The Sweater That Keeps On Giving: Knitting As A Parenting Tool

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Hello there!  Good Sunday evening.  How has 2015 been for you so far?
I am amazed that I have kept this #YourTurnChallange of posting on this blog 7 days in a row.  It had been in unexpectedly exhilarating week to be able to stick to a promise to myself and following through with this challenge.

Today I want to share with you one of my favourite activity and to me it is also an amazing parenting tool: knitting.

My earliest and fondest memory on knitting was from my kindergarden friend’s mother.  She was a ferocious and prolific knitter.  She would knit a whole kids sized sweater in a day.  My favourite thing to do when I go to play at their house was to sit next to her and just watch her hands and needles go.  I loved and cherished every sweater she made for me and I always felt sad whenever I got too big for them.

Not until after I became a mother, I learned to look at knitting as something outside than just a craft, that it is more than just something to do for grannies and people who have extra time to have a hobby.   Knitting now has become a nurturing and healing activity. I never realize that something seem so trivial can be so powerful.

HOW DO YOU HAVE TIME TO KNIT WHEN YOU ARE TAKING CARE OF YOUNG CHILDREN?

I know right?

After I woke up to the fact that children (as young as from birth) do not need to be “entertained”, I took to knitting as my way to have a little time to sit down in between changing diapers, cleaning the house, manage everyday household chores, feeding and putting the little ones to bed etc.

But mostly I love knitting because actually has these amazing qualities:

1.  To show (especially the in the fast paced first world) that some things are made by hand.
2.  To illustrate that whatever the end result may be, it takes time.
3.  To demonstrate perseverance.
4.  To instill virtues like patience and delayed gratification.
5.  An opportunity to show children that joy is in the process, in the doing of.
6.  And if you are knitting something for your kids, they will feel loved, valued and cherished in ways that buying them a toy can never convey.

KNITTING AND TANTRUMS GO HAND IN HAND

I must say I have knitting to thank during many episodes of toddler tantrums.  It depends on the need of my boys (whether they need to be held or not), when they are expressing their huge feelings, I often sit down beside them and would start knitting.  Instead of trying to talk to them or ask them a ton of questions,  I just keep steady, grounded, knit and wait patiently until they have let it all out.  I would remember to breathe deeply during these episodes while knitting and send out a kind, loving and gentle energies towards the whirlwind beside me.  Knitting would help me stay strong, focus and anchored for my children, which is the what they truly need when they are in despair or confusion.

THE SWEATER THAT KEEPS ON GIVINGIMG_5130

With all that being said, I have this one sweater that I have been knitting over and over again that I want to share with you today.  It is a classic raglan top-down sweater, pattern designed by a wonderful Canadian designer Jane Richmond.  To me it is great for both girl or boy.

This had been the sweater that both my boys have worn day in and day out, in all four seasons (I always use the same wool yarn) in the past 3 years.  When it comes to dressing, especially with children, I like to keep things simple and options minimal.  So both boys have only a few pairs of pants each, a couple of basic wool under layers and 4-5 plain-jane short and long-sleeved T shirts for the rest of the year.

This sweater goes on top of every outfit and we layer up/down with winter jackets, vests, hats and or scarfs according to the seasons.  This pattern is so easy to follow,  it is so rewarding for our whole family.

If you are looking for something more than a scarf or hat, maybe you can try this sweater on for size?

Have a great week.  Until next post.

Much love and warmth,
Grace

 

A Letter to New Mothers

Hello there, I can’t believe this will be my 6th post in a row this week.  If you have not been following, I am almost at the end of a creative habits challenge – to post everyday for one week called the #YourTurnChallenge.

Instead of going with a plan, I have decided to release some of the many many things that I had wanted to write about but had placed in the back burner of my mind for reasons like:  “Oh I’ll need to take beautiful photos for this topic, or will people actually be confused because this has nothing to do with parenting even thought I feel a strong urge to share, or oh I need to fix this theme up because the font is driving me nuts,  (I am a designer, I can’t help but find a need to make everything and anything look and feel better) basically your typical perfectionist way to thinking.

This week I have committed to letting it go and to free myself from all the things that had been holding me back from sharing and not caring what other people may think, I feel empowered.

Today I want to send out some love and big hugs to all the new mothers out there struggling to make it through the day/night.  Ones with hearts that are frightened but also filled with love for their newborns yet still physically a mess from recovering from just having birthed a human.  Hello there, this post is for you.

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ITS ALL A BLUR ISN’T IT

My heart goes out to you.  There is nothing easy or simple about being a mother for the first time.  For me, it felt like being out there all alone like of the story of Jesus out in the desert for 40 days but instead of being tested with temptations, it was my strength and resolve that was up for questioning.

Yes of course everybody wants to help you, that is our society’s instinct to welcome and help new mothers and babies but are they really helping you in a way that you felt you needed to be helped?  That is questionable because you probably don’t even know what kind of help to ask for yourself.

Outside of the trivial things like food, laundry, changing diapers, holding the baby while you go to the bathroom/shower, not one person can truly help you get more sleep or nurse your baby.  You and your boobs are up for bat for what feels like never ending and technically, this all is physically abusive in my opinion.

Yes you can be in bliss but feel like crap at the same time!

I can safely say that this first newborn business is the most overwhelming feeling that one can ever experience.  No one can prepare you for this.  You can read all the books you want, buy all the things you think you need, none of it will help you feel less overwhelmed and that is the truth.

So today I want to acknowledge to all those that are feeling bogged down and tired with some encouraging words:

  • wrap yourself in a protective bubble for the next 3 months and feel as bad and good as you need to feel.  Cry with your baby.  Keep only the people you feel you can be vulnerable with around you for the first 40 days (minimum), and if that person is not your mother, she can only stay for short visits.  I know this may sound harsh but it is the time to kick start and unleash your mama bear instincts.  Protect your family at all costs, even if you may offend somebody close to you.
  • there will be a lot of opinions but know that your gut instinct will always win.  This is your baby, one that had been with you and not any other person for 9 months, you know him/her the best as he/she know you as well.
  • remember to let people know if you are feeling sad or scared and go for a walk to get fresh air even though the baby may be crying non-stop because they need a mother that knows when to say no and be good to herself.
  • drink lots of soup!  Like all day everyday for the 6 months (at least!!) if you can.  I know it may sound crazy if you are not Chinese but since now Bone Broths are so hip and trendy, I don’t feel like I have to prove my point as much as I used to.  Which brings me to another great blog post idea – to share with you all my go-to easy-as-hell postpartum (or not, for I still make/drink/eat today) soups.  I truly believe it can be a huge asset against PPD (postpartum depression).  Here is one recipe I found that is quite good to get you started with.
  • sleep WITH your baby.  Please I beg you to let go of all the fears and scary “incidences” portrayed in the media about co-sleeping.  Cribs are a first world modern invention, in my opinion, just something extra you have to spend money on.  Enjoy cuddling up to your precious gift this most fleeting time.  Soak up all that amazingly intoxicatingly sweet baby smell.  Treasure and devour this time with gusto.We never had a crib.  There was really no need.  If you have a high bed, just lower it and live like this for a few years.  You and your family will live. (and later on, if you need more room in your bed, add a little cotton futon next the bed on the floor, put a nice wool blanket (you can get one of those well used one from the thrift stores, get it cleaned and use that is a mattress protector, and put the sheets on top.  Voila, you have an all natural, non-toxic baby bed that also fits you and there will be no smells or mess if pee goes all over it, just wash the sheets and hang dry the wool blanket and start all over again.  (Oh gosh, I just realize I have to write a whole post on why wool is THE BEST for baby bedding!!)
  • keep your sleeping quarters really dim and as low light as possible.  Your baby had been living in total darkness since conception, the harshness of daylight in itself would be so uncomfortable, let alone bright interior lights.  We had dimmers put on most of our interior lights for this reason.  This will help with the quality of your sleep (if you do get to sleep).
  • Embrace the heck out of the dirty messy-ness of your baby, even if it gets all over you.  Have lots of thing towels around for wipe ups.  There are much dirtier and smellier things in this world than baby poop and urine.
  • in keeping with the theme of this blog of keeping things simple, most people do not believe us when we tell them that we have never used baby wipes. ( I always thought about my mother and what she had used when my brother and I were young, just soap and water and not a drop of cream)I rather you spend the money for baby wipes on pampering your own skin!
  • read this amazing post on my #1 favourite parenting blog.  Just scour her archives when you are up in the middle of the night.  I owe so much to Carrie Dentler’s words.  She is a serious inspiration and I owe her for helping me feel right about my parenting direction and choices.  Oh and of course THIS post.
  • I LOVED the sling mostly because I love being hands free.  Spend some time looking up tutorials (here is one for ring sling, this one is with a wrap, which I loved using especially when I wanted to cook ) on how to nurse your baby hands free.  Work with your baby and practice finding that special position that works for you both.  This will really help you get out of the feeling of feeling “trapped” with a baby 24/7.
  • Do not forget about your partner.  He or she is most likely feeling just as scared and overwhelmed as you are.  Stay close and keep the conversation inclusive.  Keep them in the loop.  Empower them because they are the most important part of raising this new baby, besides your boobs.
  • Last but not least, when the crying is relentless, and baby is fed, pooped, diapers changed, hold them close and as they cry, close your eyes, breathe deeply and visualize yourself as a rock in a running river as the water moves through you and you, the rock, does not waiver.  This was inspired by a written piece I was given by a Waldorf educator, which helped me figure out how to weather the ebbs and flows of a rapidly growing and changing little human.  When I find the article, I will post it here.

I’d love to hear from you if you happen to be reading this (maybe in the middle of the night and feeling desperate to connect, please drop me email (grace at plentyofsimple.com) or comment below.  Let me know if you have any questions or just get the fear out be writing about it.  I want to lend a helping ear.

Until tomorrow.

Much love and warmth,
Grace

 

 

 

 

Implementing Rhythm in Our Home Changed Our Lives, Kept Our Sanity and Improved Our Relationships

Do you live with rhythm in your home?  I didn’t because I didn’t even know what that meant.   After I learned about it and started to really implement it, my family and my life had been completely transformed.  Here is the story of how it all started…

I was brought up in a home that did not have much structure.  We had meals at mealtimes but not always together, especially breakfast, it was often eaten standing up and completely rushed.   A lot of times packing it with me to eat on route to school or an event.  Sunday church was the only thing that was non negotiable.  Other than that, most family activities were off the cuff.  Of course I did not see anything wrong with this picture.  I turned out “fine”, as most people have.

My adult life before kids were just things that happen to me and all decisions were based on the result of how comfortable I would or would not be.  No one would realize and see how self indulgent one is until you become a parent, no matter how giving you think you have been. Don’t feel bad about this if you don’t have kids. It is only natural that you would want to be good yourself.

Parenthood will bring out the dark stuff, from the inside out.  What you do with these feelings/emotions/realizations and whether you want to learn from it is entirely part of your path.  To me it is a choice, you either choose to ignore/bury it or you face it head on.  If you choose to face it then it will probably be the most uncomfortable, self inflicted hard core (pun intended) decision you would have to make.  The worse part is, there are so many layers and once you go in, it is hard to come out unscathed.  The layers are extremely overwhelming.  It takes courage and guts to face this darkness.  To me, this is actually THE hardest part about parenting – dealing with your own crap.

Most new parents talk about how hard it is to take care of highly emotional infant/toddler set, about how to deal with their tantrums, asking around for tricks and tips on discipline, seeking for the best methods to getting them to sleep through the night…the list goes on.  The truth is, when your kids are “acting out”,  it is actually them asking you to look into yourself.  And if you want things to change, you have to change yourself first.  In the world of kids, words are cheap especially in the early years.  I have learned that one has to model the behaviour you want your kids to have.  THAT to me is why parenting is not easy, the smelly diapers and the tantrums do not come close to the difficulty of inner work.

There is light at the end of this blog post/tunnel.  I worked hard on my own crap and I got rewarded.  Let me tell you how it happened.  Lets get back to the topic of rhythm.

From the beginning of my parenting journey, I thrived on the attachment parenting philosophy of how to be attuned and keeping close awareness of your child’s needs.  I was that mother who “wore” her baby everywhere.  First slings then wraps and then the Ergo carrier.  The used McClaren stroller we purchased via craigslist the day before he arrived collected dust.  I was into keeping my baby close to my body as much as I can and as close to my face and head as I can.  He and I definitely bonded.  I was happy and he was happy (so I thought).  I was breastfeeding on demand and I was okay with him needing to feed throughout the night (and day).  He could sleep when he falls asleep and eat when I sensed he was hungry.  I would prepare meals for him first, feed him and then think about what we’d eat AFTER he falls asleep – a lot of times that is after 10pm.  This baby-led lifestyle was working for us – so I thought.  I remember even commenting to myself on how “rigid” this mother was when I learned that she would put her 6 month old to nap and sleep for the night everyday at the same time.  I remember thinking: “Kids would sleep when they are tired.”

Wow, did I have something to learn.  Enters my own unhealthy connection to sleep.  I grew up not having a set time to sleep.  I was allowed to sleep as late as I wanted throughout my childhood (a lot of times, pass 11pm).  I never recall on having to nap or being asked if I needed one.  I slept because I was exhausted, not because it was bedtime.  I was always tired during the day and would crash out in the library on a desk while trying to do homework after school.  As a result, when I got older I had insomnia and would stay up two days or more in a row during exam times throughout university.  I did not know how to self regulate.  That was my normal.  Yeah.

Here I am, totally “handling” my sleep-deprived life like a pro.  As this lifestyle continued, I was starting to fall apart and not realize it.  I would have trouble keeping up with housework, I couldn’t take a shower without thinking that I would wake the baby up, I was also working part-time.  I thought I had a handle on it.  I thought this stressful, surviving-by-a-thread mode was normal and that was what parenting a young child is like.   I accepted it and both my husband and I were game for the challenge.  Until one day I came across the Waldorf School and their child development philosophies while researching for schooling around my community.

Enters a WHOLE NEW WORLD. Total and absolute epiphany.  What an eye opening experience.  This was the first time I had encountered the words rhythm, home and family in the same sentence.  Rudolf Steiner?  Who is that?!  (I’ll have to take a rain check on the elaboration of Mr. Steiner.  What I have learned from his philosophies are many a blog posts to come.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, here is the link to his wiki world to make it easier for you know now )

From the moment I “walked-in” to this new-to-me world of Waldorf Education and its philosophies on child development, I knew I had found something I can really sink my teeth into.  No one, and I mean NO ONE I knew throughout my diverse life experiences had ever talked to me about the existence of this philosophy. It felt like I was censored from it my whole life and all of a sudden the curtain was lifted.  Eyes wide open I went in head first into the deep end of this fascinating new pool.  I may as well have just discovered a new planet.

I am a really fast learner.  I’m even faster if I feel a fire in my belly about something.  Well, my stomach was burning alright.  I only had to read a few of books and articles out of the milieu of teachings for me to change our family’s way of life 180 degrees.  Of course I have the best partner who was in complete support to this new research and was so on-board with trying anything new if it has to do with improving our family life.  So we went out there, worked our butts off in making changes within ourselves and got us some rhythm in our home.  Here is what it looks like (please keep in mind that we have pre-school age kids, this will change as they grow of course) :

  1.  7am: We have an epic un-rushed breakfast before father goes to work.  When I said epic, i mean we all eat together sitting down, with table set, no cereal in a bowl of milk but instead fresh fruits, yogurt, eggs cooked in different ways in different seasons, sometimes bacon or sausages and toast.  On weekends and special occasions we take it even slower and grander, doing pancakes or french toast etc.
  2. 8:30am: After breakfast activity (for the ages from infant to around 6/7) consist in the form of a walk around the neighbourhood visiting cats, saying hi to the postman, chatting with neighbours, pick berries and throw rocks in the river or a short hike in the forest, then back home for a bit of circle time – singing, stories and snacks then free uninstructed play while I prepare lunch.
  3. 11:45am:  Lunch time happens in the same time frame everyday, again together, no matter where we are.
  4. 12:30pm:  2 to 3 hours of nap/quiet time in a room where there is a bed – no sleeping in the stroller, in the car seat or in a carrier.
  5. 3pm: After nap activity would be similar to after breakfast and 2 days out of a week, we make get in the car and go explore somewhere a bit further.
  6. 6pm: Dinner time happens in around the same time frame, and dad would do everything in his power to be present for this meal – even meaning having to work a bit in the evening.
  7. 6:45pm: Bath, story and a song – for the first 3 years we didn’t even read books.  We would all lay in bed in the dark and tell stories that would pertain to our boys’ day/life.
  8. 7:30pm:  Lights out.

So this is what the basics framework of what our rhythm looks like.   Of course it gets flexed with the ebb and flows of the seasons and developmental milestones.  In general,  everyday of our lives now looks more or less like this ever since I’ve discovered this way of organizing our days, yes even on weekends!

It may seem boring or its just a time schedule if you look at it at face value but the kind of discipline and creativity it takes to sustain this EVERYDAY takes a lot of hard work, especially when you have never experienced this throughout your life.  We have been at this for over 3.5 years now and we are constantly refining the details and making it even better.

Every since we got rhythm, both my husband and I been rewarded with quality “me and us” time every night starting from 7:30pm.  The boys sleeps through the night.  I get to have a bonus 2 hours of quiet uninterrupted time in the middle of my day where I can recharge.  But the real reward is how the kids are.  They both feel secure and joyful knowing their day is predictable, they are well rested therefore able to absorb new things with much focus and ease, well feed with regular timed meals and snacks to keep energy levels even-keeled, the pro list is very long. Ultimately they are genuinely happy, physically thriving and has an overall great sense of peace about them.

What I really want to say to all the struggling, sleep deprived parents out there, is that you CAN keep your sanity, have time for yourself and your relationships even with very young children in your home.  Two years ago when our second boy came into our lives and into this developed rhythm of ours, his ability to self-regulate from the very beginning never cease to amaze us.  So yes, you can have rhythm in your home from day one.

I strongly urge all families to try this out.  There are lots of trails and errors that we’ve worked through and ironed out throughout this journey and we know with every developmental change, there will be a new shift in the details of our rhythm.  I will be writing more on these shifts and changes in many posts to come for if I can inspire one family to develop a peaceful fulfilling home life, I would be more than happy to share our stories.

To learn more about how to set rhythm in your home, here are some great resources to dig deeper into:

Carrie, one of my biggest parenting inspiration from The Parenting Passageway,  has many many amazing insightful posts on this topic, this one is a good one to start with:  Eight facets of a family culture: Rhythm (Part One).

Helle Heckmann, renowned Waldorf Kindergarden teacher and author of books like Slow Parenting wrote an in-depth and detailed article on how to create rhythm in the home.  It is called Daily Rhythm at Home and its Lifelong Relevance.

These two articles alone will open the door wide into looking at parenting from a different perspective than what we are mostly exposed these days.  It is truly inspiring to know that there are such great resources out there and I feel so grateful to have stumbled onto this for it has changed my life significantly and continuing to do so.

Please feel free to leave a comment or sent me and email if you want to discuss more about this, especially if you are thinking of making this change.

With much warmth and love,

GracePlenty of Simple

Our simple yet epic breakfast

Our simple yet epic breakfast

Birthdays and Parties – A Simplified Outlook Part 1:

Our sweet Leo will be turning 2 next month.

Confession:  I have yet to do birthday “parties” for either one of our boys where invitations were sent, neither via an e-vite nor snail mail.  In today’s parenting culture, from time to time I do feel a bit reluctant to admit that it is actually not something we are very proactive with.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good party, have people over to our house, preparing delicious meals, the sharing and the connection . It is the over-the-top, the more the merrier kind of parties that make me think twice.

Now that I am more aware of my own childhood, as I look back I realize birthdays were not such a big deal in my family.  Partly it is because my birthday is on Christmas Eve (Church and Jesus took center stage) .  Mostly it was because everyone was just too busy.  It was remembered and a family dinner was prepared or dining out was scheduled.  I was not modelled on how a good kids birthday party was thrown.  As I got older, and went to other people’s birthday parties, I didn’t recall having that much of a good time.  It was usually frenzied, chaotic, noisy and rushing to get the candles and cake part done – and then the presents.  It was always tearing out the wrapping and trying to get through the pile before anyone can take a breath.  There was never any order to these parties and it often just felt messy to me.

As our youngest boy will be turning 2 in a month, the idea of “to have or not to have” a birthday party has been circling my thoughts.  The first thing I always ask myself is:

“If we are going to have a birthday party, is it going to be a party for me (the adults) or is it going to be for the little ones?”

Leland1stBdayCake

For Leland’s first birthday 3 years ago, I made a rich dark chocolate cake for just us (the grandparents and the two of us) to enjoy.  We did have candles and I did put his name on the cake and we even took photos of him watching us blow out the candle.  It was truly simple and sweet.  We knew that Leland would not remember this particular birthday but the photos will show him that it was important, acknowledged and celebrated.  We didn’t at all feel the pressure of having a big shindig, in fact we felt it was quite authentic to our own (developing) family culture.

Leo1stBdayCake

For Leo’s first birthday last summer, it was a bit different.  Since the older brother was 3 and much more aware, we decided to do a simple birthday breakfast with just the 4 of us.  We made a blueberry pancake tower and sang a few songs.  It felt as though it was Leland that enjoyed the experience the most.  For him, it was all about the candles, lighting them and blowing them out.  There were no presents, except for a birthday ring that had photos of Leo throughout the year and ONE wood decoration on the ring.

So far my goal it still trying to keep birthdays and celebrations as genuine and simple as we can.  While they grow to become more aware of their own birthdays, so will I in regards to how I will be carving out our own kind of birthday traditions.  My goal is to be part of developing with them a healthy, meaningful and heartfelt outlook with their own birthdays as well as the birthdays of their loved ones.

The Big Picture

Beach Combing

The fact is our parenting journey goes by so fast.  During the early years, the days may feel so long but the years are short.  Now that we are a little over four years into this phase of our lives, we are finding time is speeding by faster than ever before.  We just blinked and our first boy will be five this year.

Recently, I stumbled upon this Podcast by Jack Petrash, an author, a parent/teacher educator, a master Waldorf Teacher and the founder and director of the Nova Institute.  This Podcast was a talk he did a few years ago about the basic overview of his book Navigating the Terrain of Childhood” – A Guidebook for Meaningful Parenting and Heartfelt Discipline.  His talk was one of the most beautiful rendition of the big picture of the parenting journey that I’ve ever heard in less than 60 minutes.  It was so simple, earnest and heartfelt as well as moving and exquisitely descriptive using the metaphor of a road trip through the United States, starting in the east coast from North Carolina to the west coast ending in California.

My heart was so full by the end his talk, my eyes were filled with tears that streamed down with overwhelming knowledge these beautiful years of wonderment with our boys will just fly by.  It is not like we don’t know this – that children will grow up fast – but it was how he told this story, almost like a fairytale that made this talk so different than all the other ways it had been presented to me before.  It was so moving and most of all inspiring.  It has inspired me to become even more conscious that I feel I already am, and to live in the present with even more conviction that I will not take ANY moment with my boys for granted.  I want to be able to be real and truthful with them with as much clarity as I possibly can.  I just want to be there, with eyes wide open.   I’m not here just to serve them and help them grow, I am doing this for Vince and myself too!

I’m not sure who will stumble upon this post, but if you are reading this and you have children then I would strongly recommend listening to this wonderful gem.  It will open your heart and your mind to see the humanity of all our journeys, it will add some more depth to the way you see the world and your children and most of all, yourself.

I would love to hear your feedback and listen to your thoughts on this.

With much affection,

Grace

A technical note on the Podcast:  It is divided into 11 Segments and they are not arranged in chronological order, so you will need to select each one as you go along.  Also, the time stamp of these segments are incorrect, each Segment is only about 5 minutes long so don’t be taken that this is going to be a long drawn-out lecture.