Category Archives: Parenting Parkour

My Disembodied Head… Or, On Not Being Two Places at Once

So what the heck is this all about?

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Well…

The Presbyterian General Assembly starts on Saturday, but most members of Team Wilkinson/Dana are already in Detroit today, meeting with young adult advisory delegates, having meals with interest groups, and attending a prayer gathering to get fortified for the work ahead (whether as moderators of the gathering or as among its 650 commissioners).

I am not with them.

I already knew that I would miss Margaret’s dance recital on Saturday afternoon, which coincides with the opening plenary of the assembly. But my heart sank several weeks ago when I discovered that the girls’ piano recital was Friday evening. In an ideal world, I would already be in Detroit today. But working parents never live in an ideal world. (Does anyone?)

Thankfully John, my co-conspirator on this great adventure said, “This one’s easy. Don’t miss the recital.” So I asked the girls’ piano teacher to schedule them in the first half of the program (which she was happy to do) and am booked on the last flight to Detroit tonight. If the timing works out, I will listen via conference call to the prayer gathering while waiting at the gate, but I am holding this and all things lightly.

I remember hearing about pastoral boundaries during the call process. Ministry is a demanding job, emotionally and spiritually, I was told. You have to protect yourself! And yes, there are more opportunities for caregiving than you could ever complete. Sunday seems to come every 39 minutes. The average congregation is not going to guard your mental health, people warned. (Guess what? Your kids don’t do that either. They want all of you.)

I don’t know whether this antagonism was intended, or whether I misheard it. In either case, I entered ministry thinking of boundaries as thick walls. Sometimes family life took precedence and sometimes the church had to come first, but there was a clear right answer—or at least, I convinced myself that there was, because the ambiguity was too uncomfortable to acknowledge.

Thanks to my friend Julie Johnson, I now think of boundaries not as brick walls but as semi-permeable membranes. Think about the wall of a cell: some things get through and other things don’t. The cell changes shape depending on a number of factors, but it retains its basic integrity. And most important, it is an organic thing, alive and changing.

To be sure, it’s disconcerting to see yourself as a semi-permeable membrane. There is vulnerability in it. You’re… squishy. But also, stuff can filter back and forth more easily. Case in point: this afternoon I was playing Margaret’s recital music from my laptop and got a private recital. As I closed my laptop afterwards, a “thinking of you as you get ready for GA” email caught my eye. So it goes.

Today I am here, but I’m thinking about my colleagues in Detroit—my heart is partly there. And Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., I will be at the dance recital, in spirit if nothing else. And that’s OK. In Sabbath in the Suburbs I talked about the importance of being present, of fully doing whatever it is you’re doing. And that’s true. But it’s also OK for your heart to be somewhere else too. That’s the way of the world.

AND! Permeability gives you some grace to be playful. Today I’ll be in northern Virginia in the flesh, but in Detroit in spirit… and, it turns out, in image. Some of John’s friends suggested a MaryAnn cardboard cutout that they will carry around with them, just for fun. We decided a MaryAnn mask, pictured above, would be more manageable. I’m hoping for pictures today, a la Flat Stanley, or perhaps Waldo.

Splendid.

If you’re in Detroit today, look for my disembodied head! And tomorrow, I’ll be all there. Except when I’m thinking good thoughts about the little girl dancing hip-hop to Run-D.M.C.

The Harder Thing is the Easier Thing

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I love it when blogs and online articles build on one another. Sarah Spath, a career and life coach, recently wrote about an old blog post of mine, in which I reflected on one of my parenting mantras: the harder thing is the easier thing. Sarah summarizes it like this:

MaryAnn tells the story of being exhausted and trying to run errands when one of her three kids asks from the backseat, “Mommy, can we pretend we’re in a spaceship?” Irritable MaryAnn, out of creative energy, initially just wants to say No—to be left alone. But something in her said Yes instead, so fighting traffic and running errands while in the Minivan Spaceship became a fun adventure that averted cranky kid syndrome when bedtime finally rolled around. The harder thing in the moment—to give her kids creative energy—turned out to be the easier thing over the course of the entire evening.

Robert shared another example with me just yesterday morning: instead of trying to coax and fight our reluctant children to get out of bed, he made them a big yummy breakfast. The harder thing (scrambling eggs, slicing fresh strawberries, making toast, on a busy weekday morning) became the easier one because they sprang readily out of bed and threw on their clothes.

Sarah compares my idea to another meaningful idea she picked up along the way:

Acute pain is often better than chronic pain.

She describes her experience with repetitive stress injuries that came from being at the computer for 8-12 hours a day for her work. These injuries meant she wasn’t writing regularly:

Dealing with it required embracing some treatments that brought acute pain—the sore tearing up of knots in massage therapy, the angry abrasive friction of gua sha in acupuncture, and the terror of letting a chiropractor crack my neckbones. I’m now past the point of needing any of these treatments regularly, but they were critical both for healing and for understanding how my body works and what it needs.  And then a physical therapist told me that simply moving around more and getting exercise would help my healing.

So now I prevent and manage the chronic pain with regular exercise, something I never imagined myself doing because it seemed like such a chore. But the acute “pain” of going out for a walk, getting on a yoga mat, or lifting weights always paid off tenfold in the way it loosened me up (both physically AND mentally, it turns out) so that I could have a real writing life again.

This reminded me of the old Anne Lamott story from Bird by Bird about getting her tonsils removed. Her throat was in vicious pain afterwards, and the nurse recommended getting a pack of chewing gum and going at it. When we’re wounded, the nurse explained, our muscles clamp around the wound in an attempt to protect it.

The mere idea of chewing gum made Anne clutch at her throat. And sure enough, the first few seconds brought excruciatingly acute pain, a “ripping sensation” in her throat. But within minutes, the “chronic” pain was gone for good.

My current mantra relates to this stuff. In the midst of lots of big things coming up in my life–General Assembly being just one of them–my task has been to “hold it all lightly.” That’s a hard thing for me–I’m an excellent manager *cough*controlfreak*cough*.

But it will be the easier thing in the long run, as I’m able to be more flexible and gracious to embrace whatever comes.

Do you have a phrase or other wisdom that’s helping you through these days?

~

photo credit: Deborah Leigh (Migraine Chick) via photopin cc
This is one of the pictures that came up when I searched PhotoPin for “chronic pain” and I couldn’t resist.

Seamless Faith: A Q&A with Author Traci Smith

headshotbwmediumAs I continue to rest in the words of others this Lent, I am pleased to offer this short Q&A with Traci Smith, fellow Chalice Press author, whose book Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life just came out recently. Take it away, Traci!

1. What led you to write this book?
As a Director of Youth Ministries, first, and then a Pastor, I have met many parents and caregivers who want their children to grow up with an understanding of faith and spirituality, but didn’t feel equipped. They worry that they don’t have enough time, or that they’re “doing it wrong” or that they don’t have enough knowledge of the Bible or Theology. I wanted to write a very practical resource to empower and encourage parents. It also helped that my boys, Clayton and Samuel were both under two years old as I was writing this book. It inspired me to imagine the things we could do together as a family. In a very real sense, this book is for my family as much as any family.

2. What will people gain from this book that they won’t get anywhere else?
I think of this book as a type of “recipe book” for a faith-filled home. The book carefully lays out practices that any family can incorporate into daily life. Just like a recipe, each practice lists the ages that its suited for, along with materials, step-by-step instructions and variations. There are many wonderful books about children and family spirituality out there, but none is laid out in quite this same “pick it up and run with it” way of Seamless Faith. It’s incredibly user-friendly.

Seamless_Faith_cover_5th_proof3. Share one idea, quote or section in the book of which you are particularly proud.
One of the chapters is called Ceremonies for Difficult Times and it features practices that are suitable for hard times such as divorce, death, illness and anxiety. It’s a very special chapter to me, because I think we need to remember that every day isn’t a trip to the zoo or a picture perfect moment. We need resources for the hard times too. Writing practices that parents could turn to in a time of grief or crisis was an honor, and it is a great joy to have them out in the world for families to use.

4. How have you changed your own parenting as a result of your work on this book?
One of the things I’ve felt as a mother in the few short years I’ve been one (my oldest isn’t yet three) is that there’s a whole lot of pressure. There are endless blogs and books and resources with advice and tips, and it can be dizzying to keep track of it all. Writing down my ideas about how to incorporate faith into family life reminded me that each parent and caregiver puts his or her own stamp on parenting. It’s not “Dr. So and So’s” way or “Expert Fancypants’s” way, it’s “my way.” This is one of the things that most excites me about the book — each practice offers many ways for parents and caregivers to make it their own, no matter how old their children are, no matter what their family’s style is.

5. As an author, I know that the book keeps “working on you” even after the manuscript is done and turned in. Are there ideas you’ve begun to think about differently, or new content you wish you’d included? Another way of asking the question: what will be included in the sequel? :-)
Along the lines of the previous question, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how parents need large doses of encouragement and respite. I think the sequel might include a lot of prayers and practices for parents who need to recharge and recenter in their busy lives. Then again… that’s what Sabbath is for, and there’s already a great resource about that!

Aww, thanks Traci!

All right folks, let’s give Traci the Blue Room bump! Seamless Faith is available at Chalice Press, Amazon, etc. What a good resource for churches to share with families. What a perfect gift for a friend who’s a new parent. What a great thing to have on your own bookshelf. Thank you for the fine book, Traci.

Shepherding the Family through Social Media

Shepherding the Family through Social Media

“Mommy, can I have an Instagram account?” my daughter asked from the back seat of the van. We were on our way home from a retreat I’d led for a church in South Carolina. I’d decided to bring the family with me—the retreat was in Myrtle Beach; enough said—and they’d had a great time. The kids met all kinds of new friends and made plans to keep in touch. Apparently Instagram was the preferred method.

Unfortunately, my daughter is 11, and the Instagram terms of service specify a minimum age of 13.

What’s a rule-following mother to do? I don’t want to give her the impression that it’s OK to bend the rules, even in a trivial matter. And maybe this matter isn’t so trivial. Does an 11 year old need an Instagram account yet? I’d love to nurture these fledgling friendships, but can’t I keep her young and social-media sheltered for just a little while longer? Whom is she likely to encounter on these sites? Friends, of course, just like I happily do. But what about people who might do her harm?

I am confronted with these questions even as I work on my next book, Spirituality in the Smartphone Age, which is an attempt to examine this digital culture we all swim in. As I write, I’m trying to discern some spiritually faithful patterns and practices for engaging with technology. How much is too much? What does it mean to be “authentic” online? How can we be mindful of personal boundaries? What does meaningful community look like?

One of the challenges in writing the book is defining what I mean by spirituality, as opposed to the psychology or sociology of digital culture. Other authors have explored quite thoroughly the ways the Internet has changed the way we work, play, and relate with one another. What I’m after is something simultaneously deeper and broader: a holistic approach that integrates body, mind, spirit, and community.

But the other challenge in writing the book is that I’m so very confused and ambivalent myself about our technological age and how it is changing us.

READ THE REST at the Practicing Families website.

Photo credit: MikaelWiman via photopin cc

Mindful Parenting: A Q&A with Kristen Race

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I reviewed the book Mindful Parenting recently, and today I’m delighted to share a Q&A with Kristen Race, the author of the book. Thank you for your time and expertise, Dr. Race!

1. What first led you to research stress responses in the brain, and especially its effect on children and teens?

When I was working in schools I became increasingly concerned by the high level of stress that students were experiencing. I knew that this stress was influencing their attention, their mood, their behavior and their ability to learn. I want to learn more about how stress and these other symptoms were linked. When I first learned about the stress response in the brain it was like an “Ah ha” moment for me. I started sharing this information with students and it was as if I could see a weight being lifted off of their shoulders. They suddenly had an explanation for how they were feeling!

2. Your book is written primarily for individual parents to use in their own families. But I was intrigued by your “Hang Up and Hang Out” initiative that partnered with local schools to encourage parents to put away the cell phones and just focus on their kids. Are there other models or practices that you’d like see implemented throughout entire communities, rather than just household by household? (I see lots of potential in churches and other religious communities, for example.)

Absolutely. Hang Up & Hang Out is tailor-made for those organizations that you mentioned. During the Hang Up & Hang Out week we hosted a family fun night at one of the elementary schools. The theme of the night was “Ways to Engage without Technology.” We had a family yoga station, a dinner games station, a station where families decorated boxes that they would use to hold devices during family time, and we had a dance party station in the gym. We were blown away when we had 480 people attend the event! It was a blast!

3. My favorite chapter of the book is “A Guide to Creating a Mindful Family,” which has tons of activities and practices that parents and children can do together. I can’t wait to try the Praise Pancake! Is there a particular practice that’s your personal favorite, either for your kids or yourself?

We love Rose Bud Thorn in our house. We play it around the dinner table, and every person gets a turn to share their Rose (something good that they experienced over the course of their day), their Thorn (a mistake that they learned from today), and their Bud (an act of kindness that they witnessed or initiated.) It is a great conversation starter, and there are tons of elements to this activity that benefit brain development, including teaching kids that struggles are ok.

4. In my work around Sabbath-keeping, I’ve found that it’s easier for parents of young children to envision making changes in their family’s behavior, whereas parents of teens feel like it’s too late, that the patterns are already set. What advice or encouragement would you give specifically to parents of teens who want to take your message to heart?

I am asked all the time, “Is it too late to start?” The beauty of practicing mindfulness, informally or formally, is that it benefits the brain for a 2 year old as well as the brain of a 92 year old. MRI scans demonstrate this. We need look no further than the Google campus, and the waiting lists for mindfulness classes that their company is offering, to see the demand for these types of support by adults. My single piece of advice for parents of teens is to start small, with one or two activities. Starting a ritual of a family adventure can be a great place to start with teens. And remember, modeling still matters when you have a teen! Think about how you manage your stress (do you go for a run or run for the liquor cabinet?), your teen is watching.

5. How have you changed your own parenting as a result of your research, and what aspects of mindful parenting do you still struggle with?

I have become much more compassionate towards myself as a result of my research. I am a recovering perfectionist:) I now realize that I AM going to make mistakes as a parent, that I can learn from those mistakes, and that modeling that mistakes provide opportunities for growth is incredibly important for my children!

~

So thankful to Dr. Race for her thoughts. Folks, do check out her book, it’s worthwhile.

Related Posts from The Blue Room Archives:
Jesus the Buddhist?
What It Means to Be Attentive
Brother Lawrence’s Guide to the First Day of School
What Are You Paying Attention To?