Oh man we are on fire over here at Feeleez. Ideas just keep jumping out of our hearts.
For over five years now, basically from the very beginnings of Feeleez, we were getting pretty high on the idea of empathy. We dreamed of an Empathy Hotline, a phone line manned around the clock so that anyone anywhere could call up, lay out their situation and feelings and receive empathy. No advice, no preachy phrases, just pure empathy. Empathy, what everyone, everyone, everyone loves.
But manning a hotline. Holy cow, that seemed like a huge endeavour especially since everyone we knew had babies and was already up all night even without answering phone calls in the wee hours. So we sat on it. Actually one of the coolest lessons I've learned in building Feeleez is that ideas are great but only can come to life when everything is ripe; the idea, the ground, the folks that will nurture and feed that idea, all of those elements need to be in place and fertile.
Fast forward to yesterday when Nathan and I found ourselves as panelists on a worldwide empathy chat with Ashoka. We were like kids in a candy store talking "shop" with other folks that are as nerdily obsessed with empathy as we are. During that chat, as Nathan and I surreptitiously scratched notes to one another, the Empathy Hotline matured and was born again onto fertile ground. A website! Of course!
For now it is a private group on Facebook, until we can find and sort out a platform that is ideal. The idea is that you become a member and either post in order to receive empathy, or comment in order to offer empathy. Pure and simple.
But the scope! The possibilities! Imagine a space where you can describe a struggle or triumph and receive loving empathy from a grandfather in Australia. Imagine a space where a young mother in India finds relief and solace in empathy coming from you in Indianapolis.
Pitter Patter goes my heart.
For some it will take a little reminding as to what empathy truly is, and what it looks like on a social media site.
"Oh that happened to me once too.."
"Don't worry you'll get through this!"
"This too shall pass."
"You know, when that happened at our house, it really worked well when..."
"So what are you going to do about it?"
"Really? How's that for you?"
"Oh wow. This isn't what you wanted."
"How did that happen?"
"Are you bummed?"
"Wow! This is what you've been wanting!"
"I'd love to hear more!"
Doesn't it feel good already?
This weekend we are kicking things off with a grand opening called The Great Global Empathy-In. Join us, you are already a part of this whole thing.
The cool folks over at Wee Share are giving away a Feeleez game and poster. Follow the link and enter the drawing to win!
There is a grant contest happening right now, Chase bank is giving $250,000 each to twelve small businesses. In order to be in the running Feeleez has to collect 250 votes. Will you help us?
If you click on this: Mission Small Business, login using Facebook (I know a pain in the ass), click support, find FEELEEZ and click "vote", we have a fighting chance!
If you want to know how we will use the money email me and I will send you our business plan. The bottom line is that with $250K a lot more kids will have Feeleez to play with.
We have one of those yoga balls at our house. It's not as big as the one in this photo but its big enough for the girls to push it in front of them as they run, or sit on it and bounce, or launch themselves onto and off of it cowabunga style. They love the blue ball and when we have to be inside for months on end it's pretty awesome for them to have something like it to get out their physical energy. My sister and I had a similar ball at gramma's house when we were younger. It was a giant beach ball that we could use to transport ourselves from room to room in her single story house by laying on top of the huge thing and pushing along the walls. We loved our big ball too.
But as the parent? Sometimes I think I hate the blue ball. That sucker is at the epicenter of soooooo many fights. At night as a self-preservation method I hide it in the guest bedroom or deep in the girls' closet. But they're on to me now and when they get that blue ball hankering they go to the guest room to get the blue ball out of what I guess has become it's official storage spot. This morning, before the sun was up and with the clock counting down to the time we had to bundle up and get Xi to school- that period of maternal high-stress greater than that found in any board room in the country I'm sure, Echo grabbed the blue ball.
I was like uh-uh.
If you read this blog you know I am empathy's biggest fan and use it as my main parenting technique. I crouch down, I discover underlying feelings and needs, I summon patience and wait. But all of that only works because Nathan and I have also established ourselves as captains of this family team. And sometimes, as captains and "the ones officially in charge" the answer to blue ball requests at 745am is hell-fucking-no. I didn't say it that way of course, although I would under certain circumstances, I instead explained that I didn't want the blue ball in the mix before school because I wanted them to focus on eating breakfast since we only had a little time before departing. But it wasn't a discussion, it was just how things were gonna be. Then Xi came downstairs and without any hesitation went straight into the guest room for the blue ball and I had to repeat myself.
Then after breakfast, with thirty seconds left on the before-school clock they went for the ball again and I added that breakfast priorities weren't the only reason blue ball was blacklisted, but that I also (maybe mostly) didn't want to take the time for fights and discussions at that juncture. Back into the guest room it went (guess I'll have to find a new hiding spot).
Writing this I remember when our house was smaller, one and a half bedrooms, with awkward doors opening into doors etc. Then there weren't any hiding places as the little house didn't even have a closet, so I wedged the blue ball next to the office/computer/art/homework table. But if it wasn't wedged that sucker would somehow follow a person around. I don't know if it was gravity or electric charge but it was darn creepy to see it inching along after you. It was always there. Boy, this blue ball and I have a history.
Anyway, blue ball winds up emerging from the guest room when I cook dinner. There is a silent bell that tolls that only my children hear and it means it's time for them to get really irritable, physical, and loud. The soundtrack to dinner prep.
Now one way of handling this time period is to tell a different mental story than that last paragraph. oops. I do that whenever I can, but if I haven't and the irritation rises and the girls come to me with blue ball disputes this is how I handle it.
1. I panic. I forget that I don't have to have an answer and panic as they approach because I don't know who should have a turn or who had the last turn or who was having a turn but only took a break etc.
2. I remember. I remember that I can listen and empathize and things will sort themselves out.
They approach and say "Mama will you help us?" and I say "Yes" but I don't do or say anything else. Then they loiter and fiddle and start telling me "what happened". Now this part actually isn't important in the end. The point is that they both want the blue ball and neither is happy with how things are going. But I never rush them through this part as it seems to be cathartic for them. I nod my head and say: "Oh yeah, totally!" and paraphrase: "Right you were just taking a break, you weren't finished with your turn. I get it.", making sure to do that with both girls so that the message is no one is "wrong", we're just listening to one another's experience.
3. I summarize. I say some encapsulating thing like: "Okay. So it sounds like you both are really enjoying the blue ball and you both want a turn huh?" They say yes and then they ask me what we should do and I throw it right back and say "yeah, what do we do guys?"
4. The poster. If there isn't any movement toward ideas or resolution at this point I, or one of the girls, will suggest the Feeleez poster. We trundle over and I stand there while each girl points to some characters that describe their feelings. I say "uh huh" a lot. And I just stand there as a witness. They just stand there for a while too.
5. I wait.
6. Poster round two. Often at this point, just seeing one another's feelings in plain view shifts the dynamic so much that one will jump up and down with a good idea, one that I would never have thought feasible, and they race off, back into the game. If this doesn't immediately happen I might ask a question like: "How would you guys rather be feeling?" and they point all over again.
7. Wait, witness, nod. I repeat my part, which really is so minimal that every time I think surely this won't work. And then it does. It does. AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN. They decide to scrap the game entirely, or one decides to give the other the turn, or the other has a brilliant new game idea, and they run off as friends again. There is something about the neutrality of the process and the chance to step into each other's shoes that dissolves the wall of antagonism.
8. I go back to making dinner.
It isn't rocket science. It isn't even particularly involved. And let's be honest, if it wasn't the blue ball it would be the magnetic paper doll's sparkly crown, or the yellow beluga. Thank goodness I don't have to know the answers. Just nod, empathize, rinse and repeat.
I think I mentioned that I made a whole lot of fairy food over the last couple of months. I made so much that in between the first holiday fair and the next holiday fair I could relax since I didn't have to hustle to replenish my inventory. That meant when nine pm rolled around I was at Nathan's side watching the latest installment of our science documentary without a single bit of clay in my hands. Coincidentally I was also snoozing in Nathan's lap by ten thirty, the last several weeks catching up with me while the lack of creative stimulation sucker punched me. But it felt good! What an accomplishment, I tell ya.
And it also felt strange. By the second post-holiday-fair night I had the clay out again. I made this:
Nathan looked at me with genuine concern for my sanity.
Withdrawal does make one crazy, but isn't it cute???
I have all of these little baskets, and clay, and well... TIME (at least comparatively speaking) and doing nothing just feels way too foreign. So I made these guys, fairy babies of sorts, that I know are going to fly off the holiday fair shelves into the hands of little girls that don't think they are weird at all. I made brown ones too. And little flannel blankies that fasten with velcro. And they each have their own basket for naps.
You should see their tiny, plump little bums. It's almost too much.
And that's how I'm handling my transition from the fairy food world to the real. Along with grandparent visits that just keep on rollin' (bye Granpop and hello Grammie!), dog walks in snow so white it looks fake, stacks and stacks of Feeleez packages, and of course the thrice weekly recess duty.
In fact, I have been so much in my own world lately that with the close of the e-course ( a resounding success!) my brain just kept right on trekking and before I knew it I was jotting down the framework for Parenting Teaching With Empathy in the classroom. Holy moly the possibilities are so exciting. So exciting that, because of my own little world bubble I mentioned, somehow without any preparation or prelude, between shoving little elementary bums on the swing, I blurted out to the director of Xi's school that I'd like to give a presentation on applying parenting with empathy principles to the classroom.
I said this off-hand and matter of factly and without an ounce of awareness of how presumptuous or critical that notion might sound to the director of a school, a woman who has been working with children for decades. Oops.
But she's interested.
I am giddy with the thought of school children receiving little doses of empathy throughout the day. I imagine their little hearts swelling and settling with satisfaction and contentment. They still will have to hold hands in line, clear their work space, and all the other little "shoulds" of the school day, but when they melt down or resist or drag their little feet? They might just be met by an empathetic adult and what a difference that will be, not only for them but for the teachers and co-students and parents and well, the rest of the world too.
From the micro to the macro, that's how my days have been going lately. Little inch long babies accompanied by continent-wide thoughts and ideas. If I were to map it out, how parenting and miniature pretend food intertwine to make e-courses, parenting theory, and emotional educational revolution make sense, I couldn't. But somehow it does.
I am "trusting the process of my life", as a wise woman once advised, and who knows where it will go.
ps. There is a fair bit of web buzz about this post lately. Want to weigh in?