May 28, 2009

Shhhh.....chicken pox party

I was the most popular dad in the school parking lot today. Felt like Santa Claus. What presents did I have to give? Little itchy red sores all over Zekiah's back and hands.

Quietly informing the office of Zekiah's chicken pox led to an outbreak of excitement from the other parents in the hallway, two of whom instantly requested a playdate. Moms outside offered advice on homeopathics and oatmeal baths. Galen was begging to share utensils with his brother, and Zekiah said that getting pox was the best thing of his day.

Outside the Waldorf sanctuary (and in some parts within also), however, the world was more wary. Warnings of scars, excessive itchiness, blindness, and shingles in 60 years were accompanied by intimations of wanton negligence for not immunizing.

Most interesting was a request to not send out a big email to the class inviting them to a chicken pox party. The person making the request (whose opinion I respect greatly) personally supports our approach to letting children experience natural childhood diseases, but observed that it could press some hot buttons for parents with different beliefs.

The rebellious Bill Durham in me ("Fuck em if they can't take a joke") is still chafing, feeling the usual "why does the conservative, normative side always get the default win?" But in a small school community still recovering from similar divisiveness over different handling of the whooping cough epidemic, this person is undoubtedly wise - the email would not promote dialogue or mutual understanding, but just inflame the situation.

So, this unusually receptive Rick is just talking to trusted parents (ie, people I know will share the same attitude) in the parking lot, and sharing it all on this blog, which people presumably visit because they want to learn more about what I experience and struggle with. In this case, I believe that:
  • Our children are strong enough to deal naturally with natural illnesses. As much as we hate to see our children sick, to try to preserve them in a bubble of never getting sick is unnatural and ultimately unhealthy for them.
  • Their bodies will develop strength through this victory over chicken pox that will protect them in the future.
  • The risks of vaccination are higher than the risks of dealing with the illness.
  • I love my children and am being the most responsible parent I can be.
Being a parent is inherently risky. Whether we choose a conventional medical path or an alternative approach, if something happened to our children we would undoubtedly question our decision. When that decision goes against societal norms, the risk of self-questioning and societal questioning is higher even if the medical risk isn't.

All we can really do is be informed from a variety of trusted sources, then follow our deepest sense of what is the best course for our families. And perhaps even harder sometimes, trust that other parents making different choices are doing so from the same base of information and inner searching that has just taken them down a different path.

This is why the no-email request disturbs me. It suggests a lack of respect for we parents who have made thoughtful, loving, and even brave decisions that go against the norm. But in the same breath I have to admit to my own struggle to respect "those" parents making their own informed, loving, yet different decisions.

So thank you, dear friend, for your wise counsel. In the space that it created, I see that the same energy that could have been put into (and fueled by) a possibly inflammatory email is better spent in becoming more grounded in my own beliefs and more trusting of others' beliefs. When I finally reach that place of acceptance, then true dialogue can begin.

May 26, 2009

Milking the Bulls

In the feverish excitement of a live auction, curious logic emerges to justify the purchase of 2 bull calves. I figured that because they're boy cows, we don't have to milk them twice a day, so it would be simple. Just throw some hay and water at them once a day, and a year later they magically become hamburgers. Turns out that they need to milk me.

They're 2-week-old babies with only 2 stomachs, poor little things, meaning that they won't be full ruminants able to process hay for 3 months. Until then, I have to do what every real Stay-at-Home dad does - bottle feed. Six litres per day. Each.

It gets worse. Not having a big dairy farm with 6 excess litres of milk per day, we're stuck buying expensive formula to mix up 3 times a day. And organic cow formula does not exist, so we'll have to pray whatever evil substances we're putting into our 60-pound babies will work itself out over the next year before they become dinner. Officially, after 72 hours of formula we will permanently be disallowed to call the meat organic.

But logic and ethics aside, I became a born-again father today, feeding our two young-uns for the first time. Rose took to it right away, with classic white dribble on his black whiskers and butting up against the 3-inch nipple when it didn't flow fast enough. But Blossom was another case. He was having none of it. I quickly got over any fears of these beasts and had him pinned down, shoving my fingers between his jaws to pry his mouth open while the boys shoved the bottle down.

After 15 minutes of feeling discouraged, and embarrassed at maybe having to call the breeders to ask for their help, I remembered that I'm married to a birth-parenting-guru. "What would Sarah do", my tractor's bumper sticker should say. Tapping my deepest maternal instincts, I started expressing milk. Cow pinned down, mouth pried open, bottle shoved in, then my fingers right in there squeezing the tip of the nipple to get milk dribbling down his throat. Then clamping his mouth shut and massaging it up and down to get more milk out. After several repeats of this sequence, Blossom started to catch on.

In addition to technique, what turned the corner was remembering that he is a 13 days old baby missing his mom, in a strange new home, reunited with his twin brother for the first time, and surrounded by 3 excited boys and an excited me. I turned the volume down, cradled his head on my lap, and stroked him while he started to feel those golden droplets. He relaxed, trusted, and started sucking more vigorously. Then suddenly he really got it and started sucking loud and hard - the same moment that babies of any species start to lose a bit of their cute effect.

By the end there was no coaxing or pinning or prying, just me leaning fashionably against the wall with a 2-quart bottle in each hand, giving my twins their first meal. And when I stopped by just after dark to tuck them in to their straw bedding, they looked up with I swear a look of thanks and trust. Good night moooooooooon.

May 25, 2009

She didn't have a cow

I married the right woman. 23 hours after I accidentally bought 2 cows and wondered how to explain it to my wife, she took the news like any strong woman would. She cried.

She'd already received an email about the new "pets," so when I softly brought up the "unexpected purchase" she was ready to hear about the new rooster or baby chicks. I tried several hints to up the ante - bigger, manure-making, grass-eating, MUCH bigger- but her imagination wouldn't let her go any higher than rabbits and sheep.

- um, well, cow actually
- WHAT?! A cow?!
- um, well, two cows. Cute little baby bull calves

She left the room to go to the bathroom, then came back with the same incredulous voice, "Cows?!" As it slowly sank in and i explained how perfectly rational it all was, she just started to laugh. Upon hearing that "it turns out we have to bottle-feed them for the first months" the laughter became uncontrollable with tears streaming down her face. "You are a special man," was about all she could spurt out.

I am the luckiest man alive to have a woman who so thoroughly understands and appreciates me. Sometimes tolerates, but in this case fully embraces the zany part of me that jumps headlong into adventures and learning and new roles and fun. She may not have seen these cows coming, but she saw this life coming exactly 10 years ago when we sat in the gardens of a Bahai temple in Chicago and wrote our wedding vows, including

to walk together down this path we have chosen
to dance, to celebrate, to create Joy
embracing and drawing out the beauty in each other and the world

May 24, 2009

Auction item #11: Home manure-making machine

Dear Sarah,

Had a great time at the school fundraising auction last night. Wish you were there to dance with, visit, and perhaps keep my excited bidding hand from going up just one too many times. Maybe I wouldn't have got so carried away and ended up carrying away two cows.

Yes, my darling, when you get home from your unsuspecting weekend work trip to Vancouver, there'll be two baby bulls to welcome you home. If I'm a bit late picking you up, it'll be because I'm finishing fencing in the back two acres, buying some hay, and reading a bunch of books about bovine care.

I know we never talked about this and you really just wanted that fancy root-pulling contraption, but look at the benefits. The kids will love and learn from them, we get the manure we've been needing without having to truck it in, they cut grass, and in a year or so we can load up the freezer with a year's worth of zero-mile organic meat (assuming you learn to like eating meat by then...)

Guess we're really in this farming and local food cycle thing for real.

May 22, 2009

Great lines

Tonight's twilight weeding musings revolved around great romantic or tormenting lines I've delivered to the fairer sex in my younger days. What they have in common is they were all earnest as only a young man can believe and deliver.

  • "Yes", I told my first girlfriend in grade 11, gazing into her eyes with that lovestruck teen look. "What, what, what do you mean by 'yes'" she begged, begging to know if i meant those 3 words of all the songs we danced to. But an enigmatic "yes" was enough
  • "Thank you." Evidently not the best response to a grade 12 girlfriend saying those 3 words for the first time. Turns out you're supposed to say them back. I thought I was being noble and kind in letting her have her moment, waiting a few days for my turn.
  • "I want to explore you." Uttered during a lunch date while explaining why I couldn't get involved with her like that because i was in love with my girlfriend (who had just moved 2,000 miles away to become a ski bunny)
  • "Smell this." Pick-up line for the aforementioned ski bunny, at an incense stand of an on-campus African-American fair.
  • "I haven't decided if I want to sleep with you." Honest introspection may be the best policy, but maybe not on a crowded 14-hour African bus ride to her remote Peace Corps village for a month.
  • "Are your eyes really shining that bright, or just reflecting mine?" She actually questioned whether that was a genuine original.
Interestingly, I can't think of any zingers that I've thrown at my wife, except maybe a line from a poem from before our wedding - "I dance your broad expanse." Maybe sad in a way that we become less moved in verbal ways over the years, but overall it's a deeper, more complete love that no longer surprises me into new expressions.

May 21, 2009

learning to write

Worried about Waldorf students' "delayed" reading and writing lessons? Here are the invitations to our kindergarten and grade one kids' show last week.

May 19, 2009

Guarding the Cave

In Mothering Magazine's online forum, I shared the following response to a woman asking for advice about her husband's role in their upcoming birth - "He needs specifics..."

I used to become a bit indignant that the whole birth thing was about the woman. "Hey, it's my baby too, I'm on a journey, surely there's more to this than 'just' being there for her?!"

After 3 births of our own, facilitating men's birth prep classes, and Birthing From Within mentor training, I've dropped that act and do fully believe that delivery is and should be about the mama. She is going through an epic journey - ours began before it and will continue after it, but labour is not our moment.

Our partner needs to feel safe in order to summon and trust the innate power that all women have to give birth. She needs to feel that her partner is guarding the entrance to the cave -warding off beasts and dangers and MIL's, nurses and unnecessary interventions, noises and cold drafts and anything else that can pull her away from her center of power.

Practically that takes many different forms, but the core approach is to remain aware that it is our moment to be fully in our 'masculine' so that she can be fully in her 'feminine' power. Out of that awareness, the things to do will more or less flow naturally.

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May 13, 2009

Play-at-home Dad

In the last two writings, I've boldly declared myself (and most of us) to be fractured and frittering on the computer, and connected and mindful on the farm. But what about parenting - how present and intentional and fulfilled and in-the-moment am I with my children?

I realize I'm still in the process of deprogramming, ridding my body and soul of the toxins of over-achievement and pressure to perform. When I'm with the boys, there's still a voice in my head saying that I could be "doing" something. I still constantly ask myself what i've Accomplished this day, or even this hour, instead of asking Who i've been, how i've interacted, how i've felt, how i've affected those around me. Still need to learn to value being more than doing, relations more than achievements.

As the primary stay-at-home parent, the temptation is still to try to do too much. Housework, farming, reno's, writing, volunteering - so many things can get in the way of the one most important thing that I have devoted this part of my life to: my children. This time away from career was and is primarily to spend more quality time with my children, at a time when they are fully open and available for such devoted loving in this style.

True, cooking a good meal, creating a good garden, and keeping an orderly household is part of that parenting, especially if they can be involved in it, or at least witness it as positive modelling. But there has to be equal or even great value placed on times when I'm doing nothing but playing with my kids, exploring, holding, marvelling with them. Why is it so easy to feel fulfilled by finishing the deer fence or cutting the lawn, but to feel somehow remiss or even lazy to say I spent an hour playing with our castle set?

So, I officially QUIT as a stay-at-home dad. I am now a play-at-home dad. I hope that tomorrow night, I can look back on the day with satisfaction and fulfillment and say, "Today, I cooked some healthy meals, played some fun games, pulled some weeds with the boys, and put them to bed with smiles on all our faces." That's not just "enough"; that's everything.

May 12, 2009

longer attention

In reflecting on yesterday' post about our society's short attention spans, I realized that it's not the case in the field. I can pull weeds or chop wood for long concentrated periods without a break, unless it's for a physical rest. My mind is at Peace, I'm at one with the earth, working with my hands and the materials around me, feeling the elements and the earth's energy channeled through me. My mind slows down, stops planning and analyzing and worrying, becomes one with the task and the world, fully present in the moment.

Maybe our short attention span is just our souls trying to pull us away from the artificial realities we create, reaching out for a real connection.

May 10, 2009

short attention

A man walks down the street
He says, "Why am i short of attention,
Got a short little span of attention
And woe, my nights are so long..."
- Paul Simon, Call me Al

According to the CBC, the average worker or person on a computer only focuses on one task for three and a half minutes before diverting to something else (check an email, internet...). And the average person in a workplace is interrupted every 10 minutes. They went on to suggest that have become so used to being interrupted that we actually self-interrupt just to maintain that same pattern - we've learned to work in small spurts rather than sustained concentrated efforts.

I do know that my productivity and efficiency at my last job improved when I started turning off my email program, only opening it at prescribed times of the day when I then gave each email the full attention it needed immediately upon opening it. And I also know that even when I'm deeply into writing an article or reading something online, I automatically drift over to check the inbox or click on Facebook or any other non-urgent task, almost just to give my mind a quick breather.

That is what this research piece concluded - that it's actually good to let our minds take a quick break in this way, break out of the thought pattern and come back fresh. The study found that workers who do quick and not-too-often web-browsing at work are 9% more productive.

This has led me to the life-altering philosophical discovery that we all - oh wait, my "You've Got Mail" icon just flashed, back in a sec...

May 5, 2009

Cheap Friends

Dinner tonight with dear friends: delicious, fun, interactive and cheap, topped off with entertainment by an over-inspired children's theatrical presentation featuring The King of the Sun, The God of the Jewels, and The Wizard of Oz. But cheap does not mean meager, especially with Sarah around. Here's the menu and rough costs.

Salad: Fresh local spinach with oil & vinegar dressing
  • Spinach - $2 from Armande's organic farm up the street (would have been free if we'd got our greenhouse planted sooner, like she did)
  • Oil and balsamic dressing - $.50, mixed by us (ie, not a bottle from the store)
Main Course: Stinging Nettle Lasagna
  • Stinging nettles - free, picked by me and the kids then boiled and pureed
  • Lasagna noodles - $1 for flour & egg in the dough, then run through the manual pasta-maker by the kids (note, no price assigned to child labour)
  • Tomato sauce - $2 for local organic tomatoes frozen last fall
  • Mushrooms - $1 (pureed into the sauce to hide them from Zekiah)
  • Ricotta and Mozzarella cheese - $8 (price will come down when we start making our own cheese from the cow- and goat-share milk, but haven't yet bought a water buffalo to make real mozzarella...)
Side Dish: Dandelion Pita Bread with Hummus:
  • Dandelions - free, picked the other morning for our visitor's breakfast pancakes
  • Flour, yeast, garlic, pecans - $2
  • Chick peas, tahini, lemon, garlic - $2
Drinks: Pure, fresh, refreshing well-water

Dessert: Rhubarb Custard with Blackberries

  • Organic eggs for custard - $3.50: approximate cost per dozen for caring for our own chickens
  • Rhubarb - free, just sprang up in our garden
  • Blackberries - free, picked roadside and frozen last fall
So, $22 - less than $3 per person - for a truly delicious, healthy meal that everyone got to contribute to. A restaurant meal with that many fresh organic ingredients - if one could find that restaurant - would have easily cost $20 each, so we "saved" over $200.

Yes it was more preparation time than going to a restaurant, but that time (note that I didn't use the word "work") was part of our together experience, part of what made the evening so gathered. And really, what are time and life and friends for if not to pick and eat stinging nettles and dandelions?

May 4, 2009

Turning tricks in the school parking lot

The school parking lot isn't the place where you just throw your kids out the door and hope they land at the right classroom. It's where the action is, the epicenter of a stay-at-home parent's whirling world. Just this morning I:
  • confirmed 2 playdates, requested a third, turned down one double booking, and finalized a family dinner date
  • carried a crate of donated wine for the fundraising auction
  • confirmed my storytelling schedule for Mayfest, and coordinated acts with my fellow storyteller
  • inquired how soon our tuition check will bounce, and our remaining balance
  • checked in with the kindergarten teacher about the upcoming field trip to our house (to plant pumpkins) and if it's OK for Zekiah to be going into the classroom early while I take Galen to his class
  • signed up for soup-making duty (twice a week, parents help the kids chop veggies for an in-class lunch - great chance to watch the class in action)
  • thanked a friend for last week's impromptu potluck dinner
  • greeted at least 20 fellow parents by name, and many others with friendly smiles and nods
  • checked our mailbox for school announcements
  • read the noticeboards outside both boys' classrooms
Such a change from last year when, on the once a week that I did the school run, I was the run-in-at-the-last-moment-and-rush-back-to-work tornado dad. I like being this parent who has time to be involved.

May 3, 2009

Dandelions for breakfast

How to treat a guest to a country-style morning:

First, when the boys wake up at 6:20, sneak out of the bedroom with them so that guest (the beloved Meribeth, our first housemate in Vancouver) and Sarah can keep sleeping while Papa does yoga.

Next, when said beautiful women have still not risen at 7:30, sneak the increasingly hungry and loud kids out the door in their pj's and boots to pick dandelions for breakfast. During this phase we discovered that dandelions disappear overnight, closing up their faces to the cold darkness and only opening up again when Father Sun returns to the field. During the picking the two ladies appeared to help and direct, whereupon we started a second bowl of the good-for-the-liver dandelion leaves for lunchtime pesto.

Historical note: dandelions are not a weed. They were deliberately brought over from Europe because of their nutrition, good taste in tea, and the fact that they're one of the first greens to come up in the spring for the hungry settlers and soldiers. Thanks to my historian brother Dave for calling in the middle of the dandelion harvest this morning.

Third, remove stems and separate petals (see photos), add water flour and eggs, then cook fritattas. Serve with homemade maple syrup, carmelized apple butter, crabapple syrup, strawberry-cherry-blueberry jam, and fresh rhubarb sauce.

Add a healthy dash of further morning treats, including a Quaker meeting at the pastoral Providence Farm, fresh pretzels from the Cowichan Bay bakery, and a date with the boys at the new BMX park while Sarah and I signed on for the new goat-share that a young couple has just started (1.5 litres/week of fresh raw organic goat milk for $4 - mostly for cheese, to compliment the yogurt, kefir, cheese and milk we'll make from our cow-share yield).

Hopefully this morning full of treats, combined with last night's garden hot-tub and fresh rhubarb custard by the fire will send this lass back to London with a big country smile.