May 2014

What Would You Do?

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If you’ve been watching the news recently, perhaps you’ve already seen the story about the girl, Claire Ettinger, getting kicked out of the Richmond Homeschool Prom because the parents and teachers claimed her dress was too short.

But it wasn’t simply getting kicked out of prom that made this young girl’s story go viral on the Internet. It was her guest post on her sister’s blog that brought about the wave of attention and controversy. You can read her post here.

I happened to join in on a conversation at work about this particular story the other day, and we ended up in a debate about whether her post was “appropriate” or not. When I first heard the story, I thought it was great that a young girl felt empowered to speak out about what she believed in. Then I looked at the title (“F@#k the Patriarchy”) and wondered if maybe a well-intentioned attempt at speaking her mind turned into a childish rant.

Now don’t misunderstand, I was certainly hoping to find her blog post was a well-written piece. I love it when children and young adults speak up in such a way that reminds adults that they’re not just “children”, but blossoming, unique human beings, each with their own intelligence, perspectives and insights. But too often I see children who have grown up surrounded by bad examples and lack of guidance on how to deal with intense feelings and end up reacting in ways that reinforce the idea of children being “ignorant” rather than intelligent.

I appreciate the power of the F-word as much as anyone. But titling a post as such doesn’t give me much hope about the intellectual quality of the content of the post.

However, I was pleasantly surprised. The post was well-written and clearly expressed her point. When I expressed that opinion during the conversation at work, a fellow coworker asked me, “What would you do if it was your daughter?”

It was a question that stopped me in my tracks. Because I hadn’t thought about that at all. And yet, why hadn’t I? In a digital world, these are the challenges we will face as parents. Would I make her take it down to avoid the controversy and negative publicity? Or would I applaud her ability to express her beliefs? Would I make her change the curse words in the title? Or would it inspire a conversation about the ways–both good and bad–to make your message go viral? Perhaps it would start an entire conversation about the power of language and how people perceive you. Now wouldn’t that be a powerful writing lesson?

The truth is–I have no idea what I would do if it was my daughter. In my attempt to “prepare” for these parenting situations in the ever-changing world, I understand more and more that we can never truly prepare for the unknown. We can only prepare to be present.


The Impact of Intention

A few months ago I saw this video, and a few others by Dr. Masaru Emoto about the impact of our thoughts and intentions on water. The video completely blew my mind. Thoughts of certain words and the feelings associated with those words physically changed the structure of the water. Words like “love” and “generosity” created beautiful crystalline designs. Words like “hate” created poisonous-looking blobs.

I started thinking about the water we drink. The water we bath in. And then I started to consider that our bodies are 70% water. Which means that these words, these thoughts, these intentions have the power to change the physical composition of our bodies.

(This is where I sit in stunned silence for a moment.)

Watch this video and imagine each of these words as part of the makeup of your body. Which would you choose? Which would you intend to create in those around you?

What reminded me of this today was proof that our thoughts and intentions do affect us physically, as do the things around us. It came in the form of the following article: Looking at Tears Under a Microscope. I highly encourage you to check it out.

My closing thought would be this: think of how joyful, how curious, how loving and innocent our children are. Imagine how beautiful the impact they can have on those around them, if we are willing to receive. And, as a parent, I know the image of filling my sweet little girl with the poisonous water will come to my mind every time I think about responding with anger or teaching her hate. Open-ended parenting is as much about taking responsibility for the impact we do have as it is about letting go of the impact we don’t need to control.

If you want to learn more about Dr. Emoto’s work, here is a link to the full documentary: Dr. Masaru Emoto Hado Water Crystals Full Documentary. It’s well worth the thirty four minutes.

What You Bring

I have worked in education for 6 years. One of my primary goals during that time in working with students and teachers was to shift the mindset of what real learning is. In the age of “high stakes testing”, teachers are taking more and more responsibility for children’s learning. This may sound like a good thing but, in fact, it’s a very dangerous cycle.

If the teacher believes he or she must control the learning, they get swept into a cycle of control. They ask questions for which there is only one right answer. In some cases, this is necessary, for example when memorizing facts. However, we’ve started taking it too far, trying to sculpt ever answer that comes out of a child’s mouth to match exactly what the teacher deems “right”. Some of the most painful moments I’ve witnessed in education are when a teacher stands in front of a group of students, hinting and prodding them to parrot exactly what her or she considers to be the “correct” answer, dismissing the creative variety of answers from the students as “wrong”.

It was this cycle of control that I wanted to break using the idea of open-ended questions as a foundational tool. In an age where a student’s cell phone knows more than the teacher ever will, the playing field evens out. It’s no longer about how much information you can “contain”, it’s about how much information you can access. So as the circumstances shift, so does the process. I challenged teachers on a daily basis to ask questions that even they didn’t know the answer to and see what would come up. The goal was to let them get comfortable with not controlling the answer.

Because truth is, we can’t control what students learn. We can encourage, present, empower, and offer. But if they don’t want to learn, they won’t.  We can only control ourselves and what we bring. To focus on controlling what we get sends us into an exhausting cycle of drama.

The good news? How you ask the question determines the answer you get. Even if we can’t (and don’t need to) control what we get back, we can still control what we bring to it. And what we bring will change what we get.

How would your teaching or parenting change if you focused on what you bring to it rather than what you get from it?



Little Lexi <3
Little Lexi <3

I was ready to be a mom. At least, I thought I was.

As soon as she was born, I “freaked out” (for lack of better description). It could have been the vicious hormone attack. Or perhaps it’s normal for first time parents (though, if so, no one warned me in the slightest). It could have been exhaustion or any number of things. But the idea of being “responsible” for this tiny human for the rest of my life was terrifying.

Looking back now, it’s almost comical to see how severe my reaction was. I remember reasoning that I wanted to breast feed because it was best for her, but I also wanted to give her one bottle of formula per day, that way if something happened to me and she had to suddenly wean, she would be ok. I felt like I had to prepare for everything, to make sure that no matter what life through at us, I would be prepared and she would be alright.

I’ve learned more about children and about myself in the last four years than in all the twenty-four years before that. I’ve learned how often I try to control things that I don’t need to be controlling. I’ve learned that my parenting style is different than how I was raised. I’ve learned how magical children are, and how much we have to learn from them.

And for the last four years I’ve been trying to find the language to share what I’m learning. I’m still not sure I have found it. But last week while reading, a phrase kept popping up–a phrase that has been popping up in my world for a while now: open-ended learning.

Generally, the term open-ended refers to a question that doesn’t have a specific “right” answer. It’s one of the things I focused on in my work in education–getting teaching to ask questions because they want to hear what is in the child’s brain, not because they want to hear a parrot of what is in their own brain or the textbook. Open-ended questions are a foundational piece of creativity, curiosity, and authentic learning.

During my reading last week, it occurred to me: why not apply the same concept to parenting? Rather than approach our children as if it is our job to turn them into something, to turn them into a “right answer”, what if we treated parenting as an opportunity to discover them, and to give them the tools to discover themselves?

So here’s to the beginning of a journey I’ve been beginning for a long time now. At least at the beginning of this chapter, unlike my beginning into motherhood, I’ve learned to let go of the impulse to control and instead be present with what I find.

Thanks for joining me.