Monday, 2 November 2009

The Demand for Attention

A great deal is written and worried about when it comes to attention-seeking behaviour in children. A lot of the concerns are a result of the very-disturbing adults we all know at least a handful of, who are examples of why attention-seeking behaviour run amok is so unattractive.

When parents (and onlookers) attribute that adult behaviour to children who successfully attained as much attention as they needed... there is a problem.

One thing that La Leche League taught me long ago was:  

a need met dissipates while a need unmet remains 

Children need attention. They don't want it or demand it or prefer it or brat it up because they're devious, selfish little hellions in need of a smack. They need it.

Like how they need food and shelter and protection from predators and fresh, clean water and shoes.

Well, maybe not the shoes. But attention, they need. In the absence of appropriate attention, children are unsafe both physically and psychologically. They instinctively know that they need attention, so when they are not getting it, they devise creative and astonishing methods of acquiring it. Often extremely effective creative and astonishing methods...

In the lovely, funny and pointed book about childrearing, Purrfect Parenting, Barbara Guhl points out that children prefer lovely fresh breakfast cereal that's crisp and flavourful, with fresh, chilled milk. When they are starving, they will eat stale old breakfast cereal that's dusty and served with warm, soured milk. What they want is the good kind, but they'll take any over none.

When they get none, they do the most remarkable things. Things I have known attention-starved children to do include (but is not a comprehensive list):
  • throw an armchair through a (rental house) living room window
  • stand on the train tracks to see if the train would kill him (he was 4)
  • cut a flower girl dress to shreds with paper scissors the day before the wedding
  • gag herself in order to barf in a restaurant (she was 3)
  • stand on a kitten (he was 4)
  • pick a stranger's baby up by the ears (he was 6)
  • sit and then stand on a baby's head (4 years old)
  • light a basement curtain on fire
Now, the thing about these amazing feats is that the children weren't angry --they were all acting with a deep concentration and hypervigilance about where the parent's eyes were. Every one of them smiled when they got caught --sending their freaked out parents right over the edge. But that smile was from the very heart of them: there, it worked. Whew... relief --attention at last.

When these kids grow up, they'll have the most remarkable set of coping skills imaginable: like a train wreck their lives become the thing of legend --seriously unattractive, but so hard to look away. So hard not to talk about.

If, though, these attention-seeking adults had made eye contact with someone who took them seriously, and reflected their experience back to them and interpreted the extremely contradictory and confusing huge world for them with kindness, generosity and love, they wouldn't be the attention-seeking adults they have become. They would be able to co-exist with other equals from a position of being fulfilled --not empty and starving and willing to do anything, sell anything, permit any kind of humiliation just to get looked at for one more moment. Just one more bowl of tooth-breaking cereal swamped with curdled milk in what amounts to a steady diet of it...

Photo used with permission: Creative Commons Attributed-Non-Derivative photo: Milk and Cereal by Steven Wilke

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Misery Contract

...recently been thinking about happiness --talking about it, reading a great book (What Happy People Know by the guy who runs one of the programs at Canyon Ranch) about it...

It seems to me that many people have unilaterally signed a contract with the universe that is not only unnecessary, but that is quite insane. I call it the

Misery Contract

I will be happy when all--not some, but all of my conditions are met.
who was it that wanted you to be happy and has pissed you off?

I have to get all this stuff done before I can afford to be happy.
just what do you think happiness is?

 As long as that person is in my life, I will prove they've screwed up my life by being miserable.
ooh, excellent plan, that will really get through to. . . . no one

Things that happened before now will preclude my happiness until they have not happened.
good luck with that

I can't be as [free, rich, pretty, thin, helpful, generous, intelligent, popular, wise, funny, powerful, famous, capable, talented, lucky, sexy, fit, healthy, immortal] as I want to be, so I can't be happy.
1. who says you can't be, and; 2. what's that got to do with anything?

My life is not my own, I have responsibilities and obligations I have to live up to before I can be happy.
you're crazy --that's ridiculous... be happy AND fulfill your obligations and responsibilities

They need to compensate me for what they've done --then I can be happy.
cool idea, but 'to compensate' means 'to give OTHER than what is needed' --how will that help?

I am deeply flawed and have sinned, when I'm pure I can be happy.
yeah, so, never then, eh?

I am not worthy, I haven't earned happiness and don't deserve it.
oh. my. god.

There is too much evil in the world, too many people killed and maimed and starving and suffering for it to be okay for me to be happy.
how does it help them to have you suffering too?

I am in pain. I'll be happy when I don't hurt.
the case is closed: pain lost --happiness alleviates a lot of pain and makes whatever pain is left much easier to endure

I am afraid to be happy. Too much good stuff happening attracts bad luck.
ha. ha. ha. ha. no it doesn't

Photo used with permission, Creative Commons Attributed-Non-Derivative photo: Children By 1000Paperclips

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Gentle Removal of Blankies, Pacifiers, Cuddle Toys and Special Bears

On a mother's Q&A forum recently I wrote:

I am confused at the people who give children a comfort object to avoid needing a person to comfort the child, only to take the object away when the parent decides it's inappropriate.

If you know you're going to take it away, why give it in the first place? Just wonderin'...

While I comfort myself with the thought that I can influence the whole world so much that I can stop parents from ever compelling a child to attach to an object--any object--instead of a person, I do live in the real world. Lots of people have already got kids attached to things. Avoid it if it is still possible, but if you are already here, recriminations are pointless and now parents only have the power to fix it, not undo it. As Terry Prachett quips: what has happened tends to stay happened.

I have a friend who is still angry, confused and bitter about a stuffed bear her dad discarded. This may seem frivolous --why would a grown woman hold onto such a trivial issue? Well, I think the primary reason is what the object meant.

The bear (pillow, blanket, stuffy, cuddle toy, pacifier) was this woman's mother-substitute. The bear was there when mother wasn't, reliable and consistent, available and held together from the long-ago magic of childhood and desperate need.

Dad, to the still-three-year-old part of this woman's existence, threw out her mother.

I say this in the hopes that parents will understand what they're asking their children to give up and perhaps pause before acting out of impatience, a sense of incompetence, or the unfairness of the child getting to keep the mother-substitute for longer than they were allowed as children.

If the object is truly a problem for the parent, the solution is not to eliminate the object but the child's need for the object. The simplest way to do this, of course, is to put a person in its place. Yes, yes, I know -- I did say 'simple', not 'easy.'
Photo used with permission, Creative Commons, attributed, non-derivative, photo: A Mother's Kiss by Edwin Dalorzo

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Spent All Day at the Baby Fair

There are so many new moms in the world these days... what happened last year? (Oh, yeah... financial crisis!)

The Victoria Baby Fair is once again populated by a massive crowd of babies, kids, moms, moms-to-be, bewildered dads-to-be, very cool dads-to-be, grandmas and even the odd grandpa... sorting through the vibrant selection of things to see...

As a La Leche League Leader, I get to watch all kinds of beautiful babies and shiny-eyed kids with keen and unsure moms, tentative dads escorting the heavily pregnant and slightly tense female partners, unsure of their acceptance in this mainstream realm...

...and I get to go back tomorrow. Yay!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Starting School

My baby had her first day of school last week... it was so exciting: buying all the supplies (faint!) planning the lunch menus, packing what she needed the first day, getting up on time, catching the bus all by herself. It makes a mommy proud.

The really cool part is that she's 17, and her first day of school is collage.

Can't Get In Without...

On the homeschool email lists, the semi-annual arguments about what is necessary to be successful in life has just passed. This year, the focus was on the economy (universally terrible, in spite of the thousands of new jobs and low EI enrolment numbers) and the unwavering but unreasonable requirements of employers. It is 'necessary' in one mom's view, to make sure her kids not only have diplomas from high school, but also at least a bachelor's degree --because that is the only way to be employed, today. She knows because she's been out there looking for a job by handing out 25 resumes a week, and she doesn't have a degree, which is why she's unemployed. She's applied for university and since she doesn't have a high school diploma, she can't get in. She also can't get any funding, because she's been turned down 'by everyone.'

I'm only amazed that she has a roof over her head, the impediments to success are so thick on the ground around her...

The Gatekeepers...

It is a prevalent view that it is not possible to get into university or college without a high school diploma. Often, university admissions offices will tell applicants this 'fact' directly. Call one up and ask, I assure you the usual answer is 'high school diploma necessary.' After that 'fact' is shared, ask what the entrance requirements are for 'mature student'... and if you're bored and want to talk longer, ask what the pre-requisites are for 'taking a single course.'

The admissions office has a particular job to do, regarding the casual questions of the general public (read: unwashed masses): maintain the sanctity of the gates. It is the gatekeeper's job to keep the incompetent, incapable and unlikely from getting anywhere near the lecture halls, because they are already well over-quota. Their job is not to tell anyone the 'other' ways into the system.

Other Ways In...

Then, of course, there are the myriad other ways into the college/university system that vary from person to person, and facility to facility.

It helps to remember that a university's primary task is to stay full. They have seating requirements to meet their budgets, and without enough tuition being paid they haven't the budget necessary to keep the quality of professors which attracts the quality students (does this start sounding like a circle to anyone else but me?)

Once it is understood that universities do not have boatloads of money holding up the pillars of their ivory towers, but they do have escalating costs, it becomes easier to see that if a candidate smells even slightly like they might end up looking good on behalf of the school (to attract donations, other students and good professors), it's a lot easier to get in than having good grades on a freshly printed high school transcript.

A few hints:

1. Winter session has fewer applicants, overall, than fall session, but has budget requirements every bit as high.
2. Heads of Departments are allowed to invite students in without anyone's permission.
3. Reading and responding to current research published in journals is an attention-getting method for future applicants looking to catch the eye of Department Heads.
4. Exhausting community resources in the field is an excellent way to find mentors, referees for entrance and bursary applications and to coincidentally run across Heads of Departments who are active in the field.
5. Attending public lectures, auditing courses and attending open-houses all enable applicants to suss out the movers and shakers local in the field.
6. Accredited private colleges offer more-focused coursework for specialized fields, often resulting in higher degrees of employability plus all the pre-requisites necessary to enroll next term in university in the same field.
7. Community colleges and accredited online universities have much lower intake standards (one that I know of requires applicants to be 16, except in special circumstances) but offer fully-transferrable credits --often not only easier to get into, but smaller first- and second-year class sizes plus a lot cheaper per credit.

Both my daughters selected private colleges, so they could concentrate on the subjects they wanted to learn without the mandatory (and expensive) requirements for out-of-field studies. Both of them decided in mid-summer which program they wanted, and getting in required a phone call to see if there was still room, a printed application form filled out and an application fee. One asked for confirmation from the registering school that they were homeschooled, the other wanted a short essay regarding what she hoped to gain from the program. Both said on their websites that applicants had to be 19 or high school grads, but on the application form of both there was a space for 'parent or guardian signature if applicant is under 19' and nowhere to fill in prior education information.

There is still room in my daughter's program, if you know anyone who wants to get into college this year...

Photo by Soul Pusher 'Acres of Books after closing'

Friday, 31 July 2009

What You Think of Me

Ah, Byron Katie...

First a quote:

"If I had a prayer it would be: please save me from ever believing that I need
anyone else's love, approval or appreciation."
Another quote, this time apparently from Marcel Proust (I have no proof at all):

"What you think of me is none of my business."
So much of what parents do seems to be about what it might look like to someone else. What someone else might think about it... or them... or their kids.

The reality of the situation is, though, that everyone in the world is spending an enormous amount of run-time worrying about what everyone else is thinking. For the average person this means something so important, I'm going to put it in bold, and then refrain from adding anything else, because it says it all. What this means is that all those people, who are thinking about what other people are thinking about them...
are not thinking about you
or what you're doing
or your kids
(unless it's related somehow to themselves), chill out...

photo credit: Family_2008-37 By Bgraun, Creative Commons, attributed, non-derivative

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Sundaes Made of Meatballs

A talented marketing writer, possibly named Seth...something --Rogen is probably not right... oh, it's Godin-- wrote a book called Meatball Sundaes, a work about marketing in the new reality of social networks, the 'long tail', and the loss of the ability of major corporations mass-marketing not-very-well-made 'necessities' to the bulge in the middle of the market. Essentially this was done, in 1951, by dressing up meatballs to make them look 'special' -- make a sundae with them, because chocolate sauce and whipped cream and a pretty little cherry will make them look better and then they'll not be boring old meatballs anymore...

What has this got to do with anything?

Further to the last idea (schools can --or even should-- hold back the tide of technological advancement), school systems and their conventional supporters (everyone from governments happy about the idea of installing propaganda into the majority of minors' heads, to parents happy to have someone else responsible for the poor output at 18) are locked to into the same crisis-creating past-attached disasterous thinking that got GM, Chrysler, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Ford where they are today:

the world is changing but we are right-- our past tactics succeeded because we
are right and the changes that have happened in the world are anomalies that we
are confident won't last, don't matter and can't affect us because we are too
big, too right and successful because of divine right and the correct way of the
world. This is a temporary set-back caused by a minor misalignment of unrelated
and ultimately irrelevant stars.
Haha ha.

So... my point is that school systems operate on the cusp of 'we do things the right, natural, necessary and modern way,' arguing that they serve the real needs of the future adults they teach while dismissing technological and economical advances AS IF they don't matter at all --not to them, not to the system, not to the children, not to the adults those children will become and not to society.

Because embracing emerging technology is expensive and the schools already own all the obsolete technology, they feel secure and the simple position: we need not adapt. Now that 'knowing' is irrelevant in the face of 'finding out' and fact-gathering is the job of webcrawlers, not people, it becomes more and more ridiculous to 'teach' facts and insist on kids--or anyone--not using the readily-available tools to answer the questions.

The 'regurgitate what I told you' form of education was poor and flawed half a century ago. Today it is not just poor & flawed, it's irrelevant.

When a system is faced with a massive advance in cheap, portable technology, readily available to the average 10 year old, it has two choices: adapt to the technology or go to war with reality. It's sad to watch a whole system engage in a fruitless war when Sun Tzu, a thousand years ago, knew that the dumbest war to engage in is the one that cannot be won. No system in the history of the world has won the fight against reality. As my mum quips: mother nature rolls last. If the school system was a tyrant, it could have foreseen the troubles it would have with cell phones & stopped them becoming widely available. As much as the system and the people in it would like to be The Tyrant, that is not the way of the world --even if it seems, from here, that once it was.

It isn't. Now: adapt or suffer.

Does it seem ironic to anyone other than me that it is the most educated, the most expert on learning, who cannot conceive of a successful way to use the advances of cellphones to enhance the education, to incorporate them the way books have been, the way inexpensive paper has been, the way large numbers of same-age students have been, the way video, public address systems & even computers have been. It amazes me that no one in the system sees the technology as a wonder, a marvel--a boon to the potential of engaging students. Nope-- it's all meatball sundaes: we did it right in 1951 and that right way will remain right for all time because we have this big system already in place, that's why.

Photo entitled Swedish Meatball, copyright Dalyswe, used with permission, Flickr commons

Jammin' Cells

Am I the only dinosaur who remembers calculators being confiscated in classrooms? The recent controversy over a cell phone jammer at a Vancouver Island school reminds me once again about how fantastically-long it takes the school system to adapt to reality.
An utterly-convinced teacher told me 'you won't always have access to a calculator, which, in the age of solar cells and microchips, sounds like he'd never made it out of the era of slide rules. I've seen a slide rule-- at an auction. My mom had to learn how to use one. My kids can't guess what field the term applies to-- maybe playground design?

And so we move on...

With nano-technology coming -- soon-- it seems to me the schools (and the people in them) can use the upcoming year to see if they can catch up to Y2K, so maybe by the time the internet is accessible by blinking or something at least they can deal with a cell phone the size of a deck of cards.

One day in the not-to-distant-past, it will become possible for students to access more-information in 5 minutes than the school library can hold, on a piece of hardware that can be readily concealed in a bikini. The idea that the people in a school should live as-if this is not the every day reality at life is.. naive. Do I mean 'naive'? Maybe I mean 'ludicrous'? Or 'massively delusional'?

The idea that the school system can hold back the tide is... pervasive.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Spirit of Inquiry

I've been reading Byron Katie lately... I read her personal story of coming to her method probably nearly 20 years ago, but never thought to see if she'd written anything at the time....

Nevertheless: I'm currently reading I Need Your Love... is that true? and I just finished Who Would You Be Without Your Story? both of which I found fascinating and hard to put down. They reinforce things I've known for a long time, but don't really live and often forget entirely. Hilariously, I had just finished a book recommended by my coach (The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Ben Zander), which reinforces exactly the same things. Then, about two days after I finished the last of them, I found an article in an Oprah magazine about why goal setting often doesn't work... which repeats the theme.

I love synchronicity!

What I Know
  • people are wrapped up in their thinking far more than they are engaged in what is really happening at any given moment
  • everything I believe about the world is a result of two things: my perception and my beliefs (thoughts) about my perceptions

  • there is no way to find out if another person experiences their world in the same way I do -- no way to find out if when I say 'that's yellow' and they agree if they see the same colour I do... everyone's brains construct 'reality' alone, and while we can agree on the labels there is no way to know if our brains share the perceptions

  • people's motives are always for the best -- no one gets up in the morning intending to mess up anyone's life, including their own, even if that is what happens throughout the day

Friday, 20 March 2009

Baby Tyrant: do infants manipulate and plot to annoy?
I found myself once again in the midst of a surreal conversation...

"There is a difference between needs and wants, and she just wants to nurse, she doesn't need to," says a mom of a 5 month old baby.

"She's 5 months old," says I.

"It's just a habit."
Now, I didn't say, "I find eating a bit of a habit, too. I've gotten quite used to that statement over the years..." but I wanted to.
There are two things wrong with 'it's just a habit' and 'she just wants to nurse.' 

The first thing wrong with those statements is that they are predicated on a philosophy of humanity that I just can't agree with: people are, at their foundations, devious, bratty, bad and undeserving of kindness, love, and generosity.
This is the really big one that hurts my heart when I think of how stingy some people feel compelled to be toward their loved ones. This compulsion to hold all the goodness of life away from others seems to be to avoid the future: so they won't get spoiled or come to think that they're worthy of love or generosity or anything else completely unreasonable like that. 

That dark view of humanity is quite painful to watch, and I just never know what to say to someone holding that opinion, I don't know how to bridge the gap -- but I want to.

The second thing wrong with those two statements is that they rely on an adult-level understanding of devious behaviour, maliciously aimed at 'getting something' undeserved or unwarranted. 

Now, I will skip over the fact that I don't think adults get up in the morning thinking 'now, how can I screw them out of happiness, love, and good things so they'll be miserable?' While I'm not an optimist, exactly, I am a pragmatist and I know that no one gets up in the morning thinking of anyone more than they are thinking of themselves. They may be thinking about what they get can 'from them' but it is universally 'for me' not to do damage to anyone else.

A friend has the best-ever response to the implication that an infant is capable of such advanced thinking:
Honey, I know that you're little one is exceptionally brilliant and superior to all other human babies born to date and advanced well beyond her age, but at 5 months, there is simply no way she can plot to overthrow her parents.
Babies certainly learn quickly, and every generation is significantly smarter than the last... but, seriously!! child can't even open a drawer yet! 

Let the baby be a baby without polluting her motives with anything other than the instincts she has for survival, one of which is the need to keep the big people who are fully capable of throwing her off a 21st floor balcony from doing so.

Babies are fragile, incapable of keeping themselves safe, unable to care for their most basic needs, from cleanliness to nurishment. What would be in it for a baby to antagonize the people who keep him alive? This is such an important question, I think I'll put it in bold...
What would be 'in it' for a baby to antagonize the people 
who keep him alive?
If the baby gets to nurse in the middle of the night -- for any reason -- what is going to be bad about that? Breastmilk is the best possible thing any baby can eat, and direct from mom it comes in a warm and loving embrace, a sense of being cherished, affirmation of the child being worthy of nurturing, and both physical and psychological comfort.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

See what I see: you are wrong

Trust... it's a big word, and a big idea. It's something I found along the way, kind of by accident...

When my kids were really little and still thriving on breastmilk alone, it struck me that there were a few things they knew that I had no way of knowing. 

They knew if they were hungry or full. They knew how much they'd had to eat and how much room they had left. 

Whatever I might be the worldwide expert about, when it came to knowing my children better than anyone else, anywhere, it was perfectly obvious that there were some things they knew more about than me.
They knew how they thought and felt. I had access to what they expressed.

They know how they feel -- I can only take their word for it. Even if I think they're confused, if they're convinced they're angry, not sad, they are experiencing it -- I'm only seeing the effects on their faces, any amount of which may be nothing more than muscular habits, or unrelated relaxation.

They know if they're hungry, uncomfortable, weirded out by someone, traumatized by an image or idea or experience, or not. I don't. Contrary to our whole culture's determination about who knows best about children, I can't know. As the mother I can't know.
I can't determine for them what they're thinking or feeling or experiencing. I can't even tell if they see the colour red the same way I do. As close to them as I have been, as well as I have known them -- arguably better than anyone else in the world ever has or ever will -- I can't experience their experience, and I certainly can't tell them what it is. 

They know themselves better than I can ever know them... always.

From this awareness, I grew trust. 

I could either take their word for it or I could determine that they were wrong. Something about that idea just would not go down. I couldn't look at their faces and tell them that what they were experiencing was not happening. Not with credibility. Because it wasn't happening to me.

To this day, the pervasiveness of 'someone else knows better' astonishes me. This week, one of my bright, young adult daughters told me something like 'that's not what you see.'

From somewhere other than my intentional influence, they have both absorbed the culturally 'normal' reaction: you see what I see or you are wrong.