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Monday, October 26, 2009

An Experiment with Explaining

So, I'm embarking on an experiment in discipline with Noelle. I've been reading some books and websites. I've been trying the time-out thing, the incentive thing, the spanking thing. But recently, I've stumbled over the glimmer of another possibility: reasoning with my barely two-year old daughter.

Now, I never would have believed, and I still partly don't, that you can reason with a two year old, but let me tell you my stories and you tell me if you don't think I should keep pursuing this road of explaining "why" to my daughter in order to keep her from bad behavior.

Yesterday: Noelle sprinkled water out of her sippy cup all over her high chair. This is a regular problem. She loves to pour things and that has meant even milk and juice on the carpet. I give her time outs and even spankings over this, because we've talked about it so much.

Immediately, I took her out of the high chair and put her in time out. After time out, I talked to her about what she had done, and what mommy had asked her to do and said "no more" pouring her sippy cup.

Less than a minute later I found her sitting in the high chair happily watering the furniture and floor around her.

I snapped and grabbed the sippy cup away from her. I pulled her out of the high chair ready for more drastic action, but in an instant of inspiration, decided to see what would happen if I explained to her why I didn't want her to pour out her water.

"When you pour your water out it makes you wet, and it makes a mess for mommy and I don't want to clean it up, okay? Do you understand mommy?"

A quiet nod.

She didn't do it again the rest of the dinner.

These sorts of cycles have been getting more and more regular over the last month: bad behavior, mommy disciplines, return to bad behavior, mommy gets aggravated, mommy disciplines again. Although a couple times I've just sort of accidentally stumbled across explaining to Noelle why I do or don't want her to do something and then magically it works.

Part of the reason why I have a very hard time believing that simply explaining to Noelle will work is because it seems too easy. I mean, I've always believed that kids want to do what they want to do and that reasoning can not alter this primal want, only negative consequences.

For that reason, I've been digging in for a good fight with Noelle when it comes to obedience.

She's precocious and energetic and extremely persistent, so I thought that would mean lots of visits to the time-out corner and some sprinkling of spankings. What a surprise to find out she actually listens to me!

I still half believe that perhaps the reason talking works for her is simply because she's still little. I'm bracing myself for the true onslaught of terrible twos. I'm sure my little experiment in explaining will go flying out the window in about six months, but until then I figure I might as well keep trying it.

I decided to put it to work today.

We visited some friends this morning and she had a very hard time sharing and taking turns. Multiple tantrums and fits on the floor, and even a time out. I tried to talk to her in the middle of it, but there was too much emotion, and too many kids and toys.

On the way home, I decided to try and talk to Noelle about it over lunch. I mean, even as I thought it, there was another voice in the back of my head saying, "No way, she's forgotten it all by now, her two year old mind won't remember what you're talking about." But I decided to give it a try.

I waited until we were sitting quietly across from each other munching on our quesadillas and then I brought it up.

"Noelle, we need to have a talk, sweetie." She lifted her little face toward me and kept munching. "We need to talk about sharing and taking turns with our friends."

I'm not kidding, her little eye scrunched up, her mouth curled like she had just tasted something sour, and she dropped her head quietly.

I went on to tell her that it's fun to play with friends and playing with friends means sharing and taking turns. yaddayaddayadda. "What should you do if Baby E~ wants to play with the teapot? (pause) We say 'Okay Baby E~ you can play with it..." The conversation went on like this, not too long, just enough to talk about better responses than crying and whining.

"So what do you say? Next time we'll play and take turns with our friends. Do you understand what mommy is saying?"

Holding a quesadilla in one hand, munching away quietly, Noelle studied my face for a moment and then nodded her head.

So that's my experiment. We'll revisit the conversation face to face before we go play next time and I'm interested to see if it makes a difference. If things go any better. I'll let you know.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Peanut Butter, Honey and Jalapenos

I have to shift gears when I talk to the college students in our life. But the change from my regular conversations with other thirty-year olds is pretty refreshing. Tonight we had the RAs over and the best conversation of the evening was about peanut butter.

You can read about it here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Addendum "To God"

Anne Kellor shared these thoughts with me after reading "To God." They have given words to something I have been trying to negotiate and they flow easily and naturally from the last point of the last post. We are all moving water, flowing from one point to another, dwelling long enough at one eddy to let our hearts be altered, then tumbling on.

It is important to mention that I know Anne from graduate school. She initiated a Creative Nonfiction Collective after our graduation that I am a part of: five women writing honestly from their lives, responding, critiquing, and submitting what we've produced.

Here is what she wrote:

"Yes, yes, yes.
I too have long held my writing to be an essential part of my spiritual path and expression. That said, the longer I've committed myself to the process and the deeper I've gone in my craft, the more I want to share my writing with others, to have it reach people, be a part of a greater dialogue. So I don't think it's an either-or situation-- either you are writing for 'success' and publication, or you are writing for yourself and God; I think that for many, or some of us, it's both, and both feed into each other and are important. Balance is key. That said, our essential connection to God through our writing is what I believe must guide our intention and drive-- as opposed to clinging to success. That's what will keep drawing our writing deeper, and the deeper we go, the more potential we have to write powerfully and affect people through our writing. Reaching people won't necessarily happen of course unless we have the marketing and submitting perserverance, connections, all that, and even then, you never know. Which is why of course, we can't ever lose sight of our core intention and love of writing for writing's sake."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

To God: After Reflecting on Returning to Spiritual Direction this Fall

Jackie began our time with silence and asked me to turn inward and ask You what you had for me during our time together. I did what I always do. I searched frantically through my brain, frightened and anxious that I would come up empty, with nothing to talk about. Afraid that nothing was there. That you wouldn’t show up.

But after 10 or 15 minutes I remembered a passage from the book Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris that had brought such peace to me Sunday night. It was under the chapter “Detachment.”

In that chapter Kathleen writes about this old monastic term that has lost its meaning in modern times. She quotes the 16th Century monk, Dorotheus of Gaza, who describes detachment as “being free from [wanting] certain things to happen,’ and remaining so trusting of God that ‘what is happening will be the thing that you want and you will be at peace with all.’”

Just reading this passage tonight floods my spirit with peace a second time. It feels so novel and so ancient all at once. Novel to me. Ancient in it’s wisdom.

I brought this to Jackie out of the quiet time. I told her that a shift had happened in my heart when I read the explanation of detachment and though my mind perhaps did not fully understand it, my heart released its breath and relaxed.

“You have a new tool with which to process you’re anxiety,” she said, with that sparkle in her eye that doesn’t go away.

Even now the remnants of our conversation are fading away. Oh help me remember, let me hold onto it. Here are the things that she said that impressed themselves upon my heart.

She asked me to what areas of my life I thought I might apply this “detachment” and I knew before she had finished speaking, the answer: my relationship with L~, finding peace with the hurt and disappointment there; my writing, letting go of the wanting of so many things to happen, of the angst that comes with measuring success; and with Noelle, and my anxiety over my offerings as a mother.

When I described to her the peace detachment brought me with L~. How it had released my heart when I spoke those words over that relationship, knowing that “what is happening between us will be the thing that I want and I will be at peace with it," she grinned and said, “God is holding it. Not you. That is detachment.” And yes, that was exactly it. The relief of knowing that I can be present to the emotions but that I do not have to hold the circumstances or the outcome of this relationship.

Then we moved onto my writing.

On one hand, I know without a doubt that it is my spiritual pathway. I know that I feel close to you when I write. I know that if I am feeling anxious, that often times asking myself, “When did I write last?” will shed light on the tumult of my heart.

But on the other hand, writing feels like such a selfish endeavour, self-centered, and indulgent. Who does it benefit? What has it done so far but cost, cost, cost my family in money and time? How can I possibly take another day away from Noelle to write? How can I possibly take more time away from Dwayne to write? These are things that feel dangerous to me as if this writing could sabotage the most intimate relationships in my life.

“Here, we could camp for months on three or four of the statements you’ve just made,” Jackie said after hearing the scramble of words and conflicting emotions out of my mouth.

Even as she said this I felt myself holding up arms, No, no, this is not that meaningful or important, it is just my writing.

I didn’t have to speak.

“This is an important matter,” Jackie answered my thoughts. “It’s a spiritual matter.”

Big sigh. “It is?”

“Yes,” she exclaimed and raised out of her chair. “Because it’s your vocation. It’s God working out his kingdom through you.”

What beautiful words.

There are two rivers running thorugh my spirit. One running out of the mouth of self-contempt toward worldly success, striving always for the ocean of “enough.” The other river runs from a source I cannot quite name and it runs with a deep longing toward significance, meaning, contribution, worship.

I want the latter, but I am ruled by the former. Detachment is letting go of the wanting of certain things to happen.

“There are markers” Jackie said. “That we can cling to. One, you write for God because he has created you to do this. Because it is your act of worship and your spiritual life. Whether or not a single soul reads what you’ve written – you write.”

“Next, I want you to close your eyes,” Jackie continued directing me, her hand conducting my heart like a musician. “I want you to imagine what it would be like if you won every bit of success and accolade possible. What does that look like? How does that feel for you?”

She waited for a moment. I knew an answer was not required.

“Now I want you to imagine that you are writing, and writing from your heart for God and that no one ever reads a single word. What does that feel like to you?”

I knew immediately my emotions over the final scenario: despair. It is not the right answer, but it is the ugly truth. The idea of my writing being only a hobby, only a pass time that my daughter ambles over disinterestedly one day, makes my stomach knot with anxiety.

“I know what each of those feel like,” I said, opening my eyes.

Jackie nodded her head, “And that is the reality of where you are at this moment. That is what you can take to God and show him. Go from there.”

We waited together for a moment and somewhere in the passing of time I remember these beautiful words:

“In the end, we don’t want to do things out of fear. Rather we want to be drawn by God.” Oh, to be drawn by God, rather than driven by the fear of inadequacy.

“You should not be afraid to pour into this area your life, Christin,” she said. “Because it is the wellspring of your spiritual health.”

In the end, she read this verse over me, “For it is by grace you [Christin] have been [given writing], through faith – and this is not from yoursel[f]. It is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Amen and Amen.