Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Learning To Step Back: An Evening With Dr. Wendy Mogel

Dr. Wendy Mogel
Dr. Wendy Mogel began her excellent and often hilarious lecture Monday night, with a reference to a website called Bunk1.com where parents whose children are off at camp can view photos taken of their kids throughout the days and weeks as they enjoy their time away. Although this site was originally set up as a way for parents to see how much fun their child was having and, perhaps, purchase a few photos, it had become, for some parents, yet another method of involving themselves in every detail of their children's lives: "We notice that in all the pictures of our son, Jason, he is wearing the same shirt. We are concerned that perhaps he is also wearing the same underwear and were hoping that you could intervene."

Dr. Mogel said that she fears that we have become a generation so devoted to our children that we treat them like "handicapped royalty"; delicate flowers unable to survive on their own. In other words, "good parents gone bad". These days there is so much to worry about that we have no control over (global warming, toxins in our air/food/homes, financial meltdowns etc.), so many parents are latching on to the one area they feel they can control: their children. 

Thus, we have well-intentioned parents doing their utmost to make sure their child gets not just the good 2nd grade teacher, but the best 2nd grade teacher; or parents involving themselves so much in their child's school work to be sure their child gets a good grade, that they end up doing the science project themselves. But what does this do for our children in the long run?


"Become What Thou Art"
Love Sugar Design Studio etsy.com
Like a caterpillar in its cocoon, children need to go through phases, stages and experiences to metamorphose into the adults we envision them being. If we try to keep them in a protective bubble, we are actually robbing them of all the life experience that builds their character. Dr. Mogel pointed out that every parent has the obligation to teach their kids to swim; that is, we must teach them to leave us and make their own way in the world. And while the kids are learning to swim, they don't need parents in a row boat shouting directions!


According to Dr. Mogel, today's parents have a goal that they be able to reach a consensus with their children when there's disagreement. Perhaps this is because our parents didn't do this with us, perhaps it's because we are caught up in the "self-esteem movement". Whatever the reason, Dr. Mogel believes this is not the way to parent. Only half jokingly, she told the audience to use dog training manuals as a frame of reference. When training dogs, we don't ask them to come to a consensus, do we? No. There is an Alpha dog (mom/dad) who sets firm rules for the pack (your kids) & follows through consistently with consequences. This is how she suggests we approach setting rules and boundaries with our children.

Again, she points out, our goal is that our children grow up and leave our homes as full functioning, self-sufficient adults. No one wants to be the parent of the college student who comes home after the 1st semester because she can't handle the loneliness or can't regulate her sleep cycles or can't function because of a difficult roommate. College deans refer to many of today's students as "teacups and crispies". Teacups being the children who have been protected at every turn and can't cope on their own, and crispies being the burnt-out students pushed to the limit until they have lost the intrinsic pleasure in learning. 

 "I want your children to have that crabby, uninspired, unenlightened teacher; I want your children to experience being cold/wet/tired", said Dr. Mogel at some point. "I want them to learn how to deal with disappointment and frustration!" Just as Moses chose to lead the Israelites through the desert for 40 years, instead of 40 days, because he knew they would not be ready for the land of milk and honey without having suffered, Dr. Mogel reminded us that our children would not be ready for the land of milk and honey (eg: college) if we don't let them make good mistakes in the years preceding it. If they have satisfaction all the time, she cautioned, how will they ever recognize joy?

We worry about so many things when it comes to our children, said Dr. Mogel. We redshirt our kindergarten boys so that they might have every advantage. Schools have red washcloths to camouflage the blood from a child's cut so they won't get scared. We schedule them in every type of after school enrichment program in the hope of securing a bright future. Instead, Dr. Mogel encourages parents to let your children have adventures, experience things and engage in imaginative play. Good judgment comes through experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. 

Then how do we learn to step back and find the middle ground between over-involved parent and disengaged parent? Dr. Mogel had some excellent suggestions:
  • Be a witness without stepping in. You do not need to interfere at every turn. Remember the acronym WAIT (Why Am I Talking). It is possible to talk too much to your children; so much so that kids become "parent deaf".
  • When you say "no", keep sentences short and simple. Don't punctuate with the word, "OK?" (as in, "I want you to clean up your room. OK?" No, your child thinks, it's not OK)!
  • When your child negotiates, use words and sentences like Nevertheless, Regardless, No and that's final, I thought about it and the answer is no, I am not ready for you to ____ , I remember saying no and I'm not changing my mind.
If this feels harsh to you, remember that you are saying no to your children without consensus because you want them to learn how to say no, themselves, with firm, confident authority and to be able to say it with conviction when they are faced with difficult choices as they get older. 
  • Remember that just as your children will not fulfill all of your dreams, nor will they fulfill all of your nightmares.
  • Think of your child as a packet of unmarked seeds that you've been given. Your only job is to pick the big weeds, water and stand back to watch what grows.
  • The greatest predictor of success in life is empathy, optimism, a flexible reaction to setback and a sense of humor.
  • Tell your kids about your day. Let them know you are enjoying life because we want them to want to be adults some day!
Dr. Mogel ended her evening by asking us to imagine going through life with two pieces of paper, one in each pant pocket. On one is written, "I am nothing but dust and ashes" and on the other "The world was created for me and me alone" and to remember that we must see our children from both points of view.

Dr. Wendy Mogel is the author of the bestselling The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee, and the new book, The Blessing Of A B Minus. In addition to reading these excellent books, if you get an opportunity to hear her speak in person, I highly recommend it. I left feeling very excited about my pledge yesterday to let go of some control and can see more clearly how I can help my children more by doing less. 

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Thoughts? Comments? I would love to hear them! Just click on "comments" at the end of every post; they can be left anonymously without being a subscriber or follower (although I would love if you were)! 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Am I Really In Control?

Does. Not. Compute.
Control. I have a need for it. It gives me a sense of security to have some control over my day and how things are going to go. My husband teases me about my need for order and planning; but the need runs deep. When plans go awry I short circuit like one of those old movie robots, chanting "Does not compute! Does not compute!" as I anxiously try to reassess.

My husband, bless him, is much more laid back than I am. He likes to wing it and be more spontaneous. I loved this when we were dating; now that we have children it makes me a bit insane. And yet, I do wish I was a bit more like him. On a day to day basis, he is so much less stressed out than I am. Sometimes I think he enjoys parenting more than I do. He is not thrown for a loop when things don't go as planned (probably because there never is a plan) and he certainly is a lot less exhausted at the end of the day.

What am I trying to control, you may ask? Well...on any given day, probably just about everything. It is no wonder I am so exhausted. I tell myself that I do it because it helps provide a sense of order in what would be an otherwise very chaotic life. With almost 4-year old twins there is a certain amount of chaos going on each day. If I can minimize any extra chaos by planning and preparing, then I feel it makes my life easier. But is this extra involvement really making things easier? Perhaps, if I just let some of it go, instead of experiencing more chaos I would actually feel more at ease. 

When I became a SAHM, I threw myself into this role with passion, as I had done with every job I had before it. I read every book I could get my hands on and went to every lecture I could find; in short, I was going to arm myself with as much knowledge as I could and be the best SAHM I could be. I read a quote recently about the multitude of parenting books available these days: 
"These books, and the myriad others like them, hold out the promise of a healthy, civilised [sic] venture, where every obstacle, every bedtime, every tantrum, is something to be mastered like an exam at school."
This stopped me in my tracks. That was exactly what I was doing. Trying to have an answer for everything my children did. Trying to know every trick and master every nuance of parenting as if that would give some sense of order and control to my days. More importantly, it would also mean I was skilled at my job as mother. Was this really the way to approach parenting? And was this attempt at organizing my day actually making my life more difficult? I am beginning to think that there can be such a thing as trying to have too much order. Is my attempt at controlling my environment robbing my children of the joy of spontaneously created wonder? From the same article I quoted above: 
"Can we, for a moment, flash back to the benign neglect of the 1970s and '80s? I can remember my parents having parties, wild children running around until dark, catching fireflies. If these children helped themselves to three slices of cake, or ingested the second-hand smoke from cigarettes, or carried cocktails to adults who were ever so slightly slurring their words, they were not noticed; they were loved, just not monitored. And, as I remember it, those warm summer nights of not being focused on were liberating. In the long sticky hours of boredom, in the lonely, unsupervised, unstructured time, something blooms; it was in those margins that we became ourselves."
me and my father
1971
I am truly a product of this type of parenting. My hippie parents were quite young when I was born and the only ones in their circle with children. In the late 1960's there was very little research available about child development and even less to be read in the way of parenting advice. My parents mostly relied on instinct to guide them. There are some things they did that I cringe at now (I can't imagine leaving a 9-year old girl alone with two 11-year old boys as "babysitters"), but overall, despite the lack of rules, I knew I was loved. And perhaps it was this lack of supervision that allowed me to develop my creativity and my independence. Had an adult constantly been monitoring my every step I might be a very different person.

So maybe I do try to control too much in my life and the lives of our children. It's not that I try to spare them from every hurt and disappointment, but rather that I try to be prepared for every hurt and disappointment; as if in knowing how to handle it all, I can somehow lessen the blow. I don't think I will ever be comfortable being as laid back as my parents or even my husband, but I would like to find a middle ground. I would like to feel at ease letting my children handle their own conflicts without my interference, and I would like to disengage enough that our kids can learn to play on their own (or together) without always wanting my involvement. Mostly, I would like, at the end of the day, not to feel so depleted; I want to live in the moment with our children and enjoy the detours life sends our way -- not to be constantly preparing myself to battle them. In Laura Davis and Janis Keyser's terrific book, "Becoming The Parent You Want To Be", there is a short paragraph in one of the first few chapters that illustrates this point perfectly:
"The parents in a nurturing family realize that problems will come along, simpy because life offers them, but they will be alert to creative solutions for each new problem as it appears. Troubled families, on the other hand, put all their energies into the hopeless attempt to keep problems from happening; and when they do happen -- and of course they do -- these people have no resources left for solving them."
Not that I feel "troubled", but I am beginning to be aware that all of my energy is going towards trying to stave off potential problems as opposed to just enjoying my life. I think it's time to make some changes.

What about you? How involved are you in the details? How do you step back without losing control? Or are you as caught up in trying to control the chaos of family life as I am? I'd love to know!

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Thoughts? Comments? I would love to hear them! Just click on "comments" at the end of every post; they can be left anonymously without being a subscriber or follower (although I would love if you were)! 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Little Humor




I posted this on my Twitter feed a few days ago, and you may have already seen it, but if not...it's pretty hilarious. If you are a parent of multiples you will definitely relate to the inane and intrusive questions. I know most people mean the questions innocently, but when you string them all together you do get a sense of what we "freaks of nature" (as the video is titled) have to deal with.

As I write this, early on Thanksgiving morning, the video also reminds me of all I have to be grateful for. I went through a lot to get where I am, so when I get silly questions about whether my boy/girl twins are identical, or overly personal ones about whether I had a c-section or delivered vaginally, I don't really mind. I am so grateful to have children and to have twins makes me feel blessed in myriad ways (even when they drive me insane). So go ahead, ask all the questions you want about my twins...I am very grateful to be in the position to answer them!

Happy Thanksgiving!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thoughts On Kindness, Gratitude And Veruca Salt

Veruca Salt (the 2005 movie version)
Still spoiled and entitled


I took my daughter shopping the other day. Mostly, this was because she has insisted on wearing the same dress and the same pair of shoes every single day for the last month and a half and I was sick of seeing them (and, to be honest, those shoes were starting to stink) but it was definitely not because she needed anything. I should preface this by saying that our dear daughter has been going through a phase that any mother of an almost 4-year old is probably familiar with: occasional possession by the devil. In fact, my delightful, kind, empathetic daughter suddenly transforms into Veruca Salt (the obnoxious, spoiled child in the Willie Wonka movie) at any given moment making we worry that those who don't know her will simply think she is just a "brat".  

As we sat, trying on sparkly, light-up, festooned, girly shoes she whined and moaned about how she didn't like them and they were uncomfortable and the man should bring others and then...."MOMEEEE! I want shoes NOW! BUY ME SHOOOOES!" I felt the heat rise in my face and my eyes bore holes into her head as I clenched my teeth and tried to remain calm while telling her to change her tone of voice and ask me in a kind way for what she wants. And in the back of my head I heard Veruca singing:



I want a party with rooms full of laughter
Ten thousand tons of ice cream
And if I don't get the things I am after
I'm going to scream!

I want the works
I want the whole works
Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises
Of all shapes and sizes
And now
Don't care how
I want it now
Don't care how
I want it now"


the unavailable desired item
Really? Who was this kid? I was mortified. After eliciting a somewhat appropriate tone of voice and buying the two pairs of shoes we needed, I realized that I had missed a real opportunity to teach my daughter a lesson about gratitude. In retrospect, I wish I had, instead, calmly told her that she needed to stop speaking to me that way or we would not be buying anything and we would be going home. And then really followed through with that. I wish I had explained all of the things that go into being able to buy her these shoes. I wish I had reminded her that lots of people don't have any shoes, let alone 5 pairs! But I was caught up in wanting to enjoy the afternoon together as we had planned, not wanting to make a scene at the store and really wanting to get those damned shoes so I could throw out those horrible old ones. So I paid and got out of the store as fast as I could while she happily skipped off in new shoes. At least they were a pair of Tom's so our daughter unknowingly provided a pair of new shoes for someone less fortunate. But "unknowingly" is the key word here.

I really am trying to avoid a sense of entitlement with our kids. I know how lucky we are that we can afford to buy things that we don't, technically, need. But do our children get it? How can we expect them to, unless we teach them? I do try, but it takes constant effort. As the end of the year holidays roll around there is greater emphasis on being grateful and giving to those less fortunate. This is a way of being that I would love to instill in our children (and ourselves) year round. Those in need, don't only need at Thanksgiving. But, here it is, a few days before Thanksgiving and I realize, once again, that I haven't made this lesson a priority. Our children aren't ungrateful, they just don't understand the big picture and that's not their fault, it's ours.

Last year we sponsored a local family at Christmas. Our kids helped me buy gifts, wrap them and deliver them to a family who had newborn twins in addition to an already huge number of children. For me, this was a really moving experience and it allowed us to have the discussion with our kids about how some children don't have all the things we take for granted, but I haven't kept that up. With all the emphasis the holidays bring on getting, I have been looking around for additional ways to inspire and educate our kids on the idea of giving and being grateful. So, I've been doing some research and thought I'd share the ideas I've come up with so far.

Part of being able to be grateful is being able to be empathetic. I know our children are just a little young to cognitively understand empathy, but they are almost there, and it is never to early to begin talking and teaching about this sort of thing. If you want your children to understand the lessons involved in doing charity work or in asking them to donate old toys before they receive new ones, you have to first set the stage.

Our daughter, checking out the kindness tree


  • Gratitude. A few months ago we added the question "what are you grateful for today?" at the end of our bedtime routine. Just before last kisses and while we're still snuggled, our children get to consider their day and what meant the most to them. And we share what we are grateful for each day as well. Often we get comments about how they are grateful for strawberries or their blanket, but that's OK. Even once in a blue moon to hear "I am grateful for mommy" is worth all the effort. The other thing I try to do on a regular basis is fill the kids in on exactly what is involved in whatever it is that they're experiencing or receiving. The more they understand all of the work that goes into something, the more they can appreciate it. I have to force myself to let them in on things like preparing meals because it's so much faster/cleaner/easier to do it myself; but what does doing it myself teach them about how much work it is to make a meal? And if they don't know what goes into it, how can they be grateful for it when it's received?
  • Kindness. When the kids were about two years old, we began an ongoing project in our house called "The Kindness Tree". I created a tree out of construction paper that we hung in our dining room. Each time one of the kids does something kind towards the other, they get a leaf on one of the branches with the act of kindness written on it. We periodically read the leaves and show it off to anyone who comes to our house. Once the branches are full of leaves, we do something special to celebrate their kindness towards each other. This has worked well in our house to, at the very least, let the kids know that kindness is a value that is important in our family.
  • Stories are always a great teaching tool. I am always looking for books to read to the kids about things like kindness, compassion, gratitude and helping others. A few I like are the classic, Stone Soup about coming together as a community and the more recent, One about being inclusive, standing up for others and yourself and An Awesome Book of Thanks which is a reminder about being thankful for all you have. If you can't find books, tell them stories of children just like them who have made a difference in the world, like Alexandra Scott of Alex's Lemonade Stand who raised over one million dollars for cancer research before she passed away at age 8 or Kate Stagliano of Katie's Krops who started growing her own food to feed the homeless when she was 9 years old. In the two years since, she has fed thousands and inspired countless people to use their own harvests to feed the needy. Sometimes it just takes a little nudge and a little knowledge to inspire your child.
Once your children are aware of some of what is needed in the world and that they can actually make a difference, ask them where their interest lies then search for nonprofits that support those causes. Here are some ideas of what to do with that passion:

  • HelpNeighbors.com. Begun by a mom who was moved to help three children affected by domestic violence, this site now connects needy families all over the country with people who are looking to reach out and provide support. Simply plug in your zip code, and you can read the stories of numerous families (many with photos) and decide who you wish to connect with and how you want to help. 
  • Pico Union Family Preservation Network. This is a local Los Angeles non-profit organization that works directly with children and families referred through the Department of Children and Family Services. All of these children are victims of domestic violence, and/or sexual, physical or emotional abuse. These families are some of the poorest in the city of Los Angeles and often the children go without even their most essential needs met. Because their families struggle with having enough food to eat, and money to pay for medical bills, they are unable to provide gifts for their children during the holidays. The social workers are requesting that if you are interested in sponsoring any of these children that you contact Joana Rodriguez by email: joana.rodriguez@yahoo.com or by phone: 213-742-6059 (office) or 323-243-3720 (cell).
  • Heal The Bay. If healing the environment is more your cup of tea, check out an organization like Heal The Bay. There aren't a lot of volunteer projects out there that you can do with young children, but they are welcome to participate in the Nothin' But Sand beach clean ups. Get down to the beach to clear up the garbage left on the sand and washed up from the ocean. It's a great opportunity to teach your children about caring for animals and taking care of the world we live in. If you want to make a day of it, include a visit to Culver City's Star Eco Station. Built to look like a Mayan jungle, they house rescued exotic birds, snakes, alligators, big cats and more. Their one-hour tours do a great job of teaching kids about treating animals with respect and kindness. 
  • Literacy Promotion and Service Learning. Milk + Bookies is a terrific organization where children are able to select, purchase and inscribe books that are then donated to their peers who do not have access to books of their own. Milk + Bookies states that although the books are imperative to their mission, " just as important is instilling the seed of giving into each host and their young guests, sparking feelings of importance, self-confidence and the desire to give and give again". Their website even has great suggestions for throwing a M+B Birthday Party where party guests can bring books to donate instead of more toys for your child (that may not be needed). The founder of Milk + Bookies also has a wonderful website called The Acme Sharing Company who describes itself as "a place where parents can find activities for spending family time with meaning." And furthermore, that "Exposing our children to cause-based adventures is a wonderful way to make giving a part of their lives now and for the future".
I'd like to leave you with this video by the wonderful children's book author, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, which I found on Acme Sharing this past weekend. In it, she says, "In remembering you, which words will others use [to describe you?]...Of all the possible adjectives, I think that if the word 'kind' appears in the mix, chances are, you have led a life worthy of being remembered".  
 
I think, at the end of the day, that this is what I want for my children; to be truly connected to their own innate kindness and generous spirits. The moments of "devil possession" are not who my daughter truly is...I know this. I am just struggling with finding the most effective ways to reach her, connect with her and teach her about expressing her best self. 

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Thoughts? Comments? I would love to hear them! Just click on "comments" at the end of every post; they can be left anonymously without being a subscriber or follower (although I would love if you were)!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Magic Of Children's Imagination

"But really, where do fairies sleep, Mommy?"
My children are a few months shy of four. Our daughter is knee-deep in fairy/princess mode. Our son fills his days alternately being a policeman chasing "bad guys" or a knight hunting wayward dragons through the house. They're also at that stage where they have never-ending questions. "How did all the dinosaurs die"? "What do fairies eat"? "What color shoes does Santa Claus wear"? 

Sometimes I know the answers to these questions (although I give my husband credit for remembering a meteor hitting the Earth as the accepted reason for dinosaur extinction) and sometimes I throw it back at them: "That's a great question! What do you think the reason is?" -- especially when it's a question like "Why are clouds in the sky"? It's to keep the sun warm, in case you were wondering.

"If you're really Santa Claus, you can get it for me.
And if you can't, you're only a nice man
with a white beard like mother says." 
But what do you do when your children ask questions about Santa or mermaids? Do you make up an answer to the very logical question, "how do mermaids breathe under water"? Or do you say something along the lines of mermaids are just pretend so when you're pretending you can do anything! How do I answer when my son asks, "Why is Elmo a puppet?" and my daughter retorts, "He's NOT a puppet! He's a boy!" Do I tell my son Elmo actually isn't a puppet, even though he is correct, in order to keep up the illusion? Or do I correct her and point out that her brother is actually right? 

I make it a point to be truthful with our children about things, but I also want to preserve a sense of fantasy and magic in their lives. What would childhood be without that? They'll end up like the mini-adult Natalie Wood in "Miracle on 34th Street"whose mother doesn't want to fill her daughter's head with make believe and fantasies lest she grow up to be disappointed when life doesn't live up to those dreams. 

I was talking to my dad about this Elmo conversation and his take on it was interesting; his inclination was to say that both children are right. Elmo is a puppet when no one is playing him, but he turns into a boy when the puppeteer plays him. It's like magic. You forget he's a puppet and believe he's a boy. His suggestion was that both views are right, so one can find an honest way to frame an answer that doesn't destroy the wonder. 
magical fairy doors

There is a large part of me that feels that the wonder and beauty of childhood lies in this world of make-believe and in that innocent ability to see magic everywhere. Just Google "fairy doors" and you'll find hundreds of sites devoted to handcrafted little doors which, when placed in your garden or about your home, open a "portal for pixies, elves and fairies" to visit. Who could deny the appeal of this invitation? One of our children's favorite movies is the Miyazaki classic, "My Neighbor Totoro", in which two girls have fantastic adventures with magical creatures who live in a giant camphor tree behind their house. One of the many things I love about this movie is that none of the grownups shut down the children's stories even though they cannot see these creatures themselves.
Totoro, Mei and Satsuki, asleep under the camphor tree

It's not really telling magical tales I have guilt over though; it's when the kids ask me a direct question, like whether dragons are real, and I extend their belief in a fairytale. Is it lying? Or is it just that 4 years old is too young to look at life through the lens of an adult's sometimes dull and conventional eye? Or maybe it's that there's just a little bit of me that wants to believe that children have the ability to see things grownups can't, just because they haven't yet lost the belief in them. 

Experts in child development now agree that make-believe is an essential part of children's development that should be protected and allowed. But how much and for long is it OK to indulge them? From my father's autobiographical first book, "Twelve Years: An American Boyhood In East Germany":
"That frightened look on Alma's [his mother] face reappeared when I told her that I had befriended a little bird, and that the bird liked to sit on the rim of my breast pocket.  I think the idea came from The Secret Garden.  [ . . . ] She pretended to believe me, and I did likewise, but somehow her response lacked a certain ingredient of surprise or curiosity which my bird required if it was ever to attain a satisfactory degree of verisimilitude.  Alma just nodded and smiled in an indulgent sort of way, or said "Really?" with that flickering of hidden worry and doubt in her eyes."
My father was 8 years old at the time of the imaginary bird friend; perhaps that's why my grandmother was so insecure about indulging this fantasy. Reading this quote brought tears to my eyes because, for me, it was a missed opportunity for connection and a missed chance to understand this boy on a deeper level. Children use play and imagination to process so much that goes on in their lives; what do we risk losing when we shut it down too soon? 

These days there is so much debate about play in the early years at school and whether too much of it leads to children not being prepared for the rigors of what is to come. Many parents would like their children to start Kindergarten knowing how to read and write; by first grade if these skills aren't mastered, parents begin to worry. Yet, in a country like Finland where children don't start formal education until 7 years old, their high school students are routinely at the top, worldwide, when tested for academic achievement. So what are they doing those first 7 years? From the blog Not Just Cute:
"In these preschools and kindergartens, you won’t find the country’s next crop of top students drilling through flashcards or poring over worksheets.  More likely, you’ll see them singing, playing, and painting.  In Finland, the focus for early education is on learning how to learn.  Children are encouraged to experience, explore, and play.  The Fins value the development of curiosity and social competency in the early years.  They know that the “academics” will come more easily later if the foundation is there."
When I read about schools cutting funding for art, music, language and even PE, in order to focus primarily on "academics", it makes me worry about our children's future. In our pursuit of academic excellence and the hope that our children will lead better and more wonderful lives only if they excel at an early age, we may be dooming them to a dull, grey existence without wonder, magic and the beauty of imagination. 

Even if we, as grownups, hold up science as the ultimate in knowledge and learning, wasn't it Einstein, who said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's Actually Easy Being Green: An Interview With Rachel Myers


Yes, that's me...somewhere in Europe


I grew up in a fairly bohemian home. Dr. Bach's flower remedies were often a first suggestion rather than antibiotics, my parents were both vegetarians (although, for some reason, my love of lamb chops was indulged) and if you ask my Mother about potty training she will tell you that since we had lived in Europe (and my parents were hippies) when I was little, I was simply outdoors and naked most of the time so there wasn't any need for "training". No surprise that my parents were not much help when it came time for our kids to say goodbye to diapers!

When I was pregnant with our twins I had all sorts of plans about how "green" our house was going to be and how I was going to use cloth diapers. But I quickly got overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of having twin infants and my grand plan soon faded. If you are like me: somewhat overwhelmed by family life/work life/social life but would like a green home, to be able to cook healthy meals your family will eat, or have an interest in teaching your children about helping the environment, but don't know where to begin with any (or all) of it, then keep reading; I am about to introduce you to Rachel Myers, owner of Green Hugs!

The Twin Coach: Let's begin with an introduction of what Green Hugs is all about.  Can you tell us about your background and what prompted you to start the company?

Rachel Myers: I have always been an environmentalist. I was a Community Organizer for the Sierra Club before I decided to stay at home and raise my own little activists. When I became a Mom, everything that I once thought was important about being a care taker of the environment, turned inward to my own nesting environment. I was able to channel my passions for health, sustainability and awareness to include the raising of my kids. I learned more and more about the hidden dangers in our products, food and nests. As information began to surface about chemicals in our plastics and carcinogens in our body care, it became harder and harder not to do something about it. One night I was on my favorite informative website, Environmental Working Group, researching toxins and babies. I came across an article about tests on umbilical cord blood. The results were life changing for me. The article stated that 232 chemicals were found in the cord blood of newborns. 9 out of 10 babies tested had BPA, a plastic component and synthetic estrogen. I knew then that I had to help families to avoid the toxins that have become so prevalent yet unnecessary in our daily lives.

I think sometimes people are afraid to seek out this information because it can be scary and depressing. I take the fear of knowledge away and replace it with a clear understanding of dangers and fantastic ways to navigate around those dangers.  My motto is that if I tell you that one thing is unhealthy, I have to give you three good options to replace it with! There is nothing more beautiful and fragile than our nests. Teaching my class and knowing that I am directly impacting the health and well being of families is a wonderful gift. When I was trying to think of a name for my business, I asked my four-year old son, Parks, what he thought. He came up with, Green Hugs and the movement was born!

TTC: I notice that your Parenting Classes are really a mix of instruction on green living as well as teaching new parents about bonding, connecting and becoming advocates for this green lifestyle in their communities.  Can you speak a little about what your classes are like?

RM: My classes are a mix of information, support and sharing. I feel like there is this collective unconscious out there of environmental buzzwords that we fear such as; Phalates, VOC's and BPA. It is important to me that at the end of my class you understand these terms. It is equally important that we connect with one another and understand what we fear about this knowledge. My topics are roughly broken down into three categories: what you put in, on and around
your body. My goal is that by the end of my classes you understand that these are all the same things. What we breathe in, put on our skin, and use on our bodies all affects our general health.

Bonding, connecting and community advocacy are strong components of my classes. To me, green living is like an extension of attachment parenting. We are constantly teaching our kids while raising them to be stewards of one-another and the environment. Making healthy choices whether it is chemical vs. mineral sunscreen or organic vs. non-organic eating is one more attached and tuned in way that we can care for them. I also go over being the change you wish to see. It is difficult to send you out in the world as a new green nester and be met with resistance or fear. Parenting is a sensitive thing and nobody wants to feel different or isolated. I like working with couples because it is always important to make lifestyle changes together; if one person feels that things are being taken away from them instead of being empowered, I haven't done my job.




Rachel Myers, owner of
Green Hugs
TTC: Feeding our children is a major source of conversation from the minute the kids are old enough to eat solids; I see that you also offer vegetarian cooking classes.  Many parents can't imagine getting their picky eaters to eat one vegetable, let alone become a vegetarian...what can you tell us about these classes?

RM: Vegetarianism is a very personal thing for me. It is part of who I am. At a very young age I became aware of animal suffering and knew that I was going to try and live my life apart from that. I am raising my kids vegetarian, but my husband is a meat-eater. He is a veg by necessity at home though! Some people may think that this would lead to a very confusing up-bringing. It actually works well for us because it is a good and fair representation of life. People are different and make different choices. That is ok and we need to respect that.


Vegetarianism is so much more than eating vegetables. I believe that you should give kids the nutritional information about what is healthy for their bodies and that will help them grow. My kids know that their plate has to consist of whole grains, protein, fruits and veggies. 

In my cooking classes I will come to your home and discuss nutrition, brain boosting fats and food combinations that actually work together to create better nutrient absorption. I don't believe in hiding food to get kids to eat it. It may have a quick nutritional gain, but gives you nothing in the long run. The last component is discussion of your eater. Personality traits, tastes so far and what they naturally gravitate towards, if given choices, play a role in successful and nurturing feeding! Believe it or not, this starts as soon as kids are ready to eat solids. The biggest part of my cooking classes, Beyond Green Beans, is to have fun!

TTC: So many parents (including me) are motivated to "go green" when they have children, but get overwhelmed by the enormity of it. Where would you suggest parents start with a project like this?

RM: At the BINI Birth loft in North Hollywood for my Green Hugs class! Seriously though, I do think that this life-style change needs to be done in an informative and nurturing place with lots of discussion and support. Taking care of our families is the most important job that we have. When you first find out that choices you have been making may not be the best or the healthiest, it can be scary. In my classes, I don't dwell on the negative. We learn, move on and make healthy, simple and cost-effective changes. I think you should start with what you are inherently drawn to. It can be food, toys, body products, cleaning products. That is the great part about all of this. Any small change can lead up to big health benefits. I am here to shift the question of, "What do we need?" to include what is it made out of and how will it affect the health of our home.

There are such simple changes we can make like omitting certain chemicals from our products, eating specific foods organically and making sure that we stay away from certain types of plastics. Once you gain the knowledge, making healthy decisions become second nature.

TTC: I notice that you advocate cloth diapers. When I was pregnant that was my preference too, but once I had infant twins it just seemed too much to deal with! What can you tell my readers (many of whom have multiples) about how to make this choice happen?

RM: Talking about tushies is one of my favorite topics! My class, Tushies: so Cute Yet so Complicated, is a wonderful and informative way to learn about everything from cloth to disposables and all options in between. I also talk about Elimination Communication as an early potty-training tool. Cloth diapering is one part of new parenthood where ignorance is really bliss. If you start out with cloth, it just becomes what you do. These days the options when using cloth are simple and affordable. You don't have to soak diapers and deal with tons of parts; you put dirty diapers in a wet bag and you wash and dry them every night. I am not saying that it is easy. Nothing about being a new parent is easy. Yes, it is more difficult than throwing a dirty diaper in the trash. But when you consider, especially with multiples, the money you save in diapers and the possibility that your child will potty-train faster, it just seems worth the extra effort to me.  Cloth diapers are an investment and actually have a wonderful re-sale market. Stores like Green and Greener in Valley Village, CA will buy and sell used cloth diapers. There are also diaper delivery services where you don't have to be responsible for even cleaning them like Dy Dee Diapering Service.

With that said, there is nothing more important than your mental health. In order for you to be the best parent that you can be, you need to be sane and make sure you are not stretching yourself to the point of exhaustion. There are healthier and more sustainable disposable diapers on the market. I recommend Bambo diapers. Here is a link to a code that will get you 10% off! Bambo diapers are biodegradable, compostable and carry the, Nordic Swan Certification for their minimal environmental impact.





TTC: Your own children have grown up with this green concept, do you notice a difference between them and any of their friends about the way the approach things like food or the environment?

RM: Yes, my kids have been thoroughly green washed! My son actually walks through the market and holds things up asking me if they are healthy for his body. Sometimes I wonder if people around me think I am bribing him with candy to make me look good! The truth is that my kids are loving and sensitive. We have taught them to extend that attitude beyond just themselves into the world that they are part of. We make decisions every day to treat them mentally, physically and environmentally in a kind and sustainable way. They have thrived with that knowledge. Fortunately we live in a place where shopping at the farmer's market, composting and healthy eating are the norm and that helps. I overheard a friend of my mom's talking about me raising my kids vegetarian. She was very discouraging and whispering that it could be difficult for them later on to be different than everyone else. At first I got angry, but then I smiled to myself. We are living in a world and time where green living is not different. We also live in a time where different doesn't have to be bad.

TTC: What would be your top 5 tips for beginners to start greening our homes?

RM: My tips are surprisingly easy and mostly free!
  • Ma halo Style: Go shoeless in your home. This helps your indoor air-quality by not tracking particulates into your home.
  • Flower Power: Invest in some houseplants that are safe for kids and pets. They are fantastic air-filters.
  • Ventilate While you Create: Always run the fan over your (gas) stove while you are cooking. You will greatly reduce toxic gases in your home.
  • Plastic Panic: Don't microwave anything in plastic!! This reduces your chance of chemicals leaching into your foods. 
  • Watch Your Can: Try to buy fewer foods that are in cans and more fresh foods. 
TTC: Any suggestions for those of us with older children about how to get our kids involved in the process?

RM: I like to call composting the newest old thing. I think a wonderful way to get older children involved is to create a worm-composting aquarium. You can look up all of the components online and create your own little environment where kids can actually see the worms breaking down your family’s food scraps and turning it into soil you can then use to plant things in! Note: You must get worms that are specific to composting. There is a company at the Studio City Farmers Market that sells this aquarium and the worms.

TTC: Where are your classes held and what is your upcoming class schedule?

RM: I have found my teaching nest at a wonderful loft in North Hollywood called, BINI Birth. BINI is a space for support and education for both new families and birth professionals. BINI offers everything from Mommy and Me classes, Hypnobirthing, Yoga, monthly free parenting workshops and an intensive childbirth workshop weekend. It is a very nurturing space that Green Hugs is excited to be a part of. I teach my series one weekend a month at BINI and am also available for in-home private sessions. A lot of pregnant women and new moms like to get a group of friends together and learn out of their own homes. I'm teaching my Green Hugs classes at BINI Birth on the following weekends:
  • November 27th Tushies: So Cute, Yet So Complicated -- There are many levels of responsible diapering. We will explore them all and learn money saving, green options that are better for the environment and our favorite squeezable tushies!
  • November 28th Organic Panic -- What better way do we have to make our children stewards of the earth than to teach them how to eat well and enjoy life. I will also answer any questions about baby food storage or helping to green your picky toddlers plate!
  • December 5th Safe Mamas Guide To Green Homecare -- We will discuss the lethal 10 ingredients to make sure aren’t in your products. I will teach you how to make your own natural home cleaners and we will discuss some of the safest ones that you can buy.
  • December 19th Will That Be Glass Or Plastic -- We will discuss the pros and cons of glass bottles, discuss greener plastic alternatives and navigate through how to store food and liquids safely. I will show you some of my most favorite and innovative food storage systems made and used by proud moms everywhere! 
  • January 29th Spa Baby -- Learn how to make some of your own child and parent friendly bath and body products! I will help you to navigate through the world of chemicals that should not be in your home. We will also discuss natural bedding and the importance of a clean, green sleeping space for your little one.
  • January 30th Are You Attached -- From breastfeeding to baby wearing and co-sleeping, let’s explore the benefits of this instinctual bond and how to deepen it safely and still look cute while you literally have another human attached to your hip!
3 sessions are $85 per person or $120 for a couple. Reserve now, space is limited. RSVP to rachel@binibirth.com or Phone: (818) 636-2223. Rachel can also be reached through her website GreenHugs.net and anyone who mentions that they found out about her through The Twin Coach will receive 10% off all classes!

Additionally, Rachel is participating in a Free Parenting Workshop Series at BINI: Pregnancy and Early Parenting: Myths and Reality!
Every month BINI Birth organizes a FREE workshop that reunites the best professionals in the birth community with families to be.

For November and December, we will have an open panel discussion addressing the most frequently asked questions and topics of our BINI educators and Doulas. Please come join us for this important and exciting panel. There will be plenty of good discussion and time for question and answer!

Topics for November 16th, Part I:
  • The Pregnancy Roller Coaster
  • Your Ideal Birth
  • Epidurals: Villains or Saviors?
  • Vaginal Conservation
Topics for December 14th, Part II:
  • Cesarean Birth AKA “C”
  • Sex: Before, During and After
  • Mammalian Attachment
  • How to Green Your Nest
When: 7 – 9:30 pm
Where: The BINI loft
5355 Cartwright Ave. Unit 313
North Hollywood, CA 91601

RSVP to rachel@binibirth.com or Phone: (818) 636-2223 Rachel can also be reached through her website GreenHugs.net and anyone who mentions that they found out about her through The Twin Coach will receive 10% off all classes!

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach


Thoughts? Comments? I would love to hear them! Just click on "comments" at the end of every post; they can be left anonymously without being a subscriber or follower (although I would love if you were)!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Welcome. Stop In And Look Around.

If you're just finding this blog today because of my article on The Mother Company, welcome! I was very excited to be asked to contribute something to their site as I love what they're all about. Like the mothers who started The Mother Company, helping parents to raise the social and emotional intelligence of both themselves and their children is one of the main reasons I began writing this blog. 

If you liked the article they chose to post, you might also like the original one which spawned the idea: The Superhero and Princess Epidemic or a recent post on emotional intelligence: What I Am Is. But I do write about everything from sleep deprivation to why motherhood is like good therapy. I began writing this blog thinking I would focus solely on parenting twins only to find out as it went along that even my most twin-specific articles were helping inspire parents of singletons. So, if this is your first time, stop and look around. There is something for everyone.

For those of you that are loyal readers of this blog, this is both a big thank you and a nudge to check out The Mother Company, it's a wonderful concept for a company that caters to families. They have chosen not to ignore the fact that media is a part of our culture; but, not unlike the superheroes I wrote about, they have chosen to use its power for good. Their video, "Ruby's Studio: The Feelings Show" is a wonderful example of how TV can actually help our children access and express strong, overwhelming emotions. Although our children watch very limited television at this stage, they have been fascinated by Ruby's Studio and we have actually used the vignettes as reminders of how to handle sadness or how to understand what anger looks and feels like. The site is full of insightful, entertaining articles as well. Here's the one I wrote: The Superhero and Princess Epidemic

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments about my blog. You can leave them by clicking on "comments" at the end of every post, and can do so anonymously without being a subscriber or follower (although I would love if you were)!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Little Help From My Friends

I have noticed throughout my life that I prefer to remain in the background a bit; I’m a bit uncomfortable when I am the center of attention. And yet, I love writing this blog, which requires me to expose myself quite often and in a very intimate way. One of the things I hate most is to ask other people for help. I am great at giving help; I extend myself, my time and my resources to help anyone in need without a moment's hesitation, but when I need or want something it requires a great deal of effort on my part to get past the emotional stuff that holds me back. I’m working on it. It’s not a habit I want to pass on to my children (particularly my daughter, as I think the caretaker role is one that women assume quite easily).

And so, in an effort to break this habit of sitting quietly and wishing someone would do as much for me as I do for them, I am here to ask you for a favor. I have been nominated for two blogging awards which, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing. But then I thought, how much more wonderful would it be to win? Well, there's the catch. The nominating for The Bump's "Best Multiples Blog" was over as of Monday, and I'm very excited to be included in their list. Now I sit and keep fingers crossed. However, in order to be named one of Babble Editors' "50 Best Mom Bloggers", I do need your help. I need my wonderful readers, and their wonderful friends, to take a minute to vote for me. I have shamelessly added a big button to my site and links in this post to click which make things easy. I'm all about making things easier for you! You do need to scroll down or do an alphabetical search for my blog as, with every vote, the number order changes....



The reason I started this blog was to share my experiences and resources with other parents of twins. I have been happily surprised to learn that there are so many parents of singletons who are enjoying what I write about as well. With each post I write I learn more about myself and my children and get to share that journey with other parents. Thank you for being a part of that and thank you, in advance, for helping me reach even more people. 

Now get out and vote! :-)

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Halloween Candy = The Meaning Of Life


This year my children got to Trick Or Treat for the first time. I think it blew their little minds to simply knock on strangers' doors and be greeted with candy. Candy! Our kids don't eat candy and rarely have chocolate so this was indeed a treat. I've allowed them a couple of pieces each day since Halloween even though I cringe as they gnaw away on Crunch bars or 3 Musketeers. Today, as they sat in the back of my car after I picked them up from school I handed them two Tootsie Pops. After a minute or two I explained to them that inside the hard candy was a surprise: a chocolate tootsie roll center!

That was it, the questions began. "How long will it take to get to the surprise?", "Can I bite it?", "Why is it taking so loooong?" and so on. After explaining many times that you must lick the hard candy until it all goes away I heard myself saying "Don't be in such a rush; just enjoy getting to the surprise".

Then it hit me: we spend so much time rushing through life, rushing through the time we have with our children, all to get...where? What if we could remember to slow down and savor each lick? What if we were able to remember that it is the journey and how we travel it that matters most? Would the Tootsie Pop center be more delicious when we get there? Or perhaps would we, like my children did today, be uninterested when we finally reach the goal because we had simply enjoyed the process of getting there and that was enough? 

A friend recently gave me Katrina Kenison's "The Gift Of An Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir" with the comment, "This book changed my life". Many of you have probably seen Kenison reading from her book on a YouTube video; but if you are like me, holding the actual book in your hand and following her page by page as she struggles to accept her journey through life, is even more pleasurable. My day with my sticky-faced, lollipop eating children over, I sat down to read and opened up the book to this passage:
"Joseph Campell suggested that there is a unique track, a particular life adventure, waiting for each one of us, and when we step forward to embrace our adventure, doors begin to open that we never saw before, doors that could not open for anyone else.  
It was Campbell's belief that our real work in this world is to achieve integrity between what we believe and how we live. 'The privilege of a lifetime,' he wrote, 'is being who you are.' But Campbell also warns that the journey is difficult, that a thousand distractions, and countless obstacles, stand between us and our own truth.
I would add that the journey is ongoing. Not a day goes by that I don't still need to remind myself that my life is not just what's handed to me, nor is it my list of obligations, my accomplishments or failures, or what my family is up to, but rather it is what I choose, day in and day out, to make of it all. When I am able to simply be with things as they are, able to accept the day's challenges without judging, reaching, or wishing for something else, I feel as if I am receiving the privilege, coming a step closer to being myself."
 And so I sit with two Tootsie Pop sticks in my hand, both amused and amazed that Halloween candy opened up this particular door for me. Every day I struggle with my distractions, my longings and the thousands of obstacles I set in my own way; if my goal is to be the best mother I can be, I have to slow down and savor each delicious moment. Otherwise, in my rush to reach my goal I will, like the owl in that old commercial ("A one, ta-whoo, thrrrree"), miss out on so much. 

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Thoughts? Comments? I would love to hear them! Just click on "comments" at the end of every post; they can be left anonymously without being a subscriber or follower (although I would love if you were)!
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