Welcome to the November 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Feeding Your Family
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 shared recipes, stories, and advice about food and eating. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
I've had a post in my head since shortly after starting this blog called, "Focus on Food" - that's almost 2 years... and I still haven't written it yet. This post seems more difficult to write than last month's post about Technology use in our family. Probably because I have more hang-ups to work through still.
After writing last month's post about No Limits on Screen-time I started thinking about how "no limits" isn't really an accurate description. Because there are times when our screen time is naturally limited - sleeping comes to mind immediately. (No, I'm not being facetious, I really mean that is a naturally occurring limit to screen time.) Another would be wanting to be certain places at certain times (although in our family we do tend to bring little screens with us in the car, so I guess this is a limit on the "Big TV".) Anyway, a better way of looking at our technology use is that we have lots of choices and try to support each other the best we can.
With that in mind I believe that the ideal situation in feeding my family is having lots of choices available and allowing individuals to decide what and when they eat (and usually where in our house.)
The two main challenges I've had to overcome in implementing this "ideal" are:
1) My background with food - I've never been that interested in cooking as a child or young adult. (<-- I guess I can't call myself that anymore?!?) My mom didn't enjoy cooking that much and it wasn't something we did together. We did LOTS of other things together and did eat a healthy diet (she was always great about having a vegetable at every dinner!) but we were also very busy. School (my mom was my math teacher in the 9th and 12th grades!), band, sports, and keeping up with the family business (golf course) were our main focuses. When I went to college I had a meal plan and rarely cooked. So I first started cooking at a very ripe age - in my 20s. I didn't REALLY become interested in food and cooking till AFTER having children. Starting a new interest when you have babies is probably the most challenging time to do so - because you don't have the time, energy, or mental resources to do so.
2) Societal expectations - We are mostly expected to control our children's "intake" in our culture. "Three more bites and then you can have dessert," and "No, you already had X lollipops, you may not have another," are common phrases in our culture. Children are praised for being "good eaters", "cleaning" their plates, or reminded of the "starving children in Africa" as if eating more will somehow help.
Other pressures are our ideas that eating poorly will negatively affect our kids' health - their teeth, their weight, children's diabetes is on the rise etc. I'm not arguing the truth of these trends. However, the fear of these things adds to an already controlling culture. We don't trust our kids to make the best choices for themselves - the same way we don't trust them to choose in regards to technology, sleep, and just about any other issue you can think of. I think this is the biggest challenge we face as a culture. Especially because there is so much food to choose from and we keep learning more about how our food is grown and raised affects us. It is easy to want to control everything that goes into our children's mouths - after all we want the best for them. But for me it is not worth sacrificing the trust in our relationship. So I work hard to push back against these societal expectations and pressures.
I want to add in here that I have an awesome partner in the kitchen. Mike actually took the lead in keeping us fed from the start of our marriage. He loves to grill and often cooks dinner after working all day at the office - this was especially true when the kids were really little. I know - I'm really lucky.
We've really both been on the same page about moving our family in healthier directions while not stressing ourselves or our kids too much, because that is just as important! We don't try to force our kids to eat foods but we do try to offer lots of options.
And now that I've acknowledged my partner in crime, here are the ways I've personally grown:
1) Focus on Myself: Because I believe that the best thing I can do is model healthy eating myself, I focus on MY diet instead of worrying what my kids are eating all the time. I eat healthier than I ever have, since having kids. When I was in college I went through a phase of focusing on "Strive for 5" (trying to get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day). Now I don't bother counting, but because I eat so many fruits and vegetables, I'm confident that I'm getting at least that many every day if not more. Green smoothies are a regular part of my diet since Mike bought a Vitamix for my birthday a couple of years ago. I'm also expanding my cooking repertoire slowly but surely - and enjoying it! Some things Mike and Marisol also eat, and some things only I eat.
2) Offering "Monkey Platters" to my kids: This is a popular term in unschooling circles, started by Sandra Dodd. Marisol calls it a "tray of food." They really eat a lot of healthy food when they are given choices in this appealing way. Last night Marisol ate a whole tray that included green beans, a cheese stick, strawberries, baby dill pickles, and celery with peanut butter. Gerry's go-to foods right now are strawberries and dill pickles too. He will also eat raw carrots sometimes.
3) Releasing (and Re-releasing) Fears: Feeding my kids has been a challenge for me - one that I didn't anticipate. (Although, now looking back I'm not sure what I thought - that somehow it would be easy even though I'd never spent much time thinking about food or cooking?) My daughter is kind of like the "poster child" for Unschooling. She does makes a lot of choices that jive with societal expectations of what is "healthy" so it's easy to give her a lot of freedom. My son on the other hand has a HUGE sweet tooth. So it is more difficult with him to let go, relax, and trust him. I mentioned above some of the healthy foods he eats regularly. The truth is he eats a lot of sweets and "processed" foods too. His main go-to dinners are out of a freezer box - we feed him fish sticks (the best quality ones money can buy!) almost every day. But he is healthy and happy and growing so those are the things that I work to focus on. Because he's really in a narrowing phase of foods I keep offering foods I know he likes and I trust he will start expanding his options when he is ready.
I feel like I could write a book about feeding my family! There will always be more learning and growing to do. One aspect that I didn't touch on here that deserves a whole post (or book?) unto itself is breastfeeding. My children's first food was probably the best I've made and the easiest. And it always has given me comfort knowing how much nourishment and comfort they've received through breastfeeding.
I loved looking at all the pictures we've taken of food we've made or eaten out at restaurants in the past year or so. Some things have become regular additions and others we've only made once or twice. But it all looks so yummy! I think this is a pretty good representation of where we are right now. I'd love to hear about your challenges and strengths when feeding your family!
Visit 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 November 12 with all the carnival links.)
Children's firsts are so magical. When they are really little babies we try to record all of them in baby books, journals, blogs, or even on Facebook to share the excitement and also so we'll remember the moment for many years to come.
One of my favorite firsts was the night that Gerry started walking independently. He was so excited that he was waving his arms and laughing the entire time. He was just absolutely thrilled to be walking!
I also remember Marisol balancing (standing without holding anything) on our back patio in our first house up in NY before she started taking steps. I remember first smiles - gazing for long minutes into each others' eyes - first laughs, babbles, rolls, and many others. There really is nothing like a first time.
What I've realized that I love about unschooling is that the magic doesn't have to stop and I get to keep witnessing it! I very clearly remember the first time Marisol asked for a pencil. She followed that request up with one for paper. I had no idea what she was doing (Marisol didn't even like to color or draw when she was very little because she was too much of a perfectionist.) While I watched, she gripped the pencil, her face intent with concentration and hand poised above the paper. I realized with astonishment that she was going to write something. And sure enough after a short pause to gather her thoughts she placed the pencil to the paper and wrote her first letter (I think it was an "H", maybe??). I had never tried to get her to write before that day. (I can't remember now if this was when she was 3 or 4 years old. But her age doesn't even matter - it was magical regardless.)
Last summer Marisol had a fever and a friend brought a little
get-well gift for her - an early reader book based on the movie Brave. I read it
through to her once as we lay in bed together, and then she said, "Let me
try." Then she proceeded to read most of the book to me. Magical.
But learning is so much more than just reading and writing. Learning is everywhere and in everything. It is the first time Marisol swam all the way across the pool last summer without any "floaties" so that she could take her first jump off the diving board that same day. It is all physical activities - like doing the monkey bars on your own for the first time (last summer) or riding a bike without training wheels (a skill still in our future). Learning is trying a new food for the first time. Some of the most important and deep learning is about relationships and spirituality, like working through the first time you hurt a friend's feelings (yes, I remember Marisol's experience of this). It is grappling with the idea of death and heaven and what happens to your spirit (a recent theme for my 6 year old girl).
I have totally embraced Unschooling and truly believe that all children are "wired" to learn. It's easy to see when they are babies, but many of us lose our trust in the process as they get older. Also most people are separated from their children for large stretches of time so they don't get to witness many of the "light bulb" moments. So, even though my mind believes in my childrens' abilities, my heart sometimes need some validation. And every time one of my children does something for the first time, completely of their own volition, my heart leaps and then pumps joy to every cell in my body. Each time this happens the truth: that children will learn all they need to, in their own time - becomes etched a little deeper in my bones. And this is where the magic lies - not so much in the "firstness" of each new skill or idea, but in the fact that they completely own these moments. Yes, I encourage, show, demonstrate, support, offer help, give tips or feedback (if they are desired), but I can honestly say I have not "taught" my children one thing. And this fact amazes me every time.
This magic takes all the competition out of learning. Just like it doesn't really matter whether our babies walked at 9 months or 18 months (once they walk... well, they walk!), it matters little at what age my daughter finally rides her bike or becomes a fluent reader. I know that she will do these things when she's ready, and she will do them joyfully. Also, things that she did early (like waking with math problems on her lips) don't make her better or brighter than other children her age who are more interested in other things than numbers. Embracing your children for exactly who they are at this moment is truly magic all by itself. It will transform your life and your relationships.
I know that not everyone is able to homeschool or desires to unschool. I share because I want people to know what magic is possible. Because other people shared their lives, my mind was opened to a whole new world. This is my desire - to offer parents that same opportunity. Words really can't do justice to what I'm trying to describe here (maybe words can never capture magic), but they will have to do. I hope that mine inspire someone, someday, somewhere, to allow this magic into their lives.
Life is Lumpy
My recommendation is that if you have a child you're sure is fantastically superior to other beings, keep quiet about it. She might grow up to be literally or figuratively 5'2", if you're lucky enough that she grows up. Don't be so ecstatic now that you can't help but be disappointed in your children for being the people they are.
I love this passage. And although I love and believe every word of it in regards to our children, I especially like it because it also reminds me to be gentle with myself. That *I* am going to be brilliant sometimes and exhausted others. That *I* am going to be the wisest person I've ever known one day, and the next possibly the most immature. That *I* am going to learn and relearn lessons that I thought I had mastered long ago, and have "aha" moments about the most basic, mundane possible things.
I have a tendency to the "up and down". To be higher than high and then slide down into a valley of... low. Today was a low. I miss my sister who was here for a couple of days. I miss my family. I want my tribe. But focusing on things that aren't here and now do not lend themselves to a happy, present person. So that was my lesson today. Again. And that just because I have some bad moments, that doesn't mean the whole day is lost. There are still plenty more moments to be had (Thanks again to Sandra et. al. for that one!)
And again I am reminded that this path I'm on isn't really "just" about parenting. It's really about me and becoming the person I want to be. As I do that I am also becoming the best possible parent to my children. And I am slowly learning that when I love myself in my lowest of lows, then I am quicker to forgive myself, recover, and move on the next moment.
Life is Lumpy and that's ok.
Well loves, the time has come. This book is going to mark the end of my Blogiversary celebration. I sure had fun, I hope you did too!
This book is such a gem. It is actually been a couple of years since I read it, but I was skimming through tonight and reading pages that I had flagged (they're still marked!) and there is so much wisdom in in this little book. I mentioned earlier this year that finding unschooling was one of the biggest awakenings of my life. If that statement is confusing or intriguing to you and you want to know more, this book will answer a lot of your questions.
Rue Kream organized Parenting a Free Child: An Unschooled Life in a very reader friendly way. Each chapter is actually a short essay that answers a typical question or concern regarding unschooling.
I want to quickly share a couple of my favorite quotes from the book.
When asked if she could play a song on the radio on her guitar, Rue's daughter said, "I could if I knew how" (p 7).
I love this! How confident the child is in her own ability to learn what she wants when she wants to, so beautiful.
I also love Rue's response to the question, "Don't you ever have a bad day?"
"Unschooling does not make us more than human. Striving to be a peaceful parent does not make me a perfect parent." (p 112)
All I can say to that is, Amen!
This book gives perspective on so many issues from why in their family (and many unschooling families) they choose not to limit TV and screen time, and how and when children learn to read, to concerns about children getting into college and chores. It really covers a lot of ground in a concise and clear manner.
Sooo.... whether you are interested in learning more about unschooling or if you are already unschooling but need a shot of inspiration and confidence, this is a great book.
Leave me a comment if you want to be in the drawing for this awesome book! And if you share the love by liking my FB page, or by sharing the link on your blog or FB page I'll add your name an extra time for each bit of extra love you give me. ;-)
Lots of Love and Peace to you all tonight...
"The Best Thing"
When I saw the topic for this month's blog carnival I was stumped at first. "The Best Thing"... hmmm? What is the *BEST* thing? I've been pretty high on life for quite some time now, so to pick one thing seemed daunting. But then one night cuddled up in bed Marisol whispered to me, "I love my life" and I thought, now *that* is the best thing. Hearing my daughter say that she loves her life is such a beautiful affirmation for me and all of these "unconventional" choices that we are making. Hearing that she loves her life in spite of the fact that she is sometimes bored, and even though she has been having some rather intense emotions lately, well that to me is THE best thing.
It's even better than hearing her say she loves me every day, and better than hearing her say that I am the best mama EVER, or that "This is the BEST. DAY. EVER." The contentment that I can hear in her voice, the love that exudes from her, her excitement to plan a new week, and watching her learn new things every day makes every challenge worth it. Even better? I can honestly say that I can 100% agree and shout in unison with her, "I LOVE MY LIFE!"
Kindergarten and "Have to"
This week I read two posts from well known and respected writers on their kid's first day of kindergarten: That First Day and Kindergarten, Kindergarten, Why So Soon?
I want to preface my thoughts with the fact that I am in no way questioning any of the following: their love for their children, whether school is the best choice for their kids/families, or whether these parents are "good" parents. For one, I do not know either of these people in real life although I've read (and enjoyed) both of their blogs several times. And for another I do NOT think that I know the one right answer or way in this awesome thing we call life.
Ok, here we go. A couple of phrases really jumped out at me as I was reading these heart-felt posts. From the first, "I know this is part of it. I knew I'd have to leave" and from the second, "I don’t know if I’m ready for my kid to be a bus-riding, recess-playing, homework-doing big kid just yet. I guess I don’t have a choice." (Emphasis mine in both cases)
These two little words "have to" are like a trigger that sets off a bell in my head now, "ding ding ding!" When we think "Have to" we are giving our power away because we believe that we *don't* have a choice. The majority of the time the "have to" thought is NOT true, and when we lie to ourselves about what we "have to" do we are not living our lives to their fullest potential.
The truth is many kids DON'T "have to" go to kindergarten even though the majority do in our culture. School is so very entrenched in our lives and way of thinking that it feels like it is inevitable to most people.
The comments in both of these blog posts were all very emotional. What is amazing for me is that I did not get emotional at all. Well, I guess it's not so amazing - I haven't had to experience the first day of kindergarten since we've opted to homeschool; and, because of our choice I am reading their words from a completely different perspective. What I feel most sad about is the fact that people are failing to see that as a culture at large we are CHOOSING school. It is not obligatory. (I'm not talking about cases of families where home schooling is truly not an option due to financial or other reasons).
And yet, I also understand why most people think this way.
When Marisol was a baby my mom used to say, "You should homeschool, you'd be great at it!" And I was all, "ok, whatever Mom." (She thinks I'm great at everything! ;-) But seriously, I didn't even ENTERTAIN the thought at first - after all I came from a long line of teachers. And we believe in public education, right? And also, I *liked* school and actually had a pretty fantabulous school experience.
That was before I stumbled across Unschooling. And it really was an awakening. (Makes me think of the kids that once they hear we homeschool start begging their parents to do it!) Once you question something so big it becomes apparent pretty quickly that there are many things that are worth taking a second look at.
Like "have to". The fabulous Tara Wagner made the bold statement that all we *have to* do in this life is die. Really. Think about it for a while.
Here are 10 things that I've discovered we really don't HAVE TO do:
1.) I don't have to wash my hair (or my kids!) with soap every day (or even every week for that matter)
2.) I don't have to get rid of their toys or clothes before they are ready to (space does help with this one! I'm learning to be creative though.)
3.) I don't have to get away from my kids to take care of myself.
4.) I don't have to clean the dishes or do the laundry.
5.) I don't have to have all the right answers.
6.) Kids don't have to sleep when we want them to.
7.) Kids don't have to wear shoes at the park.
8.) Kids don't have to eat a sugar-free, organic diet to be healthy.
9.) Kids don't have to go to school to learn to read, use numbers, and make friends.
10.) Kids don't have to be sent away from their parents to grow into their independence.
Honestly, I kind of had a hard time coming up with this list because I just don't think this way much anymore. Mostly it is like I said before - whenever I see or hear "have to" mentality it is like a trigger is tripped in me and I want to be like, "oh no you don't have to!" But I usually just keep my mouth shut.
Believe me, it is so freeing to let go of "Have-tos" and decide that you are going to make very deliberate choices for yourself and family. Try it - once you begin to "choose to" or "decide not to" you will never want to go back to "have to."
Go crazy and add some things to my list - pick the ones that you *really* *truly* believe you "have to" - then post a comment here - you don't have to! Maybe it's go to work every day or clean your house... once you own it you will be free to choose - do it... or don't!
So it's Sunday night. Which means tomorrow is Monday. And since I just declared *one* week ago that I was going to try and post on Mondays and Fridays I'd better get something together for tomorrow. I mean I have to make it longer than one week! I mentioned to Mike as he was going to bed that I can't disappoint my huge readership... I believe he snorted. In fact because of that little snort, I'm dedicating this post to my amazing husband. Lucky for him, I laughed too. We have to keep our sense of humor after all, and not taking oneself too seriously is an important part of the equation. Yes, definitely. Well, in my opinion anyways, and that's what this blog is for - my opinion, so there!
I have a lot of different thoughts, both as drafts here and in my journal. But I'm tired tonight. So I'm going to go ahead and finished a post I started a while ago about Unschooling. And actually now that I've decided to do that, I can't think of a more appropriate topic for my second "Monday Awakenings - Life is Good." (Coincidentally, did you know that one of the unschooling conferences is called Life is Good? I can't wait to go to one of those!) Finding Unschooling has definitely been the biggest awakening in my life. I can honestly say that without any hesitation. One of my thoughts when I first started reading about it was, "huh... how come *I* didn't think of this on my own??" It's so simple at it's core that it seems obvious. And I'm a *smart* person, goshdarnit! I should have been able to think of this myself - I was the Valedictorian of my high-school class for goodness sake! (Which I find more and more ironic the as I embrace a new direction that may never include school. I actually almost get an ashamed feeling inside now thinking of it - something to explore and expand more on later. Also, now that I think of it, this may highlight how school doesn't exactly engender critical or creative thinking... but I digress)
For a year or more after I discovered Unscooling I was ON FIRE for it. It was like I was blind and now I could see and I really, REALLY wanted to shout it from the mountaintops (ok rooftops - but that condo we lived in was pretty tall!) I would be up well into the night reading about it. Mike would get irritated for a long time when he saw me reading, and tell me to, "Stop reading that crap!" (Hence my dedication to him today - love you honey!) Luckily, I am not that easily dissuaded. We've both come a long ways - he is super supportive of the kids and me, and I've gotten better at presenting things to him. Also I didn't start broadcasting far and wide that Unschooling was the best thing ever since sliced bread, which I am thankful for because I probably would not have been prepared for the conversations that followed. I did feel a bit guilty keeping it a secret though. I mean it's so amazing, wouldn't everyone want to know about it??
When I first came across the word "Unschooling" my curiosity was immediately piqued. I had never heard of such a thing and had no idea what it meant. Thank goodness for Google! I did a search, and much to my husband's chagrin, a new world opened to me. It was one of those things that once I knew about, I couldn't go back. My life was changed.
What is Unschooling? I'm going to try and put in words what it is to me and then follow up with some links that explain in other people's words. Basically, Unschooling is a kind of homeschooling. But instead of creating a miniature school in your home, you continue your lives together with your children in the best way for your family, without considering how things are done in school at all. I suppose that is where the "un" comes from, in that, schoolish ways of thinking and doing things do not impact your own way of life (as much as that is possible).
Unschooling to me means living with my family in a way that supports each person and their interests and growth. It is NOT "child-led" or "parent-led", instead it is about partnership. Other things that unschooling does NOT mean:
It is not leaving the kids on their own to learn.
It doesn't mean that my kids will never learn things kids in school learn. (Can you follow that one? Double-negative much! Well, you get the idea - in a more straightforward manner - My kids *will* learn many of the same things that school kids learn, they will also probably differ in a lot of areas, but really all people do, school or no school - ok ending longest run-on ever..... NOW)
Here are some good links to explore if this is still to vague:
Definitions of Unschooling
The Unschooling Philosophy
Demand Euphoria's perspective
Unschooling Me - How to Unschool
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much information out there that it really would be redundant for me to try and "define" what Unschooling is. And besides, even though I've been reading about it for 4 years now, I am really still a newbie. Technically this is our first year "unschooling" since Marisol is 5 years old. The best part of reading about experienced Unschoolers has been to define what principles are most important in guiding our family's life. Unschooling philosophy, for me, is much more than just homeschooling my kids. It is a complete way of life. I'm glad that I discovered it so early in my children's lives because although the concept behind the philosophy is simple (people, children included, are learning all the time), embracing what that can mean for your family and life takes longer. I have found that I grasped with my mind very quickly what Unschooling means. It all makes sense to me. However, the "doing" can be more difficult as you learn to let go. I like the analogy of holding onto balloons you can find in the sidebar here. An example in our life of a concept I grasped very quickly mentally, but had difficulty embracing fully in my heart, was not limiting TV. This is a "balloon" that I have repeatedly "let go" of only to grab the string as it floats away from me, bring it back towards me to hold onto, and then let go again. Lucky for my children, I have been able to keep many of my struggles (mostly) internal. I'm hopeful that this will lead to them having more clarity and less baggage (or balloons!) as they grow to adulthood.
Reading about Unschooling and people who are living this kind of lifestyle has impacted our life in so many ways. Most of the concerns that people have when they first hear about Unschooling are the same and they have also been addressed repeatedly in many different forums (yahoo lists, blogs, books etc.) So instead of defining Unschooling and addressing common concerns, I plan to write about how unschooling looks in our family's life. Learning is not just about school "subjects" (and in fact many Unschoolers try not to break things down in this way, because all learning is related). Learning, and therefore Unschooling, occurs in all aspects of our lives including sleep, eating, use of media, and relationships.
Watching our kids learn is one of the most amazing things in the world. This is true for all parents. What continues to astound me in our first "official" year of homeschooling, is how and what Marisol learns every day WITHOUT ME CONTROLLING IT, in any way. I feel very lucky that I started learning about Unschooling when Marisol was still a toddler because we've been able to see how she continues to learn and grow - yes with our love and support - but with absolutely no formal "teaching". I'm trying to put snippets of what the kids are up to over at Everyday Adventures which will be a great place for me to "record keep" as the kids get older.
If anyone (especially friends and family) is really concerned now that I've TOTALLY lost it, please don't worry about us. One thing I'm learning more and more as a parent that nothing is ever set in stone or guaranteed. We are always willing to reevaluate, and of course, listen to our kids. We would never stop them from going to school if that is what they want. I actually loved school myself and know that for some people it is a wonderful place. For now though, we have a different vision and direction for our family. I would love to hear others' thoughts. Is anything awakened in you? Also, experienced Unschoolers, please chime in and if I am way off about anything, please correct away!
Have a great week everyone! I know you will learn something new every day ;-)
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.