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November 2015

Creativity and touch - in pictures :)

 
My friend Laura sent me some photos of the wedding quilt I made her and her husband back in October. Here is the quilt in situ - very pleasing to see!

 

Laura's quilt on bed

 

    Quilt3




The memo, which Laura and her then-fiancé (now husband!) chose, was soft greys, white and duck egg blues. It was a labour of love and, as with all labours of love, I learned things I didn't expect to learn doing it - like about how I respond to expectations from the outside world and from myself, how long it takes to make a bed-size quilt (normally I make one leisurely over the course of several months or a year), how there are some types of work that take as long as they take and can't be rushed...

It was a thrilling moment though to hand it over to them on their beautiful wedding day. Well worth it!

When I wrote to Laura after her wedding and commented on her new married name, she said something I thought was very cool: she said it was like acquiring a 'superhero identity'.

This made me think of a project another friend did with her kids, to design their own superhero capes. My kids and I went out and chose some plain fabric in our preferred colours and a fabric pen, but haven't got any further than that yet. Perhaps it's a holiday project... I will show the finished results when they are finally done ;-).

 

And my very talented photographer friend, Ingrid, took some lovely photos of us (well, I think so! ;-)) while we were visiting recently in Switzerland. I thought these images spoke nicely to the subject of touch and its importance that I blogged about two weeks ago.

 So many types of touch - hugs, kisses, massage, pats and strokes, rough-housing... Something for everyone?!

 

ETSA-35

 

 

  ETSA-41

 

 

  ETSA-45

(Photography: http://ingridcoxphoto.com/

 

Wishing you pats, strokes and creativity as the nights grow cold and dark,

Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent

 


"Work alone is your privilege, never the fruits thereof. Never let the fruits of action be your motive; and never cease to work."

Bhagavad Gita

I used to dislike the word 'work', now I like it. I find it hard not to think about the outcome, though - success/ failure, achievement/ wasting time.

 

What do you think?


Positive thinking, or "Always look for the helpers"

A positive outcome is predicted

 

There is a great story about Thomas Edison. Apparently, his teachers at school got irritated by his constant questioning at school, called him 'addled' (crazy) and sent him home.

His mother, who believed her son was a genius in the making, withdrew him from school and began home-schooling him.

Years later, Edison said of his mother:  “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me: and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”

Napoleon Hill wrote a similar story about how he transferred 'a burning desire' to hear to his deaf-mute son, who was born without ears. This son went on to test and sell revolutionary hearing aids, thus helping others as well as himself to move beyond the hearing disabilities they were born with.

Both Edison's mother and Napoleon Hill in these stories harnessed the power of positive thinking, or 'futurizing' with positive intent, and transferred their desire for a positive outcome to their children, who were able to manifest those desires in ways that powerfully affected both their own and other people's circumstances.

Some weeks, like this past one, it can feel as though the world is a frightening and tragic place. Even in apparently safe, peaceful cities like Paris, the threat of violence and horror lurks around every corner. I know a lot of people have gone deep into the news reports and come out, in many cases, feeling anxious, depressed and sad.

My first reaction was horror and fear, then a desire to push the news away, not to immerse myself in it, to protect my own feelings and stability. Then I too started reading, and cried, and hoped, all the time questioning the part of myself that is touched by these stories and yet able to put aside the horrors that happen every day, in 'other', less familiar parts of the world, wondering why it was so hard to find news reports on the terrible bombings that had happened two days earlier in Beirut.

What part does 'positive thinking' have to do with all of that stuff? Isn't it fantastical, or unrealistic, to affirm that 'all is well', or that 'a positive outcome is predicted', faced with the 'realities' presented to us every day in the news?

For me, 'positive thinking' is no more or less 'realistic' than 'negative thinking'. It doesn't deny that there is sadness, tragedy and hardship.  What it does is to focus on 'the other side of the story', what Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, would term creating an 'optimistic bias'.

It is about looking at things differently, looking for light in dark situations, remaining hopeful, for people and for the world.

Here are some of my favourite quotes about finding, or being light in dark situations, all said by people who themselves experienced extremes of prejudice and pain:

Mahatma Gandhi

“A thousand candles can be lighted from the flame of one candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness can be spread without diminishing that of yourself.”    

―     Mahatma Gandhi
 
 
Martin Luther King Jr.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 
  ―     Martin Luther King Jr.
 
 
Anne Frank
Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”  
 
―     Anne Frank
 
 
(See here for more quotes on darkness and light)
 
 

Fred Rogers, the American children's TV entertainer, wrote an inspiring passage about how his mother helped him respond to disaster situations in the news:

"    I was spared from any great disasters when I was little, but there was plenty of news of them in newspapers and on the radio, and there were  graphic images of them in newsreels.
    For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.
    There was something else my mother did that I've always remembered: "Always look for the helpers," she'd tell me. "There's always someone who is trying to help."  I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong."

 

(You can see a video interview with him here in the Huffington Post).

 
Sometimes we feel that we SHOULD read the news, find out exactly what is going on, educate ourselves. How do you feel when you watch the news or read the papers? Do you feel fired up to action, or fearful and depressed?
 

The way that each of us thinks and feels is important. Thought energy is contagious. We have all experienced times of being positively or negatively affected by another person's energy.

There are no guarantees, but if we may be able to 'prime' ourselves for optimism and success, doesn't it make sense to try?

 

 

Here are some thoughts/ ideas on how to practice positive thinking, both for ourselves and as parents:

1) Use positive affirmations, like the one above - 'A positive outcome is predicted, with everything intact.'*  You don't have to BELIEVE the affirmation is TRUE, it is a statement of intent, of where you want to get to. You can repeat the phrase to yourself 10 times, or you can write it down 10 times. If you repeat these positive phrases regularly, e.g. in the morning or at night-time, you may notice you feel calmer and less stressed.

2) Don't watch the news, or at least reduce your news feeds. Being constantly bombarded by negative news can often make people feel overwhelmed, and doesn't necessarily lead to productive outcomes. Or watch positive news channels, like

 http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/

Here's some good news: Sierra Leone is officially FREE of Ebola !!! Isn't that truly amazing and wonderful? Something to celebrate?

3) Read children's literature. Somehow the classics of children's literature seem to encapsulate what life is all about. A couple of my favourites are:

- Winnie the Pooh (the character of Eeyore is a brilliant study in how our thoughts can affect our reality)

- Little House on the Prairie and the other books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

4) Create something or make something. Humans have the capacity to destroy and the capacity to create. Making things - sewing, baking, chopping vegetables, making a photo montage of your family - can be deeply soothing and therapeutic.

 

What other thoughts or ideas do you have? Please share!

We are mortal beings - we can't control how we die, but we can affect how we live, and that is exciting, fascinating and rewarding.

 

Love and light,

Elizabeth - aka The Writing Parent

 

(* This affirmation is adapted from Juliet Jaffray Hubbs and Nora Monaco)

 

 

 

 


The power of touch

"Babies need human contact and affection (and not just to be fed, warmed and cleaned). If they are not given this, they may easily die."  Steve Biddulph, The Complete Secrets of Happy Children

 

  Touch cuddle2


A few weeks back I wrote about the book The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, specifically about the love language that I personally felt most challenged by: acts of service.

Today I want to tell a story about a love language that I LOVE - physical touch.

A lot of parenting books talk about the importance of touch for infants (see the quote above, for example).

I don't need much persuading about the importance of touch - I could be the definition of 'touchy-feely'. I am a qualified massage therapist, and I may be one of the few people who actually likes being patted down at airports - I find it relaxing, like a mini massage (- too much information???). I told this to the female security officer once and got a bit of a strange look in response... ;-)

But it's a funny thing to talk about, isn't it? The word - touch, touch, touch - sounds like something out of 50 Shades of Grey  (I've not read it, but I understand the connotations ;-)). 'Touch' is such a loaded word, with hints of its dangerous underside always lurking in it, that we forget how crucial TOUCH is to our survival, to our very will to live.

Here's my story.

I wrote last week about my daughter's premature arrival. I didn't see her when she was born - not until several hours afterwards. I am so short-sighted that I couldn't see her on the other side of the room without my glasses, which had been stowed safely by the midwife, and she was whisked off to the intensive care unit by the crowd of doctors and nurses that had arrived in the birthing room just before her emergence.

After they took her away, I lay in a small grey room off a quiet hospital corridor, suddenly empty, trying to sleep, thinking about the unfinished tasks I had planned to complete before my maternity leave started, and of all the people I would need to notify of my sudden change in circumstances. Hardly thinking of the tiny bleating lamb I had heard but not seen on the other side of the room some hours before, my new child that I hadn't yet touched.

A nurse came to wheel me to the intensive care unit. 'It is important that you see your baby now,' she said.

My husband came too. I recognised her instantly because she looked like a tiny female version of her brother. I thought she was beautiful.

'Can we touch her?' I asked.

'You can...' the nurses said, hesitating. 'But we have to warn you: premature babies are very sensitive, they have so little body fat and their nerves are so raw that they don't like a lot of handling.'

She was hooked up to various monitors and breathing apparatuses. When we put our hands in through the holes in the incubator and stroked her skin, she started beeping like crazy - not actually her, but the heart rate monitor, the oxygen saturation monitor etc.. A nurse came hurrying over and told us she was too distressed, she didn't like it.

It is a pretty hard moment when you realize your new baby doesn't want you to touch her, in fact you are unable in any way to care for her. The medical staff could do what we - her parents - could not. After a while of standing and looking at her, we went back to the ward.

A bit later, another nurse came by and said they were transferring her to a bigger hospital in Stevenage where they had better facilities for premature babies.

'It is important that you come and touch her before she goes,' she said. 'To bond with her - feel that she is yours.'

'But she doesn't like it,' I said. 'She freaked out when we touched her before.'

'Never mind,' she said. 'Do it anyway. It's important.'

We went and saw her hooked up to this massive transport machine, like a dog in a spaceship. She was hard to find under the tubes and wires. We put our hands on her, as instructed. I don't know that she liked it any more than before, but we did as we were told.

That afternoon we meet other parents at the new hospital, saw babies much smaller and more premature than our daughter, and sensed, for the first time since her birth, how lucky we were, how big and strong our skinny, gasping baby was compared to others born even earlier than she.

I stayed overnight in the maternity ward. At midnight I woke to express milk, and with such a longing to go visit her.

I made my way down to the ground floor of the hospital, buzzed in to the intensive care unit and went over to her incubator. I stood and watched and watched her. I watched how the nurses cared for her, changing her feeding tube, her nappy, and put their hands gently over her head and tummy without stroking.

'Can I do that too?' I asked.

'Of course,' the nurse said. 'She's your baby.'

I stood with one hand on her forehead, the other on her tummy, and just held them there, feeling her breathe. She didn't freak out, she didn't beep. If I hadn't known better, I'd have said that she... relaxed.

The 3rd day, I finally got to cuddle her. It took some time for the nurse to get her out, adjusting all the wires and equipment so that she could lie on my chest, inside my jumper. My mother was there, watching but not touching.

I was so overwhelmed by the moment - holding her for the first time, trying to stop her big brother from crushing her as he paid his affection - that I didn't notice much else.

But my mother told me later: 'while you were holding her, her heart rate and oxygen saturation levels all improved and were more stable than any time when I've been visiting.'

 

I told the children about the love languages book. I explained about quality time.

'Oh! That's my love language!' my daughter said.

'Mine too,' said my son.

I summarized the language of gifts.

'Oh! that's me!' she said again.

'And me,' my son said.

I told them about acts of service.

'That's me!'

'And me.'

Words of affirmation.

'And that's me!'

'Me too.'

And the language of touch: kisses, cuddles, massages.

'That's me!'

'It's me too, you know, not just you!'

 

Do we all claim ALL of the love languages as our own? Perhaps we should.

But, TOUCH. Where would we be without touch?

Perhaps: nowhere at all.

Thank goodness for touch.

 

I know this is rather black and white. Touch is complicated, and fascinating. It can be horribly misused, abused. Some people grow up with little loving touch, some people are uncomfortable with hugs and kisses and all of that stuff. We tend to believe that what comes easily for us must be easy and natural for other people too.

I am intrigued to hear from people about how they have managed the issue of touch in their lives/ parenting - particularly those who have perhaps struggled with 'speaking' that love language. Is it easier to manage it with your own children, or do you have to consciously remember to give physical strokes etc.?

I'd love to hear your views!

 

Oh - and go and give someone you like a big hug, or a nice stroke on the back. Why not?

Not the airport security staff though.

 

Love and hugs,

Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent

 

 

 


The Origins of the Story

'You think you're the best', my daughter said to me as we were walking home from school, a propos of, I felt, nothing.

 'You don't say "I'm better than everyone else" but you say other stuff that means it,' she continued.

Ouch. OUCH.

I'd been thinking, earlier: why am I writing this blog? What is the point? What is my purpose?

I thought: perhaps it is time to go back to the start of the story.

The idea for this book (as I originally intended it to be) came out of the following set of circumstances:

I was pregnant with my second child and looking for a new career path. I knew the job I was doing was not right for me, that I wouldn't return to it after I had my second baby, but I didn't know what to do instead.

I wanted to work directly with people to understand their lives, thoughts, feelings and goals; I'd done a course on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; I wanted something flexible and creative. I decided, therefore, to train as a life coach. 6 months pregnant, I signed up to a course, hoping to complete most of the coursework during my two months' maternity leave before the birth.

 

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley.

At 7 months pregnant (31 weeks) I went into premature labour, and my tiny daughter lay in an incubator for the next 5 weeks until we could take her home.

Anna_E_hosp

She came home weighing 1.5kg (around 3lb 5oz), with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), which lasted until she was almost 18 months, and meant that she woke around 9-10 times per night.

Anna_tiny_hosp

Two weeks after we brought her home, my mother died suddenly, accidentally, aged 59, falling down the stairs.

Anna_Grandma

 

Life coaching, training, careers all seemed very far away, they seemed to stretch out endlessly behind me and to the sides. Life became about hunkering down, getting through each day, dealing with the fall-outs from the fall-outs - a marriage under strain, other problems in the family.

Through it, I kept reading my coaching books, waiting for when I could focus on bigger, wider things again.

What I wanted then was some sort of book I could turn to for positive thoughts to get me through the day. The self-help books were all very well, but none of those authors seemed to be dealing with a baby who screamed every time I strapped her in her car seat, and who started crying ten minutes after I'd just put her down to sleep at night.

I kept thinking, when all this stuff is over and past, I can focus on my spiritual path again.

Then, one day, I thought: maybe this is it. Maybe THIS IS my spiritual path. Maybe I should write that book I want to read - positive affirmations in the context of parenting and all of those difficulties.

The thought became an idea, which became writing and interviews with friends and acquaintances, focused reading and, 7 years on, this blog.

I don't think I think I'm better than everyone else. Like most people, I have to guard against thinking: AM I EVEN ENOUGH? But writing is a great way of REFLECTING, and sharing is a great way of LEARNING, and I do hope - think - that this blog is making me a teensiest bit better as a parent. More aware, at any rate.

So my daughter is right: it is all about me ;-).

 

ANna_hosp_S_E

 

Here is one of my favourite affirmations:

Powerful and positive energy surrounds me at all times.

Helpful to repeat, those times you can't tell whether the universe is for or against you.

 

Here's a baby blanket I just finished for my friend's baby, Hector. A simple whole cloth quilt quilted with tiny crosses - just tacked together, really. The fabrics are Riley Blake Year of the Ninja and Ikea Nattljus. Simple, but nice strong colours for a newborn, don't you think? I hope Hector likes it ;-).

 

Photo dragon sofa

 

  Dragon closeup 2

 

From me - to you - and back again.

Elizabeth x. aka The Writing Parent

 

 

 

 

 

 


Do you use reward/ privilege systems to motivate your kids?

We've tried various star charts/ reward charts etc. and they work for a while but then fall by the wayside as we all lose enthusiasm with them.

But I am keen to get the kids to do more jobs around the house as they get older, and I want to learn to use 'win-win'/ inherent motivation strategies, as opposed to nagging and shouting, which I'm already pretty good at ;-).

Do you have any suggestions for rewards/ privileges for good behaviour or chores that you can recommend? E.g. screen time, gifts, treats, outings, experiences etc..

Conversely, how do you punish or take away those privileges when you are not seeing the behaviour you want?

Thanks!


Additional useful resources for dealing with spirited/ rebellious children (- for parents, teachers etc.):


 - Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent and Energetic
by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

- The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children
by Ross W., PhD Greene

Both of these books have helped me to better view and understand the spirited child in my care and manage and circumvent explosions more effectively.

(These are personal recommendations. Any other suggestions?)