Posted in Family

Stirring the Imagination

There is nothing so fascinating to me as a 3-year-old’s imagination. At any moment he can be an animal, a superhero, a car, a vacuum cleaner or a person he knows. (And if you call him by the wrong name, he will correct you.) He’s constantly doing something. Often something that involves sound effects.

I love this creativity and his extremely active imaginary life and I am always looking for ways to encourage this creativity and imaginative play. I think this is so important and I want to make sure that I don’t stifle it with my structured homeschool activities.

As a witch, I am especially eager to maintain my child’s imagination as it is so important in magical practice. It aids with divination and is invaluable when formulating a spell or writing a ceremony. But imagination is not only important for the spiritual side of life; it is huge from a more material standpoint as well. The most important aspect of imagination is that it gives us the ability to think through problems and predict possible outcomes. Indeed, I believe imagination is a necessary ingredient in logic. I am a big fan of logic. Imagination is the difference between innovation and the status quo. The future of our species and the health of our environment is going to depend on innovation. On imagination.

I indulged in a bit of research and experimentation to find out some of the best ways to encourage imagination in my children. Here are some things I’ve picked up that you might also find helpful

Leave Them Alone

The simplest and most basic thing we can do to encourage imagination in our children is quite possibly the most difficult to actually force ourselves to do. Just let them be. A child or group of children left to their own devices in the back yard (with a parent watching benevolently from a discrete distance. In my case, usually weeding.) will soon fill the yard with all manner of magical creatures, friends and objects. Imagination is natural, it has to be taught out of us.

My youngest son is enamored of a certain Redbud Tree who is apparently not only an engaging conversational companion, but also the control panel of a space ship (at least I think it’s a space ship), a patient who needs doctoring (the poor thing’s bark falls off at the slightest provocation) and a non-functioning robot in need of prodding with a “screwdriver” magically created from one of its dropped limbs (inevitably leading to the loss of more bark, alas.)

It is important as parents and educators to make sure there is time in our children’s busy schedules for unstructured, undirected, imaginative play. Just let them loose with some random stuff and see what happens. What sort of random stuff? Read on.

Play Silks aka Bits of Fabric

When I first read about Waldorf play silks, I was intrigued, but a little doubtful. I decided to make my own by picking up sheer fabric at the fabric store and serging the edges. However, before I made it to the fabric store, I bought a package of brightly colored cloth napkins for my dining room. My son has fallen in love with them. He uses them as napkins, but also for fun. Now he has play silks. Sort of. They are a bit smaller and he can’t see through them, but they work.

These napkins (aka play silks, er. play linens?) are doors for knocking on (to play Trick or Treat), bags for putting things into, superhero capes, hats, hair, blankets, and pillows for napping and putting toys down for naps and also just fun to swish around. I guess maybe play silks are for fancy kids. Mine’s not fancy. Though I would feel more comfortable if I knew he can see when they are on his head.

Wordless Story Books

Wordless storybooks is a new discovery on my part but they are a lot of fun. A book with only pictures, or even only colors, allows your child to make up her own story. My son enjoys looking through wordless books on long drives and he entertains me thoroughly by telling me the story. Of course, since he can’t read yet, the books could have words or not and it wouldn’t make a difference. However, when we look at a wordless book together, it sparks so much discussion, speculation — Imagination!

This same exercise can be done with any images, including Tarot cards. My son truly enjoys looking at my Tarot cards and talking about the images, often identifying them with people he knows. He calls The Lovers “The Dancers”. He also has some alphabet flashcards whose pictures he enjoys discussing.

Dolls and Puppets

Dolls and puppets allow a child to act out stories and scenarios and practice social interactions. They don’t have to be fancy. People and animal shapes cut out of card stock and stuck to a wooden craft stick make great puppets for acting out a favorite story and my son’s favorite “dolls” are ’70s era Little People that I rescued from my mom’s garage sale this past summer. They didn’t come in the varieties that they do now; they look kind of like clothespin people. No hands or feet, just heads and bodies with only three hair colors and two skin colors and two sizes, but they all get named and have amazing adventures.

Recycled Objects

As I type this, my son is playing with a box. I spent much of the day knocking on the box so that he could emerge, introduce himself, shake my hand and tell me it’s nice to meet me, pull the flaps shut and demand that I knock again. I am not sure what he’s doing now, but he no longer has any use for me. I have been informed very emphatically that it is not a spaceship.

Art Supplies

I don’t think I need to explain why art supplies foster creativity. But one thing that’s important is to allow some free expression. I have heard that some teachers are pretty strict about coloring in the lines. I feel this is unnecessary and possibly damaging. If you want your child to color in the lines, color with him. And color in the lines on your picture. Let him do what he wants with his and there’s no point in correcting him. He’ll decide eventually he wants to color in the lines, or not. I recently discovered Creative Galaxy. It’s an Amazon original show and it’s all about making art out of random stuff. I had no idea pompoms were so versatile. It gave me a lot of ideas about the sorts of things I should have on hand and the sort of projects we can do without a lot of planning. It’s a kid’s show that streams free if you have Prime and the first episode is free even if you don’t.

Something else we love is Kiwi Crate. They are a subscription service that sends a themed activity box every month. They have a range of age groups, so your kiddo gets age appropriate materials right up to some pretty advanced STEM activities for teens. It’s not just throwaway crafts either. My son has made some toys in his Kiwi crate that he still plays with all the time. It also comes with a story and activity book that my son truly enjoys.

Join in the Fun

flickr:9422529361

1Play with your kids! Just play with them. Let them lead the game and boss you around for once. It’s fun. It’s kind of relaxing. You don’t have to correct him, you don’t have to clean up after him (until later), all you have to do is play. She’ll tell you what to do and then you just go with it, improv style.

What sort of imaginary fun do your kids come up with?


Posted in Family

Breastfeeding Revisited

The last few years there has been somewhat of a local baby boom and I’ve found myself discussing breastfeeding with other people at great length. I breastfed both of my older children for the first few weeks and supplemented formula after I went back to work and school. I remember it being remarkably easy and, with the exception of a nasty case of mastitis the first time around, relatively painless. The only difficulties I recall even now involved leakage. My entire pregnancy with my son, I really looked forward to nursing him. When I daydreamed about spending time with my baby once he was born, that is what I daydreamed about.

But almost everyone I talked to did not succeed in their attempts to breastfeed exclusively. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who has recently had a baby that was breastfeeding after the fourth week. Almost all of them claimed they did not make enough milk and everyone made it sound so hard. This confused me, as I remembered leaking all over the place, pumping and dumping just to get through a shift. As far as my memory was concerned, I could have breastfed a small village and everything I read insists that supply is based on demand and has nothing to do with size.

Then my youngest son was born. Clearly I have forgotten quite a bit. The first two weeks were hell. I felt like he was always desperately hungry. If he wasn’t latched on, he was screaming as if he was starving. He nursed so often that I never experienced the engorgement of my milk “coming in” that I remembered from my older children and worried that it hadn’t and wouldn’t. I began to wonder if I had enough milk for this child. I even asked my husband to give him a bottle of formula on two occasions. He threw up the entire bottle both times and I had to nurse him anyway. My nipples cracked and bled. It seemed he never slept. I certainly never slept. I showed my husband how to hold the baby up to my breast while I dozed or I would have lost it completely.

Three things happened that set me straight, thank goodness. First, the baby started sleeping for more than an hour at a time, meaning I got to sleep more than an hour at a time, allowing my sanity to return a bit. My husband encouraged me to pump (I kept putting it off because my nipples were sore but finally got around to it once they healed up) so that he could take over some of the nighttime feedings and when I pumped I realized that I could get two ounces out of each breast in five minutes. I had all sorts of milk! Finally, I took my son for a checkup two weeks after he was born. He had gained 12 ounces! Obviously he was eating enough.

Now that my son is nearly a month old, we’ve established a decent nursing relationship. He feeds on a more regular schedule and I pump twice a day to give my husband a chance and to build up a freezer stockpile for emergencies. Once again I am pain free and I feel like I could feed a small village and, as I pack up his outgrown clothes, I feel like I am giving my son the best possible nutritional start.

I am so relieved that we got past that initial rough patch and were able to settle into a routine. Nursing my son is perhaps the best experience in the world. It is loving, bonding, sensual and spiritual. I feel him drawing life from me and I feel strengthened by it. I feel at One with him and with every other mother and child in the world; human and animal. There is no time that I feel closer to Goddess than in that moment and when I look into his bright, trusting eyes, I know he feels it too. Not only am I giving my son his best start physically and emotionally, but spiritually as well. That’s a wonderful feeling.

I now know how people can give up breastfeeding and how they can think they can’t or that they don’t have enough milk. I imagine that I had similar problems the first and second time around and simply don’t remember them (like so many other things) but somehow I overcame them and I’m really glad I did. I know that if you are having trouble nursing your baby that no amount of words can solve that problem, but if you stick with it for that first month, you might find it all falls into place like I did.

Posted in Devotions, Family

Breastfeeding Is Divine

Breastfeeding is a subject I’ve become extremely passionate about over the past few years. I never thought I would, but there it is. I’m even considering joining a local breastfeeding awareness group that I recently discovered. Breastfeeding has become a sort of spiritual thing to me. I think it has to be, because it’s hard. I think I’ve made it spiritual as a sort of self-defense.

flickr:382153782

 

Breastfeeding is a sacrifice we mothers make for our children. It is hard. It is very difficult for a career woman to breastfeed her child. At some point you realize that you’re spending all your free time hooked up to a pumping machine and you wonder if it’s worth it. The alternative is to stay home with your child and that means sacrifices in the area of finances. We chose a hybrid option. I train dogs an hour here and an hour there in between feedings and I write with the baby on my lap as often as not. It can be… annoying. I’ve developed a sort of thirst reflex too. Whenever he latches on I am suddenly parched. I am so thirsty so often, that I even went and had an A1c test done to make sure I’m not diabetic (it runs in the family). But all this isn’t enough to make me regret my decision to breastfeed my son- even as he enters his second year of life. I know it’s good for him physically, emotionally and spiritually because I know that Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of little children.

I am the stand-in for whatever Gods he will one day choose to give his life to. He is too young to learn about the Gods, except in stories and his attention span for those is still quite short. One day he will turn to a Goddess or God (or several) for the spiritual nourishment and comfort he gets at my breast and the guidance he gets from my hands. Everything he does now is to please me, or at least to get a reaction from me, and he is most content in my arms, but it will not always be that way. As he gets older I must guide him away from me, but for now he is still mine and I his. I am his Goddess, and he my world.

And so it is perhaps natural that I look to the Olympian Goddesses for someone to look up to, someone to be sort of my breastfeeding Patron, but I’m having a little trouble.

There are many Goddesses associated with caring for the young and breastfeeding in a somewhat loose or peripheral way. Artemis of Ephesus has many breasts to feed the land, her people, the animals. etc. I am not sure how she relates to the Greek Artemis who had no children but was related to childbirth. I believe the Greeks identified her as their Artemis because of her association with animals. But I cannot see Artemis as a Goddess of breastfeeding. I just can’t come to it.

Aphrodite had many children and there are many images available of Her nursing Erotes. I do have a close connection to Aphrodite and it may be that She is the One. However, that impulse is emotional and not based on anything I’ve read. I think that, regardless of what else I may discover and write during this exploration it will ultimately come back to her.

flickr:7099854539

 

Aphrodite’s breasts are probably mentioned more than those of any other of the Olympian Goddesses. Indeed, a glance at a search engine reveals that Aphrodite’s breasts are remembered today in modern commerce, serving as mascots for all sorts of products from bras, to breast augmentation services, to mastectomy products. Granted, none of these mentions, ancient or modern, have much relation to the nourishment of infants, but my experience with Aphrodite is that She is an extremely flexible and multifaceted Goddess and there’s no reason to assume her breasts don’t share these traits with the rest of Her.

The breasts of Aphrodite are usually mentioned in the context of sexuality and seduction. But what is the purpose of all that? Why, to make babies of course. And once the babies are here, the breasts are still there to handle the next phase of their development. Birds use their feathers to attract mates, and then use the same feathers to line the nests the babies will be born and raised in.

It is said that Hera came upon the abandoned infant Herakles and picked him up to nurse him (at Athene’s urging) but he sucked too hard and hurt her and as she pulled away the milk squirted into the sky to become the Milky Way. While the persecution of Hercules by Hera is well known, She is the one that set his course to Arete and Godhood. She is the one who adopted him into Her divine family after his death and give him Her daughter as his eternal wife.

Now I have always had a problem with Hera as Mother because of Her rejection of Hephaestus. But I understand that in an honor society, it is the sad duty of the mother to cast away the imperfect child. (This is something I am going to have to explore at greater length in another post.)

Tethys is the Goddess most specifically associated with nursing. Unfortunately I have zero experience with Tethys and indeed any of the Titans with the exception of Helios, Selene and Eos. Tethys is the wife of Okeanos, a Sea Goddess whose waters nourish the Earth. Her name comes from the Greek têthê, meaning “nurse” or “grandmother”.  She is the mother of rivers, streams and springs, nursing Her children from her “wet breasts”, underground aquifers. She is also known for nursing and fostering the infant Hera and is mentioned in Her Orphic Hymn as mother of Aphrodite. Tethys is definitely a Goddess I will be spending some more time exploring and getting to know.

So I guess all I’ve accomplished with this post is to establish the necessity of at least three follow-up posts.