Sunday, November 21, 2010

Family Jornal Project

We started our Family Journaling Project this past week. My husband and I, and our three oldest kiddos (ages 13, 10 and 7 3/4) started journaling together on nights when my husband is home from work. The kids have really seemed to love it. My husband seems to be passing a constipated bowel movement during the whole thing.

So far this is how it's worked. I have scoured the internet for some sort of writing prompt. When we settle in together, I share the prompt. Everyone writes or draws their response. Then I ask if anyone wants to share what they've written or drawn, but remind them that sharing is completely optional. No one has to share anything.

Any ideas for future prompts are very, very welcome! Any input or ideas of any kind is also very welcome. I am totally making this up as I go along, so appreciate all input and guidance.

The first night we went over the Journal Rules: You are allowed to write or draw anything you want in your journal. Anything. You never have to share anything you don't want to from your journal, but you may share anything you'd like. Journals are PRIVATE. No one has permission UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES to read or look in another person's journal, without their express permission. By express permission I mean: that they are right there with you in the same room while you are reading and they said that it was okay that same hour. Someone sharing something with you once does NOT give you permission to look in their journal whenever you want.

So far these have been our prompts:
What is your superpower?

What is your kryptonite?

Draw or describe your supersuit, super lair, or super mobile.

(all of those were taken from here )

Describe a time when you were courageous.

What is your biggest fear?
Draw the depths of your heart.
Tonight these will be our prompts:
Write about the worst day of your life. What made it so bad? What, if anything, did you learn from that day?

Write about the best day, or a great day of your life. What made it so good? What, if anything, did you learn from that day?

Write and acrostic poem using your name, using only positive adjectives or attributes to describe yourself.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Teaching Introspection & The Importance of Simply Being Together

The other day, I had an idea. I developed an interview, and asked each of my children a handful of questions about our family life. The oldest ones, in turn, are working on an interview for my husband and I. I had a two-fold purpose for this project.

First, I wanted to gain a sense of how the kids view our family, so that I could focus my parenting efforts playing to our strengths and emphasizing our assets. At the same time, starkly looking at our failings as a family, understanding how they affect all of us, and trying to figure out the root causes of those challenges which seem to plague us.

I think I am probably not alone as a parent getting stuck in focusing on the things going badly. We struggle with the same few things it seems over and over again. Picking up toys and projects and belongings left out is a monumental struggle Everyone seems to be vying for the attention of a parent or a sibling or a spouse almost non-stop, which can manifest itself in a plethora of negativity- ranging from hyper-competitiveness to down right cruelty. My perception (though it turns out to be a flawed one) was that we lacked a cohesive group identity, which is essential in fostering team work. I thought interviewing the kids about their perceptions of our family might give me some clues about what steps I might take to end this repetitive struggle with the same handful of issues. I was really unprepared for what I found out, but at the same time very pleased with what I found out. It will require some more self-searching and honesty on my part about the why of some of my own behaviour patterns, but what excited me was that moving forward is something that is definitely doable.

The second purpose was to encourage introspection amongst the children. Giving them a starting place and some practice thinking about their lives and communicating what they uncover. I also wanted them to have the experience of sharing their thoughts and hearts out loud with me in an environment of safety non-judgment. I began each interview telling them that there are no right or wrong answers, no better or worse answers. I just wanted the most honest answers they could give. I would not be angry or hurt by anything they had to say.

Here are the interview questions:
1.) What do you like best about being in our family?

2.) What would you change about our family if you could?

3.)What do you think you will struggle with the most as a grown up? What do you think Mommy struggles with most? Daddy?

4.) Imagine yourself as a 25 year old and someone asks you, "What was it like growing upin your family?" What is your answer to them?

5.) What do you hope our family life is like when you are all grown ups?

6.) Which one of your siblings do you feel you have the closest relationship to? Why? Which one do you wish you were closer to? Why?

7.) What do you feel is our greatest strength as a family?

8.) What do you feel is our greatest weakness?

9.) Any other thoughts or comments about growing up in our family that you think are important?

The underlying theme in all of the information I gathered was that more than anything our greatest asset as a family is just simply being together. Our greatest detriment is when we are not working together, or when any one of us is not open to togetherness. Having fun together and playing together is really important, but interestingly not something we do very well at overall. Honestly, what I found out is that the simple act of being physically together so much goes a long way, and the best way to improve what is lacking is by spending more time together having fun-both with our parent child relationships, as well as sibling to sibling relationships.

This is great news to me, and gives words to the feelings and sense of things I have been forming for several years. I have been telling people who ask why we homeschool for quite awhile now that it comes down to really just being a close knit family, with an emphasis an learning how to create and live in healthy relationships. We are all a part of one another's lives in a very intimate way. I know what my kids are doing. They know what I am doing. I know all of their friends and all of their friends' parents. They know all of my friends. I know the other adults in their lives. They watch me struggling and fighting to be the best person I can be. They witness my many, many mistakes and watch me apologize, try to make amends, and then try to gain the skills to do things differently in the future, even if that change is a long time coming. I know the things with which they are really struggling, so even if I can't help them I can be a witness to their struggle and cheer them on when they have a victory.

However, I think this information is also going to really require some more fine honed work on my part. I think I really need to understand where my disengagement comes from. I need to really seek out what the underlying shame there is, which makes me feel at times unworthy of connection with the kiddos. I need to work really diligently on balance in my life, so that I can be fully present more of the time. I need to try harder to incorporate the realities of a 1 year old into the fabric of the day of the rest of the children, instead of just sort of expecting them to wait another six months to have their mommy "back".

This has all also yielded to another project which I will share as it develops. We are going to start journaling together as a family. I will borrow a lot of other people's questions from the internet as well as create my own and encourage the kids to create questions. My husband has agreed to join us. I think it might be a great experience. I have never been much of a journal keeper, so I look forward to what will come.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

For Veteran's Day- A Poem by Brain Turner


It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient
because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more.

It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.

Brian Turner's debut collection, Here, Bullet, won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books. He earned an MFA from the University of Oregon before serving for seven years in the US Army. He was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, and prior to that was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the 10th Mountain Division. His poetry has been published in Poetry Daily, The Georgia Review, American War Poems: An Anthology, and in the Voices in Wartime Anthology published in conjunction with the feature-length documentary film of the same name. He currently lives in California.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Struggling to Make Sense of Love

I read something a few weeks ago that really, really challenged me. There was a list (oh, how my quantitative soul LOVES a list!) of dysfunctional behaviours and thoughts. Most of my life since becoming a mother has involved admitting how flawed I am in how I relate with myself and others and trying to gain skills and tools to heal and learn new patterns. These sorts of lists have served me well over time, since I came to adulthood pretty much completely unaware of what healthy relationships with others and myself actually look like. A huge part of moving toward wholeness for me has involved understanding what wholeness is not. I have gotten my ass kicked pretty routinely by truths I have encountered, but this time I feel like I was given a body blow. It reached a very deep place , where I believe the last vestiges of shrugging off personal responsibility lie. I am still processing through it all.

What did it say? This list? Well, essentially that a feeling of “If X, Y, or Z would just love me as he/she ought, things would be better,” is inherently dysfunctional.

Except this is exactly how I have felt for most of my married life. And even as I write this to release it and move on, I am crying. I really, really just want to be scooped up and loved and have my love accepted in return. (And here I will remind you once again--if you don’t think any of this is appropriate to hash out in a public sphere, no one is forcing you to read this. Click that little x in the right hand corner of your screen.)

In the beginning, this feeling was a position to hide behind, offering protection when I didn’t feel like enacting change in myself. It was a fortress where I could relinquish blame for the way things were. The suck was obviously NOT my fault. You, whoever you were, just weren’t loving me “right”.

I grew up always feeling like the black sheep, always feeling misunderstood. At one point as a teenager we went to family counseling to help me with “my” problems, where the counselor tried to implicate our entire family and well, let’s just say that we never went back to that quack who couldn’t see that my struggles and rebellion weren’t just my own damn fault. And so there is a very real sense in which the core of me really needed the people in my life to just love me as they ought. And when the didn’t, my response was quite simply. “Fuck them!”

But I carried this wounded part with me into adulthood. I carry it still, though it has morphed and manifested itself in other ways which I keep confronting and try to work through. I have long since accepted the messiness of raising children, and know that my parents did and gave the best they knew to do out of the best of intentions. While that acceptance has brought peace and forgiveness, I think I haven’t totally and honestly just looked that wounded little girl in the face, given her a hug and said “Good bye!”.

As I thought about this whole dynamic when confronted by this list, I think my difficulty lies in the fact that no longer is the feeling of believing “ if I was just loved as I ought to be “something which I hide behind. It is no longer a deflection of blame. I think it has transformed into an assertion that dammit , I am WORTH loving. And I am a phenomenal person to be loved by in return. But it is also a truth that being loved by me is not for the faint of heart. I have an immense capacity for loving people as they are, where they are at, but it is equally true that I want that love to change those who encounter it and experience it. Not by any pre-set criteria that I have, but that my love, my presence is fuel for them to seek out and find that change which they need to enact in order to be the best them they can be. Once again through big tears, I can definitely say that in our 14 years together my spouse has remained essentially unchanged in response to this heart, this love, this soul. And I am struggling to make sense of that, to make peace with it, to look it in it's brutal eyes , breathe it in and accept it. Without blame. For me or for him.

Which brings me back to make sense of the whole idea of “if I was just loved as I ought to be”. I think now, in the present it would better be expressed “if I was just allowed to love as I desire to love”, my life would be better. I want a healthy, mutually interdependent love where love feeds on itself and manifests into greatness. And I don’t believe that to just be the love of fairy tales and chick flicks. I know love is messy and scary and sometimes looks like and smells like shit. I do want to experience love as it “ought” to be, but this is no longer born out of dysfunction but from a place of certainty that not only am I enough, but that I really kind of rule. And so does the rest of humanity. We have a capacity for greatness if we can just get over being so afraid.

Writing this all out, I see a sort of triumph here. I see myself moving past lists and other outside determinants for what health and wholeness is. I find a woman who is able to wrestle through and determine what truth is. I find someone who is willing to accept that all that she’s come to conclude here, might in fact be wrong, and willing to amend it all if there is more or greater insight through her experience or interactions with others. I see a parting embrace to that wounded young girl who felt so let down by her world, and a wide warm welcome for the strong and amazing woman who has grown up in her place. I am here and I know that I must love myself with radical acceptance, and the humility to understand that before any external change can take place, I must first have the courage to be willing to change myself.

And if you have read this far, let me just leave you with this: Be open to the love in your life. Allowing other people to love you is not only a gift to yourself, but a gift to them. If you have a spouse or significant other in your life who is willing to be vulnerable before you, thank them for honoring you with that gift. And if you have work you need to do within yourself, know, without a doubt that I am here with you, to at least walk next to you so you are not alone as you do it.