Teaching a Squirrel to do Tricks, Almost

happiness is process not outcome

No squirrels were harmed in this post. Image by easterngraysquirrel.deviantart.com

Eric* and I knew we could teach a squirrel to do tricks.

First, get it to eat food we’d thrown.

Then, get it to eat from our hands.

Next, train it to come when called.

Ultimately, get it to wear a costume and ride a squirrel-sized bicycle.

We talked about this at length, interrupting each other eagerly as new thoughts occurred to us. I was so thrilled at the prospect that my spine seemed to jingle with sparks.

Eric and I didn’t normally play together. We didn’t normally speak to each other. Boys and girls almost never hung out together in my neighborhood, and besides, he was going into fourth grade that fall while I’d only be a third-grader.

But Eric and I were united by a vision. Sitting in his front lawn, grass bristling against our legs, we bragged about how much animals liked us. Eric said he could whistle and a bird would land on his arm. He didn’t offer to demonstrate that skill right then. I implied I was some kind of mystic who could hear animals talk to each other. I was pretty sure I could hear that squirrel, sitting on its haunches in a nearby tree, practically begging us to be its friend.

All our efforts to lure it closer failed, so we reluctantly decided to build a squirrel trap. Not that we were the trapping sort of kids, but we’d make it up to the squirrel once we’d captured him.

Enthralled, we didn’t pay any attention to the likelihood of our vision becoming a reality. The moment was everything. We were in the powerful state of flow. You know what this feels like — invigorating, enlivening, wholly absorbing.

Process actually has more to do with our happiness than outcome, according to some psychologists. Maybe this is what happens when highly successful people don’t appear all that blissful once they’ve gotten to the top of their fields. Celebrities, sports figures, and others sometimes reach what seems to be the pinnacle of wealth and status only to self-destruct. Eric and I weren’t likely to reach the pinnacle of squirrel training, but we didn’t care.

We rustled up some scrap wood, a hammer, and nails. Squatting on a driveway too hot to sit on, we tried to transform small and oddly shaped plywood pieces into the trap of our dreams. When that failed we simply tried to build some kind of 3-D shape. We failed, failed again, failed a few more times, then resorted to something else. A cardboard box.

This material was easier to handle but not easy enough. The dull mat knife we were allowed to use barely sawed through the cardboard. Our attempts at making a door we could shut from a distance gave us several quite painful rubber band-related injuries. We slowed down as we realized our grand plans might not be workable. Not because it wasn’t a great idea, we agreed, but due to our construction skill deficits.

Both of us still loved the vision of that squirrel becoming our friend. Even if he didn’t wear a costume and learn to ride a squirrel-sized bicycle, we were happy there in the driveway where we’d realized magic was just a little too hard for us to build right then. There was awkward silence.

Thankfully, two bigger boys rode by on their bikes and mocked Eric for playing with a girl. Relieved, we took this as an excuse to go our separate ways, completely satisfied with our attempts. That squirrel never knew how close it was to fame.

 

*Name changed just in case Eric is now a squirrel whisperer.

45 Cures for Cabin Fever

 

fun inside activities, cabin fever cures

Stuck inside? Make cabin fever fun by trying something new.

Set a new world record and register it on Recordsetter.com.  There’s even a junior division, with records like Most Consecutive Pieces of Dog Food Caught By a Dog,  Youngest Person to Recite the Periodic Table, and Fastest Time to Paint a Rainbow.

Stage an indoor snowball battle. Grab some paper from the recycling pile, crumple into balls, and throw.

Yarnbomb a piece of furniture.

Turn your daily lives into a guessing game. Take turns issuing a challenge and writing down everyone’s guesses, then prove each other right or wrong. The proof part is particularly fun as everyone hurries to count, measure, and calculate. Kids might choose to guess how many shoes are in the house. How many books. How many countries are represented in a drawerful of shirts (as long as they have origin tags). Guess the measurement of each other’s heads. How many inches it is from the front door to the TV, the computer, the bathroom. Guess how many days or hours each person has been alive. How long each person can stand on one foot. Well, you get the idea. The kids will not think this is fun if you have them guess how quickly they can put away their Lego. For more ways to make fun into math and math into fun, check out these 100 Math Activities and Resources.

Communicate via banana. Write a message or draw a picture on the skin of a banana using a toothpick or pencil. It’ll darken within an hour.

Paint without using your hands. Try taping the brush to a remote control toy, dangling it by a string, or rolling it across the paper. Or you might paint as this talented young artist does, by holding a paint brush in your mouth.

Make geodes out of eggshells and Epsom salts.

Start inventing. Save cardboard boxes and cardboard tubes of all sizes, along with string, rubber bands, lids, paper clips, yogurt cups, and so on. Distribute equal amounts of this “junk” so kids can build whatever they choose —- like a junk marble run or wall ball drop. Try a specific challenge, similar to the old TV series Junkyard Wars.  Kids can invent sorters that send pennies down one chute and dimes down another, bridges that hold weight, catapults that toss ping-pong balls, or simply let inspiration hit.

Make a batch of Make Ahead Pizza with this recipe from Attainable Sustainable.

Help out the birds (and squirrels, they’re hungry too). Fill orange halves with birdseed, make a birdseed wreath, or coat pinecones with peanut butter and roll in birdseed. Keep the binoculars and bird guide close for bird watching. To attract even more birds during the winter, consider putting a heated bird bathon your deck or porch railing.

Play with tape. Rolls of painter’s tape or masking tape can spur new play ideas. Toy vehicles and action figures can travel along roadways made of tape stretched along on the floor. Overpasses, buildings, and other roadside features can be made from shoeboxes and other cardboard discards. Tape a giant checkerboard on the carpet, then use two sets of matching items for playing pieces. Tape a hard-surfaced floor to mark out hopscotch or skellzies. Stretch tape, sticky side out, across a doorway and take turns throwing crumpled paper at it to see if it sticks.

Make paper dolls (or paper dinosaurs, robots, elves, whatever) from stiff paper, connecting the limbs with brads. Then cut out accessories. Use large sheets of paper to draw backgrounds. These paper characters can act out stories with endless variations.

Camp in. Put up a tent in the living room, construct forts using couch cushions, or toss a sheet over a table. Such secret hideaways are a portal to make-believe. (A flashlight per kid really amps up the fun.)

Make the easiest homemade cheese. You need only one ingredient other than milk.

Build geometric sculptures. This simply requires toothpicks and miniature marshmallows. It’s a great way to make free-form sculptures while discovering some principles of geometry. As the marshmallows dry they’ll adhere ever more tightly to the toothpicks. After a day or two of drying the kids can decorate their sculptures with markers or paint if they’d like.

Make marshmallow shooters and target shoot with those leftover marshmallows.

Set up an obstacle course. Release some pent-up energy with a temporary indoor obstacle course. It might consist of a few chairs in a row to wriggle under, six plastic cups to run circles around, a squared off area to perform ten jumping jacks, then three somersaults down the hall before turning around to do it all in reverse. Older kids can set up a simple obstacle course for smaller kids. The adult in charge might want to put safety rules in place before the frenzy begins.

Learn to play a free instrument you already have. Really, it’s in your kitchen.

Go through old photos to see how places where your family came from have changed. You can pin them on Historypin.com, send them to the area’s historical society, or post them on social media tagged to the town.

Paint the tub. Just mix up some bathtub paints, then put kids in a (dry) tub to paint away. When they’re done they can clean it up and themselves with water.

Puzzle it out. Set out a big, somewhat complicated puzzle and leave it out in an area where everyone can work on over a period of days until it’s done.

Make Flarp. It’s said to have the same properties as Silly Putty, except it also farts. (You know this will be a hit.)

Get moving. Balance a book on each head and see how far kids can walk before it falls off, use pillowcases for gunny sack races, tape zigzag and dash lines on the floor to follow for a run and jump race, bat balloons back and forth, turn on the music and dance, call out animal names (snake! kangaroo! sloth!) and move as those animals move, tape bubble wrap to the floor and jump.

Mix up some elephant toothpaste

Make a movie. Steven Spielberg started making movies as a kid so be sure to save your child’s film for posterity. Fame may hit. (Spielberg’s mother let him dump cans of cherry pie filling in the cupboards that slowly oozed out so he could film a horror movie. She probably wanted a free afternoon to watch her soaps, but there’s something to be said for creative license….)

Perform good deeds. Bake some goodies to share with a neighbor, local firefighters, or your librarians. For more family volunteering ideas, check 40 Ways to Volunteer, Toddler to Teen.

Draw on the windows. Use washable window markers to play tic-tac-toe or hangman. Or draw some sunshine.

Make fairies and superheroes out of wooden clothespins.

Snowy out there? Check out 15 Smarty Pants Ways to Enjoy Snow.

Goo around with homemade (and safe for toddler) slime.

Make your own family board game. Keep it simple for small ones, add twists and more complex questions for older kids. Together you can incorporate inside jokes, everyone’s names, favorite places around town, whatever your family decides.

Go postal. Consult 38 Unexpected Ways to Revel in Snail Mail to find out how you can find a pen pal, register for a mail exchange, mail strange objects without packing them in a box, and more.

Make Cosmic Suncatchers using glue, food coloring, and plastic lids.

Get your kids to predict the future. Better yet, write to your future selves. The kids may want to write to themselves as they’ll be in ten years or at your age. Don’t make this a child-only activity. Sit down and write to your future self too. You’ll want to include a description of an average day, list your favorite foods and activities, and imagine what you’ll be doing at that future date. Now seal those envelopes, write “Do Not Open Until ______” on the outside, and keep them somewhere you’ll remember.

Start throwing things. Juggling boosts brain development and reinforces a growth mindset. It’s also fun once you get the hang of it. Here’s more about juggling including how-tos.

Build a craft stick catapult.

Create sock puppets. Add features like ping-pong ball eyesyarn hair, and a cardboard mouth. For more ideas grab a copy ofHow to Make Puppets With Children or 10-Minute Puppets. Once your puppets are ready, create a theater out of a large cardboard box, practice a few scenes, then put on a performance.

Play vocabulary-boosting dictionary games. Trust me, these are actually a lot of fun.

Record a broadcast. For inspiration, you might listen to a recording of an old radio show, like the original 1938 broadcast of War of the Worldsthen make your own audio story complete with narration and sound effects. Toss in some campy advertisements for extra fun.

Learn magic tricks via KidZone magic tricksAbout.com’s easy card tricks for kids, and video tutorials on Mighty Tricks. You might also want to consult Knack Magic Tricks: A Step-by-Step Guide to Illusions, Sleight of Hand, and Amazing Feats and Kids’ Magic Secrets: Simple Magic Tricks & Why They Work.

Stage a treasure hunt. First, hide a prize. The prize doesn’t have to be a toy (it could be a snack or pack of crayons). Next, hide clues. For non-readers the clues can be rebus pictures, digital photos, or magazine cut-outs. For readers try riddles, short rhymes, or question-based clues. Each one should lead the child to a spot where the next clue is hidden. If you have more than one child let everyone search for clues and figure them out together. Or stage treasure hunts for each child in turn using the collaborative efforts of those who are waiting. Once kids are familiar with treasure hunts they can easily set them up on their own. To get you to play they may turn off your cell, hide it, and chortle gleefully while you track it down.

Create art out of salt and glue.

Slide on the steps. Flatten cardboard from a large box and place over stairs so kids can race cars up and down, roll balls, or pretend to be mountain-climbers. Couch pillows at the bottom help cushion sliding mountain climbers.

Teach traditional clapping games to small children

Have a picnic. Yes, a picnic. Fling a tablecloth or beach towel on the floor. Eating on the floor may be novel enough but make sure the meal consists of picnic-y finger foods for real authenticity. You might want to fire up the grill to cook hot dogs and roast marshmallows. If you’re eating on a tiled floor in the kitchen consider amping up the fun by ending the picnic with a brief rainstorm you impose with a squirt bottle. Then again, maybe not. The kids will get you back some day.

 

Holding Together

Hubble telescope poem

Too Little

 

Nose pressed in tiny squares

against the screen, I watch

casual laughing gods

walk home from school.

I envy their long legs

and glossy notebooks,

their unseen power

to unlock

words from shapes,

 

My sister drops A+ papers

and library books

on the speckled Formica table.

Asks me how many times

a butterfly flaps its wings.

Tells me I’m wrong.

Eats two cookies.

Announces we’re made up

of tiny things called cells,

made up of tinier things

called atoms,

also made of what’s smaller.

 

The kitchen walls stretch

to galaxy proportions,

the table a raft among stars.

I hold tight to my chair

and concentrate,

keeping my short legs,

my clumsy fingers,

the balloon of my body,

from dissolving into bits.

 

Laura Grace Weldon

 

Originally published by Litbreak. 

Poetry Writing Hacks: 7 Playful Ways To Create Poetry

Spine poetry

Spine poetry

I’m eager to liberate poetry from that stuffy good-for-you closet where it’s so often kept. That is, as long as I can do so playfully.

Each time I lead poetry-writing workshops I learn from students as young as eight years old. I see them write in a direct line from experience to meaning, use metaphor intuitively, and fiercely adore their own work. Our time together often looks like crafts or games, but it’s much more. We draw faces on peanut shells, glue them to cardboard, and write poems around them. We use bright permanent markers to adorn an old footstool or rocking chair with poems to make a classroom Inspiration Seat. We ask stones to tell us what they’ve seen over their long geologic history, then write down our impressions. We compose from the perspective of carrots as we bite, chew, and swallow them. We write on prayer flags to let poetry fly with the wind. We write and release poems in public places for others to find. It’s never, ever boring.

The following poetry writing hacks are fun to do with kids. But don’t forgot they’re great to do with anyone—your book group, at a family reunion, as a party game, even to liven up a meeting.

 

Stack up spine poetry

Ever noticed a stack of books with titles that, together, form unintentional wordplay? That’s spine poetry. Over 20 years ago, artist Nina Katchadourian started the Sorted Books Project,  creating clusters of books that display clever idiosyncrasies and themes. (Some images were published under the title Sorted Books.)

To create your own spine poetry start by looking through books you have on hand and pull out titles that appeal to you. Then arrange them spine out to form poems. Take a photo to preserve your literary remix. If you’d like, share your images on Twitter as #spinepoem or #spinepoetry.

 

Play Exquisite Corpse

This absurdly pleasing game was dreamed up during the Parisian Surrealist Movement. There are a variety of approaches. Basically you start with a good-sized piece of paper. Each person writes a phrase or sentence, folds the paper to conceal lines from previous contributors, and passes it on to the next player with only the newest passage revealed. Keep going around until the paper is used up, then read the whole construction aloud.

 

Encounter unexpected poetry

Collect a variety of everyday objects. You might come up with an apple, peanut butter jar, mitten, shoe, flashlight, toy dinosaur, and nightlight. Then label each object by taping a word where it can’t be readily seen, perhaps folding the word to the inside or hiding it underneath. You don’t want the labels to read “apple” or “peanut butter jar.” Instead use unrelated yet evocative words like “beast,” “messenger,” “neck,” “song,” “intention,” and so on.

Each person picks one of the objects and writes a poem fragment leaving a blank for the object. If someone gets stuck, encourage them to simply write two or three adjectives and a verb. You might study the apple, then write, “Red, round _____ crisp on my tongue.” When the apple is turned over, a label reading “silence” transforms the poem fragment into: “Red round silence, crisp on my tongue.”  Or you might pick up the flashlight, write, “High intensity _______ let’s me see where I’m going” only to find that it’s labeled “wrath.” Change word tense to fit the poem fragment as necessary. If inspired, turn the fragment into a longer poem.

 

 

Keep a perpetual poem going

There’s something freeing about adding to an evolving verse. There are no rules, only possibilities. Start it with a line stuck with magnets on a file cabinet or fridge door. Or paint a cupboard,  wall, even your car with chalkboard paint  — keeping chalk handy for anyone to use. Or cut strips of paper to leave out in a container next to a jar of markers and a box of poster tack, letting contributors stick the next line right on the wall. In my house we use dry erase markers on a laminated world map mounted in the kitchen.

 

Make collage poems

Collect words and phrases from all sorts of sources such as food containers, magazines, and junk mail. Provide heavy paper or mat board so each person can glue their word choices into a collage poem.

 

Write an erasure poem

Choose a page from a magazine, newspaper, or unwanted book, then blot out some of the words to reveal a new meaning. You can also make erasure poems digitally using the Erasures site via Wave Books. They provide classic texts and the e-tool for erasures. Check out Austin Kleon’s erasure poems in his book Newspaper Blackout.

 

 

Pull a poem from a bag

Romanian poet Tristan Tzara was denounced by his fellow Surrealists when he proposed making a poem by pulling words from a hat.   In 1920 he wrote “Dada Manifesto on Feeble & Bitter Love” which contains these instructions:

To Make a Dadaist Poem

Take a newspaper (or magazine or other printed resource)
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
Them poem will resemble you.
And there you are – an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

 

This article was originally published in Poet’s Quarterly.

I Want You To Meet Vimala McClure

Vimala McClure, developed infant massage techniques for healing and bonding

Chances are you or someone you know has been touched by Vimala McClure’s work.  I’m honored to let you know more about this extraordinary woman through our recent interview.   

Please tell us about your introduction to infant massage at an orphanage in India.

In 1973, I was 21 years old. I had been practicing yoga and meditation for a few years, and I wanted to be a yoga instructor. The only way to do that, at the time, was to travel to a training center in Northwest India. The training center was also an orphanage; I was expected to work in the orphanage by day, and a yoga monk would come in at night to train us.

During the time I was there, I made a discovery that was to substantially redirect my life. I loved the children, who always came rushing to me, wanting to hug me, to sit on my lap, and for me to sing with them. I noticed that all the children I saw, both in and out of the orphanage, were delightful. They were open and relaxed and always smiling. In spite of their extreme poverty, they were happy. They had a relaxed way of being in the world, and I often saw both boys and girls walking around with a baby on their hip.

One night after class, I was walking around the compound. I approached the sleeping quarters of the children and peeked in. A girl, about 12 years old, was massaging a baby. I waited until she was finished, and went in to talk to her. She told me that massage, especially for babies, was traditional. An Indian mother regularly massages everyone in her family and passes these techniques on to her daughters. At the orphanage, the eldest massaged the little ones nearly every day. I asked her if she could show me how to do it. She happily agreed, and allowed me to massage the baby, who was so relaxed and sleepy. I learned how to use oil, warm my hands, and do each stroke. The baby connected with me immediately. She gazed into my eyes, smiled, and drifted off to sleep.

I was profoundly touched by this experience. I thought about it a lot. I began to think that maybe the children in India were so relaxed in the way they carried themselves because they had been massaged every day in their infancy. It was a type of nurturing I hadn’t seen in the United States. Though I noticed how cuddly, relaxed and friendly the Indian children appeared to be, it remained for me to become pregnant a few years later before I started seriously thinking about the advantages of infant massage. During my pregnancy, I became interested in all aspects of childbirth and infant development, and began studying everything I could find. I read the book Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montagu, and I was determined to massage my baby as part of our everyday life. I read through the bibliography and decided to find the research upon which Montagu’s claims were based. I had a feeling that this information could be translated to humans. Montagu had made this connection throughout his book, and thinking about massaging my baby was suddenly very exciting.

To make a very long story a bit shorter, after I had massaged my baby for several months, I decided to share this wonderful art with other parents. I put together massage strokes from the Indian massage that I knew, from yoga, from reflexology, and Swedish massage. I designed a curriculum for a five-session course and began to teach. After a couple of years, I wrote a manuscript which, through many magical moments, was published by Bantam/Random House in 1979 (I revised and updated the book
six times, including a new edition coming out next year). I founded a nonprofit organization, the International Association of Infant Massage, trained instructors all over the U.S., then trained seasoned instructors to be Instructor Trainers. We now have chapters in over 70 countries, and a Circle of Trainers with over 50 Instructor Trainers from around the world.

What are some of the benefits of massage in pregnancy?

In nearly every bird and mammal studied, close physical contact has been found to be essential both to the infant’s healthy survival and to the parent’s ability to nurture. In studies with rats, if pregnant females were restrained from licking themselves (a form of self-massage), their mothering activities were substantially diminished. Additionally, when pregnant female animals were gently stroked every day, their offspring showed greater weight gain and reduced excitability, and the mothers showed greater interest in their offspring, with a more abundant and richer milk supply. Evidence supports the same conclusions for humans.

According to the latest research, women who experience stress, worry or panic attacks before and/or during pregnancy are more than twice as likely to report that their babies cry excessively. Experts suggest an infant’s excessive crying, if not from gastrointestinal colic or other physiological problems, may be due to the mother’s production of stress hormones during pregnancy, which cross the placenta and affect the development of a baby’s brain. A parenting specialist, Dr. Clare Bailey, said: “Mothers can easily get into a traumatic negative cycle when worrying about a newborn. The more they worry, the less they sleep and calm themselves, and the more they worry. Anxiety can make them hyper-vigilant, distressed by crying, and they can feel rejected by their babies. It intuitively sounds likely that a calm mother who feels relaxed, comfortable, and confident will be more likely to help a baby to self-settle. Babies can pick up emotional cues very early on.”

The research, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, looked at nearly 300 women who were in the early stages of pregnancy. They were asked about their history of anxiety and depression, and were interviewed during their pregnancy and until their children were 16 months old. A large percentage of women with anxiety disorders reported excessive crying following the birth. Further analysis found that babies born to women with an anxiety disorder were significantly more likely to cry for longer periods. It is possible for stress hormones to cross the placenta and contribute to an infant’s crying spells.

Mothers who have meaningful skin contact during pregnancy and labor tend to have easier labors and are more responsive to their infants. In addition, research has shown that mothers whose pregnancies are filled with chronic stress often have babies who cry more and for longer periods than those whose pregnancies were peaceful and supported.

What are some of the benefits of infant massage?

I think about the benefits in this way:

  1. Interaction: Massaging your baby promotes bonding; it contains every element of the bonding process. Infant massage promotes a secure attachment with your child over time. It promotes verbal and nonverbal communication between the two of you. Your baby receives undivided attention from you, he feels respected and loved. It is one of the only times that all of his senses are nourished.
  1. Stimulation: Infant massage aids in the development of your baby’s circulatory, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. It aids in sensory integration, helping your baby learn how her body feels and what its limits are. Massaging your baby helps make connections between neurons in the brain, which helps develop her nervous system; it also aids the generation of muscular development and tone, and contributes to her mind/body awareness.
  1. Relaxation:  Regular infant massage improves sleep, increases flexibility, and regulates behavioral states. It reduces stress and stress hormones and hypersensitivity. Massaging your baby creates higher levels of anti-stress hormones and promotes an improved ability to self-calm. It teaches your infant to relax in the face of stress. The “Touch Relaxation” which I developed is used throughout the massage; it is a particular way to teach your baby to relax upon your cue.
  1. Relief: Infant massage helps with gas and “colic,” constipation and elimination, muscular tension, and teething discomfort. It also helps with “growing pains,” organizes the nervous system, relieves physical and psychological tension, and softens skin. It helps release physical and emotional tension, balances oxygen levels, and provides a sense of security.

Is massage helpful for preemies and babies who are in poor health?

The premature baby’s first contact with human touch may bring pain; needles, probes, tubes, rough handling, bright lights—all sudden, after the warm protection of the womb. One of the first things parents can do to help and to begin bonding is to touch and hold their baby. This wonderful expression of caring contributes to both physical and psychological healing, not only for babies but for parents, too. Much of the anguish of those first days and weeks can be minimized if parents can feel some sense of control.

My book, and particularly the new edition (to be released next year) has a large chapter on this subject. The International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) is the world leader in nurturing touch, primarily due to our focus on observing cues that are in alignment with a baby’s ability to receive touch. We have pioneered and refined touch concepts over decades through working with various people, including professionals in many cultures globally.

Through their cues, preemies tell you what kind of touch they are able to receive at any given moment. While the research conducted by Tiffany Field at the Touch Research Institute in Miami, U.S.A. showed good outcomes from massaging babies in the NICU. I have come to believe that actual massage techniques are better when used after the baby is home, and that holding techniques—communication through touch—are better for premature babies. The same goes for medically fragile babies.

Some of our senior instructors began to notice that premature babies were giving “disengagement” or stress cues when being massaged. Cherry Bond, a Neonatal Nurse and IAIM Certified Infant Massage Instructor, developed a “5-Step Dialogue” that helps parents to do something with their babies rather than to their babies. She says, “Every cue is like a single word in a sentence, which is part of a whole story that parents can use to participate in a unique dialogue with their baby.” Certified Infant Massage Instructors with IAIM can help parents through this 5-Step Dialogue, which includes how to observe babies’ cues, how to understand the concept of permission, and various ways to touch and hold the baby. In most cases, we recommend that parents do not massage the baby until they are home and the baby can be considered a “newborn.”

“Kangaroo Care” is now being used in NICUs everywhere. The idea is for parents to hold their infants on their chest—ideally, skin-to-skin. With infants that need a lot of medical intervention, this can be difficult, but not impossible. Nurses can help you place your baby on your chest, with whatever tubes and wires are connected to her. Research shows that stable parent-infant bonds are fundamental to healthy child development. For parents of babies born prematurely or with special medical needs, this early bonding can be interrupted by the complex medical care required in a NICU. An ongoing study conducted at a large metropolitan NICU, presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition in 2015 shows that a little skin-to-skin snuggling between mothers and babies can go a long way toward reducing maternal stress levels. The study examined mothers’ stress levels before and after they held their babies “kangaroo style” (skin-to-skin inside the pouch of the parent’s shirt) for at least one hour, and the results were remarkably positive.

Can you tell us about a few mothers and babies you’ve worked with over the years?

This is a bit difficult! With years of teaching and magical moments happening in just about every class, it’s hard to choose! I worked for several years with a pediatric practice in Denver, Colorado. When parents brought in a colicky baby, the doctors would refer them to me. I would go to their homes and work with them, first teaching them the Colic Relief Routine I developed, then, after the colic was resolved, I taught them how to massage their babies. One mother was very distressed about her crying baby. “He just doesn’t like me!” she said. I could tell she was disengaging — withdrawing from her baby.

After talking with her about colic and reassuring her that she was doing fine as a mom and her baby was simply in pain, I showed her the Colic Relief Routine, and asked her to do it at least once a day (preferably twice) for two weeks, and I would return in two weeks. When I returned, I saw a beaming mother, wearing her baby on her chest. She told me that at first her baby fussed and cried through the routine, but after a couple of days, he began to pass gas and fecal matter toward the end of the routine. Then her baby began “working” with her, bearing down when she massaged him, followed by yoga postures that are part of the routine. She said that afterward, he would pass gas and his crying diminished. At the two week mark, he was a happy baby, no longer crying for hours every day.

She learned how to do the full massage, and no longer had to do the Colic Relief Routine. Both mom and baby loved the massage, and I could see the bonding happening before my eyes, whereas before there was withdrawal. What would have happened if she hadn’t learned these techniques? This question made me more committed to making infant massage a part of everyone’s baby care repertoire.

Please talk about how you incorporate principles of yoga, meditation, and the ancient wisom of the Tao Te Ching into parenthood.

I had been practicing and teaching yoga and meditation since I was 20 years old. After my children were grown (actually, when they were teenagers), I studied Taoism and the Tao Te Ching— a book of aphorisms by the ancient Chinese warrior-philosopher Lao Tzu. I was very inspired by this book and what it had to say about how a warrior should conduct himself. Halfway through, I saw that much of the advice in this little book would be timely for mothers as well. Being a good mother is being a warrior in many ways.

Our family went on a vacation to Kauai, and I brought the book with me. We drove up to the top of the highest waterfall in the world. There was an open space with a couple of tables and chairs, overlooking the incredible mountains and ocean on Kauai’s south side. My family went hiking, and I stationed myself in this space. The beauty was astounding, with a foggy mist hanging overhead, and views out over the ocean as far as I could see. I went through the Tao te Ching and transliterated every aphorism into something that would relate to motherhood. I finished the book in one day.

The publisher New World Library — whose authors have included Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, and Shakti Gawain — published The Tao of Motherhood in 1991, 1994, 1997, and a 20th anniversary edition in 2011.

Can you share a bit about your own journey, transmuting significant difficulties into deeply loving and useful work?

I worked very hard to bring my vision — of infant massage being an integral part of our culture — to fruition. I also traveled to India many times during those years — from 1976 through 1988. In 1989, I had a Traumatic Brain Injury from a bad fall in my art studio, which was followed by a severe case of Fibromyalgia (which was, then, practically unheard-of). I was unable to teach for the next 24 years; the illness — chronic, widespread pain that never ceased —  was exacerbated by complications and completely disabled me. I stayed in touch with my growing organization, advising, writing, and attending conferences when it was possible. Having practiced meditation and yoga since my early 20s, my spiritual life got me through this fiery test of my body, mind, and soul. In 2014 I had a miraculous recovery; one day I woke up pain-free and totally healthy in every way. My doctors were, and continue to be, astounded.

I was able to step back into my organization, continue writing and working to bring awareness of infant mental health and infant massage to the world. Today I am healthy, energetic, fit, and deeply happy with my life. I live alone now, and my adult children and three grandchildren live fairly close. I am delighted to be able to be “me” again for my kids. They, too, are amazed and happy to “have mom back.”

How can we learn more?

I write a blog for our international newsletter, which readers can find at our international website and for our U.S. site.

To find a Certified Infant Massage Instructor go to  iaim.net  or infantmassageusa.org

Readers can find my books at Amazon. com:

Infant Massage–Revised Edition: A Handbook for Loving Parents

The Tao of Motherhood

The Path of Parenting: Twelve Principles to Guide Your Journey

how infant massage can help babies heal, bond, and sleep well

 

I Live in Dichotomy House

bull steer

I’m standing at the kitchen counter rolling out crust to make an entrée my son wants for his birthday. Beef pies. They won’t be filled with just any beef, but the tender flesh of a two-year-old steer named Clovis who spent his whole life on our little farm. It’s hard to reconcile my feelings with the facts. Right now I’m dicing the brisket, a place where Clovis liked to be scratched.

Years ago my daughter made an excellent case for raising a dairy cow as a learning experience for her and homegrown way for us to procure healthy grassfed milk we could turn into yogurt, kefir, and cheese. On her birthday we gave her a red halter and soon after we got a lovely Guernsey. Isabelle changed her life. All our lives

The spring that Isabelle gave birth to her first bull calf was another game-changer. Initially I tried to delude myself that little Dobby  could be trained to work as an ox or that we could find him a place in some farm animal sanctuary. Delusions they were indeed. Our only option was to raise him for a year or two, knowing all our hand-fed carrots and apples couldn’t forestall his eventual fate.

When he was small my daughter halter-trained him, leading him out the pasture gate to fresh grass. Even later, at 1,600 pounds, he followed her just as future steers would do. Long before they had to leave, she wisely insured they’d be calm and unafraid for the day they’d be led to the truck taking them away.

It’s a hard truth indeed to realize that calves who love to be brushed, calves who cavort in exultation when the gate to a fresh pasture is opened, calves who are clearly attached to the mother who birthed them and continues to care for them, cannot live out their natural lifespans. We consoled ourselves knowing that at least here our steers lived every day of their lives with their mother, grazing and nursing in peace until the last day they breathed. And that Isabelle could live out her natural lifespan, more than three times longer than dairy cows are typically permitted in the U.S. This is rare, almost unheard of, on today’s farms.

But I veer from my point. (This veering is a chronic problem of mine.)

My scruples once ruled. My children were raised on vegetarian food made from scratch. I used to be pretty darn strident about this. Heck, I used to be pretty strident about all sorts of things, from education to politics. My scruples haven’t changed, at least I think they haven’t, but my ability to live with dichotomy has.

Maybe it was precipitated by that not-so-great dinner of bean patties with buckwheat groats and mushroom gravy, but at this point three out of four of my offspring now include meat in their diets. (Yes friends, it’s true, our dictates don’t inform our kids’ choices. ) My husband once ate meat only at restaurants and other people’s houses because I couldn’t bear to have the flesh of once-living creatures in our home. Then he became a hunter. People dear to me quite happily flourish on the opposite end of the political spectrum and I do my (sometimes faltering) best to establish common ground, because really, every one of us wants the same things —-among them the freedom to live in safety, do what enhances our lives, and find meaning in our everyday activities. People dear to me also raise their children very differently than I’ve chosen, from sleep training to stringently academic schooling to tough love.

Every year I’ve learned more about accepting, even embracing, differing viewpoints. It’s not easy. There’s plenty of kvetching, from me and surely from the people who do their best to put up with me. This is a very big deal. It’s the foundation of peace, the only possible way forward for our species.

I slice up the very flesh I once lavished with rubs and scratches,  then I roll out dough (yes, with whole grain flour) because my son hopes I’ll try the Cornish Pasty recipe he showed me. (For vegetarian family members, I make spinach pies that are refreshingly free of contradictions.)

I have no philosophy that fully explains this contradiction. But I try to stay awake and aware as I make food for someone I love out of the flesh of an animal I once loved. I reflect sorrowfully that, since last spring, we have no cattle at all on our back pasture. I’m sure I miss those mindful beings far less than my daughter must.

I wash the wooden cutting board, wipe the counters, and consider how complicated and paradoxical life is. We live on life, pass from life, and life goes on. I don’t know what to make of it except to rationalize a second glass of wine.

Stories of Hope

aI asked people to share an experience they’ve had this year that’s brought them hope. Here’s what they had to say.

Emma Durand: It seems like a simple thing, but I planted pots of herbs, tomatoes, and flowers on our apartment balcony. It surprised me how actually attached I got to those plants. I got excited by new tendrils and buds!

Mark Wilson:  I work with high school and college-aged kids in a community program. They’re  good at dismissing bs and thinking for themselves. I can assure you, this upcoming generation of young men and women are making this world a more connected and accepting place already.

Niki Weldon: My mom’s group gives me hope and strength. We relate, share, grieve, love, care, help, and generally create a village.

I hope we as a parenting society we can return to a time where we can watch out not only for our own kids but for each others’ kids in a way that lets us get to know our neighbors again. We all are going through life and can do something as simple as helping a stranger carry bags to their car since you only have one bag and they are about to drop their milk.  I think maybe that is what is missing in our immediate society now. It is very much I, I, I, and not enough community. But my mommy group gives me hope that maybe we (as a society ) are coming full circle back to that.  (She also shared a link.)

Bernie DeKoven:  People playing playfully. Games, maybe, or rolling downhill or naming clouds or skipping. Whenever I see people playing – families, kids, adults of any age – I feel something very much like hope for humanity. 

Loving, too. It does very much the same for me, restoring hope. Loving their pets, their kids, their world.

Kimerly Wagstaff:  Every time I hear a child’s laughter; the words ‘thank-you,”I love you,’  ‘I’m sorry.’  Every sunrise and sunset…all these give me hope.

Charles Rogers:  My daughter-in-law and son’s Christmas gift was a sonogram of a 9 week fetus! 

Tobias WhitakerI think it is all around. It is easy to find yourself sidetracked by a very small but vocal minority that has dictated the American (global) consciousness because of the narrow scope of the media. But I have found that I get along very well with my neighbors even though we may have some very different views politically and philosophically. I think that when you talk face to face about what you have in common all the other nonsense drifts away. You may be surprised, or maybe you wouldn’t, how many people in my neighborhood stop by to chat with my children while they are walking their dogs or out for a stroll. How many people want to talk gardening or engage in friendly chatter when we both know that if we compared notes on religion or government we would be on opposite ends of one another. But we respect one another and that gives me hope.

With that said I find hope and inspiration in my children’s laughter, they remind me to be present, that this particular moment is what matters most. I find it in the resurgence of wildlife around my home, for example in the 40+ years I have lived in my town I only began seeing bald eagles about 5 years ago, somewhat regularly. I find it in the people (right-wing and left-wing) embracing traditional agriculture in a hot zone for natural gas extraction. There is hope in the endless opportunity of the internet to communicate with and influence people of good intention. There is hope simply in the fact that conversations such as this exist!

Though I am very realistic about the urgency of some issues I do believe truth has awakened. I believe, personally, that is why the toxic members of our global society have gotten so vocal. They see their ability to manipulate slipping away.

Martha Eaton: The fact that the Ohio state board of education is rethinking the number of standardized tests given to children attending public schools. While the early changes are far from substantial, this discussion gives me hope that teachers will be allowed to make instructional decisions based on developmental characteristics instead of what is going to be on the test.

Kevin VincentOne refugee child was safe somewhere in our world.  My hope is that our hearts will have empathy for the little ones. 

Ali Baylor: I am an ecotherapist/nature educator in Florida. Our farm is closed over the holidays, so our weekly homeschool kids have to miss out on a few weeks of nature classes. One mom told me what her child said a few days before Christmas, “Mom, I can’t wait for the holidays to be over so we can go back to Ms. Ali’s farm!” Wow. Nature (1); Santa (0)! There ARE families rearing their children to be conscious.

Ann Krier:  Watching my son attempting to diaper his one year old. I almost did not give birth to him, but that’s a story for another day.

Katherine Clark:

The FBI has made animal abuse a federal offense.

Because of cell phones (which I usually hate) police abuse has been filmed and, slowly, I truly believe the system will change.

A socialist is running for the Democratic nomination and doing really well. He might get it. Who would have thought? 

Lauren Seaver:  Gathering with a tribe of other unschooling families for a weekly potluck always feeds my soul. In addition, spending every morning with an amazing group of 3, 4 & 5 year olds at our pre-k co-op is the most heart-lifting part of my day. 

Amy Chan  I’ve been having a rough time this year due to losing my job on top of getting a divorce. You know what brings me hope? A two-year-old mixed breed dog I adopted from the shelter this year. He gets me out to the dog park in just about any weather, gives me a reason to talk to people, and teaches me to live with enthusiasm. Now I see what unconditional love really is.

Leslie Boomer:  Because we have a Savior I have hope. Every day.

Bob Montgomery: Life without hope is death, a living death. Living a life of service as inspired by Jesus cements that hope.

Saraswati Namaste:  My trip to India where I was shown/taught the oneness of all & to actively love the world despite (assorted dreadfulnesses go here). And learning the lightness of simplicity. And biggest of all, that there are millions of souls around the world doing wondrous things for others in big and small ways, leading quiet but wholly dedicated lives of profound service. Every day 24/7 for decades. The pebble in the pond inspiring others to emulate them. As that desire to serve, to make love manifest in the world, continues its relentless, outward expansion love will triumph.

Bill and Kathy Johnston: We have never, ever been more hopeful. Here’s why. This autumn we, along with several other people, started an interfaith dialogue group. We sent invitations to every single house of faith in our city (and followed up with phone calls to a mosque, synagogue, and Zen center in hopes of real diversity). The invitations basically explained that each month we’d be reading a work that could help us more deeply understand different faith traditions, then we’d be getting together to discuss it. The local paper picked up the story before our first meeting in September and the response has been exceptional.  So far we have read passages by Christian theologian Frederick Buechner, Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, and Buddhist nun Pema Chodron.

We urge you to give this a go where you live. Here are the basics. Arrange to have monthly meetings in a library room (a safe, non-denominational place that’s also, at least where we live, free). Set up ground rules about respectful discussions. Email an article by the author (solicit suggestions from the group for upcoming reads). We also send around a sign-up sheet asking people to bring snacks and we provide coffee, tea, and water. There’s a reason for the food; it gets people to stand around talking to one another and those developing friendships are, in essence, one of the biggest reasons for doing this.

Amalie K.:  In March I was pushing a shopping cart full of stuff out of Target when I fell in the parking lot. I was in excruciating pain, but the worst thing was that my three-year-old was sitting in the cart panicking because her mama was writhing on the ground.

Instantly, and I mean instantly, people rushed over to help me. A man took off his coat and laid it over me to keep me from going into shock, then he knelt on the slushy cement holding my hand. A woman held my daughter, reassuring me she would stay right there and keep her safe. Someone called an ambulance. Another person loaded my shopping bags in my car. The medics made sure they didn’t alarm my daughter with anything they were doing and were kind enough to wait to leave for the hospital until my mother got there to pick her up. My hip may have broken but my fears about strangers healed that day.

Michelle Wilbert:  My hope is always maintained and often increased by the sheer beauty and goodness that prevails in spite of all that seems to work against both. In some respects, it isn’t surprising that humans are sometimes bent towards evil. What is remarkable and stunning to contemplate is the fact of goodness; we, who can get away with everything from a poor showing in every human interaction or the most insipid mediocrity do, on a regular basis, conform to the highest reaches of goodness and light, giving to, sharing with, doing for our fellows great good out of a simple, human sense of kindness and fair play–we perform the everyday miracles of generosity of spirit that allows for continued hope–“the thing with feathers” to quote Emily Dickinson– to live in our hearts and animate our actions, giving us the strength to press on.

It’s Getting Better

 

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Pay attention to the news and it’s nearly impossible to be optimistic.  Lives shattered by terrorism, poverty, conflict, and prejudice. The Earth herself endangered by greed and ignorance. It’s enough to stomp out hope altogether.

Don’t let it.

There’s no denying we have work to do to heal one another and our lovely planet, but let’s pause to consider where we’re already improving.

 

We’re overcoming diseases at extraordinary rates.

  1. AIDs related deaths have continued to drop for the last 15 years in a row and new HIV infections among children have dropped by 58% since 2000.
  2. Malaria, one of the world’s top killers, is on the decline. Last year 16 countries reported zero indigenous cases of malaria. Globally, mortality rates from the disease have fallen from an estimated 839 000 in 2000 to 438 000 in 2015. In other words, an estimated 6.2 million people have been saved from malaria-related deaths over the last 15 years .
  3. The incidence of polio, which once crippled over a thousand children every day, has now been reduced by 99 percent. Only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, continue to experience wild polio cases.
  4. The painful parasitic disease, Guinea Worm, has effectively been eradicated.

 

Many more children are surviving childhood. 

Mortality rates for children younger than five have been cut in half since 1990 in virtually every country around the world. That’s about 19,000 fewer children dying every day this year compared to 25 years ago.

 

More people than ever have access to safe water and bathroom facilities. 

Over the last 25 years, an average of 47,000 more people per day were able to rely on a source of clean drinking water. Now 91 percent of the world’s population has safe water. This saves countless people from suffering or dying from water-borne illnesses.

Over two billion people have gained access in the last 25 years to what the World Health Organization politely calls “improved sanitation facilities.” In other words, 68% of the global population has access to a toilet — critical for health and improved living standards.

 

Fewer people are hungry.

The number of chronically undernourished people has dropped by 200 million in the last 25 years. That’s particularly impressive considering the world’s population increased by 1.9 billion people during that time. (The world produces enough food to feed everyone, but poverty, conflict, and harmful economic systems perpetuate hunger.)

 

More people can read than ever before

Today, four out of five people are able to read. In many regions of the world the majority of children and young adults are more literate than their elders, demonstrating that global literacy is rapidly increasing. At this point, nine out of ten children are learning to read.

Female literacy rates haven’t risen as quickly due to inequality and poverty, but in some areas, particularly East Asia, 90 percent more girls are able to read than 10 years ago. As female literacy goes up, other overall positive indicators tend to follow including decreased domestic violence, improved public health, and greater financial stability.

In the U.S., twice as many people are reading books for pleasure than they were in the mid-1950’s.

 

Internet access is spreading across the world. 

There’s been an eight fold increase in the number of people with access to the net in the last 15 years. Right now, there are two Internet users in the developing world for every user in the developed world. With this access comes better opportunities to network, build knowledge, create jobs, and stay connected with others.

 

The average person’s standard of living has gone up. 

Twenty-five years ago, nearly half the world’s population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day. Today, that proportion has declined to 14 percent. Around the world, the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped by half.

In the U.S., homelessness continues to decline. Over the past five years the number of people without shelter has dropped by 26 percent.

 

Right of indigenous people around the world to protect their land and their identity are, in many cases, beginning to be upheld.

For example, the Makuna, Tanimuka, Letuama, Barasano, Cabiyari, Yahuna and Yujup-Maku peoples of Columbia have won the right to preserve a million hectares of Amazonian forest where they will continue to act as guardians of the land.

 

Sustainability is accelerating. 

The U.S. and Europe, over the last two years, have added more power capacity from renewables than from gas, coal, and nuclear combined. Renewable energy jobs more than doubled in ten years, from three million jobs in 2004 to 6.5 million in 2013, and continue to grow.  Dramatic improvements in renewable energy technology have lowered costs while improving performance for hydropower, geothermal, solar, and onshore wind power.

Wind energy prices in the U.S. have reached an all-time low and there’s enough wind power installed in the U.S. to meet the total electricity demands of Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, and Wyoming. Investments in wind power are becoming mainstream, including projects being built for Amazon.com, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart.

Protected areas of land and water have substantially increased in the last 25 years. For example, protected lands in Latin America and the Caribbean have risen from 8.8 percent in 1990 to 23.4 percent in 2014.

In fact, more of the planet found protection in 2015 than ever before.  In the U.S., President Obama has designated 260 million acres as protected public lands and waters – more than any previous president.

This year nations are setting aside one million square miles of “highly protected ocean,” more than any prior year.  This area is larger than Texas and Alaska combined. These fully protected marine reserves are off-limits to drilling, fishing, and other uses incompatible with preservation.

 

Much more needs to be done to raise these standards and to deal with the political extremism, economic inequality, and environmental destruction that causes so much suffering. Much, much more. But taking a moment to consider these and other positive changes can empower us to accomplish even more.

 

Holiday Project Rush

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I’m a crafter wannabe with no talent to back up those aspirations. But my desire to come up with frugal and meaningful presents pushes me to attempt projects rather than stare dreamy-eyed at all the luscious offerings I can’t afford, the ones made by people with real skill.

Over the years my four kids and I have made hundreds of gifts: mosaic tiles, felted ornaments, hand-dipped candles in rustic holders, glass magnets, painted pillowcases, you name it we’ve probably done it. In most cases these projects came out reasonably well. Any flaws could easily be ascribed to the youthful nature of the participants. But now my kids are old enough to make or buy their own gifts, no need for mom’s help.

Yesterday one of my sons heated and hammered iron into an odal rune amulet, similar to the ones worn by his Scandinavian ancestors to ward off jötnar, those unhelpful yet powerful beings known as trolls. I want to wear one, or at least hang it near my computer where pesky trolls still lurk.

 

Another of my sons is doing woodworking projects. One is a simple board with a beverage opener mounted on it. But he’s hollowed out the back, where he’s installed a powerful magnet. When a  cap is popped off, it’ll cling like magic to the board just below the opener. Another of his projects is a five foot long custom rack for halters and ropes to be used in our barn. The wood on each is sanded and oiled to smooth perfection.

 

And my daughter has been making darling felt owl ornaments, inspired by her volunteer work at a avian wildlife rehabilitation center. These plump, stuffed little creatures are a hoot.

 

I had only a few projects lined up this year.

1. Homemade cocoa mix kits with chocolate spoons and homemade cocoa nib marshmallows. These are going into cookie baskets I give to neighbors and elderly aunt types.

2. A few felt ornaments (okay, I got the idea from my daughter), which I’ll use to adorn packages.

3. And my main project, cement stepping stones embedded with my friends’ favorite quotes. It was fun detective work finding out those quotes (including Virginia Woolf, J.R. R. Tolkien, and Buddha) but not so fun doing the project in a crowded garage.

I know leaving enough time is essential if I want to create in a lighthearted way rather than with that teeth-gritting get it done already attitude. But this year I got started too late.

Being short on time also leads to poorly done (okay: ridiculously bad) projects.

I hurriedly assembled my cocoa kits, meaning I couldn’t come up with more artful labels than old adhesive printer forms.

 

 

The felt ornaments, which I intended to look like quizzical chickens, were described by one of my helpful family members as strangled poultry.  I may just hang them on our tree o’homemade ornaments rather than give them away.

 

 

 

 

And I shan’t speak of the cement stepping stones, still sloshy in their forms.

At least my kids have learned to make their own projects joyfully, creatively, and occasionally ahead of time. Maybe my craft attempts aren’t the outcome of my artistic longings. Maybe generating kids who are themselves artful is what I’ve been working on all along.

Because this year’s gifts are still secret, I had to offer this throwback post from GeekMom.com

Toes Making A Fist

Toddler shoes so classic they're now on eBay. (image: JuneeMoonVintage)

Toddler shoes so classic they’re now on eBay. (image: JuneeMoonVintage)

There was an era when stiff white baby shoes were de rigur. Parents were assured their children’s feet wouldn’t develop properly without them. This was before the Internet, so it wasn’t easy to disprove industry lobbyists’ advertising campaigns, women’s magazine articles, and mainstream doctors repeating all the same falsehoods.

But my husband and I, being freethinkers, believed barefoot must surely be nature’s perfect design, so we didn’t get our first child shoes until he was nearly two. Grandparents on both sides muttered about our poor unshod child wearing hand-knit socks in the winter. When we finally broke down, we broke down completely, and ended up buying those same little white shoes.  (Freethinkers? Not so much.)

We knew we’d made a mistake. The shoes cost approximately the same as our weekly grocery budget. They seemed to cause our child to fall more often and made his gait somewhat awkward, so we put them on him infrequently.  The sound of those shoes clumping on the floor brought back memories, I swear, of wearing similar shoes when I was small except that mine had maddening little bells attached. <shakes fist on behalf of toddler selfhood>

We were determined to get more flexible footwear when we took our child to get his second pair a few months later. We eased his little feet out of the white baby shoes and the shoe salesman checked sizing on one of those metal measurers unique to shoe stores. (The term is Brannock Device, I looked it up.)

This time, we insisted on a soft pair of sneakers. The salesman knelt, put the shoes on, laced them up, and asked our little boy to walk in them. Our sweetie did as he was told. I don’t know if he he’d been wearing shoes he’d outgrown or if the new shoes finally fit his wide feet, but he took a few tentative steps and a big smile slid across his face. He said clearly, with the wonder of the newly liberated, “My toes don’t have to make a fist any more!”

The phrase has remained a family joke even though that toddler is now a young man (still with feet so wide they’re hard to fit). Each time I hear it I cringe to think of the pain his poor crunched up toes must have been in. And it continues to remind me that children, especially young children, can’t always tell us something is wrong. They accommodate as best they can to a tight fit, to falls, to an awkward gait, even to !#*! bells that jingle at every step.

Children accommodate to all sorts of things. That’s why we’re not aware they’re suffering from chronic headaches (as my daughter did) or meekly compliant around a babysitter who hits (as my friend’s son was) or have to battle rats that get in their bedrooms at night (as a child in our neighborhood did). We have no idea why it seems they’ve become clingy, whiny, or unreasonable.  Sometimes we can’t see any change in their behavior at all.

It’s a blessed relief when we’re finally able to figure out what’s wrong. Only then can we make it better.

Let’s remember to be on the lookout out for anything in our children’s lives that forces them to accommodate  to misery.  Let’s keep a look out for constriction and pain in our own lives too.

kids can't tell us what's wrong

I’d love to hear your own “toes making a fist” stories.