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Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

Oh the ways that a 4 year old knows to slow life down. Especially when we’ve got somewhere to go or something to do. I try to build in transition time aplenty but sometimes it isn’t possible to go at LP’s pace for reason’s ranging from external time-pressure to my own need to move it along.

I’ve had ample opportunity to think about the different ways a person can amble away from a goal-directed moment. While the slowing things down behaviors  may look the same, defining the intent or motivation can be helpful in playfully moving things along.

Here are the distinctions I’ve been pondering:

Procrastination comes out of not wanting to do something. The focus of the meandering, distraction or sudden intense focus on something else is all about avoiding what comes next.  One of my playful strategies with procrastination is to dive into melodrama. “Oh no! The room has become filled with bits of paper. Whatever will we do? I can’t even walk through all this paper.  Someone help me! Help me!”  OR “How will we ever get to the bus stop? We’ll never make it!” That works about 20-30%% of the time.  I’m trying to develop other playful strategies because although my directive, stern mama voice is somewhat effective, it is becoming less so from overuse. I think it is worth saving for impact when it counts. (If only it worked on me when I’m procrastinating!)

Lollygagging is a gentle getting lost in the moment even when you know there’s something else to do. As we walk home from our neighbors house, LP’s imagination takes her away on side adventures to look for marmosets in a tree or stop every few feet to let her puppy do its business.  Gentle, playful teasing about the fact that she’s lollygagging tends to work on this one. The fact that it is a fun and funny word to say helps too.

Bridging is from an active desire to keep the current activity going. The term “bridging” comes from improvisation where it is generally seen as a negative thing. If you are doing an improv scene and the moment comes to make something happen (metaphorically step over  a puddle), instead you stall and make a lot of other things have to happen first you are building a bridge over that puddle instead. With children and play, it happens when they know the end is coming (either because you’ve told them or they feel your energy start to drift away) and they work creatively and hard to keep the action going, throwing up obstacle after obstacle.  If it is almost quiet time and I tell LP to bring her model horses to their pasture for their rest, I know there are going to be all kinds of things that happen to keep the horses from getting there.  There’s a hole they can’t get over. And one horse needs a lead rope and no one can find one. I gently encourage her through the obstacles and often end up “helping” the horses (which is not what I would do during regular playtime).

Daydreaming is that lovely state of being lost in one’s thoughts and unaware of any other thing happening. It is beautiful to watch a child in that state…I try to let it go on as long as possible and then gently draw her back into the world while acknowledging the dream place she’s been.

In the month since I started writing this post, LP has developed oh, about 17 other ways to slow things down “But I’m not finished” and being in a state of deep engaged flow and not being able to move because her feet “are stuck” and so on and so on)…but those are for exploring on another day.

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One of the lovely things I’m witnessing in LP at 4 years old is her growing awareness of her imagination and sense of empowerment that comes with that.  Not only is her imagination a source of fun and play, it is also a force for comfort and to manage difficult moments.

Two examples:

  1. She and her wonderful babysitter M had plans to take two of her stuffed panda buddies — Beckett and Monium — with them on a morning adventure up to Cal’s campus.  M tells me that they didn’t realize the pandas weren’t with them until they were a good hour into their walk.  LP started to have a meltdown.  M tried a few different strategies that she rejected and really ramped up the screaming.  After a few minutes, she stopped screaming and tearfully said, “I have imaginary Beckett here and imaginary Monium here” while tucking one under each arm.  And that was that. (more…)

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When I was a girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, I wanted a dog.

I wanted a dog more than anything. I desperately wanted a dog.  And there was no way we were getting a dog.  My mom was afraid of dogs.  More accurately, my mom was AFRAID of dogs.  Sometimes she would cross the street if a dog was barking in a house we were walking past. (Do you remember that, siblings?  Or did I make that up?)

So I imagined some dogs.  Actually, I imagined 100 dogs.  I chose breeds and names and spent hours taking care of them, playing with them and would go to sleep at night saying goodnight to them one at a time. I’m sure that back then I could have told you about each dog in great detail.

I also remember that when we moved the summer I was 9, I decided I was too old to still have those imaginary dogs. So I left them behind.  I felt sad and grown up at the same time.

Fortunately for me these many years later,  I made a list of the dogs!  Recently I was going through a box of photo albums, journals and other flotsam and jetsam from my life and found the first page:

(It is quite a mystery to me why it says “Toothpick” in pen near the top.)

What a find!  I shared it with LP and she has been wildly interested in it.  She loves to have me read the list and through the power of her imagination, has brought the imaginary dogs into our home.  (She too is a girl who loves dogs and we are certainly not getting a dog anytime soon.)  It is sweet to get reacquainted with Chinkie, Splotch, Dandy, Butterscotch and the rest and experience imaginary dogs through her eyes. Even better, in addition to playing with the imaginary dogs from the list, she is adding her own.

Over the weekend, as she sat swinging away in the park, LP asked me “When you were a little girl, did you have six imaginary comets?” When I said no and asked her if she had six imaginary comets, she smiled a huge smile and started to tell me all about them (they live in the large cracked pot in the backyard for starters).

The things we can do with our imaginations…just beautiful!  I hope she doesn’t feel the need to grow up and leave imaginary dogs and comets behind too soon.

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I took an unexpected hiatus from blogging the past two weeks.

I just have not been feeling very playful.

First there’s everything going on in the world at large that has me by turns anxious, worried or wondering. Between unrest/protests/crackdowns all over the Middle East and an earthquake/tsunami/nuclear reactor trouble in Japan, there’s plenty for a brain to stew on.  Add to that the closer to home world of politics that I find increasingly troubling (include in that my rabbi’s home being vandalized because of his politics).  Then seemingly endless days of rain (good to California’s water supply but I’m running out of rainy day fun ideas AND have had weather-related migraines almost every day for two months now). Top off with navigating a girl in transition ~ LP is taking some major developmental leaps (including starting to use the potty – at last!) so we’re entering a new stage of parenting.

Early this week, I did a three day rest and writing retreat. I worked a good bit on my novel and also worked on finding my center and focus to explore the importannce of play in difficult times.

First I notice that the mental break and stress release I get when I really play with LP — even if it is only for 20 minutes — is deeper and longer lasting than other choices (like watching something on hulu, my current vice).  Due to my general distractedness lately, I’ve been trying to make it a regular practice to have 20-30 minutes that I’m really completely available to play when she gets home from preschool. I’m much more intentional about it than I have been in the past.  I’ll have something set up that we can do…be it playdough or cooking or just a new object/materials to explore.  (Since I’m multi-posting today to make up for lost time, you can see yesterday’s project in the next post, LP’s Indoor Garden)

Second, I’ve been thinking about how play, particularly improvisational play, is useful in disaster preparation.  There’s a post in the works on that one too.

And third, the truth is worry and anxiety on their own don’t create change. Transforming worry into action — be it making a donation, fundraising, increasing our own and our neighborhood’s disaster prep, writing letters/emails and making calls about issues I care about — can make a difference. Play is one of those actions. Playing together keeps our family strong and connected and feeling able to take action.

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In improv lingo “going into the cave” means taking a risk or taking on the thing that scares you.

In an scene, if your character comes up to a cave where there’s a lion, you’ve got a choice. You can stay safe outside the cave or go into the cave and find out what happens.  Perhaps you get eaten by the lion. That would be terrible in real life but is wonderful in improvisation because now you have the opportunity to find out “what comes next?” — do you survive in the lion’s stomach like Jonah in the whale?  Or move on to the afterlife and explore Heaven or Hell or some alternative?  Are you absorbed into the lion’s consciousness?  Or reincarnated as a lion?  In the world of imagination, there are limitless possibilities IF we are willing to go into the cave.

I’ve found that the practice of going into the cave through improvisational play has helped me be more brave when I have  a real life cave to enter.  There’s plenty of research as well as anecdotal evidence of how children work things out through play, I believe it holds true for our whole lives if we are willing to continue to play.

LP is circling in on asking about my mom. That’s  a cave for me.

My mom, Joan, died when I was 16.  I’ve had many years now to grieve, mourn, miss her, come to peace with life without her and go through that cycle again when life events stir up my desire to share great happiness or have her love and support in difficult times.  Becoming a mother certainly has stirred that pot many times.  Overall my experience has been that being a mom reconnects me with her spirit and reminds me of her in positive ways. And…I know that at some point, LP will want to know where her other grandmother is (and ImprovDad’s father as well but that is his story to tell).

We have photos of my mom.  LP has a few things that my mom made for me when I was young including  a cat pillow my mom made that we call the “Mama’s Mama Cat.” I’ve told LP stories  (especially during some rough times in the middle of the night) that start “When I was a little girl and having a hard time, my Mama would…” These objects and stories are for me, a sweet spirit connection between my mom and my daughter.

A few weeks ago, when I picked her up at preschool, LP asked “When will Joan pick you up?”

For a moment I couldn’t breathe.  I was surprised at the question and not sure how to answer.  My heart sank and all my fears about not knowing what to say bubbled up inside. Hello cave.  LP has only recently started the questions about death with all the innocence of 4 years old and ImprovDad and I are walking that line of answering her questions openly (hopefully with ease) while not giving her more information than she’s ready for.

In the moment I gave her an honest but somewhat evasive answer along the lines of “I’m a big person and mamas don’t usually pick up big people.” As I took the time to reflect on the interaction and let the sadness be present, I realized the other side of going into this cave.  Although it is sad for me both because I miss my mom and because it leads to LP’s awareness that ImprovDad & I will someday die as will she, I can look forward to sharing more about my mom with LP and there is a lot of joy in that thought.  LP’s awakening to who is missing in her life, is an opportunity.

Yesterday LP asked “Will Joan look more like you?”  (She’s overheard people comment many times at how much I look like my mom.) It is the first time that she has asked about my mom that I greeted her questions with a genuine smile.  And I said something along the lines of “I do look more like my mom as I get older.” It was all she needed in that moment and her attention shifted to the next thing.

I know that over the years we will have many different kinds of interactions both around her growing understanding of death and about my mom in specific.  Allowing my internal state to shift has made that cave not so scary.

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I had ideas for LP’s 4th birthday celebration, oh yes, I had many ideas for a party. I’d been thinking about it for awhile and was much inspired by se7en’s approach to birthdays — especially this one. So we’d pick one of her favorite book, invite some little people-type friends over and so on.

LP wanted to have a party with her dog friends.

I had hesitations.  And even though I realized those hesitations were mostly about me, it was hard to get over them and say “yes.”

LP is only recently becoming interested in socializing with other kids and doesn’t yet have many strong ties to other little people.  We’ve been attentive to giving her growth opportunities and we’re so fortunate that she’s in a preschool setting that lets her go at her own pace in joining group activities and gives her support in interacting with other kids. Even though I’ve seen such growth in her abilities, especially the past two months, all my worries about her social skills bubbled up.   I had to calm them down and just enjoy helping my creative, animal-loving girl have the birthday celebration her heart desired.

So a puppy party it was.

Her guest list was four dogs (three were able to attend). She chose a different dog pictures online for each dog and colored them in while I printed out text to attach for the invitations. We made a trip to the pet store for dog treats and had some of LP’s favorite foods for the dog’s people to enjoy. (ImprovDad and I were lucky too that we’re good friends with all of the dogs’ people.)

I made a playlist of dog songs on the ipod (I’m particularly fond of “Dog Train” by Blues Traveler and LP wants to hear John Lithgow’s “I Got Two Dogs” over and over again).  LP sorted the dog treats and a squeaky ball intoeach party favor bag.  And then, we waited for the dogs.

Parker & Lulu

Sadie

It went better than my wildest hopes.  LP was over-the-moon happy.  As each of her three canine guests arrived she got more and more excited. She perched on the coffee table so she could see the dogs at all times.  (And we were lucky that these were the best behaved dogs in world.)

After cake for the people, we took a walk around the neighborhood and LP delighted in the chance to walk the dogs.

A happy day was had by all.  And I had my wish fulfilled too when we shared a belated birthday playdate with (human) friends yesterday too.

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Blog-a-versary

Improv-a-mama (the blog, not the person) turns 2 this weekend. (The person has a much bigger birthday coming up later this month.)

The Un-Scripted Theater Company’s annual retreat is MLK, Jr weekend. It was 2 years ago this weekend that the fabulous Mandy helped me set up my blog and post the very first entry.  I had been thinking about blogging about improvisation and parenting for months. Really since the birth of the Little Person 10 months prior…but with all the general overwhelm of being new parents plus my own struggles with ppd, I wasn’t able to follow through on writing about my ideas about improvisation and parenting.

So having a community to help me say “yes” to my idea was crucial in getting started.

Watching my community of readers grow from 4 to more than 4 has been important to keep on going.  Comments delights me…especially as I’ve learned that I’m shy online too (As I’ve noticed that there are so many blogs that I enjoy reading and never comment on, comments that happen here have become more meaningful). And finally linking up to my FB profile has increased my readership so thank you FB friends for clicking over to share this part of my life.

For a long time, I’ve been wanting to blog with greater intention and focus. So to celebrate the start of my third year as Improv-a-Mama, I’ve been  doing some reorganization and planning. This past week has been much about making a real space for me to write (hello new desk!)

I’ll keep on blogging about creative adventures with LP…AND starting this week, my intention is to post more often and with new categories of:

Playful Practice ~ These posts will include both games and activities to engage and play with the little people in your life AND ideas about how to incorporate playful parenting into daily life.

Playful Links ~ A weekly roundup of links about play that inspire or delight me.

And some yet-to-be-named category or categories (suggestions appreciated!) which will include book reviews, play in the news updates,  current research about play and my thoughts improvisational play in daily life.

I hope you will keep coming by to read what comes next!

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A Novel Update

In November, I was racing my writing word count for NaNoWriMo against our decomposing pumpkins.  I didn’t win (write 50,000 words) but I did scratch, claw, hunt and peck my way to 20,136 words which is more than I expected in my 3rd week of having the flu. Those 20,136 words are the beginning of the second novel that takes place in the same world as the first.  I made some important discoveries about that world that will help inform the first as well…if I can get myself buckled down to do some serious writing.

But alas, the pumpkins continue to lead the way.

I’m at an interesting place with my novel…I find myself working on the ending while there is still a big, gaping hole of “what happens HERE?” in the middle.  I realized that I was fighting working on the ending because…well just because that’s what was happening in my brain.  Even though I went into this whole novel writing experience without a plan (or a plot), somehow I ended up making up some rules for myself about how writing is supposed to progress at this point.

The pumpkins decompose the way they do because of nature. Laws of nature and all that.  Writing a novel however has no laws and I don’t help myself by making up rules that don’t help me write.  Really I’ve spent a lot of the last two weeks or so not writing all the ideas, images and scenes floating around in my head because they aren’t from the part of the story I thought I should have ideas, images and scenes about.

Bring on an improv moment!

It is time to throw my hands in the air and shout “I failed!” (a classic improv release for my non-improvising readers) and “again!” (another shout-out that improvisors use to embrace failure as a learning experience).  And then to give myself the time and gift of letting those ideas, images and scenes take shape on the page so I can play with them, flesh them out, edit them down, rearrange them or whatever else my imagination gives me to do with them.

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One of my biggest joys is being an aunt.

It has been  one of my favorite roles in life. From the first time I held my oldest niece, H, I was hooked.  When H and her brother L were small, I was lucky enough to be in a time of life when I could see them often even though I lived on the opposite coast.  I said “YES!” to every opportunity to see them.  I had such fun in those years and even though I sometimes thought I should be using my vacation time to see the world, the payoff of delight of being in their worlds brought me there time and again.

(An added bonus was some great on-the-job training for parenthood. Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law for that good deal!)

One of the things I miss now that I’m a mom is the freedom of being an aunt who has just come to play and have adventures. I miss my time with the older two and have been sad about not knowing the younger three kids in the family as well as I would like.

It is becoming easier as LP gets a bit older;  she is more ready to go off with other family members and as I continue to heal from PPD,  I am able to let her go. Even as it gets a little easier, I miss those days of having open time to just focus on one kid whether it was to take an adventure of imagination or ride the train into Boston for a museum or aquarium exploration.

So a hope of mine for the recent East-Coast-family-visit-extravaganza trip was to have time to enjoy my five nieces and nephews who now range in age from 15 to 6. While there were many adjustments and moments of figuring out how to relate and getting an open mind to see each child as their individual, creative self, it wasn’t hard and it delighted my soul to have time to be niece & nephew focused for awhile.

So to my nieces and nephews…I loved sharing the time with you and enjoying all the ways you are creative and spontaneous. From sharing poetry, writing and playing music, enjoying the “band” of cousins performance, dancing, doing handstands, listening to drumming and piano and guitar, tree climbing, art making, peeling bark off logs, making forts and panda caves, playing with pirate ships and kitchens and trucks and so much more —  it was such a great reminder of all the different way kids can be creative and spontaneous and then add intention and craft to the things that capture their imaginations.

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Tearing it up!

Sometimes Improvamama gets lucky.

It has been a rough couple of weeks around here as I’ve gone from having one nasty cold to another one to the flu (and LP and I traveled to visit her Grandma in the middle of that time).  I have become the queen of the boring mamas.  All I can think is “what can I get LP involved in so I can lie down?”

And as I learn again and again, what works is following her offers because given the opportunity to explore, she will go for it.

One day last week as I was half-heartedly sorting political flyers into piles for 1) recycle immediately and 2) look at later, LP started taking them and asked me to tear them into strips.  Pretty soon she took over tearing them up (mostly with her teeth) and laying them out in a path across the house.  Actually a pretty good use for them I think.

By the time the Sunday paper arrived the flyers were long gone and she was ready for new material  to tear and rip and shred.  And now (Wednesday), she’s still enjoying the fruits of her labors and working on tearing the larger pieces up even more.

So glad we haven’t given up on the newspaper yet!

This post is part of the FINAL Moms 30-Minute Blog Challenge over at Steady Mom. Such a big THANK YOU to Jamie for hosting the challenge. It has been great for getting me to put my ideas into words at least once a week. AND Jamie is starting a great new blog SteadyHomeDeals which is a wonderful resource for all of us who want to make conscientious choices about how we spend our money.

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