Monday, July 30, 2012

Dolphin Parenting

Dolphin and baby
Dolphin and baby (Photo credit: WIlly Volk)
Ever since Yale professor, Amy Chua rocked the parenting world with her book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" (Penguin Press, 2011), I have heard bits and piece about this authoritarian, adamant doggedness for perfection in academics.  At first, I had no frame of reference.  I had never met parents who are so strict on their insistence that their children make perfect grades and excel in everything that the children were suffering from stress-related illnesses.  

Don't get me wrong, when I was raising my kids there were parents who pushed their kids to excel, but not so much in academics.  Mostly, the push was for being a star in whatever sport the child played.  A few wanted their child to be the star of the concert/play/orchestra, but that was it.
 
Recently, I have come face-to-face with tiger parenting.  My first reaction was, "Oh my goodness, don't you realize what you are doing to this child?" My next reaction was, "How dare you question my ability to teach!"
 
As a teacher, I am a staunch supporter of excellence.  However, and I will say this in caps so there is no doubt that I mean this - EXCELLENCE IS DIFFERENT WITH EACH CHILD!  When we hold our children up to some idea of perfection, we do them great harm.  First, we do not allow them to be their own organic selves.  Second, we force them into a paradigm in which they can never win.
 
Children need what I will coin as "Dolphin Parenting."  What does this mean?  Like the dolphins, who play with their young, guard them, protect them from predators and teach them to survive in the wilds of the ocean, Dolphin Parents offer children every opportunity to grow, nurturing them physically, mentally and emotionally, protecting them from harm and teaching them to be able to be strong, capable, creative and compassionate humans.  This form of parenting is based and founded in Love.

Dolphin Parenting reminds me of this passage from Sacred Scripture: 
  
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love. 

Love never gives up. 
Love cares more for others than for self. 
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. 
Love doesn't strut, 
Doesn't have a swelled head, 
Doesn't force itself on others, 
Isn't always "me first," 
Doesn't fly off the handle, 
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others, 
Doesn't revel when others grovel, 
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, 
Puts up with anything, 
Trusts God always, 
Always looks for the best, 
Never looks back, 
But keeps going to the end. (From The Message)

This is the love that our children need - unconditional, no-matter-what love.  

Why is this important?  Doctors have become increasingly concerned with the mounting numbers of children coming into their offices with stress-related illnesses.  Children, who are afraid to fail, are developing ulcers, high-blood pressure and compromised immune systems.  In addition, they have more instances of depression and personality disorders.

While I believe firmly in setting limits for children, I am also acutely aware that parents can become the biggest bullies their children will encounter if they cannot bend from time to time. On the other hand, there are parents (Helicopter Parents) who hover over and around their children so much that the child is never able to make their own decisions or enjoy the challenges of solving problems for themselves.  Either way of parenting, to me, is detrimental to the development of the child.

Let me share with you my own mothering experience.  My four daughters each had something they excelled in; however, it wasn't always academics.  Two daughters maintained high grades throughout school, two had an occasional B or C.  Where these two working less than their sisters? Absolutely not!  They worked harder, at times, than they sisters, who got the high grades.  They just had different abilities and this was OK with me.  

What mattered to me was that when I would go to parent teacher conferences, I would be told by each of my four daughters' teachers how hard they worked, how they advocated for other students and how they were responsible, helpful and kind.  To me, these where better abilities than high grades!  Life is not about report cards and high grades.  Life is about living with other humans and being able to cope with difficulties, being able to think creatively and being able see the beauty that surrounds us.

My hope is that parents will stop trying to force children to excel, stop living vicariously through their children and begin to see that each child is, individually, a treasure to nurture and protect.  

May Love show us all the way to caring for our children.

Namasté!
  
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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Invisible

 Our Home - The Enchanted Cottage


Edict from our homeowner's insurance company:  "The inspection revealed the current condition of the property (our home) and the insurance company decided to non-renew your coverage."

These are the words that jumped out at me from an inspection of my home - the Enchanted Cottage - that my homeowners insurance company did recently as part of a "new protocol."  Like so many other evaluations being made in the world today, this one is not based on facts or logic.

The person who took the pictures of our home did not prepare the report.  That was done by some unseen person, somewhere in the insurance world, who did not take into consideration that Roger and I have been struggling to keep up with things after his two major operations and  my being unemployed for two years.  

In addition, the report doesn't mention that we are/have been working on the house, little by little. There is no mention of the fact that we took a space with no vegetation and created a botanical retreat.  No where on the information did it say that this home is filled with Love and that people from around the world have found refuge here.  No where does it indicate that this little wooden structure is paradise to those who live within.

This proclamation came, of course, at 3 PM on Saturday, when there is no way to reach someone to explain to us what we must do now.  (For those readers not in the US, if you own property, you MUST have insurance or you will get into trouble with the bank that holds your mortgage.)

Years ago, a person who was struggling could go to the bank and talk to the loan officer, who usually was someone in town - someone who had grown up with the people they served - someone who knew what the realities of a situation were. Not today.

This entire episode reminds me of another post I wrote recently about what it will be like for new teachers, who will be filmed student teaching and then assessed by some person, somewhere, who does not know them, their teaching style or whether or not they had a bad day.  

What saddens me is that we have become an invisible society.  The people making the laws, creating the protocol, enforcing the rules are invisible.  Who are they?  How do we talk to them...reason with them when we do not know their faces and they don't know ours.

Back in high school, I had to read the book, 1984.  I must say, the book horrified me.  The thought that people could be put into situations where they where watched constantly, where they had no choice, was sickening.  But, we all reasoned, it would never happen here in the US.

Not to sound paranoid, but we are closer to 1984 than you might imagine.  Take a look around...cameras watch us at intersections, along the highways, from building tops and in stores.  We can be found via our cellphones and computers.  Privacy?  Privacy really doesn't exist.

What is the solution?  For me, it is to bring awareness to what is really out there; it is to stand up and say, "Why?  What for?  Who says?" For me, it is not to simply fall in line and accept what is handed to me.  I know we can do better. I know we can have a world where we help each other, not condemn; where we nurture, not stifle; and where we share, not horde.

"This, too, shall pass," I know.  But, until then, keep me in your prayers as I keep you in mine.

Namasté!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Celebrating the Fourth



Today, for the first time in my life, I witnessed the swearing in of new citizens of the United States of America.  Fifty people from 30 countries stood before their families, friends, teachers and strangers to swear their allegiance to the US.  

Local Boy Scouts presented the flag.  We all pledged allegiance, led by two new Americans, both of whom had become citizens earlier this year.  Evelyn Harris of Sweet Honey in the Rock, sang America the Beautiful, The Star-spangled Banner and My Country 'Tis of Thee with a grace and power in her voice that brought many assembled to tears.

The Honorable Michael Ponsor, US District Judge presided over the ceremonies.  His words to the new Americans touched me.  He encouraged them to continue growing as Americans, to vote, a responsibility we all should take seriously, and not to abandon their native cultures, but to incorporate them into their day-to-day lives as new Americans.

For me, this was a wonderful way to celebrate the birth of our country.  Tears filled my eyes as I listened to the 50 new Americans promise to take on the responsibilities that many of us never think about.  Perhaps it should be mandatory for all students, before graduating from high school, to raise their hands before receiving their diplomas in order to pledge to protect and uphold the freedom we enjoy.  

We, in this United States, often forget just what it means to be an American.  The thing is, it is so much more than simply wearing red, white and blue, or tooling around in a truck decked out in flags, or even recognizing the sacrifices of others.  Being an American is about being a witness to the millions of acts of courage, patriotism, compassion and creativity that are performed daily.  Being an American is realizing that we are a Nation great because of its diversity; that we do not have to be the same to love this country or each other.  

May we all be blessed on this Fourth of July; may we hold those who have gone before us in our hearts and on our minds and may we never forget that sacrifice, hard-work, creativity, trust and courage are what helped make this country great.

Namasté!

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World

This past week, I had the honor of previewing a  new documentary - Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World - narrated by Susan Sarandon which will be broadcast nationally on PBS Friday, July 6th at 9 PM EST.  What struck me, immediately, was the beauty of the works of art being discussed, not to mention that these works of art span 14 centuries through nine countries.  Intense blues transported me into the heavens, as intricate patterns caught my eye, reminding me of the geometry of lace. Every design, from a simple flower to an elaborate scene had meaning and symbolism.




As a viewer, I felt as if I was on a journey into the past, watching as ancestors from another time and place created art and architecture that not only served a purpose, but also reminded those using the items or entering the buildings of their connection to the Almighty.  I was captivated by how the Islamic artisans of the past skillfully incorporated Holy texts along with the name of God into their work, making them part of their overall design.

Unity Productions Foundation, which "works for peace through the media,"  has given the world a breathtaking documentary that will not only educate non-Muslims as to how artisans today have been informed by Islamic art and architecture, but will also bring to light the rich and textured past of Islamic art that morphed and changed as Muslims traveled throughout the world, yet continued to have core elements that remained.

I highly recommend watching this informative, awe-inspiring documentary.  Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World, part of the multi-week PBS Arts Summer Festival, is a combination of history, art appreciation and comparative religion all rolled into one.  Producers, Michael Wolfe and Alex Kronemer should be lauded for bringing this documentary to the world.

Join other viewers on Twitter at @islamicartfilm the evening of the premiere, July 6th, for a tweet chat using the hashtag #IslamicArt.

I hope you enjoy this film as much as I did.

Namasté!