Neuroplasticity and the human brain in action

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Baby Blues, First Day of Preschool, Fall 2013

“The miracle of children is that we just don’t know how they will change or who they will become.”
“The path of development is a journey of discovery that is clear only in retrospect, and it’s rarely a straight line.”
As a 12-year-old girl in provincial Utah Valley many years ago, I had my first experience with “coaching” from an older girl in our LDS youth program. She was assigned to lead our young women’s volleyball team. I was brand new to the program, and without team sport experience . We got started into the first volleyball practice, and I had no idea how to play. I just came because someone invited me, and it sounded fun. You can imagine my horror, when the ball was served and came straight at me for the first time. I think I just watched it drop in front of me, no attempt to bump or set it to a teammate at all. Well naturally this didn’t please my young coach, and she immediately shouted something at me, like “YOU NEED TO HIT.THE.BALL!!!”. I mumbled something like, “Sorry!” and braced myself for the next time the ball came at me. Well, as volleyballs inevitably do, this one came back to me numerous times during the practice, and each weak attempt of mine was derided with a shout that increasingly diminished my confidence. In fact I was ready to sit down and cry right there, but my pride would not allow it. Thankfully, there were two or three girls on my team who saw me ranging close to tears, and rallied around me after each verbal onslaught. They helped me to shake it off, and carried me through the rest of the practice. To this day, wholly thanks to those kind girls, I LOVE volleyball. I surprised myself and returned to practice the next week, and then the next. At some point during that season I stopped apologizing, and decided to channel my anger over this girl’s abuse into learning the game, the end goal being to shut her up. And I succeeded. I don’t think I’ve ever written a thank you note to these girls. Good thing I can find them on Facebook!
Have you ever noticed that God doesn’t compel us to do things the way He wants us to? No matter what, regardless of how stupid we are in our choices, as a perfect parent, he never compels us to do what He wants. I have been extraordinarily blessed to be raised by parents who followed this principle, of respecting agency, above all else. As far as I can tell, compulsion was never a tool in their child-rearing tool box. I’ve spent most of my parenting years trying to follow their example, and allow my kids to made as many of their own (age appropriate) choices as possible. So when I step out of my head long enough to observe how I have sometimes interacted with my kids lately, I shudder. I hear myself talking to the kids during Brain Balance exercises, and I really want to put myself in time out! Compulsion is SO much easier than Coaching!! I never played team sports growing up, so my experience with coaches was limited. But I have often observed with AWE the positive energy that I see in men, women, youth, and youth leaders, who spend their lives and energy being a cheerleader to others.
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My Sweet Parents
Kennedy-Moore expresses an idea that resonates with me. It touches on the inevitable and universal unknowns of parenting. Our entire experience here on earth is defined by unknowns. We humans love the illusion of control over our lives, and we cling tightly to it. I’m fairly certain that I am not alone in feeling that the unfolding 21st Century, with all of its unprecedented disasters, whether natural or man-made, could easily intensify our determination to control everything. In truth, we aren’t in control. We’ve not yet learned to dictate to the elements. Our life’s path and in this case, that of our children, is unknown. It doesn’t mean that we can’t prepare ourselves and our kids effectively for the future, or that we can’t consciously determine to plot our course in a given specific direction. But unless we have the foresight of a prophet, the exact nature and form of the scenery along our respective pathways remains hidden, sometimes until we are already traversing that thorny and stony personal ground.
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Big B, traversing stony ground. 😦
Henry B. Eyring wisely observed once that the only thing many of us have in common is that life will surprise us.:”Years ago I served as the bishop of a ward (congregation) composed of young people. Time has wiped away much of what I learned then of their sorrows and mistakes, but I can still see in my mind most of their faces. I meet some of them as I travel about the world. Their faces and their physiques have been changed enough by time that I sometimes stumble trying to remember names. Others I have followed more closely, with a chance to know what life has offered them. When I learn of their lives, I am amazed at the variety of their experiences. Each life seems to be unique. About all they have in common, as nearly as I can tell, is that they have been surprised by the pattern of the tests of their faith. The surprise has come because they could not know when the tests would come, what they would be, nor how long they would last.”
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Unexpected Trials, Fellowship of the Ring
(Not my photo)
I’ve learned to function, albeit imperfectly, within the realm of the unknown. God will illuminate the path immediately in front of me, and I step into that lighted portion. After making that step, I’m in a position to see the next portion lighted for me. From the moments Dash and Big B were born, Michael and I found ourselves on a course that was relatively lonely during the early years. Some of this loneliness was admittedly self-inflicted. I always felt like I should have control over my kids, but didn’t, and sensed judgment on numerous occasions from others. Rather than risk more judgment of my parenting by closer association, I often chose to avoid situations where I might encounter it. Thankfully, God placed various angel-women in my life. As fellow sojourners, they reached out to me despite potentially awkward differences they might have anticipated. They were sometimes my age, but more often than not, they were my elders, by at least a decade. I managed to gather a collection of friends along the way, whom I could also be helpful to, having learned never to judge another’s parenting harshly. “The path of development is a journey of discovery that is clear only in retrospect.” Thank you, Eileen Kennedy-Moore.
peaks and valleys (7)
(Not my Photo)
“The valleys of discouragement make more beautiful the peaks of achievement.”
Gordon B. Hinckley
The last while for our family in the Brain Balance program is distinguished by numerous peaks and valleys. We have wanted to improve on getting all three sets of exercise in each day at home, and it has been tough. Finally going into week 7, it has become easier. We are getting them done now, without WWIII descending! But in weeks 5 and 6, it was a lot of hit and miss. We’d get 3, even 4 sets of exercises done one day, and then for two days straight, none whatsoever. There was one stretch of days, at least five in a row, that we saw huge, repeated meltdowns from Big B. I seriously wondered if he would ever manage a normal three-set day. Ever. Again. Just one measly set would take us an hour and a half!
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Perhaps the important lessons of life don’t occur in a linear fashion at all, even though we may have been trained to expect that in our results-centered society. I have a journal that I have kept over the years. It mainly consists of the thoughts that have come to me from month to month, as I’ve prayed over different issues, and gotten insight when studying the scriptures. Sometimes when things are tough, I pray again, over parenting problems that seem always to reappear, familiar iterations defined by the same emotions and recurring communication patterns between me and my kids, me and my husband, me and God. Does that make sense? Virtually every time I read back over these particular journal records, it seems that the current answer is right there. Even though it was written in the past, the solution is in renewing my commitment to honoring those insights. I’m all over the board here, I know! I guess I’m saying: keep a journal, people! And pay attention to the solutions you find as you make your way through new challenges. Though conceived in former times, they may become the solutions for your next iteration (of trials).
And let your child fail. It’s really OK. Wouldn’t you rather see him learn how to pick himself up NOW? With enough practice, our kids will become pros at failing gracefully, and then move forward to what works. When they are done pouting on the ground, we are there to pick our kids up and point them in the right direction.
success and failure
“Whether your child succeeds or fails is up to your child, not you, and the measure of success or failure must be your child’s, not yours.”
–Peter Gray, Free to Learn
Moving on to some of the peaks, shall we? Great news on the Dash front, in weeks 5 and 6. While Big B spent much time pouting on the ground, Dash was on an upswing, and did something unprecedented. He has been in the Brain Balance program for a month. Since he was a very small boy, has always been hyper-focused on military ships, aircraft and weapons systems. Poring over encyclopedias of military stuff, etc. His room is full of these books. My homeschool bookcases upstairs, on the other hand, are full of classical literature for all different ages. We’ve encouraged our kids to pick books from this genre as reading material, with varying levels of success over the years. Dash has usually looked at them and said “BORING, Mommy, can we just go to the library?”
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Our Homeschool Library
So I was really surprised when early this week, Dash went up to the homeschool bookcase and took a second look. In weeks 5 and 6, he has read in their entirety: The Red Pyramid, The Jungle Book, Heroes from Roman and Greek Mythology, the Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and parts of Moby Dick and The Mysterious Island. Then to change it up even more, on that same night, he cleaned up his entire room, hung up all of his favorite posters that had been sitting in storage for a year, organized his closet, then came upstairs and gathered his (very-full basket) of clean laundry, took it to his room, folded and put everything away, and THEN went across the hall and scrubbed out his entire bathroom like a pro. These are all things that I have asked him to do as part of his weekly chores, never having secured his compliance without great contention. He also threw me a curve, when we started making dinner a bit late one night, and Dash decided that he wanted to help me set the table. Apparently when he says: “I’ll set the table, Mom, ” this is what he means:
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I was duly impressed.
In other good news: Even though our peach supply has finally dwindled away, in weeks 5 and 6, our pear tree began to drop some beautiful fruit, which we are still enjoying immensely. We have a golden delicious apple tree that we are watching anxiously for evidence of readiness. AND, this is actually the big news here. Sparkle, my 9-year-old picky I’m-living-on-popcorn-right-now-because-there’s-NOTHING-to-eat daughter, made a discovery. She LOVES pears!! Yahoo! I’m jumping for joy, because it has been a very long time since I have seen her try ANYTHING new to eat, most especially food from the fruit family!
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Home Grown Pears and Sparkle
I also learned something for myself, which opened my eyes about the relationship between what I eat and how I feel. Near the end of Week 5, I helped to host my sister’s baby shower. She is having her first girl after three boys, so it was time to party it up with the pink! So I made a yummy pan of brownies with some left over butter from the freezer and some refined white sugar I still had in a storage bucket. I used to make and eat these all the time, before Brain Balance. I took Sparkle with me to the event, and in an effort to help her consume more needed calories, I decided to ease up on the diet just for that morning (except we didn’t eat the cupcakes, because they were on the high-end, sugar-wise, but oh how yummy they would have been!). So I ate a lovely croissant with a delicious chicken salad filling, a bunch of veggies with Ranch dressing, two excellent salads that were mostly in compliance with our diet, and then allowed us to eat one brownie and one cream puff. We enjoyed it all immensely.
But then Sunday came the next day, and in the middle of the morning service, I found myself getting really emotional. And it just kept getting worse as the day progressed, until by that night NO ONE wanted to be around me. And even Monday it seems like I was just a mess, for unfathomable reasons! That night it dawned on me: MAYBE the food I ate on Saturday was contributing to my mental state. There is no scientific test to certify this was the case, but I believe it to be so. It was the first time in over a month on the new diet, that I had had this type of palpable depressed mood. And I couldn’t blame it on PMS, which usually is pretty bad for me, because that all occurred the week previously —- and it was a historically mild case. As if by magic, I woke up Tuesday morning without a shade of moodiness, feeling like my newer, healthier self again. If any of my readers have had a similar experience with moods being affected by diet change, I’d love to hear about it!
Well this post has already meandered down a long-winded path. Let me see if I am missing anything else that may be relevent here. Oh, here are a couple more food pictures. After whipping up several different versions of a gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free chocolate chip cookie, I found one that I will keep as our favorite. And it doesn’t even use eggs. It’s from a whole foods recipe website that I love, which provides fresh inspiration every time I peruse it. These cookies were gone in almost 2 minutes flat. They were that good. Here is the recipe, it is a keeper!
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Best Chocolate Chip Cookie, from Stalkerville,
a Paleo-inspired real foods recipe clearinghouse.
We also started all the kids into swimming lessons again. One of the great things about homeschooling is that you can work lessons in at any time of day, and just rearrange the homeschool schedule when needed. We decided that our homeschool schedule for this Fall would be heavy on Health and Physical Education, in order for us to give due attention to the Brain Balance diet/programming, and helping our kids strengthen their mental and physical health. We still keep the other basics (Reading, Writing, Math, Field Trips) in the schedule, but we spend a bit less time on them now than we do normally. After we have completed the BB program, they will be more confident in academics and learning skills all around. Two lessons in, the kids are divided in their responses to the swim classes. While the oldest three: Dash, Freckles, and Sparkle started in a lower level class, we discovered that they are actually advanced beyond that level. Baby Blues on the other hand, HATES swim lessons. He refuses to stay in the water with his classmates, which include Big B. Today’s lesson saw me picking him up when it was his turn to practice the skills with the instructor, and handing him into the water. At which point he squirmed and screamed earnestly, and then carried out the exercises with stoic resignation.:(
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On Day 1 of swimming lessons
Other stuff we have been eating recently:
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Left: Carrot Ginger Bisque, garden fresh tomatoes, Egg Salad on City Creek Bakery’s amazing bread,
fresh peaches, pears and apples with coconut milk drizzled on top; Right: Deviled Eggs
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Another A-MAZING recipe. I may never go back to our old brownies again!
Photo Courtesy of Gluten-Free Goddess
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Comments on: "Compulsion versus Coaching, Weeks 5-6" (3)

  1. I am honored to have you share my chocolate chip cookie recipe! The cookies in your picture are making me hungry! Glad you enjoyed them as much as I did!!

  2. What a roller coaster of events, feelings, etc.! What also what a wonderful discovery that food definitely affects your/our/everyone’s mental and emotional health! Well worth (at least in hindsight) the trauma!
    Hang in there, my sweet family!!!!

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