Archive for the ‘parenting’ 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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There’s an interview with Caroline Kennedy in today’s Parade magazine. She has a book coming out this month based on eight hours of interviews historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. conducted with her mother Jacqueline Kennedy.

Here’s the part that caught my eye and heart:

Did your parents read to you as a child?
My mom did when I was younger. I don’t remember my father reading to me, but I remember him telling me bedtime stories. I got to pick what was in them, and then he’d make them up.

Tell me more.
They were adventure stories. I had two ponies in them—one was black with a white star and one was white with a black star, and they were called White Star and Black Star. I could pick who rode the other one. Mostly I picked my cousin Stevie. [Now a business executive, Stephen Kennedy Smith Jr. is the son of Jean Kennedy Smith, the sister of John F. Kennedy, and the late Stephen Smith.]

Were you always the heroine?
Of course. [laughs] Well, would you want to go to bed thinking that Stevie Smith had triumphed over you? No! My father was spectacular at making up stories. And he used to tell me about a purple shark.

A purple shark?
Yes, he said there was a purple shark that used to follow the Honey Fitz [the small presidential yacht]. It liked to eat socks. My father would make people throw their socks overboard, and they’d disappear. He’d say, “See? See? Did you see the purple shark? He ate the socks!” And I’d go [gasps like a child], “I don’t really see him. Oh, oh, I think I see him! Look, the socks are gone, so it must have been the shark that ate the socks!” Those stories were fantastic.

An amazing and lovely reminder.  The stories we create and tell our children — no matter how simple, no matter how fantastic, no matter what they are — have incredible power to make an impression that lasts a lifetime. I’m especially taken by the reminder of how to create magic with stories by bringing a part into action like JFK did with the socks.

Read the full article “Courage, Strength, and Dignity: A Conversation with Caroline Kennedy” at parade.com.

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Doing art projects out in the world (library, special events, etc) is a challenge for my LP.

She is all about the process and exploration of materials and usually those art experiences are about product. LP wants to feel the paint, glue and glitter on her skin and explore it completely with her hands.  Her art experiences at her wonderful preschool are all about process as our 99% of the ones we do at home (every so often I push for product for a present), so she has many opportunities to go for it on the process front.  When she participates in an art project in public, I want to balance honoring her natural impulse to EXPLORE materials with what is appropriate to the setting.

I believe that it is important for kids to consciously experience adjusting to the rules of a situation AND find their spontaneity within those rules.  It is challenging for a person of any age to find their place in a group and public events are opportunities for our little people to work on those skills.  I want LP to learn to find her own balance of joining in a collective experience while being true to herself.

These public art projects are a great chance for LP to get that experience of creating within more boundaries than usual. Often there is 1) limited time, 2) limited materials and 3) a “sample” that the kids are supposed to emulate. Those are three tough limits for my girl.

While I can’t do anything about 1 & 2, I am always supportive of LP doing the project she wants to do within those constraints.  If she wants to do the sample, that’s fine too but that day has not yet come and for me the point of the project is to have a collective experience, not make a garden collage or challah cover that looks like the sample.

The biggest difficulty is with materials since my tactile girl wants to rub glue all over her arms and spread glitter with her nose and paint all over herself.  The where and when of these events determine the boundaries I set with her. (I watch the art project set up with my questions in mind…Do I have a change of clothes? Is there a sink reasonably close? How soon do we need to catch the bus home? How much of the materials are there? And of course, the occasional parent insecurity about what other people think…)  Within those boundaries, I let her go for it.

But oh the heartbreak of projects with gluesticks.  Her desire is to use her fingers on those gluesticks and dig out all the glue and sculpt with it.  And that is not an option when multiple kids are supposed to be sharing a gluestick.

Like a recent morning at the library.

After storytime, the librarian directed the kids over to two covered tables to make garden collages.  Gluesticks, tissue paper, colored paper, crayons and markers were laid out and the librarian showed “the sample.”  LP wanted to do the project (I was hoping to head out to the farmer’s market right away) so we stayed.

As the minutes went by, her energy became more and more withdrawn, so unlike herself, as she sat and tried to wait patiently for her turn with the gluestick. I could tell that this was not satisfying…like just one bite of a chocolate chip cookie. After about 10 minutes, I asked if she was done and she was quite ready to leave this project behind.

I mulled it over during quiet time.  Despite my observation of her not enjoying the project, she did enjoy the overall storytime experience and wants to go back every week.  She was very successful on the impulse control/sharing front.  I wanted to acknowledge that AND give her  for a balancing, playful experience. After working so hard on restraint, I wanted to give her a chance to fully explore.

After quiet time, I asked her if she wanted to do a glue project which got a cheerful “YES!” in response.  So I gave her paper, two gluesticks (a bounty in our house!) and a bottle of glue and let her go for it.

LP enjoyed glue to her heart’s content for about half an hour.  I sat with her at the table and worked on my own crafty project and just enjoyed her pleasure.

It is a helpful frame for me…when LP has worked to rise to the occasion that calls for restraint, to give her an opportunity to be fully expressive and exuberant — whether that means a chance to run free after a long bus ride or sculpt glue (& herself) until she’s done with it.

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While I was packing for our last trip, LP would not leave me alone for a minute. Finally, she came up with one of those games that makes a parent groan.  She was tearingteeny strips of paper from her easel in the living room and running into the bedroom where I was packing to spread them out and then use the strips to create clothes for her small panda bear. On one hand, it was wonderful that she was (finally!) playing independently and I could focus on getting things together. On the other hand, it was making a mess and I was not in the mood to deal with clean up.

Fortunately, ImprovDad got home in the nick of time. So instead of Improvamama going all authoritarian and raising my voice to say “Clean that up NOW!”, she got non-stressed ImprovDad who suggested they “pack” the panda’s wardrobe up together.

That moment stuck with me as LP and I spent 10 days visiting family and friends on the East Coast.  We had a good time AND like all travel, we individually and collectively got tired, stressed, cranky or all of the above.  Those moments can be so hard for me to hang on to the parent that I want to be (playful, patient, empathetic, energetic,  good boundaries — those are some of my ideals).

I find that when I’m not able to muster those qualities from the inside, channeling someone else helps.  It becomes especially important when I’m traveling solo with LP and we’re are away from the support of daily routines.  I just have to remember I have a lovely stable of parents, teachers and friends in my head to choose from to emulate.

I’ve been calling on them a lot in our travels recently (especially as I’ve been having trouble sleeping which takes me to cranky level 100 very fast). If I catch myself berating myself, thinking, “Well T would know what to do.” I try to flip that around and pretend I’m her.  It usually gives me a little burst of energy that helps get through a difficult moment.

Who do you channel when the going gets tough for you as a parent?

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In our house, we have the (fairly standard) rule of  “no potty talk at the table.”

LP loves to push the boundaries on this one.  With a glint in her eye, she’ll ask me questions for which the answer is pee or poop (for example, “Why do we walk dogs?” and “What did the dogs do on the living room floor when no one let the dogs out?”).

The other night after I reminded her of the rule, she looked at me crossly and said, “Then no monkeys!” Just moments before, ImprovDad and I had been imitating monkeys although I can’t recall why.

Much as I hate to give up monkeying at the table, it seems fair and, more importantly fun, to incorporate LP’s rules into the picture. So I said, “Okay now we have two rules at the table. No potty talk and no monkeys.” Then I asked ImprovDad if he wanted to set a rule and he said very seriously, “No talking about toasters.”

LP & I have had rule setting discussions in the past but they have always been a serious kind of talk. I had not thought of playful rule setting before.  It lightened up my job of enforcing the rules and we had a playful time skating near the edge of each of our rules and reminding each other about them.  I’m going to remember to do this (the I set a rule and you set a rule)  on purpose in the future as a playful way to get buy in from LP about rules.

What rules have your little people come up with?

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So says the Little Person.

At almost 5 am. After crying for hours. Really since 2:30. All those minutes ticked by very slowly. It reminded me of the bad old days when she regularly had meltdowns in the middle of the night. ( I am grateful that these are increasingly rare.) It has been an emotional week and  I know that she’s working through a lot. So as the time went by, I tried to stay compassionate and put my sleepy energy into being gently present and holding and breathing. Easy but wearying. I was so relieved when she did calm down and tearfully whispered, “Tell me a story.”

I wasn’t even sure I had the energy to tell a story. I just wanted to get a little sleep. I took a breath and began, “Once upon a time…”

LP burst into tears, “No, no. Tell me a story and make it a GOOD story.”

It is a funny thing to think about what “good” means at almost 5 am.  The first things that come to mind are about creating a rich, detailed world with compelling characters and an interesting story arc.  No way can my overtired brain do that. No. No. No. No.  That’s what starts repeating in my head.

Deep breath. Because even in that moment of “no,” I know that isn’t what LP is asking for.   She’s asking for a story that is familiar and comforting. She’s asking for a story she can relax into. While in the moment, I don’t know what the exact elements of that story are, I trust she and I can figure that out together.

In the end, I told her a simple story about two bunnies, Violet and Simon (characters from a favorite book), and their dog Lucy. She chimed in occasionally to keep the story on the track she wanted which was a very ordinary day story.  The story helped her settle down and transition from her upset state back into sleep.  Nothing exciting about it. No adventures. No big upsets or triumphs. It was a bare bones kind of story that described an ordinary day.

So having been rescued from having to achieve my version of “good,” the story was done and then we got a tiny bit of sleep.

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Registration is open for my next series of Playtime for Parents classes. Thanks to the Recreation Department from the City of Albany for the opportunity to teach there!

Here are the details:

Playtime for Parents

Enhance your enjoyment of playing with your kids by (re)discovering and deepening your own sense of play.

Have fun exploring play with other parents, while learning practical hands-on ideas you can use with your family.

The class will incorporate improvisation and storytelling techniques and explore how to use them with children of all ages. Each week will involve new games and activities.

Shy people are welcome!


Four sessions. Register for individual sessions or receive a discount when you register for all four.

June 15 Wed 7-9:30 pm 1x $27 $37
June 22 Wed 7-9:30 pm 1x $27 $37
June 29 Wed 7-9:30 pm 1x $27 $37
July 6 Wed 7-9:30 pm 1x $27 $37
June 15-July 6 Wed 7-9:30pm 4x $82 $92


Ready to register?

The online City of Albany Summer 2011 Activity Guide is here. (Playtime for Parents is on page 27)

City of Albany online registration is here.

You can also register by phone by calling (510) 524-9283.



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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


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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ImprovDad was out of town for a week and when we finally got the timing right for a family skype call, I appreciated anew the playfulness he brought to the interaction (especially since I was feeling low on my playful energy).

Although I have big appreciation for skype, I feel  self-conscious on video so I am a reluctant participant.  AND even at almost 4,  it is a challenge to keep LP in the video frame (and really, everyone we skype with is family who really wants to see and interact with her).  She gets restless after a minute or two. So that ImprovDad made it fun for all of us and kept the little girl engaged for the whole call…that is an achievement!

What did he do?

First…special effects!  He did extreme closeups (LP thought that was hysterical, especially eyes and open mouth) and long shots. (“Daddy’s so small!” she cried out as he backed against the far wall of his hotel room.)  And then he upped the ante and flipped his laptop over so he was talking to us upside-down!

Second…he initiated a space-object game.  He said something along the lines of “look, here comes a cow” which he then pretended to milk into an imaginary glass.  He took a sip and then “handed” it to us (oh, the magic of the camera).  I “took” the glass and had a sip and then gave it to LP who sipped a bunch and then asked for “more!”  We played that milking the cow game and handing glass back and forth for quite awhile.

It was a great end to our day.

How do you bring play to your interactions when you are at a distance?

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