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raising kids

For me, raising children—whether it be dealing with a tiny baby or seeing your twenty-five year old develop year by year—has been the most exciting and rewarding thing I have ever done

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Trust Yourself

Trust Yourself

It is important to realize that no matter how inadequate you feel, your best is likely to be better than anybody else's in raising your child, simply because he is your child. But you will not be perfect. Nobody ever was. You will make mistakes. So will your child. Mistake making and forgiveness on both sides needs to be worked into all agreements between you. It is important to remember that you are not here to sacrifice your life for the child, nor is he meant to sacrifice his for you. You are here to give the best you can, and to do what you believe is right, whether or not this or that particular thing happens to coincide with your child's own wishes. When a parent's relationship with his or her child is honest, without guilt, free of any need to be loved or approved of, then the conflicts that arise between you, instead of being destructive, become positive forces in the growth of your relationship - the child's moving toward independence, and your continuing to grow in confidence and self respect. Raising Nature's child by no means demands that you become a servant or slave. There will come times when you have to put your foot down. This may be the twenty-third time your baby throws his fluffy duck out of the play pen and shouts in a demanding way for you to pick it up and put it back in again. It may be later when your child steps off a curb without looking and you have to grab him by the shirt collar and yank him out of the way of an oncoming bus. Such occasions are no time for `parenting classes'. You have to trust your instincts and take action. He or she won't like it. That is too bad, because it is the right thing to do. I remember when my children first started going to the local church discos. I agreed that they could go but insisted that they be home by 10 o'clock. That was important to me. An early return from nights out was written into a lot of our agreements, probably because as a child I lived in a family where nobody cared what time I came home and I interpreted that to mean they didn't care about me. Each of us has our idiosyncrasies. `But Mummy,' my daughter used to say, `everybody gets to stay out until midnight - it's not fair.' `I am sorry Susannah,' I would reply, `I never said I would always be fair. I want you home by 10 o'clock. Frankly, I don't care in the least what everybody else gets to do. It is home at 10 or you don't go.' nurturing seedpower The remarkable thing about a seed is that you don't have to sit and watch it every minute, nor do you have to buy a lot of expensive paraphernalia to get it to grow beautifully. Far from it. You need to supply very little for a seed to develop into a good plant: some healthy earth; the sun - not too much or the young leaves will burn; enough water - again, not too much, or the seed will rot. These simple things create the environment in which, thanks to the inner wisdom of seedpower and of Nature herself, the tiny seed will develop steadily and gracefully into a full-blown flower. So it is with each baby. Your child is much like a small plant. It needs a safe, healthy environment which allows its unfolding to take place, and of course the trust of its guardian - namely you - in allowing this to happen. Coming to trust this power for unfolding in your own child, learning to listen with your intuition and mind and heart to what a child is telling you and making use of some simple techniques for feeding, encouraging play and creativity, and helping your child's body heal himself whenever he is ill, is about all it takes to nurture a child the gentle way. By doing so, you encourage the full development of an individual into whatever he or she is genetically and spiritually designed to become. It doesn't cost a lot of money and it doesn't require that you become some superhuman parent. cut out commercialism In our society, babies are big business. Television, newspapers, magazines - even the little pamphlets they give you free at mother and baby clinics - are full of advice about what you should do and information about products: from bottled baby foods, to special so-called educational toys - which, they tell you, you simply cannot be without if you are to raise a healthy, happy and well adjusted child (whatever that is). All of them have been created by special interest groups. So has a lot of the information about health, diet and child care that appears in the media. Its sources include drug companies intent upon selling immunization serums, purveyors of baby clothes and goods keen to enhance their profits, and baby food manufacturers determined to convince you the best foods for your child come in miniature glass jars. They are all designed to serve their own interests. And they all, to a greater or lesser degree, exploit parents. By preying on our fears of inadequacy and our desire to do the best we can for our children, they can make us feel powerless. Such propaganda not only induces you to spend a lot more money than you need to on a baby or child, it shifts the emphasis of parenthood away from the enormously rich, challenging and fascinating realm of relationship between you and your child, where it belongs, towards a goal of amassing a lot of material junk. I am often horrified by the quantities of shiny plastic rubbish modern parents can collect around their babies and children - toys that never get played with, clothes that never get worn and convenience foods which should never be eaten since they have little capacity to nourish any child. nurturing the seed What your child really needs is what every child in every culture throughout the world has needed for the last million years - simple wholesome food, physical warmth, play, the opportunity slowly and gently to learn about the world around him and about the culture into which he has been born, as well as a parent - or maybe two - who not only makes sure he is safe but delights in his presence. Many parents worry that having a baby will restrict their lives enormously by making them stay home all the time. It does for a while but it needn't always. Traveling with a baby who is breast-fed is just about the easiest thing in the world to do. All he needs is his mother plus a few nappies. He does not need the full range of newfangled travel gear from a slick baby shop. I have traveled with all my children - by car, by rail, by plane - all my life. I not only find it easy, I enjoy having their companionship - especially when you are stuck in some foreign city with no friends in one of those faceless hotel rooms. It is good then to have a friend. A Nature's Child can be just about the best friend you will ever have.

Wow Love Is Real

Wow Love Is Real

My first child was born in a huge teaching hospital in Los Angeles. The labor was long and regrettably not natural. I was given an analgesic during labor and an epidural for the delivery. It was all very cold, efficient and mechanical. The hospital I was in happened to be a Catholic one in which every other woman there seemed already to know the ropes since she was giving birth to her fifth or eighth or tenth child. Nobody bothered to tell me much about what was going on or what was expected of me. My baby was taken from me immediately after the birth and put into a nursery with all of the other babies while I was wheeled off to a private room. Soon they brought this tiny creature to me. I held him in my arms and stared at him in stark wonder. Then at three hourly intervals he would reappear for twenty minutes at a time and I'd hold him in bed beside me until the nurse would come and take him away again. The third or fourth time they brought him to me, he began to cry. I nestled him, rocked him, and spoke gently to him but he wouldn't stop so I rang for the nurse. `My baby's crying,' I said, `What should I do?' `Have you burped him?' `Burped him?' `You have fed him haven't you?' `Fed him? Am I supposed to feed him?` The nurse took him and put him to my breast. His tiny mouth opened and reached for me as if he had known forever what to do. He began to suck with such force it took my breath away. It was like being attached to a vacuum cleaner. I began to laugh. I couldn't help myself. It seemed incredible that such a tiny creature could have such power and determination. He too had a purpose. He was raw, insistent and real. With every fiber of his being, this child was drawing his life and he would not be denied. Tears of joy ran shamelessly down my cheeks while he sucked. There in the midst of all that clinical green and white, I had discovered what love was all about. It was really quite simple—a meeting of two beings. The age, the sex, the relationship didn't matter. That day two creatures--he and I—had met. We touched each other in utter honesty and simplicity. This experience was for me a true epiphany. My life was forever altered by it. There was nothing romantic or solemn about it. No obligations, no duties, no fancy games, and you didn't have to read an encyclopedia of baby care to experience it. We'd met, just that. Somewhere in spirit we were friends. I knew beyond all doubt that I had found something real and real it has remained.

What The Daily Mail Didn't Publish

What The Daily Mail Didn't Publish

London’s Daily Mail approached me a few weeks ago asking me to write a piece on what it’s like to have 4 children by 4 different men. The idea intrigued me so I did. The piece wasn’t published since, they said, “It’s not written in the Mail style.” So here it is as a personal gift from me to you. I hope you enjoy it. Struggling to hold back the tears, my daughter’s voice on the crackly phone line was barely a whisper. “Mama, Dan died this morning,” she said. Dan Smith, biological father to my third child, Jesse, was much loved by all of my children. He had been seriously ill with a rare form of leukaemia. We knew he could die any moment. Still, the news that reached me at my Primrose Hill home that cold February morning in 2010 sent shock waves through me. “We’re already organising the funeral,” Susannah went on. “We want to play jazz music, tell fun stories about Dan and celebrate his life. Don’t worry about being 12,000 miles away, we’ll video all of it for you to watch later.” I would love to have been there to celebrate Dan’s life. It had been a good life. He was an honorable man—one who kept his promises. Dan had long adored each of my four children although only one of them was a child of his own body. Four years earlier, Dan had chosen to move to New Zealand to be near the children. Together they had searched for and found a house for him so that all of us—me included—could spend precious time with Dan and care for him so long as he lived. NOT THE MARRYING KIND I had met Dan 53 years earlier when I was seventeen years old. We became friends. Later, in my mid-twenties, we were briefly married. I was never much in favor of marriage, however. That’s probably why I chose to give birth to four children by four different men. Now I’m being called a trailblazer for what is becoming an increasingly popular brand of mothering, commonly referred to as ‘multi-dadding.’ I am supposed to be what is fashionably termed a ‘4x4.’ Mothering children by more than one man recently hit the headlines with the news that actress Kate Winslet is expecting her third child by her third husband, the rock star Ned Rocknroll. Kate, 37, has a 12-year-old daughter, Mia, with her first husband, Jim Threapleton, and a nine-year-old son, Joe, with her second husband, Sam Mendes. The former weather girl Ulrika Jonsson is a 4x4, and the late TV presenter Paula Yates was a 4x2. While supposedly gaining popularity, this style of mothering is still hugely controversial. I am told that the news that a woman has children by more than one man is still met with a mixture of horror and fascination. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I have never had to deal with either of these attitudes. To tell the truth, I have never much cared what people think about me, how I chose to live my life or the way I have raised my children. Perhaps that’s a good thing, or maybe I am just naïve. One thing is for sure: I’ve always been one of those women so fertile that that a man could almost look at me and I’d get pregnant. I would never miscarry. I rode horses, went surfing and danced all night while pregnant and suffered no consequences. I am told that women like me are often looked upon as monstrously selfish, bad mothers. They are accused of being feckless for having multiple lovers and just plain wrong for not providing their children with a ‘traditional family setup.’ I’m sure some traditional families are genuinely wise, stable and happy. The parents love each other and care for their children with great devotion and joy. But, in my experience, such families are few and far between. KIDS MATTER MOST What matters most in child rearing is neither convention nor family labels. It is the children. Children brought up by a devoted single mother (or single father) who lovingly trusts their own parental instincts and forms honest relationships with each child in their care, thrive. I believe this is far better than desperately trying to hold on to a marriage that doesn’t work ‘for the children’s sake.’ What I find sad is the way an ordinary single woman—not a movie star or media giant—who has children by more than one man and has to bring them up by herself, earning a living and juggling the needs not only of her children but also increasingly of their fathers, doesn't get the attention, sympathy, or anywhere near the admiration she deserves. It’s a challenging job for any woman. I know, I’ve done it. I’ve raised four children all on my own, earned the money for our family, stayed up all night caring for them when they had measles, chicken pox or mumps, then got up the next morning to make breakfast and iron that school uniform about which I was told, “Mama...my teacher says it has to be perfect.” Many a time I worried where the money was coming from to pay for food that week. LION-HEARTED MOTHERHOOD I champion any woman making a life for the children she loves in this way. It is the child that matters most and his or her relationship to a mother, father, or a caring friend. Every woman has a powerful lion-hearted passion to care for and protect her children. Women should trust themselves, give thanks for such power and use it for the benefit of their children. Kids are notoriously smart. They know when they are being fed a line about what they are “supposed” to think and say. They easily distinguish between what’s real and what’s contrived. As parents, if we want to gain the respect of our children we must always tell them the truth and treat them with respect as well as demand that they respect us in return. As far as the fathers of our children are concerned, they deserve the same respect and honesty from a woman as the child does, whether or not she is married to them. I believe that each child needs to get to know its father in its own way and make its own judgements. MY OWN STORY I grew up in a wildly unconventional family of highly creative, unstable people. Until I was 5, I was raised by my maternal grandmother. Later I was raped by my father and had my brain fried with ECT in an attempt to make me forget all that had happened to me. I was always a tomboy. I hated dolls. I loved to climb trees and play football. Yet from 5 years old I was sure that I wanted to have children. When I told my grandmother my plan she said I would need to get married to have children. “What’s married?” I asked. “It’s when you wear a white dress and have a big beautiful cake and promise to love and obey a man,” she said. “Ugh, I’ll never do that,” I replied. “I hate cake.” In any case, I knew she was lying to me since none of our Siamese cats were married, but they gave birth to masses of kittens. At the age of 17, while in my Freshman year at Stanford University, I got pregnant by a 22 year old man named Peter Dau. I rang my father. “I’m pregnant,” I told him. “What are you going to do?” “Give birth and keep the baby.” “You can’t keep the baby unless you get married,” he said. Had I been a little more gutsy I would have told him to get stuffed. But at the age of 17, still wrestling with all that had happened to me in my own childhood, he wielded a lot of influence over me. So I agreed. Peter was all for the idea. Single-handedly I put together an all-white wedding for 250 people in the garden of our Beverley Hills home. I made the decision to wear black shoes under my white satin dress. I felt I was giving my life away by marrying Peter, but I was willing to make the sacrifice since I so wanted this child. As soon as Dan learned of the wedding, he sent me a beautiful sterling silver bowl as a present which I still have. My first son, Branton, was born six months later. When I held this tiny baby in my arms he taught me the most important lesson I ever learned: Love exists. It is simple, real and has nothing to do with highfalutin notions or flowery words. At the age of 18, I realized my life had found its purpose—to love and be loved. PREGNANT AGAIN A year later, Peter and I left California for New York where he was to attend medical school while I went to work as a model to help support us. At that time, Dan left his job as a journalist in Massachusetts and moved to New York to be near us. My marriage to Peter ended amicably three years later. It should never have happened in the first place. Three days after leaving Peter back in California, I stopped overnight at my father’s house in Beverley Hills on my way back to New York. Barry Comden, a man much older than I whom I had known since I was 14 but never had a sexual relationship with, discovered I was in town and came to see me. I made love to him once and knew immediately that I was pregnant again. Marry Barry? No way. I was determined not to make the same mistake twice. (Years later Barry would marry the actress Doris Day.) Nine months later my only daughter, Susannah, was born. It was then that a large tumor growing off of my right ovary was discovered. It had been hidden behind the baby during my pregnancy. It was dangerous and had to be surgically removed. HELP WHEN IT MATTERS Once again Dan appeared in my life. He had always insisted that he fell in love with me from the first day we met. He had written me letters every single day my first year at Stanford. I never answered any of them. I didn’t share his love and I didn’t want to lead him on. He had also sent me book after book which he thought I should read. I read them all and loved them. Dan had always been kind and generous to me. He was always keen to protect and care for me when I needed it. So, when I ended up penniless and alone with two children and in need of major surgery, he offered me a home. I accepted. For several months the four of us lived together in New York. Dan adored Branton and Susannah and treated them as if they were his own. I was longing to leave the United States. I wanted to live in Paris—a city I loved more than any other. Dan was able to arrange a job for himself there as a foreign correspondent. In early 1964 we went. Dan had repeatedly told me that he was sure we were meant to be together forever. I hoped that he was right and believed that if I tried hard enough to be a good wife I would learn to love him as he deserved. On July 29, 1964, we were married in Paris. Like every other man I have ever been close to, Dan knew long before we were married that my children would always come first. I had sat him down and told him that he would have to treat Susannah and Branton exactly the same as he would treat any child of his who might come along. He agreed. On June 12, 1965, Dan’s son Jesse was born. He was delighted. True to his word, never once did he favor Jesse over Branton and Susannah. This was great for all three children who came to know him well and to adore him. When presents were passed out, each child was equally favored. Dan belonged to all of them and they knew it. FATHERS, FATHERS Because Branton’s father lived in America and we lived in Europe, Branton did not see him again until he was 11. By that age I figured he was old enough to make the trip on his own and spend a week or two with Peter. Susannah was not really interested in her father—also in the United States—until she was about 17. She then went to Los Angeles to meet him. A good friendship developed between them which remained until Barry died. A non-traditional, unconventional family? Absolutely, but it worked because there was honesty and there was love—the two most important things in any family, anytime, anywhere. For five years I had told myself that, if only I could learn to love Dan more, then everything would be all right. But I couldn’t. And it wasn’t. Confused and disappointed, at the age of 27, I faced the fact that our marriage had failed. We moved to England and we separated. It was Easter. I went to a Buddhist monastery in Scotland to clear my head. Of course Dan grieved over the failure. But that never stopped him from being a welcome person in our family right up to his death. Years later he would marry Gerda Boyeson, a psychotherapist who died a few years before he did. BLESSED MEN The men who made my life rich after Dan and I divorced were, each in their own way, as special as he had been. Each accepted that my children came before all else in the world to me. I never compromised. I chose men, be they friends or lovers, who brought wonderful things to my children. No man ever came before my children. If any man didn’t understand and accept this, he had to go. One man whom I loved, Graham, taught my children to climb and sail and mountaineer. All my children forged deep bonds with Graham which have remained to this day. Another man, Garth, gave Branton, Susannah and Jesse his much cherished toy collection from his own childhood. Garth took us all on wonderful picnics, introduced us to hidden beaches, sang songs with us and blessed us with his unique brand of joy. Then there was David, a man with whom I lived with for 5 years in my late twenties. David constructed beautiful rooms for each of my children in the tiny house I had bought with the little money that my grandfather had left me, when Dan and I separated. David wrote and recorded songs for each of my children. That was 40 years ago. Last year, Susannah and her partner visited David and his wife in Barcelona where he now lives. AN UNCONVENTIONAL MOTHER Ironically, the only complaint I ever got from any of my children about my not being conventional enough was from Dan’s son Jesse. “Why aren’t you like other mothers?” Jesse asked one day when he was 7. “I don’t know, Jesse, what are other mothers like?” “Oh you know,” he said, “They’re fat and bake cookies.” Jesse even grumbled if, while I was waiting to pick him up from school, I sat on the playground swings. He was adamant that such behavior was not “proper” for his mother. Sixteen years after Jesse was born, I became pregnant for the last time by yet another special man—Paul. I announced my condition to 17 year old Susannah as we were all setting off for a six week holiday in Canada with Graham and his son Ruan. “I’m going to have a baby,” I told her. “Don’t worry Mama,” she laughed, “We’ll say it is mine!” FAMILY CELEBRATION In March of 1981, I gave birth to my fourth child, Aaron, at our home in Pembrokeshire. All three of my other children helped deliver him. While I was in labor, they prepared the most delicious lunch I have ever tasted from fruits and vegetables from the garden. I had insisted on giving birth naturally at home, not in some clinical, cold hospital. Jesse had been born via natural childbirth, at a clinique d’accouchement in Paris. After the experience of natural childbirth I swore if ever I had another child it would have to be this way. As for Dan, one way or another he was always close by. He knew David, Graham, Garth and every other man who was to play a role in my own life and my children’s lives. For many years he spent Christmases with us and with our other male friends when they were there. Dan loved to play saxophone at family gatherings. One year he dressed up as Santa Claus. Aaron, then 5 years old, was completely taken in by the costume and terrified when this rotund man belted out, “Ho, Ho, Ho, little boy, what do you want for Christmas?” It took a lot of reassurance from Aaron’s big brothers and sister to convince him that Santa was really ‘good old Dan.’ UNIQUE & INDEPENDENT As for my children, each of them is totally unique and highly independent. I have always fought hard to encourage them to trust themselves and listen to their own heart instead of doing or saying what the rest of the world tells kids they are supposed to do and say. After graduating with a first class degree from Lancaster University, Branton, now 53, developed a series of successful businesses. Susannah, 50, with whom I have written 5 books and done two television series, is a sought-after voice artist. Jesse, 48, is a highly skilled plastic surgeon. Jesse and I have also written a book together. Aaron, now 32, is a designer and filmmaker. He and I have worked together for the past four years developing Cura Romana—a spiritually based program for health, lasting weight loss and spiritual transformation. Branton and Jesse have been happily married for many years. Both have three children each. As for me, I am probably the world’s worst grandmother. I don't babysit, or do any of the things grandmothers are ‘supposed’ to do. (Including baking those cookies Jesse once complained about.) Why? I’m not sure. I guess because for forty-five years of my life I was a mother. I loved this more than all the books I’ve written, all the television programs I’ve devised and presented, all the workshops I’ve taught, and all the other things I’ve done and enjoyed. Right now, my life belongs to me alone. I love the freedom this brings me. I am passionate about being a catalyst in people’s lives, helping them realize their own magnificence and live out their potentials both for their own benefit and for the benefit of all. Who knows what exciting challenges lie before me. Bring them on!

Re-discovering Life

Re-discovering Life

I think maybe I know what's wrong with you.' `What?' I asked skeptically. `You're always thinking about such serious things. You're always telling yourself what to do and what not to do. No wonder you're angry. You've forgotten how to have fun, Mummy. One day in summer, everything seemed to go wrong for me. For no apparent reason I awakened in the morning with the awful feeling that nothing was worthwhile. At 10am I received a telegram from a publisher saying that two manuscripts (of which I had no copies) had been lost in the mail. By noon not even the brilliance of California sunshine (where we were on holiday at the time) could shake off the heavy black cloud that surrounded me. I was angry with myself - and trying to avoid being angry with everyone else. My two younger children, Jesse, aged eight, and Susannah, ten, kept asking me to take them to the beach. I didn't want to go anywhere, especially the beach. I did not want to do anything for anyone. Finally, in the worst possible spirit, I consented - making sure, of course, that they realized I was doing them a big favor. The pure white sand and the fresh sea air on the almost deserted beach did nothing to improve my mood. It seemed to me that life was `out there' and I was `in here' locked away in the depths of the gloomy dungeon I'd built and was powerless to break out of. As the sun shone brighter and more beautiful, I grew steadily more gloomy. Finally I could stand it no longer. Despite the fact that the children were playing in the sand nearby and I didn't want to upset them, I broke down and cried. Susannah asked what was wrong. `I don't know, just about everything seems wrong at the moment,' I whined. `I feel like that sometimes,' Jesse said, offering no sympathy whatsoever. `I think you must be angry.' `So what if I am?' I snapped. `Why don't you hit something?' he suggested. `There's nothing to hit,' I replied irritably, `and anyway that's stupid.' `No, it's not,' Susannah chimed in. `It will make you feel ever so much better, Mummy. Or maybe you could growl like a dog.' I was willing to try anything. So, feeling like a complete fool and admonishing myself for behaving so stupidly in front of my own children, I growled and complained. I hated everyone, I said. I hated myself. I was lonely and I felt the whole world was stupid. Then I growled some more while the two of them sat listening silently. Not once did they try to console me, or tell me I was wrong or protest that the world was really a lovely place to love. Not once did they pass judgment on me or make me feel ashamed of myself or foolish. They just sat and waited. Finally I felt a little better. Jesse had been right, I thought, but I still had no idea where to go from here. At last I was quiet. Only then did Susannah say, `I think maybe I know what's wrong with you.' `What?' I asked skeptically. `You're always thinking about such serious things. You're always telling yourself what to do and what not to do. No wonder you're angry. You've forgotten how to have fun, Mummy.' She was certainly right. Having fun seemed as far away as the moon at that moment. I realized then, that for several months I had saddled myself with my work as if work were the only thing that mattered. I'd hated almost every minute of it but had felt proud of being such a `responsible adult.' `Maybe you're right,' I replied. `But how does somebody who's forgotten something so important remember it?' `Come on, let's dig a hole,' was her reply. `Yeah, I like holes,' Jesse chimed in. Feeling like a half-frozen hippopotamus, I lifted myself off the towel and mechanically moved toward the site they'd chosen for the hole. I started to dig. Jesse, who tended to act a bit of a clown, was soon sliding down into it and Susannah was snapping at him for `ruining the shape.' I looked at the two of them fiercely sneering at each other and saw myself as I had been just a few minutes before. I began to laugh. So did they. Before long we had a beautiful hole dug. It was probably the most beautiful hole you've ever seen... or so it seemed to me. We had a contest to see who was best at running up and leaping over it. Then we drew pictures in the sand and ran into the ice-cold water, splashing each other. By the time the first wave struck me, I, like the two of them, had become part of the sea and the sky. There was no more gloom and no more supercilious self-assurances that I was `doing the best thing.' I was alive again. Later that evening I thanked Jesse and Susannah for helping me and teaching me to have fun again. Then in typical adult fashion, I added, `You know I'm likely to forget and be all grumbly again before long.' `That's all right,' replied Susannah, `we'll remind you.' And they have - again and again over the years.

Love With Muscle

Love With Muscle

Children have also taught me much of what I know about love. They have a singularly unsentimental attitude toward love and show little patience with an adult's romantic notions. To a child love is nothing fancy. It is a real and tangible feeling to be taken highly seriously. `If you love somebody,' a six-year-old boy named Charlie once told me, `then you help him put his boots on when they get stuck.' `When I grow up,' said eight-year-old Marlene, `I'm going to love somebody even if his handwriting is messy.' I once had a real demonstration of what love is all about from my eldest son, Branton, who was then eight and to all appearances totally indifferent to his little sister, Susannah. One Autumn evening, after we'd all been out in the yard, we discovered Susannah was missing. Through a series of misunderstandings she thought we'd gone off for a walk in the woods - and we thought she'd gone back to the house. By the time I realized she was gone, Branton had a dachshund under each arm and was firmly ensconced on the sofa watching his favorite television program with a friend. If one thing was certain in our house, it was that Branton would do absolutely nothing anyone wanted him to do - such as set the table or wash his hands - while this particular program was on. I could stand in the middle of the room and scream at the top of my lungs but he wouldn't hear me. After I'd searched every room for Susannah, I began to be frightened. It was dark by then, and she was only five years old. Our house in the country had enormous expanses of land and woods surrounding it. She could have been anywhere. Careful not to betray my anxiety, I announced, `Branton, Susannah is gone.' There was a pause, rather like a slow take in a cartoon film, then he turned and looked at me. `I can't find Susannah,' I repeated. `She isn't in the house, and I don't know where she is.' He was up as if dynamite had blown him off the sofa. The poor sleepy dachshunds were shaken out of their stupor. `I'll find her,' he said on his way to the door. Then he stopped and turned to his friend, still engrossed in the television program. `Get up, Jeff,' he commanded, `we've got to find Susu. Hurry up.' I have never seen any human being move faster. Within two minutes he had been around the acre of land surrounding the house and rung two doorbells to ask if the neighbors knew where his sister was. By then I had remembered our talk about going for a walk in the woods, and had headed toward the thicket. Branton, still running at top speed, came up and passed me by, all the time calling: `Susannah, Susannah.' As we headed up the big path into the woods, I heard the faraway sound of a child crying out. It was Susannah. I tried to reassure her we were coming - while attempting to avoid falling in the wet mud - meanwhile Branton plunged on ahead, apparently afraid of nothing. In another minute he had her in his arms. As I approached, I heard him saying over and over, `Oh, Susu, Susu, are you all right?' as tears streamed down his cheeks. Later that night at the dinner table I told Susannah, who frequently suffered Branton's scorn, that now she knew what Branton really felt about her. I suggested she remember this evening whenever she became discouraged by his taunts - calling her a drip, for instance. She smiled. `You're a drip,' said Branton.

Nature's Child

Nature's Child

"Your children are not your children," wrote the Lebanese poet Kahil Gibran, "They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself...You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth." It is a quote I like, not only because - having raised four children on my own - I believe it to be just about the most accurate description of parenthood I have ever come across, but also because it emphasizes the `lightness' which develops when you give up trying to be perfect and come to trust the processes of Nature - in feeding, in healing, in guiding you and your child towards what is best for his or her development at any moment in time. Like the seed of a plant which has encoded within its genetic material the characteristics that will in time produce the full-grown flower, every baby comes into this world carrying a package of as yet unrealized but incredibly rich potential. Within each child is nestled his or her very own brand of unique seedpower encompassing far greater physical, creative and spiritual potential than he or she could realize in ten lifetimes. Your child is like the brush stroke the zen painter uses to represent one leaf on a shaft of bamboo. The leaf he paints is totally singular - like no leaf that has ever existed. Yet within this uniqueness is encompassed universal beauty and life energy of the highest order.

First Foods

First Foods

From the time he is ready to start weaning until he is five or six - or even beyond - how do you feed a child well? It is the question mothers most frequently ask me. If you really care about your child eating the best possible way for his long-term health and emotional balance, it is the easiest thing in the world to do. Babies and children always do - not what you tell them to do - but what they see you do. The way to feed a child well is to feed yourself well on simple, wholesome, natural foods and not to keep any foods in the house which are not health promoting - right from the beginning. Introducing a breast-fed baby to new drinks and to solid food is easy and lots of fun provided you don't get seduced by advertisers into believing that the best foods to feed him on come ready made in jars and packets from the shelves of supermarkets. They don't. Commercially prepared baby foods are not only more expensive, they are far less nutritious than wholesome homemade dishes from your own table since most of them have been processed to death. The best foods for weaning a baby are the same foods you eat yourself provided you prepare your meals from scratch and don't rely on the manufactured convenience stuff. Your breast-fed baby will not need solid foods at all for the first four or five months of his life. Until then any solids fed him - cereals or fruits or what have you - will tend to pass right through him. His digestive system is not developed enough to process them. Also, during the early months of a baby's life his defenses against allergies are rudimentary. If you give him solids too early there is a much greater chance that he could end up allergic to milk or grains or eggs or just about anything else. By the time he is five or six months old, however he will not only enjoy sitting up at the table with you while he eats but will also want to explore the world around him. For a baby that means putting whatever is offered into his mouth. This is the time for him to begin experimenting with new drinks and foods. learning to eat and drink Begin by offering him a little fresh fruit juice or vegetable juice diluted one part juice to three parts spring or filtered water. I started Aaron, my youngest, on diluted carrot juice made from an organic carrot or two in a centrifuge juice extractor and offered it to him immediately so it was full of vitamins, minerals and life energies. He adored the stuff. Fresh carrot and apple juice diluted in the same way is also a favorite with babies and children. Give them just a taste to begin with either on a little spoon or in a bottle. If your baby doesn't like the taste then forget it for the moment and try him again in another week or two. As they get older you can gradually decrease the water until they are taking it full strength. Offer your baby his first taste of solid foods while he is sitting at the table watching you eat. Mash a banana and give him just a taste, or a little flesh from a baked potato with a tiny bit of butter on it. Make it a game. If he likes it, great, let him have a bit more. If not, eat it yourself and forget it. You can buy one of the inexpensive hand held blenders and puree just about any wholesome natural food you are eating - from soups to nuts and from Brussels sprouts to whole grain bread to which a little spring water has been added. Let it be a game for the both of you - not some serious effort to get him to eat. If you want to avoid eating problems both now and later, never, ever, force food or drink on a baby or child. This is one of the cardinal rules of child rearing. Above all stop worrying about how much he needs to take. He will show you that himself by his responses. What so many parents forget is that the powerful will to live which lies at the core of his own seedpower and has brought your baby into the world will continue to sustain him. He will know how much food he needs now and later as he grows (provided of course his natural mechanisms for knowing have not become distorted by force feeding or being given lots of convenience foods loaded with refined sugar, junk fats and chemical additives). Children who have been raised on breast milk when gradually introduced to simple wholesome fruits and vegetables, grains and home made protein foods right from the table, learn to eat simply and gleefully. Every new taste is an adventure. a little of what he fancies Interesting studies have been carried out with small children. They show that provided the only foods offered them are good foods - that is not highly processed or filled with refined sugar, white flour or additives - babies and children left to their own devices will instinctively choose a wholesome diet. A child may eat nothing but bananas one day, then turn to carrots or whole grain bread or eggs the next. Looked at over a period of a week or two, his picking and choosing prompted by his own internal messages and instincts, spontaneously selects for him a diet which is virtually ideal when measured against what nutritional science says a growing child needs. Because his palate and instincts have not become distorted by manufactured foods, Nature's child is in touch with his body and its needs. He never has to give a thought to eating well. He does it the same way a bird sings or a waterfall tumbles over rocks down into a pool a hundred feet below. He not only supports his health and well-being in the best possible way, his own inner wisdom enables his own brand of individual seedpower to unfold beautifully into the unique individual he is designed to be - physically, emotionally and spiritually. When what your child eats day after day, year after year, supports the energy balancing, energy-producing functions in his body it creates for him an experience of grace in his life and in yours. He is far more likely to be centered in his demeanor, resistant to illness and cheerful in his outlook. When, on the other hand his diet is made up of highly processed convenience foods filled with junk fats and chemical additives - foods which have lost the complex balance and synergy in all living things - then you create metabolic confusion in his body and a greater susceptibility to illness and behavioral disturbances from hyperactivity to aggression.

Child-Raising—Trust In Nature

Child-Raising—Trust In Nature

"Your children are not your children," wrote the Lebanese poet Kahil Gibran, "They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself...You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth." It is a quote I like, not only because—having raised four children by four different men on my own—I believe it to be just about the most accurate description of parenthood I have ever come across, but also because it emphasizes the 'lightness' which develops when you give up trying to be perfect and come to trust the processes of Nature—in feeding, in healing, in guiding you and your child towards what is best for his or her development at any moment in time. SEEDPOWER HAS WISDOM Like the seed of a plant that has encoded within its genetic material the characteristics that will in time produce the full-grown flower, every baby comes into this world carrying a package of as yet unrealized, but incredibly rich, potential. Within each child is nestled his or her very own brand of unique seedpower, encompassing far greater physical, creative and spiritual potential than he or she could realize in ten lifetimes. Your child is like the brush stroke the zen painter uses to represent one leaf on a shaft of bamboo. The leaf he paints is totally singular—like no leaf that has ever existed. Yet within this uniqueness is encompassed universal beauty and life energy of the highest order. Just as I tried to do with my first son, most conscientious parents try their best to mould their children from the outside by imposing upon them their own ideas about what they should act like, think like, look like and all the rest. Not only does it work a lot better the other way round—listening to the individual echoes of a child's own seedpower coming from within, and responding to it by offering whatever at any moment is most appropriate, in the form of food, health, guidance, education, toys and so forth—it is also infinitely easier. CONTRACTS HOLD A KEY Taking on the job of guardian for a child from birth to adulthood also involves making 'contractual agreements'—agreements which need to be re-negotiated from time to time. Like every contract, the parent/child relationship is always a two-way deal. It has to be fair on both sides and nurture both people involved. How well your own contracts develop and how much joy there is for both of you in living them will depend to a great extent on how clearly the agreements between you are understood. Let me show you what I mean. In establishing 'contracts' with my own children, I decided I wanted to supply them with wholesome food and clean surroundings, as well as physical warmth, safety, and the right to their own needs and opinions even if they differed from mine. In return I expected them to accept the home and food and care I provided even though it would never be perfect, and to be as honest, respectful of my decisions and as reasonable with me as their age would allow. What I would never ask of a child—and where so many parents, in my opinion, go wrong—is to ask that the child love me. Get into that contract and you automatically create trouble. For whether or not your child loves you is ultimately beside the point. Your responsibility is simply to use the best of your wisdom and physical resources to help that child grow. I decided long ago that I would do my best for my children always, but that they were stuck with me as a parent for better or for worse—complete with all my warts. I also decided that, while I didn't expect them to love me, I did expect them to know that whatever I did, I did because I believed it to be right. When some decision I made or action I took turned out to be wrong, I owned up and, where appropriate, asked for their forgiveness, just as I forgave them their mistakes. MAGIC HAPPENS I discovered quite by accident that there is a certain magic to all this. For when you genuinely give up all claim to being a 'good parent' or to having your child love you, you create a remarkable expanse of freedom for you both. In the end, not only do your children end up loving you of their own accord, they also respect you (even when they don't agree with you). Most important of all, they feel safe because they know that although at times you may seem unreasonable and unbending, your strength—on which they rely for security—remains uncorrupted by flattery or emotional blackmail (which even very young children can be very good at). They learn that your strength is there to serve them.

How I Learned That Love Is Real

How I Learned That Love Is Real

My first child was born in a huge teaching hospital in Los Angeles. The labor was long and regrettably not natural. I was given an analgesic during labor and an epidural for the delivery. It was all very cold, efficient and mechanical. The hospital I was in happened to be a Catholic one in which every other woman there seemed already to know the ropes since she was giving birth to her fifth or eighth or tenth child. Nobody bothered to tell me much about what was going on or what was expected of me. My baby was taken from me immediately after the birth and put into a nursery with all of the other babies while I was wheeled off to a private room. Soon they brought this tiny creature to me. I held him in my arms and stared at him in stark wonder. Then at three hourly intervals he would reappear for twenty minutes at a time and I'd hold him in bed beside me until the nurse would come and take him away again. The third or fourth time they brought him to me, he began to cry. I nestled him, rocked him, and spoke gently to him but he wouldn't stop so I rang for the nurse. `My baby's crying,' I said, `What should I do?' `Have you burped him?' `Burped him?' `You have fed him haven't you?' `Fed him? Am I supposed to feed him?` The nurse took him and put him to my breast. His tiny mouth opened and reached for me as if he had known forever what to do. He began to suck with such force it took my breath away. It was like being attached to a vacuum cleaner. I began to laugh. I couldn't help myself. It seemed incredible that such a tiny creature could have such power and determination. He too had a purpose. He was raw, insistent and real. With every fiber of his being, this child was drawing his life and he would not be denied. Tears of joy ran shamelessly down my cheeks while he sucked. There in the midst of all that clinical green and white, I had discovered what love was all about. It was really quite simple—a meeting of two beings. The age, the sex, the relationship didn't matter. That day two creatures - he and I — had met. We touched each other in utter honesty and simplicity. This experience was for me a true epiphany. My life was forever altered by it. There was nothing romantic or solemn about it. No obligations, no duties, no fancy games, and you didn't have to read an encyclopedia of baby care to experience it. We'd met, just that. Somewhere in spirit we were friends. I knew beyond all doubt that I had found something real and real it has remained.

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