We got the bikes out today. It was time. I struggled with the tire stems, and hooked up the amazing electric pump my wife got me last fall. My son has outgrown the bike we got him just a year and half ago. He is growing so fast, I can't keep up. My feet fit into the new rainboots I bought him.
Muddy snowmelt splashed up from the streets onto the back of his pants and his jacket, even up to his helmet. He strove to master the hand brakes and gear shifts, such a step up from his combination hand-and-coaster break fixed gear bike last year.
Today, I struggled to say yes, and was glad I did. I said yes to taking a walk with my tutoring student, instead of sitting down to our books at the start of our lesson. I said yes to getting on my bike and going around the block three times. I said yes to a board game after our bike ride. I said yes to spending the morning puttering and storing up ideas, instead of forcing this blog post to get written then. But saying yes is hard for me. It's easier to say no, to retreat into busy housework and hiding behind my screen.
I'm going to step back from social media for a time, to focus on being present for springtime. The snow is melting rapidly. My child is growing. My wife is eager to share news from her day, and to dream about our garden. We have a vacation coming up, and the last few months with our wonderful school before we start our homeschooling adventure. I want to invite you into my courses and coaching practice, and to share from my heart, and that requires attention.
I'm afraid to do this. I'm afraid I will miss important news. I am afraid I will be all alone. I'm afraid no one will ever know what I have to share with the world, and this work will go undone. But you have found me, here. I can keep working and sharing, sending my newsletters. I can write letters and send texts and call people on the phone.
And I can always go back. I probably will. I just need to re-learn how to breathe and move like the wind on my bike, like I did at 7 and 17. I need to re-learn how to pour our my thoughts on paper, and how to stop spinning from activity to activity, and to be here.
Spring is coming. It's nearly here. I can feel the melting of the frost under the earth, the stirring of the sap in the trees, the exploratory stretching of daffodil bulbs. I don't want to miss it.
you might have noticed the new blog title. Changes are afoot! As the year turns from old to new, I'm starting a new adventure. My Mama Bliss Coaching training is almost complete. When that happens, I'll be opening up my first coaching spots. I'm really excited to share this work with you. It's deceptively powerful, like a little bit of fairy dust sprinkled over everything and making it feel... lighter. Like you've put on seven-league boots to run your first marathon. Like you've put on a magic wishing hat and found yourself at your destination. Like you've found a sack that pours out feasts of your favorite foods...
Meanwhile, I'm trying to find moments of stillness in these last few days before Christmas. I hope that in between the pageants, the parties, the Yule fires and carol singing and late-night toasts ... and the teething, the colds, the meltdowns and tantrums ... you are finding the stillness of deep winter, or perhaps the brilliant surrender of high summer.
If you are curious about my coaching, and want to be one of the first to hear about opportunities to sign up, click here to be added to the waiting list!
It's election day. I voted this morning. I love going to the polls, filling in the ovals on the paper ballot, feeding it into the machine, getting my round, red sticker. All of it speaks to me so strongly of hope. Hope is something that seems in short supply sometimes these days.
But voting, like hoping, often seems like it's not enough. And it isn't -- voting does not absolve me of the responsibility to do what I can to create the world I want to see. Hoping for change does far less than getting up and taking action. Even if that action is just to smile at someone on the street, or to ask how someone is with the intent to really listen.
So it isn't enough, no. But neither is it small.
I've been taking time away from facebook this week, just stopping in to check my messages and notifications. I spent some time scrolling and liking posts this morning, but more and more, I feel like facebook is really good at lulling me into a false sense of enough-ness. it's not enough to "like" someone's photo of a new baby. It isn't enough to share an article on a candidate you support. I feel like I want to live my likes a little more, to seek out a different level of connection.
I've been on social media of one kind or another for 25 years now. Maybe 26. I have had friendships form and flourish entirely online. But those friendships sprang from deeper sharing and listening than facebook engenders for me. Longer form media has given way to quick bites and pictures. I love both, but the latter aren't enough for me.
So is it enough? No. But it's not bad. I just crave more. I am deeply hungry for connection, beauty, playfulness, creativity. I dream of and desire a world my child and your children can grow into and love. Voting isn't enough, but it's absolutely necessary.
So vote. and act. and reach out. Post on facebook and instagram, and stop to chat with your neighbor as you both come home from the world. Share an article that touched you, and then discuss it with someone whose mind and imagination inspire you. Snap a photo of your voting sticker (I did!), and then talk with people about why it was important for you.
And then turn it all off, and go driving into the countryside or walking down the block or wandering down rabbitholes until you are breathless with wonder, as I was at the scene above. We had gone out after a disappointment, to assuage ourselves with sugar at Minnesota's Largest Candy Store (a real place), and then went adventuring. We found a tiny, rustic county park, climbed around on barely-groomed trails, and felt a million miles from home. And then, we followed the moonrise back to dinner and warmth.
It might not ever be enough, but don't get discouraged. Just keep going deeper.
I'm sitting down to write, and I feel empty. A beloved guest from far away is staying with us, and my panicky only-child self is at war with my desire to spend time with my dear visitor. So I over-extend and do too much, and don't set boundaries, and then wonder why my heart is racing and I'm snapping and sniping at my child and spouse...
And our time together is good. A mirror is being held up, though, to how much i rely on my own routines and patterns to get by.
I hate that I'm letting my child soothe himself with tech -- games and cartoons on the iPad -- when I retreat to my phone and computer to tune out.
I hate that my kid is eating so much sugar, when I search the cupboards for a quick snack instead of a meal.
I hate being begged for a toy or soon-to-be thrown away thing, when I am letting money run through my fingers and bills are piling up while I don't work enough.
Im in a rough and whiny spot tonight, and angry with myself for not being happy.
Fairy tales, not necessarily in their scholarly definition, but allowing for a few other folktales and the occasional legend or myth, are the life's blood of childhood. Fairy tales give us a map for the journey of life, and if parents can see through the time-bound elements of societal values and lessons, they can help children to navigate the treacherous waters of learning to live as a human being with wisdom and courage.
That's a bit of a weighty introduction. Still with me? Of course you are. Here, then, are five of my favorite fairy tales to share with children who are stepping through the doorway from early childhood dreaminess into the open-eyed world of learning to know things for oneself. These stories are perfect for older five-year-olds right up to middle school, but six and seven might be the ultimate age for enjoyment.
So, there you have it. Five of my favorites. The websites these links take you to are worth exploring -- so many great stories to share with the kids in your life! Read aloud, or learn to tell them yourself in my upcoming Be a Storyteller ecourse! (details coming soon!)
And remember, when you come to something that makes you unsure about telling a particular story, whether it's a turn of phrase that rings false in your ear, or a character who meets an end that seems too harsh, take your time. If it's not the right story for you or for your listener, then just let it go, and find the story that's your Goldilocks moment -- Just Right!
Learning to tell stories can be daunting. I get that. Even seasoned Waldorf teachers or homeschooling parents can feel that fear, and the Waldorf grades curriculum is built on storytelling. Letting go of always reading to your child, or turning on an audio book or Sparkle Stories story, or a movie, can be really, really scary.
So start small. Here are three easy ways to start telling stories to your children.
1. Puppets. Don't panic. Puppets can be really easy; everyday objects can be magical. Ask Dan Hurlin, whose puppet theater full of forks and spoons enchanted my college classmates. Pick something up -- a toy, a cup, a mitten -- and let it speak and move. This type of story can charm three and four year olds to stillness. Puppet wakes up, has a tiny adventure, and goes to sleep. Fin. Your lap, maybe draped with a playsilk or scarf, makes a perfect stage; so does the kitchen table, or the dashboard on the freeway-turned-parking lot. There can be an epic adventure, or there can be next to nothing. Just try.
2. When I was a kid. Can you remember anything from your childhood? Stories from your family or longtime friends? Children love real, true stories of your own experiences, especially when the story opens up a new perspective on you. Stories where you got into trouble, where you made a bad decision, where things didn't work out so great, these are a real gift to your child, who will find in them permission to fail, to learn, to try again. You become human and whole through these stories. Tell stories of your triumphs, too -- spelling bee victories, hard-won first fruits of your own garden, the Big Game. Humor and compassion for your young self and for the other characters in your story will feed their need for goodness. Tell these stories. They become part of your legacy.
3. Movies, Books, TV shows. My mother told me the entire plot of Anne McCaffrey's The White Dragon on a road trip to Nebraska to visit my grandparents. She later told me she'd done this to keep herself awake on the long, straight highway through the cornfields, but at the time, I only knew that here was a fantastic, beautiful story. So tell your favorite plots; re-enact favorite scenes with voices and gesture. Of course, there are limits, and you know what your child will enjoy and what will be unpleasant or scary for them. The best part is this: if you forget, make it up. This is your chance to fix the ending you hated, to fill in the details your mind has let go. Your imagination and intuition may create just the pieces your child needs most.
I believe deeply in the power of stories to heal, help, and guide. Pick any one of these, put down the book, turn off the radio, and let your own voice and the magic of the story sweeten your time with your child.
Bedtime comes up in a ridiculous percentage of my blog posts, Facebook status posts, and web searches from a couple of years ago. Sleep is such a big issue with little ones, and there are so many opinions and theories and so much advice. I am not going to get into that part of it. I'm thinking about the stretch of time between dinner and sleep, however and wherever it happens. I had planned a while back to make an ebook out of all this advice, and sell it to you. That's more work than I have time for, and frankly, I'd rather share this with you here and now. So, imagine we are having a cup of tea or coffee or hot buttered rum, and I'm telling you what is working, and has worked for us.
Your milage, as they say, may vary.
So, there you go. Five things to try, to make bedtime smoother. "What about bedtime stories?!" you cry. "What can I read to little Cerulean? What story should I tell little Candelabra?" That's coming soon, folks...
We are listening to the radio, and the boy, who is no longer a baby, is sleeping.
Today, I roasted a chicken, and made the car fit into the garage.
We are waiting for winter to begin, as it must.
The little tasks are as done as they will be. The windows remain un-plasticated, but the hose is detached and coiled over my sagging bicycle in the garage, and there are milk and eggs and bread enough.
Tonight, I am grateful for the house, sighing as the temperature slowly sinks.
For the chicken in the pot, for fat, warm cats lounging around the living room.
For the gas and electric and water and sewer and cable internet, still working.
for the million, million little graces that make up my life.
If you are reading this, chances are, you are somewhere safe enough, warm enough.
Be glad of it, as the snow comes, and the wind and bitter cold.
Martinmas is this week. Think of Martin, who cut his regulation-Roman cloak of heavy scarlet wool into two pieces with his sword, which probably scared the wits out of the shivering beggar in front of him. Martin, who stabbed his sword through the security and complacency of power and offered not only warmth, but humanity, and who saw the divine flame burning lighting through the skin of the beggar in his dreams that night.
It's colder in Scotland than in England, or at least, it was when we took the train north together. I was spending my junior year of college at Oxford, and my mother flew out to visit me after Christmas. It was a visit I look back on and wonder at -- it was that year that literally changed my life, the best year of college, the year of self-discovery and adventure, and my mom took the long plane trip over the ocean to visit me during the ten months I was away. My grandmother had left her some money, and she was determined to enjoy that trip to the fullest. I met her at Paddington Station, full of confidence in my understanding of the UK after three months of living in the terrace house in Marlborough Road.
The first night, we stayed in a student-rate hotel in Belgravia or something like that, and I don't think either of us slept a wink. We saw Cirque du Soleil in the Albert Hall. She got to hear me sing in the chorus for Mozart's Requiem at St. Martin in the Fields. We toured the Tower.
A dear friend was in England, visiting family, and had extra days left on her BritRail pass. When she headed home, she gave us the pass. What does one do with free time, some inherited cash, and free rail travel? One goes to Scotland, to Glasgow.
It was my mother's second trip to Scotland, my first. We arrived at night, but it could have been late afternoon. It's dark in January in Scotland. We found a hotel, settled in for the night, and planned our adventure. We had a few days before I had to be back for the start of term, when she'd meet my friends and choir mates and drink with us in the college bar and endear herself to everyone.
I can see our visit in flashes -- the extravagant meal in a beautiful restaurant, rose pouchong tea surrounded by Charles Rennie Mackintosh design, the dark stone of the cathedral -- but what came back to me full force this weekend as I listened to the Battlefield Band on Prairie Home Companion, was that we attended a concert with bagpipes and fiddles and a full orchestra. I think it was Phil Cunningham's Highlands and Islands Suite, maybe? I don't know for sure. All I know is that the moment when the band fell away and the pipes took over, that characteristic change of rhythm from skipping to skirling, sounding through my car's stereo on Saturday made me break down in sobs, as January, 1997, slammed back into my mind. Funny, though, that it was that memory, and not the dozens of other times we listened to the pipes together. Mom loved bagpipes; we shared that love. I was glad to find a piper for her funeral last spring. How could we send her onto the Low Road, without the sound of mourning and battle and victory and longing that the pipes have?
My mother's birthday is this Saturday. My stepdad is hosting a dinner in her honor, and some of us who loved her will gather and eat and drink and laugh and cry. She was loved by, and loved, so many -- there were not enough chairs in the funeral chapel for everyone who came to her funeral -- and I wish I could call her and ask about that concert. Instead, I guess I'll buy a recording of the Highlands and Islands Suite, and let the music carry me back again to the darkness of midwinter Glasgow, and to the brilliant light and warmth of my mother's love.
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I coach waldorf moms and other sparkly unicorns, helping them find wonder, ease, and contentment. I write about parenting, storytelling, and about living a life with stories.