Friday, June 30, 2006

Worthy of Imitation?

"The care with which an item is placed on a shelf, a door closed, or a chair moved is noticed and replicated by our young [children]. We must be consciously aware of the quality of our movements, for whether we like it or not, we will see the children mirror for us what we have presented to them as it emerges in their actions and play."

-Karen Smith, "The Role of Purposeful Work in a Waldorf Kindergarten"
The Online Waldorf Library
Yesterday as we ate our snack, I realized I was slouching. As I sat up straight, I watched SillyBilly sit up himself, even though he wasn't looking directly at me.

It was a powerful moment for me, bringing home the concept in anthroposophy that in the first 7 years, the child learns primarily through imitation.

I am not particularly physically active, in fact I love sitting very still while I read novels and eat chocolate. Yet I would like my children to be active and healthy. I love that my son is skinny and muscular, unlike myself as a chubby child. I want my kids to be able to use their bodies to achieve their goals, not be hindered by physical limitation. So it's a struggle to get myself active on their behalf.

I have also observed that when I act angry or impatient, so do the children. And whoever said "out of the mouths of babes" got it so right. It's always a moment of chagrin when a child repeats something they shouldn't have heard in the first place. Around here we don't use swear words anyway, but still I have heard Napoleona say to SillyBilly, "Don't do that ever again!" in a very stern tone.

What a gift it has been to understand that the young child imitates and must be active. Tonight we were all hungry and tired and dinner was not ready yet. The kids were getting a bit wild, so I put Napoleona in her high chair, called SillyBilly over, and we all ripped up chard leaves into a pot. This activity allowed them to calm down, focus their attention, and do purposeful work to get dinner done. There was very little ruckus after that. Magic!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bugs and other wildlife

So far in the new house we have microscopic brown ants invading the cats' food dishes, enormous and very speedy ants cruising around the whole house, a wasp that Duncan unfortunately tried to play with, various tiny spiders and house flies.

Now, having lived in coastal areas of California, both Papa Hunt and I have lots of experience with ants, and aren't too fond of them. I remember a 2-3 inch wide swath of them crossing our living room from the sliding glass door to the kitchen trash. I remember ants coming inside in the summer for water and the winter for food.

In our last house we had ants that didn't try too hard. They would come munch on crumbs in the kitchen occasionally, and they liked any kibble bits the cats dropped on the floor, but really they never tried to invade. But I have a bad feeling about the ants here. I have never seen those tiny brown ones before, and the big ones are really fast and aggressive.

This morning we walked over to the Pfeiffer Center garden to buy some chard and green beans. They have a little pond with some koi and lots of lily pads waiting for some frogs. The Huntlings got a big kick out of the tadpoles the gardeners are cultivating in tubs next to the pond. We only saw one with the beginnings of legs so it will be a while before the pond is froggy. We also got to see some of the garden's bees coming to drink there.

Yesterday right by Papa Hunt's office we saw a big black rat snake. He (?) was in some tall grass in the sun, but when we stepped near, swoosh! That was a fast snake.

Then the other day, Papa Hunt saw a woodchuck standing on its hind legs munching on raspberries at our old house. I never knew something so fat and rolypoly could do that. (The woodchuck, not Papa.) Those raspberries sure are sweet though.

When I think back on our time in Sacramento, I remember lots of wildlife. The American River Parkway was home to many creatures year-round, including mule deer, turkeys, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, river otters, salmon, and acorn woodpeckers. But most of these animals are quite shy or difficult to spot, so that the Huntlings would have had trouble experiencing them.

I'm grateful that this area of New York, though built up, seems to have plenty of wildlife accessible to the kids. Also we can go visit the cows and chickens at the Fellowship farm, and go up a few times a year to Pleroma Farm to pick up shares of raw milk and eggs. I want my kids to know about domestic animals and where their food comes from, as well as the wild animals around us. I think this knowledge helps children feel more secure and comfortable in the world.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Brookside living

Aaahh, moving. The best I can say is, we know where all of our possessions are. They are in the basement.

We live in a community where a non-profit educational foundation owns the land and most of the buildings, including housing. So, every July 1 there is a big shuffle among students, faculty and staff of the various entities involved.

We were in a very small basement apartment. It had its good qualities, but primarily it was dark, damp, and had a very creaky ceiling. So we took our chance and moved onto some "on-campus housing" as Papa puts it so well.

Our new house is about the same size as the last, but it's a duplex with no one above us, and a full basement below us, so the previous problems are gone. Also we have a brook in the backyard, to the delight of the Huntlings. The picture isn't of our brook, but that's remarkably close to how it looks.

Moving is always a mixed bag for me. I love to move into a new clean space, full of possibilities for arranging our nest. This time we moved into a space with some measure of "charm," meaning for us wood floors, lots of windows, walls painted something other than white (in this case, butter yellow, pink, and lavender...not as freaky as it sounds, I promise) and the aformentioned brook.

However we chose to paint our old apartment because it sorely needed it. And I always find it hard to focus on cleaning up the old place when a new tantalizingly fresh space awaits. And it's been raining or at least crazy humid for days, making everything about moving just that much more icky.

At least this time no one got the flu, put out their back, got towed (thanks to Papa Bradstein for that walk down memory lane!), or otherwise suffered. Papa Hunt is a pretty tired pup right now, but we survived.

Now we just need a phone, an ISP, window coverings (did I mention our front yard view is the dorm?)....

Friday, June 23, 2006

Cardboard boxes, packing tape and sharpie pens, oh my

We are moving to a new house tomorrow, so no posts for a few days. Trying to keep kids amused and out from underfoot while packing and cleaning is a challenge, and I'm too tired to be creative!

If you need something fun to read, check out Papa Bradstein, an old friend pondering impending fatherhood.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Trucks and ice cream

This last Saturday we went to the annual Touch a Truck charity event. For $20 we got free lunch, ice cream, and the kids got to climb on see loads of trucks. Unfortunately our camera batteries died so we don't have pictures, but we climbed on a fire truck, police motorcyle and van and at least 3 excavators. There were rescue Hummers, police cruisers, tow trucks and concrete mixers too.

Needless to say, this went over very well with the Huntlings.

One strange moment happened when we were eating our ice cream. A woman stood near us with her kids. She handed her 3 or 4-year-old daughter an ice cream and said, "This has 12 grams of fat, which is a lot, so don't eat it all." That's verbatim.

Now, the mom did have nice biceps and all, but how can I even explain how wrong she sounded? Like a little kid should care, or even know, about fat grams? And "don't eat it all"?????

Our family loosely follows the Nourishing Traditions diet, so we don't fuss about fats too much. In fact, we celebrate fats because they are helping the kids digest well, and grow healthy nervous systems. Also we are trying to make eating a joyful experience, so that our children can enjoy a wide variety of foods. The Huntlings eat green salad, sushi, sauerkraut, and Napoleona even likes kombucha! I don't know if we just hit the unpicky eater jackpot, or if we did something right.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Fear and Loathing in New York

"We must eradicate from the soul all fear and terror of what comes towards us out of the future. We must acquire serenity in all feelings and sensibilities concerning the future. We must look forward with absolute equanimity to all that may come, and we must think only that whatever comes is given to us by a world direction full of wisdom.
-Rudolf Steiner

Noble thoughts. But easy to achieve? Oh yeah, nothing Steiner talked about is easy to achieve, I forgot.

I have found that it is a constant struggle not to be fearful as a parent. Between the specters of illness, traumatic injury and lifetimes of therapy caused by inept parenting, I am this close to an asthma attack at any moment.

I wonder how much of that has to do with the media in our culture. I haven't watched broadcast or cable television in about 5 years except for small doses in relatives' houses. When I do watch, I am struck by the perpetual violence in much of the programming. It seems that what is most popular today is the cop show, but these are not like Hill Street Blues from my childhood. These are shows about serial killers, shows that depict detailed forensics including photos of crime victims (somehow more disturbing than the corpses on Six Feet Under), and shows that include violence involving children.

I still cannot understand why this is entertaining to so many people. I understand the concept of an adrenaline rush from something scary or suspenseful, but to willfully, constantly expose yourself to this kind of extreme violence? Not fun for me.

My family is lucky to live where it is relatively safe for the kids to play freely. We are in a suburban, almost rural location where many of our neighbors are parenting out of trust for their children. Meaning, it's normal for a bunch of kids to be running around in our yard and even in the forest nearby often with little supervision (grade school kids I mean.) The parents seem to trust that their kids will be OK, and many of them consciously cultivate in their children a concern and awareness of the others so that they keep each other safe.

I am trying to learn that kids will get hurt and it's OK. Kids get sick and it's OK. They have angels watching over them and destinies to fulfill. I am trying to believe that my effort to parent appropriately will bear fruit even if I often don't succeed. I am trying to foster equanimity in my soul by working with my own soul life and emotional history, so that I can work with my children with kindness and compassion.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Does natural always equal good?

A few months ago I was having an email conversation with an old friend about wool. My friend is vegan, and had many valid concerns about environmental impacts and treatment of animals. I was arguing for the utility and spiritual benefits of natural fibers versus synthetics, as promoted by Waldorf early childhood methods.

He asked: is there anything natural that is not good? Well, certainly getting eaten by a shark or burnt by lava would not be good.

OK that was a little facile, but it points to the subjectivity of good. I think we are so distanced from the source of our material goods (no pun intended) that we tend to think natural fibers are automatically OK. But what about commercial sheep farms: are the sheep being treated in a way that is congruent with my values? And what about commercial cotton, a crop typically grown with the highest concentrations of toxic chemicals?

Perhaps the answer there is to buy organic. But then, are organic standards really useful anymore? Sure, if I buy an organic product from a huge corporation, it's an improvement over buying something that loads the world with more chemicals. But if we're talking about really caring for each participant in the process of creating our stuff (animals, plants, farm workers, mill workers, sewing machine operators, I could go on...) then how can we possibly know if what we are supporting through our dollars is really OK? As my friend put it, is ethical treatment really scalable and sustainable? I buy raw dairy products from a local farm because I know the farmer and I can go there and see how the animals are treated and how the milk is processed. But, the milk is $7.50 a gallon! So, not sustainable for most of the population.

I buy wool and cotton clothing for my children and myself because I think our bodies have a better relationship with natural fibers. Their wool underwear keeps the kids toasty but not crazy sweaty warm, because of the intrinsic properties of wool. That said, I am sure glad I have their PVC rain suits and their polyfill snow suits. Those materials aren't next to their skins for long periods, and they are just practical in this climate.

I have a little daydream where we live in a cooperative community that includes a farm. We share childcare, the kids work on the farm, we produce our own food, we take care of our elders, etc. That sounds scalable and sustainable to me. Now, how can I achieve that without a major cash infusion?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Nonviolent Communication and Children

"[The] objective of getting what we want from other people, or getting them to do what we want them to do, threatens the autonomy of people, their right to choose what they want to do. And whenever people feel that they're not free to choose what they want to do, they are likely to resist, even if they see the purpose in what we are asking and would ordinarily want to do it."

-Marshall Rosenberg, Raising Children Compassionately

"Young children respond to being shown how to act and live rather than being told. I tried to teach through the example of my actions and left the teaching through words and logic for a later age....When I want to establish a boundary for the child I try to be as conscious of myself as possible. I try to put any form of emotion behind me. It helps when I can speak with a quiet voice. I do not allow myself to be moved from the stance I have taken, and if necessary I repeat what I have said. Thereby I assure the child of the enduring relationship I have to him."
-Margret Meyerkort in Lifeways: Working with family questions
Recently I have been trying to work with the principles of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) designed by Marshall Rosenberg. My questions surround how these techniques work with children. The center of the techniques is to calmly verbalize the conflict situation: When I see (hear, observe, etc.)...I feel...because I need....Would you please...? For example: When I see you hit your sister, I feel scared because I need her to be safe. Would you please use words instead of hitting?

In theory, and sometimes in practice, this works great even with children. But I wonder how this works with the anthroposophical/Waldorf idea that young children need to be guided with authority, and that the young child cannot rationalize yet and should be directed primarily through actions instead of words.

Many times instead of using words with Napoleona, I will simply move her bodily away from whatever is happening that I would like to stop. In fact, she has an uncanny ability to become totally deaf when I am verbally asking her to stop doing something! Waldorf parents are familiar with this is a sign of the overriding "will" phase of early childhood, where the child is ruled as it were by the will and bodily senses and not the intellect or emotions.

But SillyBilly is a bit intellectual and awake for his age, so sometimes I have tried the NVC technique with him, and sometimes it works. I have definitely seen that if I try to remove emotion from my voice, he listens to me more easily and the situation doesn't deteriorate. The big question here is, in using all of these words am I working with his actual state of being, or am I promoting wakefulness in an unbalancing way?