Friday, July 27, 2007

Stories We Tell

Once there was a beautiful princess who lived in a lovely little town in Minnesota. The problem was that she was trapped by an ugly and angry ogre. This ogre controlled her every move: how she dressed, who she saw, how long she was gone. The ogre was also very critical of how she kept house, her lack of cooking skills and her inability to focus.

One day, the beautiful princess went away to collect her thoughts. When she came back, the ogre had suddenly materialized into a normal man who loved her very much but was afraid that she didn't love him. She realized that she had been living inside of a fairytale — a bad one — for too long. She broke the spell by realizing that the ogre was only real in her story. And in fact, SHE had been an ogre.

In order to relate to people and experiences, we often attach meaning and stories to the "what happened." Although what happened was real and may have caused us pain, our stories aren't. When we continue to believe that someone is critical or controlling or irritating or unloving or absent, we keep the story alive. But we slowly kill off the people. Worse, we prevent true love and compassion from entering our lives.

What stories do you tell about your children? Do you have the hyper child? The quiet child? The happy kid? The perfectionist? The athlete? Keeping our children inside stories like Peter Pumpkineater kept his wife does not allow for much freedom of expression. Or it may have the opposite effect of children rebellling against their story. The happy kid goes Goth. The perfectionist starts drinking.

Let's be aware of what we are asking our loved ones to live up to. A story we told ourselves about them has an element of self-fulfilling prophecy, until they can't live up to the story anymore. Everyone deserves the freedom to be themselves in the present. Let's put the past where it belongs and leave the future open to possibility.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Summer Food for Thought

Wow! It's finally summer and I'm getting back to my much neglected blog. Our family has been overwhelmed, to say the least, with activities and obligations in the last three months. End of school, end of soccer, end of piano lessons, end of marching band for my husband...and finally three days to enjoy on the lake with nothing but a tent and blow-up swim toys.

I was impressed with how my daughters handled a very unstructured vacation. There were no televisions, video games or computers, no shopping or organized craft time. There WAS swimming, sand, card games, books, fishing and marshmallows for roasting. We had no place to go and nothing to do. It was fantastic.

It seemed that the best parts of those three days for my girls included swimming and collecting shells, building a fort on their air mattress, eating toasty marshmallows from the fire, and playing UNO with their mom. We each won some games, even my 3-year-old who placed all her cards face up and was quite good at matching the numbers and colors.

Honestly, one afternoon I literally spent more than two hours in a beach chair with a good book as the kids wandered along the beach and ran in and out of the water. Heaven.

This reminded me that we don't need to orchestrate every minute of our children's lives. They will find ways to occupy their time creatively if we offer a positive environment and instill in them a sense of adventure. How do we do this? Get them out into nature. Take them to a park, a zoo, a local farm. Heck, have a picnic in your backyard. Bring along the "Go Fish!" game. Collect leaves and acorns. Go on a bug or frog hunt. Build a birdhouse out of a box. Visit a farmer's market and discuss the various colors and textures. Pick out something "exotic" to eat.

Summer can be what it is meant to be — a relaxing family time — or an extension of craziness from the school year. It's up to you. Other than swimming lessons, my girls are completely free to sleep late, color, swing, play with the neighbor kids, and be kids. That is, after they pick up their rooms!