Less than perfect parent

Last weekend at Target, I came across this journal in the stationery section. It’s a journal with writing prompts for parents to write why we are less than perfect and to check off our parental shortcomings. No, really. I knew you might not believe me, so I took a picture.

Do you need to remember why you sucked today?

Do you need to remember why you were a terrible parent today?

Are we supposed to bring this to a confessional when they graduate from high school to become absolved from being imperfectly human?

I don’t know a parent alive today who needs a reminder of the enormity of the therapy bill they’re racking up just trying to keep it together.  From paying bills, juggling work requirements, keeping the house clean enough to keep the health department at bay, getting homework done, extracurricular activities, making dinner, etc., modern day parenting might need its own diagnosis. Post traumatic parenting disorder? Is it any wonder our hair goes grey so fast?

Being present with our kids — perhaps the only job that really matters — takes a back seat when we’re under that much pressure to be super mom or dad.

Having both a teenager and a 7 year old is a good contrast for me to remember how fast it all goes by. I haven’t forgotten all of the bad decisions I’ve made with Max. Yes, I remember them just fine without a neurotic journal. I have to work to remember the good things I did for Max. I know my intent has been good, though my execution often was not. And hindsight… well, you know.

As parents of the next generation of grown ups, we’ve got a big job. The role of humans on planet earth is changing in ways we’ve never seen before. The old rules of engagement are changing, the old systems of education, work, and relationships are shifting in ways we can only imagine. Information is disseminated in ways we never dreamed of, and the entirety of human knowledge and experience is at our fingertips. Education is morphing into something far beyond chalkboards and number 2 pencils.

We humans created the internet, and the internet is changing humanity. Our kids get this, I think, more than we do. Even having worked in internet-related fields for much of my life, this is still much more my kids’ world than it is mine.

So, what’s a parent to do when the challenges  and pressures are greater than ever, and the wellbeing of the most important people on the planet, our children, hangs in the balance?

I have some rules. They’re mostly to keep me sane.

Grades matter much less than laughter. Creativity and passion matter much more than tardy slips. Appreciation matters much more than attendance. Connection matters more than discipline. And yet, there’s room for grades, discipline, and showing up, too. They just don’t take precedence over what really matters.

Lucky for us, there’s a school that shares my love of life-long learning and creativity without stress, and we’re enrolled in it.

Though the parenting journals at Target might not understand, being aware that I am an imperfect parent teaches me to be a better person. When my kids are facing a challenge, I know that there’s a message for me in there, too. Recently, Max wrote a really amazing poem. His teachers at school were astonished, and when I got a hold of it, I was really proud. And yet, he’d rather not have too much attention called to his writing. That’s a message for me, too, in a way. I can’t encourage him to publish his work if I’m not willing to publish mine.

If I want to see qualities expressed by my children, I need to express that myself. I have to let go of the small stuff and move beyond excuses. I have to follow my own passions and get excited. I have to keep my heart wide open. And I have to stay present and I have to step into my own potential. I have to stay positive in the face of uncertainty, and I have to approach my own life with grace.

After all, isn’t that what I wish for my own kids? How can they find all of that if I won’t allow it for myself?

We’re all less than perfect parents, and that’s entirely okay. Letting go of that need to be perfect, knowing we’re going to screw up somehow, allows us to be who we are to the best of our ability and loving with all we’ve got. There’s freedom in that, for us as parents, and for our kids, too.

I hope that awful Target journal stays blank forever.

 

How horseback riding helps kids

Claire has loved horses for as long as I can remember. For her, it is much more than a passing phase. Of course, living in a neighborhood full of equine enthusiasts amps up her desire for her own horse, a desire I’ve been reluctant to fulfill.

Claire's diaryLast fall, Max was teasing her, as most big brothers do, and found her “diary.” In it, she wrote, “OMG, my mom is so pasave agresave because she won’t buy me a horse.” Of course, I had to share on Facebook. It’s pure comedy, as most days with Claire are. A local friend, after saying how much trouble I am in, suggested that I get her riding and learning about the equestrian world before I even consider buying her a horse.

And I know. As a fan of all animals big and small, I know there is a lot more to horse care than mucking out stalls and buying hay. It’s the little things I don’t know that will get me in trouble, I’m sure. So, I’m trying to learn as much as possible before being responsible for the wellbeing of a 1000-pound flight animal and an over-confident 7 year old. I’m sure it’s not just me looking at that as a recipe for disaster without some proper preparation.

I knew Claire wanted to jump; she knew what a parallel oxer was before she knew how to read. I myself still am not entirely sure what a parallel oxer is, but I’m certain I will one day see Claire jump a horse over one. She sets up boxes, toys, and anything else around the house and jumps them while whinnying. Santa was generous enough at Christmas to help out with a helmet, riding pants, gloves, and boots, and her first official riding lesson at Shasta Riding Club was on New Year’s Day 2016.

claire riding gear

Claire models her riding gear on christmas morning

As I watched her ride, it became ever more apparent how good riding is for her. And over the last couple of months of riding, I’m seeing shifts and changes in her attitude that are quite positive. Riding is helping her in ways I never imagined. With the challenges she’s had at school this year, riding has been the one good experience every week. She’s found a place where she can do what she loves while diving into the responsibility of horsemanship.

Not only does she ride, but she learns about riding gear, called tack, how to put it on the horse, clean it when she’s done, and how to be safe around horses over ten times her size. Though the horses and ponies at Shasta Riding Club are all great with kids and very safe, safe riding habits make worried parents less worried.

I love watching her ride, hanging out around the barn and watching the horses. They are all such happy and playful horses, and I love getting to know their personalities. This is Ferris. If I forget to say hello to him, he knocks on his stall door.

Ferris

Because Claire is so dedicated to her riding, we decided that it made sense to support one of the horses at the riding club. So, we’re sponsoring Tequila, a gentle older horse, half arabian and half morgan, that is the closest thing to owning a horse that Claire’s going to experience for now. He’s a great horse that does exactly what is asked of him, but not much more than that. Which, if you think about it, is absolutely perfect for a beginning rider like Claire.

Claire riding

Claire and Tequila.

How Riding Benefits Kids

Subtle communication. Claire has always been a strong-willed individual that always finds a way to get what she wants. When she was a toddler, I could tell her no for something she wanted and she would go to every other person in the house and ask them. We joke that she’s a natural salesperson, as hearing “no” does nothing to discourage her from getting what she wants.

When she rides, she has to learn that there are many ways to ask a horse to do what you want it to do. And she’s learning that she can ask gently and get what she wants. She’s learning an art of communicating with her horse that might not have worked in a classroom full of kids or even at home amongst people older than her.

Clear communication. And yet, she has to be very clear about what she wants the horse to do. She has to be clear and firm, and she has to let the horse know she’s serious and clear about what she wants. She has to be clear within herself about what she wants. She can’t think left and ask a horse to go right. There is an intuitive component of communicating with horses, and that inner and outer alignment of intention gets real when you’re in an arena with a horse.

Confidence and self-esteem. As she works with a horse that listens, and forgives when she is learning, she experiences a mastery in the riding arena. Horses don’t have to cooperate. But these horses do. She has a pride in taking care of them and knowing she’s done a good job.

Work ethic. She learns to clean tack, groom horses, clean their hooves, muck out stalls, and take care of the barn areas. Taking care of horses is a lot of work. Life is a lot of work. But when it’s work related to something or someone you love, it’s easy to do.

Listening and following directions. Claire doesn’t like being told what to do, and she’s a perfectionist (where on earth did she get THAT trait). Yet, her desire to ride overrides her stubbornness. She lets go just enough to learn because her desire to learn is stronger than anything else, and she focuses that perfectionism on really assimilating what she learns.

Responsibility. Along with developing her work ethic, Claire has a level of responsibility with riding. Because we’re sponsoring Tequila, she has to earn the money to pay for the sponsorship. She does so by helping around the house and helping me make products, Claire has a level of awareness of her responsibilities and the benefits of that work.

Connection. Spending time with animals, big or small, provides connection and reduces stress. Horses are wonderful companion animals, and Claire has craved interaction with horses since she was a small child. Going for a walk in our neighborhood necessitates at least 5-6 carrots to stop at all of the pastures to visit with our friends.

Clarity. I had listened to a podcast last fall with comedian Whitney Cummings on which she discussed how equine therapy had helped her significantly. When you’re tasked to lead an animal or a team of people, there has to be a level of clarity within yourself about who you are, what you want, and what you need others to do. In the arena, there are no games. Being “pasave agresave” gets you nowhere with a horse. The horse sees you, feels you, and knows you. You have to be completely congruent inside and out with what you want from a horse. You have to let go of the data, the emotions, and the junk of relating that we pick up over the years. You have to show up open-hearted and ready to be who you really are.

And this to me is the biggest gift that horseback riding will give Claire. She’s young enough where she hasn’t picked up too many games of relating that so many of adults have. Now that she’s homeschooling, some of those troubling behaviors can fall away. She’s fairly aware and clear (Claire!) herself, and she gets to solidify that as a part of her character.

I know as she rides more, these positive character traits will become second nature, naturally ingrained in her ability to navigate life. Claire, as you might be able to see in her picture with Tequila, is blissed out at her riding lessons. She doesn’t even realize how much she’s learning. And really, isn’t that the point of all of this parenting stuff… to give kids experiences that will help them throughout their life in ways that make them happy?

Claire grooms Tequila

Claire grooms Tequila.

In some ways, watching Claire develop her equestrian skills makes me a better parent. Intuitively, I see what she’s getting from the experience, and I can step out of the way and let that experience unfold for her, knowing she’s getting all she needs.

 

Catching up

So, where have I been?

I have tried to write a few times since October, but something would always come up. Primarily, I was spending an inordinate amount of time working with Claire and some of the challenges a gifted kid runs into at school. We had decided to bump her up to third grade last year, as she was pacing with the second graders. In fact, she was doing better than many of the second graders, though she was technically still in first grade. We decided to officially keep her in second grade (primarily to avoid having to go through the rigorous testing at the end of the school year), though she would work with the third graders in the classroom.

The Challenge of Gifted Kids

12183864_10153686372922438_6476460127467095901_oAcademically, Claire has been doing fine. Quite well, as a matter of fact. She still has that natural curiosity about her world, and she has the mind to analyze and decode her world. She reads at a sixth grade level and can do both multiplication and division easily. She memorizes facts with ease, and if it has something to do with horses, she’ll probably know a lot more than the average adult. Academically, I have no worries about her or her academic career.

Socially, however, she’s still only seven, though a precocious seven year old that can pace with older kids fairly well. However, the older kids know she’s only seven. And when you’ve got kids that have issues beyond your control or understanding, there can be challenges. Claire has a heightened expectation of how other kids should treat her. She’s very aware of right vs. wrong, and when wrong happens, she spends a lot of that mental power on trying to figure out why things aren’t right or acting out in ways that were rather challenging. That mental activity was better spent on learning and having fun, of course, but she was preoccupied when things were not going right.

I spent time with her at school, which I rather enjoyed. I love her school, her teachers, and it was nice hanging out with some of the other kids. And I did witness some kids acting out for various reasons in ways that were challenging to Claire. I would coach her through it, but at the same time, I had to wonder whether or not it was worth her energy, or my energy, to focus so much on just being okay socially with other kids. And, of course, it’s not all of the kids. But Claire is very good at sorting right from wrong and finding what’s wrong and trying to fix it.

We had a short break, then we all got sick. Stomach bug, then a cold hit us all. Claire was out altogether for three weeks. And, I noticed her personality changing… for the better. She started researching things of interest to her, asking more questions about her interests, and exploring her world in ways she wasn’t doing a month earlier.

It seemed that without the pressure of social issues, her mental bandwidth freed up so she could focus on more positive things.

Because she’s in that parroting stage still, the stage of life where kids are soaking up information, it made sense to homeschool for now. I wasn’t sure if I could handle it, but her educational facilitator and the director of the school confirmed with me that she would be fine. And intuitively, I got the message that I don’t have to be confident in my ability to teach, I just have to be confident in Claire’s ability to learn. And in that I have complete faith. So, we’re homeschooling for now. She’s happier. I’m more relaxed. We’ll meet with her educational facilitator every so often and we’ll document what she’s doing. I asked her if she’d like to keep a blog about what she’s doing, but she’s told me that blogs are boring. So, there you go.

What’s not boring to her is David Bowie. Since his death in January, both of my kids have been listening to David Bowie. Max, in high school, spent a day at school learning about David Bowie’s influence on the music world. Claire, seeing this, dove into Ziggy Stardust. She is also fascinated by the Blackstar video, and thinks it is a fantastic song. Not something you expect to hear from a seven year old, but she’s no ordinary seven year old, this is for sure.

Cooking up miracles in the kitchen

homemade deodorantAnother project that has taken up quite a bit of my own bandwidth is creating personal care products in the kitchen. Last summer, I made some of my own deodorant using coconut oil, baking soda, arrowroot, and bentonite clay. You see, your armpits are a primary detoxification center for your lymph nodes. I had found some soreness in one of my armpits, and it turned out to be an inflamed lymph node. I decided to ditch traditional deodorant, and I absolutely loved what I came up with.

After talking to a friend who operates a health store, I started making it for his customers. It has been one of the more successful products, which encouraged me to start sharing some of the other things I make for myself and the family, including remineralizing toothpaste, colloidal silver, and calendula salve. I decided to brand my offerings as Shasta Sage Wellness, and all of a sudden I have a new business. The logo is from a painting we purchased from a local artist that hangs in my kitchen, and the name Shasta Sage has dual meanings, of course. Overall, I’m really excited about the business and how well it’s been received.

calendula oilSo much of my work life over the last 25 years has been spent sitting in front of a computer, wrestling with code and words. There’s something meditative about making something physical and tangible. It’s akin to gardening or cooking in my mind, and I am really enjoying the change of pace. For a change, I get to let go of having to sell things and let others do that. I get to make things, and sell a little, and it feels really good. After spending a day making something, I am physically tired yet mentally still awake, and that feels good, too. And it’s also something I can involve both of my kids in the process of creation, too.

My friend recently asked if I could emulate a formula for a competitive product, something I’ve never done before. It took a few weeks of research, experimentation, and ultimately creating something that turned out better than the competitive product. And in doing so, it gave me more ideas for creating complementary products. I actually really enjoyed the challenge of coming up with a new product using all natural ingredients that will blow the petrochemical-based product out of the water. It was daunting and completely outside my realm of expertise, but it turned out being exceptional. It’s not a publicly available product yet, as it still has to go through the testing phase, but I’m excited.

Enjoying Mount Shasta

mount shasta californiaThis place… it nurtures my soul in ways I’ve never experienced elsewhere, except perhaps far northern Wisconsin. When things get overwhelming, and sometimes they certainly do, this place sets me right again. I am blessed and so very thankful to be able to live here.  The people here are like nowhere else, and the natural beauty of the surroundings, even when we’re socked in by snow, is beautiful. And if I want to escape the snow for a bit, the rest of California and Oregon provide respite.

Someone I know here that has lived here for decades mentioned to me that the mountain either spits you back out or it won’t let you leave. I had to laugh, as I’m certainly a part of the latter. No matter how I might fantasize about moving to the beach, the universe conspires to ensure I stay here.

When I first visited 9 years ago, I cried when I left. When I visited again, the desire to live here was overwhelming. Now that my kids have also fallen in love with the place, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

And of course, still writing

Even with all of these new and surprising activities, I am still making time to write. Most of the time, its early in the morning before anyone else is awake in the house. I am writing for me, for fun, and maybe for someday sharing.

And I’m hoping to get back into the blogging and podcasting thing now that so much is settling into routine.