart and patience and willingness to compromise.  It was  the Really Difficult Challenge list that was often the unconquerable aspect for the family to content with.  As with all human endeavors, some families were able to continue the struggle and find something they could define as success; while other families simply were overwhelmed with the ability to provide a safe, loving environment for everyone in the family.
Is Layla the perfect dog for us?  There is a part of me that says that she isn’t exactly what we wanted.  There is another part of me that believes that we are given the dog that we are meant to have.  Certainly Layla has taught us lessons about the learning process and about patience.  And even though she has a major issue with chasing and thus not allowed off leash, that’s not such a challenge that has us wanting to give up on her.  (I do not have the worry that she may harm someone or another animal.)
I’m also waiting to determine if she has the ability to slow down and listen a little better, who knows, maybe she can become that dog that can lay still and listen to children read.  And, I see how often she snuggles up and says “you belong to me.”

Be gentle with your children–for they have lessons to teach you.

PS:  If we were to adopt another dog, I would certainly return to HeRD of Wyoming–the surprises that came with Layla were of our own making–the folks at HeRD were extremely generous in answering our questions and helping us to find the right dog for us.  Once again–it is in our expectations and willingness to “forgive the information” that we set ourselves up for additional challenges.


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Soup: It Builds a Safer Neighborhood For Children

Being attuned to anything written about children, one of the first things I noted about Maggie Stuckey’s new book “Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around a Pot of Soup,” was the insertion that neighborhood soup parties provide children with a safer environment.

'Never-Ending' Veggie Pot o' Soup

‘Never-Ending’ Veggie Pot o’ Soup (Photo credit: cizauskas)

And then there were comments from parents who said that their children could not wait for the next soup night, that children as much as their parents anticipated getting together with their neighbors.
At her book signing yesterday, Maggie stated how surprised she was that the 30 soup night get-togethers that she wrote about were all in urban areas. Her surprise was that the urban areas were imitating a much earlier era of potlucks in the rural community.

Pot Luck: The Chow Line
Imagine a neighborhood where everyone has shared dinner together at the same time. Everyone includes old, young, disabled, and even the old grouch who doesn’t like soup. Now imagine how much easier it would be to get to know your neighbor after you have informally shared a meal with him. No longer do our children here our uttered comments about our neighbors whom we’ve never met or don’t understand. No longer do our children build their own beliefs around what they hear their parents talk about regarding a neighbor they have not met.
I believe that most of our children create their own mythology concerning strangers, people who may actually live right next door to them, by listening, watching, and imitating their parents. If a whole neighborhood got together once a month or several times a year this fallacy of thought process would have to change. This is one of those times that change is a good thing. In perusing Maggie’s book last night, one of the soup night hosts said that people with divergence in opinion [ I can to believe this was a polite way of saying having a political difference of opinion]  found a way to be respectful of each other because being a good neighbor was more important than the hostilities the politics can create.
So bring on the soup and the neighborhood. Build that cherished area of safety for our children and our community.

Be gentle with your neighbors,  they are also our children’s’ guardians when we are unable to be.

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How We Teach our Children to Scream

#ds368 - Rebel Yell

#ds368 – (Photo credit: Sharon Drummond)

   “Is that normal?” Jed asked, his face was a mixture of horror and concern as he watched a little boy scream his way out of the park.
I smiled.  I think it was a saddened smile of understanding.  I watched as this young man, who I knew was fairly serious about his girlfriend, took in the park scene of young parents with their children on this sunny autumn Saturday afternoon.
“You mean the screaming?” I tried to innocently ask.
“If I had screamed like that, my mother would have flattened me,” he answered.  He caught himself and added, “Well, not actually flattened.”
As we headed out of the park, not waiting for the crisp cool air to shoo us home, I found myself trying to educate on the matters of parenting.
In the 1970’s (let’s not go clear back to the covered wagon days), a screaming child was one that was either hurt, scared or totally fatigued.  A screaming child was attended to for what was needed.  Children didn’t have the option of screaming to get their prince or princess needs met with instant gratification.  If a screaming child was exhibiting trantrum-like behavior, the parent was under her own peer influence to chastise her child and stop the screaming.
By 2010, parental peer influences had dramatically changed.  A chastising parent, if she didn’t proceed with aplomb and gentleness in tone of voice, received almost instant negative feedback from her peer group of moms.  While her child is screaming that she wants her way, mom must be soothing and placating.  Losing her ability to negotiate with her child would not be viewed in favorable terms by her parenting peers.
What I believe we are living with today are children who are being taught to express their needs (which is a good thing), but without the expectation that not all needs are met with equal response.  Children are learning that screaming gets their parent’s attention.  It may not get them what they want, but it will give them bargaining power.  What it won’t get them is a form of discipline that is understandable to a five-year-old.  As a child screams to be allowed to play longer in the park, the parent offers understanding (which is a good thing), but then compounds the behavior by offering the child an extra treat when they get home.  This reinforces to the child that if he screams loud and long enough, he will get something satisfying for his efforts.  The well-meaning parent wants to the child to understand that the parent is being responsive to their needs, but without the dynamic understanding of rewarding a negative behavior.
” . . .and so until the parenting tide changes in supporting the parent who teaches the child about negative consequences and delay of gratification–we will see more screaming children wherever we encounter children, including at school,” I offer as a conclusion.
Jed shook his head and said, “I think I’ll wait awhile to have any kids.”
I smiled.  Screaming kids in the park was one form of birth control not usually listed anywhere.

Being gentle with our children can come in the form of teaching them about “no.”  It will serve them well in the years to come.


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Exploring Spirit Language–Briefly

Dear Friends,      About a year ago, I attended a workshop at a Friends meeting  focused on exploring  Spirit in our lives. Our two workshop leaders were seasoned Friends who have engaged with Quakers throughout the United States and the UK.

The first surprise for me was noticing how many people showed up for the workshop. From thirty-somethings to retirees we were about 60 in number. The first exercise was to get in a circle, which encompassed the entire monthly meeting’s worship room.  At our leaders request,  we went around the circle and each of us introduced ourselves and what had brought us to Quakers and what kept us in Quakers.   At the completion of this exercise, we learned that about 50% of us found peace and Spirit in silent worship, while the remaining 50% focused on the peace and social justice work of Quaker testimony as our reasons for  remaining within the Quaker community.
Our workshop leaders then began a process of exploring individual, but common, reactions to the various ways in which we discuss God, Spirit, and divinity. As we are part of the unprogrammed Quakers it was not surprising to note that many of us were uncomfortable with “God” language. However, it was also clear that there were many among us who felt quite comfortable with God, but very uncomfortable with Christo-centric language that implied that the speaker “had the answer” that everyone else should accept.


bibles (Photo credit: fancycwabs)

By the time we concluded our evening’s workshop, it was clear to me that Spirit – led lives were being demonstrated before us. It also seemed that the majority of workshop attenders were not so much uncomfortable with God and Christo-centric language, but were resistant to the implied message from the speaker that there was only one way to seek out and or worship God/Divinity/Spirit.
My personal conclusion has been one that has been with me most of my adult life. I continue to believe that each of us is on our own spiritual journey, with our own determinations and questions. It does not matter where I might fall on the belief or spiritual continuum, but it does increase openness and acceptance when I realize that each human has his or her own path to follow. I do know that in seeking understanding,  I tend to focus on the kindness that one demonstrates  rather than on the words one uses to explain behavior.
My hope is that we can share in our Light while respecting each other’s  spiritual paths.
in Peace,


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A Quiet Story of Struggle and Love

       A few days ago I watched as a rather angry young father berated his (4-year-old?) son about not rushing through the fast food parking lot without parental guidance.  Only, it wasn’t a loving parental command for safety, or a reminder about parking lots and expected behavior–it was a threat to the child that if he didn’t get his %#$* act together, he would &%^$# regret it.  My first impulse was to step between father and child and ask, “How big are you, Dad?  How old are you, Dad?”  But then I took a breath and stepped back to see further interactions.
At the fast food counter, I watched as three little boys lined up to give their order.  I watched as a worried Dad carefully counted through his paper money, without saying anything to his sons.  His wife kept her flock in front of her, but didn’t make eye contact with her husband.

Français : Un MacDonald's, un KFC et un Pizza ...

    I didn’t have the words that I so badly wanted to let this young family know that their struggle was not invisible.  That too many young families are suffering from too little attention and too high of inflation.  From lack of a better income.  From the knowing that it is hard to live in the group called “the have-not’s.”  I also didn’t have the words to say that no matter how hard the times, this little family unit was together.  Doing their best to be an intact family.
I still don’t have the words.  I believe that our society has made it very difficult to be a “have-not” and be respected.  To point out anything about their struggles, would be (in their eyes) a denigration of self, of parents, of family.
Blessings to them, and may their circumstances improve soon–children need parents who are not always stressed out from being uncertain as to tomorrow’s ability to provide.

Be gentle with our brothers and sisters and their children–we all need the comfort of being equal in our humanity.

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