The Family Dance

It was Saturday, and that meant pizza and homemade ice cream night at the Lavender-Mulkey home. It had already been a big day for Gracelyn—a playdate that morning with her new Evergreen friend Eleanor at our place, then an outing to the French Broad River with her friend Julian, his sister Ellie, his mom Katie and a few others. Gracelyn had had a great time, but she came home tired and it showed in her irritability and terseness when she spoke to us.

Bruce, Gracelyn & Shonnie
Bruce, Gracelyn & Shonnie

As a light breeze blew from the west, we set up dinner on the wrought iron table on the front porch and all sat down to enjoy pizza and salad. Then we began our evening gratitude ritual. On this night Gracelyn wasn’t really up for it and refused to join in. She nibbled her pizza circumspectly while Shonnie expressed her gratitude: “I’m grateful that my parent coaching program is going so well. Almost one-hundred participants signed up so far!” “Well, I’m grateful for this yummy meal and this pint of Wicked Weed ale,” I said. Before long Gracelyn abruptly left the table without a word while Shonnie and I continued eating and chatting, including a few words about Gracelyn’s weariness and the need for an early bedtime.

As the almond butter ice cream churned in the electric ice cream maker, we listened to a replay of Prairie Home Companion from October 2, 2004, and started to clean up after our meal. From the radio, Geoff Muldaur, Garrison Keillor and the All-Star Shoe Band began to perform a compelling version of Maria Muldaur’s “Stand By Me.”

stand by me
stand by me
take me in your arms and hold me, tenderly.
in the still of the night,
you can be my candlelight,
you comfort me,
and warm this lonely heart of mine,
oh, stand by me.

Stepping out of her fatigue and her funk, Gracelyn enthusiastically called for a family dance. During these family dances, Shonnie and I stand face-to-face with arms linked and Gracelyn lies in our arms facing upward. As usual, Gracelyn began our ritual by looking up into Shonnie’s eyes and softly saying, “I love you, mama. Do you love me?” On this evening, deeply touched, Shonnie began weeping, and managed through her tears, “I love you, my darling girl.” “Those are happy tears, I know,” Gracelyn said. “Happy tears swirl down your face and sad tears zig zag.”

Next Gracelyn turned looked at me: “I love you daddy. Do you love me?” “With all my heart, sweet girl,” I said. Then, Gracelyn added a new twist: “Now, you two.” So I looked in Shonnie’s eyes and said, “I love you, Shonnie. Do you love me?” And Shonnie then replied, “Yes, I do love you. ” Finally, Shonnie gazed into my eyes and said, “I love you, Bruce. Do you love me? ” And I closed the circle: “Yes, I do love you, Shonnie. ”

So all’s well that ends well. I think Willie Shakespeare said that.


Being with Gracelyn–Guiding Principles

Our parenting choices have been made with discernment and purposefulness with the intention that Gracelyn remain authentic, powerful, creative, self-sufficient, grounded, happy, healthy and whole.

  • We practice the Golden Rule with Gracelyn: We treat her exactly as we would want to be treated if we were her age.
  • We express our love for Gracelyn frequently, openly and unconditionally.
  • We believe that love, compassion, creativity and authenticity are innate qualities, among others, with which Gracelyn was born. We can merely provide a safe, nurturing space in which she retains these qualities.Family
  • Gracelyn always makes her own decisions about whether she wants to be hugged, picked up or touched in any manner. The only exception would be an action necessary to protect her or others from harm.
  • Gracelyn is a sovereign being and is involved in almost all aspects of our daily life, including decision-making, conversations, conflict resolution, meal preparation, daily chores, etc.
  • Gracelyn does as much for herself as possible, including dressing herself, using the toilet, doing simple chores and cleaning up after herself.
  • Gracelyn is an adventurous explorer with excellent body consciousness who runs, climbs and jumps with great enthusiasm. So that she retains her strong sense of competence and independence, we do not use language such as “Be careful,” “Look out” or “Watch your step.”
  • We provide healthy, mostly-organic, unprocessed, sugar-free, tasty food for Gracelyn, and she decides what and how much she eats.
  • We communicate with Gracelyn honestly and directly as a fellow human being.
    • We use our normal tone of voice and vocabulary. If Gracelyn doesn’t know what a word means, she will typically ask.
    • We speak directly to Gracelyn when she is present, rather than about her.
    • We listen to Gracelyn when she speaks, and treat her wants and needs respectfully.
    • When Gracelyn makes a request, we endeavor to say “yes” unless there is a good reason not to. However, we don’t refrain from saying “no” when appropriate.
    • If Gracelyn makes a demand, we typically ask her if she could make it a request. If she speaks to us in a voice we consider disrespectful, we use a neutral tone to tell her that we don’t wish to be spoken to in that manner.
  • Gracelyn is given the daily opportunity to express her gratitude, however, she only says “please,” “thank you,” etc. when she is genuinely moved to do so, not when she is asked to do so or as an automatic response.
  • We avoid adult topics when Gracelyn is present, including such things as war, violent crimes, pestilence, etc., whether in conversation, on radio programs or on TV.
  • We encourage Gracelyn to use anatomically correct words for body parts–vulva, vagina, anus, etc.
  • We give Gracelyn the space to unreservedly express a full range of emotions–from love and connection to anger and frustration–as long as she is not harming herself, others or important material objects.
    • When she Gracelyn is upset, we merely sit with her, acknowledge her upset and empathize with her until it passes.
    • We do not ignore Gracelyn’s upsets, endeavor in any way to end them or try to “fix” it for her.
  • When issues arise with Gracelyn, we endeavor to work them out with her as we would with any other person.
    • We do not hit, spank, slap, handle Gracelyn roughly or hold her against her will.
    • We do not use timeouts, withholding of treats, withholding love or any other negative means of discipline with Gracelyn.
    • We do not use shaming, blaming or wrong-making language with Gracelyn. In addition, we do not yell or speak harshly to her or say anything that might harm or hinder her in any way.
    • We refrain from using positive reinforcement to obtain the behaviors we might desire with Gracelyn.
  • Gracelyn is typically generous with others, however it’s always her choice regarding whether she wants to share with someone else or not.
  • Should differences or conflict arise between Gracelyn and other children, we allow them to work it out.
  • On her birthday and at Christmas, we prefer to gift Gracelyn with a few simple gifts that are meaningful to her and, perhaps, have an educational component. Books are always a good choice as are hand-made gifts. We avoid commercialized gifts (licensed characters or commercial logos) for the most part.
  • We practice forgiveness with Gracelyn, apologizing for any mistakes we might make and forgiving her when needed.

# # #

Postscript: Many of us have unfulfilled dreams and visions, and if we are not conscious of these aspirations, we may pass them on to our kids in the vain hope that they might live out our forsaken dreams for us. On the other hand, we may just want what we consider best for our child. Yet what we consider best might not be. Each child who enters the world is unique, each with her own special gift. Our job is to love and respect them unconditionally just as they are, open the door to as many opportunities for growth and awareness as possible, then let them spread their wings and fly. We don’t have to tell them what to do or how to be; they already know much better than we.

Building a loving family foundation

BRM-SL-wedding-closeupToday Bruce and I celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. We met 17 years ago this fall when we both joined a marathon training program in Austin, Texas. We began dating a year after that when we were both unattached, and moved in together on 1/1/97 (this date is auspicious for us, hence it’s when I decided to take that pregnancy test — rather both of them — back in 2010). Though this is officially Gracelyn’s “baby” blog, I wanted to write about Bruce and me today because who we are, how we live, and how we love is the primary “swimming pool” where Gracelyn will learn about how to be in intimate relationship with another.

“Love will enter immediately into any mind that truly wants it, but it must want it truly. Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

~ A Course in Miracles

A promise to love

Love is manifest in what we think, say, and do (and what we refrain from thinking, saying, or doing) — I mean this about all of us, not simply our family. Bruce and I wrote relationship vows when we first co-habitated back in 1997 because that was part of the way we wanted to keep our relationship “on track.” Similarly when we married, we each had written the vows we intended to uphold throughout our married lives. We reread these vows aloud to each other to refresh our personal commitments and remind and re”heart” ourselves of how we’ve chosen to be.

Marriage Vows — Bruce to Shonnie

  • I will join you in full partnership to cocreate the life we both envision.
  • I will join you in living consciously, purposefully, passionately, congruently.
  • I will join you in creating true community and a more compassionate world in which to live.
  • I will laugh and dance and sing and have fun with you.
  • I will tell you the truth even when I think you might not want to hear it, and I will hear you when you tell me your truth.
  • I will afford you your humanity and not expect you to always be at your best.
  • When you forget who you really are, I’ll remind you of your power, spirit, integrity, intelligence, creativity, athleticism, and beauty.
  • I will remember that any anger, resentment, frustration I show toward you is more about me than about you and will refuse to hold ill will toward you.
  • I will be true to you and honor the commitments that we make to one another for all our days.
  • I will open my heart to you and love you with all my being.

Marriage Vows — Shonnie to Bruce

  • I will be authentically me. Bringing all my gifts and challenges and willingly using all the tools I have to fully live out my life’s purpose.
  • I will be your mirror. Reflecting the truth and reminding you of who you are, listening attentively, with an open heart and mind as I seek to better understand and support you in fully living your life’s purpose.
  • I will be your helpmate. Willingly sharing our responsibilities and honors, owning my part in creating our life, readily and fully forgiving, and working together to put us back on course when we stray from our path.
  • I will be your partner. Treating you with respect and equality, being creative and flexible in living interdependently in a way that reflects who we are individually and as a couple.
  • I will be your lover. Passionate and playful, tender and loyal, sharing myself fully and nurturing our love so that we grow ever more intimate.
  • I will be your friend. Honest and trustworthy, compassionate and committed, sharing all that life brings us.
  • I will be your companion. Honoring these sacred vows as we walk together, hand in hand, heart to heart, soul to soul, for all our days, giving all that we have and being all that we are, to create a world full of peace, love, and understanding.

“We can choose to make our love for each other what our lives are really about.”

~ Werner Erhard

What I hope that Gracelyn will learn about love and intimate relationships

Love is something that you choose over and over again, because sometimes you stop loving (or choose something else like “being right” or “showing who’s in charge”) and create a disconnection in your naturally loving state. I know that’s our natural state because it’s how Gracelyn is (this is one of those big areas where our “teacher” and “student” roles are reversed). So I hope that she learns to maintain this natural state even though our “civilized” world and family will present her a different picture. What Bruce and I can model in this regard is:

  • You CAN ALWAYS choose love. It is a choice, an act of will. No matter how long it sometimes takes you to choose love, it is never off the table of options in how we can be with another person.
  • If you can’t get to feeling love immediately, there are many other love-oriented ways of relating to your partner (compassion, appreciation, positive regard, acceptance). Choosing one of these will help put you back on the road to love, yet it will require you to let go of competing/conflicting emotions.
  • Loving another never comes at the expense of not loving yourself. In love you may choose to compromise your wants or sacrifice something of value to you for something of value to your partner, but these are not the same as not loving yourself.
  • To love your partner you must love yourself. If we don’t love ourselves we might give to others or care for them but then we are doing these acts out of obligation rather than choice. When we choose to love ourselves we are filled up enough to choose to love another.
  • Love doesn’t eliminate problems; it helps to heal wounds. I once thought that if you were truly “in love,” your relationship would have no “down times.” What I now know is that my love for Bruce and my commitment to love him is what helps me do the hard work of relationships — self-forgiveness, forgiveness of the other, and choosing more loving ways to be with each other than our “inherited” modes of operation.
  • Love is worth the effort. Being in intimate relationship (with a lover, a friend, a family member) and maintaining that loving connection doesn’t just happen once we start to become acculturated. While I’ve found my times of solo-ness liberating (“Hey, I don’t need to consider what anyone else wants to do right now!”) and I enjoy my own solitude, I’m much more content when I have people I love to share my life with. So, even though life gets more complicated whenever you bring more than one person into the picture, I will opt for finding people with whom I can connect, love, and co-create.

Of course there are many other things I hope that Bruce and I can impart to Gracelyn. I’m also certain that what we may be teaching her about love pales in comparison to what she’s already shown me in her 2.75 years in the flesh. I trust that she will also learn to unlearn some of the things that we’re teaching in spite of wishing otherwise (that’s part of her spiritual journey though sometimes I cry for the fact that she would ever learn some things). Finally, I know that, without a doubt, there could be no better partner for me in my own journey of love and my quest to help my darling daughter learn how to love throughout all the years of her life, than my amazing husband, lover, friend, and partner, Bruce Mulkey. Happy Anniversary my love!

Celebrating 10 Years of Loving Marriage!

“A happy wedlock is a long falling in love.”

~ Theodore Parker

No longer and right now

15 hours since we first met face-to-face

No longer and right now

No longer do you ride in my belly sharing every step and breath I take.

No longer can your body be easily cradled in just my two hands.

No longer do you greet me solely with coos, chirps, and searching eyes.

No longer does your body curl into itself, holding the pose of a neonate.

No longer do you need me for all of your needs to be met.

I miss all that has passed before this time.

I grieve what we have lost because no longer are you who you once were then.

Without letting go of “right now,” I wish I could simultaneously hold “back then.”

But that is not possible. Right now is now. Then is then.

So I cry, moan, and ache for all the preciousness we have had together.

Then I give thanks for each of these “thens” that are no longer, even though I want to hold them close forever.

I give thanks that though the past cannot be re-lived, tomorrow is not yet.

I give thanks that we have right now.

~ Shonnie Lavender, 9/13/12

Almost 2 years since that original “birth day”

Not a baby but still my baby

Beautiful “bouquet”

Today Gracelyn has birthday number 2 (although it’s technically #3 when you count the day on which she was born as #1). She is precocious, funny, clear-of-mind and heart, and as loveable as ever. Many people inevitably comment that we’re about to start the “terrible twos” but, as you can probably guess, I don’t cotton to that notion. (Check the photos page for more recent pics.)

Growing up

Yes, as Gracelyn gets older she has more desires for autonomy and for getting the experience of doing things herself. Sometimes if mama or daddy isn’t ready or willing for “just Baby Gee,” we say “no,” or provide an alternative that isn’t to her liking. Our default mode, however, is “yes,” even if it means cleaning something up afterwards or practicing deep breathing during it all. Here’s some of what’s transpired with our self-confident girl.

  • Two weeks ago she lifted the toilet seat lid, pulled down her potty reducer seat, climbed up on the toilet, peed, climbed down, shut the lid, and flushed the toilet. Though she still will take assistance periodically, she’s obviously very delighted to be able to do this task all on her own.
  • She explores high drawers and counters on her own by carrying a stool to where she wants to reach and then clambering up to stand and browse. Frequently she’ll say “See what’s going on up here” as she reaches her perch. It’s also very cute because the stool she uses is wood and a woven cloth seat/step so it’s somewhat heavy and it takes most of her strength to tote it around.
  • Yesterday she fetched a dish cloth from a kitchen drawer to clean up some washable marker she’d gotten on a chair (I hadn’t seen her do the drawing at all). She gave me the cloth asking me to put water on it so she could “wipe up” which she then did with only a minor follow-up by me.
  • Lately she’s enjoyed “putting in her contacts” (mimicking mama) which last night consisted of risotto and roasted broccoli she placed on her eyelids while eating dinner.
  • While visiting Chicago after a visit to Grandma Jeri and Grandpa Arlen’s, Gracelyn enjoyed walking down the sidewalks of many of the streets near the Art Institute, Lake Michigan, and Lakeshore Drive. I carried her when crossing streets and only a few times asked her to move further away from the curb which she was already doing naturally well.
  • She brushes her teeth and even does a little bit of flossing with pleasure and even some accuracy. Our new routine is that she does the first brush and then mama or daddy finish with a second brushing.
  • This girl loves to talk, rhyme, sing, repeat, and create. I’m repeatedly met by people who comment “she speaks very well,” “wow, she talks well for her age,” or “she’s just how old?” and they’re right. Daddy jokes that her career avenues might be either prop comic (G now calls herself “Prop Comic Dirty Face”) or linguist. She and I carry on simple conversations, we read books together (G finishing some sentences or filling in parts of the story), and sing many favorite songs. My recent favorite saying is “How ’bout that idea?” which she uses when putting forth her suggestion of something to do.

Forever my baby (“our” baby to be exact)

Of course, while Gracelyn’s independence is burgeoning in myriad ways, I’m grateful for all the ways she allows herself to still be a baby.

  • She kisses so sweetly and always on my lips. She has a loving expression on her face and comes away from the peck smiling and happy.
  • “Nursie!” is G’s cry when she’s feeling stressed, overwhelmed, tired, or has hurt herself. We still nurse before and after sleeping (naps or nighttime) and occasionally during the night, yet the once frequent cuddling and feeding has waned as she’s grown. It’s such a sweet treat to be able to still comfort her with my body and my milk and I relish having her nestled close and holding her tenderly as she regains her equilibrium.
  • Hugs, piggy back, and snuggling still keep us physically close as G continues to grow physically independent. Just today after a nap she snuggled up next to me, got nose-to-nose with me and we spent a minute or so in our tender embrace.
  • Being carried in our ergo carrier or sling keeps her cocooned against my body. While she often enjoys walking (and sometimes insists on it), I’m grateful for all the “mama carry you”s I get and every minute shes the joey to my mama kangaroo.

Celebrating this precious child

Here is a poem to give voice to the blessings that this birthday brings and the gratitude I feel for this most precious child of god.

On Your Birthday
by Shonnie Lavender

Today is different than other days

Except that it is not.

Today you will be exactly who you are meant to be.

You will create and imagine your own visions.

You will play and explore our world with awe and curiosity.

You will do and say things that give me pause, make me think, and wake me up.

You will be bold and quiet, quick and slow, playful and serious.

You will help me be myself, the person who I was made to be.

You will remind and reheart me of what is possible and inspire me to make it so.

Today you will be and do all this and more.

Today is the same as all other days

Except that it is not.

Today is the anniversary of your birth.

Thus today brings a special reminder.

How lucky I am to have this day, and this life,

with you, darling daughter.

Happy Birthday!

P.S. I found Bath Time this most heart-warming poem from Lisa M. that she wrote about bath time (and not bath time) with her son. It so speaks to me about a mother’s love and how much we always want to be their for our babies whether they are babies or not. Enjoy!

Planning to leave before saying “goodbye”

Today we signed our newly created Wills. Our original goal was to have them done before Gracelyn turned one. We pushed that back to June and might not have made it by her second birthday, but here we are with signed and notarized documents that detail what we wish to happen in the event of our death(s) — yep, I wrote “in the event of” as if it might not happen. Which reminds me of why so many avoid doing these documents at all (they bring up questions and thoughts that can feel very uncomfortable). I’m grateful they are complete and know that they will help those we leave behind when we die (yep, I’m admitting that I will die one day — a long time from now, but I know I am mortal).

While wills are valuable to almost anyone, parents with “minor” children really have a lot to think about when crafting their final wishes. To me, thinking of Gracelyn’s future without us in it is incredibly painful. Though I look forward to her growing into a mature, interdependent adult (one day a long time from now), I truly treasure this chance to walk on the same earth as my little girl. Her presence is oxygen to my spirit and the joy I feel simply knowing her cannot be contained. I want to be around for her life…for her…for me, and yet, at some point I won’t be here physically.

My mom died when I was 21 — which was almost two decades ago so I’m approaching that point of living longer without her than I did with her. Though I don’t miss her acutely as I did in those first few years following her death, nor do I often consciously think of her absence, I know I wish I could be sharing my daughter with her and my mama-self with her too. I would be grateful if she was still physically present in my life AND my experience with her death has helped me prepare for my own death and better live my life in the gap between today and my final day.

Death has helped me

  • Let go of fears about tomorrow, next week, next year, or “someday.” The days will come and go, but much of what I’m scared to have happen will only ever exist in my mind. And some of it can’t be prepared for ahead of time anyway so fear just wastes the present.
  • Savor life and choose what matters. True, I’m fortunate to have a spouse who can and will work at a good wage, yet we’ve made very intentional choices that make it easy for me to be a full-time mama. The way I know to “stave off death” is to enjoy each present moment to the fullest extent possible.
  • Love now. Love now. Love now. Mainly this means to me that I tell people in the moment that they matter to me, that I love them, that their life blesses mine, that they’ve affected me in a positive way.
  • Build relationships not things. This is one that I get to constantly practice, especially since it’s so counter-cultural. We have no TV (though still more screens than we need) and we spend lots of our family time in intimate contact with each other (reading snuggled up on the couch, tickling and playing chase, rubbing noses and toeses, cooking together, gardening, splashing in puddles, etc.).
  • Talk and share. When my mom was sick I didn’t want to talk about her death for fear that she might think I’d lost hope. She didn’t talk about her death either, so that meant that plenty went unsaid and I ended up with unanswered questions. While I don’t plan to talk with Gracelyn frequently about death or burden her with things that she’s not developmentally ready for, I do take time to write in her journal and otherwise record things that I want her to know for posterity.
  • Nurture our non-physical connection. While I know I’m spirit and Gracelyn is too, I crave physical contact (or evidence of that physical presence like a voice across a telephone line). Though there is fascinating evidence that even our physical selves are intertwined, I want to foster a greater spiritual connection to my daughter. This is important to me so that even when our physical separation comes (the ones that happen now or the “big one” that happens at death), we’ll still be bound together in a real and active way.
  • Be real. I want Gracelyn to know me and I want to know her. Sure there may be things that I feel uncomfortable revealing or may even wish I didn’t know about her, but I think that authenticity doesn’t fade with time and I want those memories to linger long after I’ve recycled my body.

I don’t really ever want to say “goodbye” for a final time to my beloved child (or anyone else I love, for that matter). But the day and time will come to do precisely that — if I’m lucky enough to get that special chance. Completing our Wills was a vitally important step in planning for a future of which I won’t be a part. It’s one less “to do” on my “prepare for your own death” list. Now, comes the fun and hopefully very long part of living this life with Gracelyn as if each day was both the very last one together and the very first too. Here’s intending to complete this “to do” with gratitude and awe for even getting to be on this journey together at all.

“I was on a train on a rainy day. The train was slowing down to pull into a station. For some reason, I became intent on watching the raindrops on the window. Two separate drops, pushed by the wind, merged into one for a moment and then divided again – each carrying with it a part of the other. Simply by that momentary touching, neither was what it had been before. And as each one went on to touch other raindrops, it shared not only itself, but what it had gleaned from the other. I saw this metaphor many years ago and it is one of my most vivid memories. I realized then that we never touch people so lightly that we do not leave a trace.”

~ Peggy Tabor Millin, Mary’s Way

(On a strange note, my mom’s birthday is tomorrow. She would have been 69. Maybe that’s where this post came from and I was simply the transcriptionist.)

Staying present to your child right now

Here’s an excerpt from Continually Falling in Love with Your Child that I wrote for my professional site I’d appreciate it if you’d drop by, read the piece, and comment if you feel so moved.

“It’s so easy to rely on our history with someone and forget to keep paying attention. Though we often say it in words — ‘They grow up so fast.’ — we seem to sometimes act as if who are children are is frozen in time.”