Dec 30, 2010

Hidden Week

Christmas is a lot like relatives coming to visit - much anticipated, a day or two of profound and explosive Joy, then a huge sigh of relief when they leave. The week between Christmas and New Years is the hidden gem of the holidays; truly "the most wonderful time of the year" if we settle into it right.

It's different than other school breaks and times off. Spring break there's camps and skiing and a restless call to escape after a long winter. May long weekend is the start of camping season, or our annual Quaker gathering, or time to plant the garden. Summer begs for camping and adventure. But at this cold dark time of the year, the loudest call is that of the fireplace saying to warm up and hunker down.

With the exception of an ill-advised 7:30am boxing day trip to Future Shop, we didn't shop. Didn't work. Didn't cook any more extravagant treats. There were no overly-tempting community events to lure us off the land. Friends were away, cousins already visited, colleagues also away and Very few emails to lure us into cyber-escape. Nothing but time and space new toys and us.

Each day we picked a different part of the house or yard and cleaned, gleaned, cleared, culled and reorganized. Removing the excess and clutter of another year passed; starting the new year with a feeling of openness and renewal.

Each day we played - riding the new bike, hanging the tire swing, opening the new games. Popped popcorn and watched Charlie Brown Christmas. Lit fires and smooched. Played piano, sang, listened to music, danced.

Each day we worked a bit toward next year - 3 trips to the beach to collect seaweed for the garden, 2 cords of firewood cut and stacked for next winter, multiple floorplans drafted for the basement, rental suite addition almost done, bikes tuned up and ready for school.

And each day we had room to dream. Looked back on a year of purpose and growth, reevaluated where we've come and who we've become and what that means for the coming year.

As our family has breathed this collective sigh of relief and rejuvenation, we've slowed down and circled closer together. More hugs, less conflict. No requests for playdates or outings or treats. The children intuit what we adults have to consciously work to create and accept - that of all the gifts of Christmas, a week off to just be together is the most cherished and sacred.

Dec 28, 2010

Afraid of Christmas

"I want to be in my own house the night that Santa comes," declared our youngest; still young enough to unabashedly believe. Good enough reason for us to do a lovely Vancouver family/friends run early and be home by the 23rd. Good friend's party on the 24th, then, GULP, a whole Christmas Day to ourselves.

"Gulp" because I aint never done that before. Christmas has never been about small nuclear family; after a Peace-filled morning with parents and brother to open presents and eat pancakes it was always about the extended family, the community, making the round of teenage friends. What on earth would we do with an entire day of "just" us? Where would the magic come from?

With all that time, we took our time opening presents. One at a time, checking them out, at one point doing a search through the farm to find Galen's new bike. A slow delicious breakfast of Monkey Bread that we'd started the night before. A family bike ride (OK, including a quick guerrilla carolling at Makaria Farms). An afternoon game of Zekiah's new Settlers of Catan. Elvis and Mahalia and all the great Christmas tunes. Sazzarific Christmas food and goodies. A long long family snuggle at bedtime. Everything we felt like doing and NOTHING from the things-to-do list.

I already knew what the Grinch finally discovered: "Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!" But here I was unwrapping the gift of accepting that magic doesn't have to come from outside. We have all the love and energy and spark and creativity and warmth we need to fuel an entire Christmas just here in our home.

This doesn't spell the end of Rick the Extrovert, creating and gathering energy from those around him. But it was a powerful call to not undervalue our own little family. To maybe even follow the footsteps of other families I respect and declare the occasional (or even regular) family day. The idea of devoting even one day a month to nothing but Us still intimidates me, but the idea of a family bike ride and Settlers game makes it seem not only do-able but even (gasp!) just as good if not better than a potluck.

So, first New Year's Resolution: paint a big CLOSED FOR BUSINESS sign to hang on the door/computer/phone/ and TTD list once in a while. To be Full with the knowledge that that moment can't be made any better with another friend or community event or touch with the world. To issue a loving Hasta Manana to the big beautiful world outside and turn to the small beautiful family inside.

Dec 10, 2010

What is a Bully?

One reader commented that my post on My Strong Son was “disturbing”, labelling other kids as bullies while exonerating my own boy’s brute behaviour with a litany of excuses. “I wonder whether the other children would describe Galen as having a special strong spirit, or if they would say he is a bully?” she ends.

My first response is to defend my poor innocent baby. Not to excuse his behaviour – Galen himself laments the amount of disciplining and parenting I’m doing with him about it – but to proclaim loudly that he has a GOOD nature, true love at his core. The incidents listed are bad moments, poor judgement, awkward flexing of new muscle that he must learn to control. He’s not a bully; he’s a good kid who’s finding his way.

All true, but that implies that a “Bully” is a different species; a category of kid who is not good, who does not love. And with the exception of a few truly psychopathic people in our society (highly unlikely in any given school), I do believe in the inherent goodness of all children and adults. I deliberately put words like “bully” and “attack” in quotation marks in that first posting because I don’t want to separate anyone with labels or categorical casting-off.

In any group, different children step into and out of the role of the child who is seen by others as the class bully. Some of their parents struggle and work hard and communicate with other parents and teachers to address the behaviour and the underlying needs of their child being expressed through that behaviour; others outwardly seem to shrug it off as “boys will be boys”, resist communication with other parents about it, or I suspect just feel overwhelmed and lost and don’t know what to do.

The reader who commented on my post worries that I am among the latter group, covering up his son’s bullying with “an entire laundry list of justifications.” I’ve taken a few days before responding to really look inside and see if there’s truth to this, and while I can see how that single posting could create that impression, I don’t believe it’s true, for two main reasons:

First, my response has not been denial. In each case, I have immediately (and in some cases, proactively) communicated with the parent, worked with Galen about it immediately then again at quieter & more receptive times, increased the level of expressed love and support for him, and increased monitoring and attention of him to watch for patterns, motivations and possible interventions. This strong but loving zero tolerance response is not one of a parent turning a blind eye.

Second, this series of incidents has not turned into a pattern that leads others to label him as “bully.” While as an adult I can put it in quotation marks and still focus on both on the goodness and the deeper need of a “bully”, the children know when a child has crossed a line. I theorize that the line is crossed when the behaviour is:

* Persistent. The children don’t flinch when they see Galen coming – they haven’t come to expect that bad behaviour is his norm. Three incidents in two weeks is a problem, and one of the reasons I moved so quickly is to make sure it doesn’t become a pattern.

* Intended to hurt. In none of those incidents was Galen trying to physically or emotionally hurt the other child. It’s a mystery what’s going on in the mind and heart of a child who has crossed the line to earn the label “bully”, but it’s clear that other children perceive him or her to be intentionally mean.

* Build up myself upon another’s weakness. In none of the incidents was Galen trying to become more popular, or perceived as the alpha dog, or feel better about himself by dominating someone else. His behaviours were wrong and need to be redirected, but as a parent I would be more concerned if they were a deliberate or unconscious strategy to gain power or acceptance.

When Galen was 3, he was clearly a “bully.” He consistently hurt other children and was the terror of the family place drop-in centre. It was his way of dealing with the turmoil of becoming a big brother, but the other kids and parents didn’t care about that; they just saw a physically abusive big kid and ran for cover. It was every bit as difficult and painful for us as parents as when he’s on the receiving end, and a much bigger social hurdle. Through that experience I am perhaps more vigilant and sensitive, and hopefully proactive, to any sign of returning to that pattern.

No, dear reader, my son is not a bully. Like many of the children in his grade 3 class he is experiencing challenges both socially and internally with the new awakening consciousness of a 9-year-old, and at times it’s spilling out in inappropriate behaviour. We try to deal with that behaviour in a strong, loving, open way that builds our relationship with him, the other kids and the other parents. And for the children who are currently more seen in the role of “bully”, I do my best (and admittedly struggle sometimes) to equally hold them with the same compassion, love, and trust that their inherent good nature will shine through. They’re not victims and bullies, they’re children.