I Left My Children on the Other Side of the World

This is my first blog post since returning from a 2-week holiday away from my family.  My twin sister and I turn 40 next month and we went to Barcelona together to celebrate – just us, no kids.

My sister and I saved a little money each week into a bank account opened specifically for the trip.  When we first opened it, my boys were much younger.  I was immersed in breastfeeding & nappy-changing and couldn’t really imagine being able to extract myself from my responsibilities or doing anything as interesting as travelling to a new country.  When the time came to start packing my suitcase and I realised the trip was finally & actually happening, it felt very surreal.

Before leaving, I hid love notes in my boys’ lunchboxes for them to find on the first morning I was away.  I instructed my husband to tell them that mummy loves them every night when he tucked them into bed.  At his request, I also left a long document of schedules, simple recipes and other critical Jake-and-Thomas-information on the kitchen bench to help him through his solo parenting fortnight.

To be honest, I had mixed feelings about the trip in the lead-up.  I was excited to be seeing for myself all the amazing architecture that I had only before glimpsed in other people’s travel photos.  I was looking forward to sleeping & eating in a more flexible way, not determined by my children’s routines & needs but my own. It was going to be great to hang out with my sister and give her uninterrupted attention, something I’ve done a lot less of since having children.  But I also felt selfish, leaving my husband to manage on his own for 2 weeks and using a decent chunk of our money to go to the other side of the world.  I was a little rattled by the terrorist attack that had occurred in August, just 500m from the apartment we had booked to stay in.  The anticipated unrest over the elections for Catalonian independence (scheduled to take place while we were to be in Barcelona) made me nervous also.

My anxiety melted away, though, once I was settled into my seat on the plane.  I had made my decision to go and I was committed to enjoying it.  I got my sister to take my photo to mark my turning point and the start of our adventure.

Enjoying Barcelona wasn’t difficult!  The apartment we were staying in was within walking distance of many of the sights we wanted to visit.  The winding narrow streets and old buildings had me enchanted and continually reaching for my camera.  It was a treat to browse the shops with no time-limit or restless children in-tow. Cafe windows were overflowing with sweet treats and the incredible La Boqueria food market was only a 5-minute stroll up the road from our apartment, handy for stopping into to pick up dinner after a busy day out.  Sitting on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea at Barceloneta Beach, just a short Metro ride away, made a great retreat when I needed a break from the bustle of the tourist district.  I made the most of my opportunity to be in Barcelona and the sacrifices my family were making for me.  It occurred to me that I have (willingly) made plenty of sacrifices for them over the years, it was okay to ask them to do the same for me sometimes.

The city’s rich collection of architectural beauties, which had been the main reason for choosing Barcelona as the destination to mark our birthday, didn’t disappoint.  I couldn’t have imagined how beautiful the buildings would be or how they would move me.  Architect Antonio Gaudi was a deeply spiritual man and learning about his designs helped me to understand in a new way how a person’s art (in whichever form it takes) is a form of prayer.  Standing in the light and magnificence of the Sagrada Familia, I realised the importance of my own writing as well as the need to recognise and encourage my boys’ modes of expression.  I also thought that I would love to visit it again one day with a teenaged Jake, who seems to have a sense for the sacred and I think would be inspired by its beauty and symbolism.

The trip opened me up.  Without responsibilities and stimulated by new experiences, I felt present, expanded and relaxed.  I am fortunate that, for me, the daily life of motherhood is not one I feel the need to escape from, although I understand that many mothers do feel that way.  But my trip showed me that new experiences keep me feeling vital and provide me with some contrast to the fairly repetitive nature of life with younger children.  I decided I would play tourist in my own city with my boys once I returned to Wellington, to keep us all inspired and invigorated.

Since returning from my trip, many people, mostly mothers, have asked me whether I missed my boys.  Some couldn’t bear the idea of being away from their own children for so long and others were envious of the fortnight of “freedom” I had.  Yes, I did miss my boys.  But it wasn’t a miserable longing for them or worrying about them.  Each day, I felt how much I was looking forward to seeing them again and how grateful I was to have them to return to once the trip was over.  We kept in touch daily using Whatsapp, waking up each morning to videos and photos we had sent each other overnight (being in opposite timezones).  At the airport, Jake and Thomas gave me an enthusiastic welcome, both of them refusing to let go of me and attached to me like limpets for the rest of the day.  We were making up for lost time.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – Have you ever left your children for a long period of time?  How did you find it?  Comment below.

 

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My Top 3 Barcelona Experiences:

* Touring the Sagrada Familia

* Sitting in the sand of the beach at Barceloneta

* Eating a waffle topped with Crema Catalana (like crème brulee) for breakfast on our first morning in Barcelona.

 

My Top 3 Dubai Experiences (we had a 3-day stopover on the way home):

* Camel riding in the desert

* Visiting the Grand Jumeirah Mosque

* Chillin’ by the pool at our hotel.

 

Sagrada Familia

Barceloneta Beach

Julie Louisson on a camel in the Dubai Desert

Camel ride in Dubai desert

Julie Louisson at the Grand Jumeirah Mosque, Dubai

Inside the Grand Jumeirah Mosque, Dubai

Easter (the post I almost didn’t write)

Since our whole country (and many others) stop for Easter and participate in the delicious traditions of eating chocolate and hot cross buns, I felt my boys needed an explanation of the occasion.   Not being Christian myself, I find some aspects of the Easter story don’t fit with my understanding of The Universe so I tell it in my own way.  This post is about how my family finds meaning in Easter.

I wasn’t going to write this post because I don’t like upsetting others and I’m not controversial by nature.  I’m aware that some people may feel that, not being Christian myself, I’m in no position to write about Easter, let alone pick-and-mix from Christian beliefs.  I realise that some people who consider religion entirely separate from spirituality may feel I should stay well away from this, the central story of Christianity.

But, one of my personal life lessons has been to be more courageous and to follow my intuition & inspiration, even when it’s scary.  Having thought I wouldn’t write about Easter because I feared upsetting others, the ideas for this post came flooding to me as I was driving to the shops a few days ago and I felt had to write it.  So I am – knees trembling a little if I’m honest.

I have to trust that I have readers who can accept that we all understand things a little differently and that agreement isn’t necessary but Love is.  This is my point of view on Easter.  I offer it not to tell you what to think but as food for thought – to help me clarify what’s true for me and you to clarify what’s true for you.  This is my truth and I write it with Love and respect for all perspectives.

 

WHY I DIDN’T TELL MY CHILDREN THE EASTER STORY AT FIRST

A little over a year ago, Jake (4 years old at the time) saw a cross at a church and said to me, “That’s where the Easter eggs come out”.   I had never told him the Easter story and wondered how he had managed to even link the symbol of the cross with Easter time.  At that stage, Jake had eaten plenty of Easter eggs in his short life but I hadn’t told him the Easter story for a number of reasons –

  • The brutality towards Jesus – Jake is a sensitive soul and I think he would find some of the details quite disturbing, especially the thought of Jesus’ hands being nailed to the cross.
  • The resurrection – how can I help him to understand that Jesus rose from dead but none of our relatives or friends will?  Death can be difficult enough for a child to get their head around without adding this into the mix.
  • The idea of humans being inherently sinful – I believe we are all inherently worthy, created as the Creator wanted us to be, and I want my boys to know this.

 

WHY I DO TELL MY CHILDREN THE EASTER STORY – MY WAY

Whether we take Bible stories as historical events or symbolic tales, there are lessons we can learn from many of them.  I think most religious traditions likely have stories with wisdom to offer when we are willing to interpret them with Love.  So, when it came to Easter, I looked for the wisdom in the story, and what I have found is a lesson in love.  I now tell my boys the story with a bias towards forgiveness and, at their young ages, I choose not to include sin or the death & resurrection yet.

My simplified edition of the story emphasises the moment when Jesus, hanging on the cross in pain, said “forgive them” of all the people who had put him there and taunted him.  I explain that the hot cross buns we eat on Good Friday remind us how he was put on the cross and the Easter eggs we eat on Easter Sunday show remind us of how he forgave the people.  A baby chick is a new life and we talk about how forgiving someone is like having a new life because, when we forgive, we can be happy and kind again.

This way of telling the Easter story seems age-appropriate for my boys and provides an opportunity to remind them of the power forgiveness has in our lives.  The ability to forgive is essential to everybody’s lives.   (I wrote about what forgiveness means to our family in my post Teaching Children About Forgiveness.)

As with any story, different people find different meaning in the Easter story.  And for people who aren’t Christian, being open to finding a message is far more powerful than hoping our children won’t ask what Easter is all about.  I realise a number of key concepts are missing from my retelling of the Easter story.  As my boys get older, I will add more details until they have the full traditional version.  I will explain to them the Christian perspective on Easter, share my point of view and encourage them to find their own.  And it may be that they may discover meanings in the Easter story that I haven’t.

 

IN SUMMARY: LOOKING FOR LOVE WHEREVER WE ARE

For some, Easter may just be about the chocolate and hot cross buns.  For me, it’s a chance to talk with my boys about love and forgiveness.  As a spiritually-led parent, I’m always on the look-out for opportunities to emphasise the power of Love in our lives, however they present themselves.  If I was living in a different culture, I would be looking for the same opportunities amongst a different set of stories and traditions.   We are spiritual beings, looking for what resonates.  Love & forgiveness resonate for me.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – What Does Easter mean for you and your family?

 

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Christmas Gifts: Getting or Giving?

Jake has been planning his Christmas list for well over a month.  He has reviewed it with me daily.

We all remember being children and the anticipation over what might be inside our presents on Christmas morning.  Jake’s excitement is normal but it does have a touch of entitlement to it.  As I wrote in my last post, Christmas: Santa or Jesus?, it’s the Christmas spirit of Love that I really want to emphasise in our family this season.  I hope to show my boys that there are aspects to Christmas other than getting presents that are joyful also and to shift some of the focus off what they can get onto what they can give.

With that in mind, over the years, we have developed a few simple family traditions for giving at Christmas time.  Spend twenty minutes on Pinterest and you’ll have lots of great ideas  you might want to use with your family.  Here, is what we do –

Making cards and gifts for others –  Making homemade gifts and cards helps us to focus on the people we have in mind for them.  Jake and Thomas have been involved in making things for others since their first Christmases.  Initially, they contributed red and green art to homemade cards but now Jake can write his own messages and make simple gifts.  Not everyone we know gets a homemade gift or card because that’s not manageable for us.  We usually make them for teachers or the boys’ own friends.

Helping with Christmas jobs – learning the gift of service begins with helping me out with Christmas jobs!  Perhaps it’s helping to bake for one of the shared morning teas we attend, to select an appropriate present for someone or tidying the house for Christmas visitors.

Candy cane elves – We did this activity for the first time last year.  We attached notes to candy canes saying, “If you find this candy cane, it’s yours.  Merry Christmas”.  Jake then hid them around the local shopping mall for people to find as we did our errands.  He was buzzing with excitement.  The best part was walking past places where he had left a candy cane and discovering that they had been taken!

Christmas giving jar – at the beginning of this year, we put a Christmas Giving Jar in our playroom.  I made a label for it and a slot in the lid to post coins through.  Throughout the year, we have put our spare change in it.  Jake has contributed small amounts of his pocket money and Thomas has posted coins in for my husband and I.  We counted it up this weekend ($96.80) and will decide together how we can use it to do something kind for someone.  We may donate it to an organisation we want to support, help someone we know who has a need or buy things we need to perform an act of service.  I am hoping that, as the boys get older, they will want to contribute more of their own coins to the jar (though it’ll always be optional) and that they will begin to think of ways the money could be used to help others themselves.

As we do these things, we talk about the people we are doing them for and why we’re doing it for them.  This is how we glue the meaning to the process.  None of the ideas above are too time consuming and all can be kept very simple.  But I hope they’ll add to the Christmas spirit in our hearts and show my boys that there is as much joy in giving as there is in receiving.

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Christmas: Santa or Jesus?

I write my posts from a personal perspective.  When you read them, I am not necessarily wanting you to agree with me.  Really, I am hoping that you will be prompted to ask yourself “what is true for me?” so that you can parent (or teach or coach…) with intention.  Although the meaning I attach to Christmas may be different from your own, I have written this post for everyone – Christian, of another religion, spiritual but not religious and neither spiritual or religious – to get you thinking about how you bring meaning to Christmas with your children.

I try to offer my boys a simple explanation of every public holiday that we have.  If it’s worth the whole country taking a day off, it’s worth explaining to them.  Usually, there are starring characters – the ANZAC soldiers or the Queen, for instance.   But whose story do I tell my children at Christmas time – Santa’s or Jesus’?

Those who are Christian would say Jesus.  Those who are non-Christian would likely stick with Santa.  But there are a whole lot of us in between.  Like me.  I don’t consider myself Christian.  Yet “non-Christian” doesn’t describe me either.  When it comes to religion, I am a member of none and a student of all.  There is great wisdom to be found in many of the world’s religions but there are also aspects of each that don’t feel true to me. Although I’m not Christian, the Christmas nativity story is more than a story to me.  I tell it to my children in my own way, with an emphasis on Love.

In my mind, Santa is just a creation of consumerism that I’d rather overlook but, for my boys, he’s a character of magic and happiness.  I’m not going to take that away from them.

So, throughout December, we have books about both Jesus and Santa on our coffee table.   I think it’s confusing for children having both stories on the go, they struggle to keep the two stories separate in their heads.  “Where’s Santa?” Jake asked once when examining a nativity scene.  In time, they’ll understand.

 

Jesus

So, this is what I have been telling my boys about why we have Christmas.  Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.  We celebrate his birthday because Jesus was an exceptional example of living from love and there is a lot we can learn from his life.

My boys know that Love reigns supreme in our house and that Jesus is one of the ultimate examples of Love.  On Christmas Day, we open presents, gather together and eat special food just as we do on any other birthday.  Jake is a little unsure about why we go to all this effort for someone we’ve never met and who lived two thousand years ago but he happily goes along with it.

I think most people accept Jesus at least as a historical figure, if not a spiritual one.  Explaining to our children that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday is a simple and truthful way to share the reason for the occasion, regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs.

I am very conscious, though, that I tell the Christmas story with my own slant, in order to bring out the message of Love and avoid ideas that don’t sit well with me.   I believe it’s upto my boys to feel things out for themselves when it comes to spirituality and it’s not my role to filter everything.  So we go along to our local church to attend the annual children’s Christmas service.  The friendly congregation welcomes us and include Jake and Thomas in the Sunday School’s performance of the Christmas story.  Mary travels down the aisle on a large stuffed toy donkey which finds its place by the manger when she arrives at the front of the church.  Last year, Thomas climbed onto the donkey and rocked back and forth as if to ride it while Mary settled into her new lodgings and the congregation sang a Christmas song.  “There’s always one who has to ride the donkey”, laughed the Sunday School teacher.

 

Christmas Spirit: Love

Christmas happens inside our hearts – Marianne Williamson

Even if we choose not to tell our children Jesus’ story in any way at Christmas time, we can infuse the occasion with Christmas Spirit – Love.  All the usual ways that we recognise Christmas can be done so with Love.  Being explicit with our children about where Love is in our Christmas traditions helps them to see it as more than a day of excessive food and gifts.   For example –

  • In our family, we have a number of traditions for giving – service, gifts, kindness.  These are to show my boys love in action.  I will write about these in a future post this December.
  • Making contact with friends.  Many of us go the extra mile to catch up with our friends in December and to send messages to those we can’t see.  Last year, Jake and I made gingerbread men for him to give his friends.  We talked about how our gift was a way of thanking his friends for their friendship and wishing them a happy Christmas .
  • Family.  Many people make family the focus of Christmas.  Within their own family is where children first learn about love.  Our unique family traditions are rituals that bring us together in love.  Whether it be gathering around the table to eat a meal with all the trimmings, spending the afternoon playing cricket in the back yard or attending a midnight church service together.

 

What About Santa?

Santa can’t be avoided.  I try to treat him as a bit of fun on the side but I know he is larger in my boys’ heads than Jesus.  I accept that.  They don’t know yet that a heart full of Love is more exciting than a stocking full of presents.  But they will.

I’d prefer Santa wasn’t on the scene because, as a society, we’ve taken him to the extreme and he makes our children more interested in what they will get rather than what they will give.   But we have to work with what we’ve got.  And we’ve got Santa.  He, at least, creates an opportunity to talk with our children about how good it feels to give as well as to receive.  Last year, I dug up the history of the ‘real’ St Nicholas who secretly gave gifts to needy people in order to give Santa a bit more credibility.

So, I help Jake write his letter of wishes to Santa.  We listen to songs about Santa in the car.  We enjoy preparing a snack for Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve.  And, despite my own misgivings, I delight in my boys’ excitement as much as they delight in Santa.  I avoid using Santa to manipulate – “Santa won’t be coming if your behaviour doesn’t improve”.  I’m not going to give him more power than he deserves.  He’s not the powerful one.

 

In Summary: Love

Of course, it’s not really an either/or question – Santa or Jesus?  Both can be accommodated and celebrated to whichever extent feels right for ourselves and our families.  Both can be used as characters through which to introduce the Christmas Spirit of Love to our children.  (It takes a little more creativity to squeeze juice out of Santa but it can be done.)  Whoever takes starring role in your hearts and the hearts of your children this Christmas, may the exchange of Love be plentiful.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Home Sweet Home – A Place for Our Souls

My boys are always glad to be home.  Jake loves the prospect of a whole day at home, which we manage on the occasional weekend.  Even after a fun outing that they wished would never end, they are both happy to arrive home.  In fact, they argue over who gets to open the front door and be the first inside.  Our house does have a pleasant, homely feel but it’s nothing out-of-the-ordinary.  The kitchen needs updating and the carpet is threadbare in some places.  We’ve made little effort to decorate because it makes sense to wait until the boys are older and gentler on the house.  Watching Jake and Thomas squabble over opening the front door one afternoon, I wondered, “What makes our house their beloved home?”   And “could the way we organise and use our homes have any impact on our children’s spiritual well-being?”  The more I considered it, the more I realised there are lots of ways the physical environment of our house supports connection to love in our family.  Here are some of the aspects that can make a house a spiritual home of sorts –

 

Home allows for the mess of life and some order too  As a child, I observed how house-proud older generations of women in my family were.  If a visitor was expected, there would be a flurry of cleaning & tidying in the hours before they arrived.  When I moved into my first flat, I was the same way.  However, having children has put a lot of perspective on things for me, including housework, and it has been a happy slide down to an easier place of “clean and tidy enough”.  (Tip: I have found that if I leave housework long enough, I suddenly feel motivated to do it!)  When I get the odd spare moment, I’m now more likely to do something important like play with my boys or sit for 10 minutes with a coffee than to whip around with the vacuum cleaner.  As well as giving myself a break, I am showing my boys the importance of joy & rest – vital in a busy-bee world.  It is also one of the many small ways I try to provide an alternative to the strong social message that we should aim for perfection in all things.  I try not to refuse Jake and Thomas’ requests for messy activities because of the clean-up they’ll require.  The sensory nature of painting and water play make them great ways for children to be present and to have fun – important spiritual practices.  I want them to feel free to play as they wish at home.

The pendulum hasn’t swung entirely in the other direction, though.  We have our own sense of order about the house.  For example, there are certain spots for temporary dumping as an alternative to leaving things anywhere around the house.  We are fortunate to have a playroom and it is the designated space for building train tracks and tipping out the blocks. Shoes go away as soon as we arrive home.  Without order, life becomes more difficult – tripping over toys, standing on Lego (ouch!) and wasting time looking for lost items.  When life has some order and is physically easier, we feel more ease within ourselves.

 

Home contains spaces for connecting with others  For me, one aspect of spirituality is connecting with others.  We learn to truly love through our interactions with each other.   Much of the joy we experience in life is through time spent with others.  The first people children experience this connection with are those they share their home with, likely their family.  Having spaces that encourage spending time together is important.  In our home, the dining table is a sacred space for connecting at meal times.  All art supplies and toy trucks are cleared away.  We don’t say grace and begin eating until everyone is seated.  As much as is possible with a toddler at the table, we focus on being together.  My husband and I have also made a number of changes to our outdoor space to make it more inviting for hanging out together.  We’ve removed a deck to create more run-around space, built a simple treehouse and turned the vege patch into a play garden (we couldn’t give the poor veges the attention they needed).   My husband involved Jake & Thomas in the building of the treehouse and I loved watching them all working on it together.  We use the outside space in many ways to relax & play together.

 

Home contains spaces for connecting with ourselves  Ideally, each person in the house would have their own space.  Jake and Thomas are fortunate enough to each have their own bedroom.  I have noticed that, after a day at school, the first thing Jake does is go to his room by himself.  He puts his favourite hoody on and plays with his favourite toys, books and objects, which are kept in his room.  This down time has so many spiritual benefits (see my post Just Be – Presence and Stillness) and I respect my boy’s bedrooms as their own.  Jake was about 4 when he started spending time in his room other than just to sleep and I sensed it was becoming an important space to him.  At that point, I began knocking if the door was closed and waiting for his consent before going in.  I do not nag my boys to tidy their rooms, although I may ask them to do one quick job to keep on top of things (eg. put their clothes away before watching tv).  By seeing me respect their space, I hope they’ll learn to value time spent on their own and to allow others their own time & space.  They’re still learning – I often write this blog in bed in the mornings and they know not to interrupt me…but still come charging in, wanting my attention.  We’ll get there.

 

We share the work around our home  By each contributing to the care of our home and the routines of life within it, I am hoping Jake and Thomas will develop an attitude of collaboration.  In a world that often feels more competitive than co-operative, our children need a place to learn the value of their contribution to the bigger picture.  I believe humans are designed to collaborate in life & that everyone has a valuable part to play.   Our house is a perfect place to practise living according to these beliefs.  Jake has weeded between the paving stones.  Thomas has watered the garden.  They do chores around the house.  Two-year-olds seem wired to help and imitate adults at work so Thomas is always keen.  Jake can take a bit of coaxing but I can see a sense of satisfaction on his face when the job is done.

 

Our home can be a gallery of our values, memories and heart-treasures   As I’ve said, we’ve not yet decorated our home but I look forward to doing so.  I think the things we display around our homes can give messages to our children about what we value.  For us, we value other people for the exchanges of love and joy we have with them.  In our home, we have displayed photographs of my children and their extended family.   Their Great- Grandad’s clock sits on the bookshelf in the lounge, even though it doesn’t work.  Their Great-Nan’s wall plate with the dog painted on it is hung by the kitchen.  In my post A Better Way to Teach Values, I suggested my idea of displaying the words “The Golden Rule” in golden writing somewhere around our home.  It would be a bit of an eye-sore but I think it would be a great reminder of the importance of treating others with love, respect and compassion.  I figure that, when they’re teenagers and not listening to me so much anymore, the things around our home will remind Jake and Thomas of what’s important.

 

IN SUMMARY: HOME AS OUR SANCTUARY

I love the idea of our homes being our sanctuaries.   They may not look like sanctuaries – DIY half-finished, crumbs under the table, piles of unfolded washing… but they can still be places of spiritual learning and joy for ourselves and our children.  I don’t like to create a separation between “our home” and “the real world”, I hope there is cross-over, but perhaps our home can provide some vision for the kind of world my boys can hope to be part of creating.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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