Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer Games

This summer in London, there are hundreds of strong bodies doing their very best, showing their vast dedication and hard work to the world, or at least that part of the world which watches TV.  I don’t live in that part of the world, by choice, having neither cable nor fast enough internet for streaming.  In my little world, this summer, there is a softening body.  There are even fewer posts than usual, indicating a possible lack of dedication and very little hard work.  I never finished out last school year’s garden blog.  I stopped doing anything at all to market my book.  Instead, when not entertaining the children or working, I slept. 

Then I woke up, and started feeling very anxious about the whole nationwide-record-temperature-drought thing and the ongoing deterioration of my short term memory, and decided I needed a bit more sleep.  When I woke up again, I wished I were climbing mountains in West Virginia to stop the crazy coal mining or standing in a road in Texas trying to stop the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline, and I felt really shitty because I wasn’t one of those cool and awesome people doing those things.  So I decided that I should buy a plug-in car RIGHT NOW, just to feel like I’ve done something, anything.  All those athletes are doing these superhuman feats in London, and I’m just wandering around my garden surveying the complete and utter lack of harvest (deer are so pretty, but so evil) and trying to figure out whether 12 miles of electric range makes it worth trading in my old Prius for a new one.

Somewhere in there, I went and recorded a TV interview (which I will not, due to aforementioned lack of TV, be able to watch), in which I very convincingly argued (I think. As I said, I can't watch it.) that there is no right path or thing we should all be doing to save the earth; rather, we each need to follow the call of our own path, descry our own talents, and then simply do our very best.  Afterwards, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, I took a nap. 

The sleeping shames me, as I do it during the day, late mornings and even mid-afternoons when, according to my WASP-y work ethic, I am supposed to Be Productive.  I’d been pretending that daytime productivity is possible despite the fact that I work night shift.  But chronic sleep deprivation will eventually catch up with you (see: aforementioned short-term memory loss).  I will probably forever remember (if I remember it at all) the summer of 2012 as the first Olympics that I entirely slept through. 

I’m dreaming of a comeback, though.  I don’t yet know what my event will be, in the high-stakes race to do what we need to do to make this planet livable for our kids.  I did get out of bed long enough to get to one anti-fracking rally, and I felt that runner’s high of hope, watching my sons’ proud faces as they yelled out “Stop Fracking Now!”  I’m aware, however, that this one will be an endurance event, and there will come desperate lows as well.

For now, my personal best is simply catching up on sleep, and storing up my energy for the next push.  Listening hard to find what path is calling me.  Trying not to feel bad about the things I’m not doing and glad for the people who are running out there in front protecting the eco-systems.  Because although this might be a race, it’s not a competition.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Natural History

Welcome to the July Mindful Mama Carnival: Mindfulness and Nature
This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Carnival hosted by Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ. This month our participants have shared their experiences of mindfulness and the natural world. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

7:30 am.  In the car, in costume.  Living history, ho! 

I tried to muster up a level of appropriate enthusiasm, though the night before I hadn’t even thought about my costume.  I’d spent the last week helping my son put his together, wasn’t that enough?  What does a female Russian cowherd living in a fort on the California coast in 1821 wear, anyway?  The teacher had given us a handout about headscarves and long skirts with no adornment.   As I had stared at it in a ten pm daze, I regretted waiting until long after the thrift stores were closed to begin this process.  My closet offered up a rather hilarious collection of items that somehow added up to an overall Russian peasant effect when I added my son’s old kindergarten apron over the top.  Threw a sleeping bag into the car, and I was set.

Upon arrival at the fort, one thing became instantly clear: there is no rest for the weary.  Or any sitting down.  You must remain in character and make sure your “employees” (read: children) are properly preparing authentic Russian food for 40 people without any modern conveniences, unless you count the pottery butter churn as a convenience, which, I suppose, it was in 1821.  Within a few hours, it was clear to me that the leather boots, which seemed such a great addition to the costume, were a bad idea, and my feet were just going to hurt like heck until our return to the 21st century. 

In the afternoon, someone needed to hike back to the cars to get an emergency form for a girl who was sick and needed to call her parents.  I volunteered.

“Where are you going?” some of the short endentured workers asked.

“Oh, I’m a cowherd, I need to move the cows from their pasture to the barn for milking.” 

I felt like an escapee, slipping out the big fort doors, temporarily removed from the unrelenting work of trying to keep the kids focused on the cooking.  I strode along the coastal path, head ducked against the high ocean wind.  Thinking about the woman I’m pretending to be, her life 200 years ago, and whether she walked this same path with her cows.  The chill air pushing through my clothes made me aware of her in a way I hadn’t been before; her woman’s body had felt these same winds, this same cold.  And she wouldn’t have ever been back in a warm car in another 24 hours, resting her feet.  So we walked together, as I started to understand how intense, immediate and taken for granted was her relationship with the natural world. 

I love camping, I like to be outside, I even enjoy getting cold, wet, and exposing myself to the harshness of the elements at times.  But there is a moment-to-moment choosing in my doing so, a decision to temporarily push myself, that makes these exposures seem like daring fun, not burdensome chores.   Not the cows must get in before dark, never mind that it’s raining and freezing, you simply get it done.  Not the direct and necessary reliance on nature to provide what is needed which humans, for most of history, have experienced.

Once I had retrieved the paper I needed, the cowherd’s ghost and I decided to walk back by a different route, looping through a stand of redwoods and over a hill.  God, my feet hurt!  And I could only imagine how hers must have felt every day, with boots probably made of coarser leather than my own, not to mention that she probably didn’t have any custom orthotic arch inserts for hers.  Down through the shadowy woods we went, aching feet and all, and then up towards the fort, breaking out of the trees into… a miracle.  A small, everyday miracle: trees block wind.  Paraskovia and I were suddenly on a field of sun-warmed grasses, perfect for the cows to graze, and just walking across it was a rest.  I didn’t stop—I was needed back at the fort, but my shoulders sank back into warmth and my sore, sore, feet relented just a bit.  A patch of hillside where the wind doesn’t reach you, and you can finally feel the sun.  Rest for the weary. 

The immense relief of the break from the wind made me understand that for all the time I spend extolling the virtues of nature and “enjoying” it, I am almost entirely protected from it.  For me, it wasn’t the carefully chosen historic foods, the Russian words, the cannon or costumes that gave me a real sense of lived history, it was the wind, and the cold, and that tiny moment of warmth.  For in that moment, a rush of gratitude so deep and real came over me, and I felt a closer connection to the natural world than all my experience of breathtaking views, introspective hikes, and caretaking my plot of earth has ever given me.  I paused, took a breath, said a silent “thank you,” and kept walking.


Mindful Mama Carnival -- Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ Visit The Mindful Mama Homepage to find out how you can participate in the next Mindful Mama Carnival!
On Carnival day, please follow along on Twitter using the handy #MindMaCar hashtag. You can also subscribe to the Mindful Mama Twitter List and Mindful Mama Participant Feed.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • Zen and the Art of Raising Chickens Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction has found a connection to nature in her very own backyard, thanks to her chickens.
  • Healing Gemstones and Crystals for Children Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses which genstones and crystals are best used by children to support physical, emotional, and/or spiritual healing.
  • A Gardener’s Meditation Andrea at Tales of Goodness shares how she finds peace and renewal through gardening.
  • Weeding My Thoughts Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro discusses how nature keeps her in the moment and stops her endless stream of thoughts.
  • Grounded in Nature Rani at OmSheSaid shares her walk in nature, and through expressive words, shares this journey to coming home.
  • Embracing the Magic of Moonlit Nights Lucy at Dreaming Aloud shares ways to embrace the magic of moonlit nights with your children and as a woman.
  • Meditation for a Mindful Mama Alinka at Baby Web guides you through her research on the science of meditation, its numerous benefits, and presents to you a life changing meditation exercise.
  • The Wild Within Naturemummy at Motherhood: My Latest Adventure reflects on the soothing qualities of wild places.
  • Nature’s Lessons in Mindfulness Tat at Mum in Search wants to bring the same mindfulness that comes so easily in nature to her relationships.
  • On Manicured Nature: We Roam in Small Spaces Featherstory at The Aniweda Dream shares her gratitude for her limited natural settings and her plans to expand her children's experience with the natural world.
  • Garden (Time Out) Meditation Do you ever need a time out for yourself? Amy at Anktangle finds that during a difficult parenting moment, taking pause to spend a few minutes outside is just the thing she needs to be able to experience renewed patience, focus, and energy.
  • Nature Makes Me a Better Mother Terri at Child of the Nature Isle could not imagine parenting without Mother Nature.
  • The Healing Power of Sunshine Karen at Playful Planet shares her experiences of reneweal in the natural world.
  • Natural History Kenna at A Million Tiny Things gets out into nature, 200 years ago, and isn't sure she likes it there.
  • Nurtured by Nature Darcel at The Mahogany Way shares with us how being in nature helps her feel centered and connected.
  • Mindfulness and Nature Zoie at TouchstoneZ explores the connection between mindfulness and the natural world.
  • A Sense of Awe and Wonder Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares the feeling she never fails to get from the natural world and how it guides her to the mindfulness she craves.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Disturbing the peace

Welcome to the June 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Embracing Your Birth Experience
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about at least one part of their birth experience that they can hold up and cherish.
I just knew that someone had called the cops.  Somewhere in my cracking pelvic bones, I knew.  At the time I was a bit busy, so I would not have this knowledge confirmed for several days, but in those screaming hours, I knew.  And I had a Plan.

The cops were lucky they couldn’t find our house.  As we learned later through our small-town grapevine, the cops were called by our back-fence neighbors, who didn’t actually know our house number.  And our house is set way back behind another house and a lot of trees, so when the cops drove down our street, they couldn’t hear me, and they drove away. 

Had they knocked, my plan (unknown to anyone but me) was to clamber out of the birthtub, and stark naked, wet, and dripping blood between my legs, throw the door open myself.   “GO AHEAD, TAKE ME IN!” I would bellow.  “I AM DAMN WELL DISTURBING THE PEACE.  BECAUSE MY PELVIS IS EXPLODING.  YOU GOT A LAW ABOUT THAT?”

So yeah, probably best all round that they couldn’t find the house.  The neighbors settled for screaming “Shut the fuck UP!” across the fence, to which the midwife yelled back “She’s having a BABY!” And they left us alone after that, embarrassed by either my volume or their intrusion, hard to know which.

The other neighbors woke their middle-school-age daughter so she could hear the goings-on.   So, they said, she would appreciate the agonies of childbirth and the sins of Eve.  Or something like that.  Honestly, even though we all spoke English, we didn’t speak the same language as those neighbors at all.  

And the thing is, you’d probably think, from all this, that we live close to our neighbors.  Um… not so much.  But if you scream loud enough, often enough, people tend to notice, even from way down the hill.

I always thought I’d rock by the fire, quietly, for several hours, then grunt and groan and growl a bit, and then cry tears of joy to meet my baby.  Ha!  It was more like 36 hours of whining, followed by 12 hours of out and out screaming, followed by the midwife trying to get me to “look at your baby” while I was busy hyperventilating and bleeding.  My slow-coming son, he sure didn’t prepare me for motherhood by shoring up my self-esteem about what a calm and competent mother I am. 

Instead, he gave me a voice I never knew I had.

I had literally never, ever made that much noise, nor known myself capable of it.  I more tended toward the nightmare where you try to scream but nothing comes out.  Well, something came out this time.  And it’s not like I really thought I needed to know that I have a screaming banshee somewhere in there, but you don’t always get to pick which lessons life wants to teach you.

So I have a voice, shrill, disturbing, and loud.  And as time passes, and my motherhood matures, I keep trying to learn more about how to use it.  More often than I’d like to admit, it comes out directed at the aforementioned slow-coming son and his siblings.  “WHAT were you thinking???  HOW MANY TIMES do I have to tell you that wanton destruction of useful items is NOT OKAY???!!!”

But in the larger picture, I’m learning to direct it, to allow my sometimes loud voice into the world in ways that I think can change things for the better.  I wrote a book about trying to preserve our hope as parents during a climate crisis.  Seriously, I did, despite never having published a word until after I gave birth.  

 And my mothering has pushed me to start trying to make my small, loud voice be heard in larger arenas as well, such as in the Keystone XL debacle.  And that time, the cops did find me, which was, in fact, the point. 

So, thanks, baby-boy-turned-big-boy, for helping me find that voice.  (I just hope to god I never, ever, have to relive that exploding-pelvis sensation.)  Roar on, loud mamas.  Let’s get the cops over here.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon June 12 with all the carnival links.)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

It makes me incredibly happy when people have this response to the book:

"There is so much wisdom – so much funny – so much truth in these words Kenna has bared her soul to share. And yes, she probably is more neurotic than you :) – but she’ll still inspire the heck out of you while she’s at it."

Read more at Becoming Crunchy 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Text/ended Family

Welcome to the May 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With or Without Extended Family

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how relatives help or hinder their parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

 My sister texted me on Easter morning: “I still wish you would move back here,” and I just sighed.  The Big Sigh.  She knows as well as I do that when you have joint custody, it’s basically like being in geographic jail.  “Thou shalt not move,” decrees the deep disembodied voice of the family court judge from the burning bush. 

I never imagined raising my children far from my Tennessee family.  It just, well, happened.  Or, that is, it just happened that I fell in love with someone whose need not to live in Tennessee was greater than my need to stay there.  And it also seemed that, really, maybe being a two-mom family in Tennessee--where as a childless lesbian couple, we were regularly asked “Can I watch?” if we held hands in public--well, it just seemed that maybe California would be a bit more friendly to our particular nuclear family.

And in that way, it’s been easy to be a few thousand miles away from home.  Our kids have two moms, and no one so much as bats an eyelash.  Hip-hipster-hurrah.  But that wife of mine, the one who needed to flee from Tennessee, unfortunately, also ended up needing to flee from the Tennessean she had married.

So now I’m a single mom.  For four days each week my house resembles a Berenstein Bears illustration we have, of three wild acrobat bears piled on top of one poor squashed bear who is desperately trying to keep his bicycle balanced under the load.  And the choice to live in a queer-friendly community seems like pure folly when you realize that if we gave up that one little thing, we could live on the same farm as actual real live grandparents.  And a bonus aunt (the aforementioned texting sister).  And ponies.  That would be, all on one piece of land, adults in a quantity actually outnumbering the children.  Plus, did I mention the ponies?

“What in the heck was I ever thinking to come here?” I wondered in my late-night exhaustion as, all alone and joyless, I set out the Easter baskets full of over-packaged but organic bunny-shaped fruit gummies and other equally mockable contents?  (Yes, that was me you saw at the grocery checkout with the organic cheesy bunnies, organic bunny grahams, and organic, gluten-free bunny-shaped ginger snaps.) 

The Easter Bunny also left a basket of fair-trade chocolate balls and organic lollipops for the afternoon egg hunt.  (The Easter Bunny learned the hard way that she can’t hide these things ahead of time, as the dog will eat them, with unpleasant results.)  Not too many sweet things, just enough for some secular renewal-of-the-earth springtime fun.  But then, it’s easy for the Easter Bunny to stingily parse out the treats, as, inevitably, there also arrives the package from the bonus aunt, whom the children have nicknamed their “candy mom.”   

Easter is one of the times when it all comes into focus: how great it would be to be closer to home, attending a sunrise service with the liberal Episcopalian grandparents before we all hunted eggs in the giant yard behind their house.  How nice to have an available auntie for egg-hiding and kid-distraction.  And how insane to be riding a runaway train of out-of-control candy consumption, which would probably not confine itself to the holiday. 

While I tend to think there’s a difference between homegrown honeycomb and corn syrup candy, between grass-fed local beef and McDonalds, between organic food from a nearby farm and shrink-wrapped veggies shipped from South America, my scientifically-minded, candy-buying sister tells the kids: “It’s all the same molecules when it breaks down.”  Right before she buys them a fast food meal, which they enjoy immensely. 

This dynamic is tolerable, even strangely welcome as a pressure-release from my tightly controlled food rules (you know: organic, local, fair-labor, harvested by virgins under the full moon, and so on).  Tolerable, since we only see her for a few days each year.  If we lived there, we would actually have to have ongoing regular discussions about not only food, but about fairly deep underlying philosophical differences.  Like, for instance, her wish that my kids could attend day camp at her church, about which she said reassuringly, “Just because you don’t live a God-sanctioned lifestyle doesn’t mean anyone would hold it against the kids.”  Um, okay, well, um, um, um…I don’t even know how to start a conversation about that. (And because I live very far away, I don’t have to!)

But I still miss her, and wish the kids knew her in a deeper way than just as the bearer of ice cream and fast food. 

I suppose it’s easy to romanticize the benefits of having family around, and probably just as easy to take them for granted when you have them.  And the fact of the matter is, I can’t move home, so it doesn’t matter which set of issues I would prefer to have.  What I can do, I do, which in this case was simply to suppress my urge to pretend that the kids’ “candy mom” didn’t send a package of politically/environmentally-incorrect Easter eggs.  (I could have; it arrived when they were at the other house, giving me a perfect opportunity to deliver it straight into the trash bin.)  Instead I added those eggs in with what the Bunny brought, and hoped that in some way, as they hunted among the bushes and flowers, the kids could feel both the love with which I make such carefully conscious choices, and the shipped-from-Tennessee, non-organic love which is, when it breaks down, all the same molecules of DNA. 

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon May 8 with all the carnival links.)
  • Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, The Pistachio Project tells what to do when your child's grandparents are less than thrilled about your parenting choices.
  • Parenting With Extended Family — Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy shares the pros and cons of parenting with extended family...
  • Parental Support for an AP Mama — Meegs at A New Day talks about the invaluable support of her parents in her journey to be an AP mama.
  • Priceless GrandparentsThat Mama Gretchen reflects on her relationship with her priceless Grammy while sharing ways to help children preserve memories of their own special grandparents.
  • Routines Are Meant To Be Broken — Olga at Around The Birthing Ball urges us to see Extended Family as a crucial and necessary link between what children are used to at home and the world at large.
  • It Helps To Have A Village – Even A Small One — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she has flourished as a mother due to the support of her parents.
  • The Orange Week — Erika at Cinco de Mommy lets go of some rules when her family finally visits extended family in San Diego.
  • One Size Doesn't Fit All — Kellie at Our Mindful Life realizes that when it comes to family, some like it bigger and some like it smaller.
  • It Takes a Family — Alicia at What's Next can't imagine raising a child without the help of her family.
  • A new foray into family — As someone who never experienced close extended family, Lauren at Hobo Mama wrestles with how to raise her kids — and herself — to restart that type of community.
  • My Mama Rocks! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment is one lucky Mama to have the support and presence of her own awesome Mama.
  • Embracing Our Extended Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares 7 ideas for nurturing relationships with extended family members.
  • Doing Things Differently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares how parenting her children far away from extended family improved her confidence in her choices.
  • Snapshots of love — Caroline at stoneageparent describes the joys of sharing her young son's life with her own parents.
  • Parenting with Relies – A mixed bagUrsula Ciller shares some of her viewpoints on the pros and cons of parenting with relatives and extended family.
  • Tante and Uncles — How a great adult sibling relationship begets a great relationship with aunt and uncles from Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy.
  • Tips for Traveling With Twins — Megan at the Boho Mama shares some tips for traveling with infant twins (or two or more babies!).
  • Parenting passed through the generations — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about the incredible parenting resource that is her found family, and how she hopes to continue the trend.
  • My Family and My Kids — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders whether she distrusts her family or if she is simply a control freak.
  • Parenting with a Hero — Rachel at Lautaret Bohemiet reminisces about the relationship she shared with her younger brother, and how he now shares that closeness in a relationship with her son.
  • Text/ended Family — Kenna of A Million Tiny Things wishes her family was around for the Easter egg hunt... until she remembers what it's actually like having her family around.
  • Two Kinds of Families — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how her extended family is just as valuable to her mommying as her church family.
  • My 'high-needs' child and 'strangers' — With a 'high-needs' daughter, aNonyMous at Radical Ramblings has had to manage without the help of family or friends, adapting to her daughter's extreme shyness and allowing her to socialise on her own terms.
  • Our Summer Tribe — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger shares a love of her family's summer reunion, her secret to getting the wisdom of the "village" even as she lives 1,000 miles away.
  • My Life Boat {Well, One of Them} — What good is a life boat if you don't get it? Grandparents are a life boat MomeeeZen loves!
  • Dear Children — In an open letter to her children, Laura at Pug in the Kitchen promises to support them as needed in her early days of parenting.
  • Yearning for Tribal Times — Ever had one of those days where everything seems to keep going wrong? Amy at Anktangle recounts one such day and how it inspired her to think about what life must've been like when we lived together in large family units.
  • I don't have a village — Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wishes she had family nearby but appreciates their support and respect.
  • Trouble With MILs-- Ourselves? — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake Half Asleep explains how her arguments with her mother-in-law may have something to do with herself.
  • A Family Apart — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings writes about the challenges, and the benefits, of building a family apart from relatives.
  • First Do No Harm — Zoie at TouchstoneZ asks: How do you write about making different parenting choices than your own family experience without criticizing your parents?
  • Military Family SeparationAmy Willa shares her feelings about being separated from extended family during her military family journey.
  • Forging A Village In The Absence Of One — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about the importance of creating a support network, a village, when family isn't an option.
  • Respecting My Sister’s Parenting Decisions — Dionna at Code Name: Mama's sister is guest posting on the many roles she has as an aunt. The most important? She is the named guardian, and she takes that role seriously.
  • Multi-Generational Living: An Exercise in Love, Patience, and Co-Parenting — Boomerang Mama at The Other Baby Book shares her experience of moving back in with Mom and Dad for 7 months, and the unexpected connection that followed.
  • A Heartfelt Letter to Family: Yes, We're Weird, but Please Respect Us Anyway — Sheila of A Living Family sincerely expresses ways she would appreciate her extended family’s support for her and her children, despite their “weird” parenting choices.
  • The nuclear family is insane! — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle is grateful for family support, wishes her Mum lived closer, and feels an intentional community would be the ideal way to raise her children.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day Birthdays

Earth Day always lurks on my calendar, ready to jump out with a big “Boo! Did you save the Earth this year?” 

It’s not like we could forget about it at my house: Earth Day is my birthday.  What’s more, the day right before it is my daughter’s birthday, providing me ample opportunity to offer up unwanted birthday party themes like “Clean Up the Beach” or “Let’s Carpool to the Nearest Park for Organic, Wholegrain Cake and Unwrapped, Recycled Gifts.”  Poor thing, she wouldn’t mind some plastic toys and shiny new wrapping paper once in a while.

Being saddled with an eco-obsessed mother, now, that might actually be a bit of a real burden.  Because I’m the type of mom who finishes a sentence with the word “burden” and immediately starts thinking about the concept of “body burden” and our toxic world, and how quickly we are making it more toxic*, and then I start to feel guilty for how much I drive my car and so I snap at the kids for letting the water run too long while they are brushing their teeth.

Yes, I drive too much, so they should remember to turn off the water.  What?  It makes sense to me, um, sort of, in a twisted kind of way.

Then I feel bad for being a grouchy mom, so I let them stay up past bedtime for extra reading and cuddling, but then I feel ashamed for having left so many of the lights on while I was doing aforementioned reading, and then…well, it basically never ends.  How’s a bright-eyed five-year-old supposed to deal with so much maternal neurosis?

Or, for that matter, so much cultural neurosis? It seems like the consensus out there, by now, is pretty much “Let’s do it! Let’s save the planet!”—and then we all go on with our over-consumption and “just this once” justifications.  I know I do, even though I swear I try, fishing my bamboo spoon out of my purse at the ice cream store that only offers plastic ones, signing email petitions daily, organizing parties to spread the word about how insane we are for continuing development of the Canadian Tar Sands.  Printing out infographics linking extreme weather to climate change and bringing them to potlucks.  People see me coming and start to blurt out their latest green triumph.  “I told my favorite restaurant to stop using plastic to-go containers.”  “I explained to my neighbor how to use the recycle bin.”  “I remembered my bags!” 

We report these tiny successes to each other as a way of warding off the demons of our larger failures.  “I didn’t manage to get the Supreme Court to reverse the Citizen’s United decision.”  “I haven’t been able to ban mountaintop removal coal mining.”  “I didn’t even convince my city council that expanding inane consumption by building even more big box stores is a bad idea.”  But hey, we did carpool to work, right?  Right?  Doesn’t that count?

Mostly, I don’t feel like it counts.  The problems are so large, and I’m so small.  And it’s pretty darn easy to turn all my worries about what kind of world my children will inherit into a deep and real case of depression, so I toil away at not just retreating with them under the covers, cuddling and reading into the night, electric use be damned.  It takes all my grown-up discipline, but I’m working to remember that birthdays are not about what you’ve done so far; birthdays are about blowing out the candles and wishing for the future. 

Cultural problems, like this climate mess we are in, require cultural solutions, so I’m not going to be able to fix it all by myself.  But if I look back over the past year, I can find all sorts of good news reflected in those small self-reports of righteousness: We are seeing, more and more, how many ways we could do better.  Our culture is actually shifting—maybe not as quickly as I’d like, maybe not even as quickly as it would have to for my kids to have a liveable planet—but change is happening.

So, when Earth Day interrogates me this year, I’ll just say, “Look, I’m really doing my best here.  Whether it’s good enough doesn’t matter, because it really is my best, and my best keeps getting better.”  Then I’ll blow out the candles, hoping.

* Read just about anything ever written by Sandra Steingraber if you want a more scientific approach than my “Yikes, we’re all poisoning ourselves!” panic.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cleanliness is next to… dirt.

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children's personal care choices.

I’m sure it drives my ex insane: during the four days that the kids are with me each week, they are as likely to take a mud bath as they are to take a shower.  But hey, since I’ve been the steward of my backyard mudpit for the last decade, I’m pretty sure I know what’s in there (um, microbe-rich, pesticide-free mud).  Which is more than I can say about most soaps and shampoos.  So who’s to say what’s “cleaner” anyway.

Well, there are scientists who study this stuff, and they probably could tell me, if I knew any of them.  Fortunately, lots of them work with and for Environmental Working Group, and they keep these massive searchable databases about what’s in a vast range of the products that line up on the edge of the tub.  Their Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database, which it would not immediately occur to me to search, since as a letting-myself-go middle-aged earth-mama type, I don’t really think of myself as using “cosmetics,” provides anyone with internet access with more information than we ever wanted to have about soaps, shampoos, sunscreens, and lots of other things we put on our kids.

The pervasiveness of not-entirely-safe ingredients in our body-cleaning products begs the question of whether “healthy” and “clean” correlate as closely as we like to think.  As a nurse, I do a heck of a lot of hand-washing, and I do honestly believe in it as a way of preventing the spread of disease.  I take quite seriously my responsibility in not transferring germs from one patient to another.  But as a mom, I let my kids spend a lot of time in dirt, and don’t worry too much about how much of it gets in their mouths.  And although I believe in handwashing, I’m completely and totally opposed to anti-bacterial soaps (for all those of us who are lucky enough not have an immune-suppressed family member).  Plain soap with minimal additives, plus water and friction, never ever contributed to the evolution of a super-bug, as far as I know. 

I was once told by a friend, quite earnestly, that I was “not clean enough” to become a nurse.  And if you looked at my kids’ fingernails, you might well agree.  As for me, I do occasionally cringe when I notice those half-moons of black as they climb out of the car to go to school.  But then I relax, remembering that they got that way out in our very own organic garden.  So I just call it good clean dirt.  Which is clean enough for me.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon April 10 with all the carnival links.)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bringing home the bok choy. Or, maybe not.

I grew up with those old Enjoli ads.  (Remember those?  Or am I showing my age?)  “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, never let you forget you’re a man… cause I’m a woman…”

Much as my lesbian feminist self would like to deny it, that song still hums somewhere deep in my subconscious image of How Life Should Be: I’m supposed to be able to do it all.  And as a single mother, I often do “Do It All;” at least, I do everything that gets done.  I work full time, I pay the bills, I cook the meals, I check the web to ensure that the products I buy are actually healthy for kids, and in my spare time, I try to teach my children all the things they might need to know to survive in a post-carbon economy and live a sustainable lifestyle.  Whew.

Plus, I bring home the bacon.  Totally righteous pasture-raised bacon, right there in the deep freeze alongside the rest of the pig.  But in trying to keep up with the cultural sprint toward sustainability, I’ve slowed down our consumption of aforementioned frozen pig in favor of mostly plant-based meals.  Bok choy in place of bacon.  Totally righteous, local, organic plants, grown by totally righteous local farmers.  Sustainability, ho!

Each week I head to our local farm to pick up our box of veggies, and I used to bring it all home and scour my cookbooks for ways to cook the less popular options.  By March, we are all feeling particularly oppressed by the surplus of greens, more greens, plus some bok choy.  It’s so warm out, where are the strawberries?  Really, not for another month yet? 

(My kids are finally getting old enough to really understand that the presence of fruit outside the grocery store does not necessarily correlate to the fruit actually being in season.  But they still look longingly at the shipped-in strawberries.)

I used to dutifully transfer the contents of my veggie box into my bags.  But the more I get used to the single-mothering gig, the more honest I have to be with myself about what “sustainable” really means at my house.  Greens and bok choy that rot in the fridge and then get fed to the chickens, no matter how righteously grown, are not really sustainable.  And they make me feel guilty for not being that mom whose kids just love those hearty greens. 

I’ve spent many many hours pulverizing greens into specks too small to scrape off your pasta, or experimenting with seasonings (including bacon, of course), making kale “chips” and other “kid-friendly” suggestions (oh, please, no more suggestions, I swear I’ve tried).  The real truth is, only my oldest child and I will eat more than a bite or two of greens that aren’t spinach.

This spring, I’m getting real with my sustainability, and really looking at what makes a sustainable life rather than just trying to Do It All, so as a first step, I leave the bok choy at the farm for someone else to bring home.  I bring home only as many greens as my ten-year-old and I will eat in a week’s time, and I do as much as I can.  Which is enough.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Welcome to the February 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Respectful Interactions With Other Parents
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have focused on how we can communicate with other parents compassionately.

“I, um, I didn’t mean to slather my anxiety all over you.”

It has taken me a few minutes to dredge up the courage to apologize.  Really, it’s the least I can do.  I’ve already killed the friendly, relaxed parental conversation happening in the kindergarten yard.  Why, oh why, do I do this?

I like the other parents in the yard.  Actually, I like them a lot.  But I’ve been walking this tightrope with being polite on one side and being honest on the other, and sometimes, often, I lose my balance.

It’s not like I’m the most righteous parent in the yard or anything.  I mean, I’m not the one giving out the formula for the unsweetened kale smoothie that the not-mine children happily drink on their way to school. 

No, I’m the one getting high-pitched and uptight about why jeans are bad. 

Seriously?  Who’s gonna attack a concept as basic to the school-day wardrobe as jeans?  Probably ninety-five percent of the humans of all sizes within 100 yards of me are wearing jeans.  Including me.  But does that stop me?

It started innocently enough, with a discussion of some available hand-me-downs, which segued into the difficulty of finding thrift-store pants for the school-age boy, and why-oh-why the double-kneed jeans of our youth don’t seem to exist anymore.  And then another mom walked up and, hearing the topic of jeans, asked where people go to find cheap ones.  She works and doesn’t have time to check the thrift stores weekly to see if any have come in.  She’s just trying to clothe her kid. 

This is the juncture at which I should have just walked away, instead of listening to the long discussion of which discount outlet has the best deals on the coolest jeans.  Somehow unable to withdraw, I have to pitch in, “I try not to buy new jeans if I can avoid it.”

“Why?  Are jeans bad?” one of the moms asks.

Oh, yeah, jeans are bad.  In fact, in the interest of NOT always putting in my two cents, I’ll leave it at that.  (Unless you really want to know, then you can google things like “pesticide use on cotton crops” and “water pollution with indigo dye.”  Not to mention “textile worker labor conditions.”)  But in the yard, I threw my two cents right in there, loudly.  To which no one responded.  What could they say, anyway?

Nope, the conversation just died; we all suddenly had to call out to our kids that it was time to go into the classroom.  And I tried to cover my social awkwardness by adding, “But they sometimes have great deals those ‘water-less’ jeans on”  Everyone just stares at me with a mixture of pity and disbelief, like, “Really?”

“Yeah, um, those are maybe marginally better?” I stutter, backing away toward my daughter, whom at any moment I may need to hide behind.  And then we all take in the kids, and as we leave, I apologize to the poor mom who just wanted some tips on where she could pick up some sturdy pants for her son. 

It’s not my job to educate other parents about the environmental impact of their clothing choices.  Either they know, of they do not, and if they don’t, then their not-knowing is, I believe, in this place and time, willful.  And it’s definitely not my job to externalize my guilt for having bought my own brood each two pairs of brand-new skinny jeans this year, when I got way behind on the mountain of to-be-mended jeans.  So I gotta just live and let live.  Even if sometime I think it might kill me.

Because in the end, jeans are easier to mend than relationships (just ask my ex).  And if I want to teach people how to live more lightly on this planet, I can just shut my mouth and get back to my mending.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 14 with all the carnival links.)

  • How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment — At Natural Parents Network, Amy (of Peace 4 Parents) offers some ways to deal with parenting advice and criticism, whether it's from your mom or the grocery store clerk.
  • Judgement is Natural - Just Don't Condemn — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shared her views on why judgment is unavoidable and why the bigger issue is condemnation.
  • Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares tips for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner.
  • When Other Parents Disagree With You — Being an attachment parent is hard enough, but when you are Lily, aka Witch Mom, someone who does not enforce gender roles on her kid, who devalues capitalism and materialism, and instead prefers homeschooling and homesteading — you are bound to disagree with someone, somewhere!
  • Mama Bashing — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on the hurt caused on the blogosphere by mama bashing and pleads for a more mindful way of dealing with differences.
  • Accentuate the Positive — Joella at Fine and Fair shares how she manages interactions with the parents she encounters in her work as a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor by building trusting relationships and affirming strengths.
  • The politics of mothers – keys to respectful interactions with other parents — Tara from MUMmedia offers great tips for handling the inevitable conflict of ideas and personalities in parenting/mother's groups, etc.
  • Trying to build our village — Sheila at A Gift Universe tells how she went from knowing no other moms in her new town to building a real community of mothers.
  • Internet Etiquette in the Mommy Wars — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses how she handles heated topics in the "Mommy-space" online.
  • Parenting with Convictions — Sarah at Parenting God's Children encourages love and support for fellow parents and their convictions.
  • How To Be Respectful Despite Disagreeing On Parenting Styles... — Jenny at I'm a Full-Time Mummy shares her two cents' worth on how to have respectful interactions with other parents despite disagreeing on parenting styles.
  • Public RelationsMomma Jorje touches on keeping the peace when discussing parenting styles.
  • Navigating Parenting Politics — Since choosing an alternative parenting style means rejecting the mainstream, Miriam at The Other Baby Book shares a few simple tips that can help avoid hurt feelings.
  • Hiding in my grace cave — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to forget that not all parents are as respectful and tolerant as the people with whom she now surrounds herself.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting - Respectful Interactions with Other Parents — Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles explores how her attitude has changed regarding sharing information and opinions with others and how she now chooses to keep the peace during social outings.
  • Empathy and respect — Helen at zen mummy tries to find her zen in the midst of the Mummy Wars.
  • Not Holier Than Thou — Amyables at Toddler in Tow muses about how she's learned to love all parents, despite differences, disagreements, and awkward conversations.
  • Nonviolent Communication and Unconditional Love — Wendylori at High Needs Attachment reflects on the choice to not take offense as the key to honest and open communication.
  • Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life — Sylvia at MaMammalia writes about using her parenting philosophy as a guide to dealing with other parents who make very different choices from her.
  • Homeschooling: Why Not? — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how parents can often make homeschooling work for their family even if, at first glance, it may seem daunting.
  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice… — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells her philosophy for online and offline interactions … a philosophy based primarily on a children’s movie.
  • Different Rules for Different Families — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how differences between families affect our children, and how that can be a good thing.
  • Respectful Interaction With Other Parents — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares the ways she surrounds herself with a like-minded support network, so that she can gently advocate in her dealings with those whose opinions on parenting differ vastly from her own.
  • Parenting as a mirror — Rather than discrediting others' parenting styles, Kate Wicker discusses why she tries to focus on doing right rather than being right — and why she’s also not afraid to show others that she’s a heartfelt but imperfect mama just trying to be the best mom for her family.
  • The One Thing {Most} Parents Have In Common: They Try Their Best — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry finds interacting with other parents easier once she accepts that they are all just trying their best, just like her.
  • Finding your mama-groove: 5 ways to eliminate judge/be judged metalityMudpieMama reveals 5 ways of thinking that have helped her find her mama-groove and better navigate tricky parenting discussions.
  • Speaking Up For Those Who Can't — We've all had those moments when someone said something hurtful or insensitive, or downright rude that just shocks you to your core, and you're stunned into silence. Afterwards, you go home and think "Gosh, I wish I said…" This post by Arpita at Up Down, And Natural is for all the breastfeeding mamas who have thought "Gosh, I wish I said…"
  • Thank you for your opinion — Gaby at Tmuffin shares her go-to comment when she feels like others are judging her parenting style.
  • Mending — A playground conversation about jeans veers off course until a little mending by Kenna at Million Tiny Things is needed.
  • The Thing You Don't Know — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about what she believes is one of the most important things you can consider when it comes to compassionate communication with other parents.
  • 3 Tips for Interacting with Other Parents Respectfully When You Disagree with Them — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about respectful interactions on her parenting journey.
  • Peacefully Keeping My Cool: Quotes from Ana — How do you keep your cool? Ana from Pandamoly shares some of her favorite retorts and conversation starters when her Parenting Ethos comes into question.
  • Kind Matters — Carrie at Love Notes Mama discusses how she strives to be the type of person she'd want to meet.
  • Doing it my way but respecting your highway. — Terri from Child of the Nature Isle is determined to walk with her family on the road less travelled whether you like it or not!
  • Saying "I'm Right and You're Wrong" Seldom Does Much To Improve Your Cause... — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment writes about how living by example motivates her actions and interactions with others.
  • Have another kid and you won't care — Cassie of There's a Pickle in My Life, after having her second child, knows exactly how to respond to opposing advice.
  • Ten Tips to Communicate Respectfully, Even When You Disagree — What if disagreements with our partners, our children or even complete strangers ultimately led to more harmony and deeper connections? They can! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares ten tips to strengthen our relationships in the midst of conflict.
  • A Little Light Conversation — Zoie at TouchstoneZ explains why respect needs to be given to every parent unconditionally.
  • Why I used to hide the formula box — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen finally talks about how judgement between parents changed her views on how she handles differences in parenting.
  • Assumptions — Nada at minimomist discusses how not everyone is able to nurse, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
  • Shushing Your Inner Judgey McJudgerson — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction knows that judging others is easy to do, but recognizing that we all parent from different perspectives takes work.
  • Respectfully Interacting with Others Online — Lani at Boobie Time Blog discusses the importance of remaining respectful behind the disguise of the internet.
  • Presumption of Good Will — Why — and how — Crunchy Con Mommy is going to try to assume the best of people she disagrees with on important issues.
  • Being Gracious with Parenting Advice — Tips for giving and receiving parenting advice with grace from Lisa at My World Edenwild.
  • Explain, Smile, Escape — Don't know what to do when you're confronted by another parent who disagrees with you? Amy at Anktangle shares a story from her life along with a helpful method for navigating these types of tricky situations (complete with a handy flow chart!).
  • Balancing Cultures and ChoicesDulce de leche discusses the challenges of walking the tightrope between generations while balancing cultural and family ties.
  • Linky - Parenting Peacefully with Social MediaHannabert's Mom discusses parenting in a social media world.