I recently read Alfie Kohn’s book Unconditial Parenting. This is one of those books that I wish every parent would read. But I suspect that many would not even take this book seriously. Unfortunately those are the parents who would need this book’s advice the most.

It’s not a book that gives you practical tips to make your everyday life easier. In fact, after reading this book, your everyday parenting will probably become harder – because the book will make you think about parenting in a different way.

Instead of summarizing the book in my own words, I will let it speak for itself, by quoting the paragraphs that made the strongest impression on me.

This book looks at one such distinction [between different types of parental love] – namely, between loving kids for what they do and loving them for who they are. The first sort of love is conditional, which means children must earn it by acting in ways we deem appropriate, or by performing up to our standards. The second sort of love is unconditional: It doesn’t hinge on how they act, whether they’re successful or well behaved or anything else.
(p. 10)

In our society, we are taught that good things must always be earned, never given away. Indeed, many people become infuriated at the possibility that this precept has been violated. Notice, for example, the hostility many people feel toward welfare and those who rely on it.
[…]
Ultimately, conditional parenting reflects a tendency to see almost any human interaction, even among family members, as a kind of economic transaction.
(p. 17)

The way many kids are treated suggests a lack of respect for their needs and preferences – in fact, a lack of respect for children, period. A lot of parents act as though they believe that kids don’t deserve respect in the way adults do. Many years ago, the psychologist Haim Ginott invited us to consider the way we might react if our child accidentally left behind some item that belonged to him or her – and then to contrast that with the way we might react if a chronically forgetful friend of ours did the same thing. Few of us would think of berating another adult in the tone that is routinely used with kids: “What is the matter with you? How many times do I have to remind you to look around for all your things before you leave? Do you think I have nothing better to do than…” and so on. With an adult, we’d be more likely to say, simply, “Here’s your umbrella.”
(p. 49)

A fair amount of research suggests that people’s basic parenting styles “are already in place before they gain direct experience with their own offspring.” These styles are deeply rooted in experiences they had long ago.

A man left a message on my website recently that read, in part, “I watch, as if a spectator at a train wreck, as my friends use the same parental behaviors that wounded them when they were little. It is not a pretty sight.” Nor, I would add, is it a simple matter to determine why this happens. The folks he’s talking about presumably didn’t sit down and consciously decide to make their own kids as unhappy as they were.
(p. 106)

If you haven’t experienced emphatic parenting, it’s hard for you to become such a parent yourself. The same might be said of unconditional love: If you didn’t get it, you don’t have it to give. People who were accepted only conditinoally as children may come to accept others (including their own kids) in the same way.
(p. 107)

Some parents live in terror of what other people – not only their friends and relatives, but the nameless and omnipresent judge known as “they” – will think of their children, and thus of their own parenting skills. […] Even relatively secure parents are sometimes made uncomfortable by the possibility that someone somewhere might be thinking, “Boy, that mother doesn’t know what she’s doing. I mean, just look at her kids!” Consider how much of what we do with our children is driven by worries about how we’ll be perceived by other adults.
(p. 111)

These excerpts represent the foundations of the book, and the parts that resonated most with me. But there are also more concrete principles and recommendations. This is a book to return to again and again. It is full of immensely important insights. It is also very readable and “just right”: neither too long nor too short, neither too academic in tone nor too breezy. I wish every adult would read this.

Amazon UK, Amazon US, Adlibris

At this point I am second-guessing just about everything in all the photos I take, but something is better than nothing, and this is better than what I’ve managed before.

Finally, finally a spring weekend!

We brought up the garden furniture from the basement, and the outdoor drying rack, and the Crocs and the water guns. Eric inaugurated the drying rack; the kids had fun with the water guns; I had fun spreading manure in the hedges.

I was out all afternoon – no hat, no warm coat!

Tomorrow I’m packing away the woolly hats and snow suits and winter boots.

Fundamentally, Adrian is a happy and sweet child. He is co-operative, considerate and kind: he is usually happy to please others and do as he is asked, and he takes care to be nice to others.

When when we get home and I ask him to put his mittens and boots away, he happily complies. When he comes up with some sort of mischief – such as playing with flour or potato starch while I’m cooking, or throwing all my clothes on the floor, or dipping his hand in the drink in his glass – he asks first. And when I say no, he listens. The fact that I try to say yes as often as possible probably matters, too: he would be less inclined to cooperate if he always got a no.

But this month a new streak of anger and frustration has appeared. When he is denied something that he really wants, or when things don’t go his way, he gets very angry, and he is very aware of his anger.

Sometimes he simply tells us: Jag är jättearg!, “I am very angry!” Or he can tell me, Du får inte prata med mig!, “You mustn’t talk to me!” which really means “I don’t want to hear what you are saying”.

Other times he scolds the thing he blames for his woes. Dumma golvet! (“stupid floor”) when he hits his toe against the floor, dumma lappen! (“stupid cloth”) when he is angry about having his bottom wiped, dumma springa! (“stupid run”) when he runs and falls, and dumma mamma when I won’t let him eat raisins for dinner.

But he can also just shriek to express his anger – with controlled, calculated shrieks, not mindless rage.

One thing that he regularly gets angry about is ownership. He wants to own things, and he likes to tell me how this thing is his, and his only, and not Hanna’s, and how Darin cannot have it. (Hanna and Darin are two of his friends at nursery.) Unfortunately he doesn’t own very many things, and often wants to own things that aren’t really his. He doesn’t want Ingrid to take bread from the same bag as he does, nor to share the water bottle with her. He gets very upset if someone sits on his chair. But he also gets upset if I sit on what in his mind is Eric’s chair.

At the same time he isn’t really very interested in the few things that he does own. The Pippi doll lies forgotten in a corner; the stuffed doll named Johan remains at nursery.

The one exception is clothes. He is fond of many of his clothes, especially the ones with pictures – the Pippi and Bamse t-shirts, the crocodile pyjamas and the one with Winnie the Pooh, the monster socks. But he also loves his jersey hat and his rubber boots.

Pyjamas are his favourite clothes, and he regularly wears pyjamas to nursery. I guess they are soft and comfortably loose. For several days his favourite was a shimmery pink skirt (that I made for Ingrid a long time ago). I called it his disco skirt because he liked to put on while dancing.

He has also tried out Ingrid’s nail polish – blue on the right hand, red on the left – and that was fun. He showed off his nails to everyone we met. But when Ingrid chose glittery black, and he of course had to have the same, he regretted it immediately: black is definitely not his favourite colour.

He thinks that things become his when he has used them for a while. He plays a bit with a ball, then leaves it to do something else, but gets angry if Ingrid then takes the ball. It’s like he’s anxious to own everything.

The same goes for activities. He doesn’t want to miss out on anything. This is especially noticeable when he is with other kids, either with Ingrid at home, or with the other children at nursery. As soon as someone does something that looks interesting, he needs to be there, but at the same time he doesn’t want to let go of what he was doing before. It’s a constant race for him to try and keep up with everything that the others are doing. He is so much more relaxed when it’s just him and me at home, without Ingrid.

Adrian loves being with Ingrid, but he doesn’t really play with the other kids yet. He understands pretending, but it’s a self-conscious thing for him, an act. “Look, I’m a ghost!” or “look, an elephant”, but it doesn’t turn into play. He still prefers adult company to that of other kids, and often seeks out an adult, both at home and at nursery. Mostly he then wants to read or to sing.

He hates having his hair brushed (det gör jätteont!) and having his dirty nappy changed. Brushing teeth is usually more or less OK, and wiping his nose too.

He enjoys chasing and being chased, especially when it is time to brush his teeth or change his nappy.

He plays with the first letters of words. It began with a friend at nursery calling him Adrian-Padrian. First he didn’t like that at all. Jag är inte Adrian-Padrian! But when we made it a game and called Ingrid Ingrid-Pingrid, and Ingrid joined in and said emme-pemme, he was on board. Now it’s Ingrid-Pingrid and Adrian-Padrian and pappa-lappa and emme-pemme and lappen-pappen and all kinds of things.

He has learned to count to two, and understands when things are two. He counts “one, two”, and holds up two fingers: “I have this many meatballs”. But with larger numbers it’s all wild random guesses.

I’ve been spending more time and effort on photography recently, and would now say it’s one of my main hobbies. (Along with blogging, textile crafts, and gardening.) In general I’m making an effort to balance all the “must do’s” in my life with more fun and creative activities. All work and no play makes Helen a cranky mum.

A couple of weeks ago I upgraded my camera, from a Nikon D40x to a D3200. The new one does video (which I haven’t had a chance to try out yet) and has 11 autofocus points instead of 3, plus various other nice features.

Along with the new hardware I also decided that it was time to learn new things. Previously I mostly used shutter priority or aperture priority modes; now I’ve switched to manual mode most of the time. I also switched from shutter button focusing to back-button focusing, and from auto white balance to the preset modes. (I don’t quite feel up to managing fully manual white balance yet.)

Using manual mode has been working out much better than I expected. I don’t always nail the exposure but the results are at least no worse than before. And the photos turn out more predictable and consistent: previously every photo in a batch would use slightly different settings, because the camera decide to slightly tweak some setting or other, but now they’re all the same, which makes post-processing faster.

Manual mode requires more thinking and effort, which is both good and bad. Every photo takes more time, so I miss some shots because I’m too slow. But it requires me to pay more attention to what I’m doing, and makes the whole thing more interesting. Just enough of a challenge.

The more I practice, the less I like what I achieve, and the more I see how much there is for me to learn. But whenever I feel discouraged, like I’m not getting anywhere, I scroll down to my photos from a year ago and look at how much I’ve learned since then. Look at those chopped limbs! Look at the weird framing! Look at the missed lighting opportunity – why didn’t I take that picture from the other side!

One particular project that I want to tackle is self-portraits. I’m the only one who regularly takes photos in our family, which means that I have lots of photos of the kids (whom I see most), some of Eric (who is at home less) and almost none of myself. Twenty years from now the kids will be able to see what they looked like, but not what I looked like. It’s like I was missing from the family.

It turns out that you really need a tripod for effective self-portraits. I’ve tried to make do without, but it’s hard, and really limits the angles I can use. (For the photo below, for example, I would normally not have faced the direction I’m facing, but the only support I found for my camera was a pile of books on my desk.) So now I’m thinking of buying a tripod. And perhaps some more prime lenses, too… The purchase of one piece of gear triggers a cascade of others.

I’ve also realized that our style of interior decoration – with colour and patterned wallpapers – and the general clutter we have everywhere is not helpful for getting good photos. The colours and wallpapers will stay, because I value this warm, colourful atmosphere more than I value having convenient backdrops for photography. But the clutter I can do something about. Case in point: these cupboards really need doors.

This month, after a long time of increasing frustration (on my part) and increasing obsession (on Ingrid’s part), I started an iPad fast. For just over a week, the iPads have been hidden and out of reach of the kids. Movie time is strictly limited, too, but movies haven’t been a problem in the same way as the iPads have.

YouTube was really the worst. It was just like having a TV in the house: mindlessly skipping from one channel to another, always finding something that is better than nothing, watching whatever happened to be on. And then at about 8 o’clock when iPad time ended, she realized she wanted to play a game, or to for me to read a book for her – except that by then it was too late. So effectively the iPad got the priority slot, and all other activities got whatever dribs and drabs were left over.

Ingrid’s first reaction was as expected, with both tears and whining. But then she adjusted, and now I don’t think she’s even mentioned it for several days.

I was aiming for an iPad-free week, but now I won’t reintroduce it unless the kids ask for it. And when that happens, it will be without YouTube.

Ingrid reads as much as ever. She still likes best the books that she can read from beginning to end in one sitting, and isn’t that fond of chapter books. She likes the feeling of completion, of achievement, I think: when she is reading a longer book, she often comes to me and proudly reports “look how far I’ve read already!”

When I read for her, she listens very attentively. Often she comments on the contents, and especially when she notices parallels to other things we’ve read or seen or experienced. She also asks about words she doesn’t understand.

Bedtime stories are an important part of our daily routine. After she’s brushed her teeth and gotten into her nightie, she gets into a bed, and I tell a story.

At first I used to read a story for her. Then we got to a point where Ingrid and Adrian would go to bed at the same time, and reading no longer worked: Adrian wouldn’t stay still if there was any light in the room, and nobody would get any closer to sleep. So then I’d retell old fairy tales instead. But I ran out of stories after a while, and started making them up.

Now we do that every night. Ingrid gets to pick a starting point, the thing she wants a story about. Often she wants an animal: a story about a cat, or a horse, or a dog and a wolf. And if her chosen starting point is not enough to get my imagination going, I ask for more starter ideas. So we’ve had stories about “a horse who gets stolen”, a “scary story about a dragon”, about a detective, “two squirrels who fall in love” (after watching Ice Age), “a ball who is alive and can talk, and all the other toys as well” and so on.

Sometimes we do the story with Adrian still awake, next to me, and then he often drifts off halfway through the story. Sometimes Ingrid comes upstairs just after Adrian has fallen asleep, and then I half-whisper while Adrian sleeps. When Adrian tires early, we may do the story in Ingrid’s bedroom.

By the end of it, anyway, Adrian is asleep and the story is over. After the story I lie next to Ingrid for a while, and she talks to me about whatever is on her mind – usually things that happened to her during the day.

Then we hug. She touches her nose to mine. We wish each other good night. As I go downstairs, she rolls over to Adrian’s side, and falls asleep while holding his hand.

The good night wishes get more and more elaborate. At first it was just “good night”. Now it’s “good night, sweet dreams, sleep well, have beautiful dreams” and “no, you have an even better night” and “twice as beautiful dreams for you” and so on.

Only this week she suddenly realized that the Estonian head ööd was made up of two actual words, “good” and “night”, not a meaningless sound of hedööd (“g’night”). head… ööd… ja head… und… she wonderingly said, “it’s ’good’ and ’night’!” Yes it is.

New skills:

  • Crocheting (chain stitch), nice and even. She crotcheted a pink and magenta bookmark for me.
  • Robber language.

My relationship to my breasts was complicated for a long time. I was late to develop, always the shortest one in my class (even though I am now of average height). “All” the other girls had breasts but not me. And my breasts were small, which I was self-conscious about. It was always difficult to find bras, even when I was adult.

When I was pregnant I even worried a bit whether I would be able to breastfeed with such small breasts. But boy did they grow when the milk came in. I was fascinated by the change. Big, round, full breasts, with visible veins. I even had a cleavage!

And they worked great for breastfeeding. Ingrid was over two when I stopped breastfeeding, and I only did it so we could start trying for another kid. Adrian, at over two and a half, still nurses. I won’t really call it “feeding” any more because it’s not about food any more. It’s about intimacy and comfort. Even Ingrid still likes to sit close and lean her cheek against my chest sometimes when Adrian nurses.

During these years I have become friends with my breasts. I now see them more with my kids’ eyes, rather than with others’ eyes. They are yummy and cuddly. They are not there to be looked at, and I really don’t care at all what other people may think of them. Nowadays they are quite small again and it doesn’t bother me the least. I have stopped wearing a bra because I have realized that I don’t need one, even though all the billboards try to sell them to me.

We’re well into April and it still doesn’t look like spring outside. Half the garden is covered in snow, and today we had three dense showers of snow (and one of hail).

This weekend we decided to make spring nevertheless. We hung up Ingrid’s swing. Eric put up a nesting box. I planted pansies, labeled as “frost tolerant” at the garden centre so I hope they survive. Eric swapped tyres on the car, from winter to summer tyres. Adrian and I took our first bike ride. (Ingrid has bravely been cycling for several weeks already.)

I found one crocus blossom, two snowdrops, and a dozen scillas in the sunniest corner of the garden.

Born to Run is many stories in one.

The question that starts it all off is simple: Why do we get injured by running? How come every other animal can run without damaging their body, but not us humans?

It is about seeing running differently, and doing running differently. Running should not be about expensive highly-engineered shoes with thick soles, or gritting your teeth and going on through the pain. Done right, running should be full of joy and not pain. (McDougall is a strong proponent of barefoot running.)

It is about man’s history as a runner. According to one hypothesis, humans are born to run, and running is the skill that gave us an advantage compared to other species. (See the endurance running hypothesis.)

It is about an Indian tribe in Mexico for whom long-distance running is a way of life – the one group of people who still run like humans did a long time ago.

It is about six long-distance runners, all among the best in the US, meeting up for a 50-mile race together with some of those Indians in Mexico’s canyons, and those people’s back stories.

Underneath it all, the book is a song of praise to long-distance running.

The book is interesting, almost a page-turner. I wouldn’t say it’s well-written, exactly (it rambles and meanders, and the hyperbole occasionally gets annoying). But the book is so full of passion and energy that I could live with the author’s style.

I am not a runner, and I have never loved running. After reading Born to Run, I am tempted to become one.

Amazon US, Amazon UK, Adlibris.

Cirkus Cirkör is Sweden’s one and only major contemporary circus company. We last saw a show by them in 2010. Yesterday it was time for another one.

I quite liked Wear it like a crown, the 2010 show, except for one thing: the theme. It was about daring to be yourself, and daring to make mistakes. Which is not a bad theme in itself, but it was presented way too loudly and in-your-face and unsubtly in the show. Feelgood pop philosophy aimed at teenagers. But otherwise it was a nice show.

Their show for this year is titled Knitting Peace. I expected something similar to last time, but came away much more impressed. This show is noticeably more mature: quieter, subtler, leaving more to the imagination.

The dim lighting and the simple monochrome visual design, and the music (partly performed live on stage), all came together into one contemplative whole.

Knitting suffuses everything. The scene decorations are made out of rope, knitted or tangled. The props are rope tangles, or balls of yarn (ranging from palm-sized to one metre), or knitted dolls, capes, nets, or just plain ropes. And because they are so simple, they can speak of many things at once.

A man struggling with a tangle of rope: a tangled relationship? or a tricky problem? or Man’s struggle in general?

Self-inflicted or externally caused?

But the yarns and ropes were not just props: not just for decoration, or for the theatrical aspect of the show. Most of the circus numbers were also built around ropes and knitting. Rope-walking, of course, is an obvious one (but you’d be surprised at the number of variations possible). But ropes can also be used for climbing, hanging, tying… Rope can be knit (live on stage); rope ladders can be unravelled. One can balance on balls of rope, and tumble over and around them, or why not climb into one. The variety was amazing.

Technically the show doesn’t reach the same level as, for example, Cirque du Soleil. But in this show the theatrical aspect was so much stronger that the technical skills didn’t really matter as much. The two shows are so different that they cannot really be compared – they are two different genres.

So there is a lot of knitting in the show, but not much of an overt peace theme. Instead, if I were to try and pinpoint one master theme, it would be “struggle”. So, lack of peace? Or perhaps the struggle to find your peace – not peace as not-war, but inner peace.

There are more nice photos at MyNewsDesk.