Friday, November 18, 2011

Some shots from this week.

Leftover roll of crepe paper = high fashion.

Marbleized prints. And goopey goop. ;oP

The sick baby hospital in my living room. {Perry's getting an IV)

Skin to skin contact. {giggle}

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(Nomi isn't in a lot of these because she doesn't believe in clothing. But she'd like you to know she was there, anyway. ;oD)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

All Parents are people. All People matter. Therefore...

So, I'll confess...there are some sacred cows of motherhood that I've shed this year without the slightest bit of guilt or shame, and each shedding has solidified this realization in my head: motherhood is only a part of who I am. It's an outgrowth of the larger whole of "me"-something that flows from the core essence I was created with that makes me unique, along with my creativity, friendship, thoughts, abilities, passions and spirituality. What's more, motherhood doesn't mean becoming a person without needs, or less precious or in need of care; if anything, it makes self-care even more important for me during this period of my life. Therefore, I've resolved the following. ;oP

-I won't neglect things like bathing, basic hair care, quiet time, personal interests, education, fellowship, clothes that fit/flatter and sleep in the name of being a "good mom". I also won't stress the hell out of myself trying to meet a standard of perfection to the point that I forget to eat or stuff my mouth full of the closest crap available because I "don't have time" to care for my body.

-I won't obsess over my children's happiness. I will pay attention when they meet a problem/upset they haven't the skill to work through, and I will certainly enjoy moments of joyful life with them. However, I won't rush in to hover and fix every time one of them comes across a set of feelings that's uncomfortable. Disappointment is a part of life, and, as long as they're sorting through it or expressing it freely, I'm not obligated to make everything all better. Their happiness (or lack of it) doesn't need to dictate my emotional state.

-I reject the idea that motherhood is the defining feature of my life. My girls are deeply, deeply important to me. Since they are, I devote a lot of time, energy and thought into raising them thoughtfully and with unconditional love. However, I won't buy into the childhood cult that our culture and often religion has become obsessed with; childhood IS important, and so is being a human at all ages. My children are people, first and foremost, and my relationship with them is based on that humanity, and not on the idea that childhood and parenting is the most important thing in life. I recognize that teaching and love in childhood are crucial and imperative, but doing these things does not define me (nor my daughters in their futures!) We're complex, and our complexity is worthy of celebration.

-I don't feel obligated to buy superfluous gear for my kids just because everyone has it.

-I won't "play" with my children in a way that doesn't bring enjoyment to me. I won't stack blocks, I won't pretend to be a fairy-cat, I won't jump rope, I won't mindlessly push a swing, I won't watch a repeated "watch this!!" more than is actually interesting, etc, etc. Children are capable of amusing themselves by themselves and with friends when they're doing things I have no interest in. :P I *will* do those things when they're mutually enjoyable for both of us, and I will pursue playful and relaxing activities that we all enjoy together, and yowl at the moon occasionally, and enjoy my own wild, untamed side with them. I won't, however, be a play slave. I'm looking for real relationships with my kids, and relationships are built on honesty. Life's too short to spend one's "play" time being miserable.

-I won't make promises to my children in moments of guilt that it will later cost me sleep/rest/quiet time/sanity to keep. Usually, once I hit desperate promise-making mode, it's because I seriously need to step back and re-evaluate my priorities and whether how thin I'm spreading myself is realistic. My kids aren't in need of treats or special days to feel secure; they need a healthier parent.

-I'll feel no guilt for doing things that I know will preserve my own health. I tend a lot more strongly toward losing myself in others than taking too much for myself, honestly. (It's not as pretty as it sounds, practically.) Still, I'm taking steps toward furthering my education, pursuing non-family-based interests, taking naps, having the personal things I need to help my life run smoothly, giving myself room to be happy or upset, and embracing time with friends and adult conversation that doesn't revolve around my kids. I can do these things without feeling the urge to justify them, make it up to anyone else, or trade for them. It's OK to need and enjoy things without apology.

-I won't support the idea that parents are more important than "childless" or unmarried people. It takes more than just parents to influence a person into adulthood, and being a parent in no way makes me superior in any way to those who aren't technically raising children. I feel gratitude to every lovely person in my life, parents or not, who brings meaning and friendship to my time on this earth. Therefore, I won't constantly hint that parenthood should be a goal in their life, if they've not expressed this desire to me personally and asked for support. Being human is meaningful, parent/guardian or not.

-I won't consider the measure of my "success" as a parent directly tied to whether my children end up having the same spiritual beliefs as I do.

-I won't take on some other person/religion/ideal/sect's ideals of what a mother should look like or do, if it doesn't work for my family. Some things are no-brainers, obviously. I won't beat the crap out of my children just because it gets behavioral results, or feed them nothing but Sugar Booger Cocoa Bean Puffs for months at a time just to get them to shut up and leave me alone. However, there's a great lot of wiggle room of grace within motherhood for individuality. For instance, I enjoy cooking from scratch, natural health and reading to my kids a lot because it's something that's an outgrowth of my own personality, and these things are among my assets as a mother.

I don't, however, currently: go to church regularly, have my kids in sports, bathe them every day, teach them gender roles, "submit" to my husband as head of the home, dress them in matchy boutique outfits, dress them all in Gymboree, dress them in exclusively homemade clothes, do a craft with them every day, get family portraits done regularly; don't do their hair in fancy shmancy braids whenever we go out, keep a magazine-worthy house, bento-box all their lunches, have them memorize scripture, take them to many kid factories to play often, co-sleep with kids over 3; don't insist that they address people as sir/ma'am, grow all our own food, have all wool/wood/cotton toys, have the latest awesome plastic toys, have many toys at all, grind their baby food with a hand mill, practice Natural Family Planning; don't get ultrasounds, make my own soap, throw fantastic personalized homemade birthday parties, spend every moment trying to rejoice in everything, stop myself from swearing occasionally, listen to Nancy Lee DeMoss for inspiration, spank my kids, practice child-led weaning during pregnancy, spend all my extra money on the kids, always speak with saccharine sweetness to my kids, give them equal authority in the house, never leave my babies at home with daddy; don't feel badly for not owning a Sophie the Giraffe, teach my kids that homosexuality is wrong, force cheerfulness or keep all processed sugar out of my kids' lives (all things I've felt some level of self-imposed guilt/shame/worry about at some point or another in the past 7 years).

Not all of these things are bad or uninteresting or invalid; they're just not sustainable in our family. If I did all these things, personally, without any regard for what my natural bents and resources and needs are, I'd lose myself completely in the role of motherhood. Ash would no longer exist. The ideals of others would gobble me up and leave me a hollow shell of who I was originally intended to be.

Some of these things don't resound with my own beliefs/convictions, and some of them, honestly, I just suck at. And that's OK. :)

Obviously, there are times when I observe that my kids need something that I wouldn't normally chose to do in order to get through a tough phase, or to reach a certain level of developmental need, and I suck it up and deal with it, because I'm an adult, and I have the skills to. I'm learning, though, more and more, that when I experience stress as a parent, sometimes, I can find relief and grace and care for myself in the places I've not examined before- places that have nothing to do with my children's well-being, and everything to do with illogical self-imposed pressure I assign to the title of "Good Parent". A lot of it, it turns out, for us, has been poppycock.

I've found freedom in realizing this. Mothers (and fathers!), as people, are worth nurturing and caring for, along with their children. How can we expect to teach our children that they are worth kindness, respect, freedom and dignity, when we fail to model valuing these things for ourselves? Why should they treasure them, if we don't? And what sort of compass will they have for that kind of health will they have, if they have no clue what that looks like as an adult? I've been delighted and surprised to find that my girls are honestly happier when I'm healthier (not that I need that as an excuse to be healthy).

I think there must be a balance between selfish carelessness and miserable martyrdom that it's possible to strike, and it's that middle ground I find myself in pursuit of with increasing joy and liberty...if I can keep my place in this journey, and get into the habit of feeling no guilt for allowing myself to simply be, not because I've done something to be worthy, but because I'm a complex and compassionate human being.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Perfectly Happy, Dreary Day.

Today has been a lovely day for less structured learning here, and I'm digging every minute of it.

I think it's mostly due to autumnal equinox approaching; every year I feel my soul unfurling and flying around with joy as summer's heavy hand loses it's grip and the oppressive heat wanes. I'm a child of autumn and winter, for sure, and the air becomes electric and bright and alive for me in the month of September. :) Some of my most joy-infused
memories are of lingering outside or traveling to a small social gathering or concert right at dusk, when the sky turns sleepy and purple against the outline of leafless black trees. Homes and hearths light afire with stories and laughter and good smelling smells. Books and food and trees and music and life become magical and mysterious for me again, and the world is pregnant with possibility.

So, today, to my great delight, it was cool enough to throw open doors and windows and send my
kids out to play under the overcast sky with hoodies and flip flops (ah yes, we are southerners) where they climbed trees and gathered pine needles for tea and balanced on logs and played in the dirt and tested fate while launching themselves from swings in motion.

They came in, made tea, ate some English muffins with honey and butter, listened to a chapter of a book, and then went right back out into the damp gray yard and played for another hour or two while I ordered books for this fall. Now, they're lego-fortress building while 2.5 year old city-smashing Evazilla is conked out on the couch, soggy skirt/dirty feet and all (smart kids).

(As an aside, book shopping makes the child-nerd in me ridiculously happy. I like the library, too, especially for fiction, but for fact books, it's so nice to have them on the shelf for a rainy day. That's how my bookshelf rolls. :P Childbirth, herbal books, psychology, history, childhood development, science of cooking, aromatherapy, massage, encyclopedias, divided by subject. It makes me feel deliriously satisfied. Nate has volume upon volume of weather pattern books, airplane mechanics books and books on general flight. We keep weeding out the ones we don't use in hopes of simplification, but, of course, sneaky little buggers that they are, books keep slipping their way into the house and making us grin. We realize we're nerds. We're self-aware. We fly our freak flag high.

I'm nice enough to let the kids use a shelf or two in the dining area, and their shelves there tend to be fact/reference, too. I remember pouring the pages of the same books, over and over, as a favorite was a book about unsolved modern dinosaur reports. :P So, it makes me stupid-happy to find good books and order them discount for the kids, as a mom. (Julie the Rockhound, Jurassic Poop, Boy Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs, Maps and Globes and Glow-in-the-Dark Constellations won out for this round of shopping...god, I love that store). Nomi's into animal books right now, and Esther likes themed cookbooks and astronomy. )

Today was SO much better than being cooped up indoors. Of course, we had all the usual mishaps that come with having small people in the house. Poo where it shouldn't be, spilled water, chalk art on the kitchen cabinet. But it was hardly noticable compared to the unexpected bliss of endorphins stampeding through ours veins. The absence of stifling hot humidity will do that to a soul. Cool humidity is a welcome change. Just having fresh air cycling through the house improved my mood in a huge way (I remember feeling similarly when it was nice enough to open the class windows at college, and now whenever I can roll the car windows down comfortably..instant clarity of thought and ability to recognize what is actually important, and what is not).

It sparked some good thoughts on why children whine less and play together more cooperatively outdoors, which I'll blog about next, for posterity's sake, for Nate and I to have for reference.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Letting them do stuff.

I've found that, nine times out of ten, I really underestimate my kids' ability to perform a "grown up" task. They ask on a regular basis, believe it or not, to do things like make breakfast, wash the dishes, process laundry, chop the veggies, etc. My recent bout of morning sickness made me realize that they were capable of successfully doing much more than I'd initially guessed. While I was sick on the couch, my kids started offering to do things, and I thought, "What can it hurt? Sure. Go for it. I'll clean the mess later."

What I was sheepish and happily surprised to find, though, was that they not only did the things they offered, they did a pretty fracking good job, too! Even more importantly, I saw them taking a healthy amount of personal pride and confidence away from being able to do a job totally, from volunteering (something I don't push) to finish. As well they should. Rock on, little people!

Albeit, there was sometimes a learning curve, but they caught on to new skills quickly, and now are generally happier when doing a reasonable amount of help. (Is this really surprising? In other cultures, kids prepare meals, build fires, scale fish, weave baskets and sheer sheep at a really young age, with plenty of playtime left in the day. ) People like to feel capable.

I've started to understand that trusting them with a "big" task (with the understanding that they'll need pointers from time to time) says, "I see you as capable. You're smart, and you can do things, and I'm happy to trust you with them! Come be part of my world!"

This year, I've discovered that my kids (6.5, 5 and 2.5) can: process/fold/put away their own laundry, cook simple meals like homemade waffles or pan-fried potatoes, prep veggies for me, run the vacuum, make phone calls, order their own food at restaurants, put away all the silverware, wash pots and pans, build campfires, sweep the porch, load the grocery cart, get themselves into the car without help, run into our local HFS for one item solo and pick and pay for their own produce (money provided by mom and dad, of course) at the farmer's market for cooking projects. Naomi made french toast with minimal supervision this morning. I was seriously amazed, and their confidence level and calm has increased in a huge way. Kids are people. They're made to do things, just like adults. We all feel good when we feel competent and capable. It seems like such a no-brainer, but in such a structured toy/play culture, it's easy for me to forget.

Initially, sure, it makes a bit of a mess. However, the gargantuan mess making phase doesn't last forever. After the first attempts, they have figured out how to streamline their own process, and they actually end up being able to *do* more for themselves.

I'm starting to realize that I've been making this parenting gig way harder than it really needs to be by keeping my kids dependent on me. When I step back and allow them to try things, eventually, the payoff is that I don't have to kill myself with stress. Literally. On a similar note, I refuse to have toys, games or activities in the house that require me to suffer through doing the majority of the work share of the "play" for them (but that's a different rabbit trail).

I have to be honest: I'm sighing blissfully in relief. Of course, the house is going to be a little messier, and not everything will be photo-worthy, but I'm also not breaking my head to do things one person was never created to do. Not only does stunting their independence do them no favors, it's literally been killing ME. Everyone's happier. And there's less whining. And less yelling (from me, mostly). I have time to sit down and read or rest, and really...adults, like children, should. All humans benefit from both work and rest. Unbalance results in frustration for everyone.

There's always a little risk involved. My 7yo has experienced a couple of minor burns (most adults are familiar with them, because we get them from time to time) from cooking in a skillet, despite her effort to be careful. It's how humans learn. So, she's also learned how to run her finger under cold water and break off some aloe and rub it on. She's old enough to learn from it quickly, take precautions, and wants to go back to whatever she was doing, after a little care from a parent.

Today,against my desire to protect her from any and all sadness and death, she's trying to rescue a wounded bird she found in the yard. :P I'm sitting here cringing, hoping it won't die, and knowing it probably will. But, she's got it in a grass-lined box, pulled out the bird book and discovered it's a House Wren, and looked through her bird info cards and figured out it likes spiders and moths. So, she's collecting spiders outside and live moths, and tossing them in the box, "just in case it lives and gets hungry". I'm watching my kid grow up, just a little bit, right in front of my eyes. And it's fantastic. Yes, the bird probably has mites. Yes, she's handling spiders. Yes, she might see something die. That's a real part of life.

She's doing something big, and, despite my control-freak tendencies, I'm going to let her. That's where she'll find the confidence in adulthood to know she's capable, and to have a life and experience of her own, apart from mine. That spells love in a big way to *her* , even if it doesn't feel all warm and fuzzy to me. Letting go requires no more than a deep breath, a smile at the future, and, nothing.

little update: the wren recovered, and flew away into a tree! hurrah! :D I'm a sucker for happy endings.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On empathy, personal responsibility, and health

Often, during more connecting periods of my life, I find myself overwhelmed, out of sorts and feeling, as Bilbo Baggins put it in The Fellowship Of the Ring, "Sort of stretched, like....butter scraped over too much bread". One of the late warning flags for me is a feeling of anger or contempt toward those who ask for my time or emotional energy, and it's especially sobering to me when the bitterness turns toward my children.

Trying to find affection to give feels like pushing a swivel chair across a gravel parking lot. During those moments, my children's needs seem to attack me, like poison darts rather than little hands extended, and I find myself muttering tearfully, "How did I get here?" Every fiber of my soul screams at me that something is out of balance.

More often than not, I find myself emotionally dry because I've been sucked into carrying the daily load of someone else, when it's not rightfully mine, leaving me with barely enough energy to heft my own reasonably sized daily routine. I do this almost entirely without pondering whether I should, since, without wisdom or logic, empathy knows no bounds or boundaries. As wisdom and logic are something I must consciously chose to employ, at least at this juncture, exercising them consistently is a matter of "practice makes perfect".

At any rate, my own normal "load" becomes much, much heavier when it carrying it receives the sloppy seconds of my energy resources.

One of the biggest obstacles, for myself at least, in grappling with boundaries and empathy simultaneously, is the idea that "nice" people listen patiently and give of themselves to others when they're emotionally distraught. Isn't that what we're taught to do as little girls and boys? That it's unkind to not share unreservedly of our resources, if someone asks us to hand them over? Unconditional "sharing", though, becomes a strange and dangerous monster for the person who intuits and anticipates the needs of others, because there's no limit to human pain and it's need to be alleviated.

In a technological age, the ever-presence of the discomfort of others is even more pronounced, because it's not merely daily life encounters that make the hurt of others obvious to us, but we're also cursed with a sort of artificial emotional omnipotence made possible by television, the internet, facebook, blogs, message boards and the like. The sheer volume of emotional information we receive can potentially drain our reserves by midday, and is compounded by the fact that people tend to be drawn to those who make them feel "better", even if only temporarily.

We have an open window into the thoughts of close friends and vague acquaintances alike- irritation about the tasks of daily life, burdens or causes that have sprouted in their hearts, worries about the future, anger and frustration (some warranted, some not) over some event or interaction, explosions over minor problems, giant actual problems...etc. All sorts of doors into the lives of others are opened in a wild orgy of collective knowledge, and I, for one, find myself scrambling to sort through what I should open my heart to and what I should shield myself from (and I mean shield in the most pragmatic sense, as an actual strategic move to protect my own energy). I worry while reading through them that I run the risk of becoming drained dry or completely jaded.

Some people have gaping holes in their hearts and souls that have been long standing, that they're unable/unwilling to pay attention to and fix, which cause them to be ravenous predators of the attention and sympathy of others (some through aggression, and some through passive whining). Pouring energy into their symptoms is as pointless as pouring oil into a bottomless cruet. Nothing will come of it, other than the complete taxation of my resources-resources that rightfully belong to myself and my family.

Other people lack the support system they need to hack through their own difficult (or just average) journey. And, of course, there are always those who experience tragedy on such a profound scale that they *must* reach out for support from those around them, least they be reduced to emotional and physical ash. Even so, I can chose to offer practical help within my ability, without allowing myself to become completely consumed by collective chatter and speculation about the details of their struggle.

On a grander scale, worthy random "causes" rip my sanity and actual usefulness to shreds. (I once counted 15 different links and invitations to support different causes in one day's facebook news feed alone! Serial cause-supporters tend to get hidden from my feed altogether. :P) I believe that people who find their burden and calling in dedicating their time to causes is a beautiful thing, and, I recognize that it's unrealistic for me to donate little snippets of my time and worry to 40 of them at a time. Not only is it unhelpful to me, it's also not particularly useful for the cause itself, on such a diffuse and halfhearted level.

When all these needs swarm around my chest like a living being demanding entrance, wrapping through real interactions or the computer screen with hungry, indiscriminate tendrils...I find it helpful to make myself a cup of tea. I like to remind myself that I'm only a small part of the universe, completely incapable of meeting every need I notice (especially the ones that spring from unhealth). I'm just one person, out of billions who have walked before me, and billions who walk alongside me, and the billions to come. My footprints are not solitary. Just because I see a need doesn't mean that I should meet it. Knowledge does NOT equal responsibility on an individual level.
It's not my job to know about all the minor daily discomforts of three or four hundred people, much less step aside to offer positive emotional energy to each (or even some!) of them. It's not my job to go along on an emotional roller coaster ride with someone who refuses to seek health for themselves. It's not my responsibility to feel the depths of the pain of every hurting group of people brought to my attention, though I can breathe a prayer for them.

That's not to say that sometimes there won't be a moment when the spirit of wisdom shows me where it's appropriate to extend a need word of encouragement or grace to someone. That's also not to say that I shouldn't be aware of how my own personal life-sustaining choices effect others on a community or global level-(but then, that's part of *my* burden, isn't it?)

Humility demands not only that I keep an open, pulsating heart available to it's leading, but also that I recognize that I am limited and finite. Walking one true path that is my own and lending an ear to those who cross it or walk alongside me is far more sane and useful than trying to frantically dash down EVERY path to experience everything that everyone has ever experienced.

Humility also requires that I be the shepherdess of my own thought trails, (being an intuitive thinker, especially), and take responsibility for what rabbit trails I expose myself to. Too many rabbit trails completely stamp across the clear water of the life course my heart has been called to, muddying my focus and rendering my energy diffuse and ineffective. Knowing that I have a tenancy to relate easily and that my mind *needs* to make sense of and explore each mental path I see...dictates that I be mindful of how many voices I allow to call out to me at once.

Calm feet planted on my own road, with my own pack strapped on my own back results sometimes in being "tired", but, more often than not, it's the good kind of tired you feel after an honest day's walk and a nourishing dinner-my bones were made for this. My heart is free in this.
I can do this without anger, fatigue or fear, with light in my body and heart.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

So, where does one FIND a chill pill?

I thought I'd follow up yesterday's

  1. Be aware of my expectations. Being an idealist means, whether on purpose or not, having lots of ideals, which often means a "vision" of what something might look like before it happens.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why my judgement-oriented self sometimes needs a chill pill.

For those of you familiar with the Myers-briggs personality theory, I'm an INFJ (we make up a fairly small portion of the population). I have a deep and lively inner world, a decent sense of what's going on around me emotionally, and a tenancy to be intensely idealistic. I don't take things a step at a time and see where they go; rather, I have an a really colorful end-vision of how something should preferably turn out, and drive toward it.

Generally, this serves me really well! I loathe cruelty and violence, so, generally, kindness trumps severity of response and I'm able to appear flexible (at least on the surface! ;oP) Boundaries keep me from flying off the handle too often when someone else has done something truly horrific, and, generally speaking, I can understand why they're behaving the way they are. It helps that I don't usually expect myself to spend massive amounts of time with anyone, and, therefore, I never get especially (visibly) agitated with most people.

The bump in the road comes when an inflexible value conflicts with the sanctity of my private, daily life. Generally, these two things only ever intersect within my own home and family.

My family should absolutely get the best part of my behavior, rather than the worst, since what I say and do really does effect them permanently and profoundly. (One of my few absolutely inflexible values is that children should be treated with patience and kindness. Even if everything else in my life has to meet the chopping block in order to do so, children must be treated with love and dignity and consideration.)
However, I often find myself irrationally, ridiculously angry my children for doing things that really are just appropriately childish.

For instance: My oldest daughter uses a harsh tone instead of a kind one. My 4yo dawdles on the way to the car when I know we're on a schedule. My 2yo wriggles and lunges and screams her way through a grocery shopping trip. And, the anger mounts.
I find myself growling loudly in the car, "Mama is about to be not-nice-mama,
I'm going to absolutely YELL unkind things at you all soon;
In my head, I'm calling them all sorts of colorful names. My entire body is vibrating from massive amounts of adrenalin and tension and fight or flight. My heart is literally thudding through my chest.

WHY do I get to this point? Logically, I know that they're behaving out of innocent immaturity. Ideally, I understand that I need to be the adult in the situation. Realistically, I'm able to give myself grace and know that I'm also human, but my level of anger reaction gives me pause and makes me consider what's triggering such a physical reaction for myself.

Thinking back over the day, it's obvious that I've had a lot of unarticulated expectations, some consciously self-imposed and some culturally ingrained. I hate being talked to with harsh tone; no one SHOULD ever speak to me that way. I worry that the neighbors will see my very capable 6yo in the front yard without me and make a stink about, so I fuss at my 4yo for keeping me from making it obvious that my 6yo is attended (even though she doesn't need it). I notice the annoyed/judgmental glances of fellow shoppers at the grocery store that doesn't generally have many children in it as my 2yo yowls obliviously because she's getting hungry. I feel embarrassed and insulted.

These are all my own feelings, my own expectations of the life I'd ideally like to live, or at least the way I'd likely live it that day if I didn't have children. The glaring truth is: I *do* have children. And children, by their very definition, are little tender, fledgling people without the experience or mental development to follow ALL my self-imposed rules for living (some of the rules good, some of them unfortunate coping mechanisms).

Keeping frustration at a productive level is important even for those who don't have children, because constant tension in the body can be physically damaging! The ability to disconnect from the moment a bit, and judiciously chose which issues are worth that intense emotional attention, can be literally life-saving.

For parents, it's all the more important to not live in the turmoil of anger triggered by violated "values". Children tend to react to the emotional state of their parents, and often feel the effects of those emotions in their own bodies. Keeping the entire home in uproar because we lack the discipline to stop and employ a realistic filter is, quite literally, tearing down our own family with our bare hands (preaching to myself). I can keep my kids from coughing and choking emotionally on my secondhand rage. ;oP

It becomes obvious that I have to learn to adjust my personal expectations, so that my that one of my values is "wronged" by one of my children doesn't produce an anger reaction inside my own body. I can't reject my own idealism any more than I can reject my own nose from my face; it's a valuable part of who I am. What I can do, though, it bring my unspoken expectations up to the surface level, run them through the filter of what's actually important and healthy, and what's not.

Making these "values" conscious allows me to think about them rather than merely intuit them. Exhausting sometimes, yes. But, in the long run, it allows for more relaxation, peace and freedom, because I've pre-decided what I'm going to allow myself to get worked up over and what I'm going to let slide. My strong logical tertiary can hop in and say, "The emotional effect your reaction has on your children is far more important than anyone else's mores, including your own. Let's make a plan to anticipate your reaction ahead of time, and troubleshoot." (I kind of make my judging function my bitch, a little. ;oP )

I can let my low-level irritation (anger in it's productive stage!) let me know that there's a need I should be paying attention to.

Really, in my own life, bringing the reasons for my anger to my awareness is key. A lot of the reasons I feel the urge to blow up are due to my own expectations, which are built on my own issues. My expectations are what I need to take responsibility for course-correcting, and when I set aside purposeful time to talk about it or self-reflect, usual become apparent really quickly.

Once those unrealistic expectations bubble to the surface, I ask myself: Why is having this met SO important to me? What need is it meeting? If I can identify the need, I can often get it met in a healthier way, outside of that intense moment, so that when the trigger for a huge, angry justice reaction to my children arises, it's much more easily manageable.

A few of my own needs include:

  • the need for sanctity/alone time of uninterrupted thought to process the week's events
  • regular food/blood sugar stability
  • quiet (oh, mylanta, that's a big one that is tough to meet)
  • Sleep
  • physical space (another toughie with small children)
  • limited social interaction so I can concentrate on what I'm doing (why having attention brought to us in the grocery is so hard!)
  • creativity/self expression
  • meaningful adult conversation
  • order (especially in my visual field)
  • Advance notice for changed plans (the explosive poo diaper or the preschooler who decides on an impromptu "art" session with the toothpaste might be triggers for this one! Another big one is a child who suddenly makes a "jump" from one phase to another, leaving me scrambling for a new plan for how to best teach them.)
Obviously every person's needs will be unique, and children sometimes require me to "give up" or delay having one of those needs met, but it helps if I make that call a judicious, purposeful choice. :O) That way, I'm still mindful of the need, and can make a plan for it getting met at a later time! This lowers my desperation level, and keeps my anger at a more productive level. :O)

More to make egg drop soup! :grin:

{amazing mama art at top of page by the talented Erika Hastings of Mud Spice. Thanks, Erika! }

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The birth of a daughter (or, losing my firstborn "baby")

Story time!

When my first daughter was born nearly 7 years ago, I was dizzy, overwhelmed, smitten, heart-over-heels in love with her. She was my baby. She was THE baby. She was the only baby in the entire

Her first poop was a life-affirming artistic expression. Her first smile was the best smile I'd ever
seen. When she started talking, everything she said was brilliant.

She and I developed a strong, fantastic bond, and she was the absolute light of our lives. (She still is, actually! ;o) ) She and I were in blissful sync with one another (which is actually very healthy for a mother and baby), and she was the only baby in the world. She was funny, busy, intense and she was mine.

Then, we were expecting baby #2 when she was fourteen months old. Like every mom with a new baby on the way, I tried to prepare us for the We read "We have a Baby" together in endless loop. We talked to my belly, and talked about tiny babies, and talked about all the things we could do for the baby together. We talked about how she'd be my "Big Girl Baby", and I
couldn't imagine her ever being anything or anyone but my charming almost two year old (what grid did I have for that? )

Bessie Bee, 23 mo, the week before Nomi was born :O)

I suppose my point is, I saw her as "The Baby"-the only normal standard I had in my life, as far as intimate interaction with a child was concerned, and the place she held in my heart and life was my ONLY experience with a baby or toddler. Who she was, and the age she was were mysteriously linked and mixed and inseparable. In my heart, beyond the reaches of my rational mind, she'd always be this age, because I had no experience with seeing her any differently. She was Baby.

And then, Naomi was born, fast and furious, late one afternoon in warm
southern September.

She was minute in every detail. So very, very TINY, even at 8.5 lbs. And she was utterly, completely, in every way, inside and out, different from her sister.

I was dumbstruck. I felt my heart's tendrils tentatively kissing every part of her spirit in welcome, and dropping my jaw at how very, very unique she was in every way. She would not receive love identically. She would not seek reassurance in the same way. Holding either one of their hearts in mine for the first time was a singular experience that I would never duplicate
again. This was NOT mini-Esther. More importantly, Esther was not merely "the baby". They were people, different from me, different from one another, and little distinct entities. The change that this realization brought was a force to be reckoned with.

The bright, chattering, brilliant, mischievous puppy-child that galloped into the bedroom, pounced onto the quilted bedspread and then seriously inspected her sister's toes was a GIANT. :D What's more, she was a gem, and fantastically and uniquely her OWN self, just like the tiny hiccuping little nymph in my arms. Two brilliant fires, uniquely colored flames. Both deeply precious and needing of love.

I cried until my eyes were swollen as my almost 2yo sat beside me singing along with her favorite Pooh dvd little chubby cheeks wiggling, "I want to be like this- forever, if only I could promise-forever....Forever, and ever is a very long time, Pooh! Forever isn't long at all when I'm with you!" (Damn that movie and it's sentimental songs! ;OP) In my postpartum, hormonal haze, as tears fell onto my buttered toast, the realization of the weight and fleetingness of my time with my daughters hit me like a ton of bricks. She was going to grow up.

I seriously felt like the world had come to an end. It was like the first time I'd broken a sand dollar as a child; something was painfully wrong, and I'd not be able to fix it. I couldn't put it back the way it was. Life stunk, in that moment. Every little old lady in the market who had ever sighed sadly and advised me to enjoy my children, because one day they'd be GONE suddenly made sense. They were right. This was the only part of my life when I'd "have" them, and then, I'd be a sad, lonely lady trying to drown my sorrow in pantyhose, fancy hairdos and Little Debbie Cream Pies. My baby would disappear.

However, as I'm not writing to you from a black painted room full of pewter skulls and brown roses (my initial plan, which, fortunately only lasted until the next breastfeeding session ;oP), I'm happy to report that I didn't stay in that frame of mind forever.

Because I started to realize that Esther never was mine, at least not in the owning sense. Since she was born, she was always the Esther she was intended to be since the dawn of time. As an infant, as an old woman, as an adult, as a silly 6.5, she will always have the wild, intelligent, thoughtful spirit of Essie. Our bodies and development are bound to time, but our spirits are not, really, quite so tethered.

I'm the woman lucky enough to be her mama while she's small, but, even more than that, I have the privilege of being a part of her life in this lifetime. That's huge. The only thing that changed the day I saw her so differently was MY perspective; she'd always been herself-always on the trajectory of Estherhood. :O)

In a way, on the day that Naomi breezed into my life like a mysterious azure butterfly, I was given two daughters-each unique, each to be honored as an eternal and distinct soul, each full on eccentricities and complexity and eternity. Neither that I owned at any age, but two that I could have the honor of nurturing, teaching, cherishing and honoring as the souls that they were and are.

Having my preconceived notions about my children removed, and seeing them as who they are as a whole, the boundaries of time removed, is always a rich and humbling blessing.

(Funny thing? It totally happened all over again, or was at least re-clarified, 2.5 years later when Eva was born. ;oP Some of the little gems you pick up along the way have to be dusted off every now and again.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Empathetic children.

While most people are relatively aware of the general surface-level emotional state of others, and can take it into account, some people are sensitive to the subtle moods and feelings of others to the point of taking on that emotion themselves, even from childhood...

So I thought I'd share my experiences as an emotionally sensitive child here, in case it resounds with anyone, or helps anyone who has a child who seems more sensitive than most! :O)

Most children have the ability to identify basic displays of emotion from others (if they can slow down their busy play long enough to notice! :D), and to respond with a kind and socially
appropriate response (often with a little coaching and training for more logic-oriented kids).

Being a really empathetic child is a totally different life experience, from my own life observation. An empathetic child runs into a room with her friends at a playdate, and all the other kids are honed in on getting their needs met, saying hi to mom, or continuing the sword fight...but the empathetic child has been plunged into another emotional world entirely.

All at once, s/he is aware that the grandmother in the corner is lonely and feeling irrelevant, mom's friend is acting tough to hide her insecurities, mom is overwhelmed with pride for her new baby, father is anxious at having his space invaded by so many people, auntie needs to feel important...however, being very young, the child, of course lacks the vocabulary to express the specific ideas. But, the emotions, being emotions, are felt and understood, even though immaturity limits the ability to understand why or process it appropriately.

Obviously, personality, culture and age probably dictate how the child responds to the information overload. As a child/teen/college student, I was often accused by my friends of being aloof, "ditsy", quiet, meek (I still guffaw inwardly at that one), head-in-the-clouds, quirky, mysterious, weird, snobby or distant. :P (Somehow, though, I managed to have no shortage of friends, probably because I was really good at anticipating their emotional needs!)

The thing that I did most often (and probably still do) appearedto be dawdling/procrastinating/daydreaming on the surface. Indeed, getting me to make it on time to ANYWHERE was almost impossible.

The reason for this was usually that I needed massive amount of time to process (often through play, talking to the mirror, sleep, rehearsing conversations in my head) all the emotional information I was receiving. Trying to explain that to anyone else was like trying to nail butterscotch pudding to the wall; all the action and logic and intelligence was not only happening on the inside, but I also was processing things that others didn't observe easily. I may as well have been trying describe a platypus to a martian in Russian. :OP

Empathetic children can appear inflexible or inexplicably moody, because what's effecting them emotionally doesn't always originate from them or observable interaction. They wear out quickly in large crowds or in intense emotional situations, and can burst into tears or grumpiness seemingly out of the blue.

I lived with the constant nagging terror that others were as aware of me and my emotions as I was of theirs, which led to all sorts of funny self-talks and rituals and self-protective efforts.

Trying to pay attention to verbal instruction was near impossible as well; the speaker would be instructing away about a specific set of concrete directions, and the information I was receiving was their emotional state at the moment. I was getting information LOUD and clear, but, unfortunately, what my brain naturally honed in on wasn't the information they were trying to communicate. At the end, they'd say, "Do you understand?", I felt, "Please, please understand so I don't have to say all that again", and so, I'd agreeably nod yes to their feeling, not their words. If I could sense that they honestly didn't mind repeating it, or if they actually enjoyed hearing themselves talk, I'd ask for them to repeat it, go through the whole scenario again, reach the end again, and think, "DAMMIT! I missed it AGAIN!!" Frustration. :P

Books were my friends. :D

I've noticed that my own daughter often responds by ignoring me, if I'm emotionally keyed up myself. We've talked about it, and here's her reason: she feels like I'm invading her emotional space when I'm upset or angry, because she senses it in her own body so strongly. It's a self-protective measure..not because there's anything wrong with her knowing that I have feelings, but because she feels them so acutely, she doesn't yet know how to process them and set appropriate emotional boundaries. (Fwiw, with this particular child especially, I make an effort to not be demonstrative with my anger or raise my voice...she's honestly just that sensitive.)

In short, people were both the bane of my existence and the beauty that my world revolved around. Even when I appeared to not be listening or at all connected, I was possibly more connected than most...though it probably took some time to come to fruition. I smile and cringe when I see similar traits in my own daughter, and am thankful that I at least have something useful to pass on to her-the empathy of what it feels like to be empathetic. ;P

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Anise flavored homemade lick-stickers!

0r...How Totally Awesome People make Stickers.

Before you began this tutorial (which I stole from SkiptoMyLou), first, check and make certain that you are truly awesome. A quick whiff of the armpits should do the trick. Once awesomeness has been confirmed, proceed to Step 1.

  • Step 1. Decide to make one of these on Valentine's Day, but get so busy that you forget to do it. It helps if you order an Anthropologie magazine for the occasion, and it doesn't show up until a month too late. Now, you're on the right track.

  • Step 2. Regroup and decide to make stickers. Have an hour-long paper cutting party. Use scissors or a decorative punch, and the most colorful magazines or wrapping paper you can find. (We liked Anthropologie & old National Geographic mags) It helps to make silly faces while you do it, and make sure to make an enormous mess! This is imperative to the process.

Step 3. Decide that's enough for one day. Go clean the house or eat an entire bar of chocolate or something. ;OP

Step 4. Gather a packet of plain gelatin, 2 TB boiling water, and 1 TB corn syrup + a dash of
  • your favorite flavor extract (we used anise..mmm!). Stir boiling water into gelatin until dissolved, then mix in corn syrup and anise.
Now, your toddler should wake from her nap and fly into an inexplicable fit of hysterics,
and you should nurse her until she regains her sense of safety and
calm. Walk to the table,
and discover that your "glue" has turned into fantastic anise-
scented see-through gel! :D

  • Step 5. Reheat the anise-gel until it liquifies again. Go out on the porch (tis messy!), discover that all the paint brushes are missing, and decide "What the hulabaloo...let's use TOOTHBRUSHES!" Chuckle at the irony of brushing corn syrup glue onto stickers with dental hygiene tools. Remind yourself that they'll wash (you hope).

  • Step 6. Brush a thin coating of glue on the wrong side of your pre-cut stickers, and rest them sticky-side up on sheets of wax paper. If you're shorter than 4ft tall, you should apply at least some of it to your hair or your sister. If you have no sister, you may apply it to the cat. If you have no cat, feel sorry for yourself, and apply it to a sock puppet.
  • Wait for a gust of wind, and realize that you should weigh down the wax paper sheets at the corners. Chase the toddler and cat away from walking across the sheets of drying stickers. Fret when they curl up, and discover later that curling is just fine and doesn't effect function. ;o)

  • Monkey around for a while, while the stickers dry.

  • Lick, stick, and make beautiful creations! Enjoy your totally awesome stickers.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Recovering from upheaval-13 things that help our family!

I thought this topic might be timely for some, considering all the global and local unrest and emotional yuck that's floating around right now. :) Big moves, family changes, births, tragedies, loss of a pet, and larger scale disaster can necessitate a little extra lovin'. Here are some ideas that have worked swimmingly for us that I've collected over the years (most through trial and error), to bring comfort and emotional healing/equilibrium!

1. The power of smell! If you love essential oils, or just nice scents, this may be helpful for your family! (Obviously, only use them in dilution, and be sensitive to any allergies you may have). Our favorites for supporting calm are lavender, rose and chamomile; our favorites for mood boosting are grapefruit, sweet orange, bergamot and mint. Our favorite delivery method is water: either a few drops in a small spray bottle or a few drops in a nice warm bath. If essential oils aren't your thing, you could always make your favorite fragrant meal, let your child sleep with a tshirt on that smells like you, or bake a family favorite treat. Smells are powerful emotional triggers, and potentially very comforting.

Another natural approach you might try is Rescue Remedy and, for major upheaval, Star of Bethlehem flower essence...a friend recommended it to us a while back, and it seems to have a positive effect.

2. Make a Plan. One of the favorites mottoes I ever stole was one from Jeff VanVonderen in his book Families Where Grace is in Place: "Our family is a problem solving family." Identify what IS within your power and control, make a plan with your family, and follow through. For example, our girls have felt very uneasy with our daily travel roads being in upheaval from tornado activity, and they feel worried for the people whose homes have been demolished. So, we made a plan: see what we can do to volunteer, decide what our resources are, chart out our week ahead of time so there are no surprises (or at least discuss each day what we'll be doing).

3. Relax your expectations. Expect and anticipate a little bit of out of bounds behavior from everyone in the family, and do your best to meet it with patience and reassurance. While actually doing away with normal rules and boundaries is unhelpful, reinforcing those boundaries with patience and not exasperation goes a long way. That goes for you, too; grown ups need as much grace as small people. Love and understanding begets love and understanding, so try your best to use loving language and touch with those closest to you. (This is what I struggle the most with, and, as fate would have it, the most effective!)

4. Plan a little something frivolous. It doesn't need to be expensive or fancy, and the lower key, the better. Take off all expectations and pressure. (Sometimes, the best moments like this are the ones that just happen, unplanned, so be open to them when they present themselves!) Just make it enjoyable and interesting for everyone; it could just be checking out for a while and taking a nice, long walk together. Be a little silly; don't worry about capturing anything on camera or perfectionism-let your inner monkey run a little wild and forget your worries for half an hour or more. Pillow fights work fantastically, and make for lots of laughter. :O)

5. Try to eat well. Again, nothing gourmet, but people who feel well act ditch the sugar, stay hydrated, and eat some veg, complex carbs and protein. Try to stay close to the food source (aka, not processed)Your body and moods will thank you.

6. Go to bed on time. Kids benefit from this- calms forte, a small low-sugar snack, a warm quiet bath or chammomile tea can help make reality. Adults can pull out the bigger guns and try a hot bath, herbal sleep support, melatonin or a nice glass of wine! Sleep helps us process traumas, heal our bodies, replenish exhausted adrenal glands and (my husband will tell you readily) improves the mood. Even if you have little ones that make sleep tricky, you can still resist the urge to stay up and watch t.v. after they've dozed. Sleep is your friend and ally.

7. Massage/Cosleeping/snuggling. You don't even have to be any good at it; just bust out the bottle of lotion or oil and bless yourself and your family with a good, healthy touch session. (Obviously, don't force anyone who's especially sensitive to over-stimulation. ) Avoid putting pressure on bony areas, use smooth connected strokes, warm towels can help, and enjoy! It will raise the energy of everyone involved, and bring a sense of connection and calm. Sleeping together also helps re-enforce family connections. You share reaffirming touch with a close friend (meal-sharing or shared walks work, too) or with a pet, as well. Everyone benefits. Win-win!

8. Prayer and meditation. Give yourself space to cry out for help and process what you're feeling. Give your mind time to just BE.

9. Music.

10. Go outside! The calming, centering benefits of being among
birds and fresh air and trees are both documented and common sense. No crowded playgrounds or busy sidewalks; the less intensity and man-made structures, the better. The more extroverted among us can benefit from taking a friend along!

11. Unplug the News. Children need lots of time and play to process, and hearing endless loops of heartwrenching stories is beyond their capacity to handle, emotionally. (It's not so helpful for adults, either!) Model being a friend to those in need, listen to real people's stories, but don't invite a constant replay into your home and car.

12. Processing is a process. Children may want to talk about the details of what is effecting them over and over and over. Listen to them as they talk about it on their own time frame. Don't make value judgements about what they chose to share. More importantly, listen to and even participate in their pretend play at this time; it will give you insight into their emotional state. Find someone who can listen to you, too, or journal to release some of the sharpness of the emotional memory and to ground your mind.

13. Twofold, depending on personality:

Ditch perfectionism. You've just been through something taxing. Be kind to yourself and your family, and let go of some of your unreasonable expectations. Some television won't kill anyone. You can let a few unnecessary goals and tasks slide until you gather your wits a bit. It's OK to recognize that you need to rest. Resist the urge to moralize your difficulty to your family or preach at them. It's OK to lose some rigidity in order to not snap.

and on the flip side:

Be in tune with need for rhythm. Notice when your loved ones may benefit from a little more predictability and structure, and rise to the occasion. If your normal M.O. is complete bohemian lifestyle, unfettered by schedule, do recognize your family's natural need for rhythm. Predictability enforces feelings of safety and security for little ones, even if it feels counterintuitive...your family and your sanity will thank you for going through the motions. Bedtime routines, regular eating, notice ahead of time before being whisked from one activity to another are all helpful.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Our story from last Wednesday night...

Last Wednesday night, I'd made a nice ginger stir fry for our family, and had a great pot of chicken stock on simmer. We were feeling lazy after a long day. The sky went green, and a few friends called to ask whether we knew we were under a tornado warning (we live in SE TN, right smack dab in the middle of Cleveland/Ooltewah/Ringgold/Collegedale; the areas hit most hard by the storms)...and we made our way to our meager little laundry room in the middle of the house, all padded out by pillows.

The girls hung out in there while Nate and I stared at the clouds on the front porch, swirling and brooding, with the trees lashing and dancing back and forth all around our property. We started hearing a dull roar, and went inside. Soon, after, our windows, doors and what felt like even the walls started rattling. We heard what sounded like pounding hail, and we ducked inside the laundry room with the girls, and then the lights went out. (Our power stayed off for the next few days)

Eventually, we made out way out, grabbed a camping latern, and lit a few candles, and I followed Nate outside, Eva on hip. Trees were down everywhere. We took a flashlight outside, and realized that our backyard was littered with several different hunks of people's roofs.

The next morning, we wandered out to find several different colors of insulation scattered ALL over the yard, books, socks, paycheck receipts, splintered furniture wood, foam insulation, wrapping paper, papers, garbage can lids, tin roofs, siding, trash, a hunk of a RC cola vending machine cover, and all sorts of lumber splinters. It was hearbreaking; we felt as if we had inherited tragedy and heartbreak in splinters-remnants of the lives of others from God knows where-all over our yard.

An F4 tornado ripped by our home, devastating our city and those around us, and our area was declared an official disaster zone, and rightly so. I've never seen anything quite like it.

Blue springs road, this is QUITE close to our home. (I could post a map, but for privacy reasons, I'll refrain.)

A drive to work and the grocery told us that homes all around us had been completely obliterated. Driving our usual back way home that afternoon told the tale of a very close call for us (literally just hundreds of feet away from having our home in splinters) and complete tragedy for our next-street neighbors. Not only were there homes with portions sheered off, but there were foundations with debris scattered across open fields (the only remnants of what once were large houses).

A week later, as people are putting together stories and lives, I learned that a couple who uses our midwife and lives literally minutes from our home lost their sister, home and new little baby. Eight people died next to the park that we love, and the entire area looks like a war zone. Children's clothes are scattered in tree tops, animals are roaming free without homes and owners and grief is literally hanging in the air, waiting to punch you in the gut whenever you pass by.

The thing that's struck me as heartbreakingly beautiful is the outpouring of love from neighbors, and the resilience of LIFE. On the way out to pick up some laundry to do for a family who lost their home, where homes and trees and power lines are lying helter-skelter across beautiful pastures, a mama Candian goose crossed the road with her fuzzy little goslings in tow-right by a hunk of roof and tangled power lines. She looked at me as if to say, "Carry on! There are babies to care for and things to do!"

One of my clients gave birth to a perfect, healthy, pink little baby last night (not too long after power was restored!). Clothes that were once covered in splinters and dry wall dust are now in order again, ready to be worn! Retired old farmers in overalls, smelling of Old Spice and tobacco, are chainsawing fallen trees, giving smiles and salvaging possessions, and soccer moms with bright pink lipstick are handing out food and hugs. College students are donating peanut butter and hauling boxes for victims in their tiny little Toyotas. Love pulls us together. Life is a powerful force, and love is a powerful thing to be reckoned with. Love prevails.

This is my heartland. This is my home. If you think of us, send us your love and prayers...never underestimate the power of positive support and concern.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I promise to get back to our usual happenings and thoughts soon, but I'd feel a little glib to not acknowledge the pain that our community is in, in some small way...

...So I thought

Friday, April 29, 2011

Twisters in our neck of the woods...

I've been MIA this past week, due to a night of doula work and the twisters that ripped through SE TN! (the doula work being obviously more fun than the tornadoes! It roared over our house on Wednesday night and shook our windows and doors, littering our lawn with pieces of other people's homes and possessions. :( The neighborhood behind us was pretty much obliterated, and we've lost power/water for the time being, so the girls and I are staying at my parent's home.

Just wanted to say that we're OK, and to encourage everyone to pray and send aid to the families that were effected by the twisters. :O)

Monday, April 25, 2011

What am I hoping to teach (and what are they learning)?

If you're a parent, you've probably had at least one moment where you stop yourself mid-action in dealing with a child in an irrational age/stage and asked yourself, "WHAT, in the name of cinnamon apple pie am I DOING?!" If you're not that parent, I congratulate you. If you are, you're in decent company. :grin:

After much mulling to discover a common thread for moments like those (in effort to avoid them in the future!), I've discovered this truth: When my parenting becomes trying to control my child's actions/behavior rather than teach them and equip them for successful adulthood, I become a giant horse's behind. In a nutshell. :OP

Whether or not you agree with Kohlberg's Moral Stages, we can all generally agree that a higher level of thinking, emotional life and spirituality are reached when a person stops doing something out of fear of punishment (relying on authority for moral compass), and starts to value the right thing because it is right/avoid the wrong thing because of the actual damage it causes.

I've found my experience with children to be no exception. For some children, knowing that their parents/teachers will be disappointed with them is enough to discourage them from disobeying. For others, the fear of punishment is enough to discourage them from out of bounds behavior keeps them "in line". And, as always, there's always the spunky segment of the populous that weighs the cost/benefits of what they want vs. punishment received and goes for the forbidden fruit anyway, because it's totally worth it to them. Some children simply lack the impulse control to do any of the above.

As I think the above paragraph over, I ask myself: But is that the point and goal of my parenting? Compliance and rule following? There's the theory that eventually a child will begin to do the right things for the right reasons once adulthood is reached, but I've observed too many adults STILL doing the right thing for approval/safety (or doing the wrong thing because they never learned why they shouldn't) to believe that this is an practical approach.

Which brought me to this-What am I trying to TEACH my child when I allow them to experience the consequences of their actions? And what are they really learning from what's coming out of my mouth?

For instance...if they slap their sister, and I respond by smacking her on the leg, what am I actually teaching? Certainly not that the bodies of others are sacred and to be treated with respect (um...hello! :P) Certainly not honoring physical boundaries. Definitely that it's OK for the person in authority gets to smack, and that if you're small, you don't have that right (age/might makes right). Perhaps that if you you hurt others, you'll experience pain.

What if I want to actually TEACH gentleness and kindness?

So, then, my goal becomes teaching skills and values, rather than simply teaching my children to associate with "bad" behavior and avoid it at all costs. But HOW?

If my very small daughter gets very angry and tries to throw her glass of water on the floor, what's the actual issue at hand? Is it my frustration? The mess on the floor? What skill does she actually lack that makes it impossible for her to have another reaction?

My mistake when this first happened 5.5 years ago or so was to assume that the thing I had to teach her was respect for mommy's floor. :OP Making MY goal as her parent to teach her how "not to throw things on the floor". (I laugh at the hilarity of it now! :giggle Keep in mind that I was parenting a toddler, meaning she had zero coping/behavioral modification skills whatsoever.) I'd look very cross (at this point, having committed myself to not training a la fear of spanking). I'd do my best to intimidate her, shame her, illicit guilt; all of which had exactly the same result: a very frustrated Esther and mommy.

Finally, I realized I was not seeing the bigger issue. Esther was frustrated and had no appropriate way of expressing it. She was angry, anger is an acceptable emotion, and she had no idea how to express it in a way that was appropriate to the situation. She had little concept of the effect of her outburst on others.

Essie needed skills. She needed to see me model compassion to others before she could learn it herself. She needed to know that I could handle her big feelings without flying off the handle myself. She needed to be walked through ways to cope with her own frustration. She needed comfort to help her release the adrenalin that had built up in her little body.