Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Stop Straight "A" Stress: Make Mistakes!

This is the advice that has been heard to resonate throughout our home of late between my son, who is 8, my husband and I. The message is very clear: enjoy the process, do your best, and feel good about learning a valuable life lesson and remember,  there is no such thing as perfect!

Over the years we have watched our son struggle to be perfect with his school work, his creative pursuits and sports activities. We had our suspicions that he was perfection oriented from the time he started walking, and had those thoughts validated when he entered first grade. His expectation of himself did not match his body and minds natural timing and this caused him much distress.

Case in point: We read to our son voraciously from the time he was 6 months old. Our home is a haven for books of all kinds and since we both love to read, we had hoped our son would feel the same. Now, while he adored being read to, he expressed no interest in wanting to actually read the words himself. So we gave him the space needed to develop this skill in his own time, as every child is wisely taught to read in school at pace that is just right for them. So, as hard as it was for us to do, we did not succumb to the pressure watching other parents push so hard to have their kids reading by kindergarten.   In fact, we saw many of these early readers struggle with  reading comprehension issues as they progressed along in school.

Our son came home weeping one day from 1st grade just after the start of the school year. It turned out that there was a boy in his class who could read books far beyond his young age. Something our son interpreted as a sign of deficiency in himself. This was an eye opening day for us as parents as we became aware of how much our son was hard-wired to gauge his success in life against the unrealistic levels of performance of others. We started to notice more and more as the year progressed, that our son was struggling with the ideal that in order to do well at school, he needed to be "the best" or nothing else would do. So tantrums, frustration and anger were commonplace in his homework and creative pursuits.

A funny thing happened. Rather then us striving to help him reach his burgeoning over achieving nature, and perfection  oriented tendencies in the pursuit of all things academic, we started to downplay "grades", and point out why learning from mistakes would teach him far more in life.

Did he get this approach of ours? Absolutely not! He argued with us and continued to struggle for most of first grade, and a bit less then half of second grade. We realize a large part of his inner struggle was due to his developing emotional maturity, so while it was identifiable it did not make it any easier. We sensed his inner turmoil at what he deemed as letting himself down and thinking his skill was not the best unless his papers had no errors on them. (It is important to note here, that a large portion of his class and homework papers were indeed returned with no mistakes, but he would manage to see himself as a failure when those few with errors would come home.)

Now, enter 3rd grade and for the first time our efforts are starting to pay off. He is an outstanding reader who, most importantly,  loves to read. His confidence is soaring, but so is his understanding of the value learned in making mistakes. Although there are still hiccups along the way.  He struggles still with this need to be perfect, but it is rearing its proverbial ugly head less and less. He is not given letter grades in his school district, which is truly a blessing for over achieving kids like my son. He will be graded once he reaches 5th grade, so we know this will potentially be a difficult transition period for him. We will wait and see though, as perhaps the seeds we have planted into the mind of this very intelligent little boy will take root.

In the meantime, our hard work has truly paid off. He entered a science competition at school where he was excited to come up with an idea that encapsulated his fun side, while giving him a chance to show his creativity. The entire time, we kept stressing that the point of entering was NOT to win but to enjoy the process of making the piece. When his teacher "graded" him on a scale of one to 4, 4 being the highest in terms of effort, 3 of the 4 categories were scored at 4's and one at a 2. He sat in the car on the way home from school telling me in a very excited manner that he was not disappointed about the "2"  at all. He was so confident and happy to see that something he loved doing was appreciated and he felt that he had done an excellent job, despite it not "being perfect." Bravo!

I learned this many years ago the hard way: "no one is out there giving you "A's" once you're out of school." So if you are the person who needed to  strive for "A's as a sign of your "success" in life then you might just be plagued with an inability to admit you are wrong, feelings of unworthiness when you are told you need to improve, or constantly seeking approval from others to make you feel good about yourself. Kids who strive for top grades as a means to validate themselves as people can find themselves experiencing depression, anxiety and self esteem issues, both as kids and later in life.

Try this: pay attention next time someone asks you how well your children are doing in school. Pause for a moment to see how quickly your mind seeks to answer with a letter grade or grades as though this is the only benchmark of success and a sign of your own success as parent. Teaching our kids to enjoy the process, and down play the importance of letter grades and "perfect" assignments, starts with us. It takes courage to do this though since you may have to let go of some really long standing ideas of what it means to be a "good" student.

Tell them to make mistakes and to not be afraid to laugh at themselves now and again when they do mess up.  This is a far more valuable lesson in life then any grade could possibly be! You are not a letter grade and neither should they be described as one. Plus, guess what? They really DO learn more in life from making mistakes and will  grow up to be more accepting, adaptable and able to deal with change.

Please note: I could not have done this on my own without the help of three books that were invaluable resources. First, and foremost though, I needed to learn how to recognize and "let go" of my own perfectionist driven tendencies in order to help our son develop a healthy perspective on his. They are:

Free Our Families from Perfectionism by Thomas S. Greenspon, Ph.D.
Letting Go of Perfect: Overcoming Perfectionism in Kids by Jill L. Adelson Ph.D. and Hope E. Wilson, Ph.D.
Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Update on Former Postings

When I initially started this blog just over a year or so a go, my intention was to hone my writing skills, keep others motivated and/or laughing, and to navigate my way toward turning 50. While there have been several name changes to the blog, and the content of the posts may have shifted toward a more universally mindful approach, my intention has not wavered. Nevertheless, if you have been following me since this blogs inception, you may be wondering how several things have turned out for me in regard to my health, and more. So I wanted to take a moment or two to update everyone on my progress.

Thyroid/SAD/Foot Pain: So far so good! I am still being seen by the amazing and wonderful endocrinologist, Dr. Ken Blanchard in Newton, MA. A man who was changed my life! Literally. Dr. Blanchard has enabled me to feel better in so many ways. The most important of which is the Vitamin D boost which I believe has almost completely eradicated my Seasonal Affective Disorder, much to my delight. Also, I still take just 25 mcgs of Tirosint for my sluggish thyroid. This low dose seems to be all I needed to jump start things for me. Although, I have noticed an increase in my weight since starting the meds a year or so ago. However, that could also be due in part to the ball of the foot pain I experience in my left foot due to the arthritic bending of some toes. This has caused me to slow down my walking regime, which was hard for me to do, but necessary as the foot needed time to heal. Happy to report things are better, although I need to be wary of its return so my walks need to be shorter in duration. Not an easy transition for me, but necessary.

Peri menopause: As many of you know I have been on a mission over the last three years to seek relief from the extreme ups and downs of this pre-menopausal phase of my life.  Those slowly diminishing hormones, that typically kept me on a more even keel, can wreck havoc on the psyche. Mission accomplished. The routine I have established in my life has greatly improved my sleep pattern and positive outlook. Most of the things I have done have already been posted about: supplements, exercise, nutrition, etc. The most bothersome of my transition has been the erratic sleep patterns.  Happy to report: I no longer am spending hours falling back to sleep when hot flashes or trips to the bathroom waken me. Oh sure, I still have some rough nights, but practicing meditation  (especially on those nights) has given me a much more open and welcoming approach to all things menopause!

Owl Butterflies and Buddha in Aruba
Going Gray: Done and Done. Actually it was not as hard as it sounds. In fact I think other women were far more dreading my prospect of stopping the use of all hair dyes from my salon routine. First, may I say paying less then $50 (not including tip) to have my hair cut and styled is amazingly uplifting! The money salons make on hair coloring and more is obscene. To say nothing of the fact that those dyes and tints are laced with so many chemicals. I know current research informs us that the amount we are being exposed to is so minimal, that we needn't be concerned. But my inner voice tells me that this is but a tip of the proverbial iceberg of chemicals we imbibe in and surround ourselves with every day. So the cumulative effect is up for debate. I prefer to err on the side of less is more. Happy to report, all paraben based products have been removed entirely from my life as well. Oh, and I forgot to say, I LOVE my hair. And even more, I LOVE the gray. It has a sparkle and shine that just looks so good on me. There is just a natural beauty and healthiness to my hair that has not been there for a long time. I wish other women would ban the bottle too! No amount of artfully placed and expensive hair dye is going to change the fact that you are the age you are and no, you don't look younger, you just look blonder, redder, browner or blacker.

Suffice it to say I am doing well. The biggest difference for me has been learning to approach life with more curiosity and less of the need to have all the answers. Also, allowing room for a more welcoming approach to whatever comes my way has also helped me to just let things be as they are more and more.

Last, my chosen career path to teach meditation and mindfulness practice to others has only enhanced my own life in so many ways. Meditation has been in my life for close to 21 or so years. While I have not been as faithful to practice at times as I would have liked,  I know only too well how it has helped me to be present and manage transitions. No, I am not going to don a white robe and travel off to far away lands, chanting or meditating in a hut in the hopes of  reaching enlightenment. Those cliche images or ideals are not what meditation is about for me or many others. I prefer to be here, with all the ambient noise of life, in this part of the world, helping myself and others realize the potential to face life's challenges and successes with a clearer focus and increased power of concentration. All this and more......like the T-shirt says "life is good."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bats, Snakes and Goats, Oh My!

Our designated "Tree of Life!"

We recently returned from a 10-day trip to Aruba. This was our first time visiting this tiny island located within 15 miles of Venezuela. It is a place that is well known for its beautiful white sandy beaches, turquoise water and constant trade winds that blow all day and all night. Aruba is located well outside of the hurricane belt so tourism is a trade that is year round. The locals provide every sort of artificial fun for the resort guests that are sure to thrill and amaze all who venture here. You can take snorkeling trips on a faux pirate vessel, be pulled along at break neck speed across the water on a large inflatable sofa called a "Big Mable," rent jet skis, wake boards, or water skis, and be propelled up to 20 feet in the air by sheer water pressure that makes you look a bit like Doc Ock of Spiderman fame as the jets of water splay around you, making you float in the air. This is but a small sampling of all the activities, which take place steps from your beachfront resort from 9 am to 5 pm daily. It is a constant 3-ring circus of water activity that many visitors seem to feel is a "must do" for their vacation pleasure.

Me? Well if you have been reading my blog for a while, then you know that this is not going to grab my attention. What I enjoyed the most about this trip is our venture out beyond the resort life, into the actual countryside, which took our breath away.

A place that truly captivated all of us is Arikok National Park. 7, 907 acres of some of the most breath-taking  and yet rugged terrain that you could spend days exploring and still not see it all. We took a day trip there in our rental car and were not disappointed! Many of the blogs about the park warn visitors that you need a jeep to visit this place, but that is simply not true. Most of the roads are paved throughout the park and if they are not, they are hard packed with dirt due to the very limited amount of rain this dessert island receives annually. Just drive slow and you are fine.

Iguana Aruba-Style!

We spoke to the park ranger located in the station entrance booth who gave us excellent tips on what trails to hike. We decided to take their advice and headed out on a walk that would take us into the hills surrounding the park. What an adventure! We came across both lovely species of hummingbirds that thrive here, numerous lizards of all shades and varieties, geckos and yes, even a goat! Well, we did not actually see the wild goat but we heard it close by. In fact it startled us initially as only a day or two before we had seen a pack of wild goats climbing a large rock formation on another trip we took around the island. We were struck by the size and mass of their large horns. So as we heard this goat blaying in the woods around us, it was hard not to imagine this creature being territorial, perhaps charging from its hiding to chase us. Our goat companion remained HEARD but not SEEN

Cave Painting Arikok National Park

Next, we came across a cave of ancient paintings, preserved beautifully. The aroma around the mouth of the cave was quite pungent and acrid. As we aimed our cameras at the cave we discovered only too soon the source of the odor. Bats! And lots of them. They fluttered and resettled as we snapped our pictures. My son even had the good sense to film them in flight! It was truly a fun discovery as this bat loving family was enthralled!

We also encountered  literally hundreds of birds perched in the tree pictured above at the top of this blog post. It was filled with hummingbirds as well as birds of all shapes and sizes. Now the ironic thing was you could hear them and catch flashes of them but they were so well hidden in the shade and lush foliage that you could not always see them. But the sound they made was incredible! We nicknamed it the "Tree of Life" as the cacaphony of life literally resonated all around is. We stood under this tree mesmerized by the beauty and scope of its abundant wild life. Amazing!

Much to my sons great delight, as we were coming down the hill on the trail back toward the visitor center he saw a dead Boa Constrictor. His camera at the ready, photos was snapped of this creature. They are not venomous, but are known for their powerful grip that constricts the breathing of their victims. They are not native to the island but were pets turned loose into the wild when they became too large and expensive to feed. Now they have adapted to the harsh environment here and are thriving. 

Beach Front At Arikok National Park

I stopped back at the ranger station on our way down the trail to find out what they suggested we do next. My son was quite wiped from our trek, he minds the heat terribly, so we wanted something we could do driving. He told us to travel 4 miles or so down the road and there we would find the rugged coastline and of all things, a place to eat! We were shocked as this area was so well preserved and natural that we never expected a restaurant to be within its confines. But it was! It was located in a VERY windy spot. So windy in fact that the menus were glued and laminated onto heavy wood boards. All your drinks and food came weighted down in heavy clay pots and earthenware plates so as not to blow away. The food? Simple and incredibly delicious. An argentine grill located out back insured that the food was tasty and tender. I literally had my favorite meal here of the entire trip and was quite taken with this spot. An oasis on the edge of the coast. We watched the waves crashing onto the coral outcroppings causing geysers of spray to reach high up into the air while we ate and relaxed in the wind.

A funny thing happened! As we sat there a group of 6 or 7 wild goats paraded along the edge of the rocky coastline. It made us all laugh as we thought of our unseen goat companion that we heard but did not encounter along our hike. They moved along at a fairly slow pace and were long gone by the time we finished our meal and walked over toward the water to snap photos and be taken in by all the beauty around us.

This is a must-see spot for those of you, who like me, prefer to experience the beauty of a vacation away from the resort. This was the highlight of our trip and easily ranks high up in my favorite parks of all time. 
Divi Divi Tree looking like a fantasy creature!

We have no burning urge to return to Aruba anytime soon, as so many people do, repeatedly from what we learned. It is gorgeous, and the park, well the park is incredible. But the entire island exists as little more then place to sip your tropical drinks and park your self at a hotel along the water. Nice for awhile, but it gets old for this family really quickly. We like to find those places apart from the crowds and away from the constant piped in music, party atmosphere and afternoon poolside samba lessons. I mean really! 

There is great beauty in Aruba and if you are lucky enough to venture away from your cushions or palapas you will find it! Bon bini!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Learn to Meditate in Bedford NH

Learn How to Meditate in Bedford, NH

  • Meditation: It's NOT what you THINK! 
  • New 6 Week classes starting Monday March 11th 
  • 7:30 to 9PM
  • Click this link for more information or to SIGN UP:   http://www.bedfordreconline.com/info/activities/program_details.aspx?ProgramID=2867 
  • If you ever wondered about meditation and how it might fit into your life, this might just be the class for you. In this 6 week program students will be introduced to a variety of meditation and mindfulness techniques in a fun and supportive way.  
  • Winter skies, lingering snow and the ever watchful promise of spring can all bring about a feeling of lethargy,  stagnation and agitation. There are ways to bring a sense of calm and focus to your life that can be nicely worked into your day or week without having to sit for long hours on a cushion, in some remote locale, trying to gain a sense of peace. Sounds great, but how practical is this visage in our daily lives? For most of us, not very realistic.  
  • All you need to bring is an open mind and the willingness to learn new things and maybe, just maybe, you might find a sense of space, calm or insight in the midst of life as we know it!