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Final Rules

Dear readers,

The time has come for me to close up Tortoise on the Loose. The irony is that I simply don’t have the time. Or, more correctly, I need to use my energy and time on paid writing, creative writing and my studies. This doesn’t mean that I am abandoning the philosophy of slowing down; I just won’t be blogging about it. When I reflect back on the nearly two years of this blog, certain themes stand out. In conclusion, here are my [unedited] rules.

Tortoise on the Loose Rules for Slow Parenting and Living Simply

1. Cook and bake at home as much as possible. If you don’t know how, learn. Cooking saves money. It forces you to better appreciate where your food comes from and therefore appreciate the farmers, producers, and the environment. It teaches children a valuable life skill. Cooking is also a project that is accessible to everyone in the house – even the two-year-old can punch down the bread dough and add ingredients to the mixer. Cooking is a key component to developing as a group – if you cook, you are more likely to want to share what you cook with people. Preparing a meal together and eating together can be transformative.

2. Embrace the outdoors. Go for a walk. Explore your national parks. Camp. Plant a garden. Be sure to kick the kids outside for at least 30 minutes a day no matter what the weather. Experts will tell you that there has been a collective loss of basic knowledge about nature. Children and adults alike need to understand their environment if we want them to care about it. Children and adults both need to be challenged by nature, the challenge will build appreciation of the world and contribute to the knowledge that we cannot control it. Being challenged by nature also builds character – toughness, endurance, resilience and humility.

3. Embrace your community. Aim to live, work, shop and play in your community. We all make connections with people in various groups outside our neighbourhoods. But the strongest connections are those that overlap. When we play community league hockey with our neighbour, connections overlap and are enhanced. When we walk our children to school with their friends and their parents, we are building community. When we shop at local stores, we build community. Seek out opportunities to have connections overlap and community will be strengthened.

4. Let your kids go. Stop mollycoddling your children. Let them be free to play and do activities that challenge them. Kids need to come home with more broken bones and bruises. Let them make mistakes. Children need to be able to walk to school by themselves and play at the park without adult supervision. Older children need to be able to take public transit by themselves, go off to university without their parents looking over their shoulder and travel far from home with their parent’s blessing. Let them learn life skills on their own. They will be empowered and have the confidence they need to get on with their lives.

5. Stop being fearful. Remember that crime rates are at their lowest. Your children are more likely to be injured in a motor vehicle accident than be abducted. If you are reading this, you likely live in one of the safest countries in the world. Stop injecting your fears into your children. If you want your children to be social, globally minded, empathetic members of society, you need to let them learn about the world. This means exposing them to the world as an enjoyable place ripe with new ideas and experiences. If fear rules your head and your parenting strategy, your children will learn to be afraid of new experiences, people, places, foods, cultures, ways of thinking, etc.

6. Don’t make your children your life. Be sure to have other roles than just ‘parent’. Being a parent is a very important role but it is unhealthy if it is the only role you occupy. The academic literature is pretty clear – multiple roles make a person more psychologically healthy and less depressed. Success in one role will smooth over disappointment in another role. Take time for yourself. Invest in your identity beyond mom/dad.

7. Believe that free play is more important than structured activities. Your child can learn piano later in life. And despite conventional wisdom, learning a language isn’t necessarily easier when you are young. Stop obsessing about all the skills and interests you need to develop in your child. Instead, give them time every day to do NOTHING. Boredom precipitates creativity. On that note, stop feeling the need to entertain your kids. Tell them to go play by themselves. They’ll figure it out.

8. Stop trying to keep up with Jones. We all know that perfection is unattainable, so why do we keep trying? Don’t worry if your kids’ clothes are second-hand. So what if you still haven’t painted over the ugly wall colour from when you bought the house five years ago? Stop wanting that big, better, newer car/house/vacation. Spend your energy on people, not trying to keep up with false promises of happiness.

9. Create traditions. Children LOVE the predictability of a family tradition. Isn’t that why we all love Christmas so much and we are disturbed when someone asks us to alter what we’ve ‘always done’? Work at making family traditions that are unique to your family – the spot in the garden where the children always plant their veggies, the annual Easter egg hunt with cousins, the anticipation of new PJs on the winter solstice, Friday night pizza and a movie, Sunday dinner with the grandparents, etc.

10. Embrace messiness. Children make a mess. Nobody ever said playdough was tidy. And a four-year-old doesn’t really understand why he can’t take sand out of the sandbox and put it on the lawn. Learn to be okay with messy happiness. An obsession on tidiness is restrictive and unhealthy.

11. Let your kids be sick. Stop sanitizing everything. Throw away the cover that keeps your toddler from touching the shopping cart. Exposure to germs will build their immunity. More importantly, if you stop obsessing over germs, you will teach your children to interact with the world in a normal way rather than see the world as a scary place full of disease and threats.

12. Allow your children to be children. Don’t push the adult stuff until later. Five-year-olds do not need makeup. Elementary children do not need to be taught how to ‘ask a girl to dance’. Three-month-old babies do not need skinny jeans. Children are not mini adults. They think differently, their logic is different, they respond to and remember things differently. Respect this. Celebrate the wonder that is childhood!

13. Less toys is better. Your child really doesn’t need all that plastic crap from China. You know it in your heart, so why do you keep buying it? And why do you encourage others to give it to your children at birthdays and Christmas? Let your children have a few good quality toys that provide the opportunity for open-ended play.

14. Avoid the consumer culture and be thrifty. I never understand people who say ‘shopping’ is a hobby. Turn off the TV so you don’t watch advertisements. Don’t spend every weekend in the mall with your kids. Be cautious about how you associate spending money with emotions – don’t let your children learn that buying something new will make them feel good. Being thrifty teaches your children to build their self-worth (and yours!) in better ways.

15. Minimize your life. Less stuff means less to manage, clean, organize. The bigger your home, the more stuff you will own and the more time/money you will need to take care of it. Is this really how you want to spend your life – buying and maintaining large quantities of stuff? Even if you are a millionaire, wouldn’t you rather your money and time go to better causes? Learn to borrow before buying. To this day I never understand why people don’t use their public library – it’s a source of virtually free and unending resources, folks!

16. Give simply. Give meaningful gifts. Give useful gifts. Give experiences. Give consumable gifts. Give books. Give generously of your time and energy – this is a better gift than stuff.

17. Take time to reflect. When things are busy, we act without really thinking. We rely on our autopilot or fall back on old ways. If we set aside time to reflect, we can live more meaningfully and thoughtfully. Learn to pause.

18. Be confident in your choices. It can be hard to be different from the crowd – to have people judge you for letting your child walk the dog around the block by herself, to have people doubt your parenting ability when your child climbs to the top of the tree and nearly falls, to have people laugh behind your back at your attempts to keep Barbie products out of your house. But remember that your choices are not a judgment on others. You have to live your life and give your children a life that you believe in. Be strong. Be reflective. Be resilient.

Thanks to all the readers who stuck with me these past couple of years. Your comments have been valuable!
Happy parenting,
Laura Manuel (aka Mama Tortoise)

Minimizing May – The Re-Cap

Photo Credit: klangkult from http://www.sxc.hu

I recently commented that I don’t want to be responsible for cleaning more than two, preferably one, bathroom a week. Saying things like this has an interesting effect. One, people are always wary that you are somehow judging them. And two, most people don’t quite understand aspiring for less since we are so conditioned to aspire for more.

For the record, I honestly don’t care how many bathrooms you have, I just don’t want to have to clean them.

About a year ago I wrote about the benefit of living in a space that is used daily rather than occasionally. For example, why have a guest room if you only have guests once a year? This philosophy can be applied to thinking about stuff. We (okay, I’m going to blame MJ) have a large selection of dining dishes, serving platters, funny tools to poke cheese with. Heck, we even have the gear to make you Vietnamese coffee. Gesh. All of these items are retained with thought of, ‘What if….’ or ‘Someday…’ These are certainly not things that are used on an everyday basis. They cost money, take up space, need to be organized, cleaned, maintained, etc. In my mind, they are unnecessary.

The month of May was time to reflect on the idea that minimizing makes room for other things: time, money, space, even peace of mind. It feels like the project of minimizing our household should have been more than one month. I now know that minimizing is less of a project and more of a mindset. That said, this month we tried to reduce our life in many ways:

Getting rid of stuff. We dropped off 12 garbage bags to Goodwill. However, there is still WAY more to go. I’ve learned that downsizing is very time consuming. If it has taken years to accumulate all this stuff, it’s going to take a while to reduce it. I am also aiming to make some money on the side by selling our clutter, and this takes time. We made $65 through Kijiji, but I still have things for sale. I also have items at consignment stores waiting to be sold. I haven’t done it yet, but I will soon say goodbye to my wedding dress.

Not acquiring new stuff. This project made me think about the ease with which we bring things into the home, especially when it comes to the kids. In the past, I wouldn’t have thought twice about picking up a hot wheels car (Banana loves them!) or more crayons or stickers while we were in the grocery store. But every time I thought about purchasing anything (even if it was a GREAT deal, or something second-hand), I forced myself to think about picking it up off the floor 100 times. This thought was enough for me to put it back on the shelf.

Reorganizing our space. MJ and I tackled our bedroom this month. The goal was to make it a place that had just the basics and very few surfaces or things to dust. Although the changes are seem slight, the room feels more streamlined and there is less to clean. The end result is encouraging and I hope to start on the other rooms in the house.

De-cluttering other areas of our lives. For example, I unsubscribed from all the e-mail newsletters or lists that I rarely open.

Reducing the output of money. We rethought our grocery bill.

Living simply means less of a focus on stuff. Because stuff takes money, time, space, and attention. It is easy to lose yourself in the accumulation, reorganization, replacement, cleaning, and maintenance of stuff.

It’s not easy, but I’m aiming for less. Oh, and only one bathroom to clean.

Slow Saturdays: The More the Merrier

Slow Saturdays is a weekly challenge related to slow parenting. The challenges are intended to break down a large project into smaller, more manageable pieces. Try it for yourself. You are, as always, encouraged to post comments. Tell us your story.

The Challenge: I sometimes shy away from too many playdates (oh, how I dislike that word – a post for another time) since I enjoy/need simple family time at home. I feel that the girls need that downtime too. But I am learning that having more kids in the house isn’t necessarily more work. They sort of take care of themselves. This week’s challenge is to embrace the idea of ‘the more, the merrier’ as parents. The more children around, the more fun they have. And often, the adults get company too!

Thinking About Food at AMoment2Think

I had the lovely opportunity to write a guest post for AMoment2Think‘s ‘Tuesdays 2 Think’ series. This series of blog posts is intended to tackle subjects outside of ‘the parenting you’. At first I struggled with a topic but then considered how much food has changed my family since we began the project to consciously slow down. So, that’s what I wrote about – slow food.

AMoment2Think is a great parenting blog by a fellow Albertan. Go check it out.

Happy Birthday to Tortoise on the Loose

Yup, it’s been a whole year! It’s been 67 posts and over 5500 views. In terms of slowing down, our family has seen some changes: we now only eat homemade bread, we have cut out cable TV, and I have not returned to full-time work. We have had some interesting experiments – there was the time that we tried making cheese.

It feels great to have seen through an entire year. But I’m also ready to make a few tweaks to the blog.

I’ve added a Friends of Tortoise on the Loose on the sidebar. I want to do this to recognize other bloggers who frequently send me traffic, as well as Edmonton businesses or organizations that I support. Most recently, for instance, The Birth Source newsletter was kind enough to link to Tortoise on the Loose. This list will be a work in progress.

After some reflection and e-mail comments, I’ve also decided to add a weekly column on Saturdays titled ‘Slow Saturday’. This will be in addition to regular blog posts. ‘Slow Saturdays’ will be dedicated to mini-challenges to slow down. These are challenges that I am imposing on myself and/or recommending to readers. Get ready to play along – we start next Saturday.

Finally, I’ve created a Tortoise on the Loose Facebook Page. Unfortunately, I’m stumped on some of the details of connecting to this site. Bear with me while I riffle through the FAQs and Help sections on Facebook!

Last but not least, I want to send out a big thank you to the regular readers of this blog! I love the comments and the feedback. Keep it coming! Thank you!

September Madness

The blog advisors will tell you to avoid apologizing for an absence. They say that nobody wants to hear why you’ve missed a few blog posts. But I’m going to break the rule and apologize. September has come at our family with a vengeance and I am just catching up in time for October.

What is it about September that makes the rest of the year seem dull and routine? In my world, September will always be the beginning of the year. January will just be another month of winter. September is where the action is. The obvious reason for this is the beginning of school. Pre-school, grade school and university students are all starting a new chapter. And this has an odd effect on all of us. Holidays come to a halt, and routines begin again. There are no more delays in co-workers returning e-mails or lunch hours running long. September seems to imply that we must all return to a standard of professionalism. We begin new projects. Church committees re-convene, beer league sports start practicing, book clubs resume their usual schedule, and public transportation is crowded again.

There is also the end to the gardening season. This means dismantling what you’ve worked hard at creating for the past four months. It also means going through the process of figuring out what you’re going to do with a thousand pounds of apples. Or, in our case, wondering how to fit all the cucumbers in the fridge or on the countertop.

September is madness.

To add to the chaos, the beginning of this year is exceptionally important for me. For me, it emphasizes the decision to not return to [conventional] work. My maternity leave is coming an end and we’ve decided that we need to get more creative about how we are living as a family. The decision to become a – gulp – ‘mother-who-does-not-work-in-the-capitalist-sense-of-the-word’ has been both difficult and liberating. More to come next post. After all, September is almost done and doesn’t that mean I can get back into blogging routine?


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