Tag Archives: parenting

Raising the Artists

Noah Louvre

When my oldest was about eight years-old, he wanted to be an astronaut.

“Yes!” I agreed enthusiastically, “You can be anything you want!”

Thus, he went several weeks wearing a NASA costume and having adventures with his stuffed animals in ships made of cardboard boxes and fuzzy blankets.

I was pleased. How AMAZING to raise a person who not only wanted to pursue science but also had the adventurous spirit to be blasted into the galaxy on an engine of fire.

 I would keep the tissues handy for the moment he said, “I owe it all to you Mom,” from the space station on Mother’s Day.  

Homeschooling Mom triumph.

Mission accomplished.

Phenomenal social media potential.

So when the space fervor died down, and this same child (upon whom the fate of many future Facebook posts rested) started sketching ghoulish creatures and writing stories involving ninja mice and robotic dinosaurs, an alarm went off in my head. And when he later expressed interest in a career as a *gasp* filmmaker; I thought to myself, “Well, at least I have three other kids who can pursue something ‘practical,’ ” while handing him a camera.

When you have four kids, odds are one of them will turn out “well.”

But now that two of my other children have gone over to the art side, it leaves me with the hope that the one careerishly undecided child might do something for a living that will fund a winter condo on Santorini.

This same child attends a German school, and interestingly enough, when he was tested for a possible career, the experts said that while he has all the makings of a good engineer, they noticed he thinks outside the box and could pursue a more creative field.

The shock! The horror! What did I do wrong? When the most practical, logical people on earth are against me? 

I suppose my kids never had a chance with a Mother who, as stated on her Kindergarten report card, has her head in the clouds. This same mom with a Masters degree in English Literature (nominally more practical than a creative writing degree) and a passion for fiction writing, not only permitted, but encouraged a multitude of creative endeavors.

The real shock is not that my kids have turned to their artistic sides, but the shock is that it took me by surprise.

How could I NOT see it coming? What, with all the puppet shows and frenzied writing marathons during NaNoWriMo. Maybe if I’d forced them into science boot camp (if there is such a thing) they would’ve chosen careers that would pay for our future family reunions in San Tropez.

No. I have raised artists.

kate sus bw

*Parents Beware: When you allow children to spend time plucking stringed instruments, dancing in full costume, writing books, and performing home-grown scripts, you increase the chance that they will WANT to follow their dreams as adults.

Holy hell, what was I thinking, building that puppet theater in the basement?!

The bare-bones fact is that our own insecurities force expectations on our kids that fit them like straight jackets.

Can you imagine a world without Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, or Hogwarts or R2D2?

Why are we so damned afraid to raise artists?

Life would have the depth of a mud-puddle, without art to reflect precious intangibles, such as beauty, spirit and love.

I have slowly made peace with the idea that there is a place for artists in the world. It is a gamble, but maybe it’s okay for my kids to eat ramen noodles and work two jobs while they happily pursue their passions.

If I, as a parent, can live simply yet contentedly doing what I love, then maybe the young artists under my roof can also be satisfied in the richness and beauty of the lives they create for themselves. And when they share a higher ideal with someone else; when their art moves another person towards an emotion; then life becomes that much richer.

I don’t want to button up my kids with my fears. Though my motives might be “practical” and though they might make more “money” as bankers or dog psychologists; I would rather have them live free; and breathe; and make beautiful things.

There is too much ugliness in the world already.

It’s time to boldly raise the artists.

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What Advent Means to Me

'You left just as you were becoming interesting!'

‘You left just as you were becoming interesting!’ —Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

 

Advent is the season in which people celebrate the birth of Jesus. But when I see the manger scenes, I can’t help feeling melancholy. Because while everyone counts down the days until the Christ child arrives, I’m saddened at the thought of my child going away, just after Christmas.

Of course, William is not a child. He’s wiser and more well-grounded than men twice his age. He can just as easily converse about philosophy as he can about Star Wars. Sometimes the topics become intermingled.

He has been counting down the days until the next chapter of his life begins. A chapter that doesn’t include Mom knocking on his door in the morning or coaxing him to Crossfit.

But his new chapter will lead him from our home in Germany to Guatemala and finally to Canada. It will be full of adventure and happiness. And that’s what I want most for him–to follow his own path.

He’s ready.

And despite the sadness, I am too.

I still can’t believe that nearly 18 years ago, the nurses at the hospital handed ME (a whimsical 23 year-old who’d never changed a diaper in her life) this little red-headed baby.

It was terrifying.

He was dependent on me.

Totally.

Completely.

100 percent.

It is a frightening sort of power you hold in your hands, bleary-eyed while everyone else sleeps, and your world shrinks to two. There is no one else who matters at 3am. Just the warm little person, who’s not happy apart from you.

Then they grow.

As a parent, your job is to slowly train them to be less dependent on you. Give them more responsibility. Give them freedom (when it’s earned). Build trust. Mutual respect.

Be surprised by their individuality.

Take credit for things you had no part in–but you’re still insanely proud of.

Raise them to be one of your very best friends.

That raspy little voice that woke you so many times in the middle of the night is clear in your memory, but you sometimes have trouble connecting it to the young man laughing beside you at the dinner table.

But there is a time for a new chapter.

William and I have each been working hard to write new narratives for our lives; and neither of us knows what twists and turns are in store.

We’ve been through so much together. So many burpees and push-ups and toes to bar. So many emotionally exhausting times. So many moments where he helped me pick up, sort and organize the pieces of my life.

Somehow, in the midst of this year’s turmoil, I became dependent upon him. And so he began the gentle process of giving ME my independence. He steadied me, until I found my balance.

There’s a line from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Professor Henry Jones tells his son: “You left just as you were becoming interesting!”

William has always been an interesting guy, but as a young adult, the conversations are richer. And it’s hard on a mom.

It’s hard because he’s become my friend–even though that was the goal all along.

To set him free.

To watch him live his life to the fullest.

To re-shape my own, with his picture on the wall and an empty hook where he hung his hat for a while.

13 days remaining to Toughen Up, Buttercup. 


Welcome to the Real World, Princess

This is an experiment. I literally have ten minutes to write. 

I’ve been too busy to blog.

Too busy to run.

I have to prioritize, and the kids come first.

Followed closely by CrossFit.

And…coffee with friends.

It’s my therapy.

I’ve been working all week.

At this point you might say, “Boo-hoo. Welcome to the real world, Princess!”

And you’re right.

I was a princess, viewing the world from a locked tower. And now that I’ve busted out, I’m walking around out here with the rest of the world.

It’s hard and sometimes I don’t like it. But never once have I wanted to go back into that tower. Because even the most difficult parts of this journey bring feeling. And feeling is good. Even when it’s bad.

To feel means that you’re really alive. You’re not just viewing life from afar. But you’re in it, working alongside other people and getting your hands dirty.

And for every terrible moment you walk through, there are also good moments.

No, not just good, but great.

You walk on clouds. You love life. You soak in the sunshine and revel in the rain.

It could be when a friend gives you a compliment. It could be when your child gets up early to hug you before work. It could be when you lift 115 percent of your bodyweight. It could be when you finally win over that stubborn German kid in your English class. These are moments that make up life. These should be savored.

The pain.

Well, there’s a reason for it too. You let it run its course. Let it do its job. Let it pour out and disappear.

And you take another step.

Time’s up.

I’ve got a train to catch.

Another day to live.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Parenting with Chocolate

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away… and yes, I am pregnant in this picture!

I ate chocolate.

It wasn’t dark, paleo-friendly chocolate either.

It was a big, square Ritter bar with nuts.

I ate two of them.

Not the little squares that you break off the grid–but ALL the little squares.

Two bars’ worth.

After I ate them, I thought: “Wow! That’s weird. Why did I eat those?”

Considering the mountain marathon I have coming up in September, I’ve been pretty good about my diet. I eat lean meats and veggies. No sugar, no gluten (as always), no nuts, eggs, fruits or grains. I ‘cheat’ on Friday with my gluten-free pizza and a glass of red wine, while the kids and I watch a movie; and Pancake Morning (or lately, Crepe Morning) on Sunday. IF I have chocolate, it usually coincides with Movie night. But TWO bars?! This was a first.

Why? I wondered. Why?

I can’t just eat chocolate and enjoy it–no, I have to psychoanalyze it.

I think it started with my eldest son saying he was buying a one-way ticket to Guatemala.

I’ve been preparing myself for his launch for a while, and honestly, I’ve been happy for him. But it’s just that talk about airline prices made the event a little too real.

But I know how it is when you’re waiting for life to start. While I LOVED raising my kids in Alaska, I always had this feeling that life had not quite begun for me. That while I WAS involved in the toughest, most important job on earth (which ironically included mind-numbing bouts of Dora the Explorer), there was always this sense that there was something else out there that would light the fire in my soul. For some women, child-rearing is that spark–and they are good at it. They have their babies, they adopt, they homeschool, and I truly respect them for how well they do this.

But no matter how much I enjoyed it, and no matter how good I was at it–it wasn’t quite me. Not quite.

It’s the same with teaching.

I love interaction with the students.

I love being there when the ‘light bulb’ clicks on.

I love being helpful.

But it’s still not quite me.

The one thing that does ‘light the fire’ is writing. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy. In fact, sometimes I hate writing. I’ll sit down to the computer, stare at the blank screen and think, ‘What the hell am I going to write?’

But if I stop over-thinking, the words will come. And before I know it, I have something to say.

When I was writing my fiction manuscript, I would read a new chapter to the kids every morning at breakfast–and even though it was course and unrefined, they loved listening to the adventures of the main character. We were transported from those dark winter days, sitting by the sunshine-lamp at the breakfast table, to another world where animals could talk and girls could fly.

While I can (and do) write non-fiction, fiction is my passion, my true love, and hopefully the words I craft can help people along the way. I am a firm believer that even fiction can make lives better. I mean, why do we have such a love for Cinderella stories or happy endings?

It’s because fiction gives us a sense of the good things in life. That life CAN and SHOULD be lived to the fullest.

It’s hard work though. Cinderella did get stuck with all the dirty chores and emotional abuse before things turned around for her. And while we can’t always expect a Fairy Godmother, we can work hard towards our dreams.

Why go through life without dreams?

And so…with the words one-way ticket and Guatemala in my mind… I prayed that I would have the strength to let my son go.

It didn’t take long.

After two bars of chocolate and a little crying, I felt genuinely happy for him.

Because I know how it is to feel stuck. To feel like your real life hasn’t started. And our time on earth is very limited. It should never be wasted.

Marathon running, CrossFit, writing–these things are part of me. They shape who I am as a person. Parenting is also just one part of my life–not the whole of it. Because if my only job is to be a parent, then I lose myself. And it makes launching children into the world nearly impossible.

I want them to live their lives and strive for their dreams.

That’s my job.

I just have to let go.

Of the kids, as they become independent.

And of the chocolate.

Because it doesn’t really help after all. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Generations

momandme

Imagine this: within the span of a few short years, you go from using a cane, to a walker to a wheelchair. Your tremors become so bad that you can’t write your name legibly or feed yourself with a fork.

The years go by, and eventually your husband can no longer lift you from the wheelchair to the bed, so (after attempting to hire help, which never worked well and was too expensive) you divorce, to save him from losing the business you had worked for YEARS to build; and you go to a nursing home.

You have half a room, one dresser, and a hospital bedstand on wheels. You wait until your roommate dies so you can have the bed by the window.

You are 49 years-old.

You live there for 23 years, and then someone else gets the bed by the window.

Now imagine being that woman’s daughter.

You are the one who handles her finances, or lack thereof. You take her to medical appointments. You take her out for shopping and fun every week, even though it’s exhausting for you.

You have her come stay with you during the holidays, and though you wish she could live with you full time, you know that you can’t take care of her, because you’ve started ‘walking into doors’ and ‘tripping over rugs.’

You tell people you have bad knees, but some of them suspect the truth: you have MS like your mother. You manage to hide it until your mother passes away.

Then you start using a cane.

Then a walker.

Then a wheelchair.

You are in your fifties.

By the time you are sixty, you feel blessed that you can still stand up, walk on a limited basis and use a fork without stabbing yourself in the eye. Your handwriting is atrocious, but it always was anyway.

You are determined to not be like your mother, so you work with hand weights and you make yourself keep moving, even when you feel like you’ve had the 24 hour flu for ten years.

You try every drug, legal and experimental, and travel the world to pursue cures. But the disease is chronic. It is progressive. And eventually, it may take your life.

Now imagine being that woman’s daughter.

You hold your breath during your twenties, waiting for your legs to suddenly stop moving, or for your eyesight to randomly fail. But it doesn’t happen.

You get married and have your babies and wait for your thirties to be over, so you can breathe again. You have an MRI, and there’s no sign of the disease.

No cane.

No walker.

No wheelchair.

You turn forty.

If you wonder why I run marathons, why I Crossfit, or why I make the food choices I do, the answer lies very close to me. When you feel with your heart what MS does to a person, you don’t take anything for granted.

I have a choice about my health.

My mother and grandmother didn’t.

I thank God every day that I can go to Crossfit. I make the time for it, because I have that privilege.

If my mom needs to lean on my shoulders, they are strong enough.

If she falls, I can lift her up.

No worries.

Because on this day, at this very moment, “It’s all good.” 

*quote from Coach Rob

Stop Feeding Your Baby Crack

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I’m about to offend many of you and possibly hurt your feelings. But if you were giving your kid sleeping pills before the WOD, I might take you aside and say, “Dude, don’t you think that could hurt her?”

I am not a doctor, so this rant is completely unscientific. But I am a mom of four kids, so I feel like I can tell you this with all love:

STOP FEEDING YOUR BABY CRACK!!!

It is ironic that people will spend months or years training to lift their own body weights, but they won’t take the time train their kids to sit still for more than 60 seconds. Apparently, a “good” kid is one who sits zombified in the corner with his own little flatscreen.

No, that’s not a well-behaved kid. That’s a kid on heroin. A well-behaved kid can sit in a corner for an hour and entertain himself with his own imagination AND stay out of the way of people lifting heavy weights.

Wait…what about toddlers, you say?

Toddlers are a breed of their own. And guess what? They’re not supposed to be QUIET. They are loud, screaming terrors who will exhaust you before they’re even awake in the morning. But is that any reason to give them a flat screen?

When you toss a baby a flat screen, you create an addict, and you fall victim to LAZY PARENTING SYNDROME. Which is harder to do: train a screaming kid or toss a sedative into the playpen?

Yes, a screaming kid is going to annoy people, but you CAN work through it.

Toughen up, buttercup!

If you can deadlift 115% of your body weight, you can handle a 20 pound toddler! 

I promise!

While there’s no “proof” that screen time is related to ADHD, you can look around you and know right away which kids get a LOT of screen time, and which ones don’t. Seriously. My kids get 1-2 hours PER WEEK, maybe 3-4 if they’re sneaky [*teenagers not included, as they are on their own now].

When my kids were babies & toddlers…NADA. I was afraid to let them watch Baby Einstein for an hour. By the time my kids were 3, I could reasonably expect them to sit still anywhere–from a seat on an international flight to a restaurant with cloth napkins and candles.

How?

Work. Hard, difficult, gut-wrenching, grueling, sweaty, exhausting, emotionally-taxing work.

When we moved to Germany, I had 4 kids under the age of 6, and I found that during car rides, my kids fought MORE when they had personal video game gadgets. That’s because the video games encourage you to tune out the world around you, and overcome obstacles in the virtual world. And when anything gets in the way of achieving those false goals (like a chatty sibling), it creates tension and frustration–not exactly good qualities when you’re on a 12 hour car ride to Tuscany.

The thing that inspired today’s rant was an article someone sent to me about an infant seat that is equipped to hold an iPad above your baby’s head, which I thought was akin to child abuse.

Please, people. You’re harming your baby’s brain. Stop feeding them crap! If you Crossfit, you should inherently know the value of having tangible goals, of working your body to improve it. So why is inundating your child with a false reality ok?

What to do instead?

Give your kid a big, thick, heavy rope.

  • When she’s a baby, she’ll drool on it.
  • When she’s a toddler, she’ll stumble over it a few times before learning to climb over it.
  • When she’s a pre-schooler, she’ll try to drag it around.
  • When she’s school-aged, she’ll play tug-of-war with it (if her friends can lift their side).
  • When she’s in high school, she’ll teach the kids she babysits to climb it.
  • When she graduates, she’ll want to take it to college…
  • …but you won’t let her because you’re hoping you’ll be able to let your grandkids drool on it someday.

Is the rope scratchy? Will she fall? Will she (gasp) hurt herself?

Maybe. But it’s better than a lifelong diet of brain damaging stimuli.

Afraid to use the words ‘baby’ and ‘rope’ in the same sentence? Get her a ball.

A big, heavy med ball.

She’ll drool on it. She’ll push it around. She’ll pick it up.  She’ll break your Polish pottery with it. She might even piddle on it during potty training.

But she’ll be strong.

She’ll be like you.

Crossfit is not about muscle. It’s about grace, flexibility, perseverance and using what you have to leverage things that are difficult for most people. Parenting is the most difficult job you can have, but if you put in the effort, you’ll see the results.

Eventually.

Hang in there, friends. Don’t let iPad be your baby’s little addiction. Make her a Crossfit addict instead. 

*For more info on tactical parenting, you can read the book I co-authored: The Gypsy Mama’s Guide to REAL Travel with Kids, available in hard copy through Lulu.com or digitally (ironic, I know) through Amazon.com or download directly from Uncommon Childhood.

The Tough Get Going

no smoking

What do you do when life gets tough?

Do you run or pray or meditate?

Do you smoke or fight or drive your car too fast?

There was a time when I could gauge how tough things were in my life (consciously or unconsciously) by the distances I would run. Sometimes I would release the stress into the air along with my sweat and tears, but other times, problems rode piggyback the whole way.

I still love a good 2 to 3 hour run; but Crossfit has been my therapy of choice these past eleven months.

At first I only went twice a week, but a couple of things happened at once: 1) my running trails turned to ankle-deep mud and 2) I realized the box was my safe place.

We all need a safe place to go: a place that is healthy, where people are encouraging, and where you can blow off steam and not think about anything except the next rep.

The only time someone yells is to say, ‘Tighten up!’ or ‘Stolz Sein!’ [Be Proud]; and it’s never derogatory, but it always makes you try harder.

As I was talking with another Crossfitter after class, I realized that many of us come to Crossfit not knowing it will become our safe place–a place we need to keep ourselves sane.

For many of us, our box, with its dripping ceiling and random divots in the floor, feels like home to us–and I wouldn’t change it for anything. A shiny place wouldn’t feel the same.

This is not to say that I’ve forfeited home life for the box. My kids will tell you that I’m a much better, less stressed-out Mama because of Crossfit. They encourage me to go [sometimes vehemently] because with Crossfit, I can be the Mama I’m supposed to be. The one with energy, vitality and an optimistic view of life.

Funny how tangible, iron weights can lift the intangible weight from our minds.

I am thankful for every day I get to go to Crossfit. It’s making me stronger, in many different senses of the word.