Posts for play

Why Holding Onto Pleasure is Important Even With So Much Suffering in the World

Self-care - Allison Kenny - December 7, 2015

IMG_1692All I want to do is go pick out a Christmas tree with our little girl. In Santa hats. Like 3 goofy holiday girls. I want milk punch with a splash of bourbon, an enormous hipster ice-cube and nutmeg grated on top. I want to blow off work and buy beautiful glass ornaments and stocking stuffers for My Boo. I want to sing Mariah Carey over and over and over. I want to make Martha Stewart’s cookie recipe and deliver them to every single person I’ve ever loved. I want to read my book by our fireplace after Squirrel goes to bed. I want to dress my dogs in Christmas sweaters and snuggle them while watching Elf for the millionth time. I want to hike in redwoods and listen for their messages, to wear cozy scarves, and to take hot baths. I want quiet. And play. And connection.

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The Squirrel finds the Squirrels


Our good friends, Doug & Johnny, who gave us last week’s date night, have given us many gifts over the last 6 months.  One of which was this amazing set of squirrels in honor of our own little Squirrel.  Like a squirrel hoarding her nuts, I have kept these little cuties locked up tight.  Mine!  I didn’t want her to have them.

This morning, she found them.  I told her, “Doug and Johnny saw them and were reminded of me.  You know…how I like to call you “Squirrel” sometimes.  She smiled.  She loved that.


She played with them for sooooooo long.  In fact, I left her with them to take my shower and, as I am coming out of the shower, I hear Allison’s voice say:

“No hitting.  Hitting hurts.  Please stop.”


“You two have to work on your relationship problems.”


“Even though you are hitting, you are still a good squirrel and I love you.”

She had entered into an imaginative play scenario where the two squirrels were fighting.  Allison grabbed my stuffed elephant, Mai Tai, and made her the teacher, helping them work through the conflict.  Not only did the Squirrel immediately take to these new toys, she was able to access that magical inner wisdom that kids get and use the squirrels to get to work playing through her own hitting issues at school.

Oh. My. God.

Well, I guess I may have to give up my squirrels to the Squirrel.  They are clearly her power animal.   At least I still have Mai Tai.

me and mai tai

She can’t take her away from me.


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Pirate Day…or, Raising a Kid with Courage

Go Girl!, Love Wins - Allison Kenny - April 22, 2015

I have a bad feeling on the way to the optometrist’s office and I am right. The Squirrel suffers from an eye condition that many premature babies get and after 3 months of glasses, nothing has changed. Aggressive patching. That’s the next step for treatment. We cover her right eye with a patch to give the left eye some “quality time.” This means 4 hours a day with little to no vision.  I picture her bumping into furniture, her tears of frustration and even worse…that the patches won’t help and we’ll see a specialist who could diagnose eye disease, recommend surgery, etc. Luckily, a dear friend stated the obvious- “You and Lynn HAVE to get patches, too.” And just like that, all my fears were channeled into costume design and dramatic play. As it should be.

Pirate Day

I dig through our Go Girls! costume bin and come up with enough eye patches, hooks, head scarves, and jewelry for the whole family. I run to the store for pirate treasure (i.e- a Frozen hair brush and Doc McStuffins tattoos) and draw a treasure map.  I ask Lynn if she’s available to be a pirate from 2-3:00 and she clears her schedule. When the Squirrel comes home from school and sees the costume on her bed, she screams with excitement.  We all get ready and within moments our living room is a pirate ship and we are adding “Matey!” to the end of every sentence.

I hold the Squirrel in my lap while Lynn reads The Patch.  It’s about a little girl who also needs a patch and how she plays her way through it. I remind the Squirrel of what the doctor said the day before about helping her eye grow stronger. I show her the treasure map I made and how she can add one sticker to it for every hour she wears her patch. I show her the treasure chest of prizes and how she can choose one every time she gets 25 stickers. “I want to wear my patch now!” she says happily. I take a breath and slowly press her real, adhesive patch over her right eye.

The next few minutes break my heart. She is screaming and crying…”I can’t see! I can’t see!” She’s struggling to rip the patch off.  She is terrified and sobbing. My wife and I just stare at each other wondering how the hell we are going to do this every single day for 4 hours.

Lynn is a genius. “We’re right here with you,” she says. “You are facing a challenge right now and you’ll get through it.” Our friend and colleague, Christine Carter, writes in her new book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, about how our brains respond to the idea of “facing a challenge.” The language activates a courageous response and can interrupt the temptation to be overwhelmed by fear.

Within moments, the Squirrel is calm. We encourage her to notice the colors and shapes around her…to feel her toys and see if she can figure out which ones they are.  We take the patch off for a while to hug and kiss and cheer her on. She gets to put a sticker on the treasure map.

Half an hour later, it’s time to try again. I expect a protest. Certainly, I would protest needing to wear a patch all day- just this fake pirate one is starting to make me nauseous. But my kid has a Ph.D. in resiliency. My kid is fierce. My kid has not given up in her life yet and this patch is just a patch. She literally screams in my face…”I AM READY FOR THIS CHALLENGE, MATEY!!!!!” and puts the patch on herself. We play pirates all afternoon.

Something tells me this kid is going to teach me a lot more about courage than I’m going to teach her.


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20 “Good Enough” Self Care Practices for Parents

Self-care - Allison Kenny - March 20, 2015

Al in Mexico squareThe pressure for moms to be perfect is killing me. Not only are we expected to look perfect, parent perfectly, and be perfect wives and mothers at the top of our career, we’re also told that self-care is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING and we should do that perfectly, too.

These expectations make me want to do nothing but binge watch Empire and eat Girl Scout Cookies.

One idea that gets me off the couch and into the world is permission to be “good enough.” When being a foster parent is so overwhelming that I feel myself spinning with the pressure to be and do everything my child never got, I know it’s time for self-care.  Not perfect self-care: daily meditation, power yoga, facials, paleo diet and impeccable organizational systems. But self-care that is “good enough”.

Here’s my current list of things that help me feel just 10% better than I did before.

1. Do No Wrong Day- Well-Fed Woman, Rachel Cole first introduced me to the idea that one day a week could be set aside as “Do No Wrong Day.” We can say to ourselves- “no matter what choice I make or how things turn out, today…I can do no wrong.” I love this and claim it more than once a week if I remember.

2. Three Breaths- Sitting to meditate is like mental torture for me these days but I can almost always take 3 deep breaths. Bonus if I remember to feel my feet on the floor. Amazing how this little action can give my nervous system a break.

3. Lying in the Sun- After school, “The Squirrel” might be running around in circles but I lay down on the picnic blanket in our backyard and feel the sun on my skin. No matter what has happened in our day, the sun is still shining (it is in Oakland anyway) – proof that the bigger world still exists and my big life change is only a speck of dust inside it.

4. Spreadsheets- My dear friend is a master project manager with a big, generous heart. After weeks of seeing Lynn & me in a state of total overwhelm, she asked us “what do you need?” We told her. She put our needs in a spreadsheet and shared it with our community as a Google doc. Now we have friends calling & texting, bringing dinner, babysitting, taking us out, sending gift cards for Munchery or Good Eggs, and even treating us to massages. LIFE CHANGING.

5. Tell the Truth- When people I trust ask how I am, I tell them. Usually my answer is “overwhelmed” or “sad.” Occasionally it’s “like a bad-ass.” Telling the truth about this process has been really important. Most folks who love me assume I’m doing great because they have such faith in me. They aren’t picturing that the friend they think so highly of could be struggling. When I tell them, I feel better and can be open to help.

6. Go Away- I started with leaving 2 nights a week to go swim at the Y or out to dinner with a friend. Sure, at first “The Squirrel” screamed her head off and had to be physically removed from my body so I could get out the door but it was worth it. Now she kisses me on the cheek and says, “Have fun Mommy” before I go. I even took 2 nights away with my best friend and actually relaxed enough to do the yoga and meditation that used to be my norm.

7. Dance with my Kid- Put on music and dance. That’s it.

8. Hug my Dog- Finding comfort in the smallest places.

9. Discipline My Child- Meeting disrespectful behavior with “I turn my ears right off when people talk to me like that” has been my most powerful self-care practice. We draw a hard line against rudeness or violence of any kind in our home. This has been 90% of my self-care in the 5 months of foster parenting.  It’s exhausting but also empowering. I never had to consistently stand up for myself like this before.

10. Pay People to Help Me- We get our house cleaned every other week and pay a neighbor to mow our lawn. Budget priorities for me.

11.  Let Friends Do my Dishes- We love hosting friends and their kids for dinners and playdates every weekend. When they offer to unload our dishwasher, get their own food or even make me a drink, I say “Yes. I’ll let you do that for me.”

12.  Tell Grandma she has to come- Grandmas are magic. Even though ours are far away, we called and asked for the help- “You have to come now!” Letting grandmas show up helps our whole family.

13.  Learn to Say, “Let’s Talk About Something Else”- Some folks love telling every traumatic story they’ve ever heard about foster kids in an effort to connect. Other friends want to hear the nitty gritty about our parenting journey when all I want to do is take a break. Either way, this simple boundary does the trick.

14.  Drink Water- Since my caffeine and sugar intake has gone up quite a bit, this is big one. I like a big plastic cup with a straw.

15.  Take to the Bed Like I Have Tuberculosis – If you know me well, you’ve seen me wave my hand through the air dramatically as I inform you that “I’m taking to bed like I have tuberculosis.” Perhaps I’ve even left you standing in our living room at the end of a super fun evening or I’ve just put “The Squirrel” to bed and it’s only 8:00. Mama needs her sleep! Or maybe I’m just going to read my book or do a little restorative yoga in the bed. Either way…I’m out!

16.  Sing Karaoke in my Living Room- Our kid’s greatest talent is sleeping through anything, including amplified karaoke that we sing just a few feet away from where her head hits the pillow.  Our karaoke set up is very simple.  Lynn bought this little amp and a mic on Amazon.  Then, we just look up the karaoke versions of songs on YouTube, pour some wine, and sing.

17.  Play “Cards against Humanity”- My sister sent this game for Christmas and we’ve never laughed so hard in our lives. Laughing= major self-care.

18.  Get a Cute Haircut- I get compliments on my hair almost every time I leave the house. It helps. That’s it.

19.  Remind Myself How Tired I Am- When I start thinking about how bad I am as a parent or how my kid might never succeed in school or how hard this transition will be on my marriage…I interrupt the thinking with “Oh honey, you are just so tired” and I immediately take to the bed as if I have tuberculosis. For me, negative thinking almost always means I need rest. Reminding myself that I’m just tired takes away the temptation to believe those thoughts are true.

20.  Binge Watch Empire and Eat Girl Scout Cookies- That’s what I did last night and today I have the energy and focus to sit down and write this blog post. I even paid some bills earlier and picked up the house.

See? Good enough self-care. Boom.



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Here’s why I (kinda) get “Girl” Legos

Learning, Play Time - Lynn Johnson - February 9, 2015

Remember a few years back when Lego unleashed “girl legos” on the market – the “Friends” line that Lego released a few years ago to market their product specifically for girls? Do you remember how mad feminists like me were?  It seemed like the company figured that all they had to do was change the colors of Legos bricks from brown and blue to pink and purple, package them in pink and purple boxes and BOOM – they had Legos…for girls.

I was never a Lego kid myself.  I have always thought they are super cool, in theory, but I have never been able to put them into practice.  And still, I was totally infuriated along with the rest of them.


This all changed when, a few months ago, I started playing Legos with my daughter.

“The Squirrel” had inherited a whole bunch of classic, aka “boy”, Legos from a friend of ours and was immediately drawn to them.  Because I was never down with Legos myself, when she first asked me to play, I panicked.

“B-b-but, I c-c-can’t do Legos.”

Being the Go Girl! I am, I didn’t actually say this out loud, thank god.  Instead, I faked it.  I jumped in, and tried it anyway.  I tried to build a boat or house or whatever.  I just couldn’t figure out how to put the bricks together in such a way that made them look like the thing I was trying to build in my mind.  I got bored and frustrated she and I didn’t play Legos for awhile.

Then, my daughter was gifted with one of those Legos kits where they give you the step-by-step instructions for how to build the thing that’s on the front of the box.  But, those were even worse…for me…anyway.  The pieces are so small that my daughter can’t manipulate them and I can’t see them to help her because I am in my 40’s and my eyes don’t work like that anymore.  Plus, neither of us are any good at following directions.  She can’t read and “doesn’t want to do anything anyone tells [me] to do.”  Direct quote.

I can read but I am totally directionally challenged.  Not because I am rebellious like “The Squirrel,” per se.  It’s just that my brain doesn’t work like that.  A.D.D., perhaps?  I don’t know.  All I know is that written, step-by-step instructions allude me.  I can’t follow a recipe.  I can’t put Ikea furniture together.   If there is not someone in front of me – either live or on video – showing me how to do something, I just won’t get it.  We know that there are multiple intelligences and I discovered years ago that I favor an interpersonal learning style.  I learn best by hanging out with other people.

I don’t know my daughter well enough yet to know her exact learning style but I do know one thing from observing her play with Legos.  Whatever she is building, it always has everything to do with people and those people’s relationships.  She never builds boats or houses or whatever just for the sake of building them.  She builds them so that her imaginary people can become families and have places to eat and sleep and fight with each other and say sorry and forgive each other and start again.

When she looks through her collection of classic Legos for the Lego people to put in these structures she is building,  she only finds “boys” with mean faces and harsh uniforms.  “Where are the girls?” she asks.  “Please help me find a girl!”


So, I have to admit that I was quite grateful when she received her first set of “girl Legos.”  (Yes, she does get a lot of gifts!).  Finally, she had some girls she could add to her structures.  I didn’t really mind that the bricks were mostly pink and purple because they added some color diversity to the mostly grey, blue, and brown that dominated her huge box of classic Legos.  The “girl Legos” have not limited her options as a girl.  Instead, they have honored her play style and have allowed her imagination to grow.

Now even I see the Lego bricks in a new way.  I don’t get so intimidated about what I can or can’t build.  Instead, the bricks become a vehicle for dramatic play and I can find my way in.  I can engage longer with the toys and, ultimately, with my daughter.

All of this is not to say that Lego is completely off the hook.   Their products include the “Heartlake Shopping Mall” and “Stephanie’s Beachhouse” but there is no soccer field or Oval Office kit to be seen.  The girls pretty much all look the same – some a little browner than others perhaps.  So, yes, I get “girl legos” but, we have a long way to go.


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