Parenting Hack: Thing It/Unthing It

I was sitting around chatting with a group of moms the other day. One friend mentioned that her son was not eating meals, and they were, as a result, putting in extraordinary efforts to get him to do so. Her pediatrician’s advice? Just “un-thing” it.

Un-thinging is the process of not making a big deal out of something; in other words, not making it into a thing. Her son can eat or not eat. Either is fine. As a parent, you set the direction and the implications (i.e., here is good food, you need to eat or you’ll be hungry), but you don’t get tied up in what the child chooses to do. You don’t bribe or coerce. You don’t have an emotional reaction. You stay chill and let them figure it out independently. By un-thinging it, you lower the stakes. You normalize the situation. You create the space and opportunity for change.

In becoming conscious of un-thinging things, we have also started to play around with thinging things.  By thinging something, you differentiate it. You make clear that the plane diaperbehavior is situational and even special. You create limits and boundaries around it. For example, when flying with my toddler the other day, we decided to thing the use of a diaper. My daughter is in the middle of potty training, and we don’t want her to think that wearing a diaper is typical behavior. And so, my wife drew planes on each of her diapers. We talked about how these were special “plane diapers.” When we took the diapers off, we said goodbye to the them and made a big deal of wearing underwear again because we’re not on a plane anymore. We made diaper-wearing during travel a thing.

Beyond that, we are thinging a whole host of behaviors associated with travel:  lollipops to pop her ears on the plane (“plane lollipops”), the use of a tablet (“special Daniel Tiger”), eating more frequent desserts (“something we do on vacation”), and sleeping on an inflatable mattress (the “travel Older Toddler bed”). We want each to be a specific experience with its own use case, boundaries, and related expectations. We are creating the association that these are all related to this special time and place and do not reflect the new normal.

Stepping back, thinging and unthinging are simply more intentional practices about consciously choosing – in this case, consciously choosing your relationship with each action. What do you need to unthing to create space and opportunity for change? What do you need to thing to create differentiation and limitation?

Meredith

 

We Wish You a Merry… Ritual

This December, I find myself reflecting upon a holiday many years ago when I played the role of an angel at my church’s Christmas pageant. I remember receiving instructions to gently cradle my offering of plastic grapes for baby Jesus and to approach the nativity scene slowly, deliberately, and in step by my fellow blue-robed angel. I was not to look at or wave to my family members as I passed them.

This was the first time I was charged with the solemn execution of ritual duties, and I followed through with a level of commitment absurd for a six-year old in a tinsel halo. I was stone-faced and serious, committed to the importance of the ceremony and my role.

Over time, my interest in ritual only grew. As a child and teenager, I served as an acolyte, carrying the cross in processionals, lighting and extinguishing candles, and helping prepare the Eucharist. Later, in college, I was the sacristan at my college chapel, a role which had me arriving early to arrange chairs and candlesticks, staying late to disassemble the ritual space, and learning how to get wax stains out of altar linens in my dorm room (Hint: an iron and newspaper do the trick).You know, typical college kid activities.

Though the church was an obvious focus of ritual life, my ritual devotion extended elsewhere, particularly to the intersection of ritual and food. Family dinners were sacred to me, and I would insist we turn off the television every night. I threw my first formal dinner party before the age of ten, immersing myself in cookbooks, napkin folding manuals, and etiquette books to get all the details right. I started the first of many dinner party clubs in high school and wrote my college thesis on parallels between the Eucharist and other ritual meals. Today, we ritualize our family meals by sharing gratitudes before eating.

And this Christmas, we celebrate it with all sorts of rituals – those from my family, those from Liz’s, and those we have created together. We open the advent calendar with our chocolate-ravenous child each night. We think about loved ones around the world and send Christmas cards with well-wishes. We, like Liz’s grandmother, burn bayberry candles. And we make ‘miracle loaf’ – a truly miraculous combination of refrigerated crescent rolls, bacon, eggs, and other artery-clogging items that Liz innovated. Each ritual sanctifies the season and makes our wintry days feel special.

IMG_4430

What is it, exactly, about ritual?  To me, there’s something incredible about how you can intentionally invest meaning in some of the most mundane, tangible aspects of life – movements, words, objects, food, and space – and thereby create something transcendental. It is a way of bringing the holy (however you may define it) into the everyday. I see it as the alchemy of meaning: by enacting ritual, you take everyday life and make it special.

And so, this past fall, I started classes to become a celebrant. A celebrant is someone who creates and performs rituals for others. This can include anything from the weddings and funerals you might expect to baby blessings, divorce ceremonies, business openings, and seasonal rituals. Celebrants do not bring any particular religious bent to their work, but instead focus on crafting meaningful experiences to fit the needs, values, and beliefs of the ceremony participants. Come spring, I’ll be certified and look forward to bringing more ritual into my life and being of service to others.

Whatever you believe and however you ritualize it, I wish this holiday season is transformed into something special and meaningful to you.
Meredith

To learn more about celebrancy, check out the Celebrant Institute and Foundation here.

 

How Do You Bring Gratitude To Life?

When I was growing up, we always said grace before eating.  Faster or slower, with more intent or more appetite, we said:

“Lord, bless this food to our use and us to thy service,
And make us ever-mindful of the needs of others. Amen.”

Liz and I preserve the idea of grace, but make it our own.  Each night, when we sit down to dinner, we share gratitudes.  It’s a catalog of things we’re grateful for on that day – everything from the meal to getting a good night’s rest to the view out the window.  In addition to the rotating set of things we appreciate, Liz always ends with “And I’m grateful for the puppy” – at which point we look over to see Reese patiently sitting on the rug, mindful that he can’t enter the dining room while we’re eating.  Then we tuck into the meal and start up some everyday conversation about life.

reese
These nightly gratitudes are daily, private, and modest.  On the other hand, the upcoming holiday of Thanksgiving is annual, in community, and over-the-top.  Thanksgiving asks us to not only reflect on gratitude but to celebrate it.  We cook it, share it with others, Instagram it, and gorge ourselves on it.  Both are lovely ways to engage with gratitude.

When we sit down for an overabundance of food this year, our annual ritual of Thanksgiving and daily ritual of gratitudes will merge.  While pouring far too much gravy over my entire plate, I’ll share with everyone that I’m grateful for:

  • My wife Liz; our equal dedication to making our new marriage great
  • The health of our families and the medical practitioners who have supported us in pursuing well-being
  • A community that we’re increasing rooted in within the Bay Area
  • A home keeps in the heat and keeps out the rain
  • Space to write, time to cook, and motivation to work out
  • Jobs that we enjoy and find meaning in
  • Financial comfort and security
  • People who are willing to engage in open-minded, open-hearted dialogue; everyone who is standing up for love, inclusion, and charity, particularly in our challenges around diversity in this country and our call to take in refugees globally
  • All of you – the anonymous page counts that I see in my dashboard – and the moments when, in casual conversation, you reveal who you are
  • And, of course, the puppy dog

If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday, what will you share?

And, beyond that, how do you bring gratitude into your life?  What are your annual rituals of gratitude?  What are your daily rituals of gratitude?

Thinking of you all on the eve of the holiday,
Meredith

Reflections on the Wedding

This weekend, I attended the fourth wedding since my own nuptials in August. With nearly three months of perspective and so many more weddings under my belt, I’m finally ready to reflect back on what I learned through the entire wedding process.
arch
Starting with the planning, I’m grateful that we invested in what we cared about. In the months leading up to the wedding, it horrified me to find out just how much work this whole affair can be. So, I’m glad we picked our battles. Since I cared a lot about the ceremony, we wrote every word of it ourselves (I’m sharing the text in my next post if you’re interested).  Since Liz cared about the music, she picked every song by hand. The flowers that we didn’t care about were perfectly serviceable and lovely accents to the event. I’m glad we reserved our energy and didn’t worry about what mattered less to us.

My first realization during wedding week was that we needed every moment available. In addition to our wedding day, we held an entire week’s worth of events:  drinks at our favorite dive bar, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, wine tasting in Sonoma, breakfasting with our families, picnicking with everyone in the Presidio, and celebrating our rehearsal at the restaurant where we had our first date.  About 24 hours into our 100+ hour celebration, I saw how much I needed all the remaining time to connect with people and spend solid time with all of them (as well as Liz!). Call me an extrovert, but I couldn’t soak up enough.  I’m grateful we had the luxury of time with so many guests.

In arranging the last-minute details for the wedding, I was touched by how people made themselves ‘of service’ in a beautiful way. In addition to our families and our wedding parties (who all played wonderfully supportive roles), there were unexpected guests who jumped in to help. It was the uncles who carried all the snacks for the wine bus. It was the classmates who helped transport all the alcohol after the picnic. It was the friend who diligently held my drink while I danced. None of them had formal roles, and yet all were so enthusiastically helpful. We will pay this support forward at every wedding we attend.

prep
As the night progressed, I found the old adage to be true – something will go wrong, and you need to let it go. For us, the one thing that went wrong at our wedding was the coffee cups; they were paper cups instead of proper mugs. (Oh the horror!)  Did our guests notice?  No. Did we notice?  Yes. Did our guests care? No. Did we care?  Less than we would have thought, but more than we should have. Let it go and enjoy all that is right.

Looking at the wedding as a whole, my favorite moments were completely unscripted:  the drive to the venue with my parents and bridesmaid, peering out the window as guests arrived, my instinctual reaction when I first saw Liz, the champagne pop, the end of my father’s speech, the first song the DJ played, the last song the DJ played, and the plate of grilled cheese someone gave me. And perhaps more than anything else, I loved the quiet of Liz and I taking the dog for a walk in the full moon well after the wedding was over. I’m glad there was room to savor the little moments.

In my post immediately upon returning from honeymoon, I struggled to wrap my head around the whole event. However, since reflecting more, I’ve realized that every part of a wedding is a public affair. Not only do you celebrate your wedding in public, you process it in public. Typically, I work through life events independently, journaling on my experiences. This approach didn’t resonate for the wedding. It was only when I started to talk to people about the wedding – to hear about their experiences and share my own – that I started to see the meaning of the whole event more clearly. For all the relationship moments that are lived privately, a wedding is public. Meaning is created between people – between Liz and me, between us and our guests – and not in my head alone. Once I understood this, the debrief conversations with guests and my wife took on a new importance. Liz and I jumped into co-authoring a journal of our collective wedding week events to capture everything from a full perspective. We experienced it together, so we needed to process it together as well.

So, to conclude, thank you for digesting this with me and bringing yet another level to the public commitment Liz and I made in August. I’m grateful that you’re all bearing witness to the journey.

Onwards and upwards,
Meredith

P.S.  Congratulations to all the couples whose nuptials we’ve witnessed since our own:  Andrew and Christine, Justin and Pascal, Marla and Jamie, and Jenny and Fico! We’ve loved your lemonade stands, dessert bars, choreographed dances, drag queens, gazing circles, and Texan barbecue. It has been an honor to celebrate with you!

ceremony

So That Happened

As many of you know, I spent the last three weeks getting married to Liz, celebrating with friends and family, and running off to Bora Bora on my honeymoon. I can think of few other periods in my life as dense with experience, emotion, and meaning as these. Typically, when life feels full like this, I depend upon writing. Through writing, I process emotions, document events, and envision the future. However, uncharacteristically, I feel blocked from writing about the past few weeks. I’ve opened and closed my journal a dozen times. I’ve beat myself up about not writing. I’ve avoided it entirely. And yet, when it’s hard to begin processing, I suppose you have to start somewhere:

ceremony

Wedding week kicked off with dinner at French Laundry, the obligatory City Hall visit, beers and tacos on the waterfront, wine tasting in Sonoma, sitting around the Inn fire pit, open mic toasts at the rehearsal, and thirty people who rarely ride bikes pedaling over the Golden Gate Bridge. There was the ceremony we wrote ourselves, Reese’s best behavior as he came up the aisle, the reflections of our officiants, the surprise first dance starring our fathers, and the encouragement to “Live Long and Prosper.” There was the mist in the Presidio, the clear view of the Golden Gate, the sanctity of the space, the smell of eucalyptus, and the mountains of petits fours. There were bottles of champagne sabered by knives (more or less successfully), family-style platters passed around the table, a chance to wear my mother’s veil, a second wedding dress, and abounding grilled cheese. There was biking the approach to Sausalito with my uncle, calculating last-minute vendor tips with my bridesmaid Eleanore, the dance with my dad, and the last picture of the night with my mom. There was the note Liz sent me our wedding morning, my gasp at first seeing her, and walking Reese together under the full moon after the whole reception finished. And all this was before the honeymoon. It was before bottles of champagne on arrival, tropical flowers from my wife surprising me in our room, and fresh coconuts opened by the gardener. It was before Liz tackled the trails on our ATV, we choreographed team jumps off our overwater bungalow, and I fell face-first off a stand-up paddleboard. In each of these experiences, there were dense emotions as well: the joy of seeing friends and family, the pressure of coordination, the annoyance of detail-orientation, the hope that all would go well, the confidence that this was so right, the overwhelming love of everyone in attendance, and the gratitude for everyone and for each other. Coming out of these few weeks, there’s a distinct happy/sad feeling, just like the happy/sad tears I cried at the toasts, on the dance floor, and when the wedding was all thankfully, impossibly, heart-breakingly over.

Why is it so hard to write about the wedding? First, it’s too big, too dense, and too meaningful. I find it impossible to select a vignette that’s representative of the whole or condense the entirety down into something comprehensive. Thus, instead of presenting a thoughtful deconstruction of a focused experience (as is often my approach on The Intentional), I can only come up with the incomplete litany of impressions above.

Second, it’s hard to reflect upon the wedding/honeymoon period because it’s not yet over; we’re still in the ‘liminal’ period. Liminality is a concept in anthropology and ritual studies; it describes the disorienting in-between-ness that happens after you leave one role (e.g., engaged person) and before you take on your new role (e.g., married person). You’re no longer this, but not yet that. Because we start back to work tomorrow, Liz and I have not yet re-emerged into the world as married folk. Life is still filled with wedding logistics, honeymoon-worthy candlelit dinners, and a distinct separation from everyday life. Perhaps, in addition to the sheer volume of experiences, I’m also struggling with reflecting upon this experience as I’m still in the midst of it.

Looking forward, I suspect it will take time to integrate the events of the last few weeks; as days and weeks pass, I’ll be better able to digest the great volume of experiences and benefit from the perspective of being back in the flow of life. Self-growth often takes conscious processing, and there are certainly more wedding posts to come. What form my continued reflection takes, there’s also a refreshing finality in closing this in-between period. It means that, on the most important level, the change is complete. I re-enter the world tomorrow fundamentally and delightfully different from who I’ve been: I’m now married to Liz.

With love to all those who read this, all those who celebrated with us, and, above all, my lovely wife,
Meredith Whipple Callahan

(More to come!)

first dance

Our Intentional Christmas

Given that we’re recently engaged, this is the first holiday season that Liz and I have fully merged our travel plans. We spent Thanksgiving with my family in Michigan and Christmas with hers in Iowa and Minnesota (where we are currently). While navigating each other’s traditions, we’re also intentionally creating our own. While we celebrated Christmas today with Liz’s mother, sister, and brother-in-law, we celebrated our own Christmas last Friday and Saturday before leaving San Francisco. Friday was our faux Christmas Eve, while Saturday was our stand-in Christmas Day. We knew we would participate in our respective family traditions when we travelled, so this would be the place where we started our own traditions – some adopted from her family, some adopted from mine, some merged, some imagined anew.

Our Friday night “Christmas Eve” consisted of a celebratory dinner, cozy fire, and loitering on the couch listening to Christmas music. We experimented with prime rib, twice-baked potatoes, corn, and a kale salad for dinner, trying to figure out whether that felt like our holiday meal. Following Liz’s family tradition, we each opened one present (a puzzle for her, hot chocolate for me). And following my family tradition, we sprinkled ‘fairy dust’ in the fireplace to help Santa ease down the chimney.

Christmas morning we awoke lazily and settled onto the couch with our respective caffeine of choice (Diet Coke for Liz and coffee for me). We opened presents methodically, one-for-her and one-for-me until the pile had disappeared. I was surprised to find that even small acts like this are loaded with invisible decisions (e.g., Do we wrap presents for each other? Does Santa wrap his presents? Do we open all at once or do we go back and forth?). It’s been curious to not only experience different ways of doing things as I step into Liz’s family, but to also figure out which of the traditions I care about. I mind less whether we have a real or artificial tree, but I care immensely that we use the stockings that my grandmother knit (including new ones for Liz and Reese).
reese and stocking
Christmas morning breakfast was perhaps our easiest tradition to establish. On special days in the past (i.e., holidays, the morning of our engagement), we have long been eating a crescent-roll-scrambled-egg creation that we have dubbed “Miracle Loaf.” As with many rituals, we can’t quite remember why we eat it or why it has that name, but at this point, it’s stuck. This year, we adapted and evolved the Miracle Loaf recipe further, adding garlic, replacing green onions with white onions, and slap-dashing some egg wash on top to brown it up. It is perhaps the first true Whipple/Callahan recipe in our recipe card collection.
miracle loaf

Like me, you may be asking “What does it all mean?” “What values do our traditions manifest?” and “What do our traditions aspire to?” For the most part, I don’t think we’ve created these traditions because they are specifically meaningful or symbolic. Instead, we select some to honor her heritage, we select some to honor my heritage, and then we co-create together. The meaning is less in the action of eating the Miracle Loaf or wrapping the gifts, but instead in the fact that we’re consciously choosing our own path together.

Wishing you a very happy (and intentional) holiday season,
Meredith