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Planning to leave before saying “goodbye” July 13, 2012

Posted by Shonnie in Community, Parenting.
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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 June 22, 2012

Posted by Shonnie in Life with Baby, Parenting.
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Here’s an excerpt from Continually Falling in Love with Your Child that I wrote for my professional site HeartLedParenting.com. 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.”

Fathers Day Quotations June 17, 2012

Posted by Bruce Mulkey in Parenting.
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A few quotations for Fathers’ Day . . .

He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it. ~Clarence Budington Kelland

My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, “You’re tearing up the grass.” “We’re not raising grass,” Dad would reply. “We’re raising boys.” ~Harmon Killebrew

A father carries pictures where his money used to be. ~Author Unknown

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years. ~Author unknown

Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes. ~Gloria Naylor

It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn’t. ~Barbara Kingsolver

Making the decision to have a child is momentous It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

Why we get judgmental or defensive about parenting May 18, 2012

Posted by Shonnie in Parenting.
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Parenting is one of the most important and lasting factors in helping each of us become who we are as adults. While there are numerous influences that shape who we are, there is likely no one who would say that parenting has no effect. Given this baseline, most parents have the sense of parenting as a high-stakes endeavor which couples with the nearly universal desire to be a good parent to our children and leaves most of us feeling an incredible amount of pressure to “do it right.”

Read the full post about parental judgments and defensiveness on my parenting blog: Heart-Led Parenting.

Happy Mothers’ Day, Mommy! May 13, 2012

Posted by Bruce Mulkey in Life with Baby.
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On this, our second Mothers’ Day together, I want to tell you lots of reasons I love you so much.

I love the way you keep me close to you all day and all night long.

I love the way you smell so mommy-like.

I love the way you let me explore my surroundings, yet are always there when I need you.

I love the way you read to me every night at bedtime.

I love the way you talk to me and ask me questions when you’re not sure what I want.

But most of all, I love you because you’re you—my sweet Mommy.

I love you with all my heart!

Gracelyn

What does “mother” mean anyway? March 30, 2012

Posted by Shonnie in Life with Baby, Parenting.
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It can be rough when you learn that you’re not the mother you thought you’d be. When I say “rough,” of course, I mean heart-wrenching, soul-crushing, and seemingly life-ending. Though it is in fact a painful revelation, I believe it’s so acute, in part, because we have a wacky definition of “mother.”

Mother idealized

A mother, we believe, is loving, beneficent, self-less, kind, gentle — all of which are true except in rare cases. The challenge comes because we add to these characteristics the qualifier that she is this way “all the time.” Even if you don’t think this is what you believe, you will determine that this is what you’ve been expecting of yourself all along once you become a mother. Whether this misunderstanding comes from our cultural myths, our own deepest desires, or a conglomeration of sources, believing that “mother” is a synonym for “saint” is harmful for us all.

Mother actually

Here’s what I’ve learned about what it means to be a mother in my 18+ months fulfilling this role.

  • Being a mother opens up your heart to a love so deep that you could seemingly be consumed by it. Out of this love you desire to be and do only that which will nurture your child and reflect to them the love you feel for them.
  • The act of mothering — all that you “do” as a mama to manifest this love and care — is more profound than anything you’ve ever done before and, at times, wears you to the rough and fragile places of your ego. In these moments you learn that your “better self” has a “less-better self” and you feel off-kilter as your self-image gets reshaped.
  • First recognizing the gap between the idealized and real picture of motherhood can be an experience filled with surprise, disappointment, shock, or horror, depending on how strongly you held the idealized beliefs, how unrealistic your own demands on yourself, how honest are the other mothers with whom you connect, and how challenging your overall parenting journey.
  • Navigating the true territory of motherhood is a rich and hopefully life-altering journey. I say “hopefully” because I believe that in losing some of our untrue ideas and demands, we become more whole, more human, more real — our homo sapiens version of the Velveteen Rabbit transformation — which is a better model for those children in our care.

Your Mother
by Shonnie Lavender

I am a mother.

I am gentle, loving, and protective.

I am rough, mean, and sometimes the person you need protection from.

I nurture you.

I need my own nurturing.

I am attentive to your full and healthy development.

I am still becoming my authentic and healthy self.

I love you in ways words are inadequate to describe.

I fail to behave lovingly even when that is what you need most.

My best intentions are often realized, even in difficult moments.

I make amends, and deserve forgiveness, when my actions aren’t ideal.

My love is for you is unending, unfathomable, and unrelenting.

My love is bestowed unevenly but done to the best of my ability.

I am a mother — your real, un-perfect mother — and I am grateful to fill this role for you.

Bandana peep eye March 23, 2012

Posted by Shonnie in Life with Baby, Videos.
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Gracelyn is the champion of “peep eye” or “peek a boo” and found a way to play it with extra flair one recent afternoon. Personally this video of the game cracks me up every time I watch it. We hope you enjoy it as much.

What did we envision for our family? February 18, 2012

Posted by Shonnie in Community, Life with Baby, Parenting.
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I’m presently training to teach Simplicity Parenting, the work of Kim John Payne. The book, the subtitle of which is “using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids,” is thought-provoking, inspiring, challenging, and useful to anyone living with a child under their roof.

When I first began reading the book, one thing really stuck out. Payne writes about rediscovering one’s vision for one’s family. Specifically he asks, “How did you imagine your children? How did you picture yourselves as parents?… How did you imagine your home, with children?” What got me was that I’d focused most of my visioning energy on the pregnancy and helping to grow a healthy baby. While I’d definitely journaled about and imagined being a parent and a family of three, I hadn’t spent much creative process on the future after baby’s birth. Since I’ll be helping lead others through Simplicity Parenting, I figured now was a good time to reacquaint myself with the visions I had had and also ruminate on what other pictures were in my heart and mind.

In my imagination…

  • There are warm voices asking each other gentle questions, seeking to understand and know the others at depth. Between the phrases spoken is open silence that invites response and is present to hear what’s said and what’s left unspoken.
  • There are infectious giggles and peals of laughter as the family plays and shares the lightness of their spirits. Joy is palpable and appreciation can be felt in the air.
  • Hands are linked in work and repose showing the unity of the family and the comfort they find in each other’s company and partnership. There is a “we” here while still giving plenty of room for the individual “me”s.
  • Faces show love, concern, affection, gratitude, contentment, and joy as the three lives intertwine and the connections grow deeper and stronger yet also more flexible.
  • Respect is seen in courteous acts and heard in kind words. Love is manifest in gentle, warm touch. Honor is given for the sacredness of each person, exactly as they are.
  • Rituals are created that carry forward past traditions in new ways that suit our family, our values, our wishes. Reverence is given for life, for each other, and for the family that is ever becoming.
  • Hurdles are addressed and overcome, growth is discussed and encouraged, losses are acknowledged and grieved, wins are called out and celebrated. Experiences are shared, savored, and safely treasured in family memories.

I don’t know where our family will travel during our life together. I pray that the journey will be smooth and we will all make safe passage on to whatever is next for each of us. I know that we are truly blessed to be on this voyage and hold a vision of a deeply connected, loving, and joy-filled home. I look forward to playing my part in realizing these dreams and also to doing what I can to help other families manifest their most sacred visions.

“When we act out of reverence, instead of fear, our motivation is stronger, our inspiration boundless.”

~ Kim John Payne

Now that’s what I call reverence and appreciation for life’s magic!

To teach or not to teach . . . manners February 12, 2012

Posted by Bruce Mulkey in Community, Parenting.
3 comments

Yesterday (Saturday) I posted the paragraph below on Facebook:

The other night Shonnie and I were talking about manners, whether we should try to teach Gracelyn to say “please” and “thank you,” etc. or merely model these behaviors or do nothing at all in this regard. Personally I think manners can be automatic reactions to certain social situations that hamper authentic responses such as gratitude or appreciation. What do you think?

I got almost 20 thoughtful and perceptive comments, including the following:

Teach your kid to be polite, there is enough bad behavior out there. Being polite doesn’t mean being inauthentic, it means being considerate. –R.

please and thank you were automatically taught in my family. i don’t have children so haven’t thought about i much…until now. i’ve def seen a lot of stress around the ‘teaching’. as in when a child asks for something or receives something, there’s this ‘teaching moment’ of ‘say please, say thank you’…which feels kind of shaming. as an adult, i don’t think i use please all the time when i ask for things. –L.

Interesting topic! I remember as a kid being forced to say “Thank you” felt awful and I faked it a lot. Being forced to say “please” always made me feel like I was begging. I kind of wonder about the etymology of “please”, if it’s intended to be subjective or objective. In French, s’il vous plait literally means “if it is pleasing to you” (which is rather nice) and I think in English when we say “please” we are generally implying that it would please *me* if you do this / give me that / etc. Which when you think about it, isn’t really that polite at all. –S

Teach with kindness and compassion. Yes, be a role model! I was in the grocery store the other day a a mother punished and shamed a child for not saying “No thank you” to an offer of a store sticker from the cashier. I thought that was odd to expect from a 3 year old. While manners are important, they cannot be forced. –J.

As you can see, my Facebook friends provided a lot for me and Shonnie to consider. This morning we were having one of our occasional family meetings during which we read our marriage vows to one another and then our commitments to Gracelyn. And as Shonnie was reading those commitments, because of the online conversation I’d been having, this one stood out for me:

“We (Shonnie & Bruce ) will introduce you (Gracelyn) to many different ways of being, doing and living and provide you opportunities to make your own choices so that you can ultimately find the beliefs, habits and life path that fit for you.”

So, I’m on board with introducing Gracelyn to “manners” as well as some of the other beliefs and customs of our culture (and other cultures), but I won’t compel her to say “please” or “thank you” or anything else, for that matter. She’ll get to make those choices on her own.

Regarding teaching manners so our kids will treat others well, I believe that infants come into the world infused with an abundance of natural compassion, love and empathy. Thus, if we want our children to respect other people (as well as other animals, plants, the Earth), all we parents need to do is nurture those attributes and, hopefully, model them ourselves. Our experience so far with Gracelyn has certainly shown this to be true.

We are one February 10, 2012

Posted by Shonnie in Parenting.
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baby gazeBeing a “good” parent cannot happen without being a “good” person. Another way to think of it is that our mastery as parents is directly linked to our self-mastery and personal transformation. I mention this because so often parents (including me) look for ways to get our children to do this or that. Or we think that we can somehow train them to behave in a certain way. What we forget is that they behave the way they see us (and others around them) behave. Thus, if we desire for them to be peaceful, loving, courageous, and honest people, the way this will most likely to happen is if we are that kind of person first.

Below I offer wise words from two other parents as reminders to me and all other parents out there that we are one with our children. As we transform ourselves our children will transform themselves. We are mirrors for each other on this magical journey.

Our children literally resonate with us. They’re downloading our state all the time; our emotions, our beliefs, our values. Their stress rises with ours and comes down with ours…. We make conscious choices to manage our stress and anxiety levels, while our children are dependend on the energetic and emotional environment that we create. To tell a child to be reasonable or calm down while we feel negative towards them, is like telling them to go outside and play while we restrain them tightly.
~ Genevieve of The Peaceful Parent Institute

Your *child* is the mirror! When you don’t like what you see in your child, there’s a good chance s/he’s reflecting some aspect of yourself that’s out of alignment with Who You Really Are.
~ Scott of EnjoyParenting.com