Bear with me. It sounds complicated, but really, it’s not.

My e-friend Bernadette Noll, who is friends of friends of my friend living in Munich, is the co-founder of the Slow Family Movement, the idea of investing time in our families instead of the activities that keep us away from them.  It is incredibly encouraging that mainstream media outlets such as yesterday’s USAToday have embraced the idea of the power of slow in so many areas of our lives.

And here’s the thing. It works.

This morning our kids were calm, centered and ready for their school week. It wasn’t only because we opted to do virtually nothing this weekend. It wasn’t only because my husband and I joined them in doing, well, nothing. It was also because the kids are firmly rooted in the understanding that we want to be with them whilst doing nothing. They built a fort out of chair and blankets, then slept under them at night. They played horse on their bikes and gathered walnuts that had fallen from our tree in the yard. They were happy just being. And it was beautiful to watch.

At the risk of sounding pious (and I really don’t mean to), you reap what you sow. And lately I’m beginning to understand what Bernadette Noll means when she says less is more for families too.

I spend a lot of time with my kids. Sometimes toooooo much time, if you know what I mean. But the truth is I wouldn’t change a thing. Their time at home is limited to a handful of years. That’s all we have before the comings and goings and laundry drop-offs begin. It is a precious time of instilling how valuable they are as human beings. If we didn’t invest time in them, what would they think about themselves and the world they inhabit? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be the one to show them the way than to leave it to chance…or television and YouTube.

Investing in your relationships, whether with children or other loved ones, is the best insurance policy life can give you. It is time well-spent, or in the eyes of Bernadette and myself, invested ~ for the future is tomorrow’s present and your time is a present too.

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The other day I sat down for a Skype chat with educator Kendra Delano, an expat first grade teacher living in Mexico. While she wore a sleeveless blouse, I froze in my long-sleeved Germanic garb. Such are the differing lives of two Americans living elsewhere.

As you all know, the Power of Slow was born in an ice cream parlour with a mind-boggling assortment of flavors. I made the choice to walk at the pace of an ice cream-licking three-year-old when I saw that rushing created unhappiness (not to mention indigestion!). It got me to thinking about all things time and space and child-like wonder. The next thing I knew I started to question all kinds of things, including how our contemporary pace of life isn’t sustainable.

Same Day, Different Choices is a Web site and book dedicated to teaching children (and those who love them) how to make powerful choices. We all can. At any age.

Think Sliding Doors for kids. Haven’t seen the movie? Rent it. It’s a classic demonstration of how your life can take a different twist, depending on the choices we make. In the end the truth comes out, regardless of choice. The question is, which path will you take to get there?

Fast or slow. Anger or compassion. Chocolate or vanilla. You choose.

Give my brief chat with Kendra a listen. Then let me know what you think.

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The Power of Imagination

November 7, 2010

Dr. Charlotte Reznick, author of The Power of Your Child’s Imagination, was on my mind this weekend as we took the kids to the mountains for a few days of frolicking. The four-star hotel offered great food, free WiFi, a wellness area with a pool with an Alpine view and enough cable TV to make the kids’ eyes bug out. We managed to go for two hikes, swim in the pool four times, and visit the gym twice. To distract the kids on our long walks, we practiced math problems in our heads. All in all, it was a glorious time.

The imagination part came in with all the storytelling I did to keep the kids’ entertained (and in complete unawareness that they were, gasp, hiking!). Remembering Dr. Reznick’s nine tools to broaden our kids’ imagination, we practiced some deep breathing on foot. Dr. Reznick calls it “balloon breath.” She says:

“Get comfortable on a flat surface and place your hands around your navel. Focus your attention two to three inches below it, and breathe slowly and deeply into your lower belly so that it presses into your hands like an inflating balloon. Stay there for a minute or two, feeling its gentle rise and fall. Notice how you feel. Try it sitting and standing.” (page 20-21) It is a great power of slow exercise for young and old.

It wasn’t hard to do the next piece because, in truth, our special place was right before our eyes. In the second section of her book, “Discovering Your Special Place,” Dr. Reznick says to foster the sense of self that dwells within. She suggests to visualize a peaceful place…perhaps our kids will think of the mountains the next time they’re bored, looking out the window during class!

Although we didn’t find any real animals (it is, after all, almost winter in the mountains, despite the unusually warm temps). Dr. Reznick recommends “Meeting a Wise Animal Friend” to act as protector. Perhaps the protective quality of animals is the reason why animal movies such as ICE AGE, LAND BEFORE TIME and GARFIELD are so popular.

In the third section, “Encountering a Personal Wizard” Dr. Reznick says sometimes we need to look to magical beings that might be able to assist us in times of need. During a particularly acrimonious homework session, I once called my son’s Math Wizard on my cell phone. Suddenly, he was able to solve the math problem on his own because of the mere confidence his imaginary wizard friend gave him.

If you wonder why imaginary friends are useful, consider the next section, “Receiving Gifts from Inner Guides.” Much like the phone call to Math Wizard, imaginary wizard and animal friends can provide gifts of strength and confidence when you need it most. The sixth section, “Checking in with Heart and Belly,” helps your child get in tune with their own feelings.

Dr. Reznick writes: “Neuroscience has shown that certain ‘brain’ chemicals— neuropeptides, which communicate with other parts of our bodies— don’t live only in the brain; they also reside in our intestinal tract. This suggests a second “Belly Brain” for emotions. Other research suggests that the heart has its own intelligence and communication system.” (page 40)

 

Other Suggested Reading

 

 

 

 

In section seven “Talking to all your body parts,” I was reminded of a recent blog post in which I offered up a simple exercise to help us re-enage with our bodies in a powerful way by greeting each section of ourselves with love, compassion and acceptance. Starting with your toes, moving up your ankles, shins, etc., thank each body part for the part it plays in getting you through the day. Give it a try!

We all know color can have an effect on our well-being. In “The Healing Properties of Color”, Dr. Reznick addresses how we can creatively use color to express our emotions. And finally, in “The Healing Power of Energy,” we learn the positive effects of ‘sending’ and receiving good vibes from others.

Fostering your imagination is a wonderful way to engage in the power of slow. Let it be your guide, wizard, animal or otherwise!

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It’s not just me. Time perceptions really do inform how we live our lives. According to John Byrd and Philip Zimbardo, two psychologists from California, children’s ability to delay gratification led to improved standardized test performance later in life.

Wow. A marshmellow today or two tomorrow. Which one would you pick?

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Do Busy Moms Have Time?

April 1, 2010

After reading Washington Post staff writer Brigid Schulte’s time starvation manifesto, “The Test of Time: A busy working mother tries to figure out where all her time is going,” I couldn’t resist but to reach out to her to share the power of slow. I felt an affinity for her and her struggles. It seemed like the right thing to do.

She sent a lovely response, agreeing to meet for coffee if I was every in the area. It just so happened I would be. So we sat down for a chat while I was in Washington, DC in mid-March. In our one-hour discussion, we covered a lot of ground, which she wrote about in today’s Washington Post.

We talked at length about our lives as working mothers, the constant external pressure to keep it altogether, and our intense need to do this despite how taxing it can be. Her children are roughly the same age as mine (primary school); like me, she works in a deadline-driven environment, often from her home office; and, like many people, she struggles with the clock.

That is where our lives diverge.

Somewhere along the line, I consciously decided to disengage from clock combat. I began to look at time as a resource I could work with, not against. It was a subtle, yet profound paradigm shift that leaves me feeling calmer when life gets messy.

With two kids life is often chaotic and loud and odiferous. Just yesterday my son dropped a strawberry on my favorite pants, staining them a lovely red hue. We learned that berries really can stain. But we learned something else, too.

Boundaries matter.

This mind-shift of time-as-friend-not-foe happened because I saw how my children, back when they were age one and three, lived in a timeless state. To them the clock meant nothing. So why did it mean so much to me? What would happen if, for a moment, I stepped out of time altogether and walked more slowly to the car, to the grocery store, to the laundry room? What would occur if I took the risk of slow-poking it to work, thanking the fourteen-wheeler for giving cause to ease off the gas for the ten-minute ride?

Wonders occurred. My life occurred. I occurred.

Sitting in the trendy metro-area coffee shop with my new Post pal, I delighted in Brigid’s company as she admitted she delved into the procrastination chapter of The Power of Slow first. Life can be so overwhelming! Where to start! Working toward deadlines seems to help. It must as she manages to meet her timelines like everyone else. But along with the workaday routine, she is accompanied by a deep feeling of dread. Tell me really, she said to University of MD leisure studies professor John P. Robinson, where does my time go?

She even went on the Dr. Phil show to address this same issue.

It got me to thinking.

Where are we spending most of our time? If I were to calculate how much time I spent in my car, for instance, while in the US for just that week, I would say a good deal of our time is spent inside our vehicles. How can we cut down our personal traffic? Is it feasible?

Telecommuting arrangements are one way to navigate the time continuum. For moms who work without pay (read: full-time parenting), how can we carve out moments of time for ourselves? In a past essay, entitled “Minute Snatchers ~ How to Be a Writing Parent” I called time carving  minute-snatching. I’d snatch a few minutes during naptime to write. In fact, I wrote three books that way. It was fulfilling because it gave me a sense of control, something many moms struggle to regain in their lives dictated by so many external demands.

Having blocks of time seems like a luxury, yet it is possible. It really is about task management.

My kids, for instance, are home for a two-week Easter break right now. Like boomerangs that hover low to the ground, then high in the sky, they double sling-shot their way through the day. Sometimes, they make arrangements with their friends; at other times they are sitting on my lap, asking what they can do. Just when the pain point of their boredom gets unbearable, they come up with an idea. I call it skating on the fringe of creativity. They need those unstructured days to feel the timelessness of youth. Then there are moments in which they are in structured play, such as a two-day riding camp. It is about blending both to find the optimum experience.

Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we don’t.

Think of it this way: when you fill a tablespoon with water, what takes longer? Running the water at full speed or raising the faucet handle just a tad to fill it once without spilling?

The other day my son ranted about how his jacket wouldn’t zip up as he hurridly struggled with the zipper.

“Sometimes slow is faster,” I said in my best mommy voice. He smirked as I showed him what I meant.

Today he proudly showed me he could zip it himself.

“Look, Mom!” he beamed. “There really is power in slow!”

Why yes, honey, I’d say there really is.

Time Zone Dance

September 2, 2009

Nothing makes you more acutely aware of the relativity of time than jetlag.

We returned from our three-week trip to the States in great spirits. Iberia Airlines had vastly overbooked our flight to Munich (via Madrid) so the airline clerk suggested we hop a direct flight to Munich on Lufthansa instead. The children thrust themselves heavenward in a collective expression of jubilation. I hadn’t heard the end of it since we flew over on Iberia.

“No personalized monitor screens? No happy-faced flight attendants’ Icky bathrooms and an ancient aircraft?”

Before the clerk could blink, I grabbed his arm and screamed replied, Heck Yeah!

In a matter of words, we agreed unconditionally.

My husband, fresh off a sustained state of relaxation (he spent most of his time either in the kitchen cooking or in the hammock reading), praised me for my foresight of coming to the airport a little earlier than necessary.

“We’re flying our preferred airline now, all thanks to Mama! She’s the one that insisted suggested we leave early. Isn’t that great?” So the half-hour we invested saved us five hours of travel time.

Now, back at home, we’re engaging in the time zone dance. Meeting halfway to the bathroom at 1 am, my daughter and I blinked at each other in the darkness.

“Why are you up?” I asked her. She wasn’t coherent (and I was distinctly unfair in demanding anything more than a mumble). We met again at 3 am, but then all was quiet.

That is, until my eyes popped awake at 10 am, wondering where the time went…

I’m excited to have public radio host Gary Ellenbolt’s participation in this Wednesday Wisdom series. His message is one to which we can all relate ~ finding time to show others you love them.

Listen to Gary Ellenbolt share his wisdom of taking the time with those who matter most. [Listening instructions – click on the link, then click again for your media player to open. Be sure to deactivate any pop-up blockers.]

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