Off the Mat: Water as Self-Care

How Things Work

What makes the car stop? How are car brakes different from bicycle brakes? Train brakes? Roller coasters? How do hydraulics work?

These questions pepper my days these days. Raised for sugar, spice, and everything nice, my mechanical engineering knowledge is woefully inadequate. Thankfully, in his updated masterpiece on machines, The Way Things Work Now, author David Macaulay and his illustrated mastodons describe the inner workings of the toilet tank, stapler, and radio, along with Wifi and RAM. And hydraulics.

I’ve been reading about the power of pressure. When a fluid is compressed, it exerts pressure in all directions.  A container not strong enough to withstand the pressure will leak or otherwise be damaged. Properly contained, the fluid will transfer the force of its power into the world around it. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: We are Not the Weather

Hindsight Parenting: Meet Your Child Where They Are

Who She Is Is Just Fine With Me

When our children encounter difficulties, when they run into brick walls or have a problem that needs to be solved, we need to meet them where they are, help them grow with what they already have in a way that they can.

I have been working against my daughter, Ila, under the guise of “improvement” and the misguided statement “she must be able to do such and such in order to be successful.” I have been working against her, which in turn has been sending her a message that she is not good enough just the way she is, which, of course, is not a message I want to send her at all.

Confused?  Let me give you an instance:  Ila gets anxiety everyday before going into her kindergarten class.  When the door opens, and the teacher steps out, she buries her face into my legs, or if I am squatting down at her level she grips my hair or scarf with a vice-like hold.  I have to peel her off me by prying her fingers open and kind of giving her a loving pat on the bottom towards the classroom while her chin quivers as if I am torturing her. This, as you can imagine, is agonizing each day, and so I decided that as her mom, I needed to “right” it, fix it, and make it so the anxiety was gone.  I decided to start with a good heart to heart conversation. Read the rest of this entry »

Spooky Stories for Teens in Pretty Monsters

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

Monsters, ghosts, aliens, wizards, and magical librarians all make an appearance in Pretty Monsters, a multi-genre book of short stories by local Northampton author, Kelly Link. In her first book written specifically for a young adult audience, Link demonstrates her ability to blend elements of fantasy, magical realism, and horror together. The overarching thread of this enchanting collection is Link’s skillful voice. The author’s writing seems to be strongly influenced by fairy tales, a factor which gives her unique narratives a sense of familiarity even as they dazzle readers with imaginative twists and turns. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Feeling Fall

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Feeling Fall

Fall is such a busy time for the valley. Apple picking, pumpkin patches, hay rides, and fall festivals. All of these adventures are well worth the visit, but you can also get your kids engaged with nature based craft and sensory activities that are easy and inexpensive. Here are a few:

Prints

You can use any fruits or veggies for prints. When doing veggie prints I find it best to use a small tray with only a dab of paint on it. Using too much will distort the prints and ink-pads can develop mold. I find that using tempera paint in small amounts is ideal. Allow your child to dab or roll the fruit and then splat it firmly onto the print paper (card stock or cardboard). I find that apple, lemon, and corn prints to be some of my favorites. I like the detailed prints that onions create, but they can really burn the eyes. Combining apples and lemons makes a wildly vibrant and vivid print.

Toddlers love industrious work. Let them enjoy the print making, but also exploring the fruit, taking out the seeds and even tasting it! Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Autumn Autonomy

Autumn Autonomy

“Safety is what we want for those we love. Autonomy is what we want for ourselves.”   – Atul Gawande

My childhood yard held ample trees: the willow planted in the wet culvert that didn’t grow gigantic like we’d hoped. The huge blue evergreen. The fragile mimosa we were chastised for climbing. The red maple I practically lived in the summer I turned eight. Read the rest of this entry »

YA Book Review: Back to School for the First Time in This Girl is Different

This Girl Is Different by J.J. Johnson. Published by Peachtree Publishers, 2011.

For lots of kids, parents, and young adults, September signals time to re-adjust to the schedule and lifestyle of school. For a homeschooler attending school for the very first time, this transition is much more difficult…and exciting! J.J Johnson’s young adult novel This Girl is Different centers around Evie, a homeschooler, entering school for the first time as a high school senior. This book flips the typical high school narrative on its head. Evie has to beg her mother to go to school. She wants to meet more people and experience a lifestyle she has only seen in movies. Before school even starts, Evie happens to befriend kindhearted Jacinda and Jacinda’s cute cousin Rajas, both seniors. But Evie quickly discovers that she knows less than she thought she did about the rules and cut-throat culture of public school. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: First Day Blues

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Three years ago I wrote a post about (daycare / preschool drop-off) separation and how to make it an adventure. This year, I am the mom, not the not the teacher, and it is far from an adventure; closer to a nightmare.

My three-year-old daughter had no interest in the big adventures her new preschool had to offer. She consistently woke up in the morning adamantly protesting the plans we had made for her. In my mind, I see her sweeping into the classroom with pride and confidence, greeting her teacher and friends. Instead, I was kissing and reassuring, and then ducking through smiling faces trying to escape the sirens of my child calling for me from her teacher’s arms.  Read the rest of this entry »

Nature Table for September is Pupating

Nature Table for September

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new nature table whose contents inspire learning along a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. A tradition carried out by teachers, environmental educators, and nature-curious families, nature tables bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. The idea behind a nature table is to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves. A nature table can include a variety of items, and is often accompanied by a set of books and/or field guides so that children can take part in further learning at their own will.

This month’s nature table was inspired by a likely seasonal catalyst, but is filled with very unlikely specimens, given where we started. What began as a discussion of seasonal foods has somehow evolved into the creation of a horde of young entomologists! (Or perhaps it would be more fitting to say that the topic has pupated.)

Rather than a collection of the numerous varieties of both cultivated and wild apples that can be found in orchards, farms, and backyards, this month’s nature table is a terrarium filled almost to capacity with more species of caterpillars than I, the head naturalist, have ever noticed while experiencing nature. We have the classic monarch, the hated hornworm, the fear-inducing hickory tussock, and at least twelve other species – some of whom we haven’t been successful in identifying.

How did we get here?

“Ms. Huntley, I have an apple tree at home!”

Most of us do around here.

“It’s so tall!  And it always drops apples on me while I wait for the bus!”

Mine are up to similar antics, yes.

AND it’s FULL of CATERPILLARS!  They’re eating ALL of its leaves!”

Oh – now we’re interested!

This moment – the one intended to spark a foray into local culture, local history, pollination, and a host of other topics – has steered us in a completely different direction. We discussed the eastern tent caterpillar with disdain, told stories of the browntail moth, and shared opinions on the legitimacy of using woolly bears to predict the severity of a winter. I thought we might return to apples the next day, or perhaps the one after, but young minds are not easily swayed, and now I am responsible for upwards of twenty impossibly small and squashy beings.

As it turns out, caterpillars are a perfect topic of study and are the easiest and most entertaining of all the live specimens I’ve allowed to be kept as “pets.” A simple terrarium with a few inches of dirt and a tightly attached screen lid is a perfect home, though I’ll admit that trial and error during our early caterpillar days lead to the unfortunate death of more than a few specimens.

Together, we’re learning how to watch them, how to identify them, and how to care for them. We’ll watch as some pupate and emerge as winged beasts before the morning chill lasts all day, and we’ll wait to see which ones burrow and make their grand entrance in the spring. We’re exploring new field guides, noticing details, and even conquering our fears – but the best part of our learning is that we are truly learning together. The young naturalists are at this point perhaps even more expert on the subject of caterpillars than I am. We’re truly in this experience together.

Common species in New England include:

  • Monarch
  • Milkweed tussock moth (caution: tussocks can feel like stinging nettle to some hands)
  • Hickory tussock moth
  • Tomato hornworm
  • Gypsy moth
  • Woolly bear
  • Cabbage worm

Tips for keeping caterpillars for study:

  • Collect a small portion of the plant you found the caterpillar on – it’s probably its food.
  • Mist your terrarium a few times a day; otherwise, it will dry out, the food plants will dry out, and your caterpillars will begin to dry out as well.
  • Give your caterpillars a few sticks to climb on.  Many of them like to climb, and others need sticks for their cocoons and chrysalises.
  • Keep a few inches of soil at the bottom for burrowing species.
  • Be sure to put your terrarium outside for the winter, but make sure it’s protected (unheated garage, tool shed, etc.).
  • Be prepared to struggle with identification!  There are many, many species, and it can be very difficult to find names for all of them if you’re not an expert.

Robin Morgan Huntley, Community-Based Education Correspondent

A native to Maine, Robin joined Hilltown Families in early 2011 as an intern and remained over the years volunteering as a community-based education correspondent until moving back to Maine in 2016. Robin is a graduate of Antioch University with a masters in education. Her interests within the field of education include policy and all types of nontraditional education. For her undergraduate project at Hampshire College, Robin researched the importance of connecting public schools with their surrounding communities, especially in rural areas. Robin currently lives with her husband, cats and rabbits in Maine and is a 5th grade public school teacher.

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Off the Mat: Sandwich Generation

Eclipsed

Full moon shines through the camper van window, directly onto my face. I take advantage, risk the click of the door waking my guys. Upon arrival, we’d scoped the lay of the land: bathrooms, camp store, path to the beach. I head toward the latter, no need for a flashlight in the moonlight.

And have the beach to myself, so far as I know. Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity! I sit. Listen. Think. Stretch some. Breathe. Notice. The movement behind me is my own shadow. I cast a moon shadow. Yes, it followed me, just like in the old song.

Weeks later… Read the rest of this entry »

YA Book Review: Romance, Fantasy, and Social Justice in Shadowshaper

August Review: Shadowshaper By Daniel Jose Older

Daniel Jose Older’s young adult fantasy novel Shadowshaper (Published by Scholastic, Inc. 2015) accomplishes a great deal in under 300 pages. On the surface, Older weaves an exciting, at times creepy plot featuring magic and romance. On a deeper level, he tactfully addresses several issues at the intersection of race, self-esteem, and body image for his main character Sierra Santiago. There is a lot for young, as well as adult readers, to analyze in Shadowshaper. Older raises important questions related to the ethics of anthropology, asking readers: Who gets to study whom, and why?
Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Rivers & Roads

Rivers & Roads

Imagine a world without roads. No highways, interstates, traffic lights, or roundabouts. For most of us, the only way of life we’ve ever known is shaped by our roads and the technologies that transport us – and what we consume – from place to place. Of course, many defining characteristics of modern life would be completely different or nonexistent without our modern road systems, but perhaps for now, we’ll focus on the implications that roads have on nonhuman entities.

Roads provide corridors for wildlife to move and feed along, but all too often are fraught with danger and death due to our mode of transportation: the car. A road might be likened to a river, providing a means to travel from place to place, but a true river is also a source of life and sustenance to all the creatures which depend on it. We have learned that cleaning up rivers benefits both humans and other species, and as is often mentioned, rivers are a crucial part of the proverbial web of life.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: A Thousand Miles Apart

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

A Thousand Miles Apart

This summer, writer Sarah Mattison Buhl travels to see her family in Wisconsin. She embraces the differences, and vows to look deeply at the issues.

We’ve lived in Massachusetts for five good years. It is a sensible fit for my family, and a culturally rich place to set root. I’ve appreciated the hard-working, New England sensibility. I share the long-standing social liberalism of the state. The rural quiet resonates with me, having relocated from Wisconsin. In fact, my adopted city reminds me a lot of the city from where I came. We are back visiting the Badger State this summer as we do every year, but I am noticing differences between Wisconsin and Massachusetts more vividly now than any visit in recent years. My east coast beliefs and my core midwestern values feel out of sync for the first time. I feel fortunate to be fluent in both languages. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Take a Breather

Take a Breather

Stomach tense, not grumbling but hard, a potato sized stone sitting just below my ribs. Centered, which isn’t where my stomach is. So this is muscle tension? Breathe in more deeply and breathe out, focus on the potato. It softens, moves down an inch or two. Let’s try again. Yup, there it goes. And beautifully, the deep inhale harmonizes with a dissonant chord in the Bach cello piece playing on the stereo. Breathing with Bach.

Stomach looser, I now notice the scowl on my face, there since waking. Can I relax it with breath, too? Purposefully smooth the skin between and above my eyebrows. Feels a little surprised. The remaining frown below the spread brow feels sad. Feels like the moment of realization – whatever the realization might be – that tears are coming. Feels like disappointment. What can breath do for my mouth? I’ve heard it takes more muscles to frown. Is that accurate? In this day in age, it seems more of an effort to choose happiness, to concentrate on what’s working and what’s hopeful than on what’s wrong. Especially when hormone cycles resemble spaghetti bowl tangles more than predictable sine curves.

♦♦♦

Letting breath guide movement is central to my yoga training. We teach what we most need to learn; I’m someone who holds her breath walking down the sidewalk!  Yoga breathing practices purposefully employ our inhale, exhale, and retention of breath to affect our physical, mental, and emotional health. Science now has the technology to explain how and why this works.

Researchers at Northwestern used brain scans to show how breathing through the nose affects areas of the brain associated with emotions and memory. A team at Stanford has identified jumbles of nerve cells that connect the brain’s respiratory center to the area in charge of alertness and attention. (If you geek out on this stuff like I do, this article in Neuroscience News describes the findings in understandable terms, down to a description of mellow mice.) One researcher described the almost 200 neuron subtypes as “well stirred spaghetti.”  This spaghetti tangle serves to calm. Breath is automatic and can be controlled through behavior, as well.

Too often still, I look outside of myself first – caffeine, conversation, therapy, vacation. I “should” myself with goal setting and exercise plans, social media challenges. Bemoan the lack of resources: money, sure, but also time, for self-care. And yet the simplest tool is right here, flowing in and out, rarely noticed except in its absence.

♦♦♦

Teaching yoga class, I notice one of my students looking flushed and worried. I check in – she can’t catch her breath. There’s a slight edge to her voice as she shares how she’s trying to breathe deeply but not getting air and fears she’s triggered an asthma attack. In my best calm teacher voice, I instruct her to breathe out all the way. She releases a long, large exhale. Now there’s room for fresh air to come in. Oh! She smiles, breathing in deeply.

♦♦♦

In the Sanskrit language, the word for breath, prana, is also translated as life force or spirit.  Some days, the only dedicated yoga practice I can muster is breath. Close my eyes. Turn attention to breath. Soften belly, gently spread ribs, lift collar bones as breath stretches me from the inside. Comfortably full, muscles lift from inside, gently squeezing air up and out of my lungs. Repeat. Long, smooth inhales. Full, complete exhales. In and out through my nose. Notice the movement breath creates. Sound like ocean waves. Unwind the strands of my mental tangle. Free my spirit.

[Photo credit: (cc) Lorianne DiSabato]


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice. http://www.ginnyhamilton.com

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The Ripple: River Seasons

Stream Songs

Rivers, as flowing water, can be soothing to the ear, or overpowering with noise, depending on the river’s bed or soundscape. Protruding rocks may be the only visible evidence of what creates the sounds a river or stream makes as water tumbles over and around boulders and pebbles. Sounds of water have long been equated with well-being and are soothing to the human spirit; with recordings, practically anyone can listen to a river or stream and imagine the water flowing right outside one’s window. City plaza fountains around the world add to the well being of city dwellers and draw people to their sounds, providing a gathering place for relaxation and socializing.

As water levels often drop this time of year, during the summer, the sounds of moving water may become softened and even silent, to be restored by rain storms. Even slight waterfalls offer a murmur of sound if enough water flows past the stones. The sounds of flowing water in the mountains have been known to save people’s lives, leading them to safety, or at the least providing them with life-sustaining water. Even in winter, the muted voice of a stream can be heard flowing under the ice, and seldom here in New England does a stream freeze entirely.

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Let Them Grow: Make Camping with Toddlers Easier with these Tips

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Camping with Toddlers

We, meaning my partner, our almost three year old, and our eight month old, are on a camping adventure. This year to make our vacation easier and more enjoyable with the baby, we ditched the tents for cabins at our Berkshire getaway. Savoy State Forest and Mohawk Trail State Forest are spots places with cabins in the Hilltown. So, when I say “get away,” I mean it!

There is nothing but the lake the trees and the cabins. This are no playgrounds, camp stores, popsicle stands, or hordes of other children. It is just the four of us, surrounded by the crisp morning air, the ripples on the water, squirrels, and a camp fire.

This is what I love about camping. Checking out from the day to day and enjoying my kids and my partner, one on one. While there are no distractions, full-day or multi-day outings can be stressful adventures with toddlers if you are not prepared, relaxed, and ready for the adventure! I love these types of outings and find a sense of pride when I actually have a moment to sit back and watch the kids play engaged and happy without constantly tending to them. What’s my secret? Here are my secret tips for camping with toddler:

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Off the Mat: Independence

Independence

Heat has me up early. Serendipitous, since perennials from a neighbor’s garden need to get into the ground. With soil and space they’ll bloom beautifully without much assistance. At this moment though, they’re still dependent on me.

Once outside, I’m unwittingly drawn to the overgrown flowerbed by the patio. A mix of should and want rise within me every time my gaze lands here, which is often, given its location across from the kitchen window. It’s been a four year desire to clear this bed. I’ve toyed with it a few times, until shovel meets root bound resistance or halfhearted weeding leaves the area looking like a bad haircut.

Today, it’s less a decision and more a reaction. Oh, I guess I’m ready to do this. Perhaps due to dampness from recent excessive rain, this attempt feels easy – notably different from the last few times I’ve tried and given up. Separate bulbs. Root out weeds. Uncover perennial treasures left by a previous garden mama.

As a reasonable hour dawns, my house wakes up. We join briefly for meals but mostly go about our own Saturday projects. Weeding near the street, I hear my son and his friend squeal in the back yard. It occurs to me I hadn’t been monitoring their whereabouts at all. Focused on dirt and weed, lost in my own independent thoughts.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: White Noise

White Noise

Rivers flow through our lives both metaphorically and realistically – sources of drinking water, energy and transportation, but also as symbols of life “flowing like a river.” Rivers have been dammed, turned into lakes, or redirected into irrigation channels, among other human uses for them. We, as a species, tend to take them for granted, using them as a way to rid ourselves of our waste – out of sight, out of mind – with little regard for the other animals and plants which live within their banks.

If our lives do indeed flow like a river, we owe it to the source of the metaphor to respect and honor these bodies of water for their importance in our lives and the myriad of species which depend on rivers for sustenance. Just the sounds of a river, or stream, can elicit a sense of well-being, of calm in the frenzied state of modern human life. Spend time without electronic devices, and sit next to a river taking in the birdsongs, the water’s movement, the splash of fish and other creatures, and you, too, will feel the connection between humans and water. The sounds of water are often recorded as “white noise” to block out the cacophony of sounds and thoughts flooding our minds when we desire sleep, and nothing can surpass the calming sounds of flowing water in the moment.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Two Simple Craft Projects for Toddlers

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

My Pop Rocks

Dad, Aba, Pappa, Baba, Daddy, Pop… Yesterday was Father’s Day and like any teacher or mother I was racking my brain to find the most unique way to help my toddler say “I love you.” We like to find clever ways to tell the father figures in our lives that they are appreciated, needed, and most importantly, loved. Here are two fun gifts we whip up that you can do any time with your toddler and preschooler to make that special person feel even more special!  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Stay

Stay

Many of my yoga students are surprised when I share that the seminal text on yoga doesn’t describe physical poses at all. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written down about 2,000 years ago, collects aphorisms passed from master to student in the oral tradition. Scholars describe them as talking points, bullets, or pneumonic devices, chanted to memorize the concept. Patanjali would’ve have done well with PowerPoint.

Of the almost 200 verses, less than 2% talk about physical yoga postures. There’s no mention of downward dogs or triangles. Rather, these few lessons center on the purpose of the posture. In short, stretch your body so you can sit comfortably, with steadiness and ease, to do yoga.

Postures get us ready to do yoga.

The majority of the Sutras contend with how to focus attention and quiet the mind. One verse basically says it doesn’t matter what you focus on, just choose something!  Sit with steadiness and ease, breathe, focus attention, repeat. By doing so, the mind will begin to still, freeing us from the exhausting perseverations, nagging, and judgments of our inner dialogues and the mania of our outer lives. Choose a focus. Keep at it. Keeping coming back.  Read the rest of this entry »

Hindsight Parenting: A Tale of Two Trees

A Tale of Two Trees

A tale of two trees. Both serving specific purposes. One providing beauty and respite from the ugliness of the world, greeting those who visit our home with a cheery disposition and pink petals waving. The other doing its part for the universe as well. Acting as shelter to our beloved chickadees bringing sweet music to our backyard. A tale of two very different trees; neither more useful or useless. Neither one better than the other. Both immensely loved.

At my home, there are two trees. One, a flowering crab tree, planted in the backyard when Son2 was born. It stands near the gate of the fence that keeps the dog in and the unwanted out.  The other, a magnolia tree, was planted 14 years later in the center front yard to celebrate the birth of my daughter.

The flowering crab is flanked by a pine tree. It is eons older and was here when we purchased the house, a leftover from some ancient forest long before a housing development was even a thought. Because of the way the sun rises and sets, that pine casts a shadow on my little crab tree season after season causing the crab tree’s growth to sputter and stall. Had I not been so young when the tree was planted, I might have seen that it’s roots should have been dug up so that I could replant it far away from the pine tree that shadowed it.  It should have been cultivated in a more fertile ground where the light of the sun was unhindered.  It needed a place to grow without the pine tree’s shadowy darkness. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Takers of the Wild and Free

Takers of the Wild and Free

“Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?” by Mary Oliver is one of the poems to which I aspire to align my perspective on the world.

We are not the movers and shakers of the earth, for that would be far too appraising of how we have laid claim to a home that was never rightfully ours; rather, we are the Takers of all things wild and free and the Leavers* of a world whose light dims a little more each day.

With all of our advancements, we have not progressed to the point of living in ways that will allow us to continue to inhabit the earth. We are simply atoms that are arranged to form beings capable of comprehending arrangements of atoms, and we have not yet mastered the art of awareness – or so we pretend.

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Let Them Grow: Games and Practices for Naming and Identifying Family

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Family: A Name Game

Mother’s Day is every day for your toddler and preschooler. The love our children have for us is immeasurable.  A toddler is just beginning to express this love. “ I lobe you so much” I hear each night from my own toddler. I “lobe” her back, but she isn’t aware, or even capable for that matter, to being to understand how that love encompasses me as a mother.  It is even more unfathomable for her to begin to understand how terrified I am of anything bad ever happening to her. Mother’s Day is a good time of the year to help a toddler begin to identify these feelings and figure out what unconditional love looks.  It is a time for

Mother’s Day is a good time of the year to help a toddler begin to identify these feelings and figure out what authentic love looks.  It is a time for a family to talk about what it means to be united as a community. What it means to be together and help to keep each other safe. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: On Motherhood

On Motherhood

The author, branded as Mama.

His cry has a different tone than I’ve yet heard in his 9 months of life. Urgency. Bewilderment. Entering his room, I see why. Child and crib covered in vomit.

Chubby baby arms reach toward me, fully confident that Mama can make all this right. Resisting the urge to recoil from the smell, I lift and comfort him as the next wave of puking begins. Aim into the crib? On the rug? In a split second, I realize the most comforting and most easily cleaned barf-target is…me. So I hold my sick, sobbing kiddo to my chest and let him throw up on and down my shirt. This, I think. This is motherhood.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Dirt Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Dirt is Some Thing

Spring has arrived here in Western MA, which means we can now move our creative play outdoors! Toddlers can make the best of anything… especially dirt! Children love playing with dirt. It is soft and malleable; cool and versatile. Children can make anything with dirt! Just recently I was served a dirt grill cheese and a side of fries. As the adults, we have to be willing to provide the dirt and the place to play. We have to be willing to see the benefits behind the mess.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Down the Drain

Down the Drain

Fascination with drains.

My two-year-old son and I sit beside the water in the Boston Public Garden. Picturesque landscaping, iconic swans, a steady stream of smiling passersby – business people, kids with caregivers, tourists of all ages. If it were duckling season, we’d be in a McCloskey picture book. Morning errands accomplished, there’s nothing to stop us from enjoying this beautiful sunny morning in one of the city’s finest spots.

Separation anxieties run high at the moment. It takes extensive coaxing for him to walk away from the water’s edge, across the foot path, and 2 feet into the lawn to throw away a wrapper in the nearest garbage can. When he finally accomplishes this Herculean feat, 3 onlookers (no joke!) applaud his success.

One, a police officer, rewards his bravery with a sticker badge. It’s even yellow, his favorite.  I’m telling you, it’s a picture book day.

Sticker comes on and off. On and off. Less sticky. More rumpled. Barely recognizable. Still the object of great fascination. So it’s only natural it would come into contact with another item of fascination. A drain.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Anatomy Canvas for Preschoolers

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Our Paintable Body

Kids especially toddlers like repetition.  They like knowing the outcome, they like knowing the answer.  Most toddlers I know love themed based curriculums because it allows them to master a topic. It seems that every week there is a new theme in my life. Not a theme I would personally choose to embrace like types of orchids or sheet composting. Things the children in my life are interested in learning are less complicated and blatantly much more fun.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Gentle Discipline

Gentle Discipline

Early in the school year, my wily son and his 7-year-old co-conspirators figured out they could “trick” their teacher into extra recess by sitting longer. He says we’ve been sitting too long, and we say no, we can sit for 5 more minutes, and he lets us and then we get to go outside, my kiddo tells me with a sneaky grin.  When I ran to relay this story, his teacher laughed heartily – please tell him to keep tricking me!  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: The More Things Change, The More They Change (And That’s Okay)

The More Things Change, The More They Change (And That’s Okay)

I have had the supreme pleasure of writing about mindfulness and gratitude for the last year for Hilltown Families, and I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time each month to read my (imperfect) thoughts on these practices that mean so much to me. But as one of the main tenets of Buddhism is the concept of impermanence, or, as I like to joke, the more things change, the more they change, I find myself changing as well, and as I embark on new writing endeavors and wrap up a few in the process, I am now writing my final post for this website. Since this is a post that marks a transition, it seems only fitting that it focus on impermanence, and how through mindfulness, we can find much value in not only understanding change, but the truth and profundity of the deeper impermanence all around us. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Arts & Crafts for Presidents’ Day

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Presidents’ Day

Certain holidays are hard for small children to grasp. A great example of this is Presidents’ Day. It’s a vague concept for young preschoolers and toddlers to understand there is a hierarchy in government. Instead, I have found that by focusing on a theme in the holiday children can learn and explore the idea open ended. Collages are a fun way to explore art with limited restrictions and open a dialog about complex concepts.  Here are two fun President-themed activities. Read the rest of this entry »

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