Moments and moments

shoreline

My daughter and I have started playing a new game in the swimming pool. The opponents face each other and each person crosses their forearms and grabs the others’ wrists. While treading water, the players wrestle in a bid to tap their opponent on the head. It’s hard! And it makes us laugh, dunk under and spray water like dolphins. She loves it and she’s good at it.

There are moments in parenting that feel like this game. These moments lack the fun, laughter and silly antics of the pool game. Instead, it just feels as though I am treading water and wrestling needlessly with my children. That I am losing and sinking… or giving up the fight in exasperation and exhaustion.

Sometimes we argue about the most ridiculous things. Like when the children were playing tug-o-war in the pool changing rooms and I lost it because the loud noise in the echoey confined space was too much for me on the day the kettle broke (i.e., no coffee). Or when I came into the kitchen and a fresh loaf of bread had been hacked to bits leaving an Armageddon of crumbs and unusable bread hunks all over the work surface and floor. I turned into one of those cartoon characters with smoke coming out of my ears and red flowing up to my face like a thermometer rising.

In those moments I want to scream and shout, make an about-face and stamp out of the room to play with my toys all – by – myself.

Then there are other moments that are wonderful (and often the hard moments and the great moments are within, well, moments of each other). Like today, when I suggested that we cycle to our local nature reserve for a picnic, some nature journaling and time in the play park.  Yes, they wanted to go! And please, could they help make the picnic? And shall I get your bike panier down, mummy? And shall I open the garage so we can start getting the bikes out? And what do you want on your sandwich, mummy? And, (this is my favourite one) “I love it when we do these things together!”

I do too. When we are cheerfully pulling together to do the same thing, it feels as though we are a river flowing steadily and easily downstream. When we are both enthusiastic and engaged, it feels as though we are working together as one, like a key in a lock, like fitting the last piece in a puzzle and discovering the sense it makes. We all feel good when we are in flow together. The wrestling and wrangling that took place in the last half hour seems a memory away.

For me, the important thing to remember is that these moments come and go. In general, we have more flow moments than wrangling moments. But sometimes the wrangling moments are so distressing and unpleasant, it’s easy to forget that most of the time we flow.  I have to remind myself that there are big important loving feelings that underpin this family, in spite of the petty (and not-so-petty) squabbles we have every day. Sometimes it’s worth remembering that when we stop treading water or get tired of the struggle, the pool isn’t really that deep. There’s a firm floor beneath our feet, from which we can kick off and try again.

I’m reminded of my newly-five-year-old son’s bedtime unhappiness last week. He was hanging tired, hardly able to keep his eyes open, in the midst of an angry tantrum. In a bid to gentle him to my side I said, “But you’re my special boy, and I want to snuggle you.” Between angry screams he shouted, “Well you’re my special girl. But I don’t like you anymore!”

That pretty much sums it up.

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott.

Maybe the Trolls Were Right

sunset

Several years ago I wrote this post about toddlers and sharing. It is my most popular post by far, still getting several hundred hits every month.  To me, some of the angry comments at the end of that post (including some of the incredibly insulting, trollish ones I didn’t approve) are evidence of how anger, dogma and blind retribution often prevails over empathy and connection. When it comes to dealing with our children, our most treasured and unique gifts in life, it strikes me as very sad. I shake my head and continue on my own path of as-gentle-as-my-human-limitations-and-upbringing-let-me-be parenting, and I worry very little about what other people say.

Those are the good days. And they are in the majority.

Then there are the days when my children are having a screaming match with all the windows open, thumping up the stairs in a rage, slamming doors, shouting, “I HATE you, you ignorant little twerp!” (Thank you JK Rowling for introducing that particular phrase to my household.) There are the days when I haven’t spoken to another adult all day and am trying to transact a single piece of business (buying a stamp at the post office) and my children are tugging at my threadbare cardigan, talking at the same time as the post office clerk, begging plaintively for little packets of balloons or loom bands. There are the days when they speak rudely, ask repeatedly, ignore me, hit each other and pretty much show off the worst sides of their personalities.

On those days, a little voice inside me says, “Maybe those trolls were right.” Maybe the people who said that I was raising a little tyrant had insight. Maybe when they said that my children would grow up unable to socialise, those commenters had heretofore unknown clairvoyant skills. Maybe they could tell the future, and the future is now!

This is the point when I drop my face into my hands and have a little cry and wonder where I’ve gone wrong.

But that little voice inside is really rather little, in fact. It is so tiny (and I have worked hard to reduce its size over the years) that the bigger, stronger voices within me know that this is only catastrophizing, hyperbole… and plain ridiculous.

None of us is perfect. When I was a kid, I remember thumping up the stairs, slamming doors and calling my brother names. Even now, there are days when I scream and shout and stamp my feet in anger, frustration or disappointment.  When I was a kid I interrupted my parents all the time, wanted every toy in every shop and forgot my manners rather a lot. It took me time to learn. Even now, I get so wrapped up in my own enthusiasm that I interrupt people. We are all learning, all of the time. And if my children can’t express their less-than-publicly-palatable feelings at home, where can they?

I know that I am not the only traveller in the land of parenting self-doubt. It is at these times that I have to take myself by the shoulders and give myself a little shake. I have to turn my woeful gaze from my own personal pity party and look at my children, really look at them, and enumerate to myself all of the ways they are wonderful.

In The Hobbit, the curious thing that Bilbo discovers about the Mountain Trolls is that they turn to stone when the sun rises. Sometimes when we take the things those critics in the dark say about us (or our children), pick the lint off and lay them on the table, they look different. The fact of the matter is, when looked at in the light of day, those trolls turn to stone. They don’t know me, and they don’t know my children. I’m doing my best, staying true to my heart, and these kids are coming out just fine.

In fact, better than fine.

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott.

 

The Small Stuff

seed head

There’s a phrase that I often hear, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” The title of a book published in the 1990s, it’s become a sort of catch-phrase for those who want to simplify their lives and cease getting worked up about little things. Today, as I was staring into a dense hedge, I was thinking about “small stuff.” Specifically, Vapourer moth caterpillars. (Now you see why I need the specimen pots mentioned in my last post.)

My four year old son was on a quest to collect one of these brightly-coloured hairy fellas, and the pressure was on. We stared, we crouched, we looked at the underside of leaves, we found evidence of munching, but alas, the caterpillars weren’t about. Last week we saw two, this week none.

He got bored and ran off to the skate park. I stayed on in that hedge because while I was there, I noticed that the blackberries and sloes were ripening. I watched a spider deftly spin silk around her lunch, turning it round and round in the centre of her web. I felt the waning warmth of the early autumn sun on my brow, and the breeze gently lifting the downy hairs off my forearms, bringing with it the scent of seasons changing. Inhale. Exhale.

This was small stuff worth noticing.

I agree that there’s no point in worrying about little things. But I don’t think “small stuff” should be ignored. On the contrary, noticing the little things in life and cultivating a mindful awareness of things we usually take for granted can bring a sense of perspective, and ultimately, peace.

When I consider the worlds of activity that happen in the undergrowth, in a tree, beneath the sea, even in a single droplet of pond water, I stumble afresh upon my place in this world. When I make my awareness microscopic, I realise that I am simply another creature in this world: putting on the macro lens gives me the wide angle.

This is a daily meditation.

Each day, as you go about your business (preferably outdoors), take a moment to notice what you see, what you feel, what you smell, what you hear and what you taste. Stoop down and check out what’s happening in the grass. Look up at the sky and watch the clouds and the birds. Lie on your tummy and stare into the depths of a pond. In spite of what is happening for each of us in each moment, our daily struggles, worries and cares, the world continues to turn. Birds continue to migrate. Plants and animals perpetuate the cycle of life, reproduction and death. We are all a part of that. There is something deeply reassuring about all of this, and we can access it in a moment. Inhale. Exhale.

As soon as you finish reading this, go stand in a hedge for a bit. And if you see any Vapourer moth caterpillars, I’ve got a four year old who would be very interested in hearing from you.

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott

Beach Walk with a Four Year Old

jellyfish

In my bag I always carry a journal, a pen, some bite and sting cream and a specimen pot. Yes, a specimen pot. Like the ones you get at the doctor’s office for a urine sample (not the ones with a little scoop inside… but on second thought, those could be quite useful). When you invite invertebrates into your home (see some posts about my children’s long-running insect project here), you start carrying specimen pots. A lot has changed since I wore a suit and carried a briefcase and talked into a dictaphone. It’s safe to say that the briefcase never carried a specimen pot.

I was different then. I rinsed dishes before they went into the dishwasher.

I didn’t have to shame-clean my car before giving a friend a lift.

Heck, I even ironed!

Having three children changed all that. In an already-full life, I rearranged my priorities and decided that building hex bug mazes on the living room floor was more important than rinsing dishes that were about to be washed anyway. On the balance sheet of family life, I decided that snuggling on the sofa was a lot more important than a clean car. And if you are the kind of person who carries caterpillars in specimen pots in your bag, I think it’s pretty much a bylaw that you wear wrinkled clothes. You can look it up, if you like.

After sharing a poem for the first time, and getting a very encouraging response, I’m sharing another one today. This is a vignette of my family life.

Beach walk with a four year old

We waited for the tide to recede

Crouched on our hunkers

Poking anenomes

Sorting the shoreline

Skimmers here

Sea glass there.

Scrambling over barnacles

Making bootprints in soft sand.

You picked up a baby jellyfish

Prodded it with a single chubby fingertip

Stowed it in your breast pocket.

Forgotten.

Later we wondered where the slimy wet spot came from.

The jellyfish in your pocket, long dead.

We agreed you could wear that top again tomorrow.

 

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott

 

Looking for what you want to see

looking at eggs

My four year old son has an uncanny knack for finding insects. Everywhere he goes, he finds little animals, or evidence of them, including munched leaves or nearly-microscopic eggs, and less salubrious things like poo or molts. Even today as we were running errands around the village, he quickly let go of my hand, nipped into a blackberry bush and within seconds shouted, “I’ve found a caterpillar!” Marveling at his ability to find these little creatures, especially as they are often hiding on the underside of leaves, I said, “How do you manage to find those insects? You’re so good at it!”

He replied, “It’s because I have perfect eyesight.” I laughed, but then he added, “It’s also because you’re not looking for them.”

We walked silently home because he gave me an awful lot to think about. No, I guess I’m not looking for them. Insects, after all, are his life’s passion. Just about everything he does is focused on finding insects. So naturally he will see them.

But more than that, there’s a certain quality of noticing going on here that means that he is making a point of looking for what he wants, of passing each moment mindful of his surroundings and looking out for what matters to him.

In my parenting life, I find that I often see what I’m looking for. When I get bogged down by my children’s arguments, I notice that they seem to be arguing all the time. When I feel that I’m constantly at loggerheads with one of my children, I conclude that we are at odds all the time. When the kitchen is a mess, suddenly I’m noticing all the other places in the house that are also a mess.

Lately I’ve been practicing looking out for what I want to see. I keep my eyes peeled for the times when my children are loving being with each other, like when they were holding hands during a scary moment at the cinema yesterday, or when they wrap their arms around each other as an older one is reading the littles a book, or like today when they built a fort out of cardboard and played together with relish. I am trying to notice the times when my children and I seem to be in a flow, when we are really connecting with each other, when I talk and it feels like they are really hearing me, and when they confide in me and I feel like I can feel their words planting themselves in the soil of my heart.

As a home educator, I am constantly aware of “teachable moments.” Those are the times when we all have a chance to learn and discover and have our questions answered. Being aware of those moments as they arise has slowed us down and enriched our daily lives—life becomes one, uninterrupted teachable moment. I am noticing how every member of my family is learning every day.

Search a plant for caterpillars and you won’t find just one, you’ll see several. Your eyes suddenly attune themselves to the shape and colour, look! There they are! Give something your attention and you’ll notice it more and more. What you notice tends to grow. Unlike my four year old son, I don’t have perfect eyesight. But I know what I’m looking for, and I’m practicing intently and relentlessly focusing my gaze on it.

I’m also getting better at finding caterpillars.

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott.

Introducing: poetry

urchin

Perhaps not what you’re used to seeing here, today I am sharing poetry. I have been writing poems for twenty years or more. Writing them in my journal is one thing, sharing them widely is another. My friend and fellow writer, Angie, has been encouraging me to continue writing… and to think about sharing. I’ve been thinking. And thinking some more.

Sometimes my poems deal with motherhood, loss, anxiety, disappointment and love. But some of my poems are simply wordplay. A desire to poke a stick at a seemingly-inert pile of words, just to see what they will do. They’re about fun and entertainment. The first poem I have ever shared, here with you, is such a poem. It’s a poem about how children hear and understand things that adults say, sometimes like the garbled and misunderstood lyrics of a pop song. I hope it will make you smile.

Confusion

When I was a child

if someone angrily accused me of being

selfish

I’d wonder how I resembled a

prawn

and what on earth they had against

shellfish.

 

 

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott.

 

Being elsewhere, writing elsewhere

Vatersay

It’s the end of August and soon it will be time for me to emerge from the semi-cryogenic state that characterises my summers. 18 years ago, as an American young adult on a backpacking trip around Europe, it was hard for me to understand why everything on this continent seemed to come to a grinding halt in August. Shops closed, rail schedules changed, restaurants had little signs in their windows announcing closure for a whole month. A whole month?! Madness!

Having settled here and adopted the ways of my foster country, I have completely embraced that halt that comes with August (who wouldn’t?). I make no phone calls (everybody is away anyway). I do no business (they’re all closed). I don’t go out much, and if I do, it’s to find more trees to enclose me, more green underfoot, more blue above me.

Enclosed in this cocoon, I find that creativity comes alive. Every day I am writing in my journal, enjoying the way words hold hands to form pictures. So while this blog has been dormant for a little while, I do hope to return to it when I have regained feeling in my fingers and toes, stretched my limbs and had a big yawn.

If you’re interested, I’ve contributed a few pieces elsewhere.

Here is a piece about cluster nursing, featured in the most recent issue of Breastfeeding Today.

I’ve contributed twice to the Mud Puddles to Meteors blog, with photos and words about two of my family’s favourite places. Here’s one about Rhossili Beach and the South Gower Coast and another about Huishinish Point.

 

The last sip of coffee

Like most writers, I write an awful lot more than I publish. I have several journals on the go: one for evening gratitudes, one for daily writing and two related to home educating my children. Although this blog has been rather quiet of late, words are still circling in the aether around me and many of them land in one of these four journals (or alternatively on the back of a coffee-stained envelope in the kitchen).

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Freedom to be Myself

Having a snail crawl across my arm does not feature strongly on my bucket list. But my four year old son delights in it. Picking up insects and carrying them around is not what floats my boat. But gosh, my son LIVES for it.

snail arm

Putting makeup on and taking it off again leaves me cold. I never brush my hair because it’s so short it’s hardly there. I don’t wear pink, sparkly clothes and skip around the house singing “Frozen” songs. But my 8 year old daughter relishes every chance to use a potion or cream, a brush or a comb, and has so much music in her heart that she sings in her sleep.

I’m not raising my children to be me. I’m not raising my children to please me.

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Little reminders: compassion, learning and connection

Sometimes it takes little reminders to see things through my children’s eyes. I’ll be going along with my day, working with them on their maths problems, supporting them in their projects, telling them how to spell ‘Wednesday’ properly, making family meals, you know… being the parent. Then something happens that draws me up short and for a moment, I’m looking at the world through my child’s eyes. Today was a good example.

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