Arthur’s First Day of Kindergarten

Note: this is a blog post originally wrote in December 2018.  It has been edited and posted on July 22, 2019.

On Wednesday, November 28, Julia and I went to the Alton Public School and signed him up.

Now, I must admit that with all of my focus on children in nature, and being highly informed on daycare and forest schools over the past six months, it was a challenge for me to take him to an institutional setting.  But at the same time, I felt that if I just let go of my tightly held preconceived notions and just went as an observer, I could evaluate better.  And biting this bullet actually yielded something amazing.  It almost feels like we managed to hit Arthur’s education on the nail yet again.

The rural Alton Public School is a STEAM school.  Science, technology, engineering, ARTS, Math.  That’s right.  First graders learn basic logic programming and sixth graders use chromebooks to program and tablets for research.  As a performing arts school as well, every year are plays, musicals, and choirs.  The quality of it’s programs are near to a private education degree.  We have met parents who make long (45m) treks to bring their kids to this school.

If I had known such schools existed, I never would have imagined I would have a kid at one of these.  It’s like primary school for kids who go on to Masters or PHDs.  It’s really incredible to see what’s going on.

For the primary years, there is a near perfect student-teacher ratio of 6:1.  Both a teacher and an Early Childhood Educator work in the same classroom, and classes are 12-15 kids.  The kids are self-directed (Woooo! From the Montessori school of thought!) in their playing.

Arthur is going to get the support he needs, the teaching and isn’t going to fall between the cracks.  He’s going to be lifted up high.  His school is highly-rated, and well-loved in the area.

The weirdest thing for Arthur was that he watched a movie at school that was learning.  He isn’t used to watching movies during weekday hours, particularly in a care environment that is his primary environment that’s not Mom and Dad.  So that was a new experience for him.  This does allow Mom and Dad to restrict his screen time at home without him falling behind in his generational understanding of technology.

Study links decline in teenagers’ happiness to smartphones – Portland Press Herald

Why do we need scientific studies to tell us this?

by Melissa Healy | Los Angeles Times | Jamuary 23, 2019

A precipitous drop in the happiness, self-esteem and life satisfaction of American teenagers came as their ownership of smartphones rocketed from zero to 73 percent and they devoted an increasing share of their time online.

Coincidence? New research suggests it is not.

In a study published Monday in the journal Emotion, psychologists from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia used data on mood and media culled from roughly 1.1 million U.S. teens to figure out why a decades-long rise in happiness and satisfaction among U.S. teenagers suddenly shifted course in 2012 and declined sharply over the next four years.

Was this sudden reversal a response to an economy that tanked in 2007 and stayed bad well into 2012? Or did it have its roots in a very different watershed event: the 2007 introduction of the smartphone, which put the entire online world at a user’s fingertips?

Read more:

GREEN LIVING: A special look inside Whole Village eco-housing |

We’re in the Orangeville news publications!

A beginning

We are at the tail end of our wrap up here in Manitoba. The end of this ending is starting to blur into the beginning of the new beginning.  It’s definitely a bittersweet, wistful goodbye.  We haven’t been able to connect with everyone we wanted to, that’s for sure.

This past weekend some buddies helped me load the pod, and it was a big project.  We started at 10 AM, stopped for lunch, and worked until 4 PM.  I’m super thankful for the help, and wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.  Thank you Rodney, Rob and Matt for showing up!

Arthur has been saying some hard goodbyes as well.  In our last blog post, we celebrated the ending of his super positive relationship with Cheryl.  He’s said goodbyes to his room, his friend Leo and others as well. He understands that things are changing and that he will be moving onto a farm with lots of other people.  He’s been spending time with his grandparents in Gimli for the past week and a half.  Julia and I are really missing Arthur and he’s really missing us.

Last Wednesday Julia and I sat down at Smitty’s with friends for some beer and wings.  Yesterday, on Sunday we were at the Starbucks at Corydon and Cockburn at 2 PM to say goodbye to whoever else wanted to show up.

Amidst all these goodbyes, we are also very aware that it is a new beginning with many different possibilities and probabilities.  We’re also aware that it is 2018, and there’s no such thing as a ‘Goodbye forever’ like there used to be.  When I moved from Henderson, Nebraska to Winnipeg twenty-four years ago, it was before the internet was big, and leaving was like moving to a different planet.  Since then I’ve reconnected with people via Facebook and email.  We are able to stay rudimently aware of each other’s lives.

We are encouraging Arthur to continue to see friends and family with Skype.  We don’t want him to feel completely disconnected from the relationships that he’s built here.  That would only make this transition more difficult for him.

This past Friday was  my last day of work, and it’s a little hard to believe.  In less than a week I will be 1500 kilometers away, closing in on Whole Village with a sore back and probably low in my yoga discipline.

It’s really incredible to think we’re here at this point in time.  Julia and I have been thinking and dreaming of this for many years, and now it nears manifestation.  It’s exhilarating, exciting, anxiety-inducing and just plain fun.  This is a new volume in the stories this family shares, and we look forwards to staying present in this adventure as it begins to unfold.  We have lots to learn, lots of listening and–hopefully–lots of roots to set down in this ecovillage.

Our awesome daycare

When we brought Arthur home from the hospital, both Julia and I had shared strong feelings of wanting the best for him. This is normal for parents to feel. After a year of mat leave, the hardest thing for Julia was giving him over to someone else to raise. I was right there with her on that that too. With hearts wide open, children absorb their environment and the actors within in, sponging up whatever that environment is. If we want to raise children to stand tall and strong, they need a deep foundation. They also need fewer screens and more outdoors time.

It was with this in mind that triggered a high degree of anxiety when looking for a daycare for Arthur. However, the universe shined light on this for us, after the last daycare that Julia called that first day returned our call, indicating there was an opening. We took a deep look at the website, went to visit, and were a little stunned with what we found.

An ECE III (Early Childhood Educator Level 3), Cheryl raised five kids of her own. She has been raising kids in her daycare for 21 years. Her child care environment is meticulously created with child-size play facilities, and occupies the entire first floor of her house. Her philosophy of child care is as follows:

I believe that a childcare program should be modified to meet the specific needs of the children in care. Each child is a unique individual and requires a flexible program that responds to their needs and strengths and allows them to achieve their developmental potential.

My program is constantly changing depending on the ages, abilities and support needs of the children currently enrolled in my care. Activities are adapted to include all children regardless of their age, gender, beliefs or abilities.

Curiosity, discovery, creativity, cooperation and independence are fostered through play-based activities, active exploration and meaningful learning opportunities. I strive to include activities and experiences that allow all the children to develop socially, physically, emotionally and cognitively.

And you know what? She delivered. As two parents who care deeply about what their child is doing at daycare, we couldn’t be happier having Cheryl as our son’s caregiver. She has embodied her philosophy every step of every day. She has been proactive, informative and fun. Arthur has a deep trust for her. This speaks volumes. She has kept him outside, interested and playing outdoors getting to know the bugs, birds and trees. They go for near daily walks, spend time in free, risky play, and creating with loose parts both inside and out

As our family prepares to move into Whole Village, Arthur has already been prepared for a more natural, harmonious life within a cooperative community. He hasn’t been raised with screens, and his curiosity is high. He’s used to being outdoors, he’s social and likes people.

Thoughtful and careful, Cheryl has delivered beyond our wildest dreams. And it feels so right. She’s been our greatest resource on our son, suggestive when we request it, but never pushing anything. I really can’t say enough good things about her.

She is a member of the Manitoba Child Care Association’s Board of Directors, and is the chairperson of the MCCA Family Child Care Committee. She’s smart, engaged, active and compassionate.

It was also by way of a question when she asked me to submit a request for proposal about what ecovillages are for NatureSummit that she started a small snowball rolling that I have picked up and been running with for a few years. In 2016 I presented my first presentation about ecovillages at NatureSummit. I have presented several since then, learning lots and enjoying getting to know more people with ecovillage interests in Manitoba.

Cheryl, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for everything you’ve done for our family, for helping raise our son. It will be so very different not having your influence on Arthur. Thank you for giving him that foundation, for creating the roots of empathy and trunk of resilience. We will miss you.

Gee, where did September go?

It’s mid-October as I write this, and so much has changed already.  The leaves have fallen (overnight), we’ve been through a good several weeks already of low single-digit weather, and our house is beginning to look rather empty.  The newsletter I produce was renamed from ‘The Co-Creator’ to ‘Our Co-Creators’ as I wanted to give it a more inclusive name.  With the theme of ‘children’ this third issue has received a lot of attention.  It was at NatureSummit on September 14-16.  The article with Rowan Dakota received the most attention our website has ever seen, which was exciting!  October has breezed by before I have finished this post, so I need to wrap this up.

The family is gearing up for a big change too.  I plan to write about this very soon.

August 8, 2008

August 8, 2008.  8/8/08.  Ten years ago, I had a big part of my soul crushed.  It was just before going out to Jeremy’s cottage.  I had been trying to work out visitation with my six, soon to be seven-year-old with his mother.  She flat out wasn’t being cooperative, and I didn’t understand what she was doing.  All I understood was that despite having a court order stating I had visitation, I would not be seeing him.  And at this early point in the high conflict, I was seeing things more through his eyes and my head was in a whirl.  Nothing his mother said made sense and my head felt like fluff.

I had been putting aside my own feelings for a while and just trying to do what was necessary and connect with him.  But I couldn’t build a consistent relationship because visitation wasn’t being consistent.

Jeremy stopped by my house to pick me up for the trip to the cottage, and I smiled and treated him like a good friend.  But I didn’t want to talk about what had happened just beforehand.  I didn’t want to bring him down.  I didn’t want my shit to make an exciting weekend difficult for him or anyone else.

And so I was quiet.  I was like Will Byers in Season 2 of Stranger Things, trying to hold in this huge awfulness so that it wouldn’t impact the people around me.  I went through the weekend perhaps a little quieter than normal.  And that evening, the stargazing lifted me up a little and helped me to connect to that larger universe that I felt I was slipping out of.  The tubing also definitely helped to lift my spirits.

Today, ten years later, I’ve learned a lot.  I’ve changed a lot.  I’m in a fundamentally different place in life.  That six, almost seven year old boy I was trying to connect with is now 16 turning 17.  I have heard very little from him for the past four years.  A few text messages a year.  He walked away from me at 13 because I had a fight with his mother over the phone, and really started cutting into her on her manipulative behavior.  And like I anticipated, she manipulated him into leaving me and never coming back.  The weaponization of my child was clear, deliberate, and reduced me to tears every time.

She has primary custody.  She has controlled all access I have to him, including censoring my communication with him (even kicking me out of shared social media games if I said something she didn’t like) and only carrying out court orders when it was convenient to her.  I was working temp jobs, had some credit card debt and no assets.  My legal aide lawyer stopped returning my calls.  His school stopped talking to me and would only send report cards to her to forward to me.  (The school thing was where I started really getting angry, because I expected at least them to be adults.)

I had to make a very difficult decision.  It would have been easy to fall into depression, to harbor thoughts of hatred and deserved justice.  But I didn’t.  Because that wasn’t the kind of person I wanted to be.  I never ‘wanted a day in court’.  I just wanted her to treat our son like a human being, like he might actually want to be with his Dad and have a relationship with his Dad.  Instead, she couldn’t and wouldn’t let him have that.  And no amount of attempted communication would change that.  I know that I did the best I could for him.  I can look back and know that even if my son wasn’t fully aware of everything I was doing, the people around me who I was talking to about this knew that I was.  This was my business and not something I wanted to burden people with.  The few times I did, the people I was talking to got really weirded out by it.  I suspect it was because what I was grappling with was so far off the mark of basic human decency, and I didn’t want to burden others with my garbage.

In the end the situation became absolute shit and I needed therapy for it.  Recovering from watching your child abused takes time, therapy and tools very few of us receive when we’re raised as decent human beings.

After his dramatic exit, I had to consciously decide to let go and move on.  I would go crazy trying to push a boulder up a mountain when the boulder was part of the mountain, and I was not Sisyphus.

Today I understand that my son’s mother has what is called narcissistic personality disorder.  This means that she would gaslight, lie about little things for no reason, manipulate and abuse.  She and him wouldn’t be present for visitation, and she would never return calls.

And that’s what had been done to me before my friend picked me up and took me to his cottage.  I had felt my son’s feelings be completely ignored by his mother, and it crushed me.  I had always believed that parents cared for their kids, and had my beliefs, and heart, broken.  I felt utterly broken inside, and was just barely holding it together.

The time at Jeremy’s cottage was wonderful.  My disposition was a little down, and when I look at the pictures from the weekend, there was definitely something big going on behind my eyes.  That was me trying to not bring everyone around me down.

Today I have a different life.  I have a wife I love, a four-year-old boy who I love like crazy and we are moving to Ontario soon to start a new life together in an intentional community with shared values.  My first son crosses my mind sometimes, but I’m not part of his life.  I’ll think about him, and sometimes I romanticize about having a relationship with him.  But that romanticism dies quickly when I think about just how much conflict would be reintroduced into my family’s life.  Any decisions along those lines in the future would need to be weighed carefully.

As it stands, I have thrown myself into social action that helps to address climate change.  I feel that if there is anything I can do for both my sons, it’s take action regarding climate change.  Because they very likely won’t have the planet to play on the way I did.

For my birthday, I want you to visualize.

Yeah, today’s the big, Four-Oh.  It’s crazy to think that I’m actually this old sometimes.  At the same time, I’m also happier.  Things in my personal life are pretty damn good, considering where once was.

Early this week, the internet exploded with images that evoke horrors that kick parents in the gut.  The weaponization of children is one of those things that can send a decent, respectful person into an emotional tailspin.  I’ve been there and clawed my way out.  I’ve had my kid weaponized against me, and the legal system threaten to drown me.  The utter lack of empathy for a child and willingness to completely disrespect the emotional needs of a child can hit like swallowing an acid bath.  The callowness and vile of certain humans can be deeply unsettling.  I discovered the hard way, that to a narcissist, other people’s emotions don’t exist.  Even children are there to be manipulated and used to the narcissists own ends.

But this blog post isn’t about narcissists.  It’s about finding hope and empowerment when the darkest of human nature comes out.

So here’s what I want for my birthday.  I want you to take information from the images, and as clear as you can, picture yourself walking through the cages. You can be whoever or whatever you want as you do this visualization.  You could be Iron Man busting through the ceiling.  Maybe you’re the Buddha, floating through on a cloud, or the Doctor, teleporting in with your Tardis.  Or an angel bringing in heavenly music.  It doesn’t matter.

Once you’re there, open your heart.  Open your hands.  Open your mind.  Send in positive vibes, healing energy, calming effects, whatever it is that you get from this image you are picturing yourself as.  For just a moment, take a moment to set aside the horror you feel, and send those kids some love.

The point here is to do some mental activity that reduces both your own stress, and possibly, just possibly, reduces the stress those kids are feeling.  If you can, include those heartbroken parents too, because they need it too.

If you can do this, I would consider you having given a gift.  It’s not a gift to me that I want, but rather a gift of calm, loving attention those kids need.   And if you could, do it again.  And again.  As we do this, let’s also remember to be unattached to the results.


Whole Village, April 2018

After returning home from our first visit to Whole Village in September of 2017(link), our interest was piqued. There were many things about this community that we liked and met our own checklist. We liked the organizational structure, the farm, the people and their vision. The vibe was great. The community had mature roots and was capable of weathering storms. Julia felt great in their space, and Arthur and I did too.

We upped our interest level and committed to a two week visit. In April, 2018 we flew out to Hamilton, Ontario, rented a car and stayed in a suite in the spectacular Greenhaven. What a great trip! The community was hospitable, open and accommodating. Staying for two weeks was a great way to experience life at the community. It gave us an intense, live-in experience of what it would be like.

The two weeks gave us an idea of what the routines in the community are like. That sort of thing is hard to figure out if one is coming for a work bee or a day or two here and there. Mondays are check ins, community meals are two to three times a week, whenever someone signs up to cook. Farm routines vary and take a little getting used to.

Being there for two weeks also gave the community a better sense of who we are. It showed the community what our baseline attitudes are and how our family interacts together. Think of it as the ‘seeing each other’ phase in getting to know a potential partner. In my reading, this is an important part of the exploration phase.

It also was a two-week vacation for the family. We visited Alton Mills, an old mill converted into an art space which is barely ten minutes away. In the opposite direction, Orangeville had everything we would need. The Orangeville culture is very artsy, open and chill. I think of it as a blend between Kenora, ON and two communities in Virginia, Gordonsville and Harrisonburg. It feels like cottage country. At about 31,000 people, Orangeville is a nice size. (Just a little more than half the size of Brandon, MB.)

The very first morning on the farm Arthur discovered something he would enjoy doing every day. His exuberance collecting chicken eggs made us wonder if he wasn’t born to be a country boy.

The farm is something that the entire family can really appreciate. Both Julia and I grew up in rural settings, and we really want Arthur to experience a rural life in early childhood. We want him to grow up around animals, getting dirty and playing outside. This environment is important to us. This said, we are also keen to keep him socialized. The studies and pediatric recommendations show that our wants align with their conclusions. The structure of an ecovillage fits this brilliantly.

As well, neither of us want to run a farm on our own. It’s a lot of work, and we know it is way too much for only two people. Doing it together with others makes more sense. Once again, an ecovillage fits this.

Having other kids to play with was something the family enjoyed too. Arthur had a good time with the children. Julia and I got more time together. I found it also had an effect where we appreciated our family time more. There’s a lot of win-win with this situation.

Arthur also enjoyed playing in the rec room between Greenhaven suites. A trunk filled with costumes was an exciting discovery. At one point I pretended to be a dragon that Arthur and the other kids were trying to train. They learned it isn’t easy to train dragons, and that calming influences are better than whacking with swords.

The pond was a great draw for Arthur too. All sorts of aquatic creatures were there, from frogs to fish, bugs and salamanders. This environment to play in was great to see him enjoying.

Arthur also took to the people in the community very well. He was polite and remembered people’s names better than myself. We received many comments on how good-natured he is.

The established community environment has calming effect for Julia and me. Like most ecovillages, Whole Village is a group of people actively working together in community, doing their best to communicate and get along. When conflict and challenges arise, like they inevitably do with human community, there is the desire to work it out. Non-violent communication is one tool in their toolbox.

This attitude and orientation to mutual relationships is like a beacon. I grew up in a family where there was no displayed conflict between the adults, and these memories of quietude magnetize the values from early childhood into my later life. High conflict doesn’t move our family forwards. Both Julia and I are weary of the inundation of the dog-eat-dog message both served by the media and exampled in mainstream culture. It is only that, a message that we both feel doesn’t serve us or our family.

We want a low to no-conflict environment, and that is difficult to maintain in mainstream culture. The conflicting messages and values in the cultural melting pot does not make it easy to raise kind kids or encourage them to stay authentic.

The message we want to communicate through our choices and example through our life is one of cooperation and harmony. Ecovillages afford us that. That is a component of why we have been on this journey.

We found it deeply therapeutic to be practicing a lifestyle with others in a neighborhood who are similarly committed to living in harmony with the earth. To be living in right relationship with the planet takes a surprisingly large amount of weight off the shoulders we didn’t know was there.

There is only so much that can be accomplished as a family living in a city. The degree of garbage is overwhelming and heartbreaking. The pollution, awful.

The difference I feel going from my day job where I am always around a high degree of debris and garbage to a well-cared for piece of land is profound. It particularly bothers me seeing garbage get pushed under the ground through earthworks and landscaping at the jobsites I visit. Being in an ecovillage setting where the landscape is tended to, kept clean and receives a lot of intention creates an ease that is particularly distressing when I return to the job. This garbage creates stress that I notice more and more. It’s human laziness symbolically expressed in the environment. Unfortunately, it’s not something one person can change.

The people of Whole Village were warm and welcoming. We were the outsiders, but they opened their home to our family, treated us well and let Arthur play with their pets. We made new friends, ate meals together and felt accepted.

Journeying to different ecovillages and seeing how others live is a great way of exploring the self as well. It helped us to figure out what is comfortable to us. What works and what doesn’t. And at the end of our visit, we felt that Whole Village worked for us.

We took a few more steps in the Whole Village membership process. They had two different interviews, that we sat in for. It was intense, I got a little nervous, but it came out well. They talked for a while after we left, and then came back to us asking for character references, which was a positive sign. It is now up to the community to determine if we work for them.

Until next time!

The Bullers

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