A Shot at Forgiveness

A few years ago, when I was struggling with forgiveness (and don’t get me wrong–I had struggled with it since long before then and will, it appears, continue to struggle–I am just fixing this particular moment in time) I picked up Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. It is a stunning and thought-provoking book that poses this question: “You are a prisoner in a concentration camp. A dying Nazi soldier asks for your forgiveness.  What would you do?”  The responses of over fifty people follow.

I was deeply moved.  And also a bit confused.

Because, for me, it was as if they were all driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

Do I have it backwards? I always thought that forgiveness was a process that the victim engages in to release him/herself, not the perpetrator. The perpetrator finds absolution– and self-forgiveness–by making amends, not in seeking forgiveness. Even if the amends can never erase the harm, the perpetrator puts the stone of his intention to make things right onto the balance– and he does so not to fix the victim, but to heal himself. As much as is possible.

This is one of the reasons why I spend so much time in my parenting book, Parenting in the Here and Now, encouraging parents to treat their children’s transgressions as mistakes, as signs that their children need more guidance. Mistakes need to be noticed and corrected without shaming. If harm has been done, amends can be made. By teaching our children to not fear their mistakes, but to be responsible for them and, when needed, to make amends for them, we teach them mercy–self-mercy.

And no, I am not equating childish mistakes with the Holocaust. I am just saying that we all need to be educated– practiced– at making amends and forgiving. Starting with the small stuff, so that we have a template for when the stakes are higher.

I am coming late to that class. I am still learning. I am humbled to acknowledge where I am in the process, but stating the truth is part of it. Here is one story of my journey: http://themanifeststation.net/2015/08/20/a-shot-at-forgiveness/

What is your understanding of forgiveness? I really want to know.

Mama Bear: An Example of Parental Authority in Action

Watch this little clip of film. (Warning: in the last second, one of the people filming says sh*t, so mute if you want to avoid hearing it. The sound of the clip is not relevant.)

Notice Mama Bear’s weight. She is a Big Mama. Her years of loping through meadows and browsing through forests to find grubs and berries and all the other nourishments her world has to offer her shows—she has gravitas. Not just because she is large and there is more mass for the forces of gravity to work upon, but because she KNOWS. She has been around the block—or the lake.

She does not doubt what she knows. And in this case, she knows that little bearcubs do not belong on the highway with vehicle traffic. And Big Mama not only knows this, but she acts on what she knows. There is no doubt, no drama, no denial.

This is such a wonderful visual example of Ho Hum in action: acting calmly with parental authority (Ho Hum is a central part of Parenting in the Here and Now.

I am not suggesting that when your children are troublesome, you should pick them up by their heads. I am suggesting that it might help to remember Big Mama: the weight of her calmness and the resoluteness of her action.

Parenting in the Here and Now

Parenting in the Here and Now is officially available for order from Amazon, Floris Books and Steiner Books (And BAM and B&N). It was an exciting day to receive my first copies, but this is an even bigger day, when the book actually makes its way into the hands of readers. I hope that it provides some simple companionship as well as insight for any who take part in raising children. Please pass on the link, and if you are so inclined, I would be so grateful to hear your thoughts and comments here and on the Amazon review page.

My website: www.LeaPageAuthor.com

Amazon page

Waiting for Permission

There is an interesting post and discussion about permission over on Steven Pressman’s blog. He is the author of The War of Art, in which he masterfully exposes the role that Resistance (with a capital R) plays in our lives. He speaks of it in the context of being an artist, but it really applies to anything we do. I wrote about it using a different name (Fear, with a capital F) in Parenting in the Here and Now, and when I read The War of Art, I thought, “Oh, yes, we are talking about the same thing.” (To Pressman’s credit, he said it decades before me; I just didn’t know it.)

I won’t re-create the discussion (you can read it here), but the salient point of the post is that waiting for permission to write a novel or form a band or whatever is your artistic dream is a form of Resistance.

I agree, but there are nuances and ironies which I find fascinating.

Just as we must be children before we are adolescents, and adolescents before we are adults, there is a process of growing into maturity as artists, and, I would say, as parents. It doesn’t all happen magically when we turn 21 (or have a baby). For most of us, we go through a period of dependency when we learn through imitation, and then we gradually branch out on our own(with varying levels of encouragement and support) until we are, theoretically, free: the masters of our own selves, making our own choices, no longer needing permission.

In the context of parenting, the equivalent stages are present. An example: a young mother recently asked a group of more experienced mothers if they had ever felt disillusioned with a chosen parenting style. Everyone answered “yes.” This is the adolescent stage of parenting, when the parent realizes that things don’t always work out as promised by any given method and the parent must mature into her own authority, which means making her own informed and independent choices for her family. In other words, no longer seeking permission. That young mother is well on her way.

Just as I don’t believe we can or should hurry our children through developmental stages, I don’t believe we as artists or parents can rush through those stages, either.

I think that often we ask for permission when we really need support and encouragement. But it is a tricky business: depending too much on support and encouragement is a bit like waiting for permission. Resistance and Fear are sneaky devils. But the reality is that few of us become the heroes of our own story, manifesting our dreams despite all the bad guys in our way, on our own.

We have to make that final leap ourselves, but chances are good that along the way, we had some kind of encouragement, and perhaps, at the last moment, we had some permission, too, even if it is only Steven Pressman saying, “You don’t need permission,” which is, ironically, the ultimate permission.

Creating Healthy Will in Our Children

Today, Elephant Journal posted my article, “Crisis of Will: A Family Ecosystem Out of Balance,”

I would love to hear your comments and thoughts.  Tell me how you fill your home with devoted attention.

 

 

 

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/05/crisis-of-will-a-family-ecosystem-out-of-balance/

Children and Choices: An Interview with Barry Schwartz

In my new book, Parenting in the Here and Now, I reframe many of the issues and challenges that today’s parents face. One of those issues concerns the role that choice plays in raising children.

Choices seem to be the all-purpose go-to remedy now. An article in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of chores—a topic that is very close to my heart—included, almost as an afterthought—that parents should offer their children choices about what chores they do. A recent article in the Washington Post suggested that parents model boundaries and consent by offering their toddlers a choice between chewy dinosaur vitamins or gummy robots. Faced with a temper tantrum or a power struggle? The answer is always the same: offer choices.

Our misunderstanding of the role and value of choice has had a profound impact on families. By digging deeper into how children learn to make choices and by asking questions about not only how much choice is healthy, but also about when choice is appropriate, we can dispel common myths and find practical steps that parents can take in their own households, steps that will bring their families into more balance, steps which will help form the foundation for building their children’s capacities to make good choices.

And so I turned to Barry Schwartz to add his insight and perspective to the discussion of this issue. He is a professor at Swarthmore College, where he has been teaching in the fields of psychology and economics since 1971. In his book and TED Talk of the same name: The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In his estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

In our interview, Barry Schwartz discusses his thoughts on why we hold freedom of choice so dear, on the challenges of making good choices, and on what parents might consider when they are choosing when to give choices to children.

Barry is warm, funny and wise. I think you will enjoy hearing what he has to say. Click here to watch our interview, and I encourage you to watch his TED Talks, The Paradox of Choice and The Loss of Wisdom, and if you have the time, to read his books by the same names. The questions he asks are the questions that we all need to ask.

 

Hibernation is Over. Spring is Here!

My dearest readers,

It has been quiet on the blog, but bigs things have been happening.

My publisher, Floris Books, is releasing my new book, Parenting in the Here and Now: Realizing the Strengths You Already Have on April 16, 2015 in the UK (and on Kindle), and in the United States in June or early July.  It is available on Amazon now for pre-order.

My new website, www.LeaPageAuthor.com, has excerpts and reviews as well as some tidbits about me and about writing the book, and there are links to other published work, guest-blogs and soon: interviews.  The first interview is about children and choices, with Professor Barry Scwhartz, TED talk presenter and author of several books, among them The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.  I will post that as soon as my intrepid IT/webmaster/better-than-McGyver guy (my husband) takes care of the upload.

Please come visit the website.

You will also find links to several published excerpts from my first memoir, Something About You, which is about raising my family in rural Montana.

I am now in the fingernail-biting process of sending out that manuscript (Floris Books doesn’t publish memoir), and in the meanwhile, I am working on a second draft of a second memoir, Remaining A Stranger, which is about an epic, horse-drawn cart trip through rural Greece.

I hope to have much more to offer you in the coming weeks and months.

 

Safekeeping

I am slung back in an armchair in the living room, reading a memoir of sorts: Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas.  I laugh at one passage and turn the page and then am slammed—she does this, with the simplest of details—and glance into the study to see if my son and husband notice that I am crying.  They don’t.

Thomas is going to high school part-time this year.  He wanted to get out of the house, which makes sense to us.  We’d like to get out of it, too.  It is dark.  The whole state is dark.   But that is another story.

But my son wanted to keep doing math with his dad.  For the last few years, they have been working together through courses from “The Art of Problem-solving,” courses which are heinously and deliciously challenging.  They sit together at my husband’s desk in the study—I can see them from my chair—bent over their papers, murmuring to each other, scratching their chins, working to figure out the starred problems, which are designed to be nearly impossible.  They love this.  But every once in a while they both sit back after a particularly long wrestling match and sigh with frustration and chagrin.  It is often a simple matter of computation that gets them off track.  They can do the hard stuff.  It is that elementary multiplication that bites them on the butt.

Today, while I am sneaking in my tears, they do this again—sit back laughing and shaking their heads.

“The usual stumbling block?” I ask, smiling down the hall at them.

“Yeah, 8 times 7,” says Thomas.  They are grinning cheesey grins at me.  They are proud of themselves, thinking that these blind spots confirm their genius.

“Ooh.  That’s a rough one,” I say sarcastically. I have a role to play in this, too.

“Oh yeah… what is it?” says Thomas.

“56,” I say.

“Just checking,” says Ray.  And then he whispers loudly to Thomas, “write that down.”

He looks up at me, bouncing his eyebrows, enjoying his small coup. “There’s more than one way to get to the answer.”

Then they set their elbows on the desk and rest their chins in their hands, mirror images, and start on the next problem, their pleasure in themselves so absolute that it sheets off of them and sloshes up against the walls.

I hold my book up again, but instead of reading, I look past the pages at them and let those waves wash over me.

Having My Cake and Eating It, Too

We have been walking for hours along the lanes, boulevards and public squares of Toulouse, France, and as usual, I have to pee.  It is a cycle of sorts: in order to avoid the horrific public bathrooms, we must find a cafe, sit down and order something to drink.  Then, after an enjoyable hour of conversation and people-watching, we pay our bill and continue our walk, only to be slammed again an hour or so later by the imperative of a full bladder.  And so the search begins for another cafe and a clean bathroom.

My husband, my son and I trail after my daughter, who strides through the crowded maze of narrow, rose-colored streets in her high-heeled boots, and we dodge and side-step around the couples walking arm-in-arm, the dogs on and off leash, the trash cans and crowded cafe tables and miniature cars parked fully on the narrow sidewalks, all of which seem to weave and bob in my daughter’s wake.

After living here for nearly two semesters, Nina knows much of the city, and she navigates through unfamiliar parts with a combination of luck and intuition.  Toulouse is a university town and isn’t a usual destination for foreign tourists, although it seems chock full of French visitors this week.  The sights my daughter takes us to see would not make it into any guidebook.  They are only of interest to us: the Catholic University where she takes classes in philosophy, the art gallery where she had an internship, the fully automated metro that she is so proud of.

And her favorite restaurants.  We are on our way to find one now: the Lebanese sandwich place that she has been talking about all day.  After a week of rich, butter-laden French food, a freshly made pita stuffed with cucumbers and chickpeas sounds like heaven.

When we arrive, the metal grille is rolled up (all shops have one that can be rolled down and locked into place when the shop is closed for the night—  or the day—  or days—  regular business hours being more flexible than we are used to), but the tiny shop is dark inside, and there are no tables set out on the sidewalk, a sure sign that it is closed.  Still, we walk over to make sure, and it turns out that the owner is standing just inside, talking and cooking.

He lives upstairs, Nina tells us, and uses the shop kitchen to cook for his family.  The man, older, with a very un-French-like pot belly, sees Nina and greets her enthusiastically.  Clearly she is a regular.  They have a short, lively conversation in rapid French, and then he looks at me and asks Nina a question in which I can pick out the word “mama.”  She nods, and he disappears into the dark recess of the shop.

“He is going to give you some cake, Mom,” says Nina, grinning.

“Me?  Why?” I ask as he reappears a moment later with a piece of almond cake wrapped in a yellow paper napkin.  He holds it out to me and waves and disappears while I am stumbling through my “merci beau coup.”

“When the Lebanese want to show respect or esteem for someone, they give gifts to the mother,” Nina replies.

I bite into the cake.  It is simple and not overly sweet.  I will remember this cake long after I have forgotten the tarts and croissants and macaroons.