The value of contributing

This week, my youngest daughter and I decided to finally renovate her bedroom. She had inherited furniture leftovers from the house throughout the years, and her room wasn’t very functional nor adapted to her taste and needs.

It has been a relatively long and enriching process, I think. First, we had to think of what we had to sell and which pieces of furniture we could keep but use slightly differently. She had to sort all her stuff in three piles: what she wanted to keep, what could be given away/sold, and rubbish. Only this was a good exercise for her. Things that could be given away/sold had to be sorted properly and cleaned for the next owner. She had to reflect about what she has and what she needs as opposed to what she wants. She has a small room, and I think it is important that she keeps things that make her room feel pleasant to be in, not stuff that take space and gather dust. We didn’t always agree on this one so it was also a good exercise for me to let her make her own choices for some of the thing she wanted to keep.

I dismantled her bed, advertised what could be sold further, and followed up with people contacting me to come and pick up furniture and toys. This was good for my daughter to see that we don’t only throw away what we don’t want/need, it can be useful for someone else. It was also good for our project because we ‘earned’ some money to buy the furniture she needed for her room.

Next was to clean the room thoroughly, walls included. Over the years, she had chosen not to listen to our request not to tape things on the wall, and the walls were in quite a bad state. After cleaning them, we painted them. I was very impressed by her perseverance. It took us a couple of days to finish painting, and although I could see she was tired, she didn’t give up. She experienced how, we needed to do the job with care and patience. Mask off the areas we weren’t painting, cover the floors, not spill painting around. Once we were done, she acknowledge the hard work it required and decided that it is a good idea to take care of the new painted walls and hang up things properly.

We looked at furniture online, and she was surprised by how fast we reached a significant amount of money if we bought everything new. So we started looking at second hand furniture ads, and we ended up buying some new and some second hand. When we were at the shop, she chose away some objects because she was concerned about the final amount. This made me feel very proud of our little project as I feel it also taught her that things cost money and therefore we need to take good care of them. It also made her reflect on what we can refrain from buying as it is not really necessary.

After a whole week of hard work from morning to evening, the room is ready. All she needs to do now is to empty the boxes we filled with the things she wanted to keep. She is dreading this task, and I will help her a bit, but I think it is good to for her to reevaluate if she really needs everything she put in those boxes.

This whole experience made me think how important it is that we include our children in everyday chores. Small chores and bigger chores. This not only teaches them the value of work, material objects and time, but also gives them the opportunity to feel useful, the pleasure to start and complete a project.

While we were working on my daughter’s room, a good friend of mine came to visit, and were discussing how, we often chose not to ask our children to help because 1) It takes more time and effort to teach them to do things 2) We feel ‘sorry’ for them because they should be allowed to enjoy their spare time. I think maybe we need to rethink this and find a good balance. I have observed some of my students struggling with motivation and self-esteem because they don’t find school interesting, they don’t have any particular hobbies, and at home they don’t do much other than stay on their electric devices. I believe that even if kids and teenagers find helping at home annoying to begin with, they end up with a good feeling about themselves knowing that they are useful and capable of contributing to their family environment. My kids have had the task to clean their bedrooms for some years now, but I think it is about time that they do a bit more on a daily/weekly basis and contribute to bigger projects.

We have of course, tried to get them to do the minimum like tidying up their things, clearing the table, emptying the dishwasher, etc. But I must confess that I often also do these small things because I don’t feel like nagging. I can find ways to reinforce without getting angry, but I will definitely reinforce.

I think this is good for society too. I am not sure if there is a connection here, but lately, wherever I see young people enjoying some free time, I see a mess left behind. Yesterday, I was very surprised to go into our local shop where there is a small area to sit down, to find empty soda boxes, chocolate wraps and pizza boxes spread all over the floor. This shop is close to a park that is quite popular on sunny summer days for young people to hang out. I see this more and more often. Rubbish left behind after a fun day outdoors. My theory is that youth are not used anymore to help around, to experience the consequences of what they do. We parents tidy up after them both material rubbish and challenges they might face. All this with good intentions. We want to protect them, we want them to enjoy life, we want them to be happy. But I think, we might have misunderstood a bit. I believe we feel happier when we feel we contribute in some way to our surroundings. When we know how to do things, when we feel useful.

I have decided I will give more responsibilities to our kids from now on. Especially the oldest one. He spends way too much time on the computer and his phone, and his explanation is that he has nothing else to do. I have lots of things he can do… 😀

Lost and found

I went for a hike in the forest with two colleagues the other day. Both of them grew up experiencing nature like we do in Norway, hiking, camping, sometimes walking in the mountains for days. At some point during our hike, one of them said that she finds it exciting to sometimes get lost in nature to then find the way back. She told a story from her childhood where she and her family were hiking somewhere in Mali and got lost. They had to walk in the dark back to the cabin they were staying at. My colleague’s mum had to focus on her white shoes to not stumble as she had bad sight. It was fun, she said. In Mali. A family of five, lost in the mountains.

Her story inspired me because I don’t think I would remember as fun getting lost in nature as a kid, maybe not even now as an adult. I can imagine me getting scared, worried and maybe even angry and blaming it on my husband, as I often do. My kids complaining and blaming it on both of us.

Maybe I’m exaggerating or maybe not, but I found this story inspiring because my colleague’s family chose to have an attitude of adventure and playfulness in a moment that I most probably would have perceived as annoying and even dangerous. It brought me back to a reflection that has been coming and going in the last few years about the power of staying calm in all situations. This ability to stay calm comes with being able to take a step back from a situation and see solutions, but I also think it has to do with faith.

Observing my mind and my actions, I have noticed that I have had a tendency to get overwhelmed and almost panic in situations where things don’t go as expected. I have been afraid of challenges, problems and conflicts with people. Partly because I dread the unpleasant moments, but partly because I am worried about my ability to deal with difficulty. I don’t really trust myself. So I often have chosen to stay in my comfort zone, or to escape from the discomfort often making things worse because I don’t necessarily physically run away, I try to escape by acting impulsively, out of fear turing the situation messier than it originally was.

Since I became aware of this, I have been trying to work with it. I am trying to calm my mind down in moments of stress, distress or emotional pain, and instead of reacting impulsively, I try to take a mental step back and observe. It is an interesting exercise, to learn to give myself the space to feel scared, hurt or annoyed but not feed into the emotion. Take a deep breath and see possibilities, see options, and act -or not- from a space of calmness. Stay with the feeling without fighting it.

Life is like that, it has its ups and its downs. We instinctively seek for the ups and dread the downs. That is our nature, but lately, I have been reflecting in the beauty of going through the downs with a calm mind too. Experiencing whatever life is offering with an attitude of faith in ourselves, the process and the teachings they bring. Get lost, and find myself again. I believe that when we find our way back, we often continue slightly changed, mostly for the better.

The truth is that we all are born with this immense strength, we can overcome anything because that is our instinct. The key is the mental attitude. The teachings we draw from each situation. The energy we spend on them. The way we take care of ourselves and others in the process.

I share here one of my favourite poems from David Wagoner that I feel talk about what I just wrote.

Lost by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Stop and smell the flowers, literaly.

During the Summer, there are many seagulls in Trondheim. They are everywhere, by the sea, by some lakes, and of course, in the city. When the chicks are very young, the adult seagulls can be quite aggressive and attack people walking close to where the chicks are. They can also be quite aggressive to get food. Last year, we saw a seagull snap a piece of bread from a man’s hand.

This causes a lot of irritation and today, I heard my son say “I hate seagulls”. I’m not trying to be a goody-two-shoes here, but I felt a knott in my heart when he said that. Yes, they can be aggressive during the early Summer, but if we reflect a bit, we can acknowledge that we have invaded their natural habitat, and we continue to do so. There is almost no place near the fjord without human activity, so what can they do? They have to adapt. They nest on rooftops, they eat from our waste, and now, they even snatch food out of people’s hands.

It is annoying when we have to run through the street or walk another way to get somewhere to avoid the chicks and their protective parents, but it is during a short period during the year, I think we owe them that for taking so much space.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the distance we have created between us and nature. I guess this is different from place to place, but I feel that most of us have very little knowledge of the fauna and flora that belong to the place where we live. This is a pity, because not only we miss out a lot, we also do a lot of harm that we wouldn’t do if we knew better.

I believe that people’s littering, animal abuse and harming of other living beings would stop if they were more in contact with nature. If they spent more time outdoors, observing, being curious and learning from it.

The more time I spend in nature, the more I gain respect for its processes and its natural cycles. I think that living in Norway and being so much in the forest and in nature in general has been good for me to be more mindful of what I do, what I consume and the attitude I have towards all living beings.

My kids are growing up, and the youngest and oldest are now starting to have alternative plans to our trips to the forest and by the fjord. Still, I try to push them to come at least once a week, and share with them my interest for birds, plants, trees, and mushrooms as I keep learning about and from the local nature. They sometimes roll their eyes, or want to continue walking, but I hope this will awake in them the respect for nature that I feel we all need in order to preserve what is left of it.

Whenever I go for a walk in nature, I try to remind myself to not wear headphones either. This allows me to be more present, to listen to what is going on. It creates less distance.

In addition, I can honestly say, that nothing brings more peace to my mind than a walk in the forest, a dip in the cold fjord or a skiing trip in the middle of the long, cold and dark winter. One of the most fun things I can do with my husband and sometimes my kids is to pick berries and make jam or pick mushrooms and make a delicious dinner. It makes us feel connected with our environment, and we swear that the food we make with what we pick from nature tastes much better than the one bought in the supermarked.

Litt mer personlig og muligens kontroversiell

Vanligvis skriver jeg på engelsk i bloggen min fordi jeg føler det når flere mennesker, og at det jeg skriver kan folk med forskjellige bakgrunn kjenne seg igjen i. Likevel, i dag, velger jeg å skrive på norsk fordi det jeg skriver om handler om Norge.

Jeg må starte med å skrive at jeg er takknemlig for mye dette landet har gitt meg og min familie, men det er alltid rom for forbedring.

For noen år siden tok jeg et kurs for å bli det som heter MOT-coach. Jeg ville tro at mange kjenner til MOT og den jobben de gjør for å ruste ungdom til å ta være på seg selv og andre rundt seg. Jeg husker veldig godt en historie de fortalte oss om jobben de ønsker å gjøre som jeg skal prøve å gjenfortelle her:

Det var en gang en mann som gikk en tur langs en elv. Mens han gikk opp en bakke, plutselig oppdaget han at et barn rant ned elva. Fort, tok han tak i barnet og klarte å redde ham. Mens han var i ferd med å sjekke om barnet hadde det bra, oppdaget han et barn til som rant ned elva. Han fikk også tak i ham, og da han fikk ham på land kom et til og enda et. Heldigvis, dukket det opp flere folk etterhvert, og alle satt i gang og prøvde å redde barna fra elva, men etterhvert ble det for mange. Plutselig kom en mann til, og i stedet for å hjelpe dem, løp han oppover bakken. Der oppdaget han at barna var i ferd med å krysse en bru, og brua var ødelagt slik at barna falt ned fra den og ut i elva. Sammen med noen av de som var litt lengre ned, reparerte de elva, slik at barna ikke lenger falt ned.

Denne historien blir fortalt i sammenheng med den jobben de ønsker å gjøre. De tenker preventivt. De stiller opp med redskap for ungdom og de som jobber for og med dem slik a de ikke ‘faller ned brua og ut i elva’.

De siste ukene, har jeg tenkt mye på denne historien i forbindelse med min datter som ble født med en diagnose, og noen elever jeg jobber med. Alle sammen har til felles at de sliter men etter systemets vurdering, ikke nok. Dattera mi har noe som heter Prader Willis Syndrom, og som mange andre diagnoser, blir folk rammet av det i ulike grad.

Man kunne si at hun er velfungerende tross diagnosen, fordi hun kan prate, hun kan ha en viss frihet, hun er ikke hjelpetrengende som folk som kan bli rammet hardere av samme diagnose, eller som har andre mer alvorlige diagnoser.

Heldig? Kanskje, kanskje ikke fordi hun faller mellom to stoler. I løpet av hennes korte liv (13 år), har hun blitt tilbudt ting hun ikke trenger (spesielle stoler, spesiell tastatur, ‘veiledning’ i kosthold som ikke passet henne, m.m.), og hun har manglet støtte i det hun egentlig trenger.

Hun er bevisst over de begrensingene diagnosen bringer som lærevansker, motoriske utfordringer, og det mest såre for henne, begrenset forståelse for sosiale koder. Det er fascinerende å se hvordan hun prøver, men hun får ikke det til. Det er tøft for henne, hun går rundt med mange spørsmål, mange frustrasjoner.

Det hun ønsker mest er å ha en god venn. Å høre til en vennegjeng. Det er det hun ikke har. Jeg mener ikke at systemet burde gi henne en venn, men jeg syns det burde være mer hjelp og støtte til folk som dattera mi. Til å begynne med, syns jeg det burde være mulig for henne å ha jevnlig samtaler med en psykolog eller en miljøterapeut som har erfaring med barn som henne. Ikke nødvendigvis med PWS da det er en sjelden diagnose, men med ungdom som etterhvert begynner å falle ut sosialt. Ansvaret blir stadig vekk dyttet bort til skolen, men det er godt kjent at skolene ikke alltid har kompetanse eller kapasitet til å ta seg av alle slike saker. Skolen gjør så godt de kan, men det er ikke nok.

Hun ble henvist til psykolog av fastlegen, men da hun ikke er deprimert eller har alvorlige psykiske lidelser, ble saken hennes avsluttet. Og det er der jeg tenker på historien om de barna i elva. Må vi, som foreldre, vente til at hun blir deprimert fordi hun føler seg utenfor, fordi hun går med mange spørsmål som hun ikke tørr å stille oss for å få hjelp? Må vår datter vente til hun ikke orker mer for å da få akutthjelp? Og hva blir da etterpå?

Man snakker om inkludering på skolen og i samfunnet, men de som har kompetanse og erfaring er for opptatt med å redde de som allerede er i elva, og det finnes ikke noe som kan hjelpe de som er på vei til brua. Da blir det opp til foreldrene. Dattera vår er tildels heldig fordi vi har det vi anser som en solid kjernefamilie, men det er bare mannen min, og søskenene hennes. Besteforeldre, onkler og tanter er ikke inn i bildet da de bor langt borte. Mannen min og jeg prøver å være alt for henne, men vi vet at vi ofte kommer for kort.

Det fines grupper for barn og ungdom med autisme, aktiviteter for barn og ungdom med tunge funksjonshemninger, men ingen tilbud for ungdom som vår datter. Det sosiale utenfor skolen er fraværende. Hvorfor fins det ikke et tilbud for barn med sosialevansker hvor de kan ha ulike aktiviteter, omgås og få veiledning i sosiale koder?

Og hva med aleneforeldre? Eller utenlandske foreldre som er etablert i Norge? Hvor mye hjelp får de for å redde barna deres før de faller fra brua?

Som lærer ser jeg forskjellige instanser kaste ballen seg imellom, og ofte tilbake til skolen. Ja, skolen har mye ansvar for ungene, men når vi først ber om hjelp, om støtte, så er det ikke ut av latskap eller grådighet, det er fordi vi ser at den jobben vi gjør kommer for kort. Likevel, ser vi ofte saker bli avsluttett for tidlig, søknader bli avslått, og uendelig ventelister for ungdom som faller mellom stoler. På den skolen jeg jobber i, har vi en helsesøster og en miljøterapeut som jobber på deltid. Begge to gjør så godt de kan for å støtte lærerne i arbeidet med slike ungdom, men det er ikke alltid nok.

Dattera mi har mye potensial, og hun har drømmer, akkurat som hennes søskenene, men jeg ofte får inntrykk at systemet ser hennes fremtid i en omsorgsbolig i ferd med å bygge puslespill og spise vafler. For ikke så lenge snakket jeg med en mor som har en datter med lignende utfordringer som vår. Hennes er litt yngre, men også velfungerende, med lærevansker og utfordringer når det gjelder det sosiale. Hun fortalte meg, at en gang, en av legene som er en del av opplegget til jenta, sa til henne: ‘du burde være lettet at hun har en diagnose, fremtiden hennes er sikret. Hun kommer til å bo i en omsorgsbolig og få uføretrygd.’ Jeg vet ikke hva intensjonen bak dette var, sikkert gode intensjoner, men det fikk hjertet til denne mammaen til å synke. For henne hørtes det ut som om dattera ikke ville ha noe valg. Det syns jeg er uretferdig. Hun og dattera mi, og alle som dem må få samme muligheter som alle andre, de må reddes før de når brua- eller noen må fikse brua.

Space beyond time

Generous gift
Is the silence
Deep inhalation
Full exhalation
A great space opens
To simply be
Outside of time

The horizon expands
An immense gratitude
Replaces the irritation
Created by the narrowness
From my tired mind

Be quiet
Breathe
And all that is
External to me
Gets smaller
Space beyond time