“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” —Dalai Lama

Daffodil in the snowI’m sitting and I’m listening. I’m sitting and I’m listening while the inside right bridge of my nose is burning and the right side of my head is throbbing. I have finally succumbed to the cold that my boys endured a few weeks ago. Now, I understand the headache they were describing. Now, I see that they were quite brave. I am sitting in a cafe having chosen writing over yoga and the sun is streaming in on the rustic wooden table where I’ve planted myself. The ground is covered with a thin layer of glistening snow. Last night—with a full moon shining—white crystals came swirling down in Southern Maine, coating our yard again and Sister Spring remains aloof. It mirrors well the waiting in my own life—the call to linger in-between the planting of seeds and the arrival of dreams. Rushing and outcome orientation leave me wanting. It is within the process that I discover myself, my value, the value of my children. The things that I thought would matter in child rearing—the lessons, the discipline, the future successes hold less weight for me now. Instead I relish the pauses between these necessities and achievements. I linger in connecting eyes with Jonah in the rear view mirror of my car, holding on just a little longer, noticing his smile widen. I listen intently to Adrian as he interrupts the story I am telling, over and over again, allowing him to express his vision of the squirrel’s journey. I correct and I redirect and I help to make things right when things go wrong but I am holding on less and less to the seemingly poor actions inherent in early childhood and more and more to the moments to be treasured. 

We had a busy time away this past weekend. It was fun and full and we were completely diverted from our normal rhythms. I heard yelling from the bedroom where my husband was trying to finish stories with Jonah before a 10:00pm bedtime—nearly 3 hours later than usual. I could see that things were not going well. I did not blame my husband at all—he was exhausted too! We all were. I came in and was able to smooth things over by giving my son, Jonah, the benefit of the doubt. I saw him with compassion. I saw him with love. And within a few moments we were lying quietly together in the dark. I was rubbing his back and he said, “Mommy, I can feel the love pouring out of your heart into mine.” I am not always capable of making these choices but I knew in that moment that choosing to see my son as good made all the difference. We do not always hold the same standards for our children as we do for ourselves. They are expected to have perfect actions and behaviors but we—we can erupt, we can become emotional, we can hold grudges or lash out. I am trying to remember this and as I listen today, this is the message that I hear.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” —Maya Angelou

Crystal Clear ButterflyIt was another mother—a successful writer—who introduced me to the show, “Listen to Your Mother” via an online post a few months ago. I learned from her about this series of live staged readings put on across the country meant to give Motherhood a microphone. I clicked on the shared link and immediately butterflies began swirling around my solar plexus. I hadn’t felt this way since I pressed “publish” on my very first blog entry about the way a single leaf took me to a new level of letting go. I knew that I was supposed to audition for “Listen to Your Mother” in just the same way that I knew a few years ago that I was meant to share my words beyond my supportive—and trusted—circle of friends. Butterflies have long been my messenger, ushering in new loves, new life and new pathways. The New York “Listen to Your Mother” audition schedule and process had not yet been posted and so I began checking their website regularly and eventually found myself with an audition time slot: February 23rd, 1:30pm. I belabored my decision about which piece I would read and left my final selection until the week before the audition. The producers of “Listen to Your Mother” shared what they were looking for from those auditioning. They were looking for the stories that had be told, for the stories distinctly about Motherhood and for stories so personal that only the author could have written them. They were also planning for those words they selected to come together into a greater whole. It sounded so good to me. I was especially drawn to this experience  for the opportunity to share—in person—the journey that I have been on. I loved that it wasn’t about being an expert in anything or trying to teach anything but rather a willingness to go forth in vulnerability and a desire to reveal one’s own life and truth in a very public way.

I wanted to read a piece that I had already published on my blog so as to avoid presenting anything contrived. I needed to know that my words had come from a pure place untainted by the expectation that they may end up being read from a stage. Reading back through old posts, I noticed there had been a change in me—some things that I had felt and believed and feared in my original blog-entries had fallen away like a snake’s skin—no longer serving me. The words that I discovered in those first few months—though still true and relevant to the unfolding of my path—were no longer the story that I must tell, now. I read on further and eventually I narrowed my choices down to a few more recent posts and the question that I kept asking myself was, “is this distinctly about Motherhood or is this just about me?” I noticed in my newer writing the way in which the compartments of Motherhood and the compartments of My Life have now become more fluid—lines blurred, walls transparent or crumbling. Even as the snow continued to fall this winter, I began envisioning the soles of my feet digging deeply into the earth, toes pressed down as if roots—experiencing myself and my role as Mother more seamlessly. I felt and continue to feel as if all of life and the earth and me and my children are all rolled up together into Oneness. It was about then in my selection process that I considered changing the name of my blog from, “Mindful Mothering” to “Mindful Living” or some other title more reflective of the inextricable connection between how we are with ourselves—how we are with the world—and our way of being with our children. I went around and around like a spinning top trying to make a decision about what to read—poling friends and family, praying for guidance, reading my choices out loud to my husband—until ultimately coming into a place of silence and inner-knowing about the story that I had to tell. The story that I am called to tell, that I must tell, and continue to try to tell through my writing and my way of living is this; true enlightenment is to be found in the ordinary. It is in the delicate dance of coming right into the very space that we are. It can be discovered on a crowded train or in a prison. It can be unearthed in a backyard garden or shoveling snow. It is right there with you in the middle of a chaotic household with a handful of children or in solitude with only the presence of ocean waves tumbling.

I remember my audition vividly. I remember trembling before walking into the space where I was met with a panel of sophisticated-looking women who appeared to know what they were doing. I remember connecting with their eyes, noticing long, red hair and feeling at ease. I remember placing my words on a podium and grasping onto the long necklace from which dangled a ring my bigger boy Jonah had bought for me at a festival this past fall. His ring anchored me as I read. My words transported me back to a challenging time, to a sprawling beach in my beloved Maine and to the magic that was found with my boys, there in the tide pools. I remember leaving the audition and momentarily thinking, “I got it!” I felt elated and relieved and completely at peace. I am absolutely not one to think this way normally—especially about something that involves any sort of judging or performing—yet, something felt very, very right about that audition—about the entire experience. Of course, it turned out that I did not get it—at least not in the way that I had hoped. I received instead a gentle and encouraging rejection letter via e-mail in a parking lot after an outing to the library with my boys. I felt pretty crushed and it took some time to recover. And life went on. Sitting here now, though, after having had the opportunity for things to settle and for the truth to come to the surface, I know without a doubt that I did get it! I know now—for certain—what the story is that I must tell. It may not fit into a category in the way that will make me appealing to a traditional publisher or to the producers of this show right now, but the message that I must share is crystal clear to me.

“In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” —Leo Tolstoy

Jonah 3There are various stacks of paper piling up on my counters and spilling off of my filing cabinets—evidence of my growing apathy for the “should’s” of this world. My car inspection will wait for the last moment, I’m certain. Thank-you notes go unsent—though my heart is filled with gratitude. A plethora of e-mails in my inbox are like messages in bottles adrift at sea. Instead I drive across a landscape—again luminous with freshly fallen snow—captivated by the shapes of trees and shadows and hills. I am mesmerized by the contrast of the red barn juxtaposed with the snowy field, the rocking yellow sign with the blue-sky backdrop. I wonder how I might bring these scenes to life with the scraps of paper that have become my latest artistic medium. The sun is a torn flower from an old calendar. The arm of a child is the pink and orange sunset, quintessential Maine.

My fingers and my dining room table both have a thin layer of polymer gloss covering them. At night when I rub Jonah’s back in his bed he tells me that my fingers feel rough. They feel rough to me too as they travel up the silken skin of his smooth, warm back. I wonder how much longer this precious time with him will last. A few weeks ago he announced that he didn’t need for me to rest with him in his bed at night any longer. I was surprised by this edict and grateful that it didn’t last. This is the place where I experience the gentle, “I love you’s.” This is where I listen to his longings for learning, for more knowledge about the world. This is where I remember how little he still is. He asks to feel my rough fingers and evaluates which ones I must use most in my collage work. I think of his request that I create a collage based on him and use a dolphin picture we found together in an old calendar. I think of he and Adrian standing on a bench overlooking one piece making various observations. One woman’s arm appears like a flamingo and Jonah feels this may exclude it from being “chosen.” They take in a picture of a beach from a torn calendar and Jonah exclaims, “that would make good skin!” It’s a family affair, my art.

I’m working on a piece based on a photograph of a friend and her child curled up sleeping together. Her son is feverish and her arm is draped across him with care. I am belaboring the faces. Pieces layered and layered—attempting to get the nose just right, yearning to create a cheekbone as perfect and rounded as my friend’s. This work is consuming me. And then later I am laying with Adrian. He too prefers these quiet, end-of-day moments with company. Often he leaves me with only a sliver of his bed so I am lying on my side trying not to fall and he is sprawled out on his back. Our faces are so close that I can feel his soft cheek on mine and notice the sweetness of his breath. His eyes are open but he rests in the space between wakefulness and sleep where a haze begins to fall over the happenings of his day and his lips fall silent. I am studying him like the faces of my collage. I could never capture his incredible beauty. His softness. This time. I must live in this time. Nothing will capture it or preserve it or ever make it come alive again in the way that it is now.

5 Unexpected Opportunities for Beginning Your Meditation Practice Today

MandalaOne might believe that a mother like me, the author of a blog titled, “Mindful Mothering,” must have a well-oiled meditation practice complete with a special pillow, a well-decorated alter and a neatly blocked out period of time in which to practice quieting her mind and noticing her breath each and every day. She must conduct this practice quietly and in her own space and with no interruptions. It must be that she begins her day this way and her family just knows that, “Mommy meditates in the morning!” It turns out that I don’t, at least not in the way that one might imagine. I do have a Buddha kitty statue sitting reverently beside my front door and I have looked up various satsangs and Buddhist temples and other mindfulness gathering opportunities on the internet more times than I would like to admit—never having attended any of them! No, formal meditation has not found its way into my life. Instead—as I’ve noted in previous posts—I discover an inner silence, in the space between filling sippy-cups and cleaning up crumbs. I focus on tiny fingers placing magnets on the refrigerator door and the varied expressions of my children’s faces, allowing my attention to come to my breath, allowing my mind to quiet. I absolutely have a meditation practice, it just isn’t formal and it would take a keen eye to even know that I am practicing. To an untrained eye, I may just appear very, very patient (in those moments in which I am meditating, that is).

I’ve been noticing recently when these moments occur and how they can be very powerful in thwarting blind reaction, in slowing things down so that I can think, in preventing me from being too harsh with word or action. I am not always capable of tempering things enough and sometimes I do react unconsciously. Some would argue that this is good for the children, that they need to learn the varied ways in which people may be. It is this (occasional) harshness that will prepare them for the world. I do not agree with this reasoning—perhaps it is just my perfectionistic nature! If I were to humor this idea, though, there is another—maybe even more powerful—realization that I would come to. It would become clear that even if my reacting harshly is “good for the children,” it is not good for me! I do practice mindfulness for my children. I want for them to experience me as peaceful, as someone they can trust, but I also practice mindfulness because of the tremendous beauty and peace it allows me to experience. No matter how many pictures we take of our children—and I have taken thousands—nothing compares to the breathtaking moment of truly taking in the depth of a child’s gaze and realizing the pure love that is in your midst. Nothing compares to truly experiencing a child’s words as they earnestly ask for your opinions, for your knowledge about the world around them. Nothing compares, even, to fully witnessing a child gripped with anguish and blaming you and still discovering enough space in your heart to know that they both need to make you wrong and to be comforted by you at the same time. I practice mindfulness because I’ve seen my children just melt before me because of that little extra heartbeat that I’ve allowed to beat between us.

With all of this in mind, I’ve created a list of a few unexpected moments, perfect for beginning your meditation practice today. All families, all humans, have their challenges, myself included. My hope is that these ideas might awaken in you the knowledge that there is time to breathe, there is always time for one more heartbeat to inform your next steps.

  1. You’ve been out with your children and they didn’t want to leave your previous location and now they are beyond hungry for a meal. You enter a restaurant and they begin acting out as soon as you are seated. You are temped to pick them back up and storm out of the restaurant, or worse. Instead, sit back into your chair and allow your feet to sink into the floor. Feel your attention come down into your abdomen and begin noticing your breath. Take a drink of the water before you and notice the water as you swallow. Rub your hands back and forth on your legs noticing the texture of your clothes. Connect with your child’s eyes and smile. You’ll know what to do next. Maybe you’ll leave. Maybe you won’t.
  2. It’s bath time and no one wants to take a bath. One child is running naked down the hall and the other is standing on top of the sink making faces in the mirror. You begin threatening that there will be, “no books tonight!” It doesn’t matter that you know this is an empty threat. Find a space where you can be near enough to the climber to keep them safe and release your expectations for bath time, for bedtime at least for the moment. Release the need to “get there” when you had planned to. Raise your arms up in the air stretching and clasping your hands, turning them inside out. Pull your elbows back opening your chest, opening your heart, noticing your breath. When you are able, walk over to the tub, turn the water on and dip your feet in truly experience the water washing over them. Notice your children as they surround you in all of their naked glory. Wash and repeat.
  3. It’s a cold and rainy day—your only day “off” away from your children. You have a doctor’s appointment and you are made to wait. This is your only free time! You don’t even need to be at this appointment anyway, you think. They aren’t going to help you. Notice this way of thinking. Notice the tightness in your chest. Make a choice and sit up in your chair finding your spine lining up with the back of the chair. Curl your lips into a smile even if you have to pretend to be tickled by the way your mind is working so hard to make you miserable. Allow a flush of gratitude to come forward within you. Find your breath and just unweight yourself of all of this. Let it go and just breath. Close your eyes and breath and relish this ability to be in life. Open your eyes and look around you at the other faces in the room. Notice the varied ways in which people occupy their time. Notice the lines on their faces. Are they smiling? Are you?
  4. You’re in the car and the decibel in the backseat is raising exponentially. You begin to whine, “can’t we just have a good day?” Then you start to threaten about pulling over the car or swinging your arm into the backseat like your Mom used to do. Meditate instead. First loosen your grip around the steering wheel. Slide your hands back and forth, noticing the texture. Roll down your window and breathe in a bit of fresh air. Feel a sense of spaciousness arriving inside of you and sink into your seat with your whole body. Look into the rear view mirror and smile. You might need to stop and let someone know that they are distracting the driver or maybe you won’t.
  5. You’ve had a very rough day at work and you just know that when you walk in the door at home the smiling faces of your children are going to make everything all better. Instead you walk in and all of the children are crying or screaming or throwing something. The house is a train wreck and your partner greets you with a scowl. You feel like you might scream or cry. Sit down immediately and drop all of your things. Let go of the idea of the house being a mess. One day it will be clean again. Maybe even sprawl out completely on the ground, notice how your children begin crawling all over you. Close your eyes and find your breath, noticing the miracle of living. Notice the many varied sounds around you. Wiggle your fingers and toes then tighten and loosen them. Feel your shoulders relax and settle into your being. Stay as long as you need to and then you will know what needs to be attended to first.

“The highest ecstasy is the attention at its fullest.” —Simone Weil

Wave 2

I am lying on my back on a bath rug. My legs are draped over and into a full tub of water occupied by my two naked babies. Oh, but they are not babies any longer. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to hold on to their sometimes still-round bellies, they continue to grow. Both can submerge their heads under water in this oval, jacuzzi tub now. Whipping their hair back when they come to the surface again, they remind me of their father coming out of the swimming pool. This movement—my older boy Jonah picked it up from observation and has since passed it on to his little brother, Adrian. I am lying on the rug and I am experiencing a feeling inside in great contrast to the way that I have felt throughout the day. I relish my in-breath and experience a deep relaxation come over me as I exhale. My boys are playing “doctor” and caring for my “injured” feet. They’ve created a paste out of the eczema soap mixture I’ve given them to soothe their dry, winter skin and with it they smooth my own dry heals. I breathe deeply letting my day fall away, letting go of the nearly constant monologue of the many should’s and how-to’s and reminders of kindnesses and cleanliness and carefulness that I’ve been administering for nearly twelve hours now. I close my eyes and listen to the musings of the doctors at work—of Jonah, describing the way in which he is healing my broken toes and deciding that he is a water-scientist at work. Adrian stands and peers over  the side of the tub at me, water dripping from his long eyelashes. It is clear that he has recently submerged himself again. He looks at me through his chocolatey brown eyes and assures me that I don’t need to be afraid of being treated by the doctors, that I am safe. “Nana, is right behind you,” he says. He knows that Nana is my Mom and that I will feel safe if my Mom is near. I’m glad for that association.

Lingering in Adrian’s gaze has been an anchor for me in this time of changing routines and greater time apart. I meet him there whenever I can. Sometimes when he is finishing up a meal, sometimes when we are reading a book together and we come to an amusing passage and often when he is luxuriating on the potty as he is known to do. “I don’t need privacy,” he says while he is sitting there on his sky blue potty with the little bear on it. And he can sit for a very long while. Most of the time, I can find the presence to sit in front of him and just take him in in this wholly natural and vulnerable place. I know so well that this time will pass, although, my bigger boy Jonah— now five—would still have me sit with him and take in his dreamy, blue eyes in this very same way every time he uses the bathroom if I would! I sometimes do. This is all that my children long for in life —my attention and the attention of those surrounding them and dear to them. Not in a, “look at me,” kind of way—although there is quite a bit of that, too. Their greatest need, their greatest pleasure is in the single-minded presence of those who love them. They can spy distractedness, multi-tasking and living-in-one’s-head from a mile away, too, like a couple of little detectives. Watch them how they jump wildly from the couch. Watch them how they roar.

Back on the bath rug, Jonah decides that it is time to rinse off my legs. He inadvertently pours water not just down the front of my legs but also over the side of the tub soaking my entire pant legs. I cry out a little and try to jump up but it is difficult with my legs wedged the way they are. I finally raise up enough to swing my feet around and bring my face close to Jonah and we are both laughing and I am sort of breathless from trying to get up and just witnessing his full-body laughter. Looking at him in that free and joyful place of unencumbered laughter—like a wave—wipes away so much of the coarser back-and-forth that we had experienced together throughout the day. It wipes away so much and brings us face to face, heart to heart, once again.

“Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.” —Anais Nin

weathered handsA few weeks ago, I found myself scurrying around my back door like a mouse, grabbing any warm hat and gloves I could find and rushing to my car. I was driving now hurriedly toward Portland and noticed that my gas light was on. I noticed that my heart was racing from the rushed babysitter hand-off, from the feeling of letting others down with my delay. I texted a friend to let her know I was still coming while I pumped fuel. I began to settle into myself as I began driving again and eventually lost myself in music. Deep in lyrics, I hardly noticed as the exits flew by. It is rare that I drive at night and I felt like I was living in another time. As my littler son Adrian approaches three years old now and has stopped nursing, I’ve felt that I can enter the world again. At least, I have been dipping my toes back in, oh-so-gingerly. I’ve been in touch with long-lost-friends who I’ve missed. I’ve picked up long dried-out paint brushes and felt a part of me come alive again. I’ve begun to care once more about what happens outside of my familial cocoon. I feel a little bit like a toddler, though. There is a certain “push-pull” that I am experiencing. Some days, I wish for a more stretchy cord. Other days, I’d rather be nestled back in a dark room, rocking a baby into slumber.

I pulled up to my destination and the parking area was filled. I felt my heart fluttering again. It was not the safest of areas. I drove around for a few minutes and noticed a parking lot on the corner. I pulled in and found a space quickly, gathering my things and making sure my handbag was zipped up closed. I approached the building where I was meeting my group, looking for the right door to enter. Finally after circling the building, I found it. It was marked, “volunteers.” I was greeted at the door by Tyler who showed me where to sign in, where to put my things and then he told me to meet him in the kitchen. There I was instructed to wash my hands and was assigned to a serving station. I was told that I was lucky to not have been assigned to the dessert station. Apparently, it can get quite heated there. My job would be to dish out a heaping spoon full of pasta and explain to anyone who asked for seconds that they would need to come back once they had finished their first serving. Even in soup kitchens there is waste. I had done this work before with Coalition for the Homeless, from the back of a van under bridges and tunnels in New York City, but it had been a while. I was rusty.

I watched in anticipation as the doors opened and a flood of people came in before me, mirroring the flood of emotions I experienced upon seeing them. They quickly formed a line and were upon us. They knew this drill all to well. I took each person in as they came to me for a helping of what looked to me like a really delicious meal. Only in Maine do the soup kitchens serve steamed mussels. I hadn’t eaten much for my own dinner and was aware of my hunger. There were so many bright eyes, so many offerings of gratitude. I was amazed at both the diversity and familiarity of the individuals that I encountered. It seemed that every age and race and nationality were represented. There were men that held themselves like college professors and men who hid behind their baseball caps. There were women layered deeply for the cold and some layered in tattoos. There were many very weathered hands holding trays and some behavior indicative of severe mental illness. Some were particular of where their food was placed on the tray and others would have taken it in the palm of their hand. One woman accused me of giving her a smaller serving of pasta than someone else because she was a woman. My throat felt closed for the first 10 or 15 minutes that I was serving and I could hardly squeak out a “your welcome,” to the many “thank you’s” that were offered to me. I was overwhelmed with compassion for the need that kept coming and coming before me. I almost couldn’t believe it when someone uttered, “well, that was the small rush.” Just after that another much larger wave of people entered the building and this group seemed to be even more weary than the those who came before them.

There were so many things that crossed my mind as I continued to take in each person who came before me. I imagined their stories. I imagined what they thought of me. I imagined what it would be like to truly know each of them, and to understand what brought them there. I was aware that some had jobs and it was apparent that many of them could not work. I saw how their personalities were like a microcosm of the many varied ways in which people may be—grateful, angry, bitter, elated, humble, funny, particular, easy-going, forgiving, uncomfortable, comfortable, discouraged and hopeful. Suddenly, and as quickly as it all had begun for me, a metal gate began to be pulled down before me and as I pealed off my now sweaty rubber gloves and put my metal serving spoon down, I caught one last glimpse of the sea of people before me taking in their dinner at the Preble Street Soup Kitchen in Portland, ME. The only thing I truly knew about any of them was that they had all—each of them— been a baby at one time. Each one of them had come into this world as precious to somebody, if only for a single moment.

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” —Kierkegaard

beading

I am grateful to have a garage that is connected to my home. It makes for easier winters and for fewer distractions when loading my boys up into the car for outings. From the  rearview mirror of my car drapes a pair of teal, prayer beads that I bought at The Kripalu Center this past summer. I remember seeing them from across the gift shop and hoping they could be mine. In the center of the necklace dangles a single clear colored bead. I often place that bead between my fingers, smoothing the fibers that hang beneath it before buckling my seatbelt, peering behind me to double-check carseats and then turning the key to start my engine. Something about climbing into my car and heading out on the road makes me more able to breathe, more able to sink into myself as I go. I savor the longer distances of rural living with the boundless trees to get lost in along the way. Journeying to the historical, port-town of Bath has become a favorite excursion for me. The process of creating a memory quilt for a beloved family member has taken me there recently. The owner of the shop that I visit says that her long-deceased grandparents make themselves known in her store quite often. It is my kind of place. The drive is not long, really, but as I drive, time begins to stand still and I feel overcome with a sense of expansiveness. The road widens and so do the possibilities of my life. Noticing the inlets that pepper my travels, noticing the way the water sparkles—like diamonds. Noticing the quiet. There is so much time for noticing. There are so many beautiful things to notice. Adrian, my littler boy, is with me. He is not sleeping, but he is still. Still and looking, too, out his own window.

It has not always been this way. There was a time when I drove this route and felt like a lonely, drifting balloon. I was new to Maine, new to motherhood, and new to driving after a long hiatus of thirteen years. I traveled to Bath for a weekly chiropractic appointment. There they gave out little quotes on tiny slips of paper—like you might find in a fortune cookie. I still have some of them secured to my refrigerator. A favorite reads, “There is nothing that makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is so.” I have noticed this to be true for the beautiful women that I know. There is another one that reads, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I long to make habits of pausing, of noticing, of lingering.

I was invited to attend a mother’s self-renewal group last weekend based on the work of Renee Trudeau. We were asked to bring one item from our homes that represented ourselves. I knew what I wanted my item to be but I also wanted to be certain that my choice was true to who I actually am, not just who I want to be. I asked my bigger boy, Jonah—nearly five years old, now—what item he thought best represented me. I was slightly afraid of what he might say. He might have said the vacuum cleaner, or the stove. He has many times seen me using these things. He might have chosen my phone or any number of books—items that I am frequently holding, perusing. He might have thought of one of my gardening tools or my new, nifty fireproof gloves for building fires in my wood stove. He might have thought of a paint brush. He didn’t say any of these things, though. I was in our kitchen when I posed the question to him and then—looking for his answer—I peered through an opening between where I was and the room where he was and I saw him—I witnessed him. He was standing, warming himself by our wood stove. He was thinking, looking up a little and then he began sort of squinting his eyes tightly, like he was thinking really hard. I relished that moment—his earnestness in answering my question, his deep commitment to connecting me with an object.  And then he answered. It was not what I expected or could ever have hoped he would say. He lowered his head back down and he looked at me. “A prayer,” he said.

 

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” —Aristotle

Campfire

Autumn has been meandering here in Southern Maine. In the orchard at my bigger boy Jonah’s school, the yellow jackets have hung around well into this colorful season sampling the plentiful apples. The leaves have transformed into magnificent shades of tangerine and amber and burgundy even as our winter jackets have remained tucked away inside. It is only in the last week that cooler nighttime temperatures have allowed for us to feel justified in lighting a fire in our wood stove, not just for the first time this season but for the first time in several years. In winters past, I’ve blamed our lack of a home fire burning—in this snowy, cozy place—on the diminutive size of the stove, on the lack of a window to see how the fire is faring, on protecting the little ones from hot surfaces. The truth is that there was something more holding me back.

Sometime in late summer I began to know that this would be the year that we would strike the match at last. I could feel embers simmering in the core of me. In anticipation, I shared with my husband thoughts of lowering heating bills, of warming our home with a deeper, more resonating warmth. I talked of getting in the habit of using the stove and describing how then it would become a part of us. These too were ideas dancing around the real reason that I needed to bring this fundamental, earthly element with all of its heat and passion and warmth into my life, into the lives of my children.

I lit our fire somewhat unceremoniously the first time. My husband was trying to leave to run an errand and I told him that I was going to light a fire and asked him did he know which way the handle on the side of the stove was supposed to be turned so that the smoke didn’t come billowing into our home. He said, “no” and went upstairs to get his socks. I think I needed to light that first fire in that way for the same reason one might pull a bandaid off quickly. I needed to just do it and see that I could. I didn’t really understand all that it was tied to for me at the time. I did know how I would feel once it was lit. That first fire did not disappoint. Within moments my two beloved boys and I were cuddled up around it. With the surge of the flames, I felt an inner warmth come alive inside of me. I felt Jonah and Adrian settle down into themselves, eyes fixated on the flickering wonder. I felt grounded and capable and secure—all at the same time. There was nothing wrong with the size of the stove and the doors could be easily propped open with a screen so that we could take in the golden blaze.

For years now, weekends have been a time of reunion with my husband for both me and for our children. I have been reticent to take time away by myself to refuel wanting to create memories of the four of us together, wanting to not put that pressure on my husband after a long week of early rising and late nights. But lately, with a chronic medical condition flaring, it’s become less of a choice for me. It was for this reason that I found myself being dropped off at home by my husband and two boys on a grey, Sunday afternoon. I didn’t know whether to cry or drink in the silence as I walked inside. I put down my things and headed straight for the wood stove. I pulled on my stiff gardening gloves and opened the creaking, cast iron doors and began gathering together logs and kindling. I took off my gloves so that I might better ball up a couple of sheets of newspaper and tuck them between the wood and the kindling. I leaned forward onto my knees, rolling back the igniting mechanism of my lighter, then pressing down, listening to the clicking sound as I moved it forward into the stove. The papers were lit and the flame quickly spread from newspaper to birch bark to wood. Despite the afternoon hour, the room felt dark and I sat back on my heels opening my chest, opening my heart to the firelight. It was then that I knew. It was then that I knew what had been holding me back from this glorious experience of this essential element. In that moment—my inner glow expanding—I experienced a fleeting memory of a time in which I had surrendered myself to motherhood, a time in which I had surrendered myself to my marriage, even. There with the warmth of the fire bearing down on me, a sensation traveled through me, reminding me of a time when I had convinced myself that I would only loose myself for a short while. That this would be ok. I convinced myself that I would only give myself over completely, temporarily. It was with this realization that I was reignited. A part of me that I had given away—albeit small—rejoined me then. It was the part of me that lights fires, of course. It was the part of me that makes art. It was the part of me that has time. It was the part of me that makes time. Attempting to savor that feeling was like trying to catch a snowflake in a gusting wind. It hasn’t mattered, though. I’ve remembered. That’s all it takes. Even on warmish days, I have found reason to light a fire in our home and I plan to do so until winter is no longer.

 

 

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” —Alexander Pope

 

Ladybug

My family traveled inland a bit to Sebago Lake in the last weeks of summer. It was one of a few outings we made in those days—my husband lifting his head from deep in work and suddenly realizing the summer days were winding down. The sprawling, warmer, more-swimmable waters we found there were different from what we experienced on our typical ocean beach days that had made our summer so salty. There I found myself drifting on a pink princess water float—it was all they had left in the raft shack—with my bigger boy Jonah. He had changed in the summer—filled now with the budding confidence of a soon to be five year old, filled with maturing ideas about the world, with maturing movements and expressions and other ways of being. No matter how I try, I cannot keep him small. Jonah was willing to float on that raft all day long, no matter the purpling of his lips, no matter the slight shiver I noticed in his still slight body every now and then. I was chilly myself but I cherished this time alone with him and reveled in our companionship. Together we noticed a ladybug crawling up his arm. He suggested we make a wish on it before it blew or flew away. I’m not sure if I had imparted this idea of wish-making on ladybugs to him. It certainly sounded like something I might have shared. I made a silent wish for peace and harmony in my life and in my home. Jonah closed his eyes with a little squint and made a wish too. After the ladybug had gone, I asked Jonah what he wished for. He said we couldn’t share it with me or it wouldn’t come true—something else I might have inadvertently imparted. I really wanted to know his wish! I knew his wish of course. And it turns out he knew mine as well. I proposed the idea of guessing each other’s wishes and asked Jonah if we guessed them, would that keep them from coming true? He didn’t think so. “That would be ok,” he said. And so with a little grin between us, I asked him what he thought I wished for. “Peace and harmony,” he replied without skipping a beat. My eyes widened and I laughed with surprise. He grinned ear to ear. “What did I wish for?” he asked. “For chocolate ice cream,” I replied nonchalantly. I had only the slightest doubt in my answer. “Yep!” he said laughing. That memory is golden to me. I see the sun shimmering on the water and on my dear boy’s face. I feel my hair dripping and the freshness of makeup washed away. I notice the contentedness in Jonah, soothed and settled by the rise and fall of the raft for so many hours.

I had just given Adrian—my littler one—a bath. He’s standing in front of me in our long hallway, filled up with a plan for racing, for running from end to end. He isn’t noticing his little, compact body like I am—still with a diaper bump that will last not much longer. He isn’t noticing his round, soft cheeks. His hair is damp. I can almost smell his freshness. I am alone with him and before reading his bedtime books I am being challenged to a race. He guides me to the starting line at my bedroom door and gets his little body crouched into ready position and then in his deepest, loudest voice he shouts, “on or arks, et set, goooo!” Indeed, his call can be heard from neighbors all around, I’m certain. And as we begin running I feel as if I am in slow motion noticing the way he uses his whole body to propel himself forward, noticing the way he hoists his elbows up vigorously behind him. I am just behind him but looking over him as we run, fully taking him in, fully knowing that this exquisite time will pass. The diaper bump will be no longer. The desire to always be with me will fade away.

It must be very difficult if you read my blog and imagine that all of my moments are like these—if you imagine that I am always capable of noticing, of making the right choices. It must be difficult if you imagine that I have it all figured out. I want to assure you that I do not. Our family has struggled in the last few weeks. We’ve been challenged by illnesses and diagnoses, by transitions and logistics, by the very experimental nature of parenting in the way that we are. I have faltered. I have cried. I have made others cry. And the only thing that I have figured out is how to be an attentive witness of myself. Sometimes even as I am deep in this place of witnessing, I see the things that I do that are surely not the right things to do and I do them anyway! I do not despair, though. And neither should you. In my mind, intention goes a very long way and the intent to mother consciously, to mother mindfully is in the very fabric of my being. I trust in the end result of that. I trust in the end result of loving so much it hurts. And so should you, dear mother. So should you. Thinking of you all with love.

 

“There is nothing permanent except change.” —Heraclitus

Cherry tree fall leaves 1

This time last week it seemed that our family could have morphed into a collection of sea creatures—our bodies so well acclimated now to the sun and sand, to the salty sea air. It seemed that summer should go on forever. For days and days we had been soaking in the soothing warmth of the season surrounded by rocks and waves. Living in a climate in which these golden days are bookended by so many chillier ones made our experience all the more glorious. Just as I was beginning to bemoan the end of summer, the tide changed abruptly, reminding me of the cyclical nature of life, reminding me that the only constant in this life is that things will always change. A trip to the beach earlier this week was reminiscent of a dinner I had with a group of friends in New York City a decade ago. We had been like a family with our very own share of dysfunction and delight. After traveling through the many ups and downs of our late 20’s and early 30’s together we finally parted ways after a dinner party in which a candle was knocked over and the table cloth literally went up in flames. We left that dinner and immediately the season of our friendships as we knew them came to an end. This is how I felt when we left the beach earlier this week—as if the curtain had been drawn on our summertime production and the finale was, well, final. There had been a fierce power struggle over lunch, a family walk that ended in a stale-mate and enough tears to fill the sea itself.

By the grace of the Universe I had a singing group to meet with that same evening. There we learned songs—mostly in a style called “Mood of the 5th” that uses a central A tone and moves gently around that tone with undramatic beginnings and endings. In my mind, singing in this way, in a high-pitched voice—no matter your natural range— creates an ethereal setting allowing us to preserve for our children their ties to the heavenly realm from which they came. We use these songs to remind them of their oneness with the world and usher them (back) into a place where they know and feel that they and the world are good. That night, surrounded by a sisterhood of laughter and honey-sweetened and fresh-from-the-garden, peppermint tea, I learned three autumn songs and allowed my day to fall away. I remembered in those two brief hours of communion with other women—with other mothers—that both I and the world are good. “Golden in the morning, golden in the glen,” began one very sweet song. “Rosy apples glow,” started another which was a beloved favorite of a dear mother and friend. “Come away, said the river,” was the third, slightly melancholy yet precious song.

The next morning I brought out these verses over breakfast clean-up and continued to explore them throughout our morning together. I saw my boys in a slow and present way as I sang and found myself lingering over each word—living in each word—and noticing the tone I was making with my voice. I sang very, very slowly aware of a settling coming over our home. I sang these songs over and over until Jonah—my bigger, 4 year old boy— pointed out that I was singing autumn songs and we discussed the new season coming. Like golden leaves falling, each of us fell into our place as I sang.

Autumn is my favorite of all of the seasons. For me it has always marked the opportunity for a new beginning and I look forward to it coming here again very soon. For now though, summer lingers here in Southern Maine with very high temperatures even as the hay is baled. We were at the beach again today. I was glad for the opportunity to begin closing the door more gently on this special, salty season.