This is the first letter in my new monthly series, The Motherhood Letters, for Mothering Arts, an organization supporting mothers and babies in their first year postpartum. You can learn more about Mothering Arts here.
In the heavenly haze of the day you were born, your father and I held a clear dream. Before you turned five, we would live in his native country, Sweden, for at least a year.
It wasn’t just a cool place to go, where we’d play with gnomes and pick mushrooms and touch moss in the forest. Your grandparents lived there, they loved you, and we wanted you to really know them. We wanted you to learn your father’s native language and know his culture. Maybe one day you would want it to be yours, too. And so we left.
Early summer, seven months ago, you were four years old. It was time. A half year of intensive physical and emotional preparations behind us, we lifted off the shore near San Francisco and flew across the world.
Today marks seven months living abroad. Had I known the rigor involved in it all, I don’t know how I would have done it. The travel plans and logistics, that I could handle. But I never could have predicted the emotional and spiritual stretching required for me to lead and hold our family — and myself — as we have stepped into this dream. It was a big, bold move, one that’s helped me see why so many families who want to live abroad, may never do so.
Through our numerous moves and living from boxes, through navigating the city ferry, train and bus schedule, through figuring out what to wear in this new climate, how to keep my nose from painful dryness and get rid of my monthly migraines, through supporting your papa to spend more time with you here as he has so longed for, through researching where to take you for preschool and where to live, through month after month of being 5,000 miles from my dearest friends and family, you’ve held the bar high.
As my skin has grown pale in the long, cold, dark, wet winter, your spirit lights my life with color. Without words, you remind me...
We’re in this moment now, Mama, let’s climb this boulder! Oh, OK, right.
I can walk along this water’s edge without falling in, trust me Mama! Yes, OK, I can.
I don’t want to go to förskola [preschool] today Mama. I want to be with you. But I need time to… Yes, I want to be with you too.
Titta! Har kommer spårvagn elva! [Look! Here comes tram 11!] Totally! Here it comes, yes!
Presence, trust, foundation, delight. You keep them warm in your fleece-lined pink mittens. They’re at your fingertips every second, every day.
Your soul is a golden gem of giving, and by choosing me as your mama, you made my life a land of fuller possibility, adventure and courage. While pregnant, I knew that if I was fortunate enough to birth a healthy child, I’d be birthing a miracle. But I didn’t know just what a masterpiece you’d be.
Thanks for your daily reminders, your daily teachings, and for setting the bar high so I could become a more confident, humble and radiant version of me.
Love beyond the seas,
as published in the Natural Parent magazine, New Zealand
Idealism can be a blessing and a curse. To be at peace we must surrender our ideals at times rather than clinging to high dreams. Yet the imagination is a gift, and if we are in love with the human spirit — as I am — we ask ourselves which elements of society best honor the human spirit, and which do not. In this article I will leave out criticisms of school, its original design, and how it fails young humans and our future. Those critiques are not the best use of my writing. Sharing what I believe does serve life, is.
What I will assert is that all children are naturally curious. All children are born ready to learn, and homeschooling is a brilliant way to honor a child’s inherent beauty and wholeness.
Once led by religious families who wanted God to be central in their education, the homeschooling movement is now comprised largely of families who simply want their children’s learning to be natural. Less forced, more free.
Consider 30-year-old Tiffany Smith, who was homeschooled from 4th-12th grade and completed all her degrees, Associates through Doctorate, online. “My mom paved the way for child-led learning for me. She let me choose what I wanted to learn. I graduated two years early, valedictorian out of a class of 600 in our homeschooling program, then went on to achieve awards and graduate with honors for every degree. I am very grateful for my mom’s faith in me.”
On average, two hours per day are required for a homeschooled child to learn the subject matter. In school, this is found to be the actual amount of time spent learning subjects.
How about socialization? The myth that homeschooled kids are largely under-socialized is amusing to me at this point. Homeschooled kids overall do not lack social skills in contrast to schooled kids. In my experience, homeschooled kids often possess unusual levels of maturity in social scenarios, including a noted ability to interact with adults.
My own self-directed learning journey began in college when I stepped into a professor’s office in tears about something disturbing I had learned in his class. He listened attentively, said I’m not an average student and that I might want to write my own major. We opened the Course Catalog, I chose courses that were highly appealing and spoke to my strongest curiosities, and two years later I graduated with a BA in Social Ecology and Personal Ethics.
No, those two years weren’t easy. Charting a homeschooling path for our own children isn’t easy, either.
Most parents who homeschool their kids find themselves asking, every so often, Was I crazy to do this!? Yet quickly they bounce back to being 100% convinced it is the richest and most joyful educational path, worth all the time and heart, courage and vision it entails.
As with any rich topic worth exploring, it’s wise to keep an open mind and trade defensiveness for curiosity.
Conversations about parenting and how we educate our children can lead to divisive degrees of blame and other negative emotions and communication dynamics. School teachers and parents who feel judged or threatened by the idea or practice of homeschooling are a prime example. Yet it is possible to find teachers and parents with open minds, who accept that we don’t all need to see or choose like each other. Chances are, you will find open minds when yours, too, is open. That said, don’t expect to find these conversations easy at every turn. This is not the easy path.
I don’t want to paint an excruciatingly rough picture, and I also don’t want to portray homeschool life as “eating Bon Bons on the sofa all day.” One defensive school teacher mom voiced this remark and I mention it as a reminder that those who choose to homeschool are in the courageous minority — fast growing, yet requiring maturity to face ignorant perspectives like this, and then move on.
Thank goodness we are well supported by our own primal instincts and maternal intuition, by studies, and by a blossoming number of well informed leaders and organizations.
Turning to other moms is my Step Numero Uno when facing a tough issue or decision. Half of the time, that’s all I need. Where I live in coastal Northern California, there’s an abundance of homeschooling and the well informed open-mindedness required to do it well. When a mama friend isn’t enough to solve my problem, I reach for movement leaders and organizations with deep wells of wisdom and resources to share.
Wild + Free began as a small community of Instagram’ing mamas on the U.S. east coast and grew a ton in recent years. At the heart of W+F is the desire to give children a quality education while preserving the wonder, freedom and adventure of childhood. Recent articles released by W+F include Shaping Souls that Break the Mold, The Lost Art of the Family Walk and Nature Journaling the Human Body. “For as long as humans have lived on this earth, children have been schooled at home. Still, we homeschooling mamas often feel like pioneers forging a new path for the next generation,” writes W+F founder Ainsley Arment.
Feel the spirit? Pioneering requires great courage, so having a supportive community is essential.
Self-Directed Learning advocate Blake Boles quit his college astrophysics program to design his own degree in alternative education. Blake leads teenagers on international self-directed learning trips through his company Unschool Adventures, and is the author of three books including The Art of Self-Directed Learning (2014) and College Without High School (2009). He also wrote one of the most compelling pieces I’ve ever read on education: What Does it Mean to be Educated?
Thirsty for a deep critique of school? Turn to one of the greatest minds in the homeschooling movement, former New York State and NYC Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto, who wrote Dumbing Us Down and The Underground History of American Education.
Speaking in London on The Purpose of Education in 2012, Noam Chomsky rolled out genius reflections that may be tough for some to swallow yet will thrill anyone who is open minded and interested in the brave pursuit of an authentic life for self and child.
School reformer, youth rights theory pioneer and former classroom teacher John Holt (1923-1985) published several books including the popular How Children Fail and How Children Learn.
Numerous groups are available online for homeschooling families. Laura Grace Weldon’s Free Range Learning Community is one of my favorites. For bedtime reading without the glare of blue light escorting your dream state, her book Free-Range Learning beautifully explores the meaning and importance of natural learning.
Unschooling is a form of homeschooling guided by the learner, where self-chosen activities and life experiences of the learner lead the way. The Alliance for Self-Directed Education created a fantastic short video for those curious about what self-directed education means and why it’s beneficial for learners.
Most of the homeschooling parents I know are far-out passionate about providing a rich educational life for their children, one rooted in the most natural way young humans learn — based on interest, with freedom to play, non-coercively.
Yet for many parents who want to homeschool, it just doesn’t work out. For many families, school is an easier path for one reason or another.
Lifestyle and income play a huge role. Often in homeschooling families, Papa works at a paid job full time and Mama leads the homeschooling journey (on top of her other unpaid jobs). But this recipe doesn’t work for everyone, and it doesn’t work for my family. As with any path worth walking, this one requires a willingness to explore possibilities and see what works for you. Buying less stuff? That helps. Spending more time with our children sometimes asks that we be willing to downsize, live minimally.
Parenting is the big work of life. We are all doing our best. A mother’s intuition is one of a child’s greatest allies. After all, as Laura Grace Weldon wrote, Mother and Child are Linked at a Cellular Level. Humanity will become more clear of this in time.
Be honest about what you want. Find community to lean on.
In the words of former Waldorf teacher and homeschooling mother of three Melanie Heysek-Macdonald, “Do what feels right for you. There is lots to consider, and there are so many options for what’s right out there.”
Sometimes life feels hard. And sure enough, sometimes circumstances are muddy, mucky and real rough. Especially with our closest relationships, things can be intensely challenging.
Sometimes though, we make our own lives more difficult — usually without realizing we’re doing it. Each of us has much more power to influence our lives than we accept.
The good news is that this is changing.
Every time one of us steps up to sharpen our communication skills, we bring more skillfulness and humility to our relationships. And every time that happens, the world becomes a place that is more loving, safe and kind.
Whenever I discover a simple tool that helps bring about this kind of world, I share it. Reflective Listening is a widely known skill in the world of interpersonal communication, coaching and couples therapy. It is exceptionally simple and I’ve detailed it below so you can practice. All humans would benefit from communication classes starting at a young age, with this exercise being practiced starting around age 10.
If you’re in a committed partnership with someone who’s open to learning new things and wants to see the relationship become more fulfilling over time — someone who’s willing to do their part and not just expect things to improve on their own — you are fortunate. Practice with them. I am extremely thankful my husband is willing to use these tools with me. Reflective Listening has been transformative for our our marriage.
Otherwise, ask a good friend or family member to practice with you. It doesn’t have to be deep or intense -- you can talk about ice cream or travel if you want.
For a short taste of what it’s like, you can take 10 minutes, five each, trading places halfway through. For a fuller experience that might be more rewarding, set aside a whole hour and each take 30 minutes. Or, you can have your turn today as Sharer, or Listener, and switch places tomorrow.
Benefits of Reflective Listening often include:
Ready for some of that sweetness?
Reflective Listening: The Basics
Try it, let me know how it goes for you, send me an email if you want to share what worked and what didn't. Be gentle with yourself. Even a simple exercise can be challenging, especially when it has the potential to bring about so many positive changes.
And if you find yourself all jazzed up about the power of Reflective Listening, share this link with a friend who’s struggling in relationship. Or if you have the spirit of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street running through your veins like I do, and being a good friend is enormously important to you in life, call a friend on the phone today and tell them you want to gift them 20 minutes of your time, as Listener in this exercise. Lead them through it.
It feels really, really good to have someone truly listen.
Of the hundreds of people I’ve met and had conversations with, there are probably 10 who I consider to be masterful listeners. To those people, thank you. I’m not there — yet. I am definitely on my way. To all of us who are heading that direction, kudos, it is good to be in your company!
As published by Findhorn Foundation, 28 Dec 2017
Dear Stevie Wonder,
Last night I sang Overjoyed to my four year old daughter at bedtime. Laying next to me in purple pajamas, her playful, overtired chatter immediately quieted upon hearing the first notes I hummed as my fingers snapped the tune. Surely she felt her mother’s soul explode wide open, rooted, in love with your song and how I feel when I sing it.
This morning, turning away from my inner nagging, an incessant push for productivity, I chose instead to take a walk with earphones on the old cobblestone streets of southern Sweden, playing the song as I walked. Volume turned up high, the brilliance you create with your sound became my world, and I sang, ‘Overjoyed… I’ve been building my castle of love…’ Cold droplets of rain landed on my nose, balancing the heat of your song in my chest.
Boots in rhythm on the old wet streets, I walked. And with the first word I sang in duet with you, it was as if my throat sent tears up to my eyes and all the world’s pressure dropped away.
A man passed me, smoking a cigarette, and the smoke didn’t bother me the way it usually does. My American English singing voice might have stood out to people I passed, and I didn’t care even though “standing out” isn’t exactly celebrated in Sweden.
I sang on. Just for two… though you never knew you were my reason… I mirrored the sound of your silky deep voice, lungs inhaling the fresh scent of rain, and I knew without a doubt that nothing else mattered. A castle of love? I will stand and I will stand out for that.
Something miraculous happens when I sing with you, Stevie. Down from my music-making mouth, something bigger than me peels my throat open and expands my rib cage, from the top down. Is it sound? Is it breath? Is it God? Suddenly the tightness I have felt about life on Earth at this time evaporates inside my open ribs.
Wildfires, melting icebergs, missiles and bombs. Robbery, guns, humanity in despair. While I sing, it all lifts itself up off my shoulders, as if to climb through the castle of love’s windows, then disintegrate.
Even as your voice raises up its volume, and I want to wail, I step off the sidewalk and quiet my voice to make space for a woman approaching with a baby, perhaps asleep, in a stroller. ‘And maybe too if you would believe, you too might be overjoyed… over love… o-o-o-over me.’
Two weeks ago on a city tram, I taught my daughter what it means to be blind. “Some people’s eyes don’t work the way yours do,” I told her. “They read with their hands, or with their hearts.” She touched the braille bumps on the tram’s red stop button, enchanted.
Clearly, you see with your heart. In this world of so much pull to move away from the heart and into fear’s enslavement, you have chosen to share your biggest gift – your enormous capacity to feel love – through sound, through song.
When I sing with you I feel free from everything that doesn’t really fit me. Free to sing from the landscape of the child inside my chest, free to further unfold in expressing my art, less captive inside all the rules of society. These are freedoms available to us all, always… yet often so seemingly out of reach.
Song returns us instantly.
I can’t help it. Sitting now, writing this letter to you, earphones plugged in to play that song again, my hands do the same thing they did as I walked this morning. They lift themselves up, like I’m standing hip to hip with a gospel choir. I barely make them move; it is as if I am totally filled with Spirit. And God knows, I am.
It is to God we sing every love song, isn’t it Stevie? Beneath it all, it is with God whom we fall in love. Singing with you and singing every other song I love indescribably, insecurity whisks away because I am singing a love song to God.
I don’t know what is happening inside my body when I sing with you, like this, but I don’t need to know. It is freedom. It is Home.
Overjoyed, over love, right beside you,
Are you a mother? Do you have a mother? Do you know a mother who is deeply in love with her children? Fannnnntastic! This is an invitation to participate in my first book.
Its title is Love, Mama: Letters from the Grave and it blends three great passions: Motherhood, Letters, and The Child -- beneath them, my one great passion, Love itself.
Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Love is the one epic universal value. Love is the moral behind all great stories, books and films. It has been my religion since childhood.
The purpose of this book is to unplug the massive waterfall of Love inside the heart of Motherhood, to unleash its power on this planet so that ALL of life may feel it.
This book is being created through me, yet little will be written by me. It is a book of letters written by mothers from all over the world, to our children -- from "the other side." Thus, "from the grave." Letter writing is a powerfully therapeutic art, as it can hold an exchange of enormous Love and connection between any two people exchanging letters.
Why "from the grave?"
If we want to live from Love while we're alive, it is very helpful to be acutely aware of the gift of life, and how fast it can end.
This book will be written from the place of awareness that knows these bodies are temporary homes for our eternal nature in Spirit.
A book of adoration, honesty and riveting beauty -- sometimes pleasant, sometimes not.
Mothers who participate will listen to an 8.5-minute visualization to guide you to the moment when you leave your body, peacefully, then "look" back at your child(ren) and pick up a pen. You will write without thinking. You will write with your heart. A letter that says whatever is true for you...
To participate, see the Instructions below. Submission DEADLINE is January 18, 2018.
I await your letter with wide open arms. Letter writing is my lifelong art, and I am thrilled to co-create this book with you.
|Guided Visualization for LOVE MAMA book by Jessica Rios|
|File Size:||4239 kb|
In my life I’ve had many, many experiences of choosing to “lean into light” — to recover from fear and pain to love and joy — yet this is the first time I’m actually facing this kind of dark.
Long seasons of cold, rain, wind and dark have been known to knock people off-center, and I am committed to utilizing all the tools I’ve got for self care, as the season rolls on. Buy a UV light? Maybe. Get outside, walk up stairs and hike up hills? Oh yes.
How would you make it — without too many grumpy days — through a long dark winter?
Letter writing has always been a therapeutic art for me, so I’ll write through the winter. Last week I wrote this letter for parents to use as they wish, since there is a growing number of parents who want their holidays to be less about presents, or “stuff” — and more about connection and quality time.
Whether you are a parent or not, chances are you want less stress and debt this holiday season. Consider this. How much more rewarding would it be to spend less time, money and attention on presents and more quality time with people you’ll miss indescribably when you die? Yep, when you leave your body. Because we all will, right?
In western cultures, we tend to avoid talking about our inevitable physical death. What purpose does this serve? If anything, I've seen people enjoy life more when they stop pretending to be immortal.
There’s no good reason to wait until we’re taking our last breaths. Ask the big questions now. Express your big feelings now. To your friends, to your mom or cousin or favorite co-workers…
What would you do if you knew you had two weeks to live?
What art is living inside of you, that you are denying and want to step-up?
What makes you feel alive, and are you doing that enough?
They'll feel your love.
From one perspective, living in a human body is rivetingly blissful and filled with pleasure. From another perspective, our bodies are limited and the real "light" is on the "other side," after we leave our bodies. Wherever you stand in the range of these beliefs, I will assert that we are here on this Earth to become really good at leaning into light. During long dark winters, or divorce or destructive wildfire, or adolescent growing pains or while we're looking for a new job that actually feels worth our time...
Asking the big questions and expressing the big feelings can help us feel alive.
This post is a letter (below) that I drafted in response to the growing number of parents who want their kids to have less stuff during the holidays. Yep: Less presents under the tree.
Why? Because we notice that it just doesn't feel good — kids often feel overwhelmed by all the presents, their attention scattered, and we all end up wondering in one way or another, where all the appreciation and togetherness went. We also wonder about what we're teaching our children through our holiday behaviors... about what life is really about, and also about our impact on Planet Earth, which is nothing less than our life support system. Hmmm...
Perhaps, dear fellow parents of children on Planet Earth, it's time for us to shift the focus a bit.
As with e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g I write or say, there is no one right way. Something that's "right" for my family may not be right for yours, and vice versa. Take what resonates with you and leave the rest.
Please feel free to cut and paste this letter and use it as you choose, with your name on it and edited for your family and vision, to support yourself during the holidays. Letter writing is my lifelong pleasure and it gives me GREAT joy to share it with you.
As Christmas approaches, I am being courageous and communicating about something important to me, even though it’s a bit awkward and out of my comfort zone. Being courageous in communicating about things that are important to her is what I’d want my daughter to do — so shouldn’t I model this courage myself?
In giving myself permission to communicate this with you and others who I care deeply about, I ask that you first and foremost keep in mind that: 1) I love you, 2) I value you and all the ways you are generous with our daughter, and 3) this is nothing personal about any one person, including you. It is simply an expression of our family values — something we genuinely believe in — and I trust that you will receive this in a spirit of curiosity, with an open mind and a warm heart.
Here’s what we’ve noticed.
Whenever our daughter receives a lot of presents, she feels overwhelmed. It’s like her nervous system is frayed, and she can’t seem to appreciate or focus on any one thing. It’s as if she would prefer quality time rather than a lot of presents. It’s as if she is — without words — asking us to “step up our game” and show her how meaningful life can be without material excess.
She is fortunate. We are fortunate. And we’re grateful. So grateful that, in fact, we want to extend our gratitude into a family challenge to focus our time and attention more on laughter, music, conversation, cooking together — rather than having a holiday that is swimming in stuff.
We want this for our daughter, so that her holiday memories are rooted in the sharing of love. Yes, presents are usually given with love. Yet — they can also easily overwhelm children, and there is a growing movement among parents who recognize this overwhelm and want to teach their children how to live with less stuff. And less debt.
We also want our daughter to know that this living planet we call home — Mother Earth — is our life support system, and that we honor her future on it. We want her to know that buying more stuff is not good for the planet we love — which is her home.
My wish for our daughter is that she receive one very special gift from her family at Christmas. When we sit around our tree on Christmas morning, we would like her to revel — with attentiveness, presence and joy — in one very special gift her family has come together to purchase for her. We want her to feel what it's like to thoroughly appreciate and enjoy one gift. The magic of presence.
Trust me, if you want to be part of this gift I will be sure she knows that you are, as is anyone else who contributes to make it happen.
This year, we’re still on the case 😉 investigating what one “big” thing she would like for Christmas. Maybe it’s ice skates or a sled, or a day in the snow with a friend. Maybe handmade doll clothes. If you would like to contribute, please let me know.
If there is something special that you want to give her, let’s do it at a time when we can be with you, outside the holiday rush perhaps over a peaceful dinner, spending quality time enjoying the gift of your generosity and the huge blessing of your love in our lives.
This morning I was in a fussy mood and I knew a hike somewhere green would uplift my spirits. So off we went to the Botanical Gardens, my little family, and hours later I’ve got a refreshed perspective on life and my body feels relaxed and content.
Being outdoors moving my body felt great physically, and it also gave me insight into one way I can support my daughter’s current developmental challenges: by giving her more opportunities to lead. After answering this powerful question, following its lead and getting outside a bit, I felt happier and more connected to my husband and our daughter.
And it all started with the question, "What does Love want from me right now?"
You know where this is going: What does Love want from YOU right now? Not tomorrow, not later on today or when you get a raise or have more time... right now. And remember, small steps can be big.
Those who are a good match, with shared values and vision, who are willing to do the work presented by the relationship, can end up in an extremely satisfying place with an expanded sense of what’s possible in life. Maybe you know a couple who has made it this far.
There’s no right or wrong — in my book — about whether you have or haven’t made it through huge bumps and reached the other side. It doesn't make you more worthy of love, just because you have done the work partnership has presented to you, and come to a place of discovering you are both “new” people with grown spiritual and emotional muscle.
Whether we do this or that, whether we show the face of fear or love more often, we are all equally worthy of love. Still, it is very impressive and worthy of applause when two people do reach the "other side" in relationship.
If you are someone who’s done the work of long term intimate partnership, I commend you. I applaud you. Please share your insights with others, however it feels natural for you. People all over the world are longing for more satisfying relationships, and sadly, many are not willing to ask for help.
One of the big dying myths of our time is the myth that we don’t need each other.
Why stand at the wedding altar and ask that all all our guests be witnesses and help us out when things get tough, if we aren’t willing to ask them for help when we need it?
Friends, cousins, peers, coaches, many people in our lives would be happy to offer wisdom or a listening ear when we face relationship challenges. I am outrageously fortunate to have worked with a masterful relationship coach for 13 years. There are countless mediocre coaches out there, yet there are great ones too and there is one who’s a match for every one of us. And in asking for help, from whoever you ask, there is deep sweetness awaiting your soul. That place within you that values yourself enough to feel worthy of support, is a very sweet place.
If you’ve got one really good friend, or a sister or father or neighbor who genuinely cares for you, ask for help, alright?
There is no need to struggle in relationship.
Let us not wait for hurricanes, wildfires and war to teach us that Love is the way. Giving it, receiving it, any way you look at it... Love is the light.
Yet for many people, there are big dreams, wild dreams, wanting to be lived and just waiting, waiting, for the light of day. For others, there is too much adventure and not enough stability. Yet others have a splendid balance that works just right for them!
Where are YOU in your life balance between adventure and stability -- right now?
Today I filmed a little video on the topic while taking a walk. Frozen lips and all... Enjoy!
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, Patreon Creator, freelance consultant and lifelong letter writer -- and eternally a fan of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. This deeply personal blog and our FREE recorded talks and workshops are devoted to one of her great passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.