Tuesday, March 24, 2015

'Tis the Season: Gardening


During Spring Break, I decided it was time to get our garden going for the 2015 Spring/Summer season. We ripped out the lingering weeds, kale, and cold weather lettuces. We dug out as many grubs as we could find. We added a layer of Ladybug Revitalizer Compost. And we made a trip to Red Barn Garden Center and purchased four tomato plants. 

I still remember debating whether I wanted to build four raised beds into the plan for our front yard. I worried that I would lose interest in gardening and wouldn't be able to keep up with it. I worried that I wouldn't be able to grow anything (since I struggled so much with my garden in Denver). 

But last summer was wonderful. The addition of automatic irrigation has made all the difference. And putting the raised beds between our front door and our cars ensures that we don't neglect the garden. I feel so fortunate to be able to share the "garden to table" experience with my boys. Both of them loved the whole process from start to finish. I'm looking forward to another season of it! 



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Monday, March 23, 2015

Leadership Coach?


In this post, I wrote about how I used to devote more time to intentional self-growth but I had grown out of the habit over the years.

One really quick way to get back into the habit would be to start seeing a therapist. However, I think the more relevant route for me at this point in my life (since my time is limited and I need to stay very focused on my work) would be to look for a leadership coach—someone who is part-therapist, part-life coach, part-executive coach, and part strategist. It would be someone who is well steeped in things like non-violent communication and mindfulness as well as the concepts in Good to Great and Drive. Someone who would have worksheets and reflection forms for me to fill out independently before discussing.

Does such a person exist? Since this coaching would likely take place over the phone or Skype, it doesn’t matter where they are physically located.

Please let me know if you have any leads! 



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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Montessori: The Crisis of Self-Affirmation (aka the Terrible Two's)


Last week felt it like something was terribly wrong with Tate. He seemed to have shed his cheerful self and revealed an irritable, demanding, dissatisfied little tyrant.

For example, he became obsessed with wanting the cleaning spray bottles. When I stuck firm to the boundaries that children are not allowed to have the cleaning spray bottles because they have chemicals in them, he threw terrible, protracted screaming and crying fits.

Things that he used to do easily (like take a bath and eat meals with the family) became battles. Putting him to sleep at night went from kissing him on the cheek and closing the door to 1.5 hours of screaming and crying.

Oy!

When I talked with my Montessori-trainedfriend about it, she explained that he is likely entering the Crisis of Self-Affirmation. In the middle of the night, I couldn’t fall back asleep because I was stressed out about Tate and stressed about giving 30 visitors a tour of our school during SXSWedu, so I found and read some information about the Crisis of Self-Affirmation on Meg's website:

At around 18 months of age, the child enters into the crisis of self-affirmation, sometimes called the crisis of opposition. The beginning of this period is marked by the use of the word “no”. This period is an ambivalent time for the child, who is leaving her infancy behind and moving towards childhood. She is torn between the drive to move forwards and become independent, and the desire to remain within the protective and nurturing circle that her mother provides. The child demonstrates her desire for self-affirmation through her activities and her language which are directed towards affirming herself as an individual. In the preceding period, particularly the symbiotic period, the child’s trust in the world is established. During the crisis of self-affirmation, the child’s trust in herself is established. This is when the child moves from believing that they are capable, to knowing that they can do things. She is no longer content with watching, she wants action, and most importantly she wants to be a collaborator. So we need to provide plenty of chances for her to do things, even if we think she might not be able to do them!
Silvana Montanaro advises parents that “behind the child’s ‘no’, is the desire to be recognised as a person who is already able to resolve many problems related to him...and to ask for his opinion much more often than is generally done.” She stresses that she is “not suggesting that it should be left to children to decide what to do. The idea is to simply avoid giving only orders and to leave a choice between alternatives when it is possible. In this period what really counts is helping the child to verify the importance of his presence in the family. Real collaboration comes only from those who do not feel overpowered and can contribute freely. We are not risking anything by offering choices, while the child gains very much, because we demonstrate that we consider him able to choose and that we respect his judgement. “
The end of this crisis is marked by the child’s use of the pronoun, “I”. This is the sign that he has really integrated himself as an autonomous human being. He understands that he is unique and not really a part of anyone else, but separate and individual.
By the age of three, the model for the human being that is developing within the child is complete. Crisis periods are favourable for change, not only in children, but in all who participate in them.” – Understanding the Human Being, Silvana Montanaro 

Yes, that’s exactly it!

The trick is to muster up and maintain the kind of patience it takes to parent a child who is in this stage. Their behavior makes us less patient—just when they need more patience. Their behavior makes us less supportive—just when they need more support. Their behavior makes us less loving—just when they need more love. I’m reminded of this advice from Sonnie McFarland, one of my Montessori trainers:

When we see our children as divine being striving to develop their human potentials, rather than willful children purposely annoying us, we will approach them from an entirely different perspective.

What a big challenge!

For me, providing the patience, support, and love that Tate needs looks like going back to my Montessori roots. I need to infuse more Practical Life opportunities into Tate’s day!

These ideas include:
  • Creating more opportunities for him to help in the kitchen.
  • Setting up Tate’s closet so that he can independently access and choose his own clothes.
  • Keeping his kitchen drawer stocked with glasses.
  • Teaching him how to use a stool to access the water dispenser in the refrigerator.

Doing real work alongside adults helps children feel useful and powerful. It builds their self-confidence and their sense of self-worth. It helps them weather the Terrible Two’s and come out stronger.

I remember that Henry seemed toskip over the Terrible Twos and I wonder if it was because I was in a much better place to honor and meet his needs. I picked him up from school in the early afternoon every day and followed his lead while he prepared and cleaned up his snack. Then I let him take the lead at the park. He would independently explore while I followed him at a safe distance. Those were the days!

I can work to build more of these things into Tate’s daily experience. And whatever I can’t do for Tate I will need to forgive myself for. There are definite drawbacks from being the second child, but there are also benefits. I think it balances out!



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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Cultivating More Mindfulness


Another session I attended at the Montessori conference was related to cultivating mindfulness in our daily lives. I was reminded of these important concepts:

Our breath is a powerful source of relaxation and reconnection. When we are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, or angry, we can call upon our deep breathing (all the way to the belly!) to immediately calm ourselves. I love that this simple yet powerful techniques is within our control and can be carried with us from place to place—situation to situation—with ease.

There is space between stimulus and response and our power lies within that space. We cannot control what happens to us in life, but we can control what we do in response to what happens to us. And within our power to choose our response lies our freedom.

Setting an intention for the day can keep us focused on growing. At the start of the day, we can set intentions for our “way of being.” We an check in regularly and ask ourselves if our actions are in alignment with our intention. If not, then we can get back on track. We can set all kinds of intentions, such as “Be grounded,” “Be patient,” “Breath.”

I have no doubt that who I am as a person impacts who I am as a principal and a colleague. These mindfulness strategies can help me reconnect to and reveal my authentic self.



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Monday, March 16, 2015

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood


I was fortunate to be able to attend the American Montessori Conference last weekend in Philadelphia. It was exciting to connect with friends from around the nation (hi, Megan!).

I also had the opportunity to listen to a keynote lecture from Jennifer Senior, the author of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. Her entire talk resonated with me deeply and left tears in my eyes.

She started by talking about the conflicting advice we receive as parents. I definitely felt the push and pull of conflicting advice when I had my first son in 2011. I knew that I wanted to try for a homebirth because I wanted a more gentle, simple, and relaxed welcome for my son. Although I ended up transferring to the hospital and requiring Pitocin, I was still part of the homebirth community, which tends to lean toward Attachment Parenting.

There are parts of Attachment Parenting that resonate with me. Our first son slept in our bed with us for the first two months or so of his life, while our second son slept in a Moses basket right next to our bed for the first two months. I was also very committed to breastfeeding and babywearing.

But I also felt compelled to move my children into their own rooms around the two-month mark in order to preserve my sanity and my marriage. And I felt compelled to follow my pediatrician’s advice about sleep training between four and six months. I also stopped wearing my babies as much as soon as they were capable of independent movement, and I wanted to wean them between Year 1 and 2 in order to reclaim my body.

In other words, I had to find my own way as a parent. And it wasn’t easy amidst all the conflicting advice and all the judgment, especially because I was so desperate to get it right.

The author also spoke of what happens when we wait later and later to have children. She said it can make the transition to parenthood more difficult because we are more acutely aware of the “before” and “after.” This was definitely the case with me. My transition into motherhood was fraught with mourning for the independence and freedom I had to forfeit in order to meet my child’s needs.  

She added that sticking with our children is the one binding commitment that our culture asks of us. We’re allowed to leave our jobs, our homes, our spouses, our parents—but we can’t leave our children. There’s a weight to that responsibility—a burden—that can make the transition to parenthood overwhelming.

She went on to explain that social scientists have research to substantiate the idea that having children actually compromises our happiness. One of the first studies on the subject in 1957 argued that children don’t strengthen marriages; they weaken them.

She explained that it’s more complicated than it seems. Yes, on the surface, our moment-to-moment affect is compromised when we have children. There are many, many hard parts. But children also bring transcendent joy and meaning to our lives. She described the concept of our “experiencing selves” versus our “remembering selves.” Our “experiencing selves” are challenged by the day-to-day grind of parenting, while our “remembering selves” look back and love the big picture of parenting.

It was exactly the same conclusion I reached when I watched “The Days Are Long; The Years Are Short.”  This parenting gig can be so, so hard, but it’s definitely worth it.

Another point that truly resonated with me was the research that shows that children rarely say they wish they saw their mothers more. Instead, they are more likely to say that they wish their mothers were less stressed out. Personally, I have a lot of work to do in this area. I work really hard to spend quality time with my children, but I need to work harder to make sure it is more stress-free time.

It’s also worth pointing out that the author chose to send her own son to Montessori school because she considers the method to be “utterly invaluable.” She said it’s “one of the few things that can serve as a cultural counterweight” to the madness of modern parenting. 



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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Office Desk Beautification


Running a start-up can be hard for a perfectionist because, frankly, nothing is perfect in a start-up year. One of the things that is driving me absolutely bonkers right now is how ugly my desk space is. The Montessori method pays particular attention to the environments in which we work. For the first six years of life, children are literally absorbing the environment around them and forming their neural pathways in the process. 

I'm the kind of person who is always absorbing and responding to the environment around me. When the space around me feels cluttered and chaotic, I, too, feel cluttered and chaotic. If I feel stressed, I can usually mitigate the feeling a lot by simply tidying the space around me. 

I want to get to the point where our whole school feels organized and beautiful. We are definitely on the path! It's a goal I hope to be able to prioritize this summer. For now, I want to start with my desk. 

When thinking about how to beautify a space, I like to start with function. I'm a pragmatist at heart and think that form should follow function. Right now, the biggest thing that's bothering me is the stacking bins that are sitting on the corner of my desk. And there's all the clutter in my drawers! Oy. 

I went ahead and ordered a filing cabinet, so I can more easily store the kinds of paper that accumulate on my desk. But more importantly, I think I need to take everything out to organize it and evaluate how to best store it. It reminds me of the process I went through for our pantry reorganization. It helps so much to take everything out (hooray for blank slates!) and to organize it outside of the space that it will return to. It prompts purging but also illuminates the best way to organize things by group and function. 

Here are some of the things I'll need:
  • A decorative tissue box--probably this one from Target
  • A place to store writing utensils inside my desk
  • A place to store my tape dispenser, stapler, and scissors inside my desk (they can too easily "walk away" in a shared space environment)
  • A kind of inbox where I can set papers that need action relatively soon. Maybe I'll use something like this from IKEA, where I could also store the binders that I use frequently. 
  • A plant
  • A place to store my work bag during the day
  • I might want to soften the top of my filing cabinet with some fabric
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