Saturday, July 28, 2012

God, Parenting and Rethinking Punishment

It's hard to relate to two-year old Noah a lot of the time. Those with two-year olds, hopefully you know what I'm talking about. I have this fear that if I don't forcefully teach him to consider other people's feelings right this moment, it'll all spiral and before you know it he'll be forty and not care for people. I also have a fear that if I cater to his needs too much, I'll be exhausted and run out of energy. But he's two right now, and most timeouts or conflicts with Eug and I seem to leave him incredibly sad, hurt and confused. Seeing him hurt or hearing him cry drains my energy, too.

I've been thinking about God's discipline, and how Jesus approached people who were were outcasts or who had committed what were considered grievous sins at the time. A major disclaimer before I continue: I'm not dissing your way of parenting here or trying to overspiritualize something I'm exploring. I'm a beginner parent and a beginner with Jesus. But I think a lot of my baggage around "well-behaved children" relates to my experiences in church settings, so I'm exploring whether God really fears us "spoiling the child".

When I'm angry I sometimes say "I just can't be around you right now" or "you just don't understand, you need to listen!!" or "you need to stop crying or I'll take you upstairs" or "you need to give that to me or I'll have to take it" or  "you can't wear your underwear on the outside!" If you're a parent, I wonder if these sound pretty reasonable? But a lot of times this sends him the wrong message about our relationship. It tells him he's unbearable, small, that his tears are not valid, that it's ok to take things from him, and so on. This is not to say I can stop saying all these things overnight, because it takes time to find practical alternatives: you can't replace GIVE ME THE KNIFE RIGHT NOW with "keep the knife!" you have to replace it with "Why don't you try the smaller knife with me?"; you can't replace YOU HAVE TO SHARE with "oh sure, take all that little boy's toys", and so on.

When I force Noah to be the person I want him to be, I'm trying to do more than God does with us. From my experience, God protects me from certain things, but otherwise when I'm doing something awful the consequences are either that my conscience tells me so, or that (if I'm hurting someone) they withdraw or respond in some way. I always feel loved by God, and I often feel even more loved when I'm in a place of vulnerability or hurt. The only people Jesus seemed to come down hard on were the people who thought they were doing great, the people who thought they knew all the answers. To others, he gave them love and simply said "go and sin no more". So there's consistent guidance available, but looks less like punishment and more like input and natural consequences.

Rather than thinking Noah is out to destroy us, I think he's a little boy with needs and wants I have to try to enter into, even if I can't concede them all for his safety or my sanity. I don't want to teach him rules of behavior, I want him to teach him how to love well.

Eug does this thing: When I ask him if he wants the big piece of chocolate or the little piece, he always takes the big piece. He allows me to be the kind one. But when I'm not watching and he's portioning out food, he consistently gives me the best. No matter what. It makes me want to do the same, though my natural tendency is to take the best when I think noone is watching. I also want Noah to give the best when noone is watching. I don't want him to share or give the best because he's been trained that it's "what you do".

Yesterday was one of the best days I've had with Noah. There were just a few moments when I did stuff differently: I let him play with the bucket of soapy water I'd intended to mop the floor with. I let him shower at 11am, for as long as he wanted. I suggested he bring my jewelry container on a walk when I noticed he didn't want to go on the walk because he was busy with my earrings. We got him in the car to his grandparents by letting him know he could take a granadilla to grandpa, and eat one with him. I let him stay in his soiled pants for an hour until he was ready to admit that they'd been peed in. He didn't cry until the end of the day. He said he was sad because he didn't want to say bye bye to mom and dad. Rather than dismiss him or label him as manipulative, as I might on another day, I sat awhile with him, let him hug me and said I was very sorry that we were in a different room to him, and that he was alone. We laughed at all the snot on my clothes from his crying. I piled up his fluffy toys next to him so that they wouldn't be lonely. And when I finally left for the fourth time, I didn't have the doubts I have when I take the hard line. So I had energy left over. It was a very peaceful day.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hospitality and Friday Reading

It's felt like a long week, and I keep on thinking it's Friday! I saw two whales for the first time. Rephrase: I saw whales for the first time. There were two. We also saw many, many dolphins outside my window for three days. Eli is fat and thinking of rolling.

I feel progress in the sense that we are comfortable in our house, and also feel that we are in a good place with the amount of stuff we have: a few things we don't need and will get rid of, a few things we need but don't have, but otherwise equilibrium.

In the next weeks, I want to explore with you what hospitality looks like when our homes are far from perfect. I like the idea of allowing people to enter into the mess, and being relaxed enough that mess or cleanliness is not the focal point of having people in our home. It seems like we can get carried away and hospitality can look a lot like consumerism in better clothes. Your thoughts are welcome, as always.

As I've not been posting full posts recently, I wanted to keep pointing you to inspiration elsewhere:

  • We're still keeping a pretty small wardrobe, less than 30 items including underwear and shoes, I think. I gain time by not having to consider what I will wear or where I will store it. I thought of the One Dress Protest, where Kristy describes her experiences of wearing one dress for a year. If you haven't heard her story, check it out!
  • I've added another blog to the blog role: Ginger and Cocoa. Sarah and I were in the KZN youth orchestra together for many years, and like me she grew up in Durban. She went to the UK to study and is back in sunny Durbs, and is sharing her journey of living in Durban again. Particularly if you're in South Africa, check out her blog! 
I'd love Concrete Gardener to be a place of community. I'm still figuring out what that might mean. At minimum, perhaps it can be a place where you can come to get away from cynicism and move towards something new and hopeful. Suitably vague, because I have no idea what's possible.

Have a wonderful weekend, whether it's summer or winter where you are!

[as a sidenote: I've been having a problem with GoDaddy and Russian trolls, which has led to the blog being labeled as a adult site. I thought it was just in Italy but it's flagged in the U.S. also. Yes. Anyway, I'm sorry if you're getting blocked from work. There's not much sex here, as you know. It's just those Russian bots.]

Friday, July 20, 2012

Rainy Weather, Sourdough and Weekend Reading

The last couple of weeks brought together the worst weather we've ever experienced in Cape Town and my mom-in-law and brother-in-law's visit. Even at its worst, winter in Cape Town brings spring almost before it's done telling you how bad it is. Our two blueberry bushes are already budding, the strawberry plants are starting to bear strawberries, and my deciduous bonsai are already getting their spring leaves. With that comes hope! 

Noah and Uncle James check out a penguin (right corner)
Eug: When you see mommy, just say "OWWEEE OWWEEE" ok?

Winter is full of butternut squash soup, sweet potatoes and ginger

I'm trying to teach Eli to ride on my back so I can do a little more during the day. He's not convinced yet.

Noah has gotten really into helping to make sourdough bread. The sourdough in winter is wonderful, and the sourdough starter just seems to be getting better and better with age.

Eug's family is here about a week and a half more, and we're going to show them Hout Bay and Camps Bay for a few days. We blend in even less than before, as a clearly multicultural family with tiny noisy children, which has given me opportunities for conversations I wouldn't have been able to have otherwise: I now know the owner of the local Korean restaurant. After chatting to the owner of the nearby hippy-crunchy cafe/bakery, I'm hoping to gradually take on vermicomposting their coffee grounds and fruit pulp. I'd love to scale up vermicomposting in the small space we have, and have the castings available for people in the neighborhood. If you're in Cape Town and are interested in starting to vermicompost, let me know!

Eug and I are going to try out the examen with our family for the next month or so. We're using the practice as explained in the book "Sleeping with Bread", which involves reflecting the parts of the day that gave the most life or drained the most life. If you'd like to hear more, let me know!

And, for your weekend reading:

  • I recently came across the blog of a South African Homesteader, and I'm so excited to find someone in Cape Town to learn from. If you're in Cape Town figuring out preserving, cooking from scratch, and so on in the Cape Town setting, check out her blog! 
  • Pallets are freely available in various parts of Cape Town, and given that's it's quite hard to get free anything here, I got excited when I saw this pallet table. Over the next few months, I hope to show you pictures of what we're doing with pallets and tires.
  • Lastly, I really enjoyed this post over at the squibix blog, so you should head over there and read about anarchist parenting (which may not actually be a thing, but I couldn't figure out how to explain the post otherwise). Anyway, check it out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tuesday Links

Over at My Plastic-Free Life Terry writes about canned food producers not revealing what they're using in can lining instead of BPA. When we arrived in Cape Town, we decided not to buy a can opener. It's slightly limiting, but it means I never have to look at parts of the grocery store, and I don't have to decide again and again whether to eat canned/tinned food- the choice has been made by simply not having an opener. In Boston, our main canned foods were pineapple chunks and peeled tomatoes- both because they were much cheaper than their fresh counterpart. What canned foods do you eat, and how can you avoid them if you'd like to?

I was inspired by this story of a mom who rides her six kids around on a bike! We initially hoped that we'd be a biking-only family, only to find it wasn't practical right this second. So I'm tucking it away on the blog so that it stays on my mind in the next couple of years, as we try different projects. When I look how far we've come, I know we'll get there soon, and that when we do, it'll be a joy, as it is for Emily, the mom in this post.

I came across Clare's blog when she commented on an unschooling post. I had a lot of fun browsing around, so if you need some unschooling-with-young-kids-inspiration, check out her blog!

I've occasionally written about my experience in an abusive church here on Concrete Gardener, but it's not been a primary forum for this experience. For those of you who have been similarly hurt, I want to encourage you to check out Darren's page where he provides a comprehensive resource all on one page. The books he recommends were also helpful to me.

As Rhonda says over at Down to Earth when she does her weekend reading: get a nice cup of tea, sit down, relax, and read!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Silence and Anticipation

There's a song by Matisyahu I've been listening to a lot recently. It's called Silence- here are some of the lyrics:
Yih'yu l'ratzon imrei fi V'hegyon libi l'fanecha, adonai tzuri
Yih'yu l'ratzon imrei fi V'hegyon libi l'fanecha, adonai tzuri*
I will crush my fantasy, 
bring me olive oil crushed for his majesty 
to shine a warmth into eternity, this is an eternal decree, 
We’ll dance like flames for there’s no gravity, 
for now I’m just a candle trying to stay lit in this windy night. 
Got to crush my fantasies of how this life is supposed to be

*(translation: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer.)

I love the line "Got to crush my fantasies of how this life is supposed to be".

On a different but related note, there's an episode of Kipper where Kipper ponders whether he likes the anticipation of Christmas, or Christmas itself, better:

I wonder how we let go of fantasies about our lives, while maintaining a sense of excitement and anticipation?

I have a lot of ideas of how my life should be and many dreams about the future. But if I dwell on them, I get quite stressed, because my life is full. I can't get caught up in the anticipation, lest it makes me tug the future into the present too much. There's only enough space for the present. Right now, Eug's mom and brother are visiting and I am caring for Eli and Noah. I feel unproductive and tired. Yet I know that there will be time for other things- my life doesn't have to contain everything all at once.

I thought about readers who might have wanted to do some of the stuff I've talked about on Concrete Gardener but for whom the time is not yet right. I'm sorry if you've ever felt like I pushed unpalatable things down your throat because I implied it was easy or simple.

As I sit in front of the fire rocking Eli, I am certain that quitting our jobs and spending more time with them has been one of our very best decisions. But I am learning balance and grace as if for the first time in this season of newborn haze + toddler. I look at Noah, who is 2 going on 30, and remember this time passes all too quickly, that sleep returns, and that to everything there is a season. May it be so.

Extraneous picture.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Unschooling TV and Two Year Olds

When I encountered unschooling, I found the idea of unlimited television most scary. The theory is, TV binges are an outlet to decompress after a hard day of work or school. So if a child or adolescent isn't forced into a structured, stressful environment, they'll only watch TV that's actually helpful to them in some way. Furthermore, parents should try not to judge what's helpful and what's not.

We don't own a TV, because I would likely watch TV all the time if we did. I hate that TV makes money by being a powerful force for making people buy stuff.

So what about ad-free seemingly innocent stuff? I clearly remember one day when Noah was a newborn and I was alone for the day with him for the first time. It was a big day in our Boston lives- Andrew's funeral and Saji and Charlene's wedding reception- and I was at risk of feeling as though I was missing out on life. I watched about six episodes of Grey's Anatomy on Hulu back to back. It presented tremendous comfort, even if not otherwise helpful to me.  The time passed, and that newborn hazy day passed blissfully with Noah in my arms and my mind on an imaginary story. Hulu was such a great thing in those times.

So the unschoolers sort of made sense to me- both in the sense that decompressing might sometimes helpful, even if not healthful, and in the sense that a forbidden fruit is all the more attractive. So we recently tried out freedom in screen time with unlimited Kipper on Youtube. I can see why parents would like TV. It was like having a babysitter while Eug made coffee or I made dinner. It made the journey easier these first weeks with Eli and renovations.

Yet rather than being excited about a little TV, Noah just wanted to watch Kipper all the time. While unschoolers suggest that there's benefit in not judging TV too harshly, watching so much Kipper doesn't quite feel right to me or Eug. We realized he wanted to watch partly because we were largely trying to figure out ways to get him out of our way the last several weeks. Whereas allowing a teenager to regulate his own screen time makes sense, it didn't feel like Noah, left to his own devices, would self-regulate in a way that was helpful to his development. So we're figuring out how to distract him towards other things and avoid having our computers around while we're caring for him. It's more work, but it seems to make sense. 

Although this means I'm still only dipping my toe into unschooling (and in this case, quickly pulling my toe out!), I want to get as much from unschooling philosophy as I can- around guiding natural curiosity rather than forcing learning and not trying to regulate behavior or control our children for the sake of control. I'm convinced that dealing with my own anger and control issues will improve my parenting immeasurably, and so I focus on those things first.

I liked this quote by John Holt about being two:
Even in the kindest and most loving families two year olds must be reminded a hundred times a day, perhaps by words and acts of their parents, perhaps by events, by Nature herself, that they are small, weak, clumsy, foolish, ignorant, untrustworthy, troublesome, destructive, dirty, smelly, even disgusting. They don't like it! Neither would I. Neither would you.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Settling in

Our first guests from Boston have arrived and, after six months knee deep in tools and dust, we feel settled and happy in our house. If you're interested, here are some pictures of the house back in January. I'll post more pictures gradually.

Noah's pictures are getting better
Here's two before pictures of the bathroom:

And one "during" picture, to give you a sense of where Eug had to start from- he had to figure out how to rebuild the walls of crumbling brick, he learned how to solder copper pipes and had to figure out how to run the PVC pipes from the washing machine under the tile:

Here's a partial view of what the bathroom looks like now.  One of our favorite things is the little people shower head and the big people shower head. Noah loves it.

Don't use big tiles. Trust us.

My other favorite thing is that the roof (which is our staircase) is visible through the plexiglass. Can you see it?

Eli doesn't care as long as he's fed and warm.

My Year of Not Bathing

It doesn't have the same ring to it as "A Year of Living Biblically" or "A Year of Eating food grown within 100 miles", does it? It wasn't really a year, but I still sort of regret not keeping a diary of our past 4 months without showering (and largely, without much cleaning whatsoever).

We kept thinking "one more week" until one week became 4, then 8, then 16. Notable events during the 4 months included Eug turning 33, defending my thesis proposal, giving birth to Eli, me turning 29, Noah turning 2.

The bathroom is 98% done and we've taken our first showers. I've never appreciated showering so much.

Over the course of about a year, I had stopped using shampoo, face wash, moisturizer etc, and used much less soap. My conclusion after the 4 months: all those products are optional (even soap much of the time), but water is the ultimate cleaning agent.

While I appreciate water in a new way, the hardcore part of me is happy that I could go without a bathroom again if called on to do so. I do not mean to romanticize the realities of the majority of the world who go without running water. There's nothing romantic about it. But I don't feel the same fear of spending time (or living) without a bathroom. I understand in a new way that our family can be blessed by whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. These few months have been a time of heavy dependence on my extended family- dependence that was a little foreign- and it felt good.

The bathroom was a burdensome project, and as Eug did the final demolition that exposed the beams of the staircase this week, he started to feel the burden lifted. It was all the more burdensome because it was voluntary- we bought a fixer upper knowing that the bathroom had serious issues. After being absolutely certain that we should never try to renovate again, I look at the almost-completed bathroom and am incredibly happy- no contractor would have done what we (Eug) did- imperfections and all. (Pictures to follow)

Have any of you gone months without showering?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Enjoying it All (or at least some of it)

It's funny, I was reading the Having it All article at around the same time I was reading about mutuality,  around the same time I was breastfeeding (I'm pretty much always breastfeeding nowadays- including as I write this). I'm not going to go into the very real structural challenges for women in leadership, though I think they are important. After being quite conflicted for quite some time (having grown up in the conservative church) I believe that men and women should be equally valued in marriage and in church life. It seems like a bit of a no-brainer because of how I'm phrasing the issue, but for some reason it's not. The Bible verses around this could go either way, and I'm not scholarly enough to tell. So I go with the spirit of Jesus' message, the examples of women heroes and prophets, and more practically, with what works in our marriage. 

Now I see through a glass darkly- Noah has been using our camera
Equality for us means doing a lot of housework and a lot of childcare. For the last while, I've been doing most of the childcare and cooking and food shopping, and Eug has been doing most of the renovation and cleaning. Not that it matters too much. We've both been working the tiniest amount to get by. It's a brief season in our lives.

We both feel the pull of bigger dreams, which are less about ambition and more about calling and providing for the family in a creative way. It's the hardest thing in the world for me to set down my computer- even though I'm not making much progress anyway- and enjoy Eli or Noah's presence. 

We're blessed with the help of family which I think, down the road, will make all the difference. I don't want to outsource all of our childrearing and cooking and cleaning (and even education), because these are the things that tether me most to the real world. These are the things that definitely make a difference. I take sourdough and flour and water and produce bread, the dishes go from dirty to clean. My children go from tiny to fat just on my milk (and I go from fat to skinnier). Noah starts to have conversations and questions and we're the ones who he gets to have them with. It's all quite tangible.

I was lucky to get a career focus very early on- even before college. My PhD and career focuses on refugee health but I'm still not convinced that that career will be better for the world than washing the dishes. And I don't think that undermines my commitment to the field. To me it doesn't make any sense to write about the longings of refugees- longings for a living, for family, for proper food and social standing- unless those longings are at least partially addressed in my own life.