A Beautiful Place of… 6512 and Growing

A bunch of you regular parenting blog readers out there will no doubt recognize this place.6512c

And for those of you (poor souls!) who don’t, allow me the pleasure of introducing you to the wonderful home, family, and blog of 6512 and growing. We’ve been virtual friends and accomplices for years now, and had once before had the pleasure of briefly visiting their gorgeous home in Durango, Colorado. This time we came to town instead of just stopping in as we passed by.

We’d arranged with Rachel — the 6512 mover-shaker, dynamo-mama — to do our current workshop in Durango with some of her community there, and others that either read Rachel’s blog or her column in the local newspaper, or that were invited by someone who does. We had an impressively engaged group at the workshop — lots of great clarifying questions, poignant scenarios for us to untangle, and a deep sense of connection in the room. We came away buzzed from the endeavor as usual; but I personally found that a number of the people I spoke with afterward had really picked up some major “nuggets” during the course, and that sent me soaring! The concept that we can share this information, help others apply it to their own lives, and have it affect them so deeply, changing their lives so fully, and allowing their families so much more peace and connection still totally astounds me. I mean, I know I’ve lived the change (to empathy parenting) and have seen it working in my family’s life, and I’ve worked with plenty of clients and heard of the changes in their and their families’ lives; but to spend a few hours face-to-face with a group of parents who are hungry for something different or looking to deepen their parenting practice, and to see the wheels start racing in their minds as the workshop information hits, to feel them shifting before our eyes, to witness them turning that corner, and to experience some of the guilt, shame, self-tenderness, relief, wonder, and excitement with them, and to know that parenting could be forever different for them — well, that’s just magic to me.

After the magic on Saturday, we all reconvened for dinner at Rachel and Dan’s house.6512

As I sat on the couch — that same couch many of you know well already (and can be seen in the post of Rachel’s I linked above) — and I looked around, I had (aside from the still buzzy post-workshop feeling) a strange, dreamy sensation come over me. Natalie encapsulated it perfectly when she leaned over and said to me, “It’s like we’re on the set of one of our favorite shows!”. And she was right, that’s exactly what it was like.

See — here she is on set! With Rachel and Dan!OTR7 On Sunday, we came back over and the kids had an egg hunt in the back yard.6512a

But not before checking out the Fairy Food! Natalie had brought almost her entire stock to sell stuff while we were in Santa Cruz; so the kids, and even Rachel and Dan marveled over the tiny produce, pastries, and meats that they’d previously gotten samples of but never had the pleasure of actually picking through. The kids chose a few items, some for the grandparents, too, and Rachel dawned a lovely pair of leek earrings that looked like they were made just for her.6512bHere, Rose and Echo are strolling and chatting, and theorizing about egg hiding spots…
6512d And then, as if it were a photo of the same two girls years later, here are Rachel and Natalie slowly meandering around the yard and chatting, as well.6512e

After the egg hunt, the kids got down to the serious business of egg-innard trading. At one point it became like a quiet, free-for-all auction — “I got money in this one, I’ll trade you for that…”, “I’ll give you everything in these three eggs for the money you just got from him…”, “I’ll give you a ginger chew for that…”.6512i There were some easy deals and some hard bargains made — and everyone seemed to feel like s/he came out on top: a win-win-win if you will…6512f After the egg hunt and many hugs, we hit the road again and tore down through the canyonlands of northern New Mexico. Echo, per her own design for the day, was still dressed in her Easter finest.6512jFive hours later, we arrived at Villanueva and the family farmhouse. Of course, we barely unloaded our things into the house before we set off up the hill on our inaugural hike. Echo was excited to climb some rocks and see some Nature. Natalie and I kept sighing deeply and soundly.6512g On top of the hill with the sun setting over the arroyo behind, we decided to take a quick shot just to commemorate Echo and Natalie’s first trip to the summit.6512hLast night, we had a home-cooked feast, built and enjoyed a roaring fire, and then snuggled in for some much deserved rest.

This morning, we got up with the sun, and before long, Echo was in the “catbird seat”, rocking in the morning light, eating a bowl-full of frozen blueberries with purpling fingers and lips.
6512kNot a bad place to be…

I hope you’re finding your “just right spots” too. Enjoy ‘em when you can!

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And be well.

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Passages — or — Ways We’ve Gotten Through

On Good Thursday, we bid a fond farewell to this.
OTR1(That’s actually Echo with the boogie board on the far right of the frame, and our little friend Seiji with her, and Henry, of course…)

We spent the preceding couple of weeks checking off the days and last-best items on the handmade calendar Natalie had crafted for us. We did all the things we wanted to do one more time — including the last minute, virtually pointless and certainly gratuitous race to the Wednesday farmers’ market downtown in the middle of twelve projects that all had to be completed before we could leave; and the last minute trip to simply say, “So long” to the beach, and the giant whale sculpture that Echo called Wilma. And we said, “See you soon!” and “Thanks again!” — to both of Natalie’s parents, both of their partners, their mothers (that’s both Natalie’s grammas if you lost track), and even an aunt, uncle, and a few close family friends, as well as several new friends, and contacts we made in the Positive Discipline community there, and the Girl Scout troop that Echo was active with in Santa Cruz (foreign exchange student style only with Daisy Scouts; and we were her host family…). We packed up every single thing that we’d brought, bought, or collected and hadn’t used, installed, returned, or lost already — which included making piles of things to get back to Juju, and arranging to get all twenty-nine library items back to the Santa Cruz Library, and Echo taking a pile of shells back to the ocean. We cleaned everything as best as we could while still being in the space — cleaning ourselves into corners left and right – practically sweeping behind us as we exited, hoping before we left her to restore Garden Pearl to a state even better than we when entered.

We took our time with all of it. We metered out a slow rhythm to our leaving, savoring it in much the same way as we had our arrival.

I felt like — on top of getting to enjoy it, and enjoy enjoying it as the sun set on our wonderful time there with all of those wonderful people, I had what I can only describe as a super-power ability to hold it’s passing in much the same way as I do the passing of the seasons in Montana. It just had that same feeling to it for me — I could trust in the Santa Cruz season going even though I didn’t want it to as it was happening, because I know there’s much I love in the seasons ahead, including (especially at that moment) the next Santa Cruz season. I think I enjoyed those last-best things all the more because I felt that sense of it being more, “So long!” and “Farewell!”, rather than “Goodbye.”, and because it all counted as bonus rather than loss.

OTRThen on Good Thursday, we hit the road. And by hit it, I mean we beat it down for ten grueling hours along and then across the parched, frizzled middle valley of southern California, over dry gulch after dry gulch, through the Mojave desert, passed bizarre, alien landscapes, and into the striped yellows, oranges, reds, greys, and greens of Arizona.
OTR2
On Good Friday, we went to the Grand Canyon! We “Whoa”ed and “Woooo”ed at the edge and over into the abyss just enough to get good and dusty, and dizzy. It’s weird to stand there looking into that big of a hole in the ground.

On our quick tour through the park along the South Rim of the canyon (at the end, really), we also stopped at the Desert View Watchtower. It isn’t a preserved or restored ancient structure as I initially misunderstood it to be (it was built in the 30′s), but it is modeled both after structures in the area built and used by ancient peoples, and to celebrate some of the cultures that had historically used the Grand Canyon area.
OTR5

We climbed the tower. Starting from a little nondescript set of stairs at the back of the gift shop and climbing up onto the roof of the shop and beyond into this room.OTR4

I know this shot (above) turned out a little strange — I turned the phone-camera on it’s side, used the panorama feature, and started over my head, moving toward one wall beside me — but it was the best way to show the whole view.OTR3 At the top of the tower you can, you know – view stuff.

After we “viewed” for a bit and enjoyed the stoney acoustics, I ran back down to the bottom, out onto the roof of the gift shop, and took a shot of Natalie and Echo in the tower window. (Same shot as above, just incase you’re wondering…) See them up there?

OTR5
And then I ducked back in, and was taking weird panos of the ceiling, etc., when I happened to catch this candid shot of Coco leaning over the edge of the middle floor railing. You can see the stairs slanting upward behind and to the right of her, and there is a similar slant of stair above going to the small, separately-enclosed tower room.

OTR6After that, we jumped back into our cars — remember we’re driving tandem — and drove six more hours of crazy, frost-heaved and pocked-marked, 70-mile-an-hour-2-lane back hiways to Durango, Colorado in order to give our workshop and visit our friends-who-started-out-as-blog-relations that live here.

But more on that tomorrow!

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Be well. And may all your days be Good days.

And Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it!

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Intro to Educating a Human Brain

Educating the Brain

How do babies learn things? How can we help them learn in the most conducive way possible? What does it take to create the best environment, conditions, and potential for the highest possible development of our children’s full mental (cognitive, non-cognitive, neuro-emotional and neuro-psychological, etc.) capabilities? And how do we fit whatever all that takes into our already very busy parenting lives?!

To begin with, let me reassure you, it’s a lot easier than you probably think, both to provide for that best possible brain development, and to fill that brain with all the necessary informational bits to succeed happily in life. If you’re a dedicated Natural Parent — practicing proper attachment, building and maintaining the parent-child relationship (and additional bonus points if you’re nursing) — then you’re already on the right proverbial track, and you’re already giving the brain what it needs most first in order to do well as it matures. Feeding that brain with enough of the right kind of information is something I’ll cover in more detail at a later date, but at present let me just say — if you’ve prepared the brain well enough, and you are willing to assist as it reaches for more, then you honestly won’t be able to stop it from devouring mountains more information than we are currently taught to think is normal for human development.

But before we go on to a proper discussion of what needs doing, let’s spend a little time exploring just what our babies’ brains are seeking and how they’re seeking it.

The first thing it’s important to know is that the human brain is an auto-adaptive learner. It is built to assess the learning potentials in the environment in which the baby is born and it then designs and continues to re-design a development plan for itself based on what the environment is like and what is available. If the brain receives positive information about the learning environment, it will open its various receptors and take in more and more and increasingly subtler levels of the input available to it. If the opposite occurs, and the brain ascertains that the environment is not as ideal, and/or that the human in which the brain is riding is not as safe and secure as is ideal, then the brain reorganizes it’s directives to secure those items missing from the environment, and/or the sense of safety that is optimal for proper development. If it cannot create the ideal conditions for optimal growth, then the brain is forced by it’s prime directive — of continual development per the conditions available — to develop as best as it can.

Another concept that is important to understand is that the brain is a time-sensitive aggregate learner. It’s extremely efficient in its processes, and uses what it learns en route to a new skill in order to facilitate that and future acquisitions. For instance, in an infant’s earliest days, the brain is simply looking to make certain that it and it’s human are both safe. Depending on how much it develops this baseline understanding/sensation, the brain will discern how open it can be to input, this in turn determines how much input it will begin to receive. Put more bluntly — if the infant brain is stressed, “it ain’t open for business”; and if it remains regularly or frequently in a state of stress, it gets further and further “behind in business”. Another example from early in development, is the set-up of mirror neuron reactions. I could write multiple posts about the function and importance of mirror neurons, but at present, you should understand that these neurons help children understand the emotions and intentions of others, and assist children in imitating new skills. In order to set these neurons up for prime functioning, the current understanding indicates that the brains of both parent and child encourage mimicking between them. The level of mimicry that happens seems to determine how developed the mirror neuron reaction is, which further determines how well the child will be able to learn about emotions, empathy, social etiquette, language and other complex motor processes, and self among many others. For each set of skills and precursors to new skills, the overall brain plan has allotted specific windows of time — some skills/process preparations have more precise windows than others — and after that time, the brain moves on with as much as it was able to handle in the time it had. If it gets more than/as much as is optimal then it moves on in a fully empowered manner; if it didn’t get enough input, or didn’t have the best conditions, then the amount of preparation and adaptation is less, and therefore the brain’s abilities to move forward are narrowed (not necessarily inhibited in reach, but lessened in scope).

Additionally, the human brain’s cognitive development is stage-specific — that is, it occurs in semi-discreet, overlapping, and cumulative episodes. As above, there are windows of time during which certain skills are ideally “developable”; and, as the saying goes, “you have to learn to walk before you can run”. Put together, that means there are optimal periods for developing particular cognitive skills, which ideally, flow in a succession building one on top of the other. In less ideal scenarios, an opportunity missed, or a cognitive skill not fully developed before the preferred window closes, then inhibits or “mis-serves” the development of the next skill(s) in the next (pre-set) stage.

In light of the above dimensions of brain development, one thing to keep in mind in approaching parenting is how best accommodate as many of the brain’s preferences as possible in order to be certain that it operates at its broadest possible spectrum of development. This refers both to choices we make in the moment regarding how to handle particular interactions, and more global choices that we make about how we approach parenting in general. So here’s my basic list of things to do to help give our children the best possible opportunities to develop robust, intricate neural networks, realizing and capitalizing on their brains’  brightest possible maturation scenarios:

  • Our first job for assuring that our kids can learn as much as they are able to is create and maintain a secure bond with the new born and infant. If the baby (and brain, really) doesn’t feel secure, then the stress of that insecurity inhibits learning potential, and confuses the brain into hedging it’s proverbial bets and creating a less expansive educational program for itself. By making our babies feel safe, first and foremost, we unlock their broadest possible potentials, give their brains the full range of developmental choices, and prime their nervous systems for the greatest possible receptivity to input from all available sources.If we do that successfully (or to whatever degree we are successful at that…) then we can rely on the brain of the growing baby, toddler, and little kid to do it’s thing quite naturally. Given the right grounding, a baby’s brain is doing incredible feats of learning everyday — you can’t stop it (except by stress). Early on, a good bit of that development is about figuring out how to move this human body (as it doubles in size), how to understand and initiate communication, and how to get the body’s needs met (so that the brain can keep growing!).
  • Our next most important job for brain development is to facilitate emotional processing throughout early development. Our babies come to us without the neural capability to mitigate or manage their own emotions. When children get upset (and they can get extremely upset about any-infinitessimal-thing, right?!) they lose their already limited access to their higher brain functions — like self-awareness, the ability to make good choices, impulse control, logic, and reason, among others. The thinking/learning brain shuts down until or unless they get help processing the emotion(s). So in order to help them get the upper brain back “on line” and return it to it’s receptive, learning state, we have to help our kids get through emotional upheaval as often as it occurs with healthy doses of empathy and hugs.By doing so, we tell our children’s brains to stop producing the stress hormone Cortisol, and start producing Oxytocin and Opioids to calm the brain and relieve the neural “pain” of duress, before reinitiating the cascade of neuro-chemicals that are optimal for receptivity and learning. In the moment, our assistance provides the vitally necessary help all kids require to get back to a calm, receptive state — our calm body/brain guides theirs to a similar calm by a co-regulation a/effect — and our empathy helps them manage the emotional content and begin “arcing” back into higher brain functionality. In the long run, our regularly helping them attend to their emotional processing means our kids are more in their “right minds” more of the time — that is, they are generally more available to receive information and sensory input, to think and act rationally, to control their impulses and motor actions, and to make sound and empathetically-informed choices. They can develop more “neural real estate”, exponentially faster, and with loads less work on everyone’s part — simply because we’re keeping the system “debugged” of “viral” emotional content.
  • Another absolutely necessary thing for us to do is to “manage interest“. This sounds fancier than it is, but shouldn’t be underestimated in terms of its impact on neural development. It requires a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, we need to regularly show our interest — both in our children, and in their activities — this communicates our recognition of the importance of the things they are doing (every one of which is part of their development), but more vitally, it communicates the significance and belonging that every child needs to feel in order to develop ideally. And on the other hand (or prong…), we need to steer clear of interfering with our children’s interest in their explorations. That means — not rewarding or praising their successes (which interferes with their intrinsic motivation for learning), but encouraging their process and empathizing with their feelings throughout, instead.

    By showing our interest, we show them that they and what they are doing/do matters. We assuage their need to feel personally important. We give wind to their wings simply by witnessing every manic attempt at flapping. We root their existence in meaning by celebrating their being with our attention and connection. And by withholding our valuations, and/or our critiques, and/or our coercive back-patting, we offer them the opportunities to be the measures of their own successes. We offer them the chance to remain dedicated to what interests them, rather than becoming dedicated to winning our favorable appraisal and attention (the latter of which they should have as a given, not a currency). We also offer them the awesome power to wade into new explorations and experiments without fearing all the inevitable and informative failures available to them along the way to mastery. The child whose parents don’t show enough interest (i.e. don’t clearly communicate significance and belonging), and/or work too hard to “catch them being good” and  extrinsically reward successes, doesn’t get to feel safe exploring new terrain (physical or intellectual) and doesn’t get to feel like what he is doing actually matters, and doesn’t get to feel really excited about learning. And in all cases, we really want the opposite for our children.

  • So, after making sure the brain feels secure (not to leave out the human who owns the brain, of course…) and modeling responsiveness and interest so that the brain takes on its best possible growth plan, then we need to start to put stuff in the perceptual range of that hungry brain! That means lots of playing and exploring with, talking (and signing) to, showing and sharing things, and reading to our kids.

     Regularly reading to our little ones is one of the single best early education tools possible. Period. It gives access to a wide swath of the language(s) we speak in real time and context(s). Additionally, by simply hearing us and seeing our mouths move, our children’s mirror neurons make their brains run miniature simulations of speaking, practicing the neural habits of language production. Reading to/with our kids also introduces concepts about life to them in both a visual and auditory way — maximizing the input, and therefore, the reception of new information. It also happens to be calming and connective for most children, which means it’s not only teaching the brain, but priming it for learning too! Do it, literally, as much as you can both stand every-single-day.

     Then the next and final part (for the current discussion) is making lots of room for play. Play is how kids and brains run simulations of all the tiny bits of input they’ve been given, and practice self-regulation skills. They will run countless pretend scenarios each day, trying out existence, and experimenting with what they know about life. It is absolutely essential that play be their most regular task on any given day until they are developmentally able to move on to other types of input (like reading on their own) — usually somewhere between 5 and 8. Independent play is, of course, vital, but develops differently for different kids and provides for only specific kinds of learning; so be sure to supplement (especially earlier in development when independent play has yet to emerge) with lots of co-play and with toddlers and older kids even rough co-play, which is especially good for developing neuro-emotional regulation habits.

These are the basics of priming the brain for and initiating the most comprehensive learning that the human brain is capable of doing. Given secure attachment, consistent emotionally-responsive care, a sense of significance and belonging, unencumbered intrinsic motivation, and plenty of rich input — our children can learn and do anything; their potentials are broad and high; and their brains are open for the serious business of becoming their best possibilities. If we get really good — not exceptional but dedicated — at providing what our children’s brains need for optimal development, then I believe we’ll see the emergence of a kind of human we would currently call superhuman; with abilities and skill levels that we can, now, barely even imagine. And at the very least, we can offer our own children the most fully empowered nervous systems possible just by attending to these few basic guidelines above.

So get in there! Lay those solid foundations, and provide those early resources necessary to make sure your kids’ brains are “open for business” and “primed to succeed”! And then stand back and witness in celebratory amazement as the empowered nervous system takes over and creates learning in places you would never have dreamed. Feed that brain and watch it grow like a magical beanstock!

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Be well, my fellow para-educators.

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P.S. — If you want more information or assistance on this, you can hire me to be your brain-facilitator trainer! And you can also check out this book for more background and ideas.

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I’m (an) Official!

I'm Official!

Natalie and I packed up and trundled off to Oakland all day both days last weekend and underwent the 14-hour training to become certified Positive Discipline Parent Educators. Huzzah!

It was a wonderful and potent experience. We studied technique and material for helping parents learn about the concepts of Positive Discipline — and not just learn about them, but feel them to the bone. In fact, the main take-away from the training for me was very much about the powerful difference between just hearing an idea and actually stepping into the perspective to which it relates. Even principles to which I’d already felt wholly devoted became richer and more poignant because I spent time tasting the quality(s) involved.

I’ll give you a perfect example. At one interval, our certified PD trainer, the wonderful (and very pregnant :) ) Heather Cantero, solicited brave volunteers and walked us through an activity where two participants sit in the middle and role-play being children simply repeating the phrase, “I’m a child. And I just want to belong.”. Those of you who’ve been to a PD course that used this activity will know what I mean when I say that part alone, regardless of the other parts of the sketch, is enough to bring any parent to tears (or at least to his emotional knees…). But then, twice as many volunteers (the poor sods) circle the two in the center who are repeating the phrase above, and speak harshly to them, and use intense, raised voices to toss out “parentisms” (as Heather called them). It went something like: “Why don’t you ever do what I tell you?!” (“I’m a child and I just want to belong.”); “You’re so unreliable!” (“I’m a child and I just want to belong.”); “Sit up straight! Don’t put your elbows on the table! Chew with your mouth closed!” (“I’m a child and I just want to belong”). On and on it went, way longer than I would be comfortable letting it go as a facilitator, long after I myself had looked away several times and began fanning myself with my shirt to stave the heat rushing up my neck into my face and prickling into tiny beads of sweat at my hairline. I think I even said under my breath, “That’s enough…that’s enough…”.

Afterward, Heather also walked us through the recovery that she always has the participants do in the courses she facilitates with parents and teachers. We all needed it. And we could all feel the palpable poison in the neuro-emotional veins of the room getting pumped back out and reprocessed into a deep, deep knowing… I can’t even articulate what it is. “Something something all those times I…” and “Something something belonging…”, mixed with a little “Something something I want mine to feel sure…”, and a “Bottom line communication something something…”. It isn’t a set of phrases; it’s a bedrock feeling. A feeling of wanting to do better by my girls in communicating their welcomeness at all turns. A feeling of recognizing where we’ve all failed and been failed. A feeling of fierce protectiveness of all the world’s children, even us. A feeling of tenderness for the whole Earth; and of hope; and of love for everyone…

Now I could and probably will try to deliver the message of that sensation to every workshop full of parents that I lead from here on out. I could/will try to just tell parents, “Look — your kids are only ever seeking to secure and sustain a sense of belonging and significance with you and in this world. Period. So make certain that everything you communicate to them carries the message you want them to have about how much they belong (in your eyes) no matter what they do or say, nor the thoughts, feelings, or responses they may illicit from you. Make sure they know and feel that you always already love them no matter what else you need to do, say, or teach —  and at the same time! Make sure they know they belong no matter what else is happening.”. But regardless of how well I craft my phrases, regardless of how expertly I deliver my lines — I could never say anything like the feelings I had sitting there watching the run-through of that role-play activity. It was even doubly removed from reality — a how-to rehearsal of a two-minute improvised skit – but it punched me in the heart in a way that I will never be able to forget.

And that was just one of many life-tweaking moments from the weekend. And again, we weren’t even going through the actual course, we were just going through the training on how to teach it…

We’ve come away from it energized and inspired to say the least. Both days on the hour-plus drive back home after class, Natalie and I debated and distilled, between plotting and planning, before and after swearing and sharing our “mosts”. We’d picked our alignment with the Positive Discipline Association intentionally because we were amazed at how well the PDA’s message matches our own (even though we’d known nothing about each other when creating those messages) — but we were floored by both how well the two independent systems matched, as well as the important complements that we both offer to each other’s ideas. I believe it’s the beginning of beautiful relationship!

And, of course, you’re all bound to benefit from that collaboration as well. ;)

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So there you have it. I’m official! An officially certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator! And an official official of the Positive Discipline Association, as well. Congratulations, self!

I also feel like I got another round of the “certification bug”. I love the training experience so much — even though I hate hate hate it — because it moves and challenges me and draws me out of my own inner world of thought and feeling, welcoming me into brighter, fuller vistas and deeper knowing. I come away from a weekend like that exponentially more dedicated to my core values, filled up with my purpose, and ready to rewrite future history. And whenever I get a taste of more knowledge, more wisdom, more tools, more love — I always get caught-up, and like 18-month-old Echo used to shout, I “Need more ‘mation! Need more ‘mation!”. I want to know everything worth knowing. I want to feel everything worth feeling. I want to share everything worth sharing. Benefit everything. Nurture everything. Love every thing.

There’s nothing (next to my children, of course…) that I value more than learning, feeling, and sharing. I’m hooked and hungry. Looking for my next hit. Totally addicted to growth and process. And I hope I never kick…

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Follow your blisses, loves. Follow your blisses!

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And be well.

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P.S. Anyone interested in more information on the PDA or the basic tenets of Positive Discipline (maybe you’re like me and you bristle/d a little bit at the name…?) — here’s a link to the PDA’s site.

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W.O.W. — Week of Wonder!

This gallery contains 32 photos.

Greetings friends, followers, and new-founds! The dial here in our little corner of the universe have been set to auto-fun for the last week, and I’m just now having a moment to “come up for air” and tell you all about … Continue reading

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Out with a Splash!

This gallery contains 23 photos.

Well, for those of you who are new here or have not been following along: We’ve been in Santa Cruz for the last month and a half. Woohoo for “short Winter”, Missoula is getting hammered with some of the most … Continue reading

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The Self-Authenticating Adult, or How to be a Super-Hero to your Kid

redwoodEcho decided that she wanted to climb the Redwood in Juju and Bonnie’s backyard (not actually pictured above… this one’s just to give you the impression of it, since, regrettably, I took no pictures from under the particular tree in question). It just so happens that I am the type of parent who was genuinely pleased to hear that his 6 and a 1/2 year-old daughter wants to climb the 100+ foot evergreen, the very first branch of which is at least 20 feet up, above her doting, and perhaps also “highly concerned”, grandparents’ fitted-brick patio…

also love that tree! And I wanted to climb it while we are here, as well.

We had the ladder set up, extended to it’s fullest height and even on it’s tippy-toes a bit, leaned against the massive and mythical trunk of “Reddy the Great”, as Echo calls the wizened old giant. This tree is the stuff of Christensen family legend. The mere fact that I, or Natalie, or her sister, Em, have climbed it before, or would, is somewhat of a heroic feat in the family. It’s a big tree. But it also looms over Natalie and Emily’s entire childhood. It’s been imbued with magic. Not just your natural everyday huge Redwood magic, but life-, imaginative-, play-, kid-, undaunted-, love-magic. And you can feel that when you’re near Reddy. And it makes you story-worthy to associate with “the Great” in such an intimate fashion as to ascend to his/her/its crown, to say the least.

The compound had gotten wind of Echo’s plan; and by that, I mean, she’d broadcast the news in every building and in every face she could reach between the time we decided to go for it and the time we had the ladder up against the foot of the tree. Our little friend Seiji was visiting and he was exceptionally interested in this operation to climb the tree and whether or not he would in fact get a turn to make his own ascent; so with our other “residents” that made 8-10 of us around the tree at any one moment, all jazzed-to-nervous-and-back-again about the current activity.

Reddy2

We had to “try out” the ladder placement, so Echo and I climbed up together while Natalie held the base. The top of the ladder was too far from the bottom-most branch for Echo to reach and climb up onto it. We adjusted the ladder and made another ascent. This time Echo decided that being “as tall as a two-story building” at the top of the ladder and touching the lowest branch of the tree was — well, enough. The teeming horde decided they all wanted a similar triumph under their respective belts; so I ushered kids, one after the other, up and down the ladder, to lay a finger on or wrap an arm around that lowest branch. Each one got to peer down and wave at the on-lookers below, and to gaze out on the world from a different perspective. They all loved it so much that they begged for another round. They felt pleased with themselves, and lit-up by the experience.

The tree let them be their own heros.

I’d told Echo that I wanted to climb the tree as well when we spoke of it in the initial discussion, but by the end of my shift at the carnival, I thought about just packing it up and skipping my chance to play. But I didn’t. The moment was synchronic. The flow was evident in it’s allowance of ample space and opportunity. The kids were not only all being supervised enough for me to do the climb, they were all also cheering me on. So I went for it. “Why not?” I thought to myself, as I reset the ladder. Then I began my ascent.

I say “began”, but the tree is so pleasant to maneuver up through that I was hardly 5-7 minutes in working my way to the top. The kids whooped and screamed and called up to me as I went. At the peak of the tree the branches all twist outward from the center forming a palm on which to perch. As I popped out of the top of Reddy’s skull, Lisa, the neighbor across the street, saw me immediately and shouted and said she was going to grab her camera, then fired off the shot (below) for us.

That is the roof-line of Juju and Bonnie’s house 1/3 of the way up the tree…

Reddy1

Realizing that they could all potentially see me in the crow’s nest, I yelled down to the kids suggesting that they run over to the neighbors’ and “look up!”. They all mindfully crossed the still avenue together and danced in circles on the sidewalk waving up at me, and hollering with glee that there I was “in the top of the tree!”.

Here’s what they looked like to me, all gathered around down there…
ReddyTo make a little-longer story short — when I got back down to the ground, the kids all crowded about me, congratulating me on my successful adventure, jumping at my elbows, shouting feverishly, collecting and coveting the bits of Redwood needle and tiny cones lacing my hair. I was extra-super-cool for at least 5 whole minutes. Sure, they ran off to other great attractions, that is, back to banging fiercely on the elegant Zen bell-gong in the courtyard; but they will remember that I climbed to the top of Reddy the Great. And whether now or at some later time, it’ll be the stuff of family stories that well outlast our memories’ interest in even the greatest legends.

I didn’t mean to be a hero. And I’m not bragging, really. I was just doing what felt pleasing to me. The fact that our family will remember is based in large part on the pre-existing mythic relationship with the tree, of course. The fact that it will be memorable to the junior monkeys club is, likewise of course, because it is such a grand and epic specimen for climbing — especially from a kid’s (memory’s) point of view. But the reason it’ll stay in my mind is because I got to be part of their stories, I got to be nothing short of amazing in several endearing little children’s minds, just for being me and doing something I truly enjoy.

Here’s to authenticity.

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Once I made it back down, and pulled all of the debris from my hair and disseminated it amongst my fans, I held the ladder and Xi held baby Selah so that Romy could climb up to the crow’s nest as well. She didn’t get quite the parade upon her descent from that great height as I enjoyed, but I am sure the achievement will still be memorialized in the Daniels’ family lore; and I know she’ll be added to the list in the Christensen legend of Reddy the Great summit-claimers. But just for good measure, I wanted to add her heroic tale to this story as well…

I hope you happen easily upon your moments to be legendary in your kids’ eyes, too, friends. I’d look first in all the places where you’re most you. And just so you know — you’re all legends in my eyes; just for continuing to show up and be your current best parenting selves.

We are Olympians.

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Be well, badasses.

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