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Dreamy movies for kids and grownups

If you’ve tried to find kids’ media that is gentle but edgy enough, that respects a kid’s need for safety and curiosity about danger, then you know you’re in for an epic and unsatisfying quest.

We’ve waded through all sorts of “kids” movies. Some left Jo huddled in the corner of the couch with hands clapped over his ears (Cars), others that had great moments (and songs!) but required tons of challenging explanations and fastforwarding through scary parts (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). We came really close with the Herbie the Love Bug movies, but there was some sexism in those that pissed me off.

So it was a profound relief to discover My Neighbor Totoro. Jo and I were both completely transfixed and delighted. The main character girls are curious, vulnerable, angry, kind and determined as hell. Totoro naps in a huge, soft cuddly heap, and carries the girls, safe in his tufts of fur, as he flies on a spinning top in the night sky and bellows a fierce, resonant roar.

We reveled in this story — it doesn’t dumb down intrigue and fear at the expense of delight, and spins characters out of wonder–six-legged Catbus with furry interior, anyone?

catbus

Now I’ll tell you why we’re all damn lucky. The studio (Studio Ghibli) and director (Miyazaki, who has quite possibly the most sparkly but respectable elderly man face ever) that made Totoro was pretty prolific, so there’s also Ponyo, which is Jonah’s favorite. And why wouldn’t it be? A five-year-old boy named Sosuke lives on a house that teeters over the ocean, where he gets to go and play by himself. He makes friends with a goldfish-turned-girl and names her Ponyo.

Ponyo --- One of my favorites scenes from the movie (I have a weird obsession with underwater scenery)

Among other things, they float on top of their world–which is flooded by the ocean and all of its creatures–in a toy boat that uses a candle as its motor. And voila! Another gender-norm-bending, tender-hearted, just-spooky-enough adventure.

ponyo-500And for those of you who have the time and desire to cook after a good bout of movie watching, I stumbled across this, a recipe for Ponyo noodles on a rad blog dedicated to “cooking and eating through children’s literature.” Recipe for crisp apple strudels and schnitzel with noodles, anyone?!

But I digress.

Apparently, the other Miyazaki movie that’s gentle enough for little kids is Kiki’s Delivery Service.

If you haven’t seen any of these, whether you have kids or not, run to your nearest video store (you can’t stream them online).

You’ll thank me later.

Scripting my kids to emotional intelligence

I learned it from Kidpower, this kick ass group that taught our preschool about safety and strangers. (The reason Kidpower kicks ass is because they teach a whole boat-load of potentially freaky stuff in the spirit of personal power and curiosity, not fear.)

kidpower
Kick ass cartoon from the cover of Kidpower’s safety comic book that graces Jo’s bookshelf.

Our Kidpower trainer did it first. This very together woman with a very together haircut and strong, easy voice walked us through the classic scenarios. “You’re in a busy shop and you look up and can’t find your grown up anywhere…” Then she’d pluck a proud volunteer kid from the audience and show us all how to practice:

I’m pretending to be the lady at the cash register, and this is a time when interrupting is okay. Now put your hand on my arm right here to get my attention. Yep. Make it a firm pancake hand so I’ll notice you, and then with your strong voice say “I need help.”

The kid flopped out a nervous “i need help.”

Try again with your loud power voice like this, “I Need Help.”

“I NEED HELP!”

Great. That was perfect. Now look in my eyes and say, “I’m lost. I can’t find my grownup.”

And so it went with how to handle angry stranger kids at the playground to the pot boiling over on the stove while mom showers to a stranger delivering flowers at the front door when the babysitter is in the backyard.

That evening training was a long time ago. But something stuck with me about that self-assured gal with her self-assured hair confidently scripting our kids to safety over and over and over.

I revived her genius scripting move one afternoon when, for the 400th time, Jo had knocked Cal down or bonked him or grabbed a car out of his hands. Cal either screamed or cried or hulked out and started throwing his potty at the wall. And Jo just walked on, fiddled with the car and pretended like nothing happened.

Jo, get down low so Cal can see your face and put your arm gently on his shoulder like this and say “I’m sorry Cal. I didn’t see you there. Are you alright?”

And I’ll be damned if my big ol’ too-proud, easily embarrassed 5-year-old didn’t parrot my every little move, from the gentle hand to the kind tone of the question at the end. And Cal listened, said “Yeah.” and picked himself up.

And the band played on.

This discovery really killed me, because it stripped away my own judgement about Jo and how emotionally brutish and stunted he can seem sometimes. Underneath that stonewall is a kid who literally doesn’t know how to respond. A kid worried that he messed up, a kid confused by his little brother’s emotional toddler storm.

The thing that slays me, every time he echoes my script, is how trusting and vulnerable he has to be every time he accepts my instruction. Every time he repeats my words, and bends his wiry knees to get his face down next to Cal’s, he’s basically saying, “I totally trust you not to make me look like an idiot, Mom.” and “I have no idea what to do, so I’ll take the risk of doing something weird and new, Mom.”

It makes my tummy all jiggly just to think about it. My steely, ninja-warrior son. A sweet little wide-eyed baby bird.

So I’ve been scripting him all over the place. And he just keeps parroting me without any resistance in the world. It still shocks me, since Jo shuts down or revolts at the slightest hint of shame or anger. But the scripting has no judgement. It’s just like handing him a wrench in a moment when he needs one and saying, here’s how you fit it to the bolt. Now grab on here, and turn it this way.

Bless his sweet cotton socks.

My kid is letting me teach him.

Where I found my dreams

I was surprised that you all related so well to my post about losing my dreams.

When I wrote that one and hit the old PUBLISH button, I worried that it would thud into your lives as a big ol’ downer. Maybe it did. But as usual, reading your responses helped me feel like part of the human race again instead of like a lack-luster misfit.

Something else interesting has happened.

I’ve started to daydream. I did it right before I sat down to write this. Instead of hurdling myself straight from work into writing, like some sort of eternally productive robot, I first found a grassy field, popped out the kickstand on my bike and laid down. I do my best daydreaming supine on grassy fields. After a while, I took off my shoes. And that was that.

Taking the space to require nothing of myself has been glorious. I lay. I breathe. I close my eyes or leave them open. I smell the exhale of leaves and damp soil.

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“Daydreaming” by Eric Borgelt

Today, the idea to write this came to me. I also saw myself planting some grass seed or sod in a little strip of ground we have that the chickens can’t destroy, so I can have my own little daydreaming patch at home. And do you know what that is folks? It’s a dream. A good old-fashioned dream like I haven’t had in years.

I didn’t realize how compressed my days had become until I started breathing some space into them. I lurch from waking to dressed and making breakfast in 5 minutes or less. And on and on through the demands of the day. It’s easy to do with work and kids and bills and Netflix On Demand. There’s little if any space. By default, the days are dense. And they keep stacking up.

But something shifts when I’m laying down with my toes in the turf. My arms and time stretch out. There’s a drifting. And sometimes it’s magical.

This last week I had a Rough Day with the boys and called AJ in a very mature Take Care of Myself moment, “I need to get out of here when you come home,” I said. “Will you tell me what time that will be, so I can hang all my hopes on it?” He agreed, and I pedaled away from our house without an idea of what I was going to do.

Cue laying in grass.

I had three thoughts while I watched the wind tickle the boughs of my favorite redwood tree in the park:

Rice bowl
Cocktails
Sonya

I felt weird about bellying up to a bar for a cocktail all by myself. And I didn’t have Sonya’s number. So I just started riding towards the rice bowl place. Just before I got there, I saw Sonya’s husband standing outside their parked van, and I raised my arm and eyebrows in a “What the Eff?!” Then, who but Sonya emerged from the van, and I explained how I had actually just manifested her.

She came with me to get a rice bowl. It was great. And then we walked back to her house where her husband made me a gin and tonic. Also great. And just what I needed.

Check check and check.

The thing about daydreaming is that it’s receptive. And that’s a stark and medicinal shift away from the monotony of productivity.

To be open to receiving whatever drifts down.

That’s where dreams come from.

Giveaway winner: how to survive mornings with your kids!

Step right up! Get it while it’s hot! Get it while it’s buttered! Parenting advice you actually want is being served up by my favorite experts.

Congrats, Susie, you won!! See Angela’s letter below for help with your kid morning dilemma. And congrats to Allison, vjentzsch and Jacquie (and the hoardes of the rest of us) who share Susie’s exasperation on this issue!

And BONUS, Angela and Niels will be answering all of your other questions on their podcast! Woot!! Read on…

Here’s Susie’s question:

L is 5. And INCAPABLE of following directions. In the morning, particularly. It’s “please brush your teeth” and “please do first pee” and “please get your clothes on” and despite many calm talks, and a chart we made called “L’s Morning,” with fetching pictures of what he needs to accomplish, AND with the sometimes-threat (delivered kindly, in my defense) that he will lose the privilege of watching Wild Kratts later if he can’t help out more, he dilly-dallies like no other. I sometimes have to ask 5 or 6 times for each of the three things he needs to get done. We help more and more (pick the clothes, cue up the toothbrush), and that’s fine–we just want some ownership over the activities and a little frigging help around here, please. Often, he completely ignores us, not in a willful way exactly, but in a “I’m-spaced-out-and-am-going-to-pretend-I-don’t-hear-you-so-I-can-play-animals” way. It is SUCH A BEAR to get out of the house, and it often results in yelling or tears or drama that none of us wants. My patience has worn thin. I’m over it. THANKS!

***

Dear Susie,

Oh, yes, the morning Getting-Out-The-Door challenge. Who hasn’t been there? Whew.

First, let me say this: please, please, don’t take any of my advice as a way to be hard on yourself. Parents are stuck between a Rock (children’s hardwired need for connection) and a Hard Place (societal structures and rhythms that make connection extremely difficult, nearly impossibly sometimes).

Be mad about this. It sucks to parent in this culture of isolation, speed, stress, and the pursuit of perfection. Be very mad. But don’t be mad at yourself.

Every moment of warmth, listening and laughter with your child is nothing less than a counter-cultural act of resistance (Do I sound dramatic here? I feel rather passionate about this). Give yourself lots of love and praise for every drop of patience, compassion and ingenuity that you manage to come up with as a mother or father parenting in the here and now. And trust that your kids are resilient enough to take the bits of connection you manage to cast their way and use it to heal, grow, and create their own ways of moving through the world. So without guilt, and while dousing yourself in self-appreciation for the awesome parent you already are (and I can tell this is true!) … read on!

Ok, you might want to first watch this little video to get oriented to why connection is the key to helping things run smoothly in our families, and what this might look like in the very real, very challenging everyday moments with our kids:

So … mornings. A big time of challenge and upset in most families. These are my thoughts on it…

Mornings are really hard for young kids because they are facing many hours away from us. Children who have been pretty well treated—and yours clearly are!—still have high standards for what life should be like. And at age five, it is much, much, much more reasonable to want to spend the day with people who love and adore you than with people who might be nice enough, but don’t necessarily love you. I’m assuming that’s what school is like for kids, even at great schools. So…a five year old, whose brain still relies on lots and lots of warm, attuned limbic-to-limbic resonance (love) to be able to function well, has understandable apprehension when anticipating many hours away from you—the capitol S source of love in his life!

But there’s still lots we can do to gain kids’ cooperation and help mornings go better, especially once we understand that we are asking young brains to swim upstream from their natural impulses. And smoother, warmer mornings are better for everyone because they set us up to enter the day well. So, I think there are three main things that can make a huge difference in the morning—these aren’t easy things to achieve, but well worth our attention. (And I challenge you to do these things imperfectly, at best.)

First, calm, cooperative mornings require a calm, regulated parent. As the Master Regulators of our households, our emotional tenor sets the tone for the whole family. But before you beat yourself up about how stressed and frustrated you often feel in the morning, know that it is TOTALLY unfair that you should have to get yourself and your kids ready and out the door so early in the morning, and that to do it while being CALM is a high order, indeed. You shouldn’t have to do this, but here we are, parenting at a time in history that sets us up to have to work extra hard. So give yourself kudos for all the mornings when you don’t lose it, and be extremely gentle and compassionate with yourself when you do lose it.

And then try this strategy to help your system feel calm in the morning: wake up thirty minutes before anyone else in your family.

Spend this time being with yourself, in some easy enjoyable way, before you become Mommy. For instance, make your favorite hot beverage, sit in the comfiest chair in the living room, and let yourself enter the day gently. Sometimes I light a candle just to help me set the right tone (otherwise, I am liable to start worrying and fretting over the day as I sit there with my coffee). Do whatever you need to make this time pleasant. Recently I have added to my morning time a little self-given foot rub with coconut oil and a few drops of my favorite essential oils. This is a time to treat yourself really well because you are a champ and doing an amazing job in an impossible situation. (A mom in one of my classes recently asked if it “counts” to spend her thirty minutes taking a shower and getting dressed all by herself. I could tell that the thought almost made her giddy, so my answer: Hell yes!) But however you spend your thirty minutes, keep it simple, keep it enjoyable, and make it all about you.

Second, get your kids connected before you ask them to cooperate. This can look different for each kid, and it may change over time. I used to start the day with a morning cuddle with my daughter in bed. The only problem was that then she really never wanted to get out of bed. So we started a ritual of having a “morning couch cuddle.” When she was five I could still lift her, so I’d scoop her up and carry her to the living room where we’d snuggle quietly until she’d wake up to discover she was hungry. These days, enjoying my own morning foot rub with essential oils has inspired me to start her day in a similar way, so I sneak in and give her an invigorating foot and leg rub while she wakes up.

You can also start the day with a little dose of “Special Time”—which is two to five to ten minutes of undivided and enthusiastic attention while you do whatever your child wants to do—with a timer set. Here’s a video in which Niels describes this powerful practice.

But whatever your “connection strategy,” just think of this as a quick fill up before the day begins. Because if we can get our kids juiced up with connection right away, they often have it in them to cooperate better through the morning. You can also give them “micro-fill-ups” as you go… nuzzles, twinkling at them, extra body contact wherever you can, lots of appreciation for what they are doing right (I love how you picked out your own socks this morning!!). The more full their connection cups, the better equipped they are to do what needs to be done and face the day.

Third, make it fun. I know, I’m rolling my eyes just rereading those words because I know how impossible it sounds. But fun greases the cooperation wheels in a grand way. Kids are suckers for a good time. You are on the right track with your “task chart,” by the way. But the difference may be in the delivery. Can you make it into a game? When my daughter was in kindergarten, we went to Staples and she picked out a a write-on wipe-off board that we hung on her bedroom door. On the board, I drew pictures with little check boxes beside them of each step she needed to take to move through the morning. As she did each task she got to check it off. Something about that made it fun—and empowering. Plus, I would give her high-fives as I noticed items that were complete, and with a twinkle in my eye I’d say, “I wonder what the next step is on your list?” when I noticed she was lagging.

Fun is in the attitude. And it creates connection. You can give them piggy backs to the kitchen for breakfast, or announce that you are SURE you will be the first one to get your shoes on (and then be sure to lose). It can mean announcing that you have three things that need to go into the backpack, can anyone help by counting as they go in? Lunchbox, 1! Homework folder, 2! Sunscreen, 3! It can mean adding a dose of silly to the task. This morning, when the foot rub wasn’t enough to get my kid out of bed, I blasted Taylor Swift in her bedroom and we had a ten second dance party (and all her eye rolls let me know I was reaching new heights of “cool” by the goofy way I danced).

Making it fun is like flirting and courting your child into the day. Does it sound exhausting? Yes, I guess it is. But so is wrangling them, nagging, and yelling. And in my experience, a little connection and fun goes a long way. Opera tooth brushing and a skipping race to the car is far, far easier than having to ask my child to put her socks on fifteen thousand times. And it makes us both feel a hell of a lot better.

Smooth Mornings Getting Out The Door really begin the Day Before…, or the Weekend Before.

This is the real kicker…We really only have time in the morning to give our kids “micro-fill-ups” of connection, which isn’t really enough to get them through the morning (and the rest of the day) in good shape. Little fill ups of connection work best in the morning when a kid has had a BIG fill up of our attention sometime recently.

What does a big dose of connection with you look like? It might be a romping pillow fight or your tender attention while they feel their difficult feelings deeply and fully (or even both, because play often gives rise to the big, vulnerable feelings that are often right underneath the surface).

These are examples of the Big Doses of Connection that kids are really looking for in the morning, but who has time then? It’s much easier on everyone if we can provide the Big Doses after school, in the evenings, or on weekends. So whenever you can manage it, let yourself drop your other responsibilities and playfully connect with your kids, and if their feelings start to erupt, stay close and let ‘em flow. Be the safe container for their storm, and welcome the feelings forth. Because if they wake up on school days with their cups already pretty full, then they are more likely to be sated by the “micro-fill-up” that you are able to give in the morning.

But know that it’s not always going to happen when it’s convenient. Some mornings we just have to toss the schedule out the window, and sit down on the floor with our wailing, thrashing child, and beam our love on their emotional storm. When kids have regular chances to release the pressure in this way, you will find you get that time back in spades.

And tomorrow morning will likely go just a bit more smoothly.

I hope this helps,
Angela

PS. We, Angela and Niels, have read all the questions and thought about answering them all. And we will. This week is the start of our new podcast. One of the first episodes features an interview with An Honest Mom herself. You can listen to that interview here.

In the coming weeks of the podcast, we’ll answer all the questions you asked in the comments section of the the giveaway post. You can sign up for the podcast on the Every Parent Podcast website or directly on iTunes, so you won’t miss an episode.

You can also visit us on our regular website, Parent Connect East Bay, where you can find information about our classes and coaching.

Giveaway: Parenting Advice You Actually Want

I think my son is possessed and I’m not sure I’ll survive the toddler years.

This was a text I got last week from my friend D whose son is 3.5.

Quick on the heels of that, I got this email from L, whose son just turned 2:

It seems we have fully entered the so-called Terrible Twos (also terrific twos, at times, but…) We both brought up your name during our “we should get edu-ma-cated about how to HANDLE THIS SHIT” (not that it can necessarily be handled, but maybe more-to-the-point: how we can endure it while maintaining everyone’s sanity?)

After reading both of these, I breathed a massive sigh of relief that Jo has emerged out of his Most Difficult Stage. And then I felt extreme compassion for these gals, because I know how effing hard it is (Cal has taken to Hulking Out when I tell him he can’t open the refrigerator for the 103rd time). And then I sent them both to Angela and Niels and their website, Parent Connect East Bay, because they are the people who taught me the magic that has helped my relationship with my boys the most.

It’s no surprise that the most popular blog post I’ve ever written was inspired by what I learned from Angela and Niels. I think it struck a chord because parenting is often a lonely and desperate enterprise. We all have different kids and lives and treats that we hide for ourselves in the top corner cupboard, but we all find ourselves in the weeds. And we need resources we can come back to again and again to help us find our way out.

The thing I love most about Angela and Niels is that they teach for Real Human Parents. Parents who lose it sometimes, who don’t have the energy to do the best thing all the time, parents who are routinely judged and stressed and do their work in isolation. Parents who fail and love and try again. Down at the foundation of every tool or strategy they teach is the glorious option to not do it. I hear Angela’s voice in my head on a daily basis, “Check in with yourself first. Do you have the bandwidth to listen to Jo as he screams and throws matchbox cars, or do you just need to plunk him in front of a video and go drink some tea and breathe?” The joy of her question is that EITHER OPTION IS FINE. Her point is, do the hard work of listening and connecting with your kid when you have the time and space and energy. And if you don’t, which sometimes you wont! that’s no problem.

Angela and Niels teach classes in Berkeley, and I’m delighted to say that you can now learn their stuff from ANYWHERE because they’ve created a video series that you’ll want to watch because the videos are like this:

Don’t you already feel about 6 million times better after watching that?

The videos teach the same content they cover in their local classes including (but not limited to!) the stuff that still helps me everyday:

  • Understanding kids’ brains and how they’re totally like ours and also nothing like them
  • How to get the support you need as a parent (!!!eureka!!!)
  • Setting limits for your kid without turning into a dictator or a robot or both

So now for the giveaway part! Anyone care for some free online coaching from these two brilliant, kind, experienced teachers? Angela and Neils have generously offered to answer a parenting question from one of you. They’ll put their minds to a question that one of you raises in comments section of this post, and in a week or two, they’ll coach you here in the form of a guest post reply.

And the secret bonus of leaving a comment with your parenting dilemma? There’s nothing quite like hearing other parents talk about their unique, real, gritty parenting problems. Sigh. We are not alone.

To get you in the mood, I’ll leave comment numero uno, where I fess up to a nasty little habit I have when Jo, say, throws the lemon squeezer across the yard after I ask him to please bring it inside.

So get to it. Lay your parenting question on us in the comments to this post. Tell us where you’re stuck. You can comment anonymously if you want.

Don’t just do it for the killer coaching you’ll get from Angela and Niels. Do it for the greater good of all parents everywhere. Don’t we all need to know we’re not the only ones?

I can’t wait to see what you have to say.

Top 5 toddler toys that aren't toys

1) Stroller wheels

The upright stroller is so yesterday. Need to muck out the chicken coop? Get some gardening done? Wolf down the danish you’ve been hiding in your bag so you don’t have to share? Might I recommend the upside-down or side-lying stroller.

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My feral children find spinning the wheels to be mesmerizing. And they pick up all sorts of immune-boosting bacteria to boot.

Here’s an example of how we like to use the upturned stroller in everyday life.

Though it looks like they keeled over from sheer excitement as they watched us put the finishing touches on our chicken run, our strollers were actually just falling in line for a 1-year-old’s wheel spinning bonanza.

 2) Pot with lid and other stuff

Your kid isn’t obsessed with taking lids off of pots and putting things inside, putting the lid on, taking the lid back off, taking everything out and then starting over again? That’s just because you haven’t given her the opportunity! Add spoons or tongs or trucks and voila! You just created a toddler project. And she might be at it for 20 minutes or more.

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You know what that means. Dishes washed. Strange crust scraped off of table. And maybe, just maybe, some texting in the corner where she can’t see you.

3) Baby snot sucker thing

Behold! The most revered and requested bath toy in our house:

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With it, you can suck whole milliliters of snot out of your baby’s nostrils. But no, that’s not all!! In subsequent years, it doubles as a tub toy that delights for hours. Since the various parts detach from each other, you can watch as your children suck up bathwater and spit it out through the clear tubing like a whale with a blowhole! Listen as they bubble and splurt water out of the blue, egg-shaped chamber, and let your mind be transported to that college dorm room, the glow of Christmas lights on Frank Zappa posters, the intermittent gurgle of bong water.

*Bonus* Plastic tubing also works as a siphon. With only a small cup on your bathtub ledge and some suction, your children can explore the miracle of atmospheric pressure.

*Warning* Persistent bath play with this product can lead to mold growth in the clear tubing as seen above. A pipe cleaner and some soap can do the trick. Or you can take a page from the stroller wheel playbook and let those kids keep on immune boosting.

4) Canning jar rings

While I cannot speak to the use of these in terms of food preservation–we haven’t actually canned anything in years (fingers crossed for plum season 2015)–I can attest to their usefulness to a 1 year old.

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They make a tinny clatter when you pour them out for the 30th time on the kitchen floor. They spin around on their ends sometimes. They are bracelets.

5) And last but not least:

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Think scissors are a terrible toy for your toddler? Think again. There is so much learning and fun to be had with these. Last week, I cleaned the entire house while Cal tried to cut his own fingernails with them. After we bandaged his bloody fingers, he cooked me a delicious roasted turkey supper. Then he built a fire in our wood burning stove and performed Hamlet’s soliloquy as I warmed my feet on the hearth.

And if you believe that, then stay a while, and I’ll tell you another one.

True, I allow my kids to drink their bathwater through *slightly* moldy snot-sucker tubing. But even I have my limits.

Cal can’t play with these till he’s 3.

Not close to enough but I wrote it anyway

A kindred writer friend of mine died recently. She stoked my writing by giving me a regular platform at her edgy magazine-turned-blog, Get Born. She and the tribe I found there swore and laughed ugly and helped me feel less and more crazy in all the ways I’ve needed.

For my regular post this month, I joined the tribe in writing about Heather.

How do you fully sum up someone and what they meant to you after their death?
You don’t.
Because you can’t…

Read the rest at Get Born.

And then you can do yourself a favor and read some of Heather’s posts–this one’s a doosey, just like she was.

Underwear Update

Remember my magical, unemployed, underwear-making friend Lauren? It wasn’t so long ago that you all helped to give her a much needed boost. Thanks to all of you, Lauren had what she defined as the only underwear rush she’s ever had. Underwear positively flew off of her shelves. You all are the greatest, and I got to beam with every excited text I got from Lor saying that another pair had just been bought.

Then a friend of mine was inspired to host an underwear party (such a thing exists?!! well, now it does.) featuring Lauren’s creations at her house. She got free underwear for hosting, and we all got to check out the dreamy colorful ice-cream shop of fabrics to choose from. (Bay Area friends: this could be you.)

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And elastic! I never knew elastic could be so appealing.

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At the underwear party (!), somewhere between my Red Jewel cocktail and the molten chocolate cupcakes (!!) and swooning over the creativity of my dear friend, I snatched up these beauties.

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They’re so comfortable that I forget I’m wearing them. And here’s the thing that really *killed* me when I opened them up the next day: I could feel the heart she invests down to the smallest details.

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After reading this, I felt like I’d sat down and had a life-giving, leisurely cup of coffee with my underwear. I got a little teary when I saw the bit about 10% going to a womens’ sewing program in Kenya. Now you see why it’s important for me to have Lauren in my life. My instincts–even when money matters are fine–tend towards stingy, selfish miser. But Lor keeps sewing women in Kenya in mind even when moving out of her apartment and into a friend’s basement while she continues to look for a job.

So there you have it. You’ve been properly thanked. Lauren has been deservedly supported. I hope you can hear my deep sigh of satisfaction here. And if you happen to know of someone who might need some Lemon Ice or Green Apple or High Tea underwear in her life, now you know where to find them.

UndiesInARow

Why I grow roots when my toddler tantrums

We have a new contender for Most Challenging Kid in our house.

I’m relieved about the switch over. That is to say, it’s sweet to preference Jo for a change. I never thought I’d say this, but Jo is just so reasonable. And even when he’s unreasonable, he and I have been there and back so many times that we just know how it goes.

Alternately, Cal is developing into his own little power pack of a person. Compared to Jo, I hardly know him. When Cal is happy, it’s a dream. He waves at every person, airplane and truck.  He scritches his nose up, closes his eyes into little slices with a grin, and cackles like a heavy smoker. He walks like Godzilla, flinging his soft pink arms around. But let me give you a word of advice about Cal: don’t take away his keys. Or rather, if you choose to take away the keys so you can open the front door, get ready, because he’s going to cue up his gutteral misery scream and then when you put him down he’s going to throw himself onto his face on purpose, scratching violently at the floor.

We had quite a morning.

I sort of remember this with Jo, but I think that he didn’t tantrum this much at this age. What I do remember was tiptoeing around all day trying to avoid the equivalent of taking away the keys. It sort of worked but I got pretty anxious, constantly scanning for anything that might induce 1 year old upset. I eventually learned the style I use now, which is not to tip toe, but to tell it like it is.

I know you wanted to go swimming, but we’re not swimming today. You can tell me how mad you are about that…<insert scream/fling/scratch/kick> …Yep. I know you’re mad and disappointed. You really want to go and we’re not going swimming.

And, as you may have heard, I got some new ideas through this rad parenting class in the last year. I took the class cause I was at my wits end with Jo, and I remember thinking how awesome it would be to use some of the things I learned with Cal. But at the time, Cal was a smiley, sleepy, doughy infant without a tantrum in sight. Suffice it to say, these days I’m getting to try some of the stuff I learned with Cal. Here’s what works for me.

  1. When I notice Cal is amping up, I briefly check in with myself and decide if I have the energy to do this whole shebang. If not, I give him keys or my phone or let him play in the car while I sit there since I don’t have to be anywhere just then. Or I hand him to someone.
  2. If I do decide I have the energy, I tune into Cal and imagine myself growing roots deep into the ground. I literally do this. It helps me feel stable and calm. (No one I know would ever describe me as stable or calm. I am neither. This is where the roots come in. They help me lean more in that direction.)

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    Photo by Kim Seng
  3. I get down on Cal’s level and make sure he can make eye contact with me whenever he wants.
  4. I let him rip through his tantrum.

I did this after we got back from the grocery store today. I tip-toed as long as I could through the produce section. Gave him my phone in the canned vegetable aisle and then thankfully the butcher shop had a ceiling fan. When the butcher asked me what I needed, I actually said “5 lbs of ground beef and a valium.”

On the drive home, I knew without a doubt that we were headed straight to trantrum-ville. I decided that I did have the energy to listen to him. Before ye olde melt down, I managed to get in a phone call with a friend while unloading the groceries, but then I needed the keys. For the door. I’m guessing my friend could hear me saying I needed to go over Cal’s bloodcurdling scream fest. I hung up the phone. And got down on the floor.

It probably took about 6 minutes all told. He screamed and flung himself. He scratched at his snotty face. He looked at me sometimes. I talked to him a little bit. At this point, I had already given him the keys back but it wasn’t really about the keys anymore. He needed to freak out. So I let him. After about 3 minutes of him screaming and me listening and imagining my roots growing ever wider and deeper, I had an impulse to open my arms. When Cal is upset, he usually pushes me away, so I’ve gotten used to being near but not touching him. I had my arms open for about 3o seconds while he cried and looked and considered. And then he walked over and sat in my lap and kept crying. He slowed down enough that he said a word. One of his Cal words that I can’t understand. He sputtered down into silence. Then I offered him some smoothie. He drank some. And it was over.

We spend the next half hour before naptime chatting and eating yogurt and granola. The storm passed.

This is only my 2nd or 3rd experience of what this looks like with Cal, but I must say, it WORKS. When I have the energy, I like handling his tantrums this way because it’s how I like people to handle mine. If AJ tries to distract me from feeling upset, it pisses me off. I get distant and cold when he tries to talk me out of it or give me advice. The best times, always, are when he just listens. And I blubber. And everything crescendos into tears. Only then can I really move on. And then I actually do feel better.

How my friend makes magic and underwear

Magic is a big topic of conversation in our house these days. I stumbled upon it as a great way to explain to Jo some of the finer mysteries of life. A tree’s magic is that it can grow up so strong and tall and not fall down, the power-drill’s magic is that it can make screws turn around so fast. Lo and behold, Jo has magic of his own. I like dwelling on his more utilitarian magic–turning anger that wants to kick me into punching a pillow. He prefers more, well…magical magic. Like spinning a necklace into a ninja fire ball thrower.

I bring up magic, because I want to tell you a story about my friend Lauren.

Lauren has lots of magic.

I’ve known her since early days—when glasses with patterned pastel frames were commonplace. She wound up being the one person from my hometown who went to the small college I chose. And during those confused, elated, depressed years, she was my touchstone. I would call her sometimes just to say, “I need you to remind me who I am.” And she would.

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Here we are. I remember how excited we were that we made the very privileged, all-color pages of our high school yearbook.

She also saved me once. My senior year of college, I careened into this stark reality: if one doesn’t work over Christmas break and has very little savings, then one will not have money to pay February’s rent. In a panic, I dropped my part in the student-written play (a modern take on math and iambic pentameter!) so that I could take on as many extra hours at the coffee shop as they could give me. Even so, I knew I’d still come up short.

Lauren was one of the people I confided in about this, because I knew she knew. Unlike many at our fancy liberal-arts college, she knew the pit of worry called “I’m almost out of money.” That’s why it was particularly unexpected when she stepped into my frenzy and said, “God wants to give you $200.” I laughed. Great. Where do I sign up?

She repeated herself, and held out a check to me, signed by her hand.

She explained that every month she saves a little bit of “God Money” and waits for inspiration on what to do with it. She knew I needed it, and it was mine, no strings attached. It was exactly how much I needed to make rent. Her mercy left me in tears.

This is Lauren’s magic.

It inspired me to start my own God Money account. Now I too get to wave a wand over the person of my choosing and sprinkle God Money on them when they most need and least expect it.

Lauren lost her job 3 months ago. It was this really awesome job sewing prototypes of bags for people who need a prototype of a bag sewn up for them on some big industrial sewing machine. Turns out that there isn’t enough work sewing bag prototypes, and so she was laid off.

To say the least, it has been a sucky time for her, but she’s still doing her thing. She stares reality right in the face, feels every jab it has to offer and saves back enough lightness for her magic.

As she recently wrote in a blog post of her own,

i could tell you all the things i’ve done to meet people and make connections and find work, but this isn’t really about that. i just want to tell you how it feels.

job hunting is like doing a job i hate and am terrible at and then not getting paid for it. it’s grueling, merciless, impersonal. i want connection and satisfaction and rest. i never imagined a full-time job would feel like rest.

In the doldrums of The Grueling and The Merciless and The Impersonal, she makes underwear. Awesome, up-cycled underwear that has its own personality and name. Meet “Let’s Get Physical.”

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(YES! We made it to the underwear part of the story.)

I keep expecting, week after week, to get a text from Lor with lots of exclamation marks, declaring that she finally got one of the jobs she’s applied for, but no dice.

What I do hear from her is that she’s having to move out of her apartment and into a friend’s basement to save money. And then I pop open my Instagram and see that she just made these:

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Name for these beauties? Green Milk Glass.

I think even Jo would agree with me–that there is some magic.

Lauren is the brand of Creative Person who has remarkable patience and attention to detail. She reads all the instructions before she tries something new. And then she goes slowly. With intention. She’s inclined towards things that require a calm, precise, steady hand like sewing. (I am nothing like this. And that is one of the reasons I adore her. I’m the bull in the china shop. She’s the … er … china maker?!)

I remember her telling me about this pair of underwear she had made for herself months ago and how insanely comfortable it was. I chuckled. Homemade underwear and comfort were not two ideas I had considered in the same sentence before.

She kept at the underwear thing in exactly the same way I’ve watched her quietly stick with things I’d give up on after 5 minutes. She kept slowly and deftly improving, until she was so reliably churning out delightful, comfy undies that she decided to hang up her shingle.

Lately, she gets some satisfaction in creating these beauties. Thank God, in the dark times of unemployment and job application rejections, that she has her underwear.

You may be picking up on my original and very sneaky reason for telling this story. I wanted to throw a virtual underwear party–to inspire you to buy some of Lauren’s Superpowerstudio Underwear for yourselves and for your homemade-underwear-loving friends, because I adore Lauren and want her magic to circle back to her so that she can, say, afford an ice cream cone now and then during these heavy, unemployed times. I do hope you’re inspired, and that your bottom and your friends’ bottoms get to share in the joy.

I mean, wouldn’t you shriek with delight if someone gave you these?!

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I mean, she even folds the stuff like origami.

But after telling her story here, I see that the magic I can offer her is much bigger than that.

Lauren, I started out wanting to motivate underwear buyers (and I hope they come in droves!) but even more than that, I want to give you the gift of being seen. I have watched you these past months. You’ve shown gratitude and honesty in the bleak face of uncertainty. I know the days have been heavy and long and lonely. And in the midst of it all, you keep showing me what grace looks like. (As if teaching me mercy was wasn’t enough!!) Grace looks like creating dinosaur underwear in the midst packing up the apartment you love but can no longer afford.

DinoPow indeed, old friend.

You flounder and flail just like the rest of us. And you spin unemployment into underwear.

I could watch your magic show all day.