I’d like to start with some well-wishes: I’m sending gratitude and respect to all of my families with veterans, past and present, on this Veteran’s Day weekend. And to all of my families who celebrate Diwali, I wish you happiness and glory, prosperity and blessings…may your Diwali be filled with love and laughter.
In my house, we don’t celebrate Diwali, though I am enamored of the celebration which symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness and would love to know more about the holiday. And we don’t have any living Veterans to honor…we instead celebrate our cat-eversay…12 years ago this weekend we adopted our furry companions, KC and Meer…and though you’ll likely never catch a glimpse of them in one of my classes, they are here, listening to your children’s laughter and tears, from the security of my office chair or pillow.
And my pillow was the inspiration for this week’s RIE in Real Life.
I know that sounds a bit odd, but stick with me. You see, I’ve been working a lot of extra hours in the last couple of weeks*, and so it only makes sense that I’ve been coveting the hour I can finally rest my head each day.
I love my pillow…it’s quite squishy. In fact, it’s so squishy, I have to have a back up pillow (or 3…sorry, husband/you’re welcome, cats) piled up under the first pillow to get just the right level of support. And it was just as I was finally drifting off the other night that I started thinking about how everyone has different opinions on exactly how squishy and soft their pillow, or mattress, should be. We can all agree that we need some level of firmness, but we each have our own comfort levels.
And that leads me to boundaries! We all agree that boundaries are important, but some boundaries are squishy like my pillow, some are firm like the floor in a RIE playroom, and a lot are somewhere in between. Life wouldn’t be comfortable if pillows were too squishy or mattresses were too firm, and life isn’t comfortable for us when our boundaries are too firm or too soft. And as I’ve said before and will say again…when we start feeling uncomfortable in our relationship with children, say feeling resentful, it might be time to see if your boundaries are too squishy or too firm.
And here’s the thing we all, including (especially) children, feel more comfortable with boundaries, even when it seems like we don’t. For example:
One of my boundaries is that snack materials stay at the snack table…this includes the snack itself, as well as the glasses and pitchers, washcloths and bibs. Of course, as children are learning and internalizing these boundaries, there’s a lot of testing…a lot of walking away with said items, but children generally come back after a quick walkabout (and then quickly walk back away). I don’t want to start with a marble floor hard boundary, cutting children off with a single infraction…that wouldn’t feel safe. But neither do I want to be too squishy with my boundary here…I don’t want banana all over my toys and I want to keep my snack materials together. So, my boundary here is typically pillow soft at first, and then a little firmer and a little firmer as the testing continues.
A couple of weeks ago, one child tested the limit over and over and over again…slipping away after each bite of banana, until I kept my hand gently on his back (all the better to grasp his sweater should he make a break for it). That worked until I had a momentary lapse of attention and off he went. When he wandered back, though, I told him snack was definitely over. And you know what he did?
He smiled at me.
There were no protests or tears. He knew he’d been flirting with the limit and when I was sure that I was done, so was he.
Of course, it doesn’t always go like this. Also a few weeks ago (was there a full moon or something?), another young toddler began testing me around snack as well. But she was testing me by keeping my snack bib at the end of snack. That’s a new one for me…usually, children are more than happy to give their bibs back! But not this child! I asked. Her mother asked. I told her she could put it on the table or in my snack bag. No dice. I had the brilliant idea of giving her play bibs instead…yeah, she happily accepted the play bibs…and kept the snack one! I finally had to put my hand on the bib and wait for her to release it. Which she did…with BIG feelings. We repeated this every week for a couple of weeks in a row. And then…last week, at the beginning of snack she chose a bib…and then when the child next to her chose a bib, she chose another one, and another one. She ended up wearing 3 or 4 bibs to snack that day…and then she gave each of them back to me at the end of snack. And when she gave me the last one, she had the BIGGEST grin I’d ever seen on her face. She was so pleased. She knew what the boundary was and she was delighted. It happened again today (not the 3 bibs thing…just the delight and joy of knowing exactly how squishy firm my boundary was).
Boundaries are an important part of relationships…they are the space where you end and the other begins. And in every relationship there is learning and growth and change…firm pillows get softer, soft ones get bolstered up. And there are long stretches (or will be, I promise) where it feels just right. Enjoy it, but don’t be too disappointed when you start feeling uncomfortable…just readjust your pillow.
*The reason I’ve been working so much is that I was asked to come back to work for RIE directly. Yes, RIE itself is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that teaches the Educaring Approach…that’s the correct term for what you learn from me in my classes and in this newsletter. It’s a new/old job for me because I worked for RIE for many years before deciding that I wanted to do less telling people about RIE and more showing people how to live and breathe it. But don’t worry: I am only working in the office part time: I don’t ever want to stop teaching classes! I just need to work on getting a better balance between office life and RIE…in Real Life.