Monday, October 31, 2005

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Life is a Series of Gestalts by Saralee Sky

“Our life is basically…an infinite number of unfinished situations – incomplete gestalts. No sooner have we finished one situation than another comes up.” (Frederick Perls) A gestalt is an ultimate experiential unit, a whole. The physical world maintains itself in terms of gestalts, for example, water consists of the gestalt of two hydrogen units combined with one oxygen unit. Split the hydrogen away from the oxygen and you no longer have water.

The human organism is also composed of gestalts: physical, mental and emotional. Our physical body is composed of many gestalts: a circulatory system, a digestive tract, a muscular system, etc. The mind thinks in terms of gestalts. We puzzle over a problem until we have solved it. The alphabet is a meaningless list of letters until the letters are combined in patterns to form words and sentences. Emotionally we need to complete an experience – a gestalt - in order to move through it and continue on with our life. We anticipate our birthday and get increasingly excited as the day approaches. Then the big day arrives. We have a party, play games, open presents, eat cake. Whether the day will live up to our expectations determines whether we will feel happy or sad when the day – and the gestalt - is over.

We can rely on the wisdom of our organism to present the most pressing unfinished gestalt to our consciousness. Let’s look at a little baby for an example. The baby is hungry and so she cries. The mother interprets her cries correctly and offers her breast. The tears stop as the baby quenches her hunger. She is happy and content for a time. A short while later the baby cries again. Mom knows she has just nursed so she looks for some other reason for the tears and discovers a very wet diaper. Mom changes the diaper and the cries stop. The baby is left alone to play in her crib and is happy for a time until she becomes lonely or tired. She cries again and Mom picks her up and rocks her to sleep in the rocking chair. The physical warmth and nearness of her mother is soothing and satisfies the baby’s need for nurturing. Contented, the baby falls asleep. These examples show the ebb and flow of unfinished, then finished gestalts.

Once an unfinished gestalt has achieved completion, it will recede to the background and another unfinished gestalt will soon arrive to take its place in the rhythm of life. The need for completion is so very basic to our ability to grow and thrive as a human organism that it cannot be over emphasized. If a gestalt is unable to be completed, it will present itself again and again until it is completed.

Here is a physical example: A little boy is playing happily in the sand box when he gets the urge to pee. This need to urinate competes with the need to continue to play in the sandbox. At first both gestalts compete for the little boy’s attention, but gradually the need to pee becomes uppermost in the little boy’s mind. He must complete this gestalt, either by running to the bathroom or by peeing in his pants. He chooses to run to the bathroom. Now that gestalt is complete. It recedes into the background and the desire to play again becomes uppermost in the little boy’s mind, until he gets hungry and wanders inside looking for something to eat, and so it goes.

Here is a mental example: A woman sits in the living room doing a crossword puzzle. She moves along quickly putting in the answers she knows for sure and leaving blank the ones she is unsure about or doesn’t know. She returns again and again to the ones she is unsure of, getting most of them. Still, a quarter of the puzzle remains undone. She chooses to set it aside until the next day, when her mind is sharper. The desire to return to the puzzle surfaces from time to time throughout the day until she has the time to sit and work on it. When she sits down for the second time she is able to complete the puzzle and also the gestalt. The puzzle recedes into the background leaving room for a new activity.

Here is an emotional example: A little girl must go to day care so that Mom can work. She misses her mom a lot throughout the day and is cranky by the time Mom picks her up in the evening. Mom has to run errands on the way home which makes the little girl even crankier. She has a “melt down” in the grocery store and cries and cries because Mom won’t let her eat a candy bar before dinner as they shop. Mom realizes that the little girl is simply at the end of her emotional rope. She stops the cart in the middle of the aisle and says “You look like you could use a hug. Come here, sweetheart.” Mom picks up the little girl and just holds her as people move around them in the aisle. The little girl feels loved and valued and soon calms down. They finish their shopping and go home.

As infants, we need to receive love, nurturance and support from our parents. When we do, we see the world as safe and inviting. As children we look to our parents to have our needs respected and addressed. When they are we see the world as a place where needs will be met and experiences – no matter how painful – can be learned from and put to rest. As parents, the more we are able to help our children complete all the gestalts that come up in their lives: physical, mental or emotional; happy, sad, or momentous; the healthier and more present-centered our children will be as they grow into adults. Gestalts that are completed as they happen will recede into the background of our lives and be forgotten. A completed gestalt may also become a memory, but one that no longer holds a lot of emotional charge.

So, what happens when a gestalt is not able to be completed? What happens to an unfinished gestalt? It will continue to resurface in a person’s life until it is completed. It will pull the person’s attention and awareness away from the present and into the past; or it will use up energy in the form of avoidance as the person tries not to deal with or be aware of the unfinished situation.

Let’s examine some possible unfinished gestalts from a person’s childhood. A little baby cries and is eventually picked up and fed and changed. Then the baby is put back in his crib. Soon he cries again – he is tired and lonely. No one picks him up. He’s allowed to cry himself to sleep again and again until eventually he stops crying and learns to go to sleep on his own. As he grows up he is rarely hugged or nurtured. Physical needs will be met, but not emotional needs. He grows up cold and unable to express his emotions but has no idea why.

A little girl spends her days in day care and her evenings running errands with her mother. Whenever she cries and makes a fuss she is yelled at by her mother in front of strangers and even punished – no treat, no dessert, certainly no hugs. She grows up feeling unloved and unlovable and goes from partner to partner, never getting her needs met for love and nurturance. Her partners say nothing they do is enough.

Again and again in the lives of these two people the unfinished gestalts will resurface and demand completion. Once the man realizes how he was never encouraged to express himself emotionally as a child, he can express his rage or grief for that little child. He will gradually be able to get in touch with his emotions as an adult, and all the energy spent in not feeling anything will be freed up to be used in the present in whatever way the man chooses. Once the woman realizes that she feels unlovable and needy as an adult because her emotional needs were never met as a child, she will be able to express her sorrow for the little girl that she was and gradually become the woman she wants to be, loving and lovable.

The key in both of these examples is putting attention together with awareness. Frederick Perls says: “Awareness – by and of itself – can be curative.” Once a person becomes aware of an incomplete gestalt in his life, he will be unable to ignore it until he takes steps to complete it. We all expend a lot of energy trying not to face up to our incomplete gestalts from our childhood. But once we begin to pay attention to what our inner Self is trying to tell us, we can heal old wounds and live much healthier and happier lives.

Situations will continue to emerge that remind us of incomplete gestalts from our past. Once we choose to put our attention and our awareness on these situations, we will be able to get to the root of the problem and express the unmet need or emotion that has been lurking all these years. Sometimes therapy is needed to help work through the resultant feelings welling up from the re-opened wound. But in the end, the result will be a freeing up of energy, a new zest for life and a more present-centered awareness. “We can rely on the wisdom of the organism.” (Perls)

Saralee Sky, M.A., has 30+ years of experience with children, as a mother and grandmother, as a therapist for abused children, as the director of three nonprofit agencies serving children, and as co-owner and manager of Womb To Grow LLC and Babynut provides natural, organic and alternative products for pregnancy, adoption, childbirth, parenting, babies and toddlers.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Looking Back on My Childhood - A Tale of Three Mothers by Saralee Sky

I have always been driven to reflect on all that has happened before to bring me to this place, this moment in time, in understanding and awareness. I now support new mothers and babies through my product offerings and articles, and I want to share with you some of the events in my life that led me to this chosen field.

My mother was sick before she gave birth to me in March of 1949. I was actually a doctor’s order. “You have too much time on your hands, Trudy,” said Dr. Bloom. “There’s nothing wrong with you. Go home and have another baby.” So she did – me. Many years later in therapy I would imagine her cells dying all around me while I sucked out what was left of her life force through the umbilical cord in her womb.

My mother’s condition – scleroderma - worsened when I was a baby and toddler and so I spent a lot of time at my Aunt Goldie’s house. Aunt Goldie was my mother’s older sister by twelve years. She loved Trudy as a daughter and I occupied a special place in her heart as Trudy’s little baby.

In September, 1952, I was having lunch in my high chair in Aunt Goldie’s kitchen. I was three and a half years old. The phone rang and Aunt Goldie went to the alcove in the stairwell to answer it. She listened, then threw back her head and wailed, a sound so primal and so full of pain it echoed in the collective unconscious of all humankind. I sat there in my high chair too frightened to cry and completely ignored. But I knew as I sat there alone, staring into my reflection in the silver tray: a connection was severed. My mother was dead.

Later that afternoon, I sat on the back porch playing with my marble collection. My favorite brown cat’s eye marble rolled off the porch and into the dirt below. I looked and looked for that marble for what seemed like forever, but it had vanished. I cried and cried, my grief inconsolable, the loss of my marble a tangible way to grieve for the mother who gave me life.

Before my mother’s death and after, I spent most week days at home with a house keeper, who left me alone to occupy myself for the most part. I was alone, but not lonely. I had this inner presence, this calm inner Self that kept me company. I was content with my own company and I had a rich fantasy life complete with many “imaginary” friends.

After my mother died, Aunt Goldie took the place of a mother for me. She made a promise to Trudy before she died to look after me, and she took that promise to heart. I spent every Saturday at her house until my father picked me up after work.

She would often spirit me away to the bathroom with her, closing the door and telling me about my poor, dead mother as she sat on the toilet. As soon as I cried, she would let me go, my tears her proof that I still remembered and grieved for my mother like she did. I was affected by the sorrow in Aunt Goldie’s voice, the tears in her eyes and the weirdness of being closeted in the bathroom with her. But the truth was that I remembered Trudy only through Aunt Goldie’s bathroom soliloquies.

Each week night, Uncle Sol would drive my Aunt Goldie to our house to bathe me and put me to bed. Uncle Sol would sit and talk in the living room with my father while Aunt Goldie and I went upstairs. This ritual was a very important part of Goldie’s and my day. Aunt Goldie gave me my bath and put me in my crib. Then she would talk to me, telling me stories about her day, about her family, talking and talking in a chair by my crib. I listened to her voice, the words unimportant, the sound a soothing invitation to sleep.

Fifteen months after Trudy died, toward the end of 1953 when I was four and three quarters, my father started dating Naomi. I have vague memories of Naomi being at our house from time to time. She began teaching me school-type things: she taught me to tell time, she taught me to count by two’s, five’s and ten’s, she taught me to read. She seemed pleased that I was such a quick study. Still, it was Aunt Goldie who bathed me and put me to bed each night.

On March 19, 1955, two and a half years after Trudy died and a week before my sixth birthday, my father married Naomi. The ceremony and reception took place at the synagogue. I wore a beautiful flowered dress. Pictures of that evening show a little girl with curly hair, a tentative smile and eyes full of uncertainty. Daddy and Naomi went to Florida for their two week honeymoon. Upon their return, the changes to my life began in earnest.

Naomi had more modern taste in furniture and home d├ęcor than did my mother, Trudy. Over the next few months the interior of the house was completely redone. Gone were the gauzy white curtains, the old-fashioned, overstuffed furniture, the maroon patterned carpet. In their place were floral drapes, sculpted, fifties-style couches and chairs, beige carpets and walls. Everywhere I looked was the color beige – bland, benign, boring.

All the pictures of my mother, Trudy, were taken down from the shelves and hidden away. I wouldn’t rediscover them for many years. I was not even permitted to have a picture of my mother in my bedroom. That was the past – the Trudy era - and this was now – the Naomi era. Still my Aunt Goldie came to put me to sleep each night. I clung to this ritual like a starving child to a crust of bread.

Daddy was willing and eager to let Naomi be the woman of the house. He handed me over to Naomi with a sense of relief and a symbolic washing of the hands. He never liked the role of father to a motherless child and now he could relinquish it by providing the child with a new mother. He was like the fathers in fairy tales - Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel - absent and unwilling to rescue his child from the new step mother.

Naomi was seemingly up to the challenge. A spinster in her mid-30’s before my father married her and took her from her parent’s home to ours, she had ideas and theories about how to raise children and I was her guinea pig. Only one major obstacle stood in her path: Aunt Goldie. Goldie was a constant reminder to Naomi that I was not her natural child. I don’t remember when the nightly bathing and bedtime stories stopped. I only know that they did stop soon after the redecoration of the house was complete.

Some of Naomi’s changes were for the better. After all, I was six years old and still sleeping in a crib. Naomi got me a big girl’s bed. She told me a few bedtime stories, then turned out the light left the room. No more voice of Aunt Goldie talking me to sleep each night. She also took on my thumb-sucking habit with great zeal. Soon that was gone as well.

Visits to Aunt Goldie’s house were reduced to Jewish holidays. She was no longer welcome in our house. I missed Aunt Goldie terribly, but was told I had a new mother now. Aunt Goldie must have been miserable, too. We were simply cut out of each other’s every day lives.

I started out calling Naomi by her first name, but was strongly encouraged to call her Mommy, which I soon did. I wanted a Mommy after all, even if I didn’t particularly want this mommy. The simple fact was that I really didn’t like Naomi and she didn’t like me. Naomi was unemotional and sarcastic, with anger and resentment seething just below the surface. Her eyes were cold and dead. They reflected no light. I was expected to kiss her good night each evening, and I could never hide my revulsion as I got close to her pocked, makeup-covered skin and her dead, brown eyes. My father never seemed to notice. But she did. She would turn her face away from me at the last moment so that I could kiss her on the cheek, not her mouth. She was as uncomfortable with this nightly ritual as I was, but insisted on it all the same.

One day, on the way home from First Grade on the bus, Bonnie L. yelled out, “You have a STEP mother. Saralee has an evil STEP mother!”

“I do not!” I yelled back at her, hot, angry tears flowing down my cheeks. I ran from the bus stop to our door, crying all the way.

“What’s the matter?” asked Naomi as she opened the door. “What happened?”

“Bonnie says I have a step mother!” I said between sobs. “I do NOT have a step mother do I? You’re not a step mother are you? Step mothers are EVIL!”

“Bonnie was wrong,” answered Naomi. “I am your NEW mother, not an evil step mother.” She let me cry myself out, my head in her lap. I was grateful to her for taking me seriously, for reframing the situation to be more palatable to a six year old girl.

I learned that day that when I was miserable – really miserable – Naomi would be there to comfort me. But when I was happy and independent and enjoying myself, she became disapproving and cold at her best, and downright nasty at her worst.

I was so upset with Bonnie because I knew in my heart she was right. I DID have a step mother and she could sometimes be evil. I had a big problem and that problem was trying to deal with a woman who could only handle misery. My natural, sunny disposition was a threat to her belief that “Life was one kick in the teeth after another.” She made it her main goal to teach me that life lesson, and I made it my goal to prove her wrong.

As I continued to grow up under her cold, disapproving eye, I tried my best to please her and always seemed to come up short. The calm inner Self that always kept me company disappeared from my awareness in my efforts to be the child Naomi wanted me to be. I held on to my belief that life was more than one kick in the teeth after another, but we were never able to openly talk about the tension between us or the dislike we each felt for the other.

The Jewish holidays I spent at Aunt Goldie’s house with my cousins and uncles and aunts remain strong and happy memories, especially Passover. I was the youngest for many years, so it fell to me to recite the Four Questions, and to find the Afikomen (the hidden matzah). We sang in three languages, Yiddish, Hebrew and English. I was coddled and loved and I soaked in that love to last until the next holiday, when I could be with Aunt Goldie and my “real” mother’s side of the family again.

My father died of a heart attack when I was 13. He died while watching the 11 o’clock news. I slept through the attack and the ambulance arriving and departing with my father inside. I awoke the next morning to be told I would not be going to school that day. Instead I would be attending my own father’s funeral. That was on a Friday. On the following Monday, Naomi insisted I return to school rather than sit shivah (seven day mourning ritual) with the rest of our family. When I protested vehemently Naomi said, “Life goes on.” and pushed me out the door. I was not permitted to grieve.

My father’s death left me alone with Naomi. She became even more angry and bitter. Life had dealt her a stunning blow, taking away her husband after only seven years of marriage, and leaving her with a teenager to raise. No amount of achievements or awards won on my part did anything to soothe her bitterness and resentment.

My connection to Aunt Goldie remained strong, in spite of the physical distance Naomi placed between us. I didn’t get to see Aunt Goldie very often, but when I did, our love for each other was evident. Naomi never understood that there was room in my heart for everyone, for all three of the mothers who were placed in my life.

When I became old enough to drive I would visit Aunt Goldie more often, especially for Friday night shabbos dinners. When I went away to college and came home a hippie with long curly hair, no bra and lots of tie dye, Naomi was disgusted. But Aunt Goldie welcomed me with open if disapproving arms.

After college I moved to California to be with the rest of the “kooks’ as my family called the “make love not war” generation. I had my first child, Joseph, at home with midwives in 1975. I was unmarried though living with the baby’s father. I chose not to circumcise him, which goes against Jewish law.

My step mother, Naomi, was ashamed of me. When I wanted to come home for a visit and bring baby Joseph, she let me know I was not welcome in her home (my old home). My Aunt Goldie again welcomed me, though she and Uncle Sol also disapproved of my decision not to circumcise Joseph. “If he isn’t circumcised, he isn’t a Jew!” Uncle Sol said.

I moved far away from the family that raised me so that I could seek out and discover my own ideas and beliefs. I needed to reflect upon all that had happened to me as a child, to finish unresolved situations from my past. The distance was necessary to be able to rediscover my Self, the calm inner presence that made me feel at peace as a child.

Now so many years later – Joseph turns 30 this year – I look back on the three women who were mothers to me, and to my own choices as a mother, and I realize that we all do the very best we can with the situations and experiences that are given to us in this life. Mothers were once babies themselves, and their life experiences shape the way they parent their own children. I tried my best to raise my children with the awareness that they have their own thoughts and dreams, their own inner Self and room in their hearts for everyone who loves them.

I have great compassion for all little babies born into this world, looking for love, nurturance and guidance. This article and my web site are my offerings to them and to the mothers who raise them.

Monday, June 06, 2005

You Are Already A Mother – Life Within the Womb by Saralee Sky

The beginning of life in the womb is in itself a miraculous journey. As many as 500 million sperm begin their journey together as they travel through the vagina, the uterus and eventually the fallopian tube. Sperm have a sense of smell (!) and they smell their way to the egg. Once one (out of 500 million) sperm penetrates the egg’s wall, it is drawn to the nucleus of the egg. Egg and sperm merge and become one. Conception has occurred.

I didn’t plan my first pregnancy. After years of wondering what it would feel like to be pregnant, the reality was very close to my fantasies – surges of nausea, sore breasts and the ever-present feelings of anticipation and awe. Mostly I was overwhelmed by the presence of another life inside my body. I was sharing my body with my baby. Thirty years later it remains the single most amazing thing that has ever happened to me.

The moment I made the choice and committed myself to that pregnancy, I was a mother. The acknowledgment that a life had begun in my womb - and my desire to hold and nurture that life - was the beginning of motherhood for me. The bond between me and that brand new life took on a strength and purpose which colored every other aspect of my life. As day followed day, I was more and more certain of the presence of another consciousness, separate from me but ever-present.

* * *

One day after fertilization the egg divides for the first time. One week after fertilization the egg arrives in the uterus. During the third week the embryo begins to take shape. During the fourth week, the first organ to begin to develop is the heart. I am overwhelmed by this thought and image: at four weeks we all have a beating heart, which will continue to beat throughout our lives. Taken out of the realm of the physical for a moment, this image resonates with my belief that we are beings of love, created in love, nurtured in love, and ultimately merging back into the source of unending love.

My first pregnancy occurred at a time when my life was in transition in all kinds of ways. I was moving away from a relationship, away from the city, away from the traditional American ideals of career and success. I was moving toward a more simplified existence with an ideal of voluntary poverty as part of the back to the land movement. I was a hippie living in a converted chicken shack!

As the pregnancy progressed I trusted in the Universe and my own dharma (destiny or path) to lead me where I needed to go, to teach me what I needed to learn. People who could help me with the pregnancy and birth began to materialize in my life. I was given the book, “Prenatal Yoga” by Jeannine Parvati Baker, and I began to practice prenatal yoga daily. I found a nurse who was studying to become a midwife. My delivery would be her first. I decided to have my baby at home- wherever that would be. Hopefully, not the chicken shack.

* * *

During the second trimester – months four, five and six - the sexual organs are formed. The baby becomes sensitive to touch. By 16 weeks, the baby makes intricate movements and has an awareness of the space around him. By 18 weeks, the mother becomes aware of the baby’s movements, though the baby has been active for quite some time. Some babies open their eyes as early as 18 weeks. By five months – halfway to the birth – the baby is seven inches long and has her own fingerprints – her own unique identity. At the end of the second trimester, every part of the baby has been formed. At 24 weeks, the baby may survive outside the womb, but the lungs are too small to take in enough oxygen. The baby takes in all nutrients including oxygen from the umbilical cord.

The second trimester was simply fantastic for me. All the doubts and fears about being pregnant during this unstable time in my life receded into the background. What was front and center was a feeling of inner strength and the belief that I could do anything I needed to do in order to be the best mother to this child I could possibly be. I started taking charge of my life in a more conscious way. I met a spiritual teacher (guru) who gave me a mantra to repeat as I rubbed my growing belly. I was on my way.

I started making decisions with a strength and a certainty I had never felt before. I severed my relationship with the baby’s father so as to be able to concentrate on getting ready to be a parent. The relationship had essentially ended before we knew a pregnancy had begun. We needed to go our separate ways, and I didn’t want him hanging around out of obligation. While I had initially been afraid of being alone and pregnant, I was now reveling in my new-found strength and comfortable with being on my own. I trusted in the universe to bring me the people I needed to help with the pregnancy, birth and parenting of this baby.

* * *

By the seventh month the sense organs are mature. Strong smells can come into the womb through the amniotic fluid. The baby’s eyes open and close. What does he see when his eyes are open? Sounds are now heard from outside the womb. The mother’s voice is carried through the amniotic fluid as well as from outside the womb. In addition to hearing and smelling and ‘seeing’, the baby is also aware of and affected by the mother’s mental and emotional state. The mother’s heart rate and blood pressure change as a result of her mental and emotional states and this change in heart rate and blood pressure is filtered through the placenta. The baby is thinking and feeling right along with his mother in a very elemental way. Practicing a form of daily meditation and/or contemplation can help keep both mother and baby calmer and able to withstand the unavoidable stresses and strains of daily life.

I knew in some deep, primal way that my mental and emotional state affected by baby. And as he grew, his consciousness also affected me. I was able to stay calmer and more centered as a result of his influence and presence in my life. We were a team and we went everywhere together. I was growing bigger, but I was young and strong and active. I never felt more comfortable in my own body than I did in this third trimester, as least until the last few weeks.

I have pictures of myself (and Joseph) at this stage. I am tanned all over and very pregnant, breasts and belly swollen and huge. I look like some native-hippie-earth-woman – young and strong and brimming with life. I was living solidly within my physical body and also aware of the way my consciousness emanated out from the physical into other etheric realms.

* * *

During the third trimester, the baby prepares for life outside the womb. She will triple in weight and double in length. She will spend 90% of her time sleeping and 10% of the time awake and alert. She has a startle reflex to a sudden noise. She learns to swallow and shows a clear preference for the right or left thumb – a preference which will stay with her for the rest of her life. At eight months – 33 weeks – the baby responds to her mother’s voice and patterns of speech. The baby’s cries will have similar patterns. Babies at this stage also have REM sleep, an indication that she is dreaming in the womb. Already she has her own dreams, her own preferences, her own dharma or path. The birth of the baby is not the beginning of her journey. She has already traveled through an amazing path of development while in the womb.

The process of birth and the early weeks of parenting were a crash course in getting to know this baby of mine, this being who felt old in soul as well as new in body. The strength of his will and his desire to survive, grow and develop were awesome to behold. I had to learn to get out of the way – to be there to love and nurture him, but also to trust that he knew what was best for him at any given moment. He knew when he was hungry, tired, uncomfortable, happy. His connection to me was fierce, and his desire to grow up and away from me was just as fierce.

* * *

National Geographic recently produced a program for their television channel entitled, ‘In the Womb’. This remarkable program featured 4D pictures of babies in the womb. They defined 4D as 3D sonograms in real time. I watched as a 30 week fetus yawned and played with its nose. Seeing the babies grow and develop in the womb reinforced my belief that we are already parenting these beings well before they are born.

Looking back over 30 years I know that my first pregnancy started me on my path of support and nurturance for mothers and babies, pre and post partum. A few years ago, I named my new business Womb To Grow. I now see it as an even more accurate name for what it is we as mothers do. We are growing right along with our babies as we create, sustain, nurture and give birth to another being. We can trust our babies to teach us how to be the best mother to them. All we need to do is pay attention, starting from the moment we choose to become mothers during the early phase of pregnancy and continuing on through the rest of the pregnancy, the birth and the early years of parenting. From the moment we welcome the pregnancy into our lives we are already on our way.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Framing Children's Art by Saralee Sky

It was my daughter-in-law’s birthday and once again I faced the dilemma of what to give her. Jackie is notorious for returning gifts and buying things for the children instead. I wanted to give her something she would keep and – more important – something she would like!

Percolating in the back of my mind was an idea gleaned from a recent visit to my sister’s house in Detroit. In her den, Sheila had a shelf that spanned the width of the room. Her TV sat on the shelf along with a collection of framed children’s art, created by her children when they were young and now her grandchildren. Sheila framed them and in some cased matted and framed them and then arranged them on the wall above the shelf and on the shelf itself. There were so many pieces they overlapped each other, but the effect was bright and cheerful and – artistic!

I also recently watched an episode of the TV show, Play With Me Sesame. During the episode, Grover sings “Old MacDonald Had A Frame”. While he sings, an image of a frame is filled again and again by different children’s drawings. A picture of the child appears to the left of the frame as their art is displayed. This segment along with my visit to my sister’s house helped me come up with the perfect gift for my daughter-in-law.

Lately my granddaughter Crystal (soon to be 4) has been drawing primitive people. She recently presented me with two pictures, one of me and one of herself. Each one was a great big head taking up about two thirds of the page and angled to the left. There were two circles for eyes, one much bigger than the other and two circles inside the eyes to represent the iris or colored part of the eye. She drew a circle for the nose, a straight line for the mouth and two small circles for the ears on her self-portrait. On the picture of me, she did not draw ears because she can rarely see my ears through all my hair! She drew a scribble on the top of the head for hair, two lines coming out of the middle of the head for arms and two lines at the bottom of the head for legs. In short, a floating head with stick arms and legs!

I took one of the pictures with me and went to a local department store to check out mats and frames. I found a double mat for an 8x10 size picture and a reasonably priced 12x16 frame that fit the matt. I started heading for the check-out when I turned around and headed straight back to the frame area and bought two double mats and two frames. I just couldn’t frame only one of her pictures and besides, I wanted one for myself!

Back at home I quickly matted and framed each of Crystal’s pictures, hanging one in my Babynut office and wrapping one for Jackie. I wrote her this note in her birthday card: “For your birthday, here is a piece of original art. Treasure it – it’s priceless.” On the back of the frame I wrote the date and the title of each picture: ‘Crystal’s self-portrait’ or ‘Crystal’s portrait of Nana’.

The day came for her birthday barbeque and we gathered at my son’s house, four generations of people coming together to celebrate Jackie’s 24th year on this planet and the chance to be together for a happy occasion. The time came for her to open her presents. Crystal helped her tear off the wrapping of each one. When it came to my present, she read the card and I could see the question in her eyes. ‘Original art’? She removed the wrapping and her eyes lit up. “It’s perfect!” she said. “Look everyone, Sara framed one of Crystal’s drawings!”

Everyone oohed and awed and passed the picture around. Jackie walked straight to a place on the living room wall and demanded a nail to hang it right away. She would not blow out her candles on the cake until that picture was hung. I admit I was a bit stunned by her intense reaction and that of everyone else in the room.

“What a great idea!”
“Look what she did – she matted and famed Crystal’s drawing!”
“I never thought to do that with my kids’ drawings.”
“You should write about this in your newsletter!”

And so I am. I am sure you all have stacks of drawings that you first put up on the refrigerator, then quietly move to the recycle bin as the next wave of paintings and drawings appear. I do, too. I am NOT suggesting that you frame each and every drawing or painting that comes your way. What I am suggesting is this: every so often you will notice that your child has entered a new stage of drawing/painting development. You may want to commemorate that new stage by at least matting a representative drawing of that new stage. Don’t forget to put the date and ‘title’ of the drawing on the back.

Or, every so often, your child will produce a picture that simply speaks to you. One that you will want to look at again and again. I say to you: go for it! Mat and frame it and hang it on the wall – in your den or in their room or in your living room along with the professional art you have in your home. The picture I framed for myself hangs next to a batik wall hanging I bought in Scotland. My office doubles as our library and is the room through which everyone must pass to enter our house. Everyone sees that picture.

When Crystal came to visit recently, I pointed to the picture and said, “Who made this?”

“I did!” she said proudly. That says it all.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Setting Limits and Using Consequences by Joe Sky-Tucker

I am not a parent yet. My experience comes from the nine years and counting that I have worked with children, from after school daycare to a locked residential unit for “at-risk” youth and everything in-between. This article comes from my personal experience working with children and my great respect and love for them.

Disciplining your child has a negative connotation. There are books about positive discipline and different philosophies from using “time-out” to spanking. Whichever method is used there are some important things to know:
1. Every child needs to be loved unconditionally.
2. Every child needs limits. I cannot emphasize this enough.
3. Every child needs consistent limits and boundaries.

There is a rule when working with children called the ‘20 to 1 Rule’. That means 20 positive interactions with a child for every 1 negative one. Positive interactions can include compliments, physical affection, spending quality time with him. With parents that number is even higher: some say 50 to 1 and others say even 100 to 1.

Too much of discipline is punishment and negative consequences. Another method of discipline is reinforcing positive behaviors. Catch them being good and make a big deal out of it. If you are teaching table manners say, “I like how you are using your napkin to wipe your face. Good job!” This will work much better than yelling, “Stop wiping your mouth on your sleeve!”

When a child is chastised and put in “time-out” constantly, it can become the only form of attention she gets, thus creating a cycle in which she will act out just to get attention. That is why after every major consequence like a “time-out” it is important to repair the relationship. Your child feels like she has failed you. So talk about what happened, making sure to let her give you her side of the story without interruption. Then correct anything that didn’t happen or was untrue and come up with a more accurate version. And make sure she knows you still love her.

Ask her what she was feeling and if she doesn’t know you can suggest the feelings for her, “Were you feeling sad, mad, frustrated…?”. Validate her feelings, then talk about positive ways she could have expressed those feelings, “When you were mad, instead of throwing your shoe, what could you have done?” Then make a plan for the future when she gets mad again, “Next time you can stomp your feet and say ‘I’m mad’, then we can figure out what to do about it.” By doing this after major conflicts you are providing a structure in which your child’s voice is heard, and you are teaching her about expressing her feelings and the proper ways to behave.

Here is a little parental cheat sheet:
1. Love your child and let him know it often.
2. Have consistent well-known rules and consequences for breaking the rules.
3. Always repair the relationship and let the child know that you still love him.
4. Provide him with the correct words to get his needs met in positive ways.
5. Validate her feelings; she may be experiencing these feelings for the first time.
6. Use ‘do’ instead of ‘don’t’. ‘Use your fork to eat.’ instead of, ‘Don’t eat with your fingers.’
7. Rules, boundaries and limits are positive things, and they help your child to become secure, self-sufficient adults.

Joe Sky-Tucker is Saralee Sky's 29 year old son. Browse for natural products for mother and baby on Saralee's web site, Babynut. Read more articles on Babynut's free online newsletter, Nutsense.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Crib Tales - Or Sleeping With Baby By Saralee Sky

My friend, Eric, was over the other day. He and his wife are expecting their first baby in May. I was showing him my web site and he asked me, “Do you have any cribs?”

“No,” I said, “and I don’t recommend them.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Well for one thing, you simply won’t use it. And for another, the baby will much prefer sleeping with you,” I said. “If you sleep with the baby, it makes late night feedings so much easier.”

I showed him an ad for a co-sleeping bed that attaches to the parents’ bed. “You’ll get much more use out of something like this,” I told him. He looked at me like I was crazy! I could sympathize with his confusion – and his complete innocence as he approached parenthood.

Time and again I have seen first time pregnant moms get all starry eyed as they shop for cribs. Well-meaning grandparents step up and pay the price for this ‘essential’ piece of furniture. More money is spent on making the nursery just right. It’s part of the nesting instinct. But once the baby is born, those parents end up turning the crib into a storage area for all the cute stuffed animals they received as birth and shower gifts. And the beautiful nursery is seldom used until it is turned into a toddler’s bedroom.

Going to sleep in a crib all by herself is the last place the baby wants to be! And the nursery is just too far away from mom. For the first 12-15 months after birth, the baby still thinks of herself as part of her mother. She will sleep much better in the bed with her parents or in a sling or other kind of baby carrier. She needs the physical closeness as she adjusts to life outside the womb. At times when she absolutely must be put in the crib, a machine that makes the sound of a heartbeat and other noises heard within the womb will help her sleep. Those are the sounds she’s used to hearing. They are familiar and comforting.

My oldest son, Joseph, slept with me and my partner most of the time. Still I had a bassinet and then a crib next to my bed that I would occasionally try to use. He was an early crawler – in a hurry to be on the move. At 5 months he could crawl well! One day when he was in his 5th month I put him down for a nap in his crib and went to the bathroom. I was sitting on the toilet when I heard a thump and then a series of short pat-pat-pat-pat-pat-pat-pat-pats coming closer and closer to the bathroom door. I opened the door with some trepidation to find Joseph right outside the door!

Wait a minute! How could that be? I just put him in his crib! So, I picked him up and carried him back to our bedroom and put him back in the crib and sat down on my bed to watch what he would do. That little 5 month old baby shinnied up the bars of the crib and launched himself head first out of the crib, landing first on my bed (I was there to catch him this time!) and then down onto the floor! Needless to say that was the end of the crib for Joseph!

Now I know that co-sleeping isn’t for everyone. You must decide what works best for you and your family. The most important thing to understand is that your little baby will grow up and away from you as quickly as he possibly can. That’s his job. Your job is to love and nurture and protect him as he grows. The early lessons he learns about the world around him in his first years he will carry with him throughout his life. If he is held and cuddled as much as possible in the first year, if all his needs are met quickly and with love, he will learn that the world is a safe place in which to live and grow.

When should you transition her to her own bed? There are many options here:
• When you are feeling too cramped.
• When she tells you she wants her own bed.
• When another baby is on the way.
• When it just feels right. Trust yourself and your baby to know when it’s time for her to sleep on her own.

I write this article from the perspective of a mother and grandmother. When my children were young I thought that time would be forever. Now my sons are all grown up and on their own. Still they look to me for companionship, for support when they are in trouble, and to help take care of their own children. How we parent says more about us than how we make our living or how we practice our spirituality. We are everything to our baby or toddler. If we raise him with love and respect he will grow up to love and respect himself and others. And - if you sleep with him when he is a baby - chances are much better that everyone will get a good night’s sleep!

You can read more articles by Saralee Sky in Nutsense! - a free online newsletter for parents. You can also visit Babynut for natural, organic and alternative products for mother and baby.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Hazel and Nutmeg - Episode Three by Saralee Sky


Hazel and Nutmeg lived in a cozy nest in a hollow area high in the big oak tree in the Big Backyard of the Man and the Woman and the Little Girl and the Baby Boy and the Dog and the Cat. Hazel was a black squirrel with a big bushy tail. She was the big sister of Nutmeg. Nutmeg was a gray squirrel (with a big bushy tail) and Hazel’s little brother. Hazel and Nutmeg lived with their mother, Mama Squirrel, and their father, Papa Squirrel.

On this day Hazel and Nutmeg were playing together all along the branches of the big oak tree. They would race to the very end of a branch then leap to the next one until they reached the tiniest branches at the very edge of the tree. Then they would leap onto the branches of the maple tree and do the very same thing. They could go from tree to tree in the Big Back Yard without ever having to touch the ground. It was great fun.

Nutmeg had a hard time keeping up with his big sister Hazel. She could run so fast it almost seemed as though she were flying. And she did this using only three of her little legs. For you see, in her right front paw she held tightly to Silky, a little doll Papa Squirrel had made for her out of corn husks and corn silk. Silky went everywhere with Hazel.

Hazel raced to the end of a maple branch and tried to leap to the tip of a blue spruce limb. With only three legs to grip with, this time she missed her landing and began to slide down the spruce needles. At first she was really scared, but as she continued to slide from branch to branch – cushioned by the spruce needles – she realized she had just invented a brand new game! She landed with a splash on the ground in a pile of oak and maple leaves.

“Wow! That was fun!” she exclaimed.

“Hazel! Where ARE you?” Nutmeg called. He was still high in the branches of the maple tree.

“I’m down here, Nutmeg, on the ground,” answered Hazel. She scampered up the trunk of the maple tree, over the large lower branches and out to the place where Nutmeg sat waiting for her.

“I just made up a new game, Nutmeg. It’s called Slide-A-Tree! Want to try it?” Hazel asked. Without waiting for a response, she raced to the end of the maple tree branch with Nutmeg close behind, and Silky clasped firmly in her right front paw.

Hazel leaped onto the blue spruce and began to slide and tumble down its branches again, this time knowing that she would end up at the bottom of the tree in the soft pile of leaves. Nutmeg was right behind her. Anything Hazel could do, he was willing to try. If he couldn’t do it the first time he would try and try again until he mastered it. This time he was able to slide and tumble along after her - though with more tumbling and less sliding - until he, too, landed in the soft pile of leaves on the ground.

Hazel and Nutmeg spent the next hour playing Slide-A-Tree again and again. As she sat in the pile of leaves after a particularly tumbly slide, Hazel looked around and said, “Where is Silky?” She was no longer tucked safely in her right front paw. “Oh no, I’ve lost Silky!” She began to run here and there, searching among the fallen leaves.

Nutmeg was still up in the maple tree about to leap onto the spruce tree. He didn’t hear Hazel. He was finally getting sort of good at Slide-A-Tree. He made his leap and began to tumble and slide down the spruce branches. A few branches down – though still a long way from the ground – Nutmeg spied something sticking out of the needles of a branch as he slid by. He tried to stop his slide by grabbing hold of the branch beneath the needles. Finally his paws caught the branch and he was able to climb back up to the object he spied. It was Silky!

He retrieved her and tucked her carefully in his right paw, just as he’d seen Hazel do countless times. “OK,” he said to himself. “I can do this.” His little face looking serious and determined, he let go of the branch and allowed himself to start sliding and tumbling toward the ground. It was a lot harder without his right front paw to help keep his balance. He ended up sliding mostly on his back, landing in a big blustery heap in the pile of leaves.

Hazel was still running back and forth looking for Silky. “Look, Hazel, I found Silky,” said Nutmeg, emerging from the heap of leaves, Silky held high in his right paw.

“Oh Silky, I was so worried!” said Hazel grabbing her out of Nutmeg’s paw and hugging her tightly. “Thank you, Nutmeg. You are a good little brother.”

“You’re welcome, Hazel,” said Nutmeg. ” I guess Slide-A-Tree isn’t Silky’s favorite game.”

Saralee Sky is the creator and co-owner of Babynut - an online store featuring natural products for mother and baby, and free online newsletter, Nutsense.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Hazel and Nutmeg - Episode Two - by Saralee Sky

The Bird Feeder

Hazel and Nutmeg lived in a cozy nest in a hollow area high in the big oak tree in the Big Backyard of the Man and the Woman and the Little Girl and the Baby Boy and the Dog and the Cat. Hazel was a black squirrel with a big bushy tail. She was the big sister of Nutmeg. Nutmeg was a gray squirrel (with a big bushy tail) and Hazel’s little brother. Hazel and Nutmeg lived with their mother, Mama Squirrel, and their father, Papa Squirrel.

All of the squirrels would stop from time to time for a snack at the Big Black Bucket on the Back Porch of the House, where the Woman put black sunflower seeds out for them to eat.

Hazel didn’t like eating from the Bucket. She liked eating from the Bird Feeder that hung from the roof of the Back Porch. She would grasp the wooden support from which the Feeder hung with her back legs, then stretch out as far as she could upside down. She could just reach the seeds in the Feeder. They were the same black sunflower seeds that were in the Big Black Bucket. But Hazel liked a challenge.

Mama and Papa squirrel had tried to warn her that she might hurt herself doing this. Or even worse, the Cat or the Dog might catch her while she was hanging upside down. But Hazel still preferred the seeds in the Bird Feeder. They tasted better, she was sure.

On this morning Hazel stopped for a bite to eat from the Bird Feeder on her way to the walnut trees to gather walnuts. Percy and Peachy were there, sitting in the branches of the big, old wisteria vine which wound over and under the porch railing across from the feeder.

“Good morning, good morning!” trilled Peachy.

“Be careful, be careful!” warned Percy. “You’ll fall on your head!” Percy and Peachy were House Finches, and Percy had a lovely peach colored head and chest. Their nest was in the same oak tree as Hazel’s family.

“No I won’t,” said Hazel confidently. “I do this all the time!”

“We know, we know!” said Peachy. “How’s the nut collecting going?”

“Good. We got lots already,” Hazel said, sitting upright on the wooden support to eat her seeds. “But Mama says we can’t eat them yet ‘cause they’re not ripe.”

“Well,” said Percy, “You can always fill up on sunflower seeds!”

Hazel gripped the wooden support with her back legs again and stretched her body as far as she could to reach for more seeds from the Bird Feeder. Just then the sounds of scampering feet could be heard. Little Nutmeg went racing by below the bird feeder and leaped into the tangle of wisteria vines. Close on his heels was The Dog, Bisbee the Golden Retriever, wagging her tail and barking.

Peachy and Percy went flying up in the air to safety in the branches of the nearby beech tree. But Hazel was upside down and the sudden noise startled her. She tumbled head over heels off the wooden support and landed in the Big Black Bucket. Bisbee swung away from the wisteria vine and started barking at Hazel in the Bucket.

“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” trilled Peachy.

“Go away, go away, go away!” scolded Percy. Both remained safely out of reach in the beech tree.

“Over here, over here, you big silly Dog!” called Nutmeg. He scampered about in the wisteria vines just out of reach. “Bet you can’t catch me!”

Bisbee turned back toward the wisteria vines for just a moment, but it was long enough for Hazel to leap out of the Big Black Bucket and scamper across the porch to safety among the wisteria vines herself.

“Whew! That was a close one!” Hazel said as she and Nutmeg raced through the vines, up the beech tree trunk and into its branches.

“I’ll say!” said Nutmeg. “Lucky thing I was there to save you!”

“Silly Nutmeg! If you hadn’t been chased by The Dog I wouldn’t have tumbled into the Bucket!”

“Oh,” said Nutmeg.

Saralee Sky is the owner of Babynut.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Adventures of Hazel and Nutmeg by Saralee Sky

An Introduction

Hazel and Nutmeg lived in a cozy nest in a hollow area high in the big oak tree in the Big Backyard of the Man and the Woman and the Little Girl and the Baby Boy and the Dog and the Cat. Hazel was a black squirrel with a big bushy tail. She was the big sister of Nutmeg. Nutmeg was a gray squirrel (with a big bushy tail) and Hazel’s little brother. Hazel and Nutmeg lived with their mother, Mama Squirrel, and their father, Papa Squirrel.

It was the end of Summer. Autumn was fast approaching. Everything was ripe and ready for picking. For days Hazel and her parents had been leaving their nest in the oak tree, running to the tips of the branches and over to the maple tree then to the beech tree then to the roof of the House, over the roof to the cherry tree in the Front Yard. From there they would travel on the ground to the Street and across the Street to the two big walnut trees to gather the nuts for the coming Winter.

Hazel and her mommy and daddy were making the trip with regularity. But little Nutmeg was nowhere to be found. He would disappear to play among the branches or go and visit the neighbors, the house finches Peachy and Percy.

Hazel could only carry two walnuts in her mouth at one time, because they were still covered in their soft green jackets. She would have to peal off the jackets before placing them in their nest. She selected two walnuts, then raced back across the street, across the Front Yard, up the cherry tree, over the roof, the beech tree, the maple tree and at last the oak tree.

She stopped on a branch to peel off the soft green jackets. Mama squirrel was inside their nest, arranging their nut stash. Nutmeg was there, too. He would take a nut that Mama squirrel had placed on the pile, run out of the hole, around the trunk of the tree and back in the hole, depositing the nut as if he had just picked it himself. Mama squirrel pretended not to notice.

“Thank you, Nutmeg!” she said, placing the nut on the pile. “What a good boy you are!”

Hazel observed Nutmeg’s antics from her branch outside the nest. “What are you doing, Nutmeg?” she asked.

“Helping Mama gather nuts for Winter!” he replied.

“Oh, silly Nutmeg,” said Hazel. “We already have those nuts!”

“I know,” said Nutmeg. “But Mama says they need some air now that their jackets are off.”

“She means they need to dry out without their green covering,” said Hazel. “They don’t need to be taken for a walk!”

“Oh,” said Nutmeg.

Saralee Sky is the owner and manager of the web site Babynut.