The Cove: A Shelter In The World
“I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” Psalm 55:8 NIV
The cove at Ocracoke Harbor is called Silver Lake and is truly a wonder of a coastline. The water moves gently and there are soft, sandy paths to walk. The sunsets are breathtaking, the restaurants and shops are welcoming, and the entire atmosphere is different from any other place you can visit.
I love Ocracoke Island and visit as often as I can. Wandering through the village on foot or on a rented bicycle beside the quaint shops feels like a trip to another era. My favorite shop always has a pretty bucket of bubble solution on the front step of the shop along with beautiful bubble wands and an invitation to blow a bubble and make a wish. I always stop to do this. I pass the tiny school with a student body of 173 in grades PreK-12, and a student to teacher ratio of 8:1. I imagine what it might be like to attend a school where you are known by all. I imagine teaching in a school where every student is also your neighbor. The community in this cove looks idyllic, even though I know that, as in every community, there are flaws.
Looking around, it is obvious that the community has been influenced very little by the outside world. Even though tourists come by the tens of thousands every year, the village around the cove remains a safe place that has set its own standards for how it will function. People come from all over the world, leave their footprints behind, and still the core of the community is not really changed or deeply influenced by their presence. Silver Lake is a sheltered cove that is the very heart of this harbor. Its presence benefits and defines the entire community.
A cove is the central element of any harbor. It is a place of shelter along the water which is created by a rounded barrier of land. Although there are dangers nearby, a cove is a safe place where wind and waves are less likely to be destructive, and the waters are manageable for even the smallest boat. Looking at a deep, wide cove from the shore, your view of the rough waters beyond is limited. The curve of the land blocks your vision and even though the chaos outside the cove is noticed, the protected area provides safety and respite. In the cove, everyone feels safe because they are safe.
So many women feel as though their homes are places of chaos without any real joy and busy-ness without a clear purpose. Not like a harbor at all. We all long for our homes to be a place of refuge from the storms beyond our doors, but we don’t always know how to make that happen. But here is an encouraging truth: we can have it. We can not have a perfect home, because there is no such thing. But we can have a Harbor Home. A home in which the people are connected to one another, everyone has a role that is valued and responsibilities that create a sense of belonging.
A cove is the most noticeable and essential part of any harbor. It is the identifying piece that makes the rest of the harbor possible. The cove is the most indispensable part of any harbor, and without it, having a harbor is not realistic.
Coves are not limited to bodies of water, nor are they always natural. Because they are such important spaces, coves have often been created by humans. A cove can really be any place of shelter and safety. In fact, you can be instrumental in creating a cove for you and for your family. Your body, countenance, and words combine to become a physical, spiritual, and emotional cove that you can create.
Many people reach a point of feeling that the ocean of responsibilities and demands are washing them out to sea. If you are feeling this now, know that you can create a cove that will shelter you. There are specific, concrete things you can do right now, today to create a safe cove for your family. The bonus is that when you are creating it for your family, you are creating it for yourself as well.
On the next several pages we will be noting some ways to make a cove of your own, and you’ll be well on your way to creating your harbor home. Making a cove takes time, and it never happens by accident. If you are going to make a cove, you have to do it on purpose. But let me encourage you with this: it is worth the effort, and you will see positive changes all around you in a short time.
A cove in your home is created with small choices, gestures and changes made on a consistent basis. These small changes make large transformations and it doesn’t take very long to see results. Let’s begin with the only thing we ever can truly control: ourselves.
Your body as a cove:
Imagine putting your arms up at shoulder level as though you were holding a large beach ball in front of you. With this gesture you have made a cove of your body. A curved space that shelters and welcomes. Not surprisingly, this is where the cove of your home begins. Once you have decided that you want to create a cove for your family, you begin within your most personal space. This is the space that you can control and use to influence others.
You did this instinctively the first time your children were placed in your arms. No exhaustion of childbirth or anxiety of waiting for adoption processes to bear fruit stopped you from opening yourself in order to take in the gift of life that you were being handed. No one had to show you how to create a cove of safety and welcome for your precious little one.
Once some time passed and the initial shock wore off, you were left with the awesome, overwhelming task of raising another human being. If you’re like most of us, you were scared. Your children grew and you realized that there are not many acts of raising children that are as instinctive as that initial gesture of making a cove of your arms and body.
The decisions you have to make seem infinite and you have dozens of choices for any given situation. Soccer or karate? Piano or violin? Spank or no? Charter schools, magnet schools, home school, Christian school, public school? How much screen time? Vegetarian? Vegan? Gluten free? Dairy free? Free range kids? Helicopter parenting?
No matter which of the parenting styles you are comfortable with, you can create a cove that fits. But one constant remains true across all the parenting styles: making time to snuggle, hug, cuddle, and hold your children is the easiest and best way to help your child experience the safety of being in the cove of your body. Find time each day to bring your child close to you and assure them that they are safe and they are home. Your body can be the safest cove they know.
For some people, the act of getting physically close to another body seems awkward or uncomfortable. There are parents who don’t really know how to begin this process so, if hugging and snuggling doesn’t come naturally to you, here are some ways to make it more comfortable. Until you are comfortable with being close, these are some great techniques to get you there. If you are comfortable being close, these techniques will be very easy for you.
Read aloud. No matter how old your children are, this is the number one thing to do each day. Early childhood educators can almost always spot the children that have the advantage of a parent that reads aloud to them often. Their ability to listen and their reading readiness levels are greater than their peers who do not have this.
Even after my children were teens, we found a time in our crazy busy lives to sit together on the couch while I read to them. I was able to mark the passage of time by the choice of books. “The Cat in the Hat” gave way to “Where the Wild Things Are” which had to be put aside for “Pippi Longstocking”. Pippi eventually led us to “From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” and “The Secret Garden”. We went through the wardrobe into Narnia about that same time, and none of us were ever the same. When they grew into adolescence, we read “The DiaryAnne Frank” together and were shocked at the depth of inhumanity that people can reach. We cried over “To Kill A Mockingbird” and were shocked again. Many times, they read aloud to me and we took turns with pages and chapters. These books allowed us to talk about the hard things that existed in the world beyond the safe cove that I was trying to create for them. You will never regret hours spent in this way.
Play a video game together If you are using a video game controller together, or taking turns with the same controller, you have a perfect opportunity to cuddle! Share an ottoman or a similar seating arrangement and sit behind your child. Wrap your arms around and speak encouraging or enthusiastic words as you engage with the game together. This creates a physical closeness as well as showing an interest in something that interests your child. Additionally, it helps keep the video game from isolating your child from you. A video world can be a solitary world, and in a harbor home we are a community.
Let me interject here that I do not enjoy video games in any form. I never have. However, I do now and always have enjoyed my children. In order to create the cove that they needed to grow into confident adults, I learned to appreciate the opportunities to communicate that video games create. In addition to all these confessions, let me add that I am terrible at making a video game work properly. Sharing that time and space gave my children an opportunity to be a teacher and I the pupil. It was a nice reversal of roles which gave them a chance to practice leadership skills and for me to model the skills necessary for learning. By respecting their superior video game skills, they learned to respect my superior long division skills. It was beneficial all the way around.
c. Play a board game together. Sitting around a table or a space on the floor serves a similar purpose to sitting very close together, and for many is more comfortable than being in close physical contact with another. A board game is a wonderful social activity and gives opportunities to teach good sportsmanship, clear and polite communication skills and the ability to praise the success of another.
Now, let me make something really, really, really clear at this point. The object of the game is not to win the game, the object of the game is to play the game. If you are one of those people (and I know you’re out there, I’m related to some of you!) who only play a game to win, then you will be missing the point of this exercise. The object of playing a board game with your child is to play a board game with your child. A game is simply a vehicle to communicate and encourage and to build a cove. If you or your child gets angry about the game, accuses another player of “cheating” or reacts with excessive negativity when you roll a four but you need a six, you really should work on that. In fact, you absolutely should work on that. A game is for play, so play nicely. Enjoy the people you are with. That’s what you do in a harbor home. In the cove, there is always time to play, and everyone plays nicely.
2. Your countenance as a cove
Your countenance is how your face and body express your inner thoughts. It communicates to those around you when you are not speaking. Think about the cashier at the store who is ready to go home for the day. He or she doesn’t have to tell you this; you know it by their countenance. It is written on the face or in the drooping of the shoulders. They are communicating without speaking. Their countenance reveals all.
With a positive countenance it is possible for you to alter the stress level in you and around you. Practice the countenance that creates a cove; a safe space even when you don’t “feel like it”. Take it one step further: do this especially when you don’t “feel like it”. Practice this often until it becomes a natural habit. Behavior experts assure us that anything you consistently do becomes a habit that you do without having to work at it. Take the time to do this.
Check in with your own countenance right now. Is it welcoming? Would you seem approachable to a tired child, an anxious teen, or a worried adult? Is gravity dictating your countenance by pulling your mouth down into a frown? Be honest with yourself. Look in a mirror and check. Now, let’s try an exercise.
Practice Smiling Right now, where you are, smile. Just smile. Hold it for a moment. Hold it a little longer. Practice this. Smile again. Hold it a little longer than the last time. Read a few more sentences then check in again. If the smile has gone, smile again. A smile is the beginning of creating a cove for your family and yourself. It is a voluntary motion and is the baseline of your countenance. A smile is even shaped like a cove! It is the universal language of peace and kindness. In addition, your smile is contagious. It’s nearly impossible to resist smiling back at someone who is smiling at you. Think about a time when someone smiled a genuine smile at you. Just the memory of it brings a smile to your face. Think about a time when the pleasure of seeing someone you love brought a smile so big you didn’t think your face could contain it. Keep that memory. And smile. Pass the smile along to the people in your cove. Check in with your countenance. Are you smiling? If not, go ahead and smile. Create a cove with your smile. Look in a mirror. Practice different smiles until you find the one you like most. Imagine that right now God is smiling at you in this way. Experience love and peace. Be willing to share it. Practice this smile. A warm and open countenance typically contains a smile that is relaxed and calm. With practice, this kind of smile can be achieved easily and naturally. And yes, I did use the word “practice” in association with smiling. When you are creating a cove with your countenance, the most helpful habit you can cultivate is the habit of smiling. The habit of smiling is well worth developing. It is a wonderful way to create a cove for yourself as well as for others. Smiling is really good for you. Your brain doesn’t know if you are faking a smile or not. When you smile, your mind responds with calm and happiness even if your life is not calm and happy, so don’t reserve your smiles for when everything is going well. Those moments are rare. If you are feeling pushed and stressed and overwhelmed, check in with your countenance and smile. Smiling reduces stress, boosts your immune system, and releases endorphins.
The Eyes Have It.Your countenance is about more than smiling. Your countenance contains all the communication you are sending out without speaking. Your eyes communicate particularly well. Are your eyes focused on the one with whom you are communicating, or are they roving the room? Looking directly at someone with whom you are speaking offers the intimate connection that happens in a cove. Maintain a steady, calm eye contact whenever you are dealing with those who are close to you. Be especially careful to practice this with children. Children will speak openly to those who listen openly. If a child is speaking to you, turn your eyes to them.
Arms, shoulders, knees and toes The way you hold your arms, the direction in which you point your feet, as well as the control you exercise over your eyes are a part of your countenance. Notice how you stand when you are communicating. With an open countenance, your shoulders are relaxed and parallel to the ground. You are standing up straight and relaxed. Resist the urge to fold your arms in front of your body when you are communicating with others. This signals that you are closed to anything that may be said to you. You send the message that excludes those around you. If you feel awkward and don’t know what to do with your hands, hold them in front of you with relaxed arms and shoulders. and smile. Notice also where your feet are pointing as you are speaking or listening to someone. If your feet are pointing towards the one with whom you are speaking, you are sending the message of careful attention and full engagement. When you are engaged in conversation with anyone, make a point of turning so that your toes are pointing toward them and that the rest of your body does too. The posture that is usually found in a cove is comfortable and upright. Slouching communicates defeat, and Harbor Homes are never defeated! Stand up straight as you walk, and walk with purpose. You will feel and appear more confident and welcoming. And smile.
An open posture communicates that you are focused on the present and not fretting about what has gone before or that which is yet to come. Similar to the way that smiling sends messages of wellbeing to your brain, this posture fools the brain into believing that you are comfortable and confident even when you are not. Because of this, you are creating a cove not only for those around you, but for yourself as well. The safety of the cove is for you. Welcome yourself to the cove with your countenance.
Your countenance is a very important part of creating a cove in your harbor home. The cove, as you remember, is the central element of a harbor, and your countenance is the central element of creating a cove in your harbor home. Practice these habits and let them be a blessing to everyone! Including you.