By Erin Barrette Goodman
Reading Amanda Blake Soule’s beautiful book, The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections, feels like sipping tea with a (very creative and inspiring) friend.
How to savor the seasons, explore nature, garden, create meals, and add small touches to deeply meaningful celebrations (including birthday parties, and half-birthday-parties for imaginary friends!) are woven among inspiring photographs of the Soule family’s coastal Maine home.
As I read, I found myself sighing frequently as I lingered over her stories and ideas about consciously choosing to live a creative life with one’s children. And almost immediately, I began to see small, manageable steps (like having a family art night or taking a “family breath” before meals) that I could introduce in my family as we continue our ongoing quest for more fun, peace, and connection.
I had the privilege of interviewing Amanda about her book and life with her husband, Steve, and three (soon-to-be-four) young children. Want to win a copy of Amanda Soule’s book, The Creative Family? See details following interview.
Kidoinfo: Your book is filled with so many wonderfully creative projects that families can explore together – both small and simple like Victorian parlor games, which require little or no props, to large (and loud) like your family’s outdoor “banging wall” (a collection of hanging pots and pans and drumsticks). But before we talk about the many creative things that families can add to their lives, I’d love to talk about some of your family’s conscious omissions. For example, I read on your website that your family does not watch television, correct?
AS: The children (and Steve and I) do watch movies from time to time – we have a television tucked away for that. But no, we don’t watch television – if you turned the TV on you’d get nothing but fuzz here. A lot of people focus on this aspect of my book, and I guess it is a bit of a stretch to imagine at first. But honestly, I don’t miss it at all – and not only because of the time that’s freed up by the absence of TV – which is huge. But there’s also an absence of negativity and images that frankly I don’t really want or need occupying space in my brain or in my kids’. I think that in addition to the time that TV takes away from us, there’s also an innocence and a bit of imagination that get taken away– both for children and adults. My life and mind feel quieter without television. And in that quiet, there’s a bit more room for the things that are most important to me – making things, keeping a home, spending time in the natural world, and connecting as a family.
I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to throw out their television in order to have a creative life. I just hope to encourage people to give a little thought to how much time it – and similar things, like computers, video games, etc – takes out of your day, and to honestly evaluate whether it’s making it more challenging to do the things that are important to you and your family.
Kidoinfo: I love how you expand the idea of creativity to being more of a conscious, inspired way of viewing life, as opposed to just “doing art” (though there is obviously no shortage of art being done in your home!). It feels to me like there is a lot of yoga or mindfulness in your work as well – the idea of being fully present with our children, meeting our own needs for creative expression, connecting with the seasons etc.
AS: Yes, for me they’re all interconnected aspects of living a ‘whole’ life. “Creativity” feels about so much more than glue sticks and paper. Parenting mindfully helps us to connect and leads to more creative expression. And creating and connecting together as a family contributes to living a mindful life and connecting with the seasons. Round and round we go!
Kidoinfo: I also very much appreciate the emphasis on recycling, repurposing, and purchasing “thrifted” items. I understand you will be exploring these areas further in your next book. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
AS: Yes, my next book is titled Handmade Home: Simple Ways to Repurpose Old Materials into New Family Treasures (available August 2009). It has thirty sewing and craft projects for the family home that incorporate repurposed and thrifted materials. Many of the projects are things that can be done with children or are things that fit into the life of a family with children. Throughout the book are many photographs and stories too. Even though I started writing it nearly two years ago, it feels as though this book has roots that are many years older – deep in the heart of my grandparents and their old-fashioned “make do” sensibility. I thought of them often when writing this book, and I’ll be so excited to hold it in my hands soon and send it out into the world!
Kidoinfo: Can we shift a little to the very early years of parenting? I know for me, I knit and sewed (and spun wool) right through my first pregnancy, but once my daughter arrived, everything that wasn’t about “just getting through the day” came to a screeching halt. What was your transition into motherhood like? What were some of the ways you were able to incorporate small bits of creativity into your days while adjusting to life with a newborn?
AS: Sometimes those earliest days of motherhood feel like a blur of diapers, nursing, laundry, rocking, and trying to get some sleep. I think that’s when finding time for creative expression became so important to me. Certainly, the work of parenting itself was a joy and pleasure for me, but it was so helpful to me to have ‘something’ at the end of the day that I had done. It made the days feel a little less blurry, if that makes sense. When I was able to create something definitively, I felt a little more grounded and centered in who I was, instead of just being Mama. And, in turn, it fed my parenting, too, as I met my child feeling a little more nurtured creatively.
In those early days, my creative expression was always portable – something I could bring with me as we went about our days together. There was a lot of knitting, some embroidery. Things I could pick up and put back down easily as needed. It was also a time when I actively sought out a like-minded community of mamas. Many of us were making things in our days with little ones and that certainly was nurturing and encouraging as well.
Kidoinfo: I’d love to ask a few questions about your day-to-day life, if you don’t mind. How does your creative/work time flow with your family’s weekly rhythm? Do you do most of your work once your children are asleep? Or do you have designated work times during the day?
AS: Though certainly lots of ‘creating’ happens throughout the day, I get the most creative work/play time at night when everyone is asleep. It’s how I unwind, and it’s always been a favorite time of day for me. In recent years, it’s gotten a little funky in that my ‘work’ is also my life and my play and creative expression, and it would never work to segregate those completely. So over the past year or so, we’ve carved out more work time for me from the weekdays – and I use that time to write and sometimes make things. It’s been essential to make that uninterrupted time happen – both for me and the kids.
Kidoinfo: What forms does child-minding take in your family? What forms does education take in your family? Can you say a few words about how you came to the decision to educate in the manner you do?
AS: The children are home with us, and my husband, Steve, works outside of the home at least a few days a week. When I’m in the midst of a book project, he’s home more often, and I’m working more. We’re always working on that balance, and trying to strike it just right!
Our children are homeschooled in an unschooling tradition. So each day looks a little bit different – we don’t do formal lessons at home, but rather the learning happens in all sorts of ways, led by their passions and interest. This at-home life learning is supplemented by our involvement in community classes. We’re so blessed to be in a community full of like-minded, active homeschoolers, and the children have plenty of social time to connect with friends and learn from members of our community.
I think we both always knew we’d homeschool – before having children. And once it was time, it just felt like a natural extension of how we were living and parenting. So it’s been a wonderful experience for us.
Kidoinfo: As the founder of our state’s Birth Network, which promotes empowered decision-making during the childbearing years, I would love to hear about your intentions for your upcoming birth. (Congratulations, by the way!)
AS: Our first child was born in a wonderful freestanding birth center here in Portland, Maine (The Ballard House, which has since closed). The most difficult part of the labor for me was actually getting in the car and going to the birth center! So the second time around, we decided to stay at home and had a beautiful experience with our certified nurse midwife. The same for our youngest, and we intend the same for our new little one as well. While I know that homebirth isn’t an option or a choice that everyone would make, I cannot say enough positive things about our own experience in birthing at home. It’s been a safe, comfortable, and peaceful environment in which to welcome our babies.
Kidoinfo: What books have you read about pregnancy/birth that have shaped your views of the birthing process?
AS: I’ve always been interested in women’s health. I had read so much about the process of birth and how it had become so medicalized well before having my own children. And of course, growing up in this culture, I had plenty of images and stories of birth as something to be afraid of. I didn’t want it to be a fearful experience for me or my child about to enter the world. So when I became pregnant for the first time, I worked hard to balance all of that fear and negativity with the opposite – stories of empowered, peaceful, and beautiful birthing. I read many books, plus positive birth stories online and in magazines (Mothering magazine is wonderful for this!), talked to women who had birthed naturally, and watched a few great videos (Birth Into Being is one such beautiful film). I guess I surrounded myself in that enough so that it would become the new ‘normal’ to me.
As for books specifically, reading Ina May Gaskin was a life-changing experience for me. Both her original Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Natural Childbirth are full of inspiration and examples of what birth has the potential to be for both the woman and her baby. In addition, I’d also recommend anything by Rahima Baldwin Dancy (Special Delivery was a favorite of mine), Pam England, Sheila Kitzinger (author of the wonderful, but sadly out of print, Homebirth), Michel Odent, and Frederick Leboyer.
Kidoinfo: How will your family activities (work, homeschooling, etc.) shift with your little one’s arrival?
AS: I suspect there will be some changes to and tweaking of the way we do things. I’m sure our house will instantly get messier, and I fully expect the pile of laundry to become part of the landscape. But we’ve done our best to prepare – with a freezer and pantry shelves full of food, friends lined up for playdates, and simplifying our schedules. Steve will have a bit of time off, I’ll take a bit of time off from what I do, and we’ll all settle into getting to know the newest little one. The timing feels so perfect – as we settle in for a cozy winter as well as slowing down to incorporate a new person into our family.
Kidoinfo: Anything else you’d like to share with Kidoinfo readers who are looking to bring more creativity and feelings of connection into their homes?
AS: Most importantly, be gentle with yourself as a parent and try to recognize the creative things you already do with your children, rather than being hard on yourself about what you’re not doing, or what you perceive a blogger, friend, or other mama to be doing.
And then, keeping your expectations open, start with small, doable, simple things. Try having one TV-free night a week in which you play family games together. Or simply, clean out just one accessible drawer in your kitchen cabinet and make it the prominent ‘home’ for a few wonderful art tools and supplies. Take one little rhythm that already happens in your everyday – the bedtime ritual, the evening meal – and think of one way you could make more of a time of connection and celebration. I bet those little things will grow into bigger things before you know what’s even happened.
Erin Barrette Goodman (eringoodman.com) is a writer, yoga teacher, and mother of two. She is the founder of the Rhode Island Birth Network, which promotes empowered decision-making during the childbearing years.
Editor’s Note: Congratulations to Amanda and her family on their newest addition, a lovely son named Harper.
Win a copy of Amanda Soule’s book, The Creative Family!
Tell us what are some of your families favourite creative holiday projects or traditions and we will randomly select one person to win a copy of Amanda Soule’s book, The Creative Family. Deadline is Noon on Monday, December 1, 2008.”
• One entry permitted per person; U.S. entrants welcome to enter.
• Contest closes at Noon ET, Monday, December 1, 2008.
• The winner will receive one copy of Amanda Soule’s book, The Creative Family.