The beauty of art, a book and a conversation

Effie2 (2)Some of the qualities I cherish most about my daughter are her love for reading, writing and art. I feel as though they allow me to see the world through her eyes. These forms of expression provide me with a wonderful channel into her viewpoint, thoughts and feelings. They also have opened up the lines of communication between us.

When my daughter was 6 years old, we experienced a period of about a year when tantrums were frequent occurrences. Following a conflict, she would close the door to her room in anger and request that I provide her with a pen and paper.

effie daughter emotions pageMoments later, I found a note or a drawing she slipped under the door expressing her feelings of anger and frustration. Occasionally, I also unexpectedly found drawings and notes placed around the house. They expressed a variety of emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, frustration and love. I wasn’t always delighted with what she wrote or drew, but I was always delighted that she chose writing and drawing as her forms of expression.

At 8 years old, she experienced a loss for the first time. Our beloved hamster Fluffy died, and my daughter was devastated. A few days later, she arrived from school holding a beautiful picture of our Fluffy portrayed as an angel. I was touched by the sweet display of her feelings expressed so delightfully on paper. I was also surprised by the representation of an angel and heaven as it wasn’t a subject we discussed at home.

The painting opened up a conversation about her feelings of loss. We first talked about the painting technique she used to create comforting yellow and white shades and the soft brush strokes. Then we discussed how she felt about losing her pet and what she thinks angels and heaven are. We reminisced about how feisty our Fluffy was and how much she missed him. I was pleased with her artistic abilities but more so with the words we exchanged.

Today, at 10 years old, she is an enthusiastic reader and writer. A couple months ago, she urged me to read a book from a series she has been passionately reading. I resisted. With more than 60 books lined up on my own wish list, I couldn’t imagine squeezing in one more book, especially one that didn’t particularly fit in with the subject matter of my interest.

Every evening during our quiet, quality time together, she shared with me with excitement details about the intertwined story lines and the many characters in the books. She had a sparkle in her eyes when she asked me again and again to read the first book in the series. I kept on brushing it off, telling her that I will read it one day. I promised that I will find the time.

While on vacation, I like to deviate from my typical reading subjects so I figured it was the perfect opportunity to stop resisting and start reading the book my daughter asked me to read. I was on the airplane on the way to our destination when, on page 20 of her book, I got a glimpse into her intrigue with the books — I got it, and I got her!

The series is comprised of fantasy novels that follow the adventures of four clans of wild cats. The cats personify characteristics of humans, and their world and experiences mimic those of humans. As my daughter and I chatted about the book’s story line, I was able to relate it to current events around the world. We discussed what it means to be an effective leader, why people fight over land and engage in wars, and what it means to be a compassionate person.

Once I completed the book and realized the value of the experience, I promised her that going forward I will honor a new reading pattern: a book of my choice followed by a book of her choice. I know it will set me back on my reading goals, but I also know it’s well worth it. What we have both gained from sharing a book is far more than I expected.

I’d like my daughter to know that her reflections and passions matter to me. I want her to keep me plugged in and feel comfortable to share her inner world with me.

I am gaining a whole new appreciation for the beauty and importance of art — in visual as well as in written form. A painting, a letter and a book are all creative and gentle forms of expressions. They each initiated valuable conversations between my daughter and I and kept our communication open and flowing.

I am bracing myself for her teenage years, hoping we will be able to keep that channel open, wide and clear.

A Tangible Approach to Time

Parenting is the most rewarding yet most challenging job there is. Children change so quickly. What worked yesterday may not work today, and what works today may not work tomorrow. Being creative in our parenting is practically a must.

Each child is different and needs to have her needs met in a way that works for her. Honesty and communication can ease anxiety and help a child to understand the world around him. Finding ways to explain certain concepts, ideas or situations to young children may take some creative thinking but is far better than dismissing a concept as being too mature for a child to comprehend.

My husband has a wonderful job that he excels at. His career and hard work allow me the privilege to be home to raise our daughter. My daughter and I have endless amounts of fun together every day, and we are certainly just about as close as mother and daughter can be. While our little girl definitely enjoys her mommy time, she is undoubtedly Daddy’s little girl. She stands watch at the door when she knows he is on his way home, loves to play with him every evening, and looks forward to family time on weekends.

My husband’s job does require a certain amount of travel. Since becoming parents, we have been rather fortunate that there has been minimal travel, usually not amounting to more than a few days at a time. The last time my husband had to go out of town, our daughter was a little over a year old and didn’t entirely understand the concept of him leaving. She was happy when he was returned home but didn’t seem to be too affected by his absence.

This past business trip, however, required my husband to be out of town for two weeks. Two weeks is a long time for us to be apart from our favorite person.

While technology has made it much easier to keep in touch during the absence of a loved one (Face Time has been our family favorite), time can still be a difficult concept for toddlers to fully comprehend. Our daughter is two and understands pretty well the meaning of yesterday and tomorrow. Explaining to her the concept of Daddy being gone for two weeks, however, was not an easy task. I decided to make a tangible representation of two weeks for our daughter in the form of a countdown chain.

At the end of each day, after a Face Time session with Daddy, I had our daughter tear off a link in the chain. Each link represented a day that Daddy was gone. At the end of the chain was a circle with the words “Daddy is Home!”

This method worked brilliantly. With each paper link she tore off, our daughter would happily say, “We are one day closer to Daddy!” While our little girl certainly missed her daddy, she found it much easier to understand when he was coming home with the help of her countdown chain.

Children are far brighter than we sometimes give them credit for. Just because they are not able to fully understand a concept in the way that an adult might, it doesn’t mean that they are unable to understand that very same concept when put in terms that they can relate to.

All it takes is a little creativity and a whole lot of love.

I never worked harder to stay-at-home

I wish I had known how much I would love being a mother.

How could I have anticipated the depth of this love?

My heart opens with wonder when I watch my 18-month-old son lift his arms, snap his fingers, and gently sway to music. Any music. We could be in the check out line at Walgreens and if he hears music, he lifts his arms in praise.

Oh, the world is good to him. Despite the little, blue bruise on his forehead from a sad encounter with the edge of an antique bureau, it’s a loving world overall. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be a gentle and consistent source of kindness as he learns to walk, speak, and jump. May he internalize this love and bring it forth as an inner light in days to come, days when I am no longer by his side to wipe away the tears of sad encounters.

A foundation for trust is being built. I am his “secure base” and he then sets off to explore this magical world full of rocks, leaves, sunshine, and scrumptious raisins. We co-sleep. He nurses on demand. His organic rhythms are honored.

I love being a stay-at-home mom.

I didn’t anticipate this.

Because of my blindness, I scramble to make up for the financial mistakes of the past. If I only had known to save so staying-at-home would unfold with greater ease.

Today, I acknowledge choices made and make new ones. I find creative and wonderful ways of bringing in money whiles nurturing my son. And that’s including the fact that we already have sought the best iva company to repay our mortgages. We teach Mommy and Me Yoga together. We stretch, sing, dance, and play with other mamas and little ones. It’s delightful.

And when my son sleeps, I write.

I write and weave together story, philosophy, and gratitude. I knit the love I feel into the words appearing on my computer screen. I smile, marvel, and sigh as tears and syntax flow.

Being a mother awakens a fierce and gentle strength. I know I’m not alone in staying up late at night while my son sleeps to bring in extra money for the family. A “gap” exists between what my husband makes and what we “need”. It’s all about priorities. I won’t capitulate to pressure to return full time to paid work. Instead, I navigate as skillfully as possible, as fearlessly as possible, as boldly as possible, a way to give my heart , and my best, to our son.

These precious early years are priceless. They are worth more than all of the world’s gold. I’m investing in the future emotional health of this little one. I’m investing in the health of all of those who will one day cross his path.

I’ve never worked harder to stay-at-home. On good days, I smile at the irony of it.

I didn’t anticipate this and yet, I embrace it with determination and grace.

Giving Up Choices

I am not in the habit of reading parenting books. It isn’t that they aren’t helpful. I have heard of plenty of circumstances where reading parenting books revolutionized the way a friend of family member chose to parent their children. I have also seen people read a new book every few months and then change their parenting technique to match. This seemed to create very confused and angry children. They didn’t know what to expect from their parents. Being predictable is such a comfort for our children.

Yes, there is a but in this because it has to do with a parenting book I picked up the other day. I have been on a waiting list at the local library for quite some time. I was not introduced to new concepts. I had been parented in much the same way and found that there are quite a few things that I also implement in my parenting.

So what did I discover that I know will revolutionize my parenting? Let my son make more choices. Offer choices. Offer valid choices. There are many small choices during the day that I found I was making that he very well could be making. As I turn those choices over I am watching him blossom. I can watch the little cogs turning in his mind. Many times already he has surprised me with his choices. There is also less resistance in our home. Things that could become an argument of point of contention between us because I was making all the little insignificant choices I am learning to hand over to him and suddenly he feels empowered. He feels he has choices in his life and we all know how much better we feel about life in general when we have some control.

And the final (major) benefit? Because he has to think so much more he sleeps much better at night!

Photo used from:

Stepping outside of the box AKA Talking for a teddy bear


During the past four years of my attachment parenting journey, I sometimes find myself in situations, especially with regard to discipline, that require me to step outside the box and out of my comfort zone.

A few months ago I was trying to get Ava, almost 4 years old at the time, to sleep. She had had a long day and was simply exhausted, so much so that every little thing was setting her off into a puddle of tears. I was getting frustrated because it seemed nothing I could do was right (in her eyes). Logically, I knew that she was acting this way because she was so tired and had passed the point of no return, but still I felt my frustration growing inside me.

She sat on the bed, slumped over crying and complaining about anything and everything imaginable and I wondered how could I get her to give in to her exhaustion and just lay down. I realized that reasoning with her wouldn’t work at this point. She was too far gone for that. I felt like yelling because my frustration was getting worse and worse – after all, I had things to do too and I didn’t want to spend all of my night trying to get her to sleep – but I knew that wasn’t going to help matters either.

Finally I decided what I really needed to do was take a deep breath, step outside of my comfort zone, grab a stuffed animal and start talking to her as the animal. Talking to Ava via a stuffed animal is a parenting “tool” my husband and I had used with success in the past, though not lately and, given the circumstances, I wasn’t sure how it would fly.

She has a bear named Roger who I always imagine talks with a Southern drawl and is good at cheering her up when she’s down, so Roger was the bear for the job. After a few seconds of talking as Roger, Ava stopped crying and began responding back to him, telling him what was going on with her. Although she couldn’t have done that for me, her mommy, she could do it for an impartial furry third party. 😉

Roger’s silly antics soon had Ava giggling and then he was able to talk her into laying down on her bed, relaxing and getting ready to sleep. As the bear said his good nights to Ava and me, Ava said her good nights in return and was soon calm enough to drift off to sleep.

As I left her room I couldn’t help but feel very proud of myself. I can’t claim to always respond well or the “right” way to every situation, but that night I put my pride and frustration aside and did what Ava needed to help her relax and get to sleep. Had I let my frustration overcome me there’s a good chance it would’ve taken me at least another 30-45 minutes and many more tears (probably on both of our parts) before she was asleep. But by tuning into her needs, letting go of all that I “needed” to get done, stepping outside of my comfort zone, and throwing in a little goofiness, I was able to get her to sleep calmly in much less time. And let’s face it, isn’t goofiness a prerequisite for becoming a parent? No? Well, it should be. The world just might be a happier place.

Amy Gates blogs about green living, attachment parenting, activism and photography at Crunchy Domestic Goddess.