so inspiring. grab the kleenex.
The family was playing a hot game of Monopoly Tuesday night. At one point during the game, we stopped to assess the board. My youngest was in jail, where he had spent the growing majority of his turns. He hadn’t passed GO in about 8 rolls. My middle daughter was banker, maintaining complete control of money, properties and building projects. The number one requirement for her job seemed to be fuzzy math. My oldest sat back and sniffed her putty colored hundreds while building hotels from Mediterranean to Connecticut Avenue. A slum lord in the making.
I couldn’t help but look at this scenario and laugh about it in relation to my month’s spiritual work – acceptance of life as it is, the gentle guidance of my children toward peace and collaboration, the release of bearing the burden of their shortcomings and mistakes. In 30 years, if my kids are incarcerated, corrupt and amoral, I’m going to blame it on Monopoly.
From mine to yours,
The clock in my kitchen is my go-to for all my timely needs. There are other clocks around the house, but for some reason I always consult the kitchen clock for accurate time. Oddly enough, the five minute intervals read “now” instead of numbers, so time telling is a two step translation process – a process that perhaps took the edge off last night as I was watching that minute hand in orbit, converting “nows” into numbers, waiting for my husband to come home after work.
We were all hungry, dinner was hot. Around 6:0o I called him four times in quick succession. I thought the intensity of my effort might encourage him to pick up, mentally willing him with every ring. No dice.
So finally at 7:00 I sat the crew down to eat. Dinner was typical. The girls chowed down while my son staged a sit-in across the kitchen. We ate the last half of our meal in intentional silence, doing our best to focus on chewing and tasting. In the silence I had a hard time focusing on anything really. Well, anything but this: Where the hell is my husband???
As the “nows” accumulated, one nagging, irrational thought snagged its claws on my otherwise typical thoughts. If he got into an accident, the hospital would have called me, right? Would I have a sixth sense if he was dead? Would I just know? He’s not dead, though. But he could be. No. Could he be? I’m sure he’s fine. Maybe I’ll watch a little TV.
The phone finally rang after I put the kids to sleep. He was fine, enjoying dinner with a friend visiting from out of town. He had actually told me several times he had plans but I forgot, didn’t write it down, screwed up. Oops. All that worrying for nothing. It’s not as if I didn’t have a gentle reminder telling me to be here and “now”. Jeez.
The scene brought to mind of a poem I heard by Richard Blanco on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I pulled this off of NPR’s transcripts, so I’m guessing how the stanzas might be broken up. Enjoy…
His plane went down over Los Angeles last week, again.
Or was it Long Island?
Boxer shorts, hair gel, his toothbrush washed up on the shore of New Haven, but his body never recovered, I feared.
Monday he cut off his leg chain-sawing. Bleed to death slowly while I was shopping for a new lamp.
Never heard my messages on his cell phone.
Where are you? Call me.
I told him to be careful.
He never listens.
Tonight, 15 minutes late. I’m sure he’s hit a moose on Route 26.
But maybe he survived.
Someone from the hospital will call me, give me his room number. I’ll bring his pajamas and some magazines.
5:25, still no phone call.
Voice mail full.
I turn on the news, wait for the report. Flashes of moose blood, his car mangled, as I buzz around the bedroom dusting the furniture, sorting the sock drawer.
By 7:30, I’m taking mental notes for his eulogy, suddenly adoring all I’ve hated, 10 years worth of nose hairs in the sink, of lost car keys, of chewing too loud and hogging the bed sheets,
when Joy yowls. Ears to the sound of footsteps up the drive and darts to the doorway,
I follow with a scowl: Where the hell were you? Couldn’t you call?
Translation. I die each time I kill you.
From mine to yours,
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A story from my blog Everything Old is New Age Again published last year on May 9, 2012:
I read about a mindfulness exercise in a book called Making a Change for Good by Zen master Cheri Huber. The idea is that you tie a string around your finger to remind you to be in the here and now.
Tying a string around my finger was too annoying, but I always wear my watch on my left wrist and decided switching it to my right would have a similar effect. And it did. (Holy awkward.) As it turns out, its effect has been undeniable. All day long I feel that out-of-place watch and all day long I remember to connect to breath.
Now, I’ve got to admit – I was already pretty mindful before this watch switching experiment. I am very aware of my intimate connection with source and think about the power of my energy every day – honestly, almost all day long. But nothing yanks me out of my awareness like my three young children… children who inundate me with challenges in patience and self-control.
So I wanted this week of meditative practice to help me maintain balance with my family. Beautifully, my watch has brought me back to breath during every single melt down (mine and the kids’). I’ve consciously applied things I’ve read and learned this week specifically to motherhood. and I realized something: I need to spend more time teaching my children and less time feeling exasperated or burdened by them.
My affirmation this week is: ”MOMMY IS HERE FOR YOU.”
We have to teach them this and remind them of this every day. There are so many things that we skip over because we assume that our children understand the way the world works. We assume that they can connect the dots on their own. So when our kids make mistakes or participate in mindless, seemingly crazy behavior, we admonish them. We shame them. We tell them they’ve disappointed us. We make our own children feel like they are disappointments, like they’re stupid. And then we continue to assume that they know we love them and are there for them. [Note: I say "we" because I am guilty of this. And I have seen other people do this to their children as well. But I do not assume that ALL mothers do this. And kudos to those of you who intuitively know better while others of us learn by active awakening.]
My personal example. PG is coloring with Sharpie on a napkin on my new (white) granite countertop. I see what she is doing and my first inclination is to scream frantically, “ARE YOU NUTS? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU ARE GOING TO RUIN MY KITCHEN! YOU ARE 7 YEARS OLD! YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER!” But guess what, mommy dearest? she doesn’t know better. She’s just being creative and is not thinking about the damage her creativity can cause. She means no harm. She is just not tuned in to the consequences of Sharpie meeting countertop.
So this time, instead of launching into my desperate victimized Joan Crawford routine, I feel my watch and take a breath. I explain to her that Sharpie bleeds through the thin paper of a napkin and can stain the surface underneath. I tell her that stains do not come out. I tell her that when she’s 15, she’ll be sitting here at the counter, looking at that old stain and thinking, “I can’t believe I did that.” Then I hide the Sharpie, give her a crayon and send her back to work on that napkin.
Instead of dehumanizing her and shaming her, something I have done to her before and have decided not to do ever again, I taught her about cause and effect and encouraged her to think next time she pulls the cap off of a marker. I taught her that sometimes thought-less behaviors can leave ugly stains (in this case literally). Through this teaching moment, my daughter knows that her Mommy RESPECTS HER LIFE and her Mommy is here for her. And I taught myself that I am capable of mothering my children with mindfulness and patience. (I’m bawling right now by the way. This is a very difficult truth to overshare.)
We expect that our children can understand the complexity of life, the pressures of adulthood. But they don’t. Period. They just aren’t ready for it. They don’t have the capacity for it. We parents think that because we drive them to soccer, because we buy them UGGS, because we kiss them goodnight, because we pack their lunches every day, that they should feel safe and loved and grateful. But that’s not how it works. The only way they know they are loved is by learning this lesson: “MOMMY IS HERE FOR YOU.”
I have a big chalkboard in my kitchen. I typically use it to remind my kids to do things like brush their teeth, be kind to others, finish their homework. But this week I am using it to remind myself of something…
Wait I’m not done yet! That was last year and this is now:
Flash forward one year to May 2013. Looking back at this post, I can see that mindfulness changes everything. Actively practicing awareness and mindful breathing allows us to think more clearly and create better present moments. And I learned an important lesson this year that change the way I think about mothering. One of the teachers at my children’s Montessori school retired last year. She came back in the fall to share some pearls of teaching wisdom at a parenting lecture. One thing she said really stuck with me. It went something like this:
“We teach skills deliberately, in a particular order. Before a child engages in water pouring work, he must first learn how to clean up water. Once he mastered the skill of cleaning up, he can learn to pour. So that when an accident happens, and an accident will certainly happen, the child will know exactly what he needs to do to make it right.”
This teaching provided me with such a deep feeling of clarity. It was like my skull broke open and rainbow poured into my head. Such a simple idea, yet so profound. This simply profound idea brought me back to the power of meditation. Each of us experiences accidents in life – turmoil, trouble, frustration, anger, disappointment, hurt. You name it. These things are not preventable, they are our life’s work. Before we engage in life’s work, we can help ourselves and those around us by mastering the skill of cleaning up our thoughts. Meditation does that for us. It provides us with clarity of mind, strength of spirit and acceptance of “what is”, so that when accidents happen, and they will certainly happen, we will know exactly what to do to make it right. Talk about making a change for good. :-)
From mine to yours,
A column that I wrote for The Winchester Star on April 11, 2013 (revised with a few edits):
An amazing opportunity was awarded me thanks to the annual Health Fair at my children’s elementary school, organized and staffed by town’s Moms and teachers. The Health Fair showcased interactive healthy-living demonstrations designed for our kiddos – from dental care to martial arts. My contribution took place in a quiet corner of the second floor library, where I taught 500 children how to meditate.
Every 10 minutes for 3 hours, a new contingent of tiny people filed into the room. As this was my first foray into meditation instruction, my expectations were low – for myself and for the kids. I assumed I’d experience: A)Eye rolling B)Teeth sucking C)Boyish antics or D)Utter Despondence. Much to my relief, I encountered E)None of the above.
In fact, I found that the majority of children could already accurately define meditation, and a few even shared eagerly that they practice at home, tossing out yogi words like “shavasana” and “om”.
I also found that our children were engaged. They were alert and seemed invested in the conversation. They were actively listening, downright ready, willing and able to participate in the act of non-doing.
I referred to the famous Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who worked with Martin Luther King towards non-violence and peace in the 60’s and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, for a secular meditation suited perfectly for children: “The Pebble Meditation”. The students (with very few exceptions) closed their eyes and took a ride on their own breath, in and out, filling their bodies with Earth’s goodness and affirming their own goodness with every exhale.
The (amazing) school nurse, said to me, “That’s 500 souls you’ve touched today.” I admit, it was hard to hold back the tears. And I’ve felt quite humbled over the past few weeks as moms and friends have approached me to say they appreciated the lesson. Many have shared their children’s requests to continue the practice at home and have asked how they can do that.
I think the best answer is to begin a practice yourself. Our kids don’t do as we say, they do as we do. So when we are living wholesomely and practicing meditation in the home, they will model the same behavior.
There are some gurus and experts that will say you need to do very particular things in order to meditate – hold your hands just so, seat your body this way or that. I always think, “If I had no hands, if I had no legs, if I couldn’t sit up, wouldn’t I be able to meditate?” So I think that the best way to start is by just feeling comfortable wherever you are, without judgment, inhibition or over-instruction. Give yourself a chance to succeed and find peace in your own comfort zone. Once you feel confident in your ability to practice non-doing you can work on posture, form, mantras and breathing techniques. But to begin, just shut your eyes and breath.
Meditation is not only for Buddhists. Science has proven that meditation unites the left and right hemispheres of our brains, stimulating our ability to maintain composure, find peace, perform better at work and school and feel a general sense of well-being. As Dr. Deborah Rozman says in her book Meditating with Children, “The child is helped to develop the attitude that apparent barriers or obstacles to progress are only challenges for greater growth and opportunity, so that she can cease identifying with any limiting condition and can begin thinking in terms of expanded possibilities for herself, for the grip, and later for the world in which she lives.”
Our children seem to understand the benefits of and the need for meditation this innately. At the health fair, our babies took to non-doing easily – almost automatically. They closed their eyes and allowed themselves to be guided into mindful breathing. It was so beautiful. And I’m so grateful and humbled to have been part of their collective experience.
If you’d like to learn more about meditation, please visit Thich Naht Hanh’s website or check out books like 10 Mindful Minutes by Goldie Hawn or The Soul of Education by Rachael Kessler. If you’d like to see a mindfulness practice incorporated into your child’s school curriculum, please reach out to your child’s educator or school PTO. Reach out to me via email or Facebook and I’m happy to share more.
From mine to yours,
p.s. I am deeply grateful for your likes, shares and tweets. I’d like to grow my audience and could really use your help. Thank you! Peace!
Last night my 7-year-old whacked her big sister in the head with a hard toy. Big sister cried out in pain and started to sob dramatically (a bit too dramatically); little sister walked away casually, shrugging her shoulders, “I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“Well your sister is in tears over there. Ask her if she’s okay and give her a hug. Apologize.”
“But I didn’t mean to do it.”
“But she’s crying. Your mistake hurt her body.”
With another shrug and a little eye roll, she did what came naturally – ignored us and went back to playing with her toy.
Sound familiar? I assume that I am not the only mother dealing with this sort of behavior. It’s so frustrating. My husband attributes this inability to react with compassion to a combination of stubbornness and pride. He might be right, it sure makes sense to me. But how do you fix that? Or can you?
My oldest and youngest children have a natural compassionate tendency. Though they don’t understand diplomacy, a tool that helps us to employ our compassion interpersonally, the feelings exist and they’re well on their respective ways toward a lifetime of caring.
There are lots of kids, like my 7-year-old middle child, for whom compassion is not innate. She just has to learn and develop the feeling.
After last night’s toy-smacking episode, I sat down with her in bed and the conversation went something like this:
“We’re all born knowing things. You naturally have a beautiful eye for fashion. You are creative and colorful and instinctively know how to sew. You are naturally curious and love to read. You naturally have terrific rhythm and are musically inclined. These are all gifts. But there are things that are important for you to understand that don’t come naturally for you. Like compassion. Do you know what compassion is?”
“I don’t know, Mommy.”
“Compassion is deeply understanding how another person or animal is suffering. Does that make sense?”
“Okay, picture yourself walking home from school in winter time. There’s a toddler on the sidewalk, alone and underdressed. He’s shivering cold. How would it feel for you to see a little boy that way?”
She stuck up her thumb and then slowly turned it to point down.
“Okay. Would you imagine how cold he must be?”
Her head nodded.
“What would you do? Would you walk by?”
“No, I’d take off my coat and put it on the baby.”
“Well that is a show of compassion. You could imagine how cold that baby must have felt and that the baby was suffering. So you used your power to help him. Did you smile at him when you helped him?”
“Uh-huh,” she smiled big and climbed into my lap so I could rock her like a baby.
“So you showed him kindness, too. That’s great! But you know, when we learn a new skill, it’s important to spend some time practicing it. If we want to be good at something we need to practice. Just like the guitar or sewing. So how about I give you a little assignment?”
“Tomorrow night when you come home, I want you to tell me one act of compassion or kindness that you showed to someone during the day. Can you do that?”
“Mom, that’s embarrassing.”
“Honey, this isn’t embarrassing. This is life. Life is hard sometimes, isn’t it? And it only gets harder. But there are some tools that can help make the hard times a little easier. Your breathing is one tool. Compassion is another. But you’ve gotta start practicing now. There’s nothing embarrassing about that. What do you think? Wanna try?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you listening to what I’m saying?”
“Okay, give it a shot for just one day and tell me what happens. Will you try?”
She shook her head.
We spent a few more minutes snuggling then I tucked her under the covers. We’ve had a hundred conversations about compassion and honestly, I’m not sure why the lessons don’t stick. But I’m confident that my little lectures are seeping in somehow so I’ll continue to give them.
This morning while she was still sleeping I crept into her room and climbed under her covers, “Wake up, sleepyhead. It’s a cold day today.”
She rolled out of bed, hair tangled in knots, and shuffled toward her closet, “Is it cold like milk?”
She’s naturally funny, too.
From mine to yours,
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It was spring and I was walking under the pink magnolia blossoms lining Commonwealth Ave in Boston, on my way to a prenatal yoga class. After a long struggle with morning sickness and lethargy, I was starting to feel energized again and was exploring ways to stay in shape while carrying. Yoga sounded like a safe bet so I trotted off to my first class.
I was five months along, just starting to develop a visible roundness to my belly, finally wearing real maternity clothes and beginning to think of this baby as more than just the impetus for nausea and a stuffy nose.
There was a teensy person in there, growing fast. I’d just found out she was a girl and obsessively tried on baby names. I can’t be sure, but I can imagine myself mentally combing through “The Best 1,000 Baby Names of 2004” when my clog caught a mislaid brick and I face-planted right there on the sidewalk – well, more like belly-planted. I landed tummy first, arms reaching awkwardly forward and legs stretching behind me. I didn’t move.
A man in a business suit hustled over to help me find my feet and I stood there for a few moments, examining my scraped, bloodied palms, brushing sand off my protruding belly. I told the good samaritan I was okay and hobbled off to yoga, sniffling and deflated.
The scene, in general, was nothing overly memorable. The pain was minimal, the spring day was ordinary, the clumsiness was nothing I hadn’t experienced before. But this stumble laid the first foundational stone in what would become a motherhood filled with worry.
During the weeks following my fall, I had convinced myself that I’d caused my baby harm. I would lie in bed at night with my palms splayed out on my belly, begging Baby Girl Gobes for a kick or a hiccup or an arcing elbow to confirm that she was still alive.
I called my OB, “But I fell FLAT on my belly, doc… all of my weight… must have crushed her. Should I come in for an ultrasound or something? Anything?” My doctor assured me the baby was fine.
Pregnancy progressed normally but I still found other things to worry about: smoke rising from manhole covers, cabin pressure on a trans-Atlantic flight, chlorinated pools, bumpy car rides and arguments with my husband. All of these ordinary things seemed to pose a danger to my unborn child and I began to stockpile an armory of “what ifs”.
As I neared week 40, I committed myself to natural childbirth. I worked with a doula, an extraordinary woman who assured me that both the baby and me would be better off for a drug-free experience.
No drugs. No way out. Well, one way out – between my legs. Holy shit.
I liken the feeling to preparing for a date with the firing squad. The sentence has been decided, it’s scary, people are watching, it’s going to hurt like hell and the aftermath is a complete and utter mystery.
As it turned out, all those things were true. But instead of a blindfold and a lit cigarette, I was equipped with an IV and ice chips.
After several hours of contractions and pushing, my baby girl was placed gently on my chest and I briefly bawled my eyes out. I didn’t die after all. Instead heaven came to me. And with heaven, as is expected in motherhood, came even more worry.
Am I doing this right? Am I permanently scarring my child? Am I a crappy Mom? Is my kid going to hate me for all of the mistakes I’m making? We all ask these things, right? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions validate all of our parental concerns.
Because we aren’t doing it right. No one does. We are totally scarring our children. That’s what parents do. Every parent wears the Crap Crown sometimes. And yes, our kids will hate us at some point – we’ll just have to hope it’s short-lived and based in irrational, hormonal, misplaced illogic.
But unlike the pain of childbirth, there is a way out of our looming motherly fears – acceptance. When we accept these inevitabilities, something really amazing happens. That tight grip we have on the worry and concern and anxiety, nestled so conveniently into parenthood, loosens. The worry evaporates.
We accept that there’s only so much we as mothers can do. We can guide them. We can educate them. We can encourage them. But we can’t live life for them. They are who they are.
They’re going to fail classes, get sick, lose games, offend adults, break arms, lose expensive electronics, crash cars and make fools of themselves, just like we did. That will change when they are adults. Or it won’t.
Some will overachieve early then burn out – or maybe continue to overachieve and stress out. Some will fly below the radar then launch into the stratosphere of success later in life. And some will be total screw-ups for the duration of the ride. And all of that is okay.
There are important lessons to be learned regardless of the path, each as valuable as the other. In fact, the drug-addict / drop-out / derelict probably learns more about life than the magna cum laude MIT grad groomed by his parents for high achievement. Life without life-learning is no life at all.
But enough about them, let’s get back to us. The Mommies. Because we’re the ones connecting here. We’re exploring our own feelings associated with worrying about our kids (who probably aren’t worrying about themselves at all).
Our worry is like tumbleweed, picking up all sorts of garbage as the winds of life roll it along. Garbage that doesn’t help us one bit. If we Moms allow the tumbleweed to entangle us, we’ll only end up with deep wrinkles, sleepless nights and multiple prescriptions for Xanax.
But worry and acceptance cannot exist in the same space. It’s impossible. And there are beautiful side effects of acceptance: liberation, trust and peace.
Wouldn’t it be nice to take a break from the obsession? From the projection? From the competition? From the fear? From all of those ugly tendencies that we’ve been carrying around since scraping our bellies off the sidewalk in week 20 of pregnancy?
Dragging around a garbage bag of fear will only encourage those same feelings in our children. That black Hefty is only so thick. And our trashy bits end up ripping the liner, leaking out and causing a big stink for the people around us. People like the kids we’re worrying so much about. Sure, we can tell them not to worry. But our kiddos do as we do, right? So let’s do something helpful – model acceptance and collaboration.
Easier said than done, I know. But acknowledging fear and the reasons for fear is a beautiful stimulus for change, creating wide crack for light to shine in and expose fear for what it is: Useless.
Meditation is a great way to drag those useless habits out to the magnolia-lined curb.
Often when I meditate lately, I hear the words “create space”. (I’d love to know who is saying that to me, by the way.) For me, the creation of space is a deliberate effort to push all of life’s clutter off to the sides and invite an open connection between me and the universe. In that open space, I can find acceptance. Anyone can do this. You don’t need to take a class or read a book or have a special degree to do it. You just have to know how to breathe.
Solutions don’t have to be complicated or even external. Peace is as close as your breath.
I’m so grateful for this mindfulness practice. Through non-doing, I’m actually doing the best thing I could do for myself and my family. There will be times ahead during which my trust in the universe will be tested, I’m sure. Nights when I’m wearing a trench in my hardwood floors from pacing. Days when my kids are flailing and I’m desperate to carry their pain the way I carried their little bodies so long ago. But the more I practice acceptance, the easier I’ll recover from those angst-ridden moments. Mindfulness is a lifelong practice that deepens with time. And as far as I can tell, time is all we’ve got.
Have a happy Sunday, Mommies.
From mine to yours,
I am ever-so-grateful to those who share, tweet, like and/or promote my writing in any way. I’m a stay-at-home mom trying to rub two sticks together and spark a career. Matches welcome. :-)