Is Play the Cure?

October 12, 2015 at 12:12 am

Over the past few weeks, I have devoured Peter Gray’s Free to Learn, a book recommended by one of my readers. Gray is a psychology research professor at Boston College, author, blogger, and a parent. I added that last title because parenthood has a huge impact on how people view children and education. This point was made almost humorous in The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn who cited example after example of teachers who revised their homework policies after their own children began bringing homework home. This particular passage is underlined and surrounded by stars in my copy of Kohn’s book:

“Now that I’m a parent myself,” one fourth grade teacher in North Carolina said, “I realize they have lives at home” (The Homework Myth, p. 23).

freetolearnHa ha! I realize they have lives at home. Cracks me up every time. So it was important to me that Free to Learn‘s author Peter Gray was a father himself in addition to being an “expert.” In fact, the first words of his book come straight out of one of his most painful challenges as a fatherthe day his nine-year-old son told him to “Go to hell” as they sat in the school principal’s office. Gray explained:

We were there to present a united front, to tell Scott in no uncertain terms that he must attend school and must do there whatever he was told by his teachers to do. We each sternly said our piece, and then Scott, looking squarely at us all, said the words that stopped me in my tracks (p. ix).

Both Gray and his wife immediately began to cry, and in that moment they both knew what they had to do. They pulled him out of the school, and “not just from that school but from anything that was anything like that school” (p. x). Free to Learn presents educational history and research through the lens of Gray’s own experience as a father striving to provide his son with a learning environment suited to his needs.

School Battles: Kids’ Feelings Matter

September 15, 2015 at 8:44 pm

My 6-year-old gave me a heart attack this morning. I went into his room, as usual, to wake him up for school, but he was gone. At first I thought, “Cool, he’s already up! I don’t have to drag him out of bed.” But when I couldn’t find him anywhere in the house, I had a mild freak out. Logically, I should have known he was somewhere in the house. All the doors were locked. But I still went into a panic, frantically calling his name as I searched, convinced someone had somehow entered our home and stolen our son. I enlisted the help of my older daughters and dialed my husband’s cell number. But my 9-year-old knew just where to look.

Under the bed. There he was. Hiding. The first words out of his mouth:

“I don’t want to go!”

Even as he dressed himself and finally came out for breakfast, he repeated, “I don’t like school!” His sister promptly told him, “No one likes school!” As we sat in traffic, driving to the dreaded locale (since we missed the bus… again), he said, “Mom, I feel sick.” I knew he wasn’t physically ill. I dropped him off, and all the way home I started composing this blogpost in my head.

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The Power of a Mother’s Shield

September 7, 2015 at 1:12 am

The purest thing in the world is the heart of the mother. . . . It can move God. It can move the Universe. It can cause an effect beyond limitation. The heart of the mother is the greatest power of Infinity ever given to any finite being. -Yogi Bhajan, Women’s Camp 1977

Imagine you have an invisible shield surrounding your body, protecting you. And imagine that your newborn baby doesn’t have a shield of her own. Your shield is, in fact, your baby’s shield. Imagine that being within your “bubble of peace” can regulate your baby’s heart rate, temperature, breathing, and keep her immune system functioning optimally. Imagine that you have that kind of power… because you do.

Last March I shared something “new” I learned at my first yoga teacher training class. I put new in quotation marks because the truth is that I already knew it on some level. I felt compelled to keep my babies very close to me for the first years of their lives, and now I’m more grateful than ever that I did. Here’s the “news” I’m referring to:

40 days

I Don’t Like to Share My Babies

July 13, 2015 at 3:59 am

As she looked upon Joey it was as if time would slow down just for the two of them— and now for me as well. His gaze with his mother never broke. It was as if he knew the power of his soulful eyes. He knew one look would melt the heart and remind the spirit of that sacred thread of unity and love. -Buffy Owens, “Not One, Not Two: The Mother-Infant Dyad

Grandmothers will probably hate me for this one. Sigh. Grandmothers are awesome. I love grandmothers. My apologies for what I’m about to say.

I was attending a mixed-age women’s meeting today, and one of the attendees had brought her newborn infant. Upon request, she stood and showed the roomful of women her new baby. Oooohing and ahhhhing commenced. Then this new mom declared her baby’s name, followed by, “And I love to share if anyone wants to hold him,” to the delight of many eager empty-nester arms in the room. Their eagerness was no surprise. It’s a rare woman who can resist a newborn baby. Apparently that newborn smell lights up the same reward centers of women’s brains as chocolate would (see here). I’ll admit… I even really wanted to hold him, and I’ve never met the mother in my life. But I leaned to my stepmom and whispered, “I don’t like to share.” She smiled and said, “I know.”

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Hopes for Next Time

July 8, 2015 at 8:14 pm

Back in 2010 I wrote a post with some of my hopes for the upcoming birth of my 4th baby. It turned out that many of the things I wanted to experience with her birth didn’t work out. I did get to experience a near-painless birth, but it wasn’t anything like what I had envisioned. So here’s what I’m hoping for with birth #5…

1) Mother Blessing Celebration

With my last births, my co-authors gave me a “virtual mother blessing” and sent me a bonsai tree and beads for a birthing necklace along with lovely messages and prayers for me. It was wonderful. But this time I want a real-life mother blessing celebration with all my hippy/birthy friends (who can make it) physically present. I want henna on my belly, and flowers in my hair, and candles and the whole nine yards. Getting this child here has been a long and agonizing process, and I know I will need a lot of love and support to complete this journey and bring this child earth-side.

Yoga Teacher Training Diary, Practicum Edition

April 30, 2015 at 7:07 am

I’ve now completed six full weekends of Kundalini Yoga Teacher training and nine of my twenty yoga classes. Our certification packages are due May 24, and we’re scheduled to graduate on June 7. So basically I will be spending all of May either in yoga classes or writing essays for our final exam questions. I seriously feel like I’m in college again, cramming at the end of a semester. Good thing I’m a writer, so essays are my thing. Deep breaths (through the nose, of course). I can do this!

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The highlight of last weekend was teaching my practicum! I knew I wanted to sign up for one of the first slots, and I knew I wanted it to be early in the day. I was the third student to present, and the first person on Sunday morning. Before I go into detail about the practicum, here are some highlights from my class notes the rest of the weekend.

Mattress Wrapping and SIDS

March 24, 2015 at 6:38 pm

Almost four years ago, I wrote a post called Healing Your Home in which I shared my passion for air-purifying house plants. I also shared info about how poor air quality during the prenatal and neonatal period has been linked to preterm birth, reduced fetal growth, preeclampsia, respiratory problems in infants, reduced intelligence, mood and behavior problems, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). House plants can do a great job of removing toxins from the air. I have plants in almost every room of my house partially for this reason.

Book Cover (16)One source of toxins in indoor air is often overlooked: mattresses. I know I never considered the possibility that our mattresses could be harming us until I learned some valuable information about SIDS. I shared this in my house plant post:

Their research demonstrates that SIDS is the result of accidental poisoning due to toxic gases released from baby mattresses. These gases are produced by the interaction of common household fungi with phosphorus, arsenic and antimony, chemicals which are either present naturally in the mattresses or which have been added as flame retardant chemicals (Source).

Since then I have learned more about the toxic gas theory. Here’s an explanation from Prevent SIDS, quoting Lendon H. Smith, MD:

Before World War II, unexplained infant deaths were unusual. But after 1950, the governments of nearly all the rich industrialized countries required treatment of baby and child mattresses with flame retardant chemicals. Phosphorus and antimony were most commonly used; arsenic was sometimes added later as a preservative.

Yoga Teacher Training Diary, 3rd Edition

March 18, 2015 at 3:45 am

I’ve now completed three full weekends of Kundalini Yoga Teacher training and thirty days of my assigned 40-day sadhana. This stuff is tough! I had to laugh at the end of our weekend training while we watched a Yogi Bhajan video. He said (about the Warrior Exercise he was about to teach):

I’m not willing to let you misunderstand this. If we start doing it, we’re going to reach a stage called ‘The Twilight Zone,” and then there’ll be humongous pain; pain so much that you do not know. . . . Set yourself, folks. You asked for it. I forgive myself and wash my hands of it.

It reminded me of something I had read online in which a critic of Kundalini Yoga called its practices masochistic. Sometimes it can feel like torture, to be honest. But, as we often talk about in class, the practice of Kundalini Yoga is about training your mind-body to serve your spirit, and if you can command your mind and body to endure a difficult yoga exercise, it becomes easier and easier to command your mind and body to endure anything. It’s like a fire-drill.

Conquer

On Drinking Tiger Vomit

February 2, 2015 at 4:04 am

“It’s OK, Mommy.  You’ll grow another one.” -My second daughter (after I pushed out my fourth baby’s placenta)

A little over a week ago, I attended a three-day therapeutic guided imagery training workshop. It was one of those life-changing experiences… where you know you are exactly where you are supposed to be, learning exactly what you are supposed to be learning. Before I tell you about some of my imagery experiences, let me answer a question that may be on some of your minds: what is guided imagery?

In brief, as a therapeutic guided imagery facilitator, I can help another person come into a relaxed and altered state where we can use the mind/imagination to visualize or imagine a limitless variety of experiences and possibilities and find comfort and healing. Guided imagery isn’t just a sort of woo-woo feel-good hippy trip. It is shown through scientific research to be beneficial in a wide variety of circumstances for a wide variety of physical and emotional difficulties. The Journal of Instructional Psychology explains:

Guided imagery is a flexible intervention whose efficacy has been indicated through a large body of research over many decades in counseling and allied fields. It has earned the right to be considered a research-based approach to helping. (Guided Imagery as an Effective Therapeutic Technique: A Brief Review of Its History and Efficacy Research)

For instance, in a recent pilot study published in Holistic Nursing Practice looking at the effect of guided imagery on stress levels of hospitalized pregnant women, the results were promising:

Weep

July 16, 2014 at 6:49 pm

IMG_1222Nearly every day for the past few weeks I have had a meltdown. This is when I weep, usually to a supportive family member, for an hour (or two or three). This morning was a doozy. It almost sounded like I was in labor. My husband was my doula. For I don’t know how long, I sat on my parents’ bed (my husband stood in front of me), and I rested my head on his stomach, letting myself sob and sniffle and make sounds, so many tears gushing from my eyes.

But I’ve started noticing something about these meltdowns: I usually feel better afterward. This shouldn’t be a surprise, I suppose. I learned at some point in the past few years that tears really can actually create a measurable shift in a person’s mood and physiology.

In a Psychology Today article, Judith Orloff, MD explains:

After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed [stress] hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones” (Source).

It is healthy to cry. Crying is good for us.

Magnesium for Tics and Tourette Syndrome

April 15, 2014 at 6:15 am

When the blinking started, we knew something was definitely going on.

I’m not talking about ordinary blinking. I’m talking about excessive blinking, sometimes extremely excessive. If you’ve ever seen a kid with a blinking tic, you know what I’m talking about. Approximately two years ago, my second daughter began exhibiting tics. IMG_0707_2Since then, we have seen a variety of tics come and go (both vocal and motor).

Kidshealth.org describes tics this way: “A tic is a sudden, repetitive movement or sound that can be difficult to control. Tics that involve movements are called motor tics and those that are sounds are called vocal tics.” Tics usually become worse when children are under stress. This is definitely true for my daughter. When my daughter began experiencing tics, my mind quickly jumped to Tourette syndrome, but having tics does not necessarily mean you have Tourette syndrome.

I watch my daughter carefully every day. I notice when a new tic emerges. I notice when an old tic disappears. I notice when the tics escalate and when they subside. We have learned that certain things exacerbate her tics: stress, lack of sleep, food additives (artificial colors, etc.). If certain things can exacerbate her tics, it seems logical to me that the tics are her body’s way of calling for help. It also seems logical to me that something inside of her is out of balance. My daughter would like her “habits” (as she calls them) to stop, and by golly I’m going to do everything I can to bring about her desire.

Modeling Empathy

March 10, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Back in 2010, a study of nearly 14,000 American college students indicated that “college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than those of 30 years ago, with the numbers plunging primarily after 2000″ (Source). I started college in 1999, so this downward trend began in my generation. What can we expect to be the consequences of this lack of empathy? “Low empathy is associated with criminal behavior, violence, sexual offenses, aggression when drunk and other antisocial behaviors” (Source). Not a pretty sight. This probably helps explain why I rarely watch/read the news anymore. So can we halt this trend toward empathy-lack?

As a first-time mom, a friend of mine invited me to attend an event for moms and kids. I don’t remember much about it. I think we rotated through different rooms with a variety of crafts and games and activities. The one thing that has stuck with me (after ten years) was a presentation about the importance of empathy. The woman encouraged us to respond to our children’s distress or tantrums first with empathy. She explained that we all have an innate need to feel understood, including and especially children. She encouraged us, when our children would cry about something upsetting to them, to acknowledging their big feelings, speak aloud our understanding of why they would be upset, match their tone of voice and facial expression and then gradually bring it down to a calmer one. For whatever reason, this advice about empathy felt profound and life-changing, and it sunk deep into my heart and mind.

Magnesium for Healthier Moms and Babies

February 28, 2014 at 11:00 pm

My brother and his wife came into town and visited us on Monday. My brother mentioned that he was having horrible neck pain. “Magnesium!!” I yelled at him as I slathered his neck and shoulder with magnesium oil cream and spray.

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It’s been several years since I read The Magnesium Miracle by Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. But I was skimming through it the other day and came upon the chapter about magnesium’s impact on pregnancy-related issues and early infancy. I shared some of this info in my 2010 blogpost “Magnesium for Pregnancy and Beyond,” but I felt impressed to share a bit more today. I’ve got a lot to do today, so I’m going to be lazy and just quote Dr. Carolyn Dean.

Power Poses for Childbirth?

January 26, 2014 at 8:15 pm

About a week ago, I saw a TED Talk video that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. In this 20-minute video, Amy Cuddy shares a “free, no-tech life hack.” Her research on body language demonstrates that we can infuse ourselves with greater confidence and serenity in the face of a challenging situation simply by changing body positions. She calls them “power poses.” Here’s the video, if you’re interested. Totally worth your time.

5 Tips for Managing Anxiety

January 20, 2014 at 10:29 pm

My whole world changed once I became acquainted with anxiety. I will never be the same person I was before. But I wouldn’t want to be either. I’m better for my battles. I know it.

72268768989948578_ElZL6iWa_f-225x300If you’re in the midst of your own battle with anxiety, I’m glad you found your way to my blog. I know the hell you’re experiencing. I know you fear that it’s never going to go away. Those fears tormented me day and night for a long time. I still struggle now and then, especially when I let life run me down physically and emotionally. But overall I’m lightyears better than I was when those first panic attacks hit me like a freight train in the spring of 2012. I pray with all my heart that you find healing as well. I have faith that you will. But if you find yourself having thoughts about ending your life, please seek help. You are worth saving. And there is no shame in accepting pharmaceutical help. Medication helped save my life.

On to the purpose of this post… I’ve learned some tricks over the past couple of years as I struggled  to manage my anxiety. I can’t promise these things will help you, but I can say they’ve helped me. This is not medical advice. I’m just sharing what worked for me. 

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