We are like a rock band now, making our way from city to city, partying hard, sleeping little, rousing crowds into wild fury.
Our scene could not be more wholesome. We assemble ourselves in front of a crowd of well-meaning, totally loving parents and educators and share with them our ideas about empathy, brain development, and getting along with kids. We talk about tantrums, and being late for soccer practice, and siblings hitting each other - all that stuff that makes or breaks a parent's day.
It's actually super fun and feels really really good. And we're coming your way!! Here are the latest tour dates:
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA
SANTA CRUZ, CA
scheduled for your convenience
scheduled for your convenience
PRICE: All public workshops are $30 or $40 per parenting pair. Sliding scale available upon request.
LENGTH: 2.5 hours including Q/A time.
DETAILS: For further information about any of the above workshops please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
BUT WHAT IS IT?
This workshop looks at the latest brain science to understand how emotional processing affects children. We dive into the “ins and outs” of empathy and how to use it effectively to help children manage emotional upheaval and move into their “upper brain” where faculties like reason, logic, critical thinking, self-awareness, cooperation, and eventually empathy itself become accessible. We also share strategies for creating a home or class environment that fosters children’s complete comfort in sharing and moving through feelings. Everything we want for our children, students, and families hinges on healthy emotional processing and the development of optimal neuro-emotional habits. This course will get you there!
WHO ARE WE?
Nathan M McTague and Natalie Christensen are the team behind Feeleez – a line of tools for emotional education. McTague and Christensen have worked for the last decade studying the emotional anatomy of children, sharing information with educators and parents, and consulting with organizations and families as they work to emotionally support children.
Yeah, you guessed it, there has been a lot going on around here. Fun going on. Lots and lots of serious melt my heart, best days ever, sigh with complete happiness, fun. Last night I walked with my three favorite families to frozen yogurt. My childhood neighborhood path, my dearest friends in the whole world, and EIGHT of our children. See what I mean? Nostalgia and warm breezes and sugar and family. Swoon.
*Bonus points for you Missoulians out there. See who our Missoula visitors are?
**Bonus points for you Santa Cruzans out there. Can you tell where we are?
So the title of this post might seem a little odd for the kind of goodness I described above but trust me, emotional dumping is good. It is something Echo brought to the forefront yesterday, although she's been practicing this for quite some time. The basic idea is that she runs to us to help her get her feelings out about something that upsets her, so that she can go back to learning and playing.
Yesterday she and Salome were playing a game together, following a map through the family compound and being spies or adventurers or something like that. Then they had a falling out and Echo ran home to cry. She was upset and walked me through the whole scenario from start to finish.
I particularly liked that she told me the facts but she also included the emotional landscape as well. She explained that Salome may have had some stored upset feelings from an earlier moment when Echo took, (perhaps a too long) break from the game to play with a visiting dog and that these stored feelings tumbled into the altercation making it bigger. She also guessed that Salome may have been having some embarrassment about her map not being exactly accurate and those feelings also may have been included in the actual argument. (Which, by the way, was about whether or not running was allowed in the game.) These observations may or may not be accurate, we didn't have Salome with us to ask about embarrassment or stored feelings, but I really liked it that Echo was acknowledging how previous feelings can augment current feelings.
Anyway, I just listened and held her close and offered empathy for her woes. Eventually she became interested in restarting an earlier lego game she had going but wasn't quite ready to move on. She said: "Mama, I want to play that Lego game again but I need to get these feelings out first so that I can have fun at it. Will you help me more?"
I would say that %99 of us would choose an activity in order to feel better. Echo was going to feel better first and then choose an action. "Helping" her meant touching her physically, giving her an empty envelope to dump her feelings into. She cried and moaned a bit and then she was done, completely free to enjoy her next activity to it's fullest.
The thing is, brain science totally supports this.
When our emotional system gets riled up our upper brains simply shut down. It's no fault of ours! When we feel mad, sad, even terribly excited, the part of our brains, the more complex, advanced part turns itself off in order to deal with the more pressing issue at hand. Our brains use our emotions as cues. Is it time to dive into complex algebra? Or is it time to run for our life? Emotions are the clue. Terror? Run for your life!!!!!!! Calm? Let's do this math.
Echo takes several opportunities each day to dump off her emotions. She finds a parent, holds on, and just lets out any hurts or worries or concerns. In this way her slate is wiped clean. In this way her upper brain is continuously turned back on. Her pathways are WIDE OPEN. She is constantly ready for new information, empathy for others, or complex thought because she doesn't have fuzzy, unweildy, distracting emotions literally blocking her.
I am super envious.
But I am also inspired! Emotions first, action next. When I get uptight or anxious (my most common stirred-up state) I think that I need to get the dishes done or mop the floor and then I'll feel better. I look to change my outside world in order to feel better. Well guess what? This is a faulty method. The outside world is ALWAYS untidy. It's ALWAYS unruly and ready to provide cause for greater anxiety anytime I want it to. So I imagine what it's like for Echo. She gets her emotions dialed down, and then she moves.
That is fucking freedom.
An emotional state that isn't dependent on the outside world morphing itself into something more comfortable. An independent emotional state. Good golly that's good.
p.s. Need to get some emotions out? Need an empty welcoming envelope to dump them into? The Empathy Hotline is your best bet. Join the group and get empathy from all over the world.
Just now, after dinner, my Dad popped his head in to hang out and give the girls a yo-yo.
While he was here Echo hit him up for some bedtime stories. He of course said yes and regaled the girls with yo-yo tricks while they brushed their teeth. He left with Echo on his shoulders and passed by the kitchen window while I was doing dishes. They stopped, both grinning hugely, and Echo blew kisses. My own reflection layered over theirs. My smiling face on top of Echo's face. My Dad's face layered beneath ours both. All of our faces. These loving, full of love, familiar and dear faces. Stacked up.
Last night our girl's had Grammie night. They ate dinner with my mom and Rupert, did crafts, and went silly. Echo bathed. They got into pjs and my mom read them Lassie. Then Rupert chauffered them home - all three savoring the ten-minute drive to soak each other up.
When they returned my Dad again happened to be over and Echo climbed right up into his lap for a full face rub. Xi snuggled close too.
Then Echo slipped into bed and Papa read her Harry Potter while massaging her back and I lay with Xi and we tandem read like teenagers.
For the sleep-shift Nathan and I switched and snuggled each girl til she dozed off.
I realized today that sequence provided our girls with THREE SOLID HOURS of tender touch and care by five different sets of hands.
There is so much love here.
It's a cold rainy day in Santa Cruz today. 46 degrees. The community is rejoicing that the blessed winter showers have finally come to this dry land after months and months and (too many) months of summer-like weather. Rain in the context of drought is a celebration. When I look on my Facebook feed I see the context in which I usually spend my winters. Missoula, Montana. It's -14 degrees there. Negative fourteen.
Context is everything.
46 degrees is downright BALMY in the context of winter in Montana and I am not trying to forget that.
We drove over 1500 miles, slowly shedding one context: snow, ice, real mountains, giant deer, small town, clear beautiful rivers, and bit by bit slipping into another context: sun, snails, ants, redwoods, oaks, eucalyptus, ocean. The same in terms of degrees of dearness and beauty, different in almost every other possible way.
I am an observer, a theorist, a gatherer, so I like to note the distinctions, not making a case for one thing over another but just noticing. Here's a couple:
Here Echo wears an old t-shirt of my Dad's for pjs. I too wore my grandpa's white t-shirt to bed when I was her age. In fact that may just be the reason, to this day, I prefer a clean white shirt over any other clothing option. Xi too has a grandpa shirt to wear and she actually slips into bed under the very same quilt I slept under as a kid. Okay, so maybe this example should go something like: Here I am awash in nostalgia.
In Missoula our girls play with figurines more than any other play item. Here they play with legos, building vehicles, especially vehicles that have prisons built into them, or well-protected moving homes for famous rock stars.
In Missoula the girls draw people. Here they've been painting still lifes. This is our farmer's market bouquet painted by Xi. Titled: Midnight Vase.
The next still life involves a harmonica, stuffed animal dog, and a hat.
Echo's rendition of a pomegranate, apple, and clementine, titled: Produce Place.
Here Henry is walked in the redwoods instead of riverside. We also found one flea on his head - something that never occurs in Montana because fleas don't like -14 temps either. Although one thing that doesn't change regardless of context: Henry's oddness. Last night while my dad, Nathan and I chatted in the kitchen we heard Henry whimper in the living room. When checked on he was found to be simply lying in his bed, not wanting or needing a single thing. We have never understood him fully.
If you tell Xi we're going hiking in Missoula she cries. But here, she zooms to put her shoes on. It may have something to do with the fact that the hikes here are basically like stepping into an actual fairy's actual home, but who knows because I'm not asking, I'm just cashing in!
It's been fun, the compare and contrast game. I like both places so much. I like my family and seeing them under different conditions, be it snow or sun. I like finding out who I am, how much of me is solid and not context dependent, and how much is pliable, vulnerable to the local trade-winds. My goal, my personal goal, is to have sturdy feet no matter what part of the country I stand in. My aim is to be so much myself, so powerfully authentic that context doesn't mean a thing. Sure I'll eat more citrus in February in California, and sure I'll eat huckleberries in summer in Montana, but the root of me will be anchored far below the topsoil.
One of the things we talk about in our workshop is that children, or anyone for that matter, can't hold on to an emotion if they receive empathy for that emotion. It's a strange thing really. Emotions, if allowed to be and supported, slip through our fingers like mist.
"Oh darn, you wanted oatmeal for breakfast instead of pancakes? Shoot. You're pretty bummed, huh."
Poof. There goes the bummed-ness. Or sometimes it's more like a slow creeping, but the feeling shifts.
"Well I'm sorry. I know you want oatmeal but we don't have any. Plus I made pancakes! Pancakes are so good! They are way better than oatmeal anyway. And also, remember I CAN'T give you oatmeal because we don't have any."
The above is NOT empathy. The above is factual information and an attempt to nudge someone away from having a feeling. What happens here is that the person feeling bummed DIGS IN and fights for their right to have the feeling. They resist moving on, they actually may even feel worse, like mad instead of bummed. And even if they do eat the pancakes and find them tasty, that oatmeal-bumming they were having is still in there, under the layers and available for popping up later during the next upset.
I have gotten a lot of empathy lately for my blissed-out feelings about having made my life-long dream of living part-time in Santa Cruz with my extended family come true. I've given myself empathy, I've received it from you dear readers, from Nathan, from my sister, and from friends. There has been some serious cheering going on!!!
At first my feeling bloomed and got more intense (have you noticed your children crying harder, momentarily, when you give them empathy?) and then... other feelings started to nudge in. I found myself saying Well, sure we made it to Santa Cruz, but ANYWAY, isn't there some things I need to WORRY about? Sure, sure it's awesome here, but okay back to BUSINESS. Silly me. Pretty quickly I took this all for granted, pushed past the empathy and began looking for ways to feel less happy. But wait! I don't want my blissed-out feelings to slip away!
What to do?
Pay closer attention of course, focus back on the things I love. Like giving a campfire a little breath to make it flare once more, I must shine my light back on the wonders. They are all there, right under my nose, still beautiful and sparkly and available. So that's where I am:
Remembering to not take things for granted. Remembering that happiness is a choice and one never has to look for anything else.
Echo has been drawing her dreams. This is her Dream Horse. Our upstairs attic homeschool/work zone is paneled with these very push-pin friendly walls and she hangs her dreams up each day.
The library! The other day while the girls were with my mom, Henry and I walked downtown to run errands. One of my stops was to procure a library card. Oh how I love libraries. I actually felt pretty emotional about it all and had to stop myself from gushing my appreciation at the librarian. I just felt so thankful that she was giving me access to all these books! I played it cool though and checked out Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. (LOVE IT.) But man oh man I felt like I had officially arrived in my new/old town - checking out a book makes you an actual citizen, for sure.
Here's what the dog park looks like. It overlooks the river AND ocean. All these folks are just lounging around like blossoms, sunlight, and warmth are normal in February. February!
One of my happinesses is being around people that have known me my whole life. They litter the town! Seriously the phrase "Safety Net" comes to mind when I think of how many people I know and love here. This is Echo just randomly poking her head out the window and happening upon my Dad's best friend. We have pictures of him holding me as an infant. Now he chats with my daughter.
Speaking of which... here's just such a delight. Meet Jeff. He's been part of our family since I was fourteen. There is hardly an image in my mind, from teenhood to adulthood, that doesn't include this incredible person. Camping, college, road-tripping, high-school parties, everything. When he isn't treating clients with acupuncture or tending his own children he works for my Dad and stepmom. On Wednesday Echo spent the entire day with him, adjusting stepping stones, painting a threshold, fixing a car door. The best.
Some afternoons my parents take the girls. My stepmom and my Dad took them to the tidepools, for a hike to a waterfall, to the library. My mom took them to her house for Barbies and coloring and "Potato Bar" for dinner. On these afternoons Nathan and I blunder about a bit. We aren't used to this childlessness one little bit. We catch up on work and run errands, and a couple times now we've gotten out into the sun for an adult hike! We talked about hallucinogens and our own personal makeups - topics not usually part of family time. We had our yellow dog with us and made our way through the various micro climates of Santa Cruz - redwoods, madrones, and live oaks. Aaah.
My sister purposely left a duffel bag of clothes here in Santa Cruz to wear when she comes. She has encouraged me to riffle through and wear as much as I like. Isn't that a nice older sister? So fun. I found this red dress. It's long and soft and lightweight and feels so good. This house has a kitchen that is fairly closed off from the rest of the house, so after dinner clean-up is a sort of alone-time for me. On this night I had the counter top lamp on and This American Life on the radio. It felt like the most charming version of playing house. Kind of dream-like. The lamplight, Ira Glass, the red floor. So delicious.
I'm holding here. Loving all of this. Keeping my eyes to the horizon for the next vignettes of delight. And the next. And the next. There is so much here for me - not just in this town, but in the "here" of it all. It feels good.
Garfield, the fat comic strip cat, hates Mondays. We, on the other hand, do not. Mondays around here mean that Great Gramma comes over. We make her lunch and live life at her feet. Four hours of Great Gramma time.
This is what I wanted. All those years in Montana I raised kids that my extended family only got to see for a scant couple weeks a year. All those years I craved this- regular life at the feet of my loved ones. Now it's here. We have three months to be a family hugged by greater family. We have days of our normal routine capped off by casual dinners with my mom, or my dad and stepmom. Afternoons where we accidentally bump into my uncle.
Accidentally bumping into family members!
I love my little family so much. I think our kids are cute and smart and funny. They are sweet and adoring. They are sleepy and crabby. They are perfectly themselves and now I get to share them with my larger family.
Last night after teeth brushing Xi ran next door and my Dad read her a bedtime story.
Oh my God. I feel like I did after labour. The details of the event, the sensations and the duration became a little fuzzy after I held my new baby girl treasure in my arms. The yellow sun shone on her teeny first-breaths face and I forgot all about the months it took to get to that moment.
This is a little like that. The yellow sun is shining on our faces now, sunny Santa Cruz sun. And if I don't try too hard to remember, it feels like we simply appeared here, in our new home, neighbors with my parents, smelling salty air. Nothing before this moment.
Of course a lot happened.
I have never summoned a tidal wave of cooperation like I did to get us to this place. Years and years of dreaming. Months and months of planning. Ages working with Xi's mom and teacher. Months of figuring out details. Months of brain time simply thinking about how a family actually goes about living in two places. Then weeks of looking for just the right renters - folks that would love our fat, attention loving Nimbus P Thundercat, folks that wouldn't shrink from the idea of seven chickens, folks that would be thrilled to live in the home we love so much. Then days and days of packing. Packing things to bring: Feeleez, shipping supplies, workshop necessities, Fairy Food, clothes, Henry, and barest essentials. And packing things to stash in our basement: precious dishes made by friends, boxes of "special things" from the girls' rooms, winter coats, sweaters, boots, and Stella the giraffe. Packing until the very last minute, thighs aching from actually running up and down the stairs.
Sometimes at night, starting years ago but again just last week, I'd think about the moment our car would pull away from the house and point it's nose westward. West toward my Dad, my mom, my Grandmas, my aunts, uncles, cousins, west toward redwoods, and seaweed, and eucalyptus, west toward yellow sun and nostalgia. I'd drift off to sleep imagining what that would feel like. Unbelievable.
Because it did happen. It actually happened.
Then we drove over 1500 miles. We actually had a great time. We drove to Bellingham to friends and a workshop. Then we drove to Portland to Em and Seth and Kenya and a fireplace and deliciousness. Then we drove here.
Our place. Next door to my Dad. Same town as almost every other member of my extended family.
It's just fucking awesome to tell you the truth. Within a day we had things fairly well set up, including making ourselves comfortable in an attic room that my Dad had set up with old familiar rugs, desks, and toys. Hello ideal homeschooling-work-from-home setting! We've got Feeleez headquarters settled and Nathan and I type away while answering questions from our schooling girls.
That first day my mom came by with fixins for lunch. Did you get that? My mom came by with lunch. I have never ever been able to say that sentence before in my entire adult life.
This morning Echo woke up and promptly lost her tooth. She scrambled to get pajamas on and dart across the driveway to show her grandpa. He made oatmeal, celebrated the tooth, and got out the pastic horses for Echo to dive into.
Oh how my heart is happy with these vignettes.
Can you feel it?
We're taking our groundbreaking workshop Building An Emotionally Safe Home on the road!
First stop: Bellingham, Washington January 18th at Wheels of Life Community School. You can go straight to the event page here. To register call Annie @ (360) 778-1759
What the heck is this workshop about??
This workshop is ten years in the making. Nathan and I have been studying brain science and the emotional development of children for years, applying it to our line of empathy-building tools, including it in our coaching work with families, and now summing it all up in a blow-your-mind workshop for parents, social workers, and teachers.
But what is it about??
Our workshop uses awesome visual aids and comprehensive handouts to explain how brain science plays a huge role in how children interact with their world. We look at how the emotional center of a child's brain is ESSENTIAL to greater brain growth, the ability to develop empathy, and the use of reason and logic. Brain growth is good! Empathy is great! Reason and logic, we want that too! In order for children to access the part of their brain that operates all this good stuff the emotional center of their brain needs to be at ease. This workshop covers just how to keep that emotional center feeling nice and relaxed, and in turn make caring for children easier, more enjoyable, and way more effective.
Wheels of Life Community School
2738 orleans street, Bellingham, Washington 98226
Jan. 18th, 10:30am
Portland Jan. 19th and 20th. Want us to come by your school/business/house for a workshop? Email me right away! email@example.com ** If we held it at my sister's house would you come? NE Portland.
Bay Area Jan. 21st - April 15th. We're scheduling workshops now so get yours lined up!
LIVE ONLINE WORKSHOP COMING UP!
We have set up an online workshop January 10th at 6pm (mountain time) for some friends in a very faraway part of the world, and we are opening it up to you and your friends/family as well! The workshop is 2.5 hours and includes a handout and Q/A session. We are charging $50 per household. Invite as many folks over to your house and join the workshop for that same low price.
We have offered this workshop to parents, social workers, and teachers with great success. We look at how to use empathy and brain science to build connection and simply make family life easier.
Want to join? Click the paypal button to the right and we'll send you a link!
Questions? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ooowee I am feeling good.
I am so thankful for:
What are you excited about???