Keeping the Peace without Sacrifice

toys, 2 lambs It was the custom in my family when I was growing up to invite a non family member to the holiday dinners held at the home of my grandmother or my Great Aunt Alice, so that there wouldn’t be any “rows” as they were called…what could be termed family arguments. People were more likely to be on their best behavior with a relative stranger or at least a distant relative in their midst. The family I grew up in was rather vociferous.

My parents tended to discuss their differences at the top of their lungs. Their shouting made me cringe. They must have grown up doing this. My father and his mother my grandmother, used to have loud disagreements. My mother once told me they would telephone each other, call and then hurry to be the first to bang down the phone. My mother also talked about the “fights” she had with her sister; she too grew up in the habit of loud disagreement. Disliking my discomfort, I resolved when I grew up there would be no fighting in my family.

When neighborhood children played in my yard, they knew if they provoked conflict they would be sent home. If my children were to begin fighting I would separate them and send them to their rooms. In addition, if I strongly disagreed with something their father wanted or said, I would wait until they were out of earshot before I discussed it with him. I had determined there would only be peace throughout my entire household. No one was permitted to fight.

There is one problem with doing away with conflict entirely: any resentment or unhappiness can linger and come out in sneaky ways, like cutting or sarcastic remarks or other hurtful behavior. Even today I have to watch myself if I haven’t expressed my personal upset. I am liable to say something mean or unkind and call it a joke when it really is not.

However, in those days I didn’t know how conflict could be resolved while taking people’s feelings into account. I have since learned about conflict resolution and about ways to carry on discussions in a reasonable fashion. The “talking stick” method means one person gets to speak without interruption while holding a talking talisman. When he or she is done, the next person holds it and has his or her say. Even young children can learn to abide by this method.

Keeping the peace does not mean keeping silent, it does mean expressing oneself without being judgmental or vindictive. Feelings can be expressed and people can agree to disagree. What is important is to learn how to express negative feelings responsibly. I can say, “I feel,” not “you make me feel.” When I take responsibility for how I feel, others can do the same. When I speak my truth with kindness, I evoke the same response. When everyone listens, resolutions can be arrived at and peace can be made without anger, resentment or the sacrifice of anyone’s well being.

More Than One Mother

Me and mama by Bachrach

In my life I have been fortunate to have some remarkable women friends who in certain ways could be considered in the light of mothers. Their age had little to do with it. It was their warmth, their acceptance, their caring and their love that helped to create the part they played in my life. I loved my late mother dearly, however there were aspects of her nature that were difficult for me to deal with, and while she was well meaning and did her best to be a good mother, she could not be everything I would have wished her to be. In my adult life the physical distances between us through the years also created a problem.

The depth of her compassion and acceptance were a special feature of one of the women who served my needs in a way my mother could not. We shared many of the same interests and in a climate where I had little support, she was very encouraging to me in my efforts to learn and to grow. She would frequently invite me to lunch and we would spend many hours in conversation about a variety of subjects. She had a wide range of knowledge and very little prejudice. She was also warm in a way my mother was not.

My own mother was a very good artist and once her family was grown devoted her life to her art. She had her own gallery and her paintings were admired and purchased by people from all over the globe. However, she and I had very little in common in our interests. Our telephone conversations were usually about what she had been doing or what my children were up to.

Another of my mother figures was also an important teacher in my life. Married at eighteen I had no work experience. As a result of studying with this person I gained a way to earn a living as well as a way to be of help to others. She took a personal interest in me and allowed me to assist her in many ways. I found in her a lifelong person to admire and look up to even after she moved away. She was a wonderful teacher and a good friend. My mother, who tried in vain to teach me to knit often said she was too impatient to teach me anything. However I am still thankful she was kind enough to pay a neighbor to give me sewing lessons.

These are only two of the special women who were also maternal figures in my life. It takes nothing from my original mother to think of them in this way because they filled roles that she could not. No single individual can be all things to another whether as a parent, sibling or spouse. Yet we all may play roles in one another’s lives to be of help and to fill in the gaps that our actual mothers might not have been equipped to do. I am always extremely grateful to my mother who worked so hard to raise and in her own way mother me. I am also very thankful to those others who gave of themselves to me with love and acceptance in their hearts.


And God Bless the Caterpillars by Tasha Halpert

And God Bless the Caterpillars

LLisa's butterfly My dandelion headed five-year-old is saying his prayers. He includes the caterpillars in their jars on the window sill. We had filled the jar with what we hoped was the appropriate leaves for food and twigs to climb, and each night we prayed for them. The time was 1968, and my son was one of five, active bright friendly loving children.

The caterpillars munched, spun cocoons on the twigs, and were quiet. We waited in vain for butterflies to emerge. Together we concluded that caterpillars did not do well in captivity and perhaps it was better for them to go free. Lessons on many levels were learned from the experience. I don’t know whether my son remembers the caterpillars, but he is now a grown man with a strong sense of curiosity, a fine capacity for observation and a desire to do some good in the world. The eager child lives on in the man.

One day the family visited someone who had guinea pigs. Naturally the children were fascinated and the pet shop that sold us our first pair agreed to buy back progeny. I was delighted at the opportunity to give the children a first hand lesson in biology, and all went well until we elected to do a breeding experiment. Unfortunately our breeding program coincided with a glut of guinea pigs at the pet shop. My living room filled up with boxes holding a total of fifteen furry squeakers and any time the refrigerator door opened, a chorus of squeals filled the house.

In the process my oldest daughters found out first hand that one cannot always rely on original solutions but must plan for contingencies, and of course they had graphic experience in where babies come from! Now that they have had their own children, they have fostered the same sense of adventure in their offspring and have carried on the same love affair with nature.

Nature is a great teacher of many things, and the care with which it is arranged has a significant message for us. We are part of the cycles of emergence, growth, and return to the whole. We circulate life energy the way a tree does. Once we believed we were in charge but this conviction is eroding with our recognition of the results of that belief. Our attunement to the part we play in the natural order of life seems to me to be more important than ever to our growth as healthy, positive human beings.

Parenting seems best learned by experience. Children are resilient. With goodwill, grace and good luck most of us will succeed in raising well adjusted children. Doing what we most enjoyed with our youngsters often results in happiness for all, but observing and participating in the processes of nature can easily and quickly return us to the joys of childhood as well as bring us pleasure in the present.

Looking together at snowflake crystals, searching for seashells, tenderly weeding small gardens—the days of my companionship with my children are cherished memories. I learned as much from them as they did from me. Nature is a great teacher and I am grateful to her for the lessons I learned as well as the beauty I have received. I am proud, too, of my children for their positive attitudes and approach to life, much of which was learned at Mother Nature’s knee. And I say with my son, God bless the caterpillars, God bless them all.