October 2010 - Posts
My twelve year old is a delight-in public. Other parents tell me how polite and helpful and mature she is. But at home, it can be a different story. And I was getting tired of bearing the brunt of her temper.
When I asked my friends for advice, they recommended trying a "Family Meeting" to discuss how our family talks to one another. I had heard about Family Meetings before, but they had always seemed too structured, too artificial, and somehow too old for my children.
Not so. Twelve is the perfect age for a family meeting. In 6th grade, the Waldorf curriculum studies Rome, in part because the Romans knew how to hold a meeting and set up a State. Like members of the Roman Senate, children at this age are interested in rules and consequences, and want a say in creating and enforcing family "laws."
I mulled it over for a few days, looked up some articles on the web, and described the idea to my husband who was willing to give it a try.
I was still thinking about how to present it to the children when an off-hand comment led to tears and I saw the perfect opportunity for a family meeting. Unfortunately, no one else saw it that way.
Suffice to say, there were more tears and more hurt feelings after the "meeting" than there were before. And looking back, I can see why.
First of all, the timing was terrible. We were meeting right before dinner after a long stressful day when emotions were already running high. Everyone was tired and hungry and no one had the resources to be anything but cranky and selfish.
Second, we hadn't established any ground rules-simple things like "no interrupting," "no name calling," "no blaming," and "start your sentences with ‘I feel....'" So of course we interrupted and blamed and said things like "I feel you are a mean, horrible daddy!"
The parents were no better, but I'm too embarrassed to tell you what WE said.
BTW, this story does have a happy ending but that will have to wait ‘til next month.
In the meantime, don't even think about having a family meeting until everyone has had a good meal....
November 1 is "All Soul's Day" or ("Dia des los Muertos " in Mexico); a day to remember family members, friends and even pets that have passed away. In Mexico, families bring food and flowers to the cemetery. In our neighborhood, when trick or treaters come to the house, we have a small memory table waiting on the front porch.
We ask the children if they would like to light a candle for someone in their family who has died. All of the children--both young and not so young--are enthusiastic about playing with fire! We supervise them carefully, and sometimes they tell us about their grandmother or dog while they are lighting the candle and collecting a treat.
Children are often more natural and matter-of-fact about life and death than we adults. They are our teachers in this respect! Giving them a time and place to remember those whom they have loved and who loved them can be very affirming. Consider making a memory table on or near November 1. Talk about those people in your family's life that have died and look for photos to display.
If you choose to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, this can be done very simply. Take a trip to the garden or go on a walk with your children to gather flowers, leaves and other treasures from nature. These findings will bring seasonal color to the memory table. Place a cloth on the table, add a vase of flowers, then let your children decorate the table with the collected items.
On November 1, photos of departed family members, pets or friends can be added. Candles can be lit in the evenings during dinner or whenever a bit of ceremony seems in order. Parents and children can then offer recollections of special moments or appreciations while the candles burn. Over the years, this small tradition will keep wonderful memories alive.
The July issue of Newsweek published "The Creativity Crisis", an interesting article on declining creativity scores in America, especially of children in kindergarten through sixth grade. The article speculates on the causes of this creativity crisis; implicating trends in American education towards standardized curricula and nationalized testing as well as time spent in front of the TV or playing videogames.
Creativity, defined as "the ability to produce something original and useful", is crucial to our survival. "All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care." The author also cited an IBM poll where 1500 CEO's identified creativity as "the No. 1 ‘leadership competency' of the future."
The ability to think of multiple possibilities and imagine how they might work-these are skills being lost to many young children today in a society focused on academic results. As a Waldorf parent, it's reassuring to hear mainstream pundits value the kind of balanced right brain left brain learning demanded by Waldorf schools, where the academics of creativity are deeply woven into the curriculum.
Another great resource on this topic is the book "A Whole New Mind: Why the right brainers will rule the future" by Daniel Pink. It is a fun read and another reminder of how children can benefit from a Waldorf education.
We have friends who go to the mall on Halloween, but we've always been a neighborhood trick or treat kind of family-- in large part because we live in a neighborhood with so many families. There's just nothing quite like running around in the cold and the dark, wearing a costume, and knocking on your neighbors doors to ask for candy.
But if you don't live in a neighborhood that lends itself to trick or treating, or if your children feel too young to trek from door to door, you can still have a great Halloween experience with a Halloween party.
Years ago, when our neighborhood was filled with children under two, my friend Cathy orchestrated a Halloween Party. Starting at 5pm and finished by 6:30, it was the perfect venue for our young children with early bedtimes, while leaving plenty of time for the older kids to canvas the neighborhood.
Every family brought a jack o' lantern and a treat or an activity-and everything: the food, the decorations, the crafts, everything was "potluck" with just a smidgen of guidance from Cathy.
Cathy cleared out her garage for the venue and lit the place with two eerie red light bulbs and lots of candles. I made cardboard signs in my drippiest, creepiest handwriting warning party goers to "Turn back now!" and "Don't say I didn't warn you..." as they made their way along the alley to the party.
Jean showed all the kids how to make ghosts with tissues and Tootsie Pops. Theresa told a mesmerizing, not-so-scary ghost story. Ann carved a jack o' lantern face into the cantaloupe centerpiece of her fruit salad. Diane made popcorn balls.
The children paraded in their costumes and won ribbons for "Pinkest Princess" and "Fastest Gun in the West"-categories created on-the-spot by Cathy's lightening fast sales and marketing mind. The kids bobbed for apples, danced in the glow of a dozen jack o' lanterns to "The Monster Mash", and went home to bed with a few treats and a head full of memories.
One of my favorite authors, Wendy Mogel, has a new book coming out this month for parents of teens and almost teens called "The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers". I've already cleared a space for it on my shelf.
I still remember when I first heard about Mogel's 2001 book, "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee". I'd read a few parenting books, but none that caught my attention like this one.
The subtitle is "Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children" but you don't have to be Jewish for Mogel's message to resonate. It's really about building a parenting blueprint that draws on your family's core spiritual values, and how to hold fast when those values are at odds with the dominant culture. (Which is admittedly, an area where the Jews have many centuries of experience.)
For me, Mogel's book gave satisfying answers to questions like "How do I teach gratitude to my children?" "How do I discipline?" and "What about chores?" Her advice was clear and confident; and it helped me be a clearer, more confident parent.
My oldest child was five when I first read "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee", and five years later I still refer back to Mogel's book when I need reminders to help center my parenting in a culture that is often at odds with what feels best for my children.
Many of fall's wonderful root vegetables get their start in summer, when the young crop may be found beautifully displayed with their attached greens, looking very alluring in their finest greenery. I'm thinking of beets, turnips, and even radishes - the more common summer to fall root veggies. While the greens are delicious and the vegetables tender, root vegetables come into their own later in the year after frosts have taken their greens and sweetened their flesh.
Beets of all colors taste great and can be used interchangeably, but it is red beets we're most familiar with and which are more readily available in the winter months. Also delicious are golden beets and chiogga beets, which are candy-cane striped. Neither of these varieties will leave your hands and cutting board red, either!
Enjoy the nutritious greens when available, and pay attention also to the differences in them between the three varieties. The greens of red beets are similar to chard while the other two varieties have milder, more delicate greens. Our family has for years enjoyed beet green pesto made with the greens of golden or chiogga beets, or a mix of the two. It's wonderful as a sandwich spread or tossed with pasta and the last of the season's tomatoes. Simply adjust the olive oil for a thicker pesto for sandwiches and add more oil later for pasta.
Beet Green Pesto
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3/4 - 1 cup cashews
2 bunches beet greens, any variety, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup grated swiss type cheese (Emmentaler is our favorite)
1/4 - 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper to taste
- 1. Chop garlic and nuts in a food processor. Add beet greens and process until well blended. Add cheese and process again until blended.
- 2. With the processor running, slowly add oil until desired consistency is achieved. Use less oil if you wish your pesto to be a spread. (You can always add more later if using it for something different.) When desired consistency is reached add pepper and pulse a few times to mix.
- 3. Use your pesto as a spread on crostini, for sandwiches, swirled in soups, or add to hot or cold pasta. Makes about 1 cup.
We also enjoy beets roasted and marinated in reduced syrups, served alongside casseroles or with a lunchtime sandwich. Try a lemon-butter mixture tossed with parsley, fresh orange juice with ginger, or ginger with cider vinegar. A bit of sugar or honey will sweeten the reduction.
Another favorite pairing for beets is walnuts, made extra special if you live where local walnuts are harvested in the fall. Walnut oil is found at specialty stores and while pricey compared to olive and other oils, it's worth the expense as it's used sparingly yet gives dishes an exquisitely rich flavor. Try the two flavors paired simply in a vinaigrette on a bed of greens or as part of a more elaborate fall salad.
Beets with Walnut Vinaigrette
2# small beets, trimmed
2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
3 tsp. balsamic vinegar
12 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. walnut oil
3 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
Italian parsley, chopped
Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- 2. Leave about an inch of the stems as well as the tails on the beets. Scrub them and put them in a baking dish with 1/4 inch of water. Cover, and bake the beets until they are tender but still offer a little resistance when pierced with a knife, about 25 - 45 minutes. Let cool; then peel and quarter.
- 3. While the beets are baking, prepare the vinaigrette. Combine the vinegars and salt, then add the oils.
- 4. While the beets are still warm, dress them with the vinaigrette and the walnuts and parsley. Taste, and if they need to be more tart add a little more balsamic vinegar. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Serves 4 to 6.
French Winter Beet Salad
(adapted from "Fresh From the Garden Cookbook" by Ann Lovejoy)
For the Dressing:
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
1/2 cup walnut oil
1 Tbs. Dijon style mustard
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground pepper
For the Salad:
3 crisp eating apples, peeled, cored and diced
Juice of 1 lemon
1# beets, cooked and diced (cooked as above)
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 bunch Italian flat parsley, stemmed, for garnish
- 1. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a lidded jar and shake well to emulsify.
- 2. In a serving bowl, toss the apples gently with the lemon juice. Add the beets and walnuts, then toss again with the dressing.
- 3. Garnish with parsley. Serves 4-6.
If, as a child, you got to pick out your own pumpkin from a whole field of possibilities (or from an overflowing bin at the farmer's market), you're not like to forget the day. If your family lives in the city, visiting a farm is also a great way to help your child(ren) build a connection to the seasons and growing; the cycle of seeds, plants, fruits and lo and behold, SEEDS again!
Check online for places to go (LocalHarvest.org has information on U-Pick farms and more all over the US) and remember to bring along proper shoes or boots and outerwear. Fields can be mucky. Take a picnic lunch and make it a day's outing if you have time. Let the children experience the shape, form and weight of their pumpkins by carrying their pumpkins or pulling them in a wagon. A pumpkin that's too big to lift may be awe-inspiring, but lugging around their own perfectly sized pumpkin will teach children more.
Enjoy the pumpkins on the front porch or steps for a few days before carving them. They only last for two or three days in the house after they have been carved before getting moldy and starting to melt, although that is a good lesson in the life cycle of a plant, too.
In Europe, the tradition of hollowing out a large turnip or beet or potato and putting a candle in it evolved from the earlier Celtic practice of keeping a light burning all night. In the United States, European immigrants found the pumpkin to be the perfect vegetable for making Halloween lanterns or Jack-o-lanterns.
Pumpkins are essential for Halloween decorating, both inside and out. While glitzy decorations in the local stores may beckon and beguile, pumpkins are best set off by things you can gather or make with your family. Other items that you might be able to find in your neighborhood, even if you don't have a garden are: bare branches or ones with a few scarlet leaves still attached, cornstalks, dried grasses, poppy flower heads, thistles or bright orange Chinese lantern plants, and grape vines. Try draping reusable cheesecloth instead of the ubiquitous polyester cobwebs, or making black construction paper silhouettes in the windows, and put lots of tea lights around the room and on the dinner table.
Nibble on some roasted pumpkin seeds, admire the glowing orange globes, and dream about planting your own pumpkin patch next summer.
I remember the year my then nine year old got her hands on a costume catalog. We try to keep unsolicited mail from crossing our threshold, but this one slipped through. After nearly an hour of intense scrutiny, she showed me her choice: the Pirate Wench.
I looked at the pouting, provocatively posed child model; and like so many parents made the mistake of blurting, "You want to look like THAT???"
Her hopeful, eager face immediately clouded over and settled into a mutinous scowl. "Why don't you like it?" she said warily.
"Ummm, why do YOU like it?" I countered, now furiously formulating a damage control strategy.
"I asked first."
"All right then," I stalled. "Well, ummmm...it's looks like you'd freeze wearing that-and it seems a bit expensive for some shredded cloth." Whew. Now we were back on familiar footing: budget and health.
"But it doesn't have to be that one," she protested. "Just something like it. "
And that is where the real conversation began. Halloween costumes can be an expression of so many different things. For some children, a costume reflects what they want to be. For others, a costume gives them a chance to confront their fears and play at being what they would never dare be.
It turns out that my girl didn't really want to look like a seafaring strumpet. She simply wanted to look dashing and adventurous and pretty and pirate-y. We solved the problem with a black wool jumper pulled over a puffy white blouse and petticoat. A wide leather belt for her cutlass, a hat pinched to tri-corn proportions, and a toy parrot on her shoulder gave her all the swash and buckle she needed.
When we can slow down and hear what our children are really asking for, things often look better than we first imagined.
In their formative years, children are open to everything around them-- that is how they learn. Most parents quickly find out that everything we do and say around our young children will be mirrored back to us, perfectly timed and nuanced. When we see how deeply they take the world in, our sense of responsibility suddenly becomes even more awesome than we first imagined. How can we be worthy models for them? Not without being much more conscious than we were before becoming parents.
Are we willing to choose what our children are exposed to and when? This takes consciousness and courage, given the overwhelming influences on children today. Advertisers target children more intensively every year. This reality in itself can be disturbing. However, the content of the advertising and media images is of equal concern.
Extensive use by the media of sex and violence are particularly problematic. Isn't it amazing that children's cartoons contain more acts of violence (26 per hour) than adult programs? Recent research has connected aggression in children with their viewing of violence on television or in video games. The American Academy of Pediatrics has become so concerned about children's premature exposure to sexual imagery in all forms of media that they want doctors to ask parents about their children's media exposure at every well-child visit. These are not new trends, but they continue to intensify.
What can a parent do? First of all, we need to remember that we are the natural and rightful filters for our child during their tender years. Our children look to us for guidance about what is important in life and how to be in the world. Any gaps that we leave will be quickly filled by other influences. It is our job to say, "Yes" to some things, "No" to others and also, "When you are older, you can....."
A helpful guiding principle is that there is a right time and season for everything. What is understandable and therefore appropriate for a teenager is not necessarily so for a 12-year-old; a 9-year-old can cope with more complex social situations than a 6-year-old; a five-year-old handle some choices much better than a 2-year-old. "When you are older, you can..." gives them something to grow into and to look forward to.
Children also need heroes and heroines. We will talk about that in another article. In the meantime, protect your own children from images that you feel are unhealthy or ones you know they are not old enough to understand. Be brave.
Family Year is an on-going collaboration of parents and teachers who met through a Waldorf school. We are real people raising real children; and our real lives are by turns nourishing and stressful, challenging and joyful. But our experiences with Waldorf education and our friendships with one another inspire us to bring more harmony and balance to our families' lives. Family Year is our way of sharing our questions, conversations, and discoveries with you.
At the heart of Family Year is a monthly calendar. It reminds us that we all live embedded in various earthly, cosmic, and cultural rhythms. Tuning into nature, the seasons, and the unique qualities of each month is a simple but profound way to move in harmony with the changing year. Flowing with these rhythms, we'll post our favorite ways to nourish our families, connect with nature, create beauty, and celebrate life.
Every season and every new stage of growth also brings its challenges. How can we meet our children appropriately as they mature and change? What about the changes that we go through as parents? Each month at Family Year, we will explore relevant cultural issues, answer questions for today's parents, and share helpful resources. We hope you will join us.