03 January, 2017

Whales and Crabs

I really, really love Linda Eyre. A few years ago, my friend Melissa introduced me to Joy School and I've been getting regular emails from the ValuesParenting blog since then. Sometimes I scroll through them and always find little treasures to help me be a more joyful mother. Anyway, one of my favorite gems from the Eyres are the little parables about whales and crabs. There are a slew of other animals too, but these two were the most applicable to my home and I've found that using just two animals instead of ten is easier for my kids to remember.

You can read how the Eyres used these to teach their children,

but this is how we've adapted it for our home.


My dad was a whale-watching tour ship guide in Sitka, Alaska where I grew up. Many Saturdays were spent on the water, finding sea otters, seals, sometimes sea lions, always bald eagles, and of course whales. I was so blessed to see, from a very close vantage point, glorious humpback whales breaching, sometimes jumping straight out of the water to do a graceful flip, then diving back under the surface with a thrilling splash. Only a handful of times did I see orcas, but they were beautiful in their own way - mysterious, dramatic, and a little scary. We also saw gray whales at certain times of the year.

Humpbacks were my favorite. They were so distinct, enormous, and playful. I can still feel the thrill run through me as I imagine that first moment when you see a curved, smooth surface, right above the waterline, and realize with a jolt: IT'S A WHALE! And then, oh, the absolute delight when it decides to blow or jump or simply swim close to the boat.

I love Kjel's bald head. 

Our family has seen some increased levels in contention over the last couple of months. Eye-rolling, talking back, putting down siblings, interrupting, and complaining are the main culprits. And the offender is usually the same person, I will leave that to your imagination, but I'll give you a hint: his name rhymes with Cage. Ha.

To help combat this, we had a long talk about humpback whales. I told the kids about some of my experiences growing up, sighting whales. I reminded them of our trip to Sitka a few summers ago for my friend's wedding and how they both were able to see a humpback whale from afar.

I told them that humpback whales sing. They sing beautiful songs from under the water, and we listened to some samples on the internet. The list of amazing facts about whale songs are a post all their own, but what I emphasized with the kids is that whales never interrupt each other! They wait until each whale has finished his or her song before another one begins singing.

Whales work together. I have seen whales bubble-net feed from the surface and it is an amazing process. In groups, humpback whales will create large bubbles surrounding groups of fish like salmon. The bubbles kind of trap the fish and disorient them so they don't escape. Then, with the call to eat, the whales all swim upward with their mouths wide open and feast!

Communication and serving one another -- those are the lessons our family derives from humpback whales. When a child is grumpy and keeps interrupting, or self-serving and won't share or gets angry at having to help - we ask, "Please decide to be a whale."

Now, for crabs. This one is way simpler. Have you ever tried to catch crabs? I spent hours beyond hours as a child on the cold beach, with a large bucket and my siblings. We would overturn rocks (maybe that wasn't so humane) and quickly pick up as many tiny crabs as we could to put them in our bucket. Then we would create little castles and dump them out, hoping that they'd like their new home. Ha. Poor crabs. One lesson though -- never put just one crab in a bucket. It will get out. Always put in two or more crabs. Why? Because they will never be able to escape. As soon as one crab starts to climb up the side, the other crabs will pull it down. Crabs do not work together. Crabs literally tear each other down.

As my kids get older, it is SO IMPORTANT to me that they love each other. Often when one or both of my older kids start fighting, I only have to get them to pause long enough to hug each other and say "I love you" for them to melt and turn a totally different direction. I don't think it is nature for kids to be "crabby" and vocally put each other down and fight. I think that is a learned behavior. Just using the words, "Oh no, I hope we aren't acting like a family of crabs!" is enough of a reminder that the kids will stop and think, and often change their ways before any other consequences are needed.

So there you have it. Whales and Crabs. :)

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