Friday, June 25, 2010

10 Ways to Nurture Your Child's Spiritual Life

     A teacher once told me that joy was the natural state of humans. He said in the beginning it's like our hearts are bright, shiny-clean mirrors. Then, once negative things in life happen, the mirror becomes covered by feelings of  worry, fear, anger, jealousy, etc.  There are some conditions in our environment that we can control that have the potential to continuously wipe the mirror clean for our children and ourselves. 
      Maybe you've watched as magical, happy small children you know turn into not-so-charming materialistic kids who have lost their spark of individuality and joyfulness. Wanting more and more stuff  stifles all the good qualities the child originally possessed.  Make no mistake, the cultural norms promote and take over a large part of your child's life. If you go to a really good church or temple, that can counteract some the cult of ownership, but I think mostly its  building a breathing space for your kids just to be. Materialism isn't the only cultural problem. Chronic rushing and busyness, loud music and TV, insane competitiveness, overfilled schedules, force kids to grow up too early, robbing them of their innate spirituality.
     My grandson, who is 4 1/2, has only been to two movies and has limited PBS Sprout exposure. On Saturday, Aiden went to see Toy Story 3. So yesterday I took him to Safeway where we walked the aisles. Little pictures of Woody, the cowboy, jumped out at him from every turn. Cereal boxes, cookies, videos, called out to him, making him want all of it. We bought a box of Rice Crispies with Woody's picture only because we were making marshmallow treats. Apparently there was supposed to be something Toy Story related in the box, but we never found it, leaving Aiden disappointed. As much as you try to keep children from being influenced by our cultural materialism, it's designed to strikes home.
     Here are some ideas to help you create a space that allows your child  to grow spiritually and develop a rich interior life.

1. Let them know there is something bigger than themselves, it can be called God, or it can be certain ideals your hold like Truth or Honesty. Something has to be bigger than them. You can use any word you like; Spirit, Creator, just don't let your child be the center of the universe.

2. Let them see you helping others in your community. Assisting neighbors when they are sick or in trouble, and showing kindness is great modeling. Especially let them see you giving without expecting anything back.

3. Give your children the time to dream. It's a gift to allow them periods of silence. Some quiet and solitude-don’t keep them constantly involved in competition, sports, TV, video games, etc. It robs them of their ability to think freely, to breathe, and to relax.  Contrary to the popular belief that being alone occasionally is problematic, it's important for them to learn how to think and dream. When I taught high school, the principal told the whole faculty, "Watch out for loners and report them to us."  I laughed out loud, thinking it was a joke. There has to be a middle way. Alone all the time bad, never alone, equally detrimental.

4. Show and teach gratitude- for everything from food on the table to a warm bed, beautiful flowers growing in the yard, to being grateful for a kindness from a stranger. You can say grace before dinner, use any words you like, but start saying it or ask the kids to say it.

5. Encourage their imagination in as many ways as possible. A chance to use their imagination-give them lots of art supplies, wood blocks to build, don’t tell them what to do, don’t praise the art or project, say instead, “Tell me about this.” They will.

6.Take them to Yosemite instead of Disneyland. Okay, you can take them to Disney a few times, but mostly take them out into nature and to appreciate beauty.  Have your kids seen the way stars look when you are in the mountains or the desert?  A full moon rise?  Appreciation for the miracles around them encourages wonder and awe in yourself and your kids. Get them outside, growing vegetables, go camping, look at plants, and point out the intricate beauty of frogs, bugs, and the flight of a hawk.

7. Exhibit peace and respect for others.Watch what you say and do in front of your kids-screaming at other drivers, calling people names are noticed. When you show respect, politeness to others, when you let people go ahead of you on the freeway and in the supermarket, your kids see it. Everything you say and do is noticed. If you don't want to hear it coming out of your 5 year old's mouth, don't say it.

8. Storytelling, books, and family ritual-Children learn from storytelling, both family and otherwise, borrow great books from the library, develop family rituals. This helps kids feel connected to you, their world, and the child's ancestors.  There isn't any culture in the world, except maybe ours, where the ancestors are not called upon to help them or remember them to bring them into community with their lives.  Family rituals can be as simple as praying together over meals or just setting healing intentions for others.

9. Be careful with movies, video games, etc. Children have their own inborn temperaments to be sure, but if they are exposed to scary or adult movies or games it harms them. Especially oversexualized or violent images have a terrible impact.

10. Be convinced of your child's innate sense of the sacred and their own spiritual centers. Children have moments of shocking awareness that are periods of grace.  Don't underestimate their intuitive, soulful knowledge.

     A few minutes ago, I went outside to clear my head and finish my coffee. Two small deer walked into the yard not 20 feet away from me. I could feel my heart jump a bit, lifting me up, cleaning the mirror again. I went to theology school, but I don't know everything about what we are doing here on this planet at this moment. I just know children's spiritual lives need nourishing and a sacred space to grow freely. It's the best gift you can give them.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rebecca's Overnight: Making Gramma Martha's Caramel Corn

Rebecca came to spend the night last night.  Before she came I asked her what she wanted. Here are her replies:

1. Dinner? Mac and Cheese and Hot dogs
2. Movie? Ice Age
3. Activities? Reading, Art and Cooking
4. Snack? Gramma Martha's Caramel Corn
5. Breakfast? Blueberry Pancakes
6. TV? Berenstein Bears
7. Book? The Land of the Big Red Apple (Laura Ingels Wilder's continuing series, Little House, about her marriage and her own little girl, Rose.) It's a chapter book so we read 1 or 2 chapters after she gets into pajamas, brushes her teeth, and gets under the covers. I read it out loud to her.

Ice Age, the movie, was really good. When the viewer thinks Diego, the saber-toothed tiger, is dead, Rebecca's eyes got all teary and her mouth turned downward. I told her, "Don't worry, darling. The movie has a really happy ending or I wouldn't show it to you."  She loved the baby in the movie just as much as I did.

After dinner, I popped two bags of popcorn in the microwave. Here's the recipe:
Gramma Martha's Caramel Corn
1. Pop 3 1/2 quarts of popcorn
2. Pour it into a deep turkey pan or some other pan that is at least 4 or 5 inches deep and large.
3. In a saucepan put 1 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup corn syrup, 1/2 tsp salt. Mix together.
4. Cook on medium heat until bubbly-cook for 5 minutes (lower the heat a bit so it won't burn)
5. Take off the stove.
6. Put in 1/2 tsp baking soda, mix it in (it will rise up to the top)
7. Pour the mixture all over the popcorn, mix it around with wooden spoon (it's really hot so be careful)
8. Place in 200 degree oven for 60 minutes (set the timer for 30 minutes at first and turn it all over again)
9. Take out of oven, stir into a large bowl, mix again, breaking up the big pieces. Let it cool.
10. Put it in an airtight container to store.

I let Rebecca mix the butter, syrup, and brown sugar. The rest is just too hot. Together we watched Ice Age and ate some caramel corn and drank lemonade. We had a great overnight. She fell asleep listening to me read Little House on the Prairie book at 8:15 p.m which is a record. Usually it's 10 or 11 p.m.
This morning we ate blueberry pancakes and drew pictures and painted. I particularly liked the drawing she made of herself, Aiden, Angel, and Ava wearing bright red clothing. I'll post it next time.We ran to Target for a quick birthday present and I brought her home at 11:30 a.m..

My house seems really quiet tonight.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Summer's Comin' : Be Happy

Well, Aiden and I had a horrible day. He wouldn’t mind me, he threw a bunch of play dough and his toys in the trash, ran away from me in the parking lot, blah blah blah. He said he didn’t like me anymore. Then with a smile, he said to me, "Are you mad?"  I said, "Yes."  With a grin, he tells me, "Be happy!"  It was so cute it made me laugh.

I couldn’t get him to sit on the toilet so I said, “Don’t you dare go to the toilet. I bet you don’t even know how.”

He went  and sat on the toilet and urinated, laughing the whole time. What a kid. It’s about darn time. When I leave now he always has to open the door for me and hugs me 3 times.

He seems very upset about all the transitions in his life-the end of school, new baby coming. I’m only babysitting him the next 3 days, then my son Randy will be home for the summer break from teaching.
The greatest thing about picking Aiden up at school is that when he sees me, he gets this huge smile with his dimples showing and he runs very fast and jumps into my arms, then he just holds me hard for about a minute before letting go.

It's almost summer so I took a few days off to go to my friend’s house on the coast. I didn’t see Aiden for 5 days. He's a boy who loves his routine and doesn't like it disrupted. When I picked him up at school today  he gave me the biggest long hug-he just held on. At his preschool, the teachers are bringing the toddlers over to the bigger classes so they will know the new teachers for next year, but it’s making Aiden insecure. His teacher, Miss Katrina, said Aiden is hanging all over her, clinging to her legs, asking her where she’s been if she leaves the room.

We go get his lunchbox, say thank you goodbye to Ms. Katrina and Ms. Daisy then walk to my car, get him into his car seat, roll his window down, and strap him in. We talk on the way home, we scream “stinky stinky" when we go by the sewer smell that lingers across from the hospital-rotten egg smelling-really hideous. Then when we get to Broad St., we turn right and I ask him how many buses are waiting for kids to get off. Usually 4. Then when we get home, he wants to climb out of his car seat by himself, then he always wants to pop the trunk to get out whatever I want to bring upstairs. When we get in the elevator he pushes 3, but I say, 392 coming up”

When we get off the elevator, he wants to open the interior door for me, then I use my keys to get in the door. We both take off our shoes, I put on the tea kettle and we sit down to decide what we are going to do.

Only two more days. I'm going to miss Aiden like crazy. I'll see him at least once a week , but won't be the same.