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Posts tagged ‘parenting’

Gardening, Parenting, Composting

I’m reading another amazing parenting book. I’m not even up to Chapter One yet. That’s how good it is, I’m still reading the introduction, and I’m highlighting like mad and writing notes in the margins.

The book is The Gardner and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik. I can’t even remember for sure how I got onto this book. I think I went on Amazon to order Between Parent and Child, (the most absolutely awesome parenting book I’ve ever read), and down the bottom under the heading “Other books you might like” this book was listed.

The thing is, a few months ago, the fabulous Alexsandra Burt (who I call my Continuum Concept Coach) and I were toying with the idea of writing a “Continuum Concept in the Modern World” book. We started off by really drilling down on adversarial relationships. For some reason, the parent-child relationship seems to be fraught with adversarial attitudes – first on the part of the parent “Why can’t I get my child to sleep/stop breast feeding/not suck their thumb” etc. And then, on the part of the child ,“No! I don’t want those scrambled eggs!!”

I had asked her, “When did we first become adversarial?” Because in the continuum, there’s cooperation uber alles. And in nature there is so much more cooperation than competition, but what we focus on (at this period in human history) is the competition, aka adversarial relationships. So, before our continuum got screwed up – we assume that we were all about cooperation. What changed that? I asked. And her immediate response was, “Agriculture.” When we moved from a subsistence lifestyle to a cultivation lifestyle, we were in competition with the weather. We wanted the weather to do xyz for our crops to survive, so we survive. Prior to this (in theory) we were much more “Oh, it’s raining!” and then moving on. In fact, in another part of my writing life, I have been researching Te Ao Māori, and learned that they have a proverb:

He ua kit e pō, he paewai kit e ao.

Rain in the evening, eels in the morning.

in other words, there is always a silver lining. In other words, continuum living.

So, after this conversation with Alexsandra, my eyes were primed for the title of this book, and I read the blurb, and thought, OK, I’ll get that one too.

And this is what I’ve loved so far. I’m going to paraphrase here.

To be: I am, you are, she/he is, they are etc.

We are comfortable saying I am a wife/husband/partner, I am a daughter/son, I am a sister/brother, but we somehow are uncomfortable with the “being” part of being a parent. To be a parent, has become parenting. We’ve made it into a verb. We haven’t verb-ed wifing, husbanding, sistering, brothering etc. You get it, right?

A parent has become something you do.

Which, on the surface might just seem like semantics. But bear with me.

Probably about six months ago our family delved into the world of composting. Like a good little unschooling family, we went to the library and got out some books on the topic. One of them, the name of which I never recorded (sorry) said, there are two types of gardener: the type that gardens for the flowers, or the fruits or the veggies (ie, the outcome), and the type who gardens for the soil (ie, the experience of creating the environment). Be the second type.

Gardening for the soil means putting in all the unseen, back breaking, poo shovelling hours, and foremost, making compost. It means making habitats for all the good bugs to thrive, and other stuff that good soil has. It means you’re getting enjoyment out of the creation, without really focusing on the outcome. Which reminds me of this absolutely amazing stick-in-my-head blog post from Ben Hewitt.

And that gardening-for-the-soil is the analogy that this book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, uses for being a parent (so far, again, I haven’t even hit Chapter One yet!) Be a parent like a gardener who gardens for soil health. Create the conditions, the environment, the support, the nutrients, the space, for children to grow to be whoever they are.

That’s the being of being a parent.

As opposed to the doing of parenting which looks a lot more like Do this, so that you’re child won’t have a tendency towards axe-murdering. Don’t do that, or your child will be unable to maintain meaningful relationships. Do this so that your child won’t get left behind at school.

There is a lot more shaping and “getting your child to” involved in the doing of parenting. Which brings us back to parenting as an adversarial relationship; somehow bending the very being of your child in the hopes that you can have some kind of influence on the outcome. The outcome being a productive, connected, securely attached, able to operate in the world – take your pick – adult.

Alexsandra used to talk to me a lot about being “on the same team” as my children. I don’t know how many hours I spent on Skype with her, trying to get to the bottom of my, often extreme, irritation with my children. Somehow I’d turned into this fractious, annoyed, grumpy, unstable Mama. I hated it. Ok, let’s not act like I’m cured. I hate it, present tense. It’s still something I grapple with. And Alexsandra tried a few different ways to get me to see what was going on – one of them was talking about adversarial relationships. But, I was still grumpy, I was still not being the parent I wanted to be, that I knew my children needed me to be. So, I did what I always do – I quested for the answer – hence my addiction to parenting books.

And, with Between Parent and Child, and The Gardener and the Carpenter, I feel like I’m getting close to the answer. I feel like all those things that Alexsandra was trying to get me to see have primed me for seeing what these books have to offer.

I’m close, but I still wrote to a friend yesterday who asked me how I was:

“Grouchy. And trying not to be.”


We’re doing an Advent Calendar based on activities. This is the seventh year we’ve done it. I get to feel virtuous about doing things like baking cookies for our neighbours (after eating two batches ourselves and then me fighting off the kids with a fish slice to let the third batch cool and actually make it to the neighbours this time) and donating food and drink to the food bank. Also, we get to have fun – one night we went up to the beach to see the stars come out and drink hot chocolates and sing carols. I LOVE carols. I sing them heartily – they are the only songs I can sing in tune (I think).

Two days ago our Advent Calendar Activity was to go to see the movie The Grinch. But I got so irate at the shit the kids were doing that I totally revoked the movie-going-activity in a series of moments that could have been successfully documented for a blog named Parenting as an Adversary 101.

I screamed “That’s IT!” as I kicked off my jandals with such vigour that one rebounded off the kitchen wall (I was standing in the lounge – that’s at least a 4m trajectory, which I might have been proud of under different circumstances), “NO MOVIE!!!!” And then I called my husband at work and screamed down the phone at him about our TERRIBLE CHILDREN, knowing in some small corner of my mind that his colleagues would probably be able to hear me, but that small part was by no means big enough to wrestle the part of me that needed to vent to the ground. While I was doing this my nine year old son used the nail scissors to cut a slit into the change table mat. So, you can see we were very successfully playing that game of “I want you to be JUST AS FRUSTRATED AS I AM IN THE HOPE THAT YOU WILL STOP YOUR FRUSTRATING BEHAVIOUR SO I’M GOING TO BE A SHIT”. Which always ends badly. Like, with your husband’s boss cackling from over the other side of the office and your facade of calm earth mother shattered for good.

I piled all the kids in the car (them sobbing, me fuming) and went and did the jobs I was meant to be doing that day. Needless to say, I was in a bad mood. One unsuspecting woman walked past us as I was opening the boot of my car in a parking lot and said gayly, “Oh! Watch out for heads!” and I thought WTF? but asked, tersely, “Your head? or hers?” (meaning Joss’s) and the woman, with sharply declining gaiety, replied, “hers” and I replied, “Yep, I knew where her head was.” The woman ducked for cover.

One of the jobs was to go to the Post Office. At this time of year, and in that kind of mood, the Post Office is top of the list of Places I Should Not Go. But I went. And it went about as well as you’d imagine. I got pissed off that there were no bags in-between the $4.50 size and $7 size. WTF NZ Post?? So stormed out of the post office with shit unposted. The next day, in a better mood, I went to a different Post Office (I have some dignity) and just paid the damn $7 to be done with it.

Today after a discussion about the shit that went down in the lead up to my revoking Grinch viewing privileges, we went to the movies. When we got back, we finished some Christmas presents we’d made for some friends of ours, and then hot-glue-gunned some drift wood together to make a wreath for the front door. I was delighted to find that there was still a nail in our front door from last Christmas, and hung the wreath up. Job Done. We listened to supposedly Christmas-themed music on Spotify, and it was a picture of home-education bliss. And then Joss somehow smooshed Louis’ finger into a glob of hot-glue resulting in a 5th degree burn and a wailing Louis and me having to drive to the pharmacy because we had no burn bandages in the house because the last lot we had Louis played with even though I told him not to because when we needed them we wouldn’t have them. On the way out the door (which, perhaps, I opened with a little more vigour than absolutely necessary) the wreath fell off and it’s now a pile of sticks lying in our hallway.

A perfect summation of my experience.

PS. No, there’s not a happy ending. This is life. One day just rolls into the other, and all we can do is hope that Parenting as an Adversary 101 doesn’t call to offer us a job.

I have time.

I sat in a circle of women today. Up until now, when someone offered me a chance at sitting in a circle with women I have said a silent “Fuck” in my head and an audible, Um, I think I’m due to wash my hair. (I don’t wash my hair)

But, the universe conspired. I’ve had lovely guidance from two women this week. And a third sent me a text message yesterday inviting me to this circle today. I said Yes, and surprised myself. I knew I could trust the woman who asked. I knew she would have solid boundaries for who would be there. I knew I would be safe.

And I was. And one of the things I thought while in the circle was: I have time.

I was drinking in the quietude of the space. The peace, and the low thrum of insect life doing the work of spring. I was a little bit sad that this kind of peace and quiet is not often a part of my life right now. And straight on the heels of that thought was: there will come a time. One day, my life will be quiet, and contemplative, and peaceful. One day. I don’t need to rush to that day, or force it, or try and shoehorn it into my life.

My life right now is mostly loud, and busy, and sometimes chaotic. I often don’t get to finish thoughts, or sentences, or toiletting in peace. But something happened today, in the company of women, to make me regard this noisy time as a taonga. One that in its own right needs to be held and revered. If I can imagine cupping my hands around it, and holding its energy as we muddle through each day, I think when I’m old and my kids are old and the times are peaceful and slow, I will call it to mind and look back with nostalgia, I will hear the laughter and the fighting and the chatter with a smile.

Diary of An Unschooling Family, Day 4

So, now that we’ve established that Ron takes a way more attractive selfie than I do, let’s move on.

Today my mum had the kids for the afternoon-evening, so that Ron and I could do his accounts, and so that we could go to a movie. That picture, from which we have moved on, is us all glammed up outside the Globe Theatre in Ahuriri.

Parenting is fucking difficult, and marriage is fucking difficult. I think marriage and unschooling-parenting is like a recipe for some fucking trialling times as we all confront our shit. So, that’s hard too.

A lovely friend of mine, in response to an SOS message of mine, once said to me, “I don’t know anyone in the active phase of raising children who doesn’t divorce-fantasise.” I call on that piece of wisdom frequently.

Because it’s true, we do play out “what-if” scenarios. We do wonder if this is “it”. We do despair that it’s every going to get any better.

But also, “the active phase of raising children” What a sanity saver that phrase has been for me. This is a “phase” – a phase, by definition, PASSES!!! When I am despairing and wondering and fantasising, I cling to that.

And today, I was super excited about the shelves that we’re putting up in the laundry – the builder brought them back with a nice rounded corner and I took them out the back and sanded them and painted them with their first coat of “High Tea” and I had my headphones on, but nothing was playing through them, and because I was so excited, I started singing, “I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it” quite loudly and when I walked into the shed Ron was there with a smile on his face totally loving the fact that I was singing off key at the top of my lungs because I was excited about the curve of a shelf and the colour High Tea.

And tonight, while we were watching the movie, I laughed at the top of my lungs at a funny bit and he laughed in equal measure at the movie and at me.

And, he brings me coffee in the mornings and after nearly twenty years together I’ve stopped having to send it back for either more or less milk.

It is  really challenging sometimes, and I’m probably never going to post a selfie of us losing our shit at each other, or scowling into our bowl of activated paleo muesli because something one of us said three days ago is still pissing the other one off. You’re probably never going to see that photo. But, those days happen. And I think they’re part of the deal. They’re there so we can grow through them.

I once asked a friend of mine who was married to the same man for I think about 50 years, what she thought the key to a happy marriage was, and her answer was instant: sheer cussedness.

It’s just as well we’re all quite stubborn then.



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