Peace in the world begins with peace in the family.
This is one of the fundamental principles of the Baha’i Faith, and yet how difficult it is to do!
HOW DO WE STICK THROUGH THE HARD TIMES?
We are given a clear blueprint on how to end a relationship through every media outlet we have. Movies, TV shows, newspapers and music all teach us to crave the euphoric just-fallen-in-love stage and to run as far away as we can from any sign of problems.
Where do we learn to call on the strength to sludge through the daily drudgery and terrible heartbreak that comes from giving your heart to someone? If all we see is to run, how do we learn to stick through the hard times?
PROBLEMS FOLLOW YOU, NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO
We usually marry people who are our opposites. We are attracted to the qualities in them that we need to develop in ourselves. This brings our own personal issues into our face twenty-four hours a day. There is no escaping from ourselves, not even if we run away from relationships. The problems will follow us wherever we go and we will end up repeating the same relationship with a different person.
Dr. Willard Harley, author of a dozen marriage books and the popular Marriage Builders website, teaches the steps on how to fall in love again with your spouse. We all think that love is just a mysterious coincidence, but in fact there are very specific things that we do that make someone fall in love with us or help us to fall in love with someone. They are not easy things to do. But they do work.
15 HOURS A WEEK
One of the key things that I learned from Dr. Harley is that in order for a relationship to thrive – and to feel in love with each other – you need to spend at least 15 hours a week together.
At first I was shocked when I read this. 15 hours a week? How are we supposed to do that? Somehow I expected that we could live off of the fumes of previous time spent together. But remember how we all fell in love in the first place? By spending a lot of time together. Now when things aren’t going well I can usually trace it back to the simple fact that we have been too busy and not spending enough time together.
Finding 15 hours a week to spend together – not with kids or other people – takes conscious thought, experimentation and prioritization. But wouldn’t you rather be in love again rather than bankrupt and heartbroken?
BABYPROOFING YOUR MARRIAGE
Having children is one of the leading causes of divorce. Your life as you know it is over once that baby pops out. You have to learn to become a parent and try to save your marriage at the same time. Babyproofing Your Marriage is one of the books that I wish I had read before having children. It will make you laugh out loud, cry and possibly cringe at all of the silly things we do after having children that destroy our marriages. It might also help save yours.
UNIFIED FAMILIES = UNIFIED WORLD
The family is the basic unit of society. In order to have a unified world, we need to have unified families. It all boils down to that.
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A visit with a newborn always helps give me a little perspective. My baby is not a baby anymore – she’s big! We’ve finally passed our 1000 day mark, the goal we set for our survival when we decided to have three kids. We figured if we could make it until they were three years old, we’d be OK because the first three years are the hardest.
We had a mental countdown and would remind each other when we were having a rough time, “Only 300 more days to go!”
With a newborn, life shrinks down to the bare necessities for survival and while it is an incredible challenge, it is also a gift to teach us to live more simply, let go our of our expectations and perfectionistic tendencies, learn to live in the moment and learn to have serenity in the eye of the storm.
I’ve noticed that when I forget these important life lessons something will happen to remind me to SLOW DOWN, stay present in the moment and let go of the illusion of control. Sometimes I have a bad night sleep which leaves me sleepy the next day and forces me to slow down and rest. Other times I have to slow down to deal with behavior issues, which always come when I don’t slow down and take time to play or connect with them. Other times my body will get sick, sore or achy and that will remind me that there is some stress in my life that I am not dealing with.
Life conspires to make us face our issues. For many of us that means learning to slow down and simplify.
It is that wonderful time of year again for the Baha’is, a time called Ayyam-i-Ha (pronounced: Ah-YAHM-ee-hah). It is a time for celebration, service, gift giving, generosity and fellowship.
This year we added a new tradition to our Ayyam-i-Ha celebrations: a Virtues Tree.
For 19 days before Ayyam-i-Ha begins the children pick a note, a leaf and a small gift (such as a sticker) out of our countdown calendar.
Each day, the note says something different. They are all related to the virtues, the spiritual qualities that we want our children to develop, and they ask the children to think of a time when they showed that virtue, write it down on their leaf and add it to the virtue tree.
“Ayyam-i-Ha is a time for generosity. Write down a time when you were generous and add your leaf to the tree.”
“Ayyam-i-Ha is a time for laughter. Write down a joke and add your leaf to the tree.”
“Ayyam-i-Ha is a time for creativity. Draw a picture on your leaf and add it to the tree.”
Some of the other virtues that we talked about were kindness, thankfulness, helpfulness, service, joy, patience, responsibility, unity, love, friendliness and gratitude.
First I drew an outline of a tree on a large piece of paper, taped it to the fridge and then had the children color it in.
Then we taped a leaf on to the tree each day.
Now we are celebrating out five days of Ayyam-i-Ha. These are some of the other activities that we do.
Shortly after I was married, my husband and I moved to Brazil for six months and shortly after that I got EXTREMELY sick, one of those random sicknesses that nobody quite knew what to do about. I got worse and worse over a few months, had to sleep most of the day, was irritable, tired, grumpy, my hair was all falling out in clumps – it was a mess.
I was finally recommended to Dr. Joao, a Brazilian/non-English-speaking/homeopathic/herbal/iridology/Bach flower remedy/naturopathic doctor. Through my rudimentary Portuguese, drawings, hand gestures, and a variety of Bach flower and homeopathic prescriptions, I was 99% healed within two weeks. A leaf from an Aloe Vera plant was one of my remedies, which I was to open up and rub on my hair and then wash it out right away. After three days of that, my hair stopped falling out. All of my family talk about Dr. Joao with a special reverence for we have never since encountered such a healer.
I was reminded of Dr. Joao this fall and something told me to look up the Bach flower remedies, which are homeopathic remedies that specialize in emotions, for some of my own issues that I was having. A brief read through www.bachflower.com led me to pick up some for myself. They worked instantly and amazingly well.
Children pick up on our stress and mirror it in various ways. If you want to know how you are feeling, just look at your child – they are your mirror.
We’ve just started our second year of homeschooling. We read books, learn about interesting things, visit parks and gardens, like the first photo above, where my children spend hours learning the names of plants and taking photos of them. We go hiking, swimming, ice skating and to the farm. We learn through play.
“Where are Fiona and Will?” I ask after a while.
“I think they went to the front yard,” says Juliet.
“Fiona! Will! Put the paint brushes down! RIGHT NOWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
They painted the house. Painted the hockey sticks. Painted the grass. And then painted each other.
We’ve just completed our first year of homeschooling and it was a whole lot easier than I thought it would be. Relaxing, in fact. Refreshing. Rejuvinating. If nothing else, just the elimination of the stress, anger, violence and the 4 hour daily meltdowns after school made this whole homeschooling journey worthwhile.
But it has been so much more than that. It has been enlightening and inspiring to watch my children develop and see their innate gifts blossom. We follow a method of homeschooling called Self-Directed Learning, where I carefully observe my children’s gifts, interests and questions and then I find books, stories, people, experiences or programs to help them to develop those areas. Everyday they ask me questions I cannot answer, so I jot them down in a notebook and then look them up over the next week online or at the library. I have been learning so much and it surprises me how little I remember from my own schooling days and how most of the information I learned was irrelevant and not applicable to daily life.
My children have wanted to learn all about the weather: how to read the weather, predict weather, what the different clouds are called and what they mean, why some clouds rain and others don’t, how the water cycle works. They have wanted to learn about the skin: how it heals us, how many layers of skin we have, how long it takes to heal each layer of skin, the names of each layer of skin. They have wanted to learn about space: planets, stars, solar systems. They have wanted to learn about history, geography, science, math and literacy – and all of their own initiative. Children want to know and understand about the world around them. They crave knowledge.
Sometimes it took me while to figure out exactly what they are asking and what it is they wanted to learn. For example, Isabela asked me several times, “What is this plant made of? How would I make it myself? What is in it?” and later she asked me again, as we were crying together, chopping some particularly juicy onions, “What is this onion skin made of? Why is it different than the onion? How did it get that way?” And finally my brain realized, “Aha! She wants to learn about the elements. She wants to study chemistry!” So we bought an incredible app for the iPad called The Elements: A Visual Exploration.
I swear, if I had learned chemistry this way, I wouldn’t have suffered so terribly and I would have remembered it all effortlessly.
All of the studying I have been doing about brain development and how we learn says than when we are curious about something, and we learn the answers to our questions, we will never forget them. This is why I don’t remember what I learned when I was in school: I was never particularly curious or interested in what I was learning. It was dictated by someone else.
Combined with Self-Directed Learning, we are also following the advice of the Baha’i Writings on education, nothing formal, but simply what I have gleaned from my own study, particularly from a compilation called Baha’i Education. Abdu’l-Baha describes how children should master the art of reading and writing, then study translation, then acquire a basic knowledge of all of the various subjects, and then study in depth according to what each individual’s gifts and inclinations are.
THE YEAR OF READING
So this first year of homeschooling, my goal was to help my daughter master the art of reading and writing. Last year when she was in school, her teacher talked to me several times encouraging me to put her in Summer Reading School. Eight hours a day of reading for a 6 year old just so that she could catch up to her grade level. This is not how our brain develops.
All of the latest research shows that our brain needs rest in order to be able to learn. Except in extremely poor or abusive homes, children come back to school smarter than they left after a long rest during summer vacation. In fact, according to recent research, all it takes for a child to learn how to read is to have one book in their house. We are pre-programmed to crave knowledge and we are smart enough to figure it out all on our own, given the time and space to do it. We each have an internal clock, different from every other person, that tells us when we are ready to learn something. Like an anxious mother, whose baby has not yet learned to crawl, it would be absurd to think about forcing our baby to learn to crawl before she is ready. We are in such a hurry for our children to become adults that we think we can force them to read, like forcing a baby to crawl, before they are ready. But once they are ready, BLING!, a light switch turns on and they charge forward with determination, understanding and JOY.
This truly has been the year of reading for Isabela. I started doing short daily alphabet practice, then phonics and sight words and then short books practice with Isabela from the time she first expressed interest in reading, which was the week she turned six. We continued this once we started homeschooling, but it was still a struggle for her, it did not yet flow easily and naturally. Suddenly, half way through the year, something turned on in her brain and reading became easy. She poured through books and devoured them like a starving bear, fresh from hibernation.
We quickly outgrew and out-read our local library and started to head downtown to the 9 story, 1.5 million books central library. The first time we went there and the elevator doors opened up, the kids looked up with stunned jaws exclaiming, “Wow! WOW! WOW!“
Photo credit: waymarking.com
We go there every week or two and come home with three giant bags filled with books – usually about 70-80 books – and Isabela has usually finished reading them after about 4 days.
Last fall I was having a lot of anxiety about how to read books altogether – every time we would sit down to read, Fiona would get fidgety and screamy, jumping up and down all over me, quite effectively halting the reading time together. I finally realized – sometimes it takes me a while – that the books we were reading were far too advanced for her, mostly novels, and she couldn’t follow along, even if she wanted to. I made a rule that during our morning stories time, only picture books were allowed, and the screaming magically disappeared.
While Isabela has been mastering the art of reading this year, Diego has been honing in on his spatial intelligence skills. Spatial intelligence is being able to see everything in 3D, as if there is map imprinted in your mind and you are never lost. Many of those with highly developed spatial intelligence go on to become architects, artists, mechanics, engineers, or city planners. The first thing Diego does when he wakes up is go directly to his lego and sit down, for hours on end, building and breaking, building and breaking, reading the ragged instructions over and over again, and building complex lego sets over and over again.
At one point, in the winter, Diego was obsessing over a new Lego set that he wanted. Instead of giving it to him, we printed out the instructions from lego.com for the exact set that he wanted and gave that to him as a present. “Here,” we said, “You can build it now.” And he set to work, for a month straight pouring through all of the lego boxes around the house, looking for the right pieces. And if he couldn’t find them we’d say, “Be flexible. See if you can find another piece that works.” And he would search and build, search and build. Build and rebuild. Break it apart so he could build it again.
After he had conquered those Lego instructions, his mind opened up and he begged us to learn how to play chess. I had never learned, so Chris taught them and a month later, Diego, my five year old, taught me how to play chess. In his tenderhearted way, he did not want me to lose because I was just learning, and four times he could have won the game, but purposely moved in a different direction so that I wouldn’t lose.
Diego is also a highly kinesthetic child. He is happiest when he is sweating, from full speed cardio intensity – exercise makes him giggle. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to give him enough cardio, but he needs it for his brain. He is calm, content and at peace when he has it and grumpy and screaming when he doesn’t. School is a nightmare for the kinesthetic child, who cannot think unless they are moving. Sitting down quietly for 8 hours a day would suck the life right out of him.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAY
Having a two year old in the house while homeschooling is a great reminder not to get too serious with anything. That we need to play and have fun. I recently watched one of Gordon Neufeld’s newest videos called “Making Sense of Play,” and it blew my mind to learn that the only way we can develop the prefrontal cortex – the front part of our brain – which governs our ability to do work, mature, control our tempers and hold two conflicting ideas in our brains – is through play. Play is the only way to build this part of a child’s brain.
When Neufeld was working with adolescents in prison, he did brain scans on them and it showed their prefrontal cortex was the size of a four year old. They never matured past four years old. They never had a chance to play.
Fiona reminds us to play. A lot.
TIME AND SPACE
Last year when I was contemplating homeschooling, one of the things that I feared the most was a loss of time and space to do my own work: art and writing. In the back of my mind I had always looked forward to a time when all of the children were at school so that I could have the day to work myself. But instead I have a whole new, not-what-I-expected, paradigm-shifting attitude toward my work. I do not need to be away from my children in order to do my work. With the elimination of the behavior stress, I have energy to run and paint everyday. My brain is bursting with creativity and when we have nap time/ quiet time during the day I am excited to do art.
And so, in summary, it’s been a great year.
Let’s see what next year brings.
As I painted this, it was springtime and I was marveling in the beauty that bursts out of the ground after a long winter. Newborns are like spring, so full of life and color, just screaming with potential. Grandparents and like autumn. They have lived a full, productive and busy life and now they are ripe, like red apples, and beautiful like maple leaves in October. Grandparents impart wisdom, encouragement, love and tranquility as they prepare themselves for winter, the final stage of life.
My youngest daughter, Fiona, has a sweet spot for cats and babies. She can sit for hours with a baby, holding and caressing the baby. She can crouch down so calmly and patiently while she waits for the neighborhood cats to come up to her.
Before Fiona was born, I decided to do some research into what the third child of the family was like, since I grew up in a two child family. As more and more of my friends were having children, I started to notice a similar trend in personalities for all of our first borns, and then our second borns, so I started to look more seriously at the Birth Order theory. Three child families are not so common anymore, in fact, once we decided to have a third, most people were shocked, “Don’t you have enough?” “Why would you want more?” “Are you crazy?”
The baby or last born of the family is the child who tends to have a great sense of humor, be very social, outgoing, and a perceptive people person. They are affectionate and independent. They are the risk-takers who have a “burning desire to make an important contribution to the world” and they are usually the ones who do end up bringing great changes to the world.
When I looked at all of the qualities that are typical in a last born, I thought to myself, “We need more of that in our family!” Our family just felt incomplete, like one more person was waiting for us, waiting to be added to our family. And once Fiona was born, our family truly did feel complete.
This painting is for my third child, Fiona, for bring so much laughter and love to our family.