Every day in our life's journey holds its own special treasures, if we have eyes to see...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Past

Pieces of Christmas

Merry Christmas 

We remember childhood in bits and pieces. Some parts we might want to forget, but others are magic everytime they surface. Since I'm in a reminiscent mood today, I think I'll share one of those magical pieces of my Christmas past.

It was the week before Christmas and snow lay sparkling white and deep as the fence posts. What a relief to my seven-year-old heart. I wasn’t interested in playing in it so much as concerned that Santa’s sled could arrive. Although I knew his reindeer could fly, surely a good three feet of snow guaranteed that should they get tired of being airborne, they could still reach our tiny house in the sagebrush a good fifteen miles from the little town of Monticello, Utah.
Confident that a visit on Christmas Eve was assured, my sisters and I flitted from one activity to another, willing the time to pass. My mother, however, seemed quite busy in one corner of the dining room.
 “What are you sewing, Mama?” I asked. “Dollclothes?”
 She rolled her finger down the thread, knotting it at the end. “Mmmhmmm.”
“For who?” I stared at the miniature bonnet taking shape in her hands. Gauzy lavender material lay like butterfly wings and matching satin ribbons trailed on her lap.
“For some little girls who need them.”
My younger sister and I eyed each other. “We need them,” we said, pressing closer.
 Mama smiled, holding a bonnet up for us to see. “Well, I’m making these and leaving them for Santa Claus to pick up when he comes here. I’ll write him a note so he knows to give them to some little girls he thinks might need them for their baby dolls.
“Oh.” Disappointment mingled with admiration. My mother—my very own mother—was making doll clothes for Santa! I knew I should be happy for whatever child he would take the beautiful bonnets and dresses to, so I resigned myself as best I could.
Mama sewed in all her spare moments. My sister and I took to leaving our barely clothed dolls near her, hoping she’d notice how needy they were and put in a good word for us with Santa.
Christmas Eve arrived at last. Mama helped us arrange a few cookies on a plate and a glass of milk, in case Santa wanted a snack before he left for his next house. She even braved the cold, dark night outside to bring an armload of hay onto the porch in case Santa’s reindeer wanted a snack as well.
There beside the cookie plate she placed her finished sewing with an accompanying note. I’d never seen such pretty doll clothes: One set of lavender organdy containing bonnet, bloomers and dress complete with tiny puffed sleeves and pearl buttons, and an identical set in cotton candy pink. I must have gazed at them a full ten minutes, visualizing how they would have looked on our dolls, thinking of how fun it would have been to dress them in such finery, and hoping that whoever got those clothes appreciated them as much as my sister and I would have.
“Santa can’t come until you’re all asleep,” Mama reminded us, and we scurried to hide under our covers, so full of anticipation that surely we could never relax long enough to drift off to dreamland.
But of course we did, waking again in the wee hours of the morning and managing to rouse the rest of the sleeping house.
 “Let’s go see if Santa came,” Mama said, and we blinked our way toward the glaring light of Daddy’s movie camera.
Only a few crumbs were left on the cookie plate, and the milk glass was empty. “Well looky here,” Daddy said, picking up a note. In big letters I could read, “Thank you for the cookies and milk. Love, Santa.
 A few scattered wisps of hay were all that the reindeer had left on the porch. Yes. Santa had definitely been here! But then I saw them, lavender and pink, laying there crisp and new, just like Mama had laid them out.
 “Oh, Mama, I wailed. “Santa forgot to take the doll clothes!”
  “Are you sure?” she ask.
“Yes, see?” I reached for the lavender set to show her. Just then I spied a note tucked under the pink bonnet. Unfolding it, I read,
Dear children,
Your mama asked me to give these to some little girls who needed them. I think your dollies could both use a new outfit.
Love Santa.”
My doll wearing her lavendar organdy Christmas outfit.
Enveloped in wonder of what Santa Claus had done, we rushed to dress our “babies” in the new finery. “Mama, look!” we squealed. “They fit perfectly. How did Santa know?
Mama’s eyes twinkled, but all she said was, “Now I wonder...”
Many Christmases have come and gone since that magic morning, and one never passes but that I see again my mother’s smile as she shared with us the enjoyment of the doll clothes she’d made “for some little girls who need them” and wondered with us how Santa could have ever known the exact size that would fit our babies…

This essay was previously published in the anthology Classic Christmas, edited by Helen Szymanski. (http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Christmas-Stories-Holiday-Goodwill/dp/B001QCX1NO/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1324843481&sr=1-1)                      

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gaining Experience

Children, like horses, come into maturity and self-knowledge through experience.

I trust that this statement is sufficiently vague, leaving me room for illucidation.

While riding Honor last week, I pondered this truth. Honor is a mover, and at this point, he seems to  move mostly in high gear. He walks fast, trots fast, and I'm not sure but that his lope is closer to a flat-out gallop. This is slightly disconcerting in a small enclosure, and my initial reaction was to pull back on the reins. His response was to resist being slowed down. Obviously, I had to do something different.

According to Clinton Anderson, one of the best ways to teach a nice, easy jog-trot and a slow lope is not by pulling back on a horse's mouth. Rather, it comes from putting miles under those hooves. Let him move, and keep him moving. As he starts to tire, he will begin thinking about how to preserve his remaining energy. When he reaches this point, Anderson advocates keeping him in that gait, and letting him figure out that a slow jog trot or easy lope is a whole lot less tiring than push, push, pushing.

So Honor and I set out for a long ride. We probably covered eight to ten miles, and of those, I'd say he trotted more than half, and loped a fair amount as well. Did he begin to conserve energy toward the end? Well, it was not a night-and-day difference, but he did seem to trot with more moderation than I had hitherto seen, and when loping, did not seem to tear down the road with quite the speed he'd shown earlier in the ride. At the very least, it was a good installment, one that I can see we will need to repeat frequently until he automatically finds that easy trot or lope when I ask him for it.

Interestingly, it reminds me a lot of parenting and how often we parents tend to keep constant pressure on the reins, trying to micromanage our kids, teens, even adult children into more moderation in behavior and life choices. Yet under such handling, they, like Honor, often do not learn to regulate themselves. They learn to resist the pressure--fighting our efforts to control them or cause them to act as we desire.

How much wiser, then, if we give them the space to begin to figure out which actions, attitudes, and choices work for their benefit, and which, like Honor's flat-out gallop-lope, don't end up so well. This self-knowledge won't happen in one ride, nor one choice. But let them put enough choices and consequences one after the other--enough miles under their hooves, if you will, and they're sure to figure it out.

The unexpected bonus of my ride? I enjoyed it so much more than the ones on which I'd spent the bulk of my time hauling back on the reins, micromanaging Honor's progress, all the while wondering if I was going to survive intact.

I'm all for that. So here's to gaining experience and enjoying the journey: Trot on!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Journey Forth

I rode Honor this week. I try to ride him often, but this time we trotted down country roads and through timber and creek, and it was lovely.

After weeks of drilling him on groundwork, and riding in the corral, we had long ago graduated to riding in the "big" field to the east. But you can only go around a field so many times before new horizons beckon. Was he ready? Was I? I wasn't sure, but the field was shrinking with every ride, and so I donned my helmet and my blaze-orange jacket (in case some avid hunter might think we were edible), and Honor and I ventured forth, along with my twelve-year-old daughter on Journey.

Honor, Journey, and Abigail
It was one of those times that help you remember why you're doing what you're doing. The horses were willing, the weather was decent, and the company? Delightful. It also brought on another spate of musing, this time about how often I practice and prepare, but when it comes to actually doing the thing I'm aiming for, I procrastinate.

I doubt I am the only one.

So why would we limit ourselves like that? My theory is that, more often than not, we're afraid to fail. Therefore, we over-prepare and sometimes just never quite step forward, because we're so attached to safety.

 I know there are individuals for whom the adrenaline rush that accompanies a good scare is worth the trauma. Not me. I love feeling safe. But the question I have to face, not just in horse riding, but also concerning endeavors in my areas of passion and in relationships with people, is whether a life without risk is worth the price. Is a stale existance, defined by the effort to avoid fear, really how I want to live my life?

Further up and further in!
Fear shrinks our world. It causes us to go around and around the same territory. Yes, we may be really good at what we do in that small area. Yet if we are ever going to experience the greater horizons, the long country roads, and the effervescent joy of taking new ground, we're going to have to move out of the realm of preparation and take a step forward into uncharted and longed-for ground.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Speaking of Chickens

As you can see from my title, I'm going to depart from horse-derived insights to muse about chickens and parenting. Chickens? Yes. Granted, even at their best, chickens cannot claim to be bright. However, this does not mean they cannot be profound. You see, I've been watching a certain little black hen who recently went to setting.

The fact that her chicks would emerge into a December-chilled world obviously  never occurred to her bird-y brain. But in her defense, she didn't know any better. Brought to life in the sterile enviornment of an incubator, she grew to feathered chickenhood beneath the impersonal warmth of a brooder light. This little black hen, stirred by something deep and solemn within herself, sat on her clutch of eggs three long weeks, barely leaving them for a quick meal or drink.

Six little peeping fluffballs of black and yellow hatched, and now follow her everywhere. She leads them to food. She leads them to water, calling them to her in a special mother hen cluck-voice, wings half spread to receive them should they become chilled, tired, or frightened. The chicks seem oblivious to the fact that they are experiencing something precious. They will never know that their mother is giving what she never received in order that her babies may thrive.

In our world, I know there are parents who, either from inability or unwillingness, do not give their children what they need in order to prosper emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically. But here's what I love: for every one of that kind of parent, there are fifty, a hundred, a thousand parents like the little black hen. They do not become embittered about what they did not receive from their own parents, therefore refusing to give it. Instead, they look down into the trusting eyes of their children and, reaching into their own beings, they give all that they wished they'd been given.

A second miracle often occurs as well: In that selflessness, they begin to understand how their own parents most likely did the same, and how they, the children of that generation, were oblivious to the gift, just as these chicks are. They cheep and scrabble and maybe even get tired of their mother's everlasting clucking and care. They have no knowledge of what it would be like to have to turn to the impersonal glow of a heat lamp for their only comfort. All they have ever known is warm, cuddling feathers and sheltering wings.

I also find it fascinating that we assume we can do what our parents did, never realizing until much later that in many instances, just like the black hen, they were breaking open new ground, giving us what they had not been given. To me this epitomizes a beautiful aspect of parenthood: we want our children to go beyond us, and we're willing to invest all we are to give them a launching pad to that beyond. May our ceiling--the best we can achieve--be their floor. May they stand on our shoulders to reach for that which is beyond our abilities. And when they look back at us, may they see us smiling as we cheer them on to ever greater heights. :-)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thinking Thoughts

When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.” A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Indeed. I find this happening to me nearly every time I begin a new blog entry. I ponder a point. The more I ponder, the more what I have to share feelsThingish. But once commited to paper (or website), the words look back at me in a timid sort of way, as if not quite sure they are ready for other people to read them.
I will launch out regardless, because I've been pondering peace again. Specifically, how to go about creating it. Though I have tended to resort to shifting the atmosphere by such things as quelling noise, lighting a candle to lend a golden glow, or playing something calm and classical on the CD player, I'm realizing that creating peace is not so much about enviornment as about how I choose to respond when strife, anger, worry, or fear are present.

For those that may be waiting for the horse tie-in, here it goes:

In the same manner, I have found that the best way to help Honor overcome fear or agitation is not necessarily to remove the stimulus--a short-term fix sending him the erroneous message that a fear reaction can cause scary things go away. Rather, if I remain calm and compassionate, unaffected by his fear and steady in my support of him, he finds a place of peace within himself greater than he possessed before. 

This is true with people as well (though personally I find people a whole lot more challenging than horses). At the risk of sounding simplistic--I'm seeing that it is really about love. Love disarms. It soothes, calms, and comforts. I am not very good at loving during a non-peaceful episode. But if I can tap into compassion; if I can see the person or situation from that position of care; I can extend peace toward them, and they, in turn, may choose to respond to me in like manner. But even if they do not, there is still peace within me.

Okay. That is the Thing I have been thinking about. Whether it is "Thingish" enough for anyone else to ponder is yet to be seen...