Stay Warm

“Every athlete knows this: warm up before playing or you’ll pull a muscle. If I am warm, I feel I can do anything.”
–Twyla Tharp

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Reality Parenting

jillJust the other day I was reading a post on a Facebook board in which a young mother asked “how do I teach my kids not to hit each other?” This is a board which is respectful of children, peaceable, and in general kind, and home to the type of people I like hanging around with. She said she talked to her kids, both under the age of 5, and said to them “We don’t hit.”

I’ve also been reading Byron Katie recently, who says that when you argue with reality you’ll always lose.

So my first reaction on reading this woman’s post was to snort, and think “Well, clearly we DO hit!” Obviously, she’s stating something that, however well-intended, is blatantly untrue.

I remember being one of those moms, when my kids were little. “We don’t throw food.” “We don’t put nursing pads on the dog (really).” I guess it was kind of the royal we, like I was the Queen of England, or just a civilian with a huge stick up my ass. At best, looking at it from the perspective of a child, it must have been totally confusing for them. I’m telling them, in present tense, that we don’t do something that is clearly not matching reality. How this has to do with any expectation for the future is totally not obvious.

At worst, it’s dishonest. Why not say “I don’t want you to hit your sister,” or “Please keep your food on your plate.” Dealing with reality means you need to say what you mean (and mean what you say) instead of firehosing your personal desire into a general statement meant to apply to everyone and warp reality to your whim. “We clean up after dinner” just isn’t fair, and not always accurate. Why not say “Would you please help me clean up after dinner?”

In my experience, that works the best — unless they’re off hitting each other or balancing things on the pets.

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I’ve been practicing Uechi Ryu for many years now, and because I’m a busy person I’m always challenged with finding the time to fit in practicing at home. Because I’m a productivity geek, I’d love to find a way to maximize my practice and really make progress in my karate.

Last week I came across the Kanban personal productivity method, which focuses on the two concepts of visualizing your work and limiting your work in progress (see ). The purpose is to improve your work flow, and the main tool is a visualization board divided into the categories of To Do, Doing, and Done. This way, you can see your tasks moving from left to right, and only focus on the one in the middle.

Here’s mine:

I’d previously used a 5×8 hardcover Moleskine notebook (their Wellness journal) for my Uechi Ryu practice. I had a separate section for each kata, and every time I got a comment I’d jot it in. The problem with this was that in order to make sure I’d remember to bring the notebook to karate class, I’d leave it in my gi bag and never actually use it as a training tool — instead relying on my memory for the latest comments. Also, I’ve got too many notebooks. I got to thinking that I really wanted to simplify my life and reinvigorate my Uechi practice. Really, what I needed was a simple input system for in-class comments that would be genuinely useful as a way to practice at home. Ideally, it would integrate with the other systems I’m already using (Evernote, Zendone, and the glorious Erin Condren Planner).

In an amazing strike of synchronicity, I discovered the personal Kanban method on the same day I was playing around with Evernote and trying to come up with a good reason to use their new Post-it notes. The post-it notes work with the Evernote camera: when you take a picture of one, Evernote will crop the note and send it to the notebook with which you’ve previously told it to associate that color. How awesome is that? Yet, I couldn’t think of a really good use for them. Then I did.

So here’s what I’m doing: I’m using the post-it notes during class to write comments on, then when I’m done, I take a picture of the notes so they sort into my Evernote Karate notebook. Later, I’ll tag them with the specific kata they refer to and To Do, or Doing, depending on whether it’s something I feel I can work on at the moment or would be better off saving for later. Then, I go home and stick the post-it notes up on my board, so I can see them while I practice. Even better, I can search my karate notes for words such as stance, or circle block, so that I can see whether I’ve gotten comments on specific things or if something applies across many kata.

Because I’d like a good way to carry the post-it notes around, I’ve modified a cheapo pocket calendar that I found at Joanne Fabric. It holds a Sharpie and two sets of Post-it notes and fits in my purse. I’m using the pink for karate and the yellow for for my inbox.



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Invisible Astronomy

When I sit down to write about parenting, I find I don’t want to do it. It’s not just resistance, I don’t think, as much as frustration at a feeling of invisibility right on the heels of the exhaustion from the work of dealing with the emotional needs and battles of my kids.

When children are little, everyone recognizes that as a mother you’re the center of their universe. Their needs are simple and visible: food, elimination, sleep, touch. As they get older, their needs become more complex and by nature, more internal. This is both our path and theirs – our orbits become erratic and peculiar, and what determines them much harder to see. As a mother, it seems mere gravity is no longer enough. Now you need magic, which is what really holds the world together. But the world doesn’t see, understand, or value, this magic.

My daughter today is angry, mean, striking out like a sea serpent choking on its own brine. She storms off, flinging the evil eye and slamming doors. Everyone ignores her because, in the story of our culture, she’s hormonal, cranky, or just being a bitch. Female emotion is kind of like magic, except the scary kind, which means it’s much better not seen.

Partly she is angry at me for telling her she didn’t finish cleaning something. She is a perfectionist, and doesn’t like to be told she didn’t do something right, that she fell short. Partly she is upset at the inevitable injustice that comes from having two brothers. Partly there is something else. There is always something else, some wobble that threatens to make her spin away.

This time I do not follow her. I do not try to manage her, or cajole. That never fails to make her angrier or push her away. I wait and try my best to trust that everything will be ok, that she needs to experience her own free range of motion and correct it herself. I know she’s old enough now that she’s her own little planet, that she knows where I am, and the center will hold.

And yes, she comes back to me, crying, needing warmth and recognition, wanting my gravity again. She is hurt – her body aches from growing pains, all over, and her soul is heavy from misunderstandings and little griefs that have added up to too much. She wants to be held, understood, and loved.

All of this has been invisible to everyone but the two of us. This is not a bumper sticker on a car proclaiming honor student status, or an award won or an A on a test. It’s nothing simple enough to brag about, even if I had the energy or inclination to. This is huge, and wonderful, this work of mothers and daughters (sons, I believe, tend to be more regular and predictable little planets) and yet here I am sitting alone, edgy and exhausted. Space is lonely.

I believe as mothers we need to call into the void to remind ourselves that we’re all out here and these things matter. That the work of the heart is as important as money earned or bridges built. Our culture doesn’t value of gifts and because of that, little by little, we begin to see only what is dimly lit by our daytime lives and forget our true power. Gustav Holst wrote a symphony about the planets, and it’s beautiful. Maybe if we listen to ourselves we’d hear the same thing.

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This is an altered book I started last year at a Kelly Kilmer workshop, and I'm continuing to work on it this summer. It's small enough that I can crank down the perfectionism and just play. I'm still not sure what I want to do with the cover; nothing's really jumped out at me, but the current blue is kind of underwhelming. Any ideas?

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