Posts Tagged 'slow living'

Finding our Groove

Photo Credit: Lavinia Marin at http://www.sxc.hu

Sometimes I feel like a bit of an imposter. As much as we try to slow things down, life just seems to speed up.

It’s the end of a full week of having the Bear in Kindergarten. Banana also started ‘school’ this week at a community-based childcare centre. She will only be going one day a week. But the amount of labeling, shopping for school supplies, filling out of paper work and driving has been over-whelming. MJ and I have also started our own courses and work is piling up. Then there is end-of-year garden duties and processing of veggies. We’ve ended the week exhausted with all of us feeling a little sick. Not good.

But I have to look at the positive. Thank goodness we’ve avoided out-of-school activities. I can’t imagine the pressure of having either/both the girls in another activity. And soon the frost will be here and the garden will sleep until spring giving us some rest.

So, as MJ and I struggle to keep our heads above water, I have to be grateful that we’re healthy and organized enough to manage this time of year. This is a time for adjustments. It’s time to find a new groove after warm, casual summer days.

As the wonderful women at Slow Family Living ask families, “Is this working for you?” And now that we are somewhat settled, I can answer, ‘yes’. Yes, there has been some headache getting organized, but we’ll be okay. We’ve found our groove again.

Something Has to Give

Photo credit: clowdomega from http://www.sxc.hu

It was three months ago that we debated putting the Bear into soccer. We were apprehensive for a few reasons:

1. She is only five.
2. She was already enrolled in swimming lessons.
3. We are trying to avoid lots of organized activities. Swimming lessons, soccer, plus playschool for a five-year-old seems a little much.

But we ignored our instincts and put her in soccer anyway. The other night we learned our lesson.

It was raining. No, the rain had stopped. Did we have soccer or didn’t we? And who schedules a soccer game for 6:00, anyway? MJ didn’t arrive home until 5:30 and dinner was rushed as we all scrambled to get out the door. We all had to leave because I was meeting someone – this meant I needed our one and only car. MJ was going to bike over to the field with the girls in the trailer. But, oh no, the trailer came unhinged in the chaos and jammed itself between the spokes of MJ’s bike tire – bending it beyond repair. The Bear was still crying because she didn’t understand why she couldn’t ride her own bike. And Banana kept insisting that she didn’t need her rain jacket so every five minutes one of us was trying to zip her back into it for the umpteenth time.

You may remember the post where I asked the question, what do you think of when you think of family life?

Well, this moment was my antithesis.

I often wonder how other families manage. On the outside, it seems like other families know tricks that I have yet to learn. But MJ reminded me that they aren’t managing – they’ve given up something. In other words, a family unit simply cannot maintain a fast-paced life with loads of activities, hold on to certain values (like eating dinner as a family), and be still be cheerful to one another. Something has to give – perhaps bedtime routine, or time together as a family, or even putting off toilet training the toddler in order to maintain a certain pace. Either way, families may look like they are managing, this much I know, but it is at the expense of other things. I guess one just needs to be cautious and conscious about what they’re giving up.

At this point in our family life, we are giving up a heavy schedule of activities. We will not overload ourselves again; instead we will favour unrushed dinners as a family and avoiding situations that end with all of us angry at each other. And maybe there will still be time for a bike ride, once that tire gets replaced…

Slow Saturdays – Three Good Things

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.

Inherent in slowing down is the space to reflect, savour life, and ultimately be happier. Which is why I was grateful (!) to find this video about inspiring gratitude in children. Christine Carter, author of the blog Raising Happiness, speaks about how gratitude can help children be happier. Of course, when parents think about teaching gratitude it also makes them consider how they are modelling the skill. And when everyone in the house practices gratitude, the household will hopefully be a happier place.

I really liked her idea of ‘Three Good Things’ – the idea that children name three good things about their day before they go to sleep. We have been doing this randomly with the Bear to counteract negativity we encounter. After watching the video it made me think that ritualizing gratitude with something like ‘Three Good Things’ would be an easy addition to our day.

The Challenge – Watch the video and incorporate a regular form of gratitude into each day this week. If your children are older, perhaps use dinner time as an opportunity to ask them about their three good things during the day. If your children are pre-schoolers like the Bear, perhaps use bedtime as a chance to talk about the good things they experienced. Or, maybe you want to start a gratitude journal for yourself.

Slow Saturdays (ur, Sundays?) – Slowing the inflow of stuff

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.

I’d like to say that I was in such a slow living mood on Saturday that I forgot to do a blog post, but that isn’t the truth. I was consumed with the Bear’s fifth birthday party and all the joys that come with having five little girls visiting our home. But it was the Bear’s birthday (again) that made me think of this week’s challenge. We had a toonie party – the Bear’s friends each brought her a toonie in lieu of a birthday present. We wanted the focus to be on celebrating her birthday with friends and family rather than on presents. We promised to take her the toy store with her toonies in order to buy herself a single gift. Once the Bear was in the toy store with her toonies (and the promise from Mom and Dad that they would help her purchase a toy), she thought that the idea of a toonie party was a pretty good one. But mainly, the idea of toonie party is to reduce the accumulation of more stuff.

I believe that reducing the amount of stuff you have can help lead to a happier life. With less stuff to keep track of, maintain and replace, you have the time and energy for other things – a focus which, I believe, is more worthwhile and fulfilling.

The Challenge – Aside from food, aim to eliminate any new things from coming into your home this week. No shopping for extras. Try not to accept gifts or even second-hand things. No toys for the kids. Not even a new tube of lipstick or pair of socks. This week only! But hopefully it will help us think about how easy it is to add to the amount of things in our homes.

Working Mothers at Home – Part 1

“For the idle mother, it is not a choice between ‘going back to work’ or ‘staying at home’. She explores that vast and rich territory between those two barren poles.”
-Tom Hodgkinson, The Idle Parent

I have this image in my head – our former weekday morning shenanigans during that precious hour before we left the house… We would glance at the clock every five minutes to ensure we were on schedule. However, there would always (and I mean always) be a glitch: the Bear would refuse to wear matching clothes; or the toaster would be jammed which in turn set off the smoke detector; or the Bear would have a melt down because I said ‘no’ to bringing markers in the car; or MJ would leave ironing his shirt to the morning frenzy rather than do it the night before. And in a complete whirlwind of raised voices, exhaustion, and suppressed outbursts, we would finally leave the house. MJ and I would go to work, and the Bear would start her eight-hour day of daycare. I can’t imagine doing that with two children.

It’s time to really slow down.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am not returning to my previous job. But, as Hodgkinson so aptly puts it, neither am I choosing to ‘stay at home’ with the Bear and Banana.

Dualistic viewpoints such as the ‘working Mom’ vs. the ‘stay-at-home-Mom’ are limiting, reductive, and hurtful. When we add these adjectives to the role of motherhood, it makes mothers believe that they can only be one of two things. They believe that there are pros and cons to each ‘side’ and debate the virtues of each. The ‘Mommy Wars’ are a pointless exercise since mothering is complex and filled with a zillion shades of gray. There is no right or wrong answer to how we independently approach our role as mothers.

For our family, the decision for me not to return to full-time work was largely about our slow it down philosophy. Don’t think that it is because I’m sentimental about my children being preschoolers. And it is certainly not a belief that I will somehow do a better job of taking care of the girls than a nanny or daycare staff. It is more about restoring sanity to our household. It is about embracing the reality that it can take hours to get out of the house if we are all to have matching socks, our teeth brushed, and a decent amount of caffeine running through parental veins.

Slowing Down with the Edmonton Folk Music Festival

Banana at her first Folk Fest

I admit that I have been trained in the school of ROI (Return On Investment, for the non-business folk). As much as I theoretically oppose such a focus on measuring inputs and outputs, I have a hard time shaking the mindset. At what point do I look at my life and acknowledge that a slower lifestyle is paying off? Are we to be happier? Calmer? Smiling more? Feeling healthier?

I had a glimpse into these questions this past weekend…

Each year we attend the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. This was my 12th Folk Fest, the Bear’s fifth, and Banana’s first. MJ and I know all the rituals and strategies. We know not to fill our water bottles until we get inside the gates or else we end up hauling water during the 20 minute hike to the festival hill (there’s no parking on site). We know the pros and cons of arriving each day at 6:00 a.m. to be one of the first to claim that elusive perfect spot on the hill with an 8×10 tarp. Over the years we have learned to be at Stage 4 after lunch since that is where we’ll find the best shade during the heat of the day. And we know that the worst line-ups for the port-a-potties are the ones by the beer gardens.

Despite our accrued knowledge of this awesome event, I haven’t really enjoyed the festival over the last few years. I attributed the cause to dragging around a baby or toddler, or because I was pregnant, or because I was grieving for my childless days with a few hours in the beer garden. But something hit home on Thursday night during Gord Downie’s performance. “Do you want to see something disappear?” he asked the audience, “This moment is disappearing. Are you trying to capture this? It can’t be captured.” He may have been directing his comments to the hoards of IPhones filming him or being used to connect with friends who had just arrived at the gates. But I think he was also sending a plea to the audience to just experience the evening. Not in a ‘seize the moment’ kind of way that tends to send people into some sort of frenzy, but in a ‘just relax and listen’ kind of way.

I was experiencing the evening. I wasn’t dwelling on the schedule for the next day, or worrying about whether the Bear had enough sunscreen on, or discussing strategy for getting a better spot with our tarp the next day. I was simply sitting on a hill listening to music. I don’t think that I have really done that for several years.

And with that mindset, MJ and embarked on our least stressful Folk Fest yet. We didn’t worry about what time we got to the hill. We made a point of seeing what we could see and not worry about missing anything. We didn’t spend our usual 16-hour day at the festival site. And we enjoyed ourselves.

This was my first inking that our efforts to slow down may actually be having an impact. We were okay seeing the weekend disappear because we were genuinely experiencing it.

Feeling Time Crunch While Slow Living

I’m sitting at the breakfast table. I’m watching MJ coax Banana to eat applesauce, the Bear is whining that she doesn’t want to eat the crusts on her toast, and MJ is explaining that he won’t be home for dinner. My mind is also occupied with the shopping list that I can’t seem to find and I’m wondering if there’s a remote chance of a shower before MJ leaves for work. Then I’m making a mental note to put the diapers in the dryer before we leave to playschool and wondering if the Bear has appropriate clean pants for cool weather. Then there is the Father’s Day card we still need to make, dinner to prepare, the garden that needs weeding… and… and…and…

The radio in the background broadcasts one of their top stories – More Canadians Pressed for Time.

‘Heck, yeah,’ I think.

Wait a minute; aren’t we trying to slow down as a family? Then why do I feel so much pressure on my time?

According to a report released on June 15, 2010 by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, Canadians are feeling an increasing amount of pressure to achieve balance in their lives. The report examined 15-20 years of statistics that evaluated how Canadians use their time. As a nation, time pressure has not abated.

Not surprisingly, groups who felt the most pressure were single parents of young children, those who had eldercare responsibilities, and women. The report points to the rise in technology as one of the key factors contributing to blurring the lines between work and home life.

The more pressure on our time means a reduction in Canadians participating in social leisure time, attending arts performances, and spending time with family. One notable finding was the fact that teens who had a meal each day with their parents has dropped from 64 per cent in 1992 to 35 per cent in 2005.

So, is feeling a time crunch compatible with slow living?

As we seek to slow down our life, I interpret our efforts as a sort of ‘getting back to the basics.’ We’re growing a garden, we’ve cut ourselves off from TV, we’re trying to live on less money, we only have one car, and we’re cooking and baking almost all of our own food. We may call this slow living, but it also takes a lot of work and therefore, time.

What the Canadian Index of Wellbeing report didn’t specify was how people construct their ideas about time. The report suggests that Canadians are working differently and therefore have less time for leisure, the arts or family. This insinuates that the authors interpret time as linear – work, or other activities, are contained within a finite block of time therefore keeping that block from being used for other things. (you may recall a previous post on the topic of heterochrony)

I believe that slow living isn’t about finite blocks of time. For example, the time it takes us to grow food in our garden is not a project that requires scheduling in a digital calendar. Some days we get around to watering, other days we don’t. Then again, it might rain.

Living slow allows us to be more flexible. My to-do list is generally not filled with specific deadlines that are attached to a schedule. We are not parents who cart our children around to 101 activities. We aim to not micro-manage our children’s play. Our time is busy but unconfined.

And this is the difference. We are pressed for time by living slowly. But it is nothing that we can’t re-arrange or delegate. Time in the slow lane is more indirect.


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