Running on Highways

 

This past weekend I joined a group of moms from Southern California to run a 205-mile relay from San Francisco to Napa, California. The promise of wine-tasting and 48 hours of family-free time was enough to get me to agree to something so crazy.  Our team name was R.I.O.T. Moms, with the acronym for “Running Is Our Therapy” a fitting description for how exercise and outdoor time can rejuvenate even the weariest of parents.

Iphone 20140729 068

The past couple of months have reaffirmed my own parenting journey. My husband and I sold our house in the Pacific Northwest, closed up shop on our jobs, and headed south with kids and dog in tow to relocate to the San Francisco Bay Area.  The promise of good weather and time to focus on family was all we needed to make the jump to a new adventure. Throughout this transition, which included my oldest starting kindergarten, my kids have been relying on each other and my husband and I in new ways.  Amidst the uncertainty they often look to mom and dad for stability, and that trust can be both reassuring and draining.  I’ve been practicing some meditation techniques, channeling my inner calm, so when the chaos threatens to take over – one child is crying, another is telling a loud story, the dog is barking, the dinner on the stove boiling over – I can take a deep breath and keep my core calm and regulated.

 

Children feed off our nerves. A child who easily becomes dysregulated is looking for outside sources of strength to bump up against.  Sometimes, this is figurative – needing a calm presence to reflect back to them the way to cope with a situation.  And sometimes they actually ARE bumping into things – crashing into you, into their sibling, hitting walls, or tripping over their own feet – to seek some sort of barrier or boundary to the chaos coursing through them.  How we react – kneeling down, modeling deep breaths and quiet words, giving hugs and pressure squeezes when needed, reflecting their emotions with words and simple phrases – can mean continued shouting and tears, or a de-escalation of the situation.

 

Running a relay takes you on beautiful trails through the woods, winding streets coursing through quaint little towns, and hot, gravely highways with semi-trucks roaring past. I have a hard time on those highways, thinking I have little shoulder to run on, my footing irregular and my temperature rising.  The sound from the trucks can be overwhelming, moving me to frustrated tears if I let it. A dysregulated child feels the same.  Senses on overload, fear of the unknown driving action, uncertainty of how to proceed. For many of our children, being unable to get the train pieces to fit together, or an incessantly itchy tag bothering their neck, is all that is needed to get on that chaotic highway.

10511209_10152767739433799_2754815031172808297_n

 

I worked on my meditation techniques during those miles. The face of calm on the inside.  Ironic, since I probably looked a hot mess on the outside.  Breathing, keeping my blood pressure at a steady state.  Visualizing my end goal and the steps to get there.  Using my thoughts and words to channel chaotic emotions.  These all mirror many of the strategies we use with children to help them regulate their bodies. Self-soothing strategies are lifelong lessons we can teach, to deal with frustration, chaos, and situations outside of our control.  Check out more links below to strategies you can use at home…

Avoiding Meltdowns

Self-Soothing Strategies

Behavior Strategies

Anxiety Management

And a big “thank you” to my fellow RIOT Moms, who persevered with me!  205 miles ain’t got nothing on us!

10176176_517062385063341_1890010145929649359_n

Homework Tips and Tricks

*Let me just say this.  I am not a big fan of lots of homework.  I think it is redundant and unnecessary for many students, and for others can completely strangle their love of learning.  I think there is a time and place for completing an assignment that couldn’t be completed during the day, or working extra on a long-term project.  But I think our education system in general has gone the wrong way with homework.  Struggling students can spend three hours a day in early elementary school tackling their homework, and their systems are already fatigued from a full day of school.  It is not unusual for the middle school students I work with to spend five hours in the evening completing homework.

That being said, I encourage parents to help their children find a balance. Encourage  quality over quantity, and keep in close communication with teachers to determine what is necessary for your child.  Good teachers understand this balance, and while they can’t change what’s required on state testing, they are usually very willing to work with a student on a bit of balance.

 

After a long school day, it can be difficult for children to sit down and tackle their homework.  Make sure they have eaten a snack and exercised outside, and then use an analogue clock or a Time Timer to allow for short bursts of homework activity.  For early elementary students, try 10-20 minute work sessions; for older students, try 20-30 minute work sessions.  (I always recommend analogue clocks rather than digital clocks to help your student understand the passing of time, rather than just a single moment in time.) The Time Timer is helpful because it shows a countdown of time in bold red, so even preschool students are aware of time passing.

time timer

 

Is your child having trouble sitting in one place for homework?  Make sure they have exercised after coming home.  Then, try a wiggle cushion on their seat, let them stand at the kitchen counter, or sit on an exercise ball.  After holding it together all day at school, their little systems may be fatigued, and sitting still in one place too challenging. 

 

 wiggle cushion

 

Decide what the goal of the assignment is.  Posture and core strength are necessary for good handwriting.  If the focus of the assignment is good handwriting, make sure both feet are solidly on the floor, they are sitting upright, and using their non-dominant hand to hold their paper in place.

 Learning Letters Chart

 

If the focus of the assignment is language, ideas, creativity, allow for some body wiggling and poorer handwriting.  Many of my students stand, rock back and forth, and use a wiggle cushion for tactile and vestibular feedback.  I can tell they are focused and attentive when their body is moving and they are helping to regulate their engagement. As we analyze the task, brainstorm and organize ideas, and get a preliminary essay completed, the focus is on their language and the ideas they are generating.  We can go back later and clean up the handwriting during the editing phase of the writing process.

 IMG_0472

Homework taps into the executive function skills your child is developing.  For a child who has worked hard holding it together all day at school, this can be a very challenging process.  Focus on completing a few tasks well and enjoy the time you spend with your child.  Allow them to share their work with pride, and encourage them as they progress.

What are some homework tips that have worked with your child? Please share.

Want to go on a bike ride?

This post is part of the Blue Bike Blog Tour, which I’m thrilled to be part of. To learn more and join us, head here.

 

The new year ushered in a new chapter for our family as my husband and I sat down to reevaluate our priorities and solidify our family purpose statement.  We’ve aspired to live more simply, more intentionally, with greater balance in our lives, something that is equal parts intuitive and challenging with young children.  The art of communicating with our children, my passion and study, flourishes with intentionality, and learning expands with simple, purposeful moments.  It is these moments that we strive to cultivate, to water and fertilize as our children grow.

20131105 494 (2)

But where to start when the garden seems overrun with demands?  Work schedules, information overload, and personal expectations and perfectionism all cling like weeds to our lofty goals, and at times I feel paralyzed to even make change.

 

And so it was fitting that on the heels of the start of the new year came the release of a book “Notes From a Blue Bike”, by one of my favorite authors.  Tsh Oxenreider lives with her family in nearby Bend, and her reflections on living a life with intentionality echoed within our family’s discussions of the new year…how to cultivate that life that you seek… how to swim upstream and at times turn your back on mainstream culture… how to recognize that just because it’s “the way it is” doesn’t mean it’s the right way for your family.

BlueBike_CVR_hirez_Updated-193x300

“Almost everybody in my life stage – parents with kids at home – craves a slower life.  They, too, crave a more meaningful life, a life that made margin for doing nothing, for not bowing down to calendars, for saying yes to long walks with their kids and cooking seasonally from scratch because there was time.” –Tsh Oxenreider

 

And so, it was with these thoughts in our mind that my husband and I stared around our little 1500-square-foot house and considered downsizing (!) in pursuit of the right job opportunity.  It was with this intentional living mantra that I clicked the “reservations” button on the American Airlines website, to send us and our two young daughters on an international trip, where we hope to dine, hike, and sleep under the stars of another culture.  It was with Tsh’s words clanking around in my head as the gears turned and I reduced my work load to a more manageable schedule.  Who knows what other changes lie in the works for 2014?

 

Thoreau

 

I would love to hear how you are choosing to live with intention this year.  What is one change that you are making for the better?  Leave a comment below, and head to http://notesfromabluebike.com/ to find Tsh’s book.

original11

Notes From a Blue Bike is written by Tsh Oxenreider, founder and main voice of The Art of Simple. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we DO have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions. Grab your copy here.

Tips for the Weary Mom

We all experience fatigue in this job they call “parenting”.

One moment I can feel on my game, the house is tidy (ish) and the kids are happy, playing, and learning as they go.  The next moment I round the corner into the kitchen and find the dog licking spilled juice off the floor, while one child pleadingly calls to me from the bathroom to help her wipe her bottom.  At times it can feel overwhelming.  I was entrusted with these little humans? To raise, to teach, to keep safe in this world.  Me?  How can I manage?

Interestingly, I sometimes feel the same way at my job.  I’ve been entrusted with helping this child?  The one who struggles to learn?  The one who has such a thin line of perseverance that the slightest misstep can push them into dysregulation and a full meltdown?  The one who has been written off by his teachers, or labeled and filed away by a relative? And yet we do it, day after day, week after week.  We parent, we teach.  Because it does make a difference.  It does matter.

There are a few strategies I’ve learned to help me with those days when I am feeling especially weary.  The days when I wonder if I have it in me.  By focusing on a few things, I can move an otherwise overwhelming interaction into a positive one.

 

  • Let your face light up when your child walks into the room.  The first thing they see when they round that corner should be you, glad to see them, happy to have them here.  It can be a mood changer.

20131105 233 (2)

  • Still your hands, kneel down to eye level, and give your child your calm focus and attention.  If there is one thing I recommend to parents, it’s to kneel down in front of their child when they talk to them.  It does wonders.

  • Listen.  Really listen. Hear your child from where they are.

20131105 112 (2)

  • Give a mental break.  Teach your children how to have quiet time.  Reinforce the idea of alone time with your child, where they can explore their own thoughts.  It might be five minutes at first, but build that resilience.  After lunch is usually a good time, and can give a much-needed pause to the busy day.

20131105 674 (2)

  • When you come back together, center yourself on them.  Snuggle time for the fussy toddler.  Words and eye contact for the preschooler.  Use yourself as their calm center for the afternoon.

20131105 642 (2)

  • Think of what their bodies need.  If the mood is sour, head outside.  No matter the weather, bundle up for a walk and go.  The fresh air and activity will be a game changer.

20131105 494 (2)

  • If you’re staying in for the afternoon, feed their bodies.  Ride bikes in the garage, build forts by the couch, do sensory and physical play.  Put on some music and dance.

20131105 172 (2)

 

Meet your child where they’re at, setting aside your adult pace to take in the world at their level.  By doing this, you are communicating at their developmental level, building language, problem-solving, and fostering exploration.  Kneel down and look into their eyes: the ones that reflect your image and that reveal their heart.  Kneel down.

Watching the Door Close Behind Them

A Reflection for a New Year

Schools are starting this week in Oregon.  Back to school can bring a mix of emotions for parents and for kids.

Whether your child is taking the bus or getting dropped off at school, the first day can break a parent’s heart.  May you find time to share a warm cup of coffee with a friend, a glass of wine tonight with your spouse, or a moment alone to marvel at a baby picture and appreciate the gift you’ve given the world.

Time goes quickly on this crazy journey of parenthood.  The bond you have forged with your child makes them stronger, more daring, and more courageous as they step through that door.  You’ve done a good job.  Savor that hug at the end of the day when they come back through the front door.

Why I run those mommy miles…

 

Imported 20130331 008

I enjoy my alone time, all the more so since becoming a parent. I am a firm believer that we need space to separate ourselves from family life to pause, reflect, and reenergize. Parenting can be draining and depleting, even as it fills our souls. I like being with my thoughts, in calmness and in stillness… usually over a good cup of coffee.

I’m trying to find more of that time for reflection in my running, since as a mom my alone time is in short supply. It appeals to my multi-tasking nature to get exercise, spend time outdoors, and do something for myself, all in one chunk of time. Often I am huffing and puffing, glancing at my watch, my awareness of my surroundings heightened right along with my heart rate. It is my time to sort through the daily happenings, the ups and downs, the draining points and the small successes.

Imported 20130331 006

I often run without any music, and, until a recent marathon training season, without a watch. Because really, it doesn’t matter how far I go or how fast, but how I feel. With each step I let myself find a rhythm, get back in sync with the thoughts in my head, and pound out a purpose on the path.

When I return I am more present. I am more present for my children, more present for my husband. I am in the moment, without my mind spinning in other directions.

“Even if the weight of our responsibilities remains the same, cultivating the ability to be in the moment is a gift – to ourselves and to those we love.” ~Kristin Armstrong

Running might not be your thing, it wasn’t for me for many years. But there’s something about walking, running, hiking, or trail-trekking that gets you outdoors and centered for life. I encourage you to try. Find your escape, whatever it is, that refills your soul. It is a gift that you deserve.

Imported 20130331 220

Simple Living at Home

I’ve been working on simplifying clutter, toys, and distractions in my own house lately. I’ve blogged before about Kim Payne’s book “Simplicity Parenting” and the view that so many if our kids, especially those with attention, processing, or regulation difficulties, need a simpler environment. My munchkins seem to benefit from a calm environment, and sink deeper into imaginative play when left with just a couple of toys to let their stories run wild.
We have a small house, and with two kiddos I’ve noticed that toys seem to multiply! It can be a never-ending battle. Our MOPS group just did a spring cleaning Swap N’ Drop, with the extras being donated to the Northwest Children’s Outreach. A great excuse to purge a few toys!
Here are a couple shots of our living room and my attempts to simplify the toys left out.

20130323-100334.jpg

20130323-100348.jpg

It doesn’t always stay this neat, but at least it’s manageable pickup once the girls are done playing.
I’m curious, how do others manage the toy situation at their house? What are your child’s favorite toys for imaginative play?

 

Where Was I…?

 

Do any other parents do this??

20130318-222144.jpg

I have to leave my reading material open to the page I’m on (bookmarking doesn’t seem as effective) since I am “called away” so frequently when reading. The life of a mom, I s’pose! It can take me several days to finish one magazine article!

I also have an ever-growing pile of books on the nightstand! Seems like my library “holds” all come up at the same time. So much to read, so little time… 🙂

Anger… and Maintaining R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I’ve been working with several students on their anger outbursts and how to regulate their intense feelings.  Then I happened on THIS from Ahaparenting.com about how parents fight in front of their kids has a neurological effect on their children.  The strength and ferocity of the argument can cause a child’s stress hormone levels to escalate, which takes some time to diminish after an argument (this flight-or-flight stress response.)  A few tips for managing anger and keeping it from turning into a full-blown argument, from Dr. Laura Markham:

“Is it ever okay for parents to disagree in front of kids?  Doesn’t it model the resilience of relationships, and how to repair them?  Yes, if you can avoid getting triggered and letting your disagreement disintegrate into yelling or fighting.  For instance:

1. One parent snaps at the other, then immediately course corrects: “I’m so sorry – I’m just feeling stressed – can we try that over? What I meant to say was…” Kids learn from this modeling that anyone can get angry, but that we can take responsibility for our own emotions, apologize, and re-connect.

2. Parents work through a difference of opinion without getting triggered and raising their voices. For instance, if you and your partner have a good-natured discussion about whether to buy a new car, your child learns that humans who live together can have different opinions, listen to each other, and work toward a win/win decision – all respectfully and with affection. Having these kinds of discussions in front of kids is terrific, as long as you agree to postpone the conversation if one of you gets triggered and it becomes an argument.

3. Parents notice that they have a conflict brewing and agree to discuss it later. Hopefully, this happens before there’s any yelling — or you’ll be modeling yelling! And hopefully, you can close the interaction with a big, public, hug. If you’re too mad, take some space to calm down and then prioritize the hug in front of your child, with some little mantra like “It’s okay to get mad….We always make up.” This takes some maturity, but it models self-regulation and repair.”

When we teach our children and students how to handle their emotions, we want to make sure we are providing an appropriate model to back it up.  It is healthy to express emotions and not keep them bottled up inside, but we need to show our children a productive way to handle that anger.  An angry child can turn that passion into a quest to change to world, with the right guidance and structure.

La-Vie-Photo-181

For tips on teaching your child to self-soothe, read my previous post here about essential tips for self-soothing.

Breathe for the Weekend

I thought this was a great post from “The Power of Moms” about setting your expectations up to help you live through raising a family.  In my season of young motherhood, I am learning to let some things go.  I expect a lot of myself, but I know that as I juggle work, motherhood, family obligations, volunteer events, and housework, some things just aren’t that important.  Breathing through my experiences, enjoying the moments of peace, and trying to live an authentic life by being fully present and honest when I interact with children or talk with adults, are my defining mantras at the moment.  Read below for more:

 

“I have five young kids who have five sets of needs that often seem mutually exclusive. I co-direct this website. My husband is working hard on tons of his own projects. We’re both involved in parenting and church and community obligations and trying to make ends meet financially.

Given all this, should I expect my life to be generally calm and serene? Should I expect my house to be neat and tidy? Should I expect to be on time to everything? Or should I just go ahead and accept that my life is generally going to involve a fair amount of hurrying, juggling, and messes mixed with laughing, learning and working hard?

Certainly, I can and should work towards peace and happiness in my life and in my home. But I’ve found that when I accept that life is often hard and keep my unrealistic expectations in check, that peace and happiness I want actually happens more often.

As moms, if we go into each day thinking, “This is going to be a wonderful day – I’m going to get all this stuff done and have magical moments with my children all day long,” we’re bound to be disappointed somewhere along the way. While it’s great to be positive, it’s also great to be realistic!

I used to psych myself up about taking my three preschoolers to the grocery store – “This is going to be fun! I’ll let each child pick a fruit or vegetable. We’ll talk about all the colors and letters we see. It’ll be great!” Inevitably, I’d end up SO disappointed. My plans for fun and learning in the grocery store would fade away while my baby cried inconsolably (I did just feed her before we left home!), my toddler threw tantrums (I tried to get him interested in the colors!) and my 4-year-old got on the side of the cart and just about tipped it over.

When this would happen, not only did I feel frustrated about the way my children were behaving, but to add insult to injury, I felt so sad that my great expectations had been dashed. I felt like a failure as a mom because I hadn’t been able to bring my visions and plans to fruition.

After a while, I wised up. learned to keep my expectations LOW when taking my kids to the grocery store (and to avoid taking them whenever possible!). I learned to head into the store with this attitude: “Even though I’ve gone over the grocery store rules with my kids, there will probably be hard times in this store. There may well be a tantrum. There will probably be some whining. I may not get to everything on my list but that’s OK. If things get bad, we’ll just leave. This probably won’t be super fun but it’ll be OK.”

When I kept my expectations low, I found that I was often pleasantly surprised with the outcome and was better able to handle the hard stuff when it happened. “Yep, here it comes – I thought this might happen but I’ve done this before and I’ll do it again and it’ll be fine.”

I used to really care about having my home look lovely all the time. My old house was beautiful. It was clutter-free.  It was clean.  Everything was designed and decorated with great care. Each paint color, each piece of furnishing was chosen with great deliberation (and stress) by me. But what was I thinking trying to raise five little kids in an immaculate house?  It was really all about control.  I felt like maybe I couldn’t control the diaper explosions or the bickering of my kids and I couldn’t control the flailing economy or my husband’s worrisome work prospects, but I could control that house.  I could make it be clean and beautiful.  And I’m sure that little element of control did help me sometimes.  But overall, I learned that keeping a house quite constantly beautiful when kids live in it is an exercise in futility and I needed to seriously re-vamp my expectations.

When we moved into a different house a couple years ago, it was the perfect chance to change my expectations. My new housecleaning philosophy is one I got from my Power of Moms partner April: “clean enough to be healthy, messy enough to be happy.” There’s some clutter here and there. We could probably vacuum and dust a little more. Window washing doesn’t get to the top of the “to-do” list often. There are furnishings that could be replaced. But you know what? This house is a home. We live here and living is often just plain messy.

flowers on table

I’m not saying we should just throw up our hands and let everything go. We need to be deliberate about what we hold onto and what we let slide and realize that what we decide to let slide will likely be different from what some other moms choose to let slide. We need to “plan for the best but prepare for the worst.” Every Sunday, my husband and I sit down and look at what’s coming up that week and plan for how we’ll handle tight times in the schedule and discuss issues in our family that need thought and action. Living life with goals and plans is important. But making those goals and plans realistic is vital.

As I sit here working on my long to-do list in my somewhat dusty house with remains of the craft project my son had to do for homework last night scattered across the table next to me, I can feel a lot of peace when I think “Yep, this is pretty much what I expected for today and it’s totally fine.” As I think about tonight when I’ve got a meeting at the same time that one child needs to babysit for another family and another child needs to be at scouts, I remember that we planned this out and it’ll be tight and we’ll have to be late for one thing but everything will be OK.

I don’t expect life to be perfect. I expect it to be hard and messy and exciting and wonderful in its own imperfect way.

QUESTION: What expectations have you adjusted in your life?

CHALLENGE: Pick one expectation you should adjust and make that change.