family culture

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Thing Two. Shout your love, and be specific.

Years ago, I was sitting in a class at BYU one afternoon. The guest lecturer, Stephen R. Covey, was there with his daughter, Maria. These were virtually the first (very loud) words out of his mouth that day: “I love my daughter Maria!” We all jumped. Not kidding. It was like he was shouting it to the winds. No, that’s not accurate:  it was like he was shouting it to the planet Neptune.

Volume aside, though, what I walked away with that day were two things. One, if you love a child, then why not make it known? The look on Maria’s face made me smile. I swear she was thinking, “Oh gosh, here we go again.” But no one in that lecture hall could have doubted Covey’s affection for the girl sharing the microphone with her dad.

I have never proclaimed my love that loudly before. But there is one thing I do at a softer volume, and it’s no less sincere for not being audible to anyone but the girl in question. I identify something I love (and this works as well with boys as it does with girls), and I articulate it. Example: “How beautiful your hands are. I love your hands.”

The trick with this: a) you’ve got to feel it deep down, for real, and b) you’ve got to time it right.  Moments like these require a certain . . . openness, for lack of a better word.

But back to hands.  I LOVE my daughters’ hands, both sets! (Two girls, four hands altogether.) They both have their dad’s hands–elegantly shaped, long fingers. And both girls use their hands expressively–to help me see what they’re thinking or feeling.  Hand-love, spoken aloud:  easy-breezy.

Try this. Give yourself twenty seconds, and identify just one thing you absolutely adore about a daughter (or daughters!).  Then determine how and when you’re going to express that.

Take-away number two.  Noticing what you love about a daughter and articulating it not only for yourself but more particularly for her makes it more real. I believe this. The petals’ hands would always be their hands whether or not I ever happened to notice their beauty. But the second I tell one of them out loud how lovely their hands are, the realness of what I’ve just put into words registers somewhere inside me, in a place where love seems to deepen and brighten for having become said and not just felt.  Likewise, inside the heart of the child who receives that little gift packaged in words, the belief that they are indeed worthy of notice and affection is strengthened, maybe just enough to combat a negative message–from somewhere else–preparing to hit its mark.

Covey shouting his love for his daughter. I’m smiling right now, not just because I can remember exactly what his voice sounded like but also because, on Maria’s face, you could so clearly see that, while she’d heard this enough times to make her want to roll her eyes, she believed it.

(For the record:  the two sets of hands in the photo belong to Miss Lavender and Miss Primrose, whose hands I also adore.)

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Getting to Happy, Part Two

by Becky on February 18, 2013 · 4 comments

in Books, Parenting

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I sometimes think of the word ‘happy’ as a noun: a thing I can grab and go with, like a colorful scarf or an e-reader(!) or the (absolutely) lovely Spanish olive oil I’m almost out of. My children often trigger my Happy–when they’re being imaginative, when they’re laughing hard, when they’re being kind to each other.  My teens inspire my Happy when they show maturity and generosity of spirit.

But the other ‘happy’ word, ‘Happiness’–the Capital-H kind–that’s a journey, for me, at least. So I thought I’d share a few favorites with you today and tomorrow–things that could trigger your Happy and also give you pause to think about your own road to Capital-H Happiness.

The first is the notion of a Happiness Project.  I heard Gretchen Rubin speak maybe ten months ago, and I found her really inspiring. Her story:  she wanted to get closer to Happiness but didn’t quite know how to go about it, so she started what she called The Happiness Project, which eventually turned into a book–The Happiness Project–which quickly became a New York Times bestseller and then an international bestseller.  I own the book and have loved it, particularly the way in which she takes you into the very personal machinery of her life, starting with her Twelve Personal Commandments. She actually made the study and the practice of Happiness a year-long pursuit, each month focusing on one aspect of what she considered an essential ingredient of Happiness.

I love her writing voice: she sounds like the best friend you didn’t know you had. Upbeat and positive without being cloying, she’s also never afraid to make herself the target of her own irony. Yet she never denigrates herself. Indeed, formulating a stronger sense of self quickly becomes part of her project and a key component of it. Each day in my inbox, I hear from her in the form of a passage from some brilliant or important or just gifted-ly happy person. A Tolstoy quote from a couple of weeks back read, “Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.” Interesting, don’t you think? Her new book, Happier At Home, is on my “Read!” list. Check out the book trailer (which alone is inspiring!).

In a way, my blog has become a Happiness Project, allowing me to talk in highly specific ways about the culture of family and bringing culture into family, including a focus on my teens. Especially powerful for me is mapping our relationships, particularly as they intersect with travel, literature, music, and other forms of culture. This has helped me parent more consciously and generously. In short, it’s a daily trigger for my Happy as well as a daily marker along my road to Happiness.

Stay tuned for Getting to Happy, Part Three.

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My teen girls and I:  sometimes, we need a good swoon.  For that, we turn to movies like the incomprehensibly lush Jane Eyre, with music by Dario Marianelli.  As we cluster on my bed, the three of us, we often dial up the film score on Grooveshark or Spotify and laugh at ourselves.  “Look at us,” I’ll say as we recap our favorite scenes and let ourselves be swept away by Marianelli’s musical imaginings.

Jane Eyre was probably the first “big girl” book I ever read, and it touched some rarefied chord in me that no other kind of reading experience had yet triggered.  You have to understand:  I . . . was . . . Jane.  When I finished the book, the world looked a little different to me, almost as if I’d traveled to someplace others hadn’t yet been to, making them less fit to appreciate the story of my adventures.  Or so I felt.

I really do believe that some books, some pieces of music, some works of art change us, almost right down to our DNA.  For that reason, I’ve been foisting books on my kids practically from the womb.  So it’s with such great pleasure that I gather my girls–my tribe, I call them–onto my bed sometimes, where we’ll listen to music, review books together, and talk about cultural events both life-changing and totally inconsequential.

The acquisition of culture is about so much more than just knowing that some dude with a fondness for starry night skies liked swirly brush strokes.  To the extent that we embrace it, culture allows us to relate to each other in ways we wouldn’t otherwise.  If it’s a swoon, for example, that brings my daughters and me together, connecting us for an hour or so on a Sunday night, let’s say, then Jane Eyre is more than the sum of its literay parts.  It’s mortar, for my relationships.  And moms and their teens:  they need that.

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