Thursday, November 11, 2010

owning it

Yesterday, my girl decided to finish her owl.

On Monday, I had made a series of felt animals for a little friend of mine who was turning 6. I made a mama owl, three baby owls and a fox. I also wrote a story for her about these little critters (which is kind of becoming my thing—sometimes I write stories for kids on their birthdays. I love to do it, and it brings me and them a whole heap of joy).

My kids loved watching me make these things, write my words, read the story out loud at this sweet girl's birthday party. And while I was making my animals, my girl decided to make herself an owl too.

I showed her the sketch I was using to make my owls, and she consulted an owl I'd already made. She cut out all the parts and pieces she needed. This would be a blue owl, with blue eyes, blue thread and one single brown thing—the beak.

We sewed at different times of the day, with me sewing my owls and fox and my girl sewing on a wing, a button eye, another eye, another wing. I didn't help at all, and we were so content, stitching away companionably like two old biddies in our rocking chairs.

The next day was my little friend's party and we spent the whole day out. But first thing next morning, my girl went to finish her owl.

She hadn't been sewing long when I heard sounds of total frustration. I heard sighs, and "Oh no"s and then some yelling which turned into wails. I was sitting in the next room and I totally wanted to rush over and see what was wrong. I also wanted to fix it, whatever was making her sad.

But I also knew that if I belted on over there, she would think that was how things worked. You get stuck. You wail. You wait for Mum.

That makes sense if you're trying to squeeze through a doggy door, perhaps, and you're not a dog. Or have ended up on the roof, with no ladder…with someone juggling chainsaws nearby…in a thunderstorm. Mum should totally come. Running.

But if you're trying to master something new, something you have chosen to do, then I think it's worth learning a different skill. Wailing randomly and waiting for rescue shouldn't apply here.

I thought, consciously, I'm going to let her figure this one out. Either she'll have a good cry, then try again. Or, she will come, and ask for help. Either way, she will own her choice.

She stormed around the room a bit, yelled a bit more, then came to find me.

"Mum," she said, quietly, "Could you please help me with this?"

Turned out she had a knot, a big one in her blanket stitch. Turned out—and she had more of a cry here—that she always got knots, and she couldn't do blanket stitch, and "You never get knots, Mum, and I get them all the time!"

"Actually," I said (as I tried, and tried to unpick this knot), "actually, I get knots a lot too. I get them, and they're really frustrating. Aren't they?"

She nodded.

"Like, really frustrating. I get knots, and I pick them out, and then I keep going. It's harder when you're feeling impatient. If you're pulling too hard, then it just gets tighter. Doesn't it?"

She nodded again.

"You just have to be patient," I said. As I kept trying to undo this doozy of a knot. This mother of all knots. This nightmare of a knot. This undoable, un-unknottable knot.

"Guess what," I said.

"What," said my girl.

"Sometimes I get knots that I can't undo. Then I have to cut them out, and start all over again."

"No," breathed my girl.

"Yes," I said. "This happens to me all the time!"


So we cut the knot out.

We rethreaded the needle.

And then I proceeded to slowly, painstakingly, step-by-tiny-step, show my girl—who really, really wanted to learn—how to do a blanket stitch.

There were re-dos and moments of frustration and little tips of things I'd learned, while she did every single stitch herself.

There were moments of try this way, isn't this easier, and hey, look at that stitch, that's awesome…until suddenly, almost impossibly simply, my girl was rocking her blanket stitch. She owned that stitch. She had become Queen of the Stitch.

Her smile was so big.

And I thought, I'm teaching you something. I'm sitting here, giving you a lesson. I thought, How does this fit, in the Freedom Experiment?

It fits exactly. Because the Freedom Experiment has never been about leaving my kids alone. It has never been about having them experience all their learning without me helping, or sharing, or learning myself.

Sure, the Freedom Experiment is about independence, and empowerment, and ownership. It is about choosing a path, and finding obstacles, and finding ways around those obstacles.

But finding a way 'round includes asking someone to help, sometimes. Isn't that ownership, in itself? Saying, Hey, I'd like some help. I don't actually have this skill or this knowledge, and I'd like someone to guide me, please.

There's a place for mentors, and teachers, and helpers and guides. Absolutely. And a place for kindness and relieving frustration and reassurance. There's room for showing and teaching—as long, I think, as it's with the intention of creating strength, not powerlessness.

My girl's new skill wasn't just learning to sew a blanket stitch. It was also asking, simply and calmly, for help.

My new skill was waiting to be asked.

(And when my girl came downstairs for her cuddle this morning, she said, "Where's my owl?"

I said, "On your desk."

And she said, "I made him myself. I did the whole thing myself!"

"Yes, sweetheart," I said. "You did.")

Here he is. His name is Hoot'n Toot'n.

Isn't he a handsome fellow?


  1. He is an amazingly handsome fellow. Kei was reading over my shoulder and of course wants to know how to do this! Problem is I don't know a blanket stitch from a towel stitch!

    Helena, I love your posts. I know I always say that but there is something about them that comforts me and makes me feel all teary and happy. You are such an incredible Mom.

  2. Those owls are ADORABLE! And I see the Freedom Experiment is going swimmingly. You are an inspiration, dearest Helena!

  3. wonderful :)
    love them

  4. Gorgeous owls; wonderful life lesson.
    It is hard, for us mothers to learn not to come running. I'm still learning that one.
    (Except, of course, when they are juggling chainsaws, lol!)


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