Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The essence of calm

I've been thinking about this for a while, off and on. Mainly because, if you were to consider what the essence of calm is, you would probably look for the opposite of me.

It's not really a Christmas thought, but this Advent had thrown it into sharper focus.

I've always wanted to be one of those graceful people, the ones who are likened to a swan. Me? While my legs are paddling frantically under the water too, unfortunately you can tell by all the splashing. And my face is all red and splotchy. And I'm exuding a kind of mild panic and chaos that has most sane people avoiding me, lest they catch the 'do-too-much-in-not-enough-time-and-badly' lurgy.

After agreeing to do too much this Christmas, as usual, and having more than a few concerned texts post seeing me (you'd never ask to my face...)  checking if I'm ok because I 'seem a bit stressed', I've started to think about this from a parenting perspective.

On becoming a parent, I re-evaluated a lot of my less positive traits - bad language, bad temper, bad moods - because I didn't want my daughter learning these things as part of her 'how to be a human' study. And I definitely didn't want her developing her own bad traits as a result of my poor self-control.

That's all a work in progress on its own, and I seem to be adding more and more character traits to my list of things to do better. But what of the 'do-too-much' syndrome? The headless-chicken behaviour? I wonder now if that is yet another trait I need to try to improve on. Is an air of chaos really something I want to teach her?

In my last job, before having my girl, I had a wonderful CEO - a visionary, who inspired and motivated everyone. And who had everyone in a fluster the moment she walked into the office. To try and protect those I lead from the immediate feeling of stress that accompanied every new business venture, I made as much effort as I could to push away my own tendency to flap. I tried to be a buffer between the chaotic brilliance of the idea and the methodical carrying out of the tasks needed to make it all happen. This was completely counter-me, but it was worth the effort to act against my natural tendencies - my team was much happier.

So, if I was able to make this much effort for my team, my workplace, surely I should be able to pour much more into setting an example for my little munchkin?

The wonderful Susan Sarandon playing Marmee -
look at that wise expression!
I have often struggled to be the person I want to be. When I was younger, I used to imagine Marmee from 'Little Women' sitting me down and telling me that I was 'more intent on reshaping [my] dear little nose then on fashioning [my] character!' That said (to Amy, actually), I always related most to Jo, being louder and larger than life while wanting to be - no, wanting to want to be - gentle and ladylike, but finding my own character fighting against it.

Now, I'm a 'Marmee' myself, I need to be doing the telling, not being told. I need to be the example to follow, not the mess being gently corrected. Oh dear.

So I guess I'll add 'being calm' to my list of character traits to work on. I'll gently correct myself (or at least try not to berate myself too severely) every time I catch myself flurrying around like a whirling dervish and catching up, or repelling, people in my hurricane.

A graceful swan - without the hiss...

With plenty of perseverance, one day, I'll be a swan, and hopefully, my little one will see a calm, graceful Marmee to look up to and try to emulate.

However, that wonderful saying that it takes a village to raise a child is true, and I can't have every good trait for her to learn from on my own. So if my swanlike aspirations fail, I'll just have to direct her to the more positive role models for calm and poise that she's sure to be surrounded by, when my own model is flawed.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Gifts of love

Welcome to the December 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Greatest Gifts
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have suggested go-to gifts and gifting experiences for the holiday season for all your loved ones.

When I was little, we had plenty. It wasn't much, but it was all we needed.

My parents were young when they had us, which meant young in their careers too, and I know that my dad, who was away with the Navy a lot of the time, always had a second job moonlighting as a chef or a farmhand when he was shore-based.

Not THE dress, but it's similar...!
My mum used to make a lot of our - and her - clothes, and my dad was a dab hand with the sewing machine too. Handy at quite a bit, actually - he made my brothers bunk beds, and when our tiny two bedroom house got too small for a family of 5, he turned the end of the hallway into my very own bedroom. Seriously cool - it had a cabin bed and everything.

And that way of life is how I remember the best Christmasses I had.

My all time favourite Christmas present - I must have been about 5. We were excitedly gathered outside the lounge waiting for daddy to finish shaving (which I now know he did to build the suspense more, given that he's usually the first to be heard at 5am on Christmas morning stage-whispering 'It's Christmas - can we get up now?!!'). After what felt like hours, and was probably around five minutes, the door was slowly opened, and there, hanging on the curtain rail, was my Christmas present.

Bright red needlecord with a white cotton embroidery anglais border around the bottom. It was beautiful. It was the kind of pinafore that princesses wore (because everyone knows that flouncy skirts would get in the way on all the exciting Princessy adventures). And it was brand new, made just for me.

Wow. I don't remember a lot more of that day. I don't remember a lot of loss of my Christmas days over the years, or the gifts that many people carefully selected for me. But I remember every bit of that dress.

I'm not a fan of the way Christmas can get overtaken by gifts - not even specific gifts, but just a sheer volume of wrapped stuff which, come thank-you card writing time, we can barely recall. Don't get me wrong, I love presents. I love getting wonderful things that I can't justify buying myself, I love the exciting stack of colourful paper packages under a gorgeous-smelling, ornament-covered tree. But I don't want to trade that for the wonder of feeling so special to those around me that they wanted to give me something they had carefully and lovingly planned to be just for me. And I think, sometimes, we can be overwhelmed by volume, rather then specifics.

This year, my husband and I have been thinking up ways to ramp up the magic-factor for Christmas, ostensibly for our munchkin, but very obviously for us, as she just won't care beyond the mountains of tasty foods she can wolf down... Apparently self-opening doors to the lounge where the tree etc is waiting is our favourite. Why we hadn't thought of it before is quite worrying, it's an obvious must for any self-respecting household.

Said Wheelybug - available from many a place, I'm sure...
We are also making most of our gifts, partly for financial reasons, but also because there's something quite wonderful about receiving a present that you know has had time, effort, care and thought put into it. A lot of our friends and family are homemade Christmas fans too, and I'm sure a good proportion of our gifts will have been made rather than bought.

Our munchkin is getting a second hand Wheelybug, but she's also getting a handmade, slightly imperfect dress, because, 28 years on, I still prize that gift above every other I have been given, year on year. And that means, clearly, that there must be something a bit magical about a homesewn Christmas outfit.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon December 9 with all the carnival links.)
  • I Want to Buy All of the ThingsThe Economama discusses whether there's a way to buy all of the baby stuff she desperately wants for her daughter without spoiling her.
  • The "Collectors" and the "Concentrators": How Children React to Lots of Presents — Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., at Parental Intelligence discusses two types of children who receive gifts: the "Collectors" who rip open the wrappings on their their presents and love to count them and the "Concentrators" who spend endless time on each gift ignoring the array of presents around them.
  • The Joy of Giving and Receiving — Ellen at Life With Lucien shares her three-year-old son's new favorite toy for imaginative play.
  • Books: Best Present Ever! — Holly at Leaves of Lavender discusses some of the many reasons why books are the ideal gifts for little ones.
  • 10 DIY Gifts You Still Have Time To Make — A roundup of 10 DIY gifts that don't take much time to make from Doña at Nurtured Mama.
  • Pumpkin Gingerbread Loaves - A Delicious Holiday Gift — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares one of her favorite recipes to make and give during the holidays. This Pumpkin Gingerbread Loaf is much anticipated by her friends and loved ones. Learn how to create this delicious gift from the heart!
  • Christmas gifts for dreamers — Tat at Mum in search shares her favourite books and resources that have helped her get inspired and move forward towards her dreams this year.
  • Natural parent's baby shower registry — Since she had everything already for baby #3, Lauren at Hobo Mama is amusing herself by building a list of essentials and a few fun fripperies for a natural-parenting nursery.
  • Gifts of love — Charlie at PeelingClementines recalls her favourite Christmas gift of all time and thinks about how to add this magic to her little one's first Christmas.
  • The Gift of Letting Go — Dionna at Code Name: Mama has discovered that when you're a perfectionist, sometimes the best gift is simply releasing yourself from self-imposed expectations.
  • Montessori Inspired Gifts for Babies and Toddlers — Rachel at Bread and Roses shares gift ideas that were a hit with her son last year and what's on her wishlist for this year.
  • Giftmas Ideas for KidsMomma Jorje offers an original gift idea that hasn't been overdone and is good for the kids!
  • Favorite CDs for Babies and Toddlers {Gift Guide} — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares her family's favorite CDs for babies and toddlers, some of which were favorites of her children and are now favorites of her granddaughter.
  • The Birthday Turned Christmas Wish ListThat Mama Gretchen forgot to share her birthday wish list this fall, but she's still wishin' and hopin' a present or two will arrive for Christmas!
  • 8 Thoughtful Non-Toy Gifts for Baby — Is your family asking for hints for presents to give baby? Moorea, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, offers this list of ideas that won't overwhelm your little one with toys.