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Posts Tagged ‘family’

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
Lao Tzu

I wake up at four in the morning to our one-year-old groaning and wailing next to me, half asleep and crawling around. I lay her back down, for the fifth time tonight, rub her belly and hope she falls asleep.

In my mind, I welcome the situation and let go of wanting to change it, wanting to control it, wanting her to sleep.

 

The baby is asleep already, but I’m still awake, thinking about work stuff. There’s a project that I was supposed to have finished already, and I haven’t. There are a thousand loose ends there for me to fix, but I can only work on them when the baby is napping, which comes up to a grand total of three hours a day.

In my mind, I welcome all my feelings and frustrations about the situation and let go of wanting to change it, wanting to figure it out, wanting to push the situation out of existence.

 

Welcome it and let go of wanting to change it. Again and again.

 

Still I lay awake, worrying about my thesis. I’m way behind on my original schedule, as well as on the augmented schedule made after the first two months of delays. The work project is eating up all my time, and the delays mean I have a bunch of additional paperwork to finish so I will be able to graduate in the first place.

Again, I breathe, welcome all my feelings and frustations and fears about the situation. And let go of wanting to change it, to turn back time, to fix my schedule and figure out how to make it work.

 

And then the baby wakes up again. She tosses and turns, kicking me and not settling down.

Again, I welcome my frustration, and my fear of being horrendously tired and unable to work the next day. And let go of wanting to change it.

 

Does it help?

Eventually we both fall asleep. Next morning, I am one step closer to letting my employer know that I really have to focus on my thesis and that I have to set a boundary to my work tasks. I am one step closer to working on the thesis, if even for a few minutes.

And even if the baby repeats the same dance for the next hundred nights, I am one step closer to the first time she sleeps through the night. Without having a nervous breakdown in the middle of the night, no less.

Thank you for stopping by. I will now attempt to get some sleep before the baby wakes up at four a.m. again. πŸ™‚

Love,

Sari

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Scaffolding

scaffold (n)
1: a temporary or movable platform for workers (as bricklayers, painters, or miners) to stand or sit on when working at a height above the floor or ground; a platform on which a criminal is executed (as by hanging or beheading); a platform at a height above ground or floor level
2: a supporting framework
(Merriam-Webster)

Our baby daughter is learning how to walk. By herself, she can take about four to five steps before she topples over. For a few weeks now, though, she’s been whizzing around our apartment, supporting herself against furniture, walls, the occasional parent that stands nearby. Pretty much anything that can offer her some vertical support while she trains her balance.

She’s intuitively making use of scaffolding.

It’s a central concept in the socio-cultural theories of learning, most of which are influenced by the work of Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s grand thing was the thought that whatever a person learns to do by herself, she first has to learn how to do with the help of others.

Vygotsky coined the term “Zone of Proximal Development” or ZPD for short, which is the level of skill where one can perform the task with help but not yet on their own. Scaffolding, then, is the social help coming from peers or teachers that enables the learner to perform the task.

Granted, our daughter is mainly using non-social scaffolds when she zooms past me, holding on to the couch, but when I’m holding her hand to support her, it’s a classic case of ZPD in action.

I started thinking about the concept on my way back from band practice last weekend. Whenever I get out of the house all alone, I indulge by listening to TED talks or other podcasts on my iPod. The one that got me thinking about the topic was the TED talk by Deb Roy about his research into how his infant son learned to talk.

He mentions an interesting finding during the talk. Immediately before a child learns a specific word, her caregivers start to use that word in very simple contexts, easing the child onto the level of being able to use the word. What that means is the caregivers appear to subconsciously detect when the child is getting proficient enough in her approximation of the word, and then they react to what they detect.

That’s one heck of a scaffolding system.

As a future teacher, scaffolding is a very interesting concept, not least because of the critical element of timing.

If you hold the hand of a baby learning to walk, and you don’t let go even when she could already perform the task herself, you are not scaffolding her. You are doing the baby a disservice.

If you are a teacher who hears pupils discussing amongst themselves while performing a task and offer uninvited answers, you’re not scaffolding them. You are doing them a disservice.

Scaffolding is all about listening and perception. Furthermore, it’s about allowing a certain amount of uncertainty from the learner. The fraction of a second that the baby stands up unassisted and sways back and forth is not necessarily a sign she is about to fall over. It might be her way of adjusting her balance and getting ready to take the next step.

Similarly, the question from the pupil and the hesitation might not signal that they are about to abandon the task. More often than not, it’s a way for them to think aloud, to activate the part of the mental network that contains the answer.

Besides, if you always keep supporting and scaffolding the learner, when will you ever know that they have passed the ZPD and are able to perform the task on their own?

Thank you for stopping by! There’ll be a short break in posting, as we’re heading off to beautiful Munich for the weekend to see our friends, but I’ll be back here, posting about the wonderful Central Europe insightings sooner than you think! And while you’re waiting, why not comment or subscribe? πŸ™‚

Love,

Sari

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Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take, I’ll be watching you

The Police: Every breath you take

Yesterday, I was driving to visit an acquaintance, and my daughter was sitting in her car seat in the back. We normally take public transit if it’s just the two of us, so she doesn’t have a lot of experience of being alone in the back seat. This time, however, circumstances favored us taking my mom’s car.

Normally, she really likes it in the car. It hums, the scenery changes, and most of the time there’s someone next to her, keeping her company. This time, though, she was alone in the back, and I don’t know if it was that or some other reason, but she was really unhappy and voiced it very loudly. Since I’m pretty averse to letting my child cry for lengthy periods of time, I pulled over and went to the back seat, tried to calm her down and gave her the pacifier. She settled down for a moment, and just as I was starting the car again, she began to whimper. I started singing a simple lullaby that we’ve been singing to her since she was a few weeks old, and that seemed to calm her down. I ended up singing the song over and over until we arrived at our destination.

Apparently the sound of my voice and the familiar song were strong enough messages to convince her that she was not alone and that I was close by, even when she couldn’t see me. As far as I understand, developmentally she is yet to realize that things exist even when you can’t see them.

“I’ll be right there!”

I’ve been thinking a lot about presence ever since I read an article on a study concerning babies’ stress when they are ignored. The babies in the study were six months old, and in the study, their mothers played with them normally, but “froze” for two minutes at a time every now and then, staying in the baby’s sightline but ignoring the baby and staring at the wall. The babies showed elevated stress hormone levels on the following day, when they were brought back to the research facility, even though there was no ignoring on the second day.

I found out about the study on an online message board, and there was (unsurprisingly) some discussion as to what the practical applications of this study are. Some people thought it more or less chains mothers and infants together and lays a guilt trip on anyone who dares to go to the bathroom with the door closed if their child is left alone for that time. Others saw it as a defense against “just let the baby cry it out, it’ll be all right” type of advice.

Personally, I do think that babies need their mothers close by. If a child voices a distress and it systematically gets no response, it will eventually stop voicing its distress because it’s just no use – no-one will answer anyway. However, a response may well be something along the lines of my car-ride lullaby. If my baby hears my voice, it knows I’m not far away. I haven’t disappeared from the world, even if I am currently invisible.

Furthermore, she knows she is not invisible – I can hear her, I can vocally respond to her cries, I can take eye contact when I get closer and I can pick her up when I see she’s in distress. My presence and interaction with her convince her that she exists.

The online presence

In many ways, the online world reflects this “someone please tell me I’m not invisible!” line of thinking. Establishing a presence online – whether in Facebook, on message boards, in the blogosphere, on Twitter – really requires time, effort and reciprocity. There are a few online contexts where I’ve managed to create a presence, and others where I’m really only a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it face in the crowd.

Creating that presence takes time. Reading (because most of the presence is in text form) what others have contributed, finding interesting tidbits to share, regularly coming back to see what others have added since your last visit. It takes effort. Figuring out your opinions (on more serious matters), grafting your message so it’s easy to read, wording your jokes, timing your responses so you stay on the pulse and don’t comment on ancient topics.

And it takes reciprocity. Commenting on what others have already said, taking it a bit further, reading the responses you get and possibly repeating the whole cycle again. It’s the online equivalent of the eye contact: “Yes, I can see you, there you are, you exist in this world.”

Degrees of presence

For our daughter, I’m probably the number one presence in her life. The head honcho, the one who hardly ever leaves her side. My husband is a close second. After that, there are the grandparents, the godparents, our friends, and so forth in descending order.

It’s interesting to see how the degrees of presence show in her behavior towards us. Since I’m nearly always there, my presence borders on boring. It’s safe, but it’s also something she doesn’t make a big deal about. The few exceptions are the times when she wakes up from her nap, and sees me coming in the room if I was somewhere else. The smile on her face says “Awesome, you were gone and now you’re here!” My husband, on the other hand, seems to get all the giggles. πŸ™‚ He is a safe presence, but not quite as predictable as I.

Then there are the interesting visitors, the ones who ring some kind of a bell but aren’t daily contacts, people like my mom and some of her godparents. There has to be a grace period of her reacquainting herself to these visitors from the safety of my or my husband’s lap, before she is secure enough to cuddle with them.

Online, the degrees or presence became evident on another message board, when there were several cases of sad news in a short while. Since the people in question were “big names”, it seemed that everyone knew what was going on in a heartbeat. Similarly, “big names” leaving or taking a break would be a huge deal in an online community – just because so many people are so used to their presence. It’s safe. You can count on their “it’s okay, honey, I’ll be right there”.

When a small-time presence disappears for any length of time, you hardly notice – until they return, or until someone points out they are gone. I’m fairly confident there were less than a handful of people who wondered why I’d been a lazy blogger, and most of those people were real-world friends. πŸ™‚

A shift of sorts

Since creating an online presence (and a real-life presence, too) takes time and effort, you can realistically have a limited number of really influential presences in different social communities. At the moment, my most influential presence is in the context of my family, but there are other, smaller ones in the background.

I’ve noticed I need the feeling of being a strong presence in social communities. Possibly for the “someone sees me, therefore I must exist” reason. This is probably why I’ve originally liked being a group leader or a teacher – there are more pairs of eyes to strengthen my existence. πŸ™‚ Being a quiet onlooker in the sidelines has not been a suit that fits.

Until now.

I don’t know if it’s the arrival of the baby or something else, but there has been a change in my relationship towards social situations, whether live or online ones. Before, I’ve felt like I need to open my mouth, to contribute, to be a presence in order to “buy” my foothold in the community. Contributing has been the currency of being seen.

Now, I feel like contributing has become the primary force. I want to contribute when someone needs help, thoughts, entertainment or ideas. Or when I have an idea that needs voicing. If someone sees it and benefits from it, wonderful. If they comment, even better. But I don’t feel like my contribution was a failure if it’s met with silence.

Furthermore, I enjoy just observing a situation without feeling the need to contribute. If something comes up, I’ll express it, but I don’t feel like I’ll be thrown out of the room (or off the Internets) simply because I just observe. I love going to a moms-and-babies meetup, sitting at the table, drinking a cup of coffee and just listening. And my worth as an online community member is not determined by my post count. πŸ™‚

As is appropriate, the writing of this blog post was interrupted a few times by the cooing of a napping baby who needed my presence. πŸ™‚

Thank you so much for popping by again! If any thoughts came up (and you feel the need to contribute πŸ˜‰ ), feel free to share in the comments! If not, it’s okay to just sip coffee and observe, and possibly catch your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.
John Wilmot

So I’m a parent now. Three months and counting. πŸ™‚

During these three months, I’ve come to understand a number of “parent behaviors” that previously fell under the category of “How is it possible that…??!?!”.

For example, I can totally see how a child might end up dominating the entire household. For the first few months of a child’s life, the parents more or less have to respond immediately to the child’s demands. There’s no such thing as “just a moment, dear, Mommy will change your diaper after grown-ups have finished coffee” when there’s a screaming alert. Once the child starts to want things that are not immediately required for survival and well-being, the parents need to be very conscious of the distinction between needs and wants. It takes effort to break the habit of immediately fulfilling the request.

But there’s one thing that still stays in the “What the what???” category. Allow me to illustrate.

Let’s say it’s one of those (fictional) family get-togethers where you meet everyone who’s a second cousin or closer. I’m stuck at a table with a remotely related nephew John, 8 (fictional) and John’s parents (also fictional). I decide to make small talk.

Me: So what have you been up to this summer, John?

John’s mom: Well, he went to a summer camp for two weeks, and we’re heading off to Switzerland for a week in August.

Me: Oh, that’s nice. So John, did you watch the soccer World Cup?

John’s mom: Yeah, he and his dad watched every single game. He was so sad to see Argentina lose to Germany, weren’t you?

John: Yeah.

Me: Ah, Argentina. Who was your favorite player, John?

John’s mom: He totally rooted for Messi, he wanted us to buy him a Messi jersey but they are so expensive…

…And so on. Sadly, even though the story is fictional, it’s based on a number of real-life incidents.

Why, oh why is it ok for mothers to speak on behalf of their children? When the children are actually there to participate in the conversation? When the child is the actual person being addressed in the conversation?!!

How on earth do these parents think their child will learn the basic rules of grown-up conversation if they’re never permitted to participate in one? How will the child learn to trust his or her own opinions if there’s never any room for voicing them? I know some children are so shy that it’s a huge endeavor to answer a stranger’s question with a single syllable. In that case, the mother’s task is to encourage the child to say something, anything, and lavish on the praise when they do – or take over the conversation if they don’t. Assuming the child won’t be able to answer is a sign of mistrust towards the child.

More than once I’ve had the urge to disregard the mother’s response and wait for the “John” in the conversation to answer for himself. The problem is, most of the time the child in question is too shy to elaborate on what their mother has already divulged – or too used to having their mother to answer the questions to even bother elaborating.

The other option would be to say, “I’m sorry, I was asking John. So, John, …?”. The problem is that if I did this, the mother in question would probably get really offended. Furthermore, I’m not a big fan of embarrassing people in front of their children. On the other hand, if a parent acts like an ass, isn’t it ok to give the child a break, too?

So far my solution has been to keep asking the child questions tagged with their name, all the while maintaining eye contact with the child. My hope is that eventually, the mother will notice from my verbal and nonverbal cues that I’m hoping for the child to answer.

What else could one do in a situation like this? If you come up with a possible solution, please share it in the comments – I could use some more proverbial ammo when dealing with these kinds of parents. πŸ™‚

Thank you for reading, again, and keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.
Lawrence J. Peter

As I’m writing this, my husband is watching the England vs. USA soccer game. He’s been waiting for the World Cup since last summer, and apparently intends to watch every game. *sigh* He grew up in a very soccer-ey home – both his parents have coached soccer, and his first pair of shoes were a pair of soccer shoes.

I’m not a big sports fan myself. In fact, I’m quite the opposite – the sound of sports commentary instantly pushes my buttons and ruins my day. This has caused – how should I put it – a number of conversations during the years we’ve been together. This is why I’ve decided to open myself to the thought of learning to understand soccer. You know, the game where a 90-minute game ending 0-0 can be “incredibly eventful”. It’s either that, or I’m facing a looooong month of the World Cup, not to mention a few looooong decades of marriage. πŸ˜‰

Where to aim?

When I watch a soccer game, I see a bunch of people running around on a field. When he watches the game, he sees a web consisting of the players and the potential passing lanes between them. There are two teams, so the webs are constantly interacting, and the connections are constantly breaking up and new ones are emerging. Add to that the offense-defence tactics that the teams employ to confuse the other team and make a goal, and it’s no wonder I have a hard time understanding what the heck is going on.

One of the most difficult things for me to grasp has been the whole passing-the-ball dance. How do they know where to kick the ball? I mean, they’re constantly running, and the other team is constantly running, and the ball bounces around, and there’s just no point to the whole game. Is there?

The key that unlocked this conundrum was trying to imagine the web of passing lanes between the players. The other epiphany moment was when I realized that they actually try to pass the ball not to player X, but to the point Y where player X will be in a few moments’ time. In other words, they’re planning ahead.

*enter sound of mind blowing*

The way I’m trying to practice watching soccer is to look at the game and try to find the passing lanes. When I become better at that, I can start educating myself on tactics.

The “planning ahead” caveat

In a slightly unrelated note, we had our daughter’s christening today. It was a beautiful ceremony, and a lovely reception afterwards. It was a small gathering of 20 people, consisting of our daughter’s godparents, grandparents and a few other family members. Our daughter was a veritable sunshine, admired by everyone. Being the center of attention takes its toll, however, and by the end of the day she was exhausted.

Note to self: just because relatives want to cuddle your baby, it’s okay and necessary to take her to the other room for a nap when she’s showing signs of fatigue. The relatives will get over it. Fortunately, I realized this about halfway through the party, so she wasn’t completely wiped out.

In a christening, the child (or adult, if it’s an adult christening) wears white. After our daughter was born, I decided I wanted to crochet a christening dress, because neither of our families had a family christening dress and I wanted to start a tradition. I couldn’t find a pattern, so I decided to make it up as I went along. I took one of her onesies to size the dress after, and started working.

I’d worked on the dress for several hours during the past weeks, and it was coming along nicely. Last Tuesday, I decided to try it on her to see how much longer the train should be.

We couldn’t get the dress on her.

It seems I’d both underestimated her growth rate and overestimated the stretch in the crocheted cotton. Long story short, I unraveled about 30 centimeters, or a foot, of the dress, so I could extend the slit at the back of the dress. This was on Tuesday, five days before the christening.

Yikes.

I eventually finished the dress the night before the christening (i.e. last night) around midnight. I had to change the pattern on the hem a bit to finish it on time. The dress was beautiful, and I’m glad I decided to make a dress instead of just buying or borrowing one. Still, I won’t be crocheting anything anytime soon. πŸ™‚

Things change. Situations change. Children grow. If you’ve planned ahead, great. Just be sure to check the proverbial passing lanes at regular intervals, especially if it’s a huge project that takes a while to finish. And especially if you don’t have a ready-made pattern and decide to just wing it. Otherwise you might just find yourself in damage-control mode at one in the morning when you really, really should be sleeping already.

Thanks for stopping by in my corner of the internet, and keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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