Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Learning to Not Help

Your child comes into the house crying. She has a scraped and bleeding knee. She tells you what happened and how she got hurt. You answer her questions and give her a hug. Then you walk away, leaving her crying and bleeding, and go back to what you were doing.

Can you imagine doing this? As a mom?! That’s not the way most moms are wired. It’s a mother’s job to make things better. Right? To take care of things. Fix things. Get the bandaids, bring the kleenex, solve the problems. Moms are not supposed to just walk away … leaving their children still hurting … to fend for themselves … heal their own wounds … solve their own problems … make their own decisions … manage the consequences of their choices … learn to take care of themselves … be motivated to prevent future injury by changing their actions … okay, wait a minute. Those last few things sounded important. Those are good things to learn.

Not helping my children in times of struggle or pain has been the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn as a mother. All I ever wanted for my kids was for them to be happy and healthy. And yet our most profound learning and growth comes through our struggles, our challenges, our tough decisions, and our physical and emotional pain. When parents step in and help too early or too often, they rob their children of important and often essential lessons.

When we are pushed to our limits, we learn the most about ourselves and the path we were meant to be on. When we think we can’t handle any more, and then we do, we learn that we are more capable and have more inner strength than we realized. When we keep pushing stubbornly in one direction until things start getting worse, rather than better, we can finally accept the need to switch paths. When we have trouble managing our finances and money gets really tight, we learn what’s really important to us and how little we actually need to get by.

A complicating factor is that the help offered might be the wrong kind of help. When trying to solve a problem, I typically put myself in the other person’s shoes. I then figure out what kind of help would make me feel better. But each person has his own insecurities, concerns, and goals. The things that would make me feel more comfortable and secure might not resolve the key problems for him/her…and might actually aggravate his/her situation.

Helping each other is an important part of family life. There are times when we really do need a back to lean on, a shoulder to cry on, or a cushion to fall on. And being able to help, to really make a difference in another person’s life, is intensely rewarding. It’s also important for kids to know how to ask for help, and for their parents to realize how much courage that takes.

When our kids ask, we really want to be able to say “yes”…and we do that as often as we can. But there are times when “no” is the most loving and helpful answer. I’m still working on learning that one.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Learning to Walk...Again

There is something humbling about taking something you already know how to do and trying to learn a new way to do it. Sometimes this is forced on us, due to an injury or other disability, and other times it is a conscious choice…to expand our awareness, skills, and abilities.

I’ve had this experience before when I taught myself to knit left-handed. I had decades of experience knitting right-handed, but as soon as I turned my knitting around, I was suddenly a novice…again. I learned patience and humility, and was reminded of the benefits of taking new things slowly – adding to your expectations as the motions start to feel more natural. As far as problems, mistakes, and frustrations go, most of them resolve on their own with additional practice. As I’ve regularly told my knitting students, we’ll just worry about the problems that won’t go away.

When I decided to kick off my shoes nearly two years ago (literally, and for as long and as much as possible), I figured I would need to allow time for my feet to toughen up, but overall I thought going barefoot would be pretty straight forward. I mean, sheesh, I already knew how to walk. I’ve been doing it since I was nine months old. (It’s true. I was an early walker.) So how hard could it be to just kick off my shoes?

Well, it turns out that barefoot walking is not the same as shoe walking. In fact, the only thing the two really have in common is that you are upright and putting one foot in front of the other. Aside from that, I can point out far more differences than similarities.

The two biggest differences are stride length and how your forward foot hits the ground. When wearing shoes, we learn to take long strides and hit the ground with our heel first. When walking barefoot, your stride is shorter and the ball of your foot is what comes in contact with the ground first…your heel coming down last.

I learned pretty quickly that walking barefoot was not just about kicking off one’s shoes. I had to abandon my old ways of walking and become a novice again. I found myself reading books and watching videos to learn how to walk barefoot. As frustration and confidence have taken their turns over the past couple of years of my barefooting journey, I’ve had to tell myself the same things I regularly tell my knitting students: Relax. You can do it. It’s easy once you learn how. Find your natural rhythm and it will become second nature.

Frustration kicked in again recently when I kept getting early-stage blisters on the balls of my feet, making it painful to walk barefoot. This has been an ongoing challenge. Clearly this was a problem that wouldn’t go away until I learned something new and changed how I was walking. After a day or two of wallowing in my frustration and sore feet, I took a deep breath and did some more research.

My problems seem to be related to poor posture, over-striding, and horizontal friction when the ball of my foot connects with the ground. (Thanks to Steven Sashan of Xero Shoes for the helpful info on his website!) So it’s time to take a couple of steps backwards and walk shorter distances until the adjustments I need to make start feeling more natural and become second nature.

Step-by-step we learn new things…sometimes more literally than others.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

First Days

We thought we would be firm. We thought we would be able to teach our new puppy to sleep downstairs on his own. We are the humans. He is the dog. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Or so we thought.

After bringing our new puppy home, we made up a bed for him in the kitchen. Our three kids and I took turns sleeping near him or with him, in an attempt to help him feel more comfortable in his new surroundings. After a couple of nights of this, it was time to work on a more long-term solution. My longing for a full night’s sleep was becoming quite compelling. It was time to be firm. Kids in their own bed, me in mine, and the puppy in his. I put the pup in his bed and said good night.

It didn’t take long for him to start crying. Cries of loneliness, fear, and abandonment. He was barely 9 weeks old. Taken from his mom sooner than either of them cared for. Separated from his sister at the pet store…the only family bond he had left. And now he was in a strange house with strangers, who have abandoned him to sleep alone, in an empty room, through the dark, lonely night.

The puppy seems to like being with us, I thought while lying in bed listening to his cries. He’ll get used to sleeping on his own. That will never happen if I give in now. But he likes being held, cuddled, and comforted. He just wants to be with us. To not feel so alone. He’s so small and so young. Give it a bit longer and see if he settles down. Dum dee dum dee dum. Nope. I can’t just let him cry. What if he wakes the kids? He’s still getting to know us. Still adjusting to his strange, new home. He sounds so sad! How long has he been crying? Only five minutes. Yikes! This is going to be a long night.

I went downstairs. He was SO happy to see me. What a welcome for someone he just met a couple of days ago, and had only been apart from for five minutes. I picked him up and took him to the couch. If I sleep with him on the couch, it’s not like I’m giving in. The couch is different from our bed. He’ll know that.

It took a little while for him to settle down, but soon he was cuddled next to me. What if I roll over on him? He’s so darn little…just 1-1/2 pounds. I’ll have to learn to be cautious. To be aware of him even when I’m asleep, or when I’m just waking up. My mom-radar is already switched on for the kids. I’ll just fine-tune it to include puppies. Sleep soon happened for both of us, but it wasn’t a restful night for me. The couch is not my preferred bed.

As we approached bedtime on the next night, I wasn’t thrilled about sleeping on the couch again. My fatigue was a growing issue that needed addressing. And so, a decision was made. I needed a decent night’s sleep. The way to achieve that was to give this young puppy what he so desperately needed…comfort, contact, and a sense of security. Booboo, who now finally had a name, would be sleeping with us. And so it went for the next fifteen years.

Chuck says that this was the first reality-check for him regarding the dog. The awareness that this puppy might end up being our dog, rather than the kids’ dog. Years later when the kids grew up and moved out, one-by-one, and didn’t take Booboo with them, his suspicions were finally confirmed. I, on the other hand, knew from the beginning that Booboo would be with me and Chuck for the distance. As much as he was a family dog, the long-term bond was between Booboo and me.

As Booboo settled in, we began teaching him things that were necessary for us to get along well together. Things like doing his piddles and poos outside or on the newspaper, not biting too hard when playing, and not barking excessively. At the same time, we realized that he was teaching us as well…bedtime for him was 9pm, don’t play too rough, remember to fill his water dish, and take him along when we go on an outing. As the years went by, it became difficult to say for sure who was teaching whom. Knowledge and learning was happening both ways. Did we teach him or did he teach us? Regardless of the direction of the lesson, learning was definitely happening…and in hindsight, it was I who benefited the most. Some of the lessons were direct from Booboo to me, and yet many more were indirect, through shared experiences and challenges that I would not have encountered without him.

A definite bond has evolved between dogs and humans. It got its start some 50,000-ish years ago when dogs agreed to be the first domesticated animal. When a dog joins a human family, he takes his place within the pack and strives to achieve and maintain a strong, positive relationship with his human companions. Dogs have learned to trust, depend on, collaborate with, protect, and love their human families. And just as each human has individual needs, quirks, personality traits, and a unique perspective on life and its situations, so do dogs. We can learn much from each other, if we take the time to see the world through the other’s eyes.