“If the whole world followed you, would you be pleased with where you took it?”—Neal Donald Walsch

Jonah and Adrian have been coping with the heat these last, sweltering days by spraying each other down—fully clothed—with a garden hose left out in the driveway.

When water hits the blazing pavement they marvel at the steam rising-up from the surface, transfixed by the chemistry—radiating heat mingled with a cool stream.

An aqua and yellow wave-board becomes a shield—blocking water shot forcefully in a front-yard battle between brothers. Shrieks of laughter and withdrawal and the pounding sound of the hose turned to jet hitting the board emanates like the call of wild birds across the still, quiet landscape.

They look for rainbows in the places where the sun’s radiance intersects with mist and Adrian calls to me—from outside into the house—elated by what he’s seen.

I wish that they might always care so much to share with me about what they’ve seen.

I try to understand how the mind works and construct a future scene-of-them—two, grown men eager-still to share about the things that stir them—the places they will be drawn to—the people—the ways of being in the world that I have yet to know.

I imagine intersecting with this vision of them on another wave in the swell of time.

I sift around my being for any evidence that I can—even now— remember them in this way.

Running inside, they leave footprints on the wood floors and scoop out ice from the freezer carrying it back outside on a makeshift tray.

Delivering it onto the hot surface, they dip their bare feet into the place where it is quickly beginning to puddle and watch as it begins to disappear.

They argue about who has had a longer turn with the hose and ask me to be their referee.

Sometimes I try to decide what is fair—making a judgement and enforcing it. Other times I encourage them to figure it out themselves. Occasionally I will approach them—bringing them to the ground in a seated circle—and engage in a more nourishing exchange meant to soothe tensions all-together with reminders of who they are to each other.

I am always reminding them of who they are to each other.

When I arrived at the soup kitchen, I signed-in, grabbed an apron and asked the supervisor how I could help.

As she started taking me to the back, storage area, I kind-of-wished I’d waited around the serving-line where I hoped to be placed. Instead I found myself walking into a labyrinth of boxes and rows of shelving units filled with a plethora of donated food needing to be sorted and stacks of paper products, plastic utensils and containers strewn about.

As I began moving boxes from one room to the next where the contents would be put in their right-place, I assumed I would be there for the entire shift.

I thought about how I had come there to help—whatever that looked like.

It was a familiar job for me—like the work I had done when I helped manage a large endurance event in New York City and was responsible for keeping straight all of the medical supplies supporting thousands of participants.

There were two teenage girls who I would be working with in this task—one with a warm, wide-open smile and sparkly eye-shadow, the other more-sullen and with a sharper way of speaking.

People donate a ton of tea to food pantries—and canned pumpkin, and artichoke hearts. I imagine it is what they find in the depths of their pantries when they feel compelled to give.

I came-upon multiple boxes of coffee filters and smiled when I thought about how I had been using a paper towel for a filter in my coffeemaker at home for several days because I kept forgetting to buy more.

After chatting about what-went-where, the girl who seemed less-amicable mentioned that she would be doing this work for two days straight. She did not seem at-all happy about this fact.

I didn’t make the connection at first and just as I was asking her why she was there for an extended time, it became clear that she was fulfilling a community service requirement prescribed by the courts.

I’m just a normal teenager—there’s nothing wrong with me or anything.

I said something about how one way or another we are all just learning—I was there volunteering because I believe people are inherently worthy beyond their circumstances and I certainly knew there was nothing wrong with her.

I wasn’t so sure nothing-was-wrong or that she knew her own value but I was certain of her worth.

I wished I could have offered her a glimpse into some of my less-than-stellar life-experiences to put her at ease—to let her know that she was far from alone in her misstep—whatever it was.

Any one of us could pull out a long-list of all of the ways in which we might have done better at some point in our lives.

I thought of Maya Angelou. Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

I knew better than to try to share a quote with her in that moment or to convince her of anything so we moved-on to the paper goods area where she put her hands on her forehead—overwhelmed by the mountain of products.

When I suggested we combine like-with-like she seemed to agree that was a good idea and took over from there, ignoring any further suggestions I made.

Her friend smiled at me sweetly from time-to-time.

It seemed like we had been working for a long while when the manager came back and asked if any of us would be willing to come to the dining room and keep track of the number of trays being served that evening.

I was surprised when I entered the steamy kitchen and saw that the food had only just-then been placed in the serving-line—the first wave of people lining up like pilgrims, layered with their belongings.

I was asked to position myself in a place where I could observe—either in the dining room or behind the serving line in the kitchen and to press-down on a little, hand-held lever each time a tray was filled with food.

I chose to stand behind a friend who was gently dipping out mashed potatoes onto trays—tenderly creating a little space for the gravy—and offering light banter to the souls passing through in the way only a person comfortable-in-her-own-skin can.

To my right was another gentleman I know who—despite his own, significant, physical challenges—was offering bread to weary travelers.

In addition to physically taking a tally of each individual who passed through, I made an accounting of them as well.

Not having a responsibility to interact or provide a service, I passed the time engaged in deep noticing of all those who came there for sustenance.

They selected the foods they wanted and I recognized them as valuable—infused with a powerful life-force and birthed into this world, welcomed or not.

I took in each part of them—the energy radiating from their bodies and especially their eyes and their hands, the turn of their mouths—studying the stories written there upon flesh.

I watched them light up and remember and retreat—expressing preferences and showing gratitude—in much the same ways as we all do.

I told myself the stories of their battles and considered the microcosm accumulated in their various paths—emblematic of the universal struggles we all face.

In the quiet of my mind, I let them know they had been counted—not just for having consumed a meal, not for having passed through, but for having arrived on this planet—in all of their unfettered humanity—worthy of being seen.

 

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“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” —William Wordsworth

The days of summer that nourish me the most are the hottest ones in the final weeks of August when the calendar is empty of plans, the days long and meandering—filled with casual outings to near and far-away beaches along the coastline.

In this time a calming pulse drifts in like the tide steading the frenzy of activity, allowing for a pause just before the bustle and transformation of fall.

It is on these days I stand still—barefoot in the yard—absorbing the sensation of skin on soil imagining roots winding down beneath the souls of my feet, grounding and balancing me on the planet.

I stroll along the shoreline of beaches with my boys in search of driftwood and colorful seaweed, textured shells and fallen rose hips to be positioned together as art and left to be drunk up by the sea.

My grasp on my children loosens and allows for more daring scaling of trees and leaping without nets, for rejection of sunscreen and bedtime and an increase in late nights by the fire, under the stars.

The garden weeds become like a jungle around the tomato plants and the winding vines of the gourds with their tendrils and yellow and white flowers. I wonder how I could have been—once again—so negligent with the weeding even as I discover a mammoth zucchini beneath the flurry of stray vegetation.

Later I take a photograph of it draped across Jonah’s arms—like a prize. It reminds me of Jack and the Beanstalk somehow—the exponential quality of growth when sun and soil and moisture mingle with magic in a dance of sustenance and creation.

When evenings start to hint of Autumn’s chill, I begin dreading the dismantling of the wire fence around the garden—constructed yearly to keep the lumbering, resident groundhog from consuming our harvest.

If I left it, the harsh Maine winter would wear away the forest-green paint that blends with the plants and leave rusty metal behind. It wouldn’t do its job anymore, either.

I know it will be less demanding to take it apart and store it away while the days are still long and balmy. Yet I often wait until the first frost to finally lift the heavy stones lining its base, to pull pins from the earth—holding it in place—and to lay the wire out across the ground flat so that I can pull the weeds that have grown between the beehive like design and tuck it back into the shed for a winter’s rest.

Somehow that day always seems colder than even mid-winter’s deepest freeze, my blood vessels seemingly still dilated from summer’s sultry hover and slow to adjust. Shivering, I wonder whether all of the work is worthwhile—whether I made enough gazpacho and zucchini bread to justify all of the effort.

A few weeks ago I drove along a highway lined with pine forests. Rain was coming down, the road lined with tall banks of snow—enormous pine branches hung heavy, now wetted with rain.

As the showers kept coming, the towering trees seemed to come alive with the new weightiness of their branches. I imagined them as characters from, Where the Wild Things Are, traipsing along the highway beside the cars.

I could almost feel the shuffling gate of their giant limbs.

Despite the frequent rain, there are still tall drifts of snow in our yard, up to my shoulders—pushed out of the driveway by the snowplow—and a thick layer of snow and ice on the ground.

The light has begun to change, the days lingering—dusk more delicate and glassy. Though still long off, fragrant spring air is palpable. I can sense it on my skin, like a feather’s touch.

The temperatures that in November dwelled in my bones sending me to the woodstove now call me comfortably outside in a light sweater.

I begin to imagine what I will find in the garden when the snow finally melts and is absorbed back into the ground. I wonder what nutrients the pumpkins have shared with the soil as they fell apart into pieces, disintegrated—hidden beneath an icy layer—over many, quiet months.

I remember how pretty they looked when I first placed them in the raised beds—the round, orange surface striking against the backdrop of wispy, white flakes of snow.

The sky is a soft blue with tufts of powder pink clouds angling downward toward the hazy horizon. It’s the color of a new baby’s arrival, the hue of new life.

The soil beckons me from deep beneath a still-snowy surface—ripe for massage and cultivation—ready for soiled nails, wiggly worms and rebirth.

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“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” —Unknown

I’ve got myself stationed at the kitchen island—hoody zipped up, a string of felted, fall decorations at my side waiting to be hung, the fire steeped in embers.

From here I can glimpse the tops of their heads bobbing in the yard, kicking a ball high into the air with a friend. I aim to strike a balance between keeping them alive and keeping their soul’s mission intact. It seems they’ll jump off of anything no matter the height—no matter the rusty, slicing edges. They hurdle through my room at night showing me they can.

Their faces flushed red from the cold peer in now asking to venture down to the dock. I leave the back door open to the screen—frigid, sea air bursting in forcing the heat out of the room. I can hear them—the tide is in so I want to be able to hear them. Soon they are back up, dragging an enormous pine branch in the shape of a V across the lawn, gifted from the persistent winds.

His head is tilted back under the faucet, his eyes shut—lips cherry red. I’m holding his neck with one hand and using the other to smooth the water through his hair, gently massaging his head, admiring his slight widow’s peak. The water is warm and makes his hair seem a darker, chocolaty brown. The repetition is soothing him, it is soothing me.

I rinse his hair long after the soap is gone and think about the ripple effect of learning to be present in his hurts—what it has meant for mine. I think about the overlap between seeing and listening. They have so much to say to me! Sometime I really listen to every word trying to follow along and sometimes I just look closely—like at a painting—their faces inscribed in the lining of me.

I’ve been noticing the way their voices echo an earlier time—the cadence, the selection of the word evening instead of night, the head tilt in delivery all exactly the same as when they were two and four, even as maturity washes over them. I soak in their newness even as they grow and grow.

There is such simple, exquisite beauty to be witnessed in the human encounter—every gesture a verse, each expression a lifeline to be grasped onto and pulled more near. Life’s most precious gifts can be discovered in the seeing and in the wanting to know. Found in the pausing and seeking to hear. Let presence be an antidote to the epidemic of loneliness. Let seeing extinguish the smoking, contagion of distraction.

I close my eyes when I take in your story over coffee—in the gutted warehouse—listening for any wisdom I might draw from the backdrop of me and impart onto you. I would cast a spell to drive out the unjustness if I could.

 I’ve taped up the card you made for me—imagining what it meant to write the words of a poem in the outline of a bird. The emotion in your eyes—not lost on me.

 At dinner I pretend that we have never met and ask about your dreams. I want to know this part of you, “she wants to dream with you.”

You wait for me by my car just to check in and make sure I am ok. I invite you to dinner once more. The boys are waiting in the car.

You confide how hard it has been—no end in sight. I say what I can about a grief I haven’t known and despite my stumbling way you keep sharing with me.

When I look into your eyes, something lights up inside of me. We might say nothing—or everything—depending on the day.

It’s evening now. They are gathered closely around me near the chair I am sitting in—a fire brightens the space around us like a stage. Jonah is describing a play he saw at school—acting out a scene in which a character in battle is overcome with a sword. He uses a long knife from his ninja costume to demonstrate, falling to the ground dramatically.

I ask him which part he would have liked to play. I assume the upper-grades had performed the show recently for the younger children and I hadn’t heard about it.

He clarifies that it was a production he saw two years ago.

I marvel at the way the story has lived in him as he goes on to recite a funny scene in which one of the British soldiers who received a letter from The French claims that he recognizes the word “chicken” written in French. To the delight of the audience, he interjects the word wherever he can despite the insistence from the French speaking soldiers that the word is never mentioned.

He goes on to describe the part he would like to have played. It was another soldier who stood very straight and tall—he shows me, tucking in his chin —guarding a bridge. He was instructed to destroy the bridge when he saw the enemy approaching. With perfect comic timing the soldier—and Jonah—responds, “after we’ve crossed it, right?” He grins like a professional, nearly winking. It would have been the perfect part for him. I tell him so.

Standing next to my chair, Adrian’s got his arm wrapped around mine as we have been taking in Jonah’s performance together. For some reason he’s got a coin in his hand and he’s rhythmically rubbing it against one of my two bracelets. It’s almost as if he is strumming a guitar. I turn to him and we’re both listening now to the very slight sound that he’s been making and I say, “you know this bracelet is actually made from a guitar string.”

He looks back at me smiling, strumming away without saying a word.

It really was a bracelet made from the sting of a guitar. I imagine all of the things that had to come together in order for him to find a way to play a little tune right there on my wrist.

 

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“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.” —William Wordsworth

It seems like a lifetime ago that I sat in this quiet, tucked away space in a small-town library in Maine working on various study surrounding my deeper exploration of yoga. Today I’m nestled here again with the art and architecture tomes on one side of me and the faint smell of ash lingering from an old fireplace on my other side. The familiar feeling of sitting down to write washes over me, churning up every cell of me. It’s as if all of the various pathways of my being have reached out beyond my skin and gripped onto their connections—their outlets—and have been plugged in.

A few years ago I planted a type of rose bush in front of our home that produces rose hips—round, red, berries—the fruits of the rose plant. I had been admiring these perennials for several years along the beaches of Maine, noticing their heartiness throughout the seasons and ability to grow among the sand dunes. Once a friend made a rose hip jam to share on a camping trip as a gift to our family. I have sometimes collected these berries on beach outings to decorate the fairy houses my boys and I have pieced together throughout the years. Our plant out front has been thriving and growing rapidly. This last month or two I have been observing its leaves transforming from a bright green in the summertime into a soft yellow in the early fall and now, suddenly, the branches are adorned with a vibrant and glowing gold and tangerine that bursts like a sun across the greying background of winters’ approach. With windows along the front of our home, my eye catches these magnificent hues again and again taking in this generous contribution of nature in this breathtaking transformation. I can feel my body—my too-full mind—absorbing the powerful warmth of color and beauty so gracefully given and intrinsic in nature’s presence.

I live a stone’s throw from one of Maine’s most beautiful state parks—200 acres of wooded trails and coastline filled with sprawling Hemlocks and White Pine, giant boulders, overlooks and salty marshes. In the hour before picking up my children from school I sometimes slip away and find myself there in a rendezvous with the trees. It is rare that anyone knows that I am there and I only cross paths occasionally with another wanderer.  On a crisp afternoon a few weeks ago, I found a window like this and stepped onto a wooded path that would take me away from the coastline—away from the busyness of my mind—and deep within the Hemlock forest. I walked slowly, purposefully, a sense of reverence coming over me with each gentle step. I was aware of my breath, of the ground beneath me and the vibration of so much doing in my life began quieting to a whisper.

On that day I was especially drawn to the trees. I had been working on a new piece of art—a “Tree Hugger”—and these lofty, magical beings had been on my mind. The process of bringing to life a woman draped up against a tree, arms clasped around its thick trunk, lips nearly grazing its rough surface, had allowed for many hours of contemplation about the places in which we humans collide with nature and the energy that is exchanged between us both.

I came to a wooded bridge, made from a thick board and meant to protect hikers from a muddy spot along the path. It was so very quiet there deep in the woods and I was so lusciously alone. I noticed the sound that my shoes made as I crossed the bridge. It reminded me, somehow, of the click, click click that dress shoes might make across the floor of a big city library or bank. The contrast of that image with my current place in time created a feeling of expansion and wonder within me. Are we ever really fully in the places where we find ourselves? I am here—so present and taking in the beauty and reality of my life—and I linger, as well, in the many corners of the world that have delivered me here to this very locale.

As I continued walking, I began taking in the trees as individuals and had the thought to touch one as if it were a human being. I slowed my pace and walked up to one towering timber as if approaching a stranger. So very gently I reached out with my hand. I could sense the space—the energy—between my palm and the rough bark. And then I placed my hand on the trunk of the tree as if on the bare shoulder, the back, the chest of a person. I felt the tree receive me. An electricity of connection ran through me similar to the sensation of the unity I feel before writing. I withdrew my hand. The words, “thank you” rang through me like a bell chiming. I walked on, moving to another tree as if I were entering a baby’s room deep in slumber. On the next tree, I placed both of my hands, imagining I was cupping the face of a child with my palms. Again, connection. I was transported to the tops of the trees where the branches swayed, light peeking in. It crossed my mind that someone might come upon me there in the forest in this crazy embrace with trees but I shoved these thoughts away. I moved on from tree to tree like this, hugging some and leaning against others for a long while. I drank in the goodness. I had entered into a communion with the natural world that nourished me in every, single, way.

 

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“There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.” —Thomas Jefferson

It is so quiet in here. Quiet like when a house full of visitors have just gone. Quiet like sleep after a sandy day leaping over waves in the ocean. I could hear a pin drop, quiet. It is only the two little tadpoles who have gone, though. Off to squeal and inquire, climb and test boundaries under other roofs, beneath another part of the sky. September in Maine usually feels so yellow—sunshiny and glowing with warmth. But this first day of school is grey and damp. The evening temperatures seem be to be getting cooler more quickly than in years past. Noticing the entrance of a season has become a past time of mine. I could never have known this would interest me so. This morning the leaves on our sprawling oak out back are stirring—a very slight breeze bringing them to a subtle simmer that has gone on since dawn. I am sitting in the quiet and I am noticing the contrast of this day with those long and boisterous days of summer. I can almost hear the tug and click of the door shutting closed on this salty season.

I had not intended to grow so silent on the page as I did in these warm months. I hadn’t planned to put other things first. It just happened. It happened in the same way that I didn’t plan to be writing today—but I am. Our summer was full. Full like a basket overflowing with a garden’s harvest, full like a storm cloud ready to burst, full like a car en-route for a camping trip, full like a mother’s embrace. I made many scribbles in journals instead, a sketch of my cat and found a story to tell in the black-and-white photos I took of my boys going about their summer jobs of touching and smelling and tipping-over and digging and gobbling and climbing and hanging and balancing and talking and laughing and crying and wailing and caressing and saving and destroying and repairing and competing and loving and making mischief and making gifts. I took them in closely. I took them in from afar.

In August we had fewer plans—no camps and little travel. I was craving the lazy days of summer for boredom and the ingenuity that follows to kick in for Jonah and Adrian. On one of these such days, I agreed to play kickball in our front yard. It is not my favorite of activities, but my boys love anything that involves a ball and meeting them in this matters to me. They are remarkable in their ability to create a “ghost team” and keep track of who is where and mostly—although on opposite teams—remain in agreement about what has happened. I am just along for the ride. We were in the midst of a game such as this and I was running to try to tag Jonah on third base when suddenly his attention went beyond the yard and into our driveway. He stopped running and pointed to something he saw in the driveway and said, “a mouse!” I looked over and together the three of us began walking toward a smallish mouse lying down and moving its body from side to side—it was clearly struggling. It was white and soft-looking and quickly loosing life force. It was dying right before our eyes.

I have never particularly cared for mice and once even had to spend the night with a friend when I discovered that there was a mouse dwelling in my apartment in New York City. But living in Maine and raising children I have come to see these innocent creatures as just as valuable as any other I might come across. I knew this moment was important. Jonah and Adrian wanted to help the mouse and so did I. I wasn’t sure what to do. I am lucky that my 7 year old son did. Jonah suggested that I go and get my gardening gloves so that we could pick up the mouse who was still moving slightly and move him off of the hot pavement. I ran and got my gloves. Jonah took them from me and put them on. In this time it was clear that the mouse had died. I watched on as Jonah so gingerly moved the little, still creature back and forth so that he could get him into the palm of his hand. We decided to move him over to a wooded area. We acknowledged that he had died. Jonah placed him under some bushes and then moved him back a little, hiding him behind some branches and leaves. We wondered about what had happened to him and how he had just appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Later we theorized that perhaps he had been dropped by a bird flying overhead—we have two bald eagles, osprey and many seagulls living in our midst. But just then we sat with this strange and seemingly important happening and all of our feelings about it on an end of summer day.

 

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“Beautify your breath—beautify your life” —Amit Ray

It is the morning after my five day immersion in a barn-studio in rural Maine, learning more about yoga—about becoming a teacher of this ancient tradition. It is the morning after a soul’s journey into deeper noticing of the ways in which the mind works, of observing more closely the manners in which our bodies compensate when faced with the stretching and tugging of life’s mighty grip upon our spines, our limbs, our hearts. It is the morning after sitting in the company of a community of souls—each one exquisitely themselves, each one unfolding their life’s path with courage—moment by moment by every single important moment. The wind is gusting outside fiercely—my home responding with creaking, the windows even are shuddering. The gusts are long and breathy and sumptuous seeming like they might never finish this deep and blustery exhale. The snow is like powdered sugar being danced across the landscape in thick, rapid sheets before me.

One of my teachers says she can see a mother coming from a mile away. She recognizes them in their too stretched shoulders, their forward tilt. I suspect she knows them energetically as well with their increased tendency to give, their ability to notice the untended needs of others. When describing this recognition, she talks about all that mothers give—their milk, their comfort, their everything—she says so aptly. She is not a mother, but knows the body well—dedicated to a study and understanding of anatomy and proper alignment. She called me to the front of our practice studio demonstrating to the group these characteristics living in me. I am the poster-child for these rounded shoulders and forward tilted hips. As she makes an adjustment to my body—drawing my shoulders up and then back—my neck is suddenly offered relief from its constant overwork.

I am remembering rocking in a pale blue chair in the corner of Adrian’s room when he was a baby still—the shades are drawn. A deeper noticing is coming alive in me with his silky skin so near—a sliver of light shining through a crack in the shade landing on his soft arms, illuminating him like an angel. I must have bended forward into Jonah’s crib one thousand times—gazing down at the blue whales with their red spouts on his sheets, rubbing his back into sleep. Leaning into both of my children is what I have done these last years and have every ounce been rewarded. Another mother in our group later shares that tears sprung forth in her when she witnessed this demonstration of my being brought back into my more optimal shape—relating not just as a mother, but as a woman as well. I too know that this pattern of curling forward runs deeper than motherhood alone. It is indeed the posture of profound giving, and it is also the posture of protecting the heart, the posture of shrinking, the posture of remaining unseen. Pulling my shoulders back into their proper alignment, I notice the way that a space is created in which my lungs might fully expand. I feel like I can breathe into all corners of my being like never before.

It’s evening now and I am sitting on the edge of Jonah’s bed, holding his hand as he begins to quiet into sleep. He’s seven now and independent in so many ways. He’s very physical and silly and loud at times. He can get wrapped up in a building or a book or some digging. And yet—so like when he was a baby—he struggles to ground himself at night for sleep and so I often still help him with my presence. Tonight he is afraid of what might be lurking behind his closest door. I remember feeling that way as a child and muster compassion for him. I sometimes still feel that way even now and make certain that my closet door is fully closed before sleep. Despite the desire to be finished, I stay with him and sit on the edge of his bed. He takes my hand and wraps his fingers in mine precisely—wanting to be held just so. I allow him to guide me and I am thinking about an exercise we experienced in our training in which we closed our eyes—palms pressed together with a partner—noticing the subtle push and pull between us. There is an energy that gathers between two bodies touching. I whisper to Jonah about his inner gaze offering that he might rest his attention on the space between his eyes. I suggest he follow his breath between his abdomen and this expansive place. I am sharing with him about how this is a special pathway to his contentment and how some spend a lifetime trying to discover it. I am sitting and my legs are crossed and I am hunched forward leaning toward him—my hand is wrapped in his, resting on his chest—observing him as his breath lengthens and he begins to fall peacefully into sleep. His chest is wide open, his lungs are filling up completely. I can feel his heart beating against my palm.

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“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m driving down a country road heading to pick up my big boy Jonah from school. I notice that the fields—blanketed in white for many months—are now patterned like a patchwork quilt or a checker board, the snow only a fraction of the landscape. I am donning a spring green shirt, light in weight and with white dots peppered throughout like so many Easter eggs in a field of grass. In my car I notice that my blouse is too breezy for the still chilly weather. I turn up the heat to warm me and it makes me feel drowsy. Adrian is in his car seat behind me chatting away. He loves to be at home and often when we are out and about he will ask to, “go to mine home?” I’m thinking about how my husband called me a, “tough cookie” this morning at breakfast when Jonah left the table prematurely and I asked him to come back, sit down again and make a request, “to be excused.” I can be tough about good manners. And kindness.

A few nights ago, my boys and I were headed upstairs for our nighttime routine. We sing a little song that Jonah learned at school, “fol-low, fol-low,” as we climb our tall staircase.  When we reach the top of the stairs each night, my boys love to run away from me to Jonah’s room and jump around and play like little bears, tumbling and bumping into one another. With Adrian still small, I usually do my best to either stay with them or herd them right back to the bathroom, with the gnawed bristles on their tooth brushes and their “Overtired and Cranky” bubble bath. Instead I thought that night that I would just let them be free and play alone while I got the bath filled, the toothpaste on the brushes, the pajamas laid out. I could hear them laughing and clearly having fun and then I heard a sound that all mothers are loathe to hear. It was the sound of a thump—the sound of a thump that only a head can make. I ran down our hallway sliding on my SmartWools and finally reaching Jonah’s room. Adrian was lying on the floor on his back looking stunned. Jonah was standing on his bed looking sheepish. I regretted my decision, was grateful for the thick rug on Jonah’s floor and I gingerly pulled Adrian to my chest. Jonah told me of bed-jumping on his little low-to-the-ground bed and arms flying and Adrian flipping. We all made our way to the tub, my heart the only thing thumping now and everyone in one piece.

A few nights later I was putting Jonah to bed. Adrian was already fast asleep and so I was lying in Jonah’s bed with him. It was later than usual and I was eager to get Jonah off to dreamland so that I might have a few moments to myself before another day began again. Jonah and I were facing each other and he reached over and squeezed my nose. He was expecting me to make a honking noise—a game we have long enjoyed and one that is not conducive to rapid slumber. I paused, then honked. He laughed hard and I couldn’t help myself, I laughed too. He did it again and there was just something in my honk that night that was hilarious to us both. He squeezed, I honked, we laughed. I gave myself over to the game and to laughing with my son. He did eventually fall off to sleep and I think I might have responded to one or two of the hundreds of e-mails in my inbox that night.

Mothering, to me, is like breathing. Pulling my children near and caressing them like an in-breath. Releasing them and setting them free like an out-breath. And at the same time experiencing them, each and every day, each and every moment that I let them, as the very oxygen that I breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” — W.B. Yeats

I have come to fully believe in the magic of life. I thought that I always had, often the ethereal friend toting a pack of tarot cards in my bag on a weekend away. But it was my son Jonah who truly opened my heart to all that it means to truly believe. Two years ago, just before his second birthday we celebrated his second Christmas. My entire family was visiting from around the country and therefore present as Jonah and I crouched by the fireplace setting out cookies and milk for Santa Claus and carrots for the eight, flying reindeer. In a video we have from that Christmas, I can hear myself laughing nervously as I explained to Jonah about how Santa would be entering our home through our chimney and why that was ok. I remember catching my sister’s eye in that moment as she took this all in skeptically. At that time she hadn’t yet become a mother and later that night she teased me, questioning me about how I felt lying to my son for the first time. My sister is one of my dearest friends and I respect her immensely and so I could take her comments lightly and tease her back about, “just you wait until you have children.”

As Jonah’s second year unfolded, his inner world began to open exponentially. He frequently approached me or my husband, stuffed animal in his grasp, saying adamantly, “I want he to talk!” And so my husband and I mastered a wide array of animal voices. According to my husband, all of my voices sounded exactly the same — high pitched an squeaky. He had become more skilled than I, demonstrating a wider body of characterizations but Jonah was perfectly content with either of us as long as his animals were coming to life, making his world that much richer. Any difficulty convincing Jonah that it was time to go upstairs for his bath was easily put to rest when he heard that Panda had already started climbing the stairs and he was not alone. Beside him climbed Giraffe and Hippo and Elephant too. Later, the stairs transformed into Mt. Kilimanjaro. Two toy airplanes became brothers flying across the globe. I couldn’t help but notice that big brother airplane came to life just as Jonah was becoming accustomed to his new role as an older sibling. We traveled across the deserts of Africa, to Alaska, Maine and Aruba. When we weren’t flying to Aruba, we were taking our toy box turned motorboat there – that is unless we were taking that same boat to Mama’s favorite place – Coffee. Jonah discovered Coffee himself. I wonder how he knew?

In these cases, Jonah was often leading our journeys but then about midway through his second year we began telling him stories during dinner and baths. He liked it best when he was the main character or the main character was thinly veiled as an animal or vegetable that closely mirrored him. I watched in amazement one evening as I told him a story about a little boy who was able to become strong enough to do a pull-up at the park with his Daddy because he began eating his vegetables. Jonah gobbled up his spinach pizza eagerly as I shared this story. Later he would request that I retell this story when spinach pizza was on the menu again.

Through storytelling we’ve explored issues such as going to bed peacefully, treating other family members with love and exploring the excitement of adventure and learning. It has been such a surprise and gift to discover that I may be welcomed into Jonah’s psyche so readily simply by communicating in a way and to a place where I can be heard. It is so tempting as a mother to assume that our children are little adults, mirroring our inner thought process and therefore attempt to tell them how to be with a lecture or wordy explanation. I am still “guilty” of this at times but overwhelmingly I have discovered how wrong that assumption would be. I am so grateful for this realization and only wish that I had come to it sooner. I am not a psychologist and nor have I conducted any research, but I have observed my children closely and I am certain that my sons are more connected to the “other side” than we adults are. Through stories, through their imaginations and through an attention to the magic that surrounds us in our every day world, I work to preserve that other-worldly connection in them for just as long as I possibly can.

In recognizing the depth of their inner world, I have come to experience a renewed feeling of magic all of my own. I remember rocking my littler son Adrian in the night, after a long period of illness, and being enamored by the faint sound of bells ringing. At first I tried to figure out where the sound was coming from, but I couldn’t. I imagined that I was having auditory hallucinations from lack of sleep. After a few nights I decided to just enjoy this very slight — yet beautiful — music. I imagined that the love that I felt for Adrian, the love that kept me at his side for so many long nights, had offered me an opening to another, higher plane, where I entered and was refueled with images of Angels keeping watch over us in the dark of night. It wasn’t long after this experience that I was given an actual white, sparkly, decorative angel with a little battery-operated light inside of her — lighting up her heart. I found this not to be a coincidence at all. Never before in my life had I been particularly drawn to angels. I was then and I am now.

It was wintertime again and my what a difference a year makes in how we perceive the world. As Christmas approached again, and Jonah approached three years old, together we discussed Santa in great detail with much excitement and anticipation. My heart, like the angel’s, was filled with light and I was fully engaged in the inner world of my magical little boy. I had no qualms about sharing in the mystery of the season and knowing full well that the stories I was telling him were true. They were true to me. They came alive with my belief. They came alive with the love with which I told them. They came alive in the heart of my son.

The glowing angel became a favorite fixture in our home and graced our dining room table for weeks after the holidays, surrounded by an earthy wreath peppered with berries. She looked beautiful sitting there. I loved her and so did both Jonah and even our little baby Adrian who accidentally bit off her wax nose one day in a moment of excited expression. When he later accidentally pulled off one of her wings, I gasped in disappointment. Jonah saw my reaction and his little eyes also filled with tears. I worked to fix her wing with glue but I was unsuccessful. I knew what she had come to represent for our family. She stood for our connection to a higher place. She stood for our sense of wonder. She stood for our being watched over and loved. And so I went online and made my first purchase from QVC. I rushed my order and spent a pretty penny to replace our dear angel as quickly as possible.

To my surprise when I opened the box from QVC there appeared not one, not two, but three lighted angels! In my haste, I hadn’t realized that my purchase was for a set of three angels. I saw this as a sign of the abundant number of angels who are constantly looking over us. I chose one and placed her in the center of our table, encircled by her wreath of red berries. When Jonah saw her, he said, “you fixed our angel!” I explained to him that I had not been able to fix her wing so her sister had come to take her place and look over our family while she was away healing her wing. Jonah was completely content with this explanation, happy to have an angel back looking over us again. I was comfortable with this story too. I knew that it was true.

“I wish that life should not be cheap, but sacred.  I wish the days to be as centuries, loaded, fragrant.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I awoke one special morning it was still black outside. Silently I rolled out of bed, pulling on a pair of scratchy, woolen socks and a cozy sweater. My littlest boy Adrian — still an early riser — urged me to greet the day while the rest of the house laid in quiet slumber. His voice called out to me through the monitor by my bedside — religiously attended for nearly two years now. Together we traipsed down stairs, eventually brewing coffee and greeting our kitty Autumn with a rub between her ears. Finally we came to the shade opening part of our morning ritual and through our front window we glimpsed a shimmering, white coating gracing our porch steps. Snow. My heart lightened. For me — a little girl still at heart — snow is a magical offering from nature. I turned on the outside light so that Adrian might better see. His eyes brightened at the sight, a sweet smile coming across his face. He’s taken to squinting his eyes when he smiles. Does he think he needs to be even sweeter than he already is? Our forecast had been for rain and so this crisp, white frosting was a treat. It came in gracefully for us, not like for those still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. For those souls, I wished for warmth. I wished for dryness.

About an hour later, well caffeinated now, I heard Jonah, my bigger boy, calling to me from upstairs. He had made his way to our bed in the night and so he was all wrapped up in a too big comforter in a too big bed, his voice still groggy from a deep sleep. I liked the way his body looked so little that way in our oversized bed. It helped keep him small, young, in my mind. I’ve been mourning his grown up words, his grown up ideas, of late. I climbed in with him whispering that it had snowed. There was a slight pause and then he popped up in the bed, a contrast to his former sleepy self. His wide, strikingly blue eyes scanned the various windows in our bedroom overlooking a wintery scene. He wanted to go out and play right now! Within moments I had granted him permission to go outside as soon as we had eaten breakfast. I did this despite the fact that I have a book proposal due in less than a month, not a word written, and that morning was one of few that I would be able to get started. I did this also fully aware that it would be impossible to allow just one brother to depart on this great adventure, leaving my littler one behind.

I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I could dress Jonah for the weather. He was eager, therefore cooperative. Adrian was a little more challenging. He stepped into his snow pants without coaxing. The coat had to be negotiated though and then the poor fellow had to stand in his seven layers at the front door sweating as I ran through the house trying to find the appropriate clothing to keep me toasty for what was sure to be a lengthy excursion. Children rarely notice their purple lips in the way that we adults do. I nearly slid down the stairs a couple of times in my haste. I discovered a pair of old ski pants and a coat that I had to step into with its broken zipper. There, ready. Adrian and I bounded outside and found Jonah already halfway through the shoveling of our steps. He is most happy when given a job. I sunk into our play forgetting about my plans for the morning. I became much more interested in the giant carrot we had chosen for our snowman’s nose, and how we might plant it deeply enough into his frosty face so that it might stay. A babysitter was supposed to be arriving and on some level I knew that she would cancel.  Adrian dug in the snow with a small sand shovel and every now and then he would call out to me from just a few feet away, “alk.” I would go over to him and help him to “walk” to a new spot. He was still acclimating to this novelty of snow. Jonah toyed with his first real snow-ball fight. He knows generally that we don’t throw things at people and so he experimented with how it was ok now. I threw a snowball at him and accidentally hit him directly in his mouth! We both managed to laugh and I rushed to clean his face and make sure none of the snow went down the front of his jacket. I remembered that feeling. Snow somehow making its way into my winter jacket, down my turtleneck. I didn’t want for him to feel that.When we came inside I saw on my phone that our babysitter had cancelled. I was relieved. It was a good and cozy day for staying in.

It was a day full of reading and relaxing together. It was a day full of play. A snow day as I remember them. At one point we turned on some music and we were taking turns putting on dance shows for each other. My “smart” phone was on the coffee table and Jonah picked it up. He wanted to look at pictures. I am that person that Mac store employees loathe for keeping every photo and video I’ve ever taken on my phone and wondering why my phone is protesting.  Jonah and Adrian giggled at a video of Adrian at five or six months old — he still glowed with that other-worldly quality of new babies. I felt a slight lump form in my throat. Oh how beautiful that time had been. We sat for a while, the three of us, looking back on our lives together. I wished I had a picture of us growing so cozy now on the couch. Eventually, Jonah managed to find his way to a video taken of him when he was just two years old. It was nearly two years ago but I remember the moment distinctly. It was July and Jonah and my husband were mopping our deck, ridding it of pollen and muck. Jonah appeared to be in charge and was demonstrating his love of a job even then. There was something about the quality of that video and of Jonah captured in that moment that said to me so clearly, it shouted to me, “you can’t go back.” You can never go back. There with my two boys cuddled on either side of me, I choked back a deep sob.

On days like today, challenging days, days where I have a cold, where I have been up since 4:30 am and feel like all of my words have fallen on deaf ears, I think of that moment. I remember that joyful day. How days can be. I remember that even these hard days, these very days of breathing deeply to maintain my presence, are ones that I might wish that I could go back to. And so I nurse my cough, fuel my soul with words and know that these are precious times.

 

“This too shall pass.” – Ancient Proverb

Yesterday it was a hurricane morning here in Coastal Southern Maine. The water was moving faster than usual and a strong wind was creating a shower of yellow leaves along the coastline. Out front it seemed almost balmy with a light fog peeking through the branches of our towering pines. Knowing we were not likely to be in for a direct hit made our preparations casual. Friends in harms way were on our minds.  Little Adrian was tucked in for a morning nap and young Jonah had gone to nursery school in his yellow rain pants. Before leaving, my two boys embraced in a goodbye hug. It was unprompted and so new for them. “Ug Oda,” said Adrian. (translation: “Hug, Jonah”) They put their little arms around each other in the sweetest embrace, Jonah with his crinkling rain gear, hood already in place. Adrian with his navy, mock turtleneck fully soiled from breakfast.

As Adrian slept, I remembered when Jonah had first discovered his voice. He was around 18 months old. I’m not fond of the term, but when he reached this age I remember thinking, “oh, the Terrible 2’s begin early in this house!” It wasn’t so bad, really. My biggest challenge was that Jonah didn’t like to get into his car seat. Oh, how we struggled. He arching his back like a yogi mastering backbend pose, me near tears not wanting to hurt him but needing to leave the house every now and then. I remember wondering if this was how things were going to proceed. It’s hard to know as a new mother. I sort of knew about the phrase “this to shall pass,” but I didn’t count on it like I do now. Adrian is in a similar time in his life now, grinning coyly as he tests out his ability to affirm the negative, “no!” in as many scenarios as possible. He too puts up a noble fight when it comes to being strapped into his car seat. We are a free spirited lot. I have never wondered, though, with Adrian if this is how things were going to be in that oh-so-final way.

Last weekend our family meandered down a wooded path together picking up pebbles and nibbling cookies. We were making our way to a beach, one rich with seaweed and salty air. Every now and then, as we strolled, the wind would gust a shower of leaves into the air. Having recently been told about catching leaves and making wishes, we decided to give it a try. And so our walk became injected with a series of leaps – my husband especially intent on capturing the falling foliage. On my leaf – a muted orange one – I wished for the feelings of these precious moments together to continue on forever. I wished that I could capture the contentment I felt inside in that very moment and bottle it for future use. I knew that they wouldn’t and I knew that I couldn’t. I knew there would be scuffles later on about dinner needing to be different, more tasty, about another weekend gone by with chores not completed – as if this were a bad thing! And that was ok.

I remember visiting a Zen Monk who made his home in a cozy, wooded spot in rural Virginia. He is the father of a first love of mine and I believe he offered me in our visits an introductory course in mindfulness. Upon entering his home an air of reverence always came over me. With his pace, he slowed mine. Often it was dinnertime when we would arrive and our first interactions would take place over a quiet, nourishing meal, prepared and presented with great care. I remember eating so slowly, so mindfully, that I truly tasted my food – maybe for the first time in my life. On one visit my then-boyfriend and I were complaining about the weather or some other minor inconvenience. Upon hearing us, our host clapped his hands together loudly and with great force. “Things change.” he said. I have thought of this moment so many times in my life throughout the various storms that I have weathered – always a little voice quietly whispering in my ear, “things change.” I don’t always live out my belief in this aphorism but I know that it is true. Both the good and the seemingly not so good moments in our lives are always fleeting.

Today is the day after a hurricane touched our lives. We are among the fortunate ones who only experienced high winds, heavy rain. There is a carpet of leaves blanketing our lawn so beautifully. This is so today.

“Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m nestled in a silent, dark bedroom nursing my son Adrian, now 20 months old. He’s been awake since dawn and I’m preparing him for a mid-morning slumber. I find my breath as I let go of my thoughts and discover the moment with him again. It is a choice to be with him or to be in my head. I choose to be with him. I notice his body soften, his chest rising and falling with mine. After a while, I open my eyes and look down at his beautiful features. A sliver of light peaks from behind the shades landing on his silken cheek. His wild hair is outlined. His ears still little. There has been talk recently about it being time for me to stop nursing him. My chest tightens in those conversations – especially the ones heavy with “shoulds.” Although Adrian’s love of nursing disrupts my sleep, I don’t feel hurried. I need only look at my big-boy Jonah – now almost four years old – to know the preciousness of these moments of tender connection. Besides, I don’t know if I’m ready to forgo the laughter our family enjoys when Adrian goes running – oh-so-joyfully – through our house yelling, “deeeeet deeeeettttt!” This is his beloved word for nursing and I know that this merry sound will be missed. I also rest assured that when the time is right, I will know. I am listening for his whisper, for him to tell me that he is ready, that he has had enough. I haven’t heard it quite yet but I know it will be here in good time.

I had the pleasure recently of leading a Mindful Mothering Workshop. It took place over the course of four evenings in one of the coziest yoga studios in Southern Maine. In that time, one mother discovered that the emotional outbursts her young boy was having might be mirroring her own attachment to things unfolding in a too-particular way. I was so touched by this mother’s profession of love for her son. “He is my heart, my first real love,” she confided in us, her palms coming to her chest with emotion. She didn’t have to explain this feeling to us. We knew. Another mother spoke passionately about control and the way she felt compelled to hold things together in her household, in her mind, just-so-very-tightly. We applauded her when she came to class late one evening because she had been so wrapped up in being with her children. She released control and it was so beautiful. We laughed with her at her description of suddenly realizing that she was supposed to be somewhere else. We knew this feeling too! A third mother shared that our time together had allowed her to slip into the space behind her thoughts discovering a wisdom there to guide her day-to-day in the decisions she made for her children. She created a magnificent birthday cake to celebrate and honor her son – for all that they have been through together – from this powerful space behind her thoughts. With her littler one, she discovered a profound connection in peeling an egg with him in an unhurried way.

On my drive home from our first class together on a pitch black country road – lit only by my headlights and the moon – I contemplated whether I really have what it takes to help mothers in the way that I was envisioning. An old perfectionism in me was creeping up. I hadn’t been pondering long when all of a sudden there was a giant bird flying in front of me. Its wing-span was at least the width of my windshield. Upon seeing it, I slowed my car quickly and then realized that this enormous being was about to land on the road right in front of me. I slammed on my brakes. A stack of books between my children’s two car seats came flying forward with a loud crash onto the floor. I sat in the darkness of my car in amazement as this incredible bird slowly landed and then turned to look at me. There was a space between the landing and the moment when this beautiful creature languorously turned its head to look at me. To my amazement, there before me, was an elegant, white barn owl with golden eyes. It took my breath away. I looked into his eyes, almost not believing what I was seeing, and knew that I’d been visited. This moment was anything but lost on me. Just as quickly as it had appeared, the owl vanished, up onto a telephone wire, I think. I drove home in a state of complete wonder and amazement, my senses heightened, attentive to every curve in the road. I felt elated. I felt blessed. I felt on purpose.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ― Mother Teresa

My now 19-month old son Adrian does not like it when I wear socks. He doesn’t know yet that through my open bedroom windows, crisp sea air escorts me into a deeper sleep at night and that the now chillier Maine mornings leave my toes a little less than toasty. I pull my socks on at the break of dawn when he awakens, thinking of my morning brew. But he won’t have it, this sock wearing business. He points at my feet and says, “no” with his best staccato. Coming off of a summer filled with trips to the beach and barefooted meanderings in our yard, he’s come to like my toes, I suppose. Long and finger-like, calloused on the ends, they are definitely not my best feature. I remember a similar phenomenon with my older son Jonah when he was about the same age. His issue was with my wearing sweaters, though, and his word was, “off!”

I follow the commands of my children, knowing that these particular preferences will pass and that eventually I will be embarrassing them in their teenage years with my leg-warmers and other various out-of-date pieces in my wardrobe. I also recognize that my insistence in these moments could result in a real panic for my little ones. They feel cozier when Mama looks as she should. I save my insistence for denying the Popsicle request at breakfast, for protecting Adrian from his palpable desire to jump off of high things in the same way that his three-year-old brother does. I save my insistence for the mandatory hand-holding in parking lots and for confiscating toys being used as armament. In these moments of communicating firm boundaries with my children – and keeping them safe – I have witnessed each of them have what might be referred to as a “tantrum.” I’m not a fan of that term and as I’ve grown as a mother, I’ve come to see these episodes in such a different light. What used to invoke in me a sense of either failure as a parent or failure in my child to control their emotions, now elicits in me a great deal of love and compassion. Instead of trying to keep my children from feeling what they are feeling, I am now more inclined to bring myself to a place of peace and centeredness so that I may help them through these very big emotions that are overcoming them. I now see that for them, the Popsicle, the independence they are so eager for, these things are every bit as valid as any moment of panic or desire or need that I may experience as an adult.

I am reminded of a visit I recently made to an imaging center where I had an MRI of my lumbar spine. I’d been putting off this test for months and months and finally when I arrived at the center, the technician discovered that my paperwork had been wrongly pushed-forward. There were questions as to whether this test was safe for me, given my medical background. I ended up sitting in the waiting room for three hours as the staff called past doctors and conducted research on my behalf. I had come to the appointment well fed but as the hours rolled by the room began to spin. I ran out and scarfed down some fast food. It was all that I could find with just a few minutes now before my appointment. Greasy fries compounded my discomfort and my heart began to race as I realized that I was going to be late returning to my boys even though I had planned for a four-hour window of childcare.

A woman with a warm smile came and escorted me onto the table just outside the MRI machine. My throat seemed in someone’s grasp. A second woman entered the room and they were both chatting with me so kindly and preparing me for the test and then rolling me into the machine. One of them asked me how I was feeling. Inside I was panicking. My heart was racing. Air was elusive. I was reprimanding myself, too. I had waited so long. I couldn’t leave now. Where was my mindfulness? And where had it been lately, anyway? I was not kind to myself in those moments.

I then replied to their question quietly, timidly. “I feel a little stressed,” I said. They couldn’t have possibly pulled me out of that machine more quickly. All hands were on deck. Can we get you a cool cloth? Would earplugs help you? How about some music? I felt their warmth, their love, really, envelope me. Two little, warm tears sprang to the corners of each of my eyes. Upon seeing my tears, they mistakenly thought I was afraid of the machine and went to reassuring me of its safety. I explained that I was just feeling overwhelmed from the morning, but really I think the tears were sort of tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of thanksgiving that there are people in this world who will care for and love a perfect stranger. It wasn’t because it was their job. It wasn’t because they were worried about messing up the test. It was who they were.

After that I felt completely relieved. Their capacity to see me in that moment allowed me to see myself and come back to who I know I am – someone who can easily withstand a little discomfort or even transform it into a positive experience. Someone who can see the discomfort of my children and help them to transform it as well. One of the women suggested I wear a pair of glasses with a mirror situated so that you could peer out of the machine while you were still in it and feel as if you were not enclosed. It was these glasses that I turned to on the one occasion during the MRI that I began to feel anxious again. Otherwise, I spent my time in that tube feeling grateful, feeling loved, and really learning in a very deep and profound way about the power of a caring gesture. I thought about my sons and vowed to strengthen my commitment to bringing this same love to their moments of panic. To their “tantrums.”  I vowed to love them even more deeply, even more completely than I already was.

 

 

 

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault

My son Jonah began taking swimming lessons alone for the first time this summer. It has been so exciting to see him at a distance, his little head just-barely bobbing above the water, a mixed expression of joy and anticipation crossing his face. He is very social, chatting gregariously with the other children in his class, testing out the echo of his voice across the massive aquatic center. I am so proud of the way he follows the instructions of his teacher and I observe her closely, looking for pointers. I too feel a mix of joy and anticipation. Joy for all that Jonah is on the cusp of discovering in his new life as a budding pre-schooler. Anticipation for the letting go that will come along with it for me. I bob in the shallow end of the pool with my younger son Adrian. He loves the water too and seems to want to dive out of my arms. I can still see Jonah, so clearly, on his very first day of life. And yet, now, Adrian, born two years later, is ready to swim already? Tears come to my eyes with a mix of emotions. I think about how the days are long but the years are short, as they say.

Later, the three of us go to the family changing room and my two boys take their first shower alone together. It is one of the most precious moments of the summer for me, their two unclothed bodies shivering slightly at first and then slowly steadying as the water warms. I notice that they have their own language between them now. Jonah enjoys his role washing off his baby brother with a hand-held sprayer. Adrian is in a state of pure pleasure, laughing wildly and acclimating to this novelty that is a shower. I can only imagine the cacophony of laughter and shouting that can be heard on the other side of the door.  I dry and dress them both with surprising ease – given the environment – and as we are driving home I give thanks that everyone is clean and ready for bed, all cozy in their car seats, busy with their snacks. I give thanks that I am able to derive so much pleasure from observing my children in such a mundane task as showering and getting changed after swimming lessons.

As the mother of these two little ones, I almost never sit in meditation. Instead 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 and the varied expressions of my children’s faces. I often listen to their words with peaked attention noticing the hairs on my arms rising up with this heightened awareness. The opportunity for bliss in a mother’s life is vast; we only need to truly see what is before us in order to experience it.

“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” – Audrey Hepburn

When I was a young girl my grandmother took great pride in teaching me to set a proper table. She knew just how to place things and she was very proud of the vast collection of treasures she’d accumulated over years of military and personal travels in faraway places. There were bowls from Saigon, plates from Paris and linens from Thailand. Her home was crisp and clean, with hospital corners on the bed and the smell of gardenias wafting from her dressing table. It was gritty too, at times, after an afternoon of boating on the Potomac, catching crabs off a dock just a stone’s throw away from her home. My grandmother was devoted to gardening and homemaking and her lifelong love of entertaining culminated with a lucrative, late-in-life real estate career. I remember my cousin once comparing me to her. I took it as a high complement. I hope that my home is a fraction as lovely as hers was and that I may share with my children the importance of creating beauty like she did. She had a way of honoring the things that she was blessed with.

I remember when she died reflecting on all of her beautiful things, some of which would come into my care. I saw so clearly and was moved deeply by the fact that not a single exquisite item that she had so adored would be traveling with her. Even in her last years, I remember, as she downsized from her home to an assisted living and then eventually to a nursing home, fewer and fewer of her treasures surrounded her. She valued people and relationships far more than any of those objects, and in her final days I came to see her so much more for her true essence, for all that she was despite her belongings and what might be surrounding her. My grandmother had studied “new thought” through the Science of Mind Magazine series for years and years and in her final room in her nursing home she had kept with her, of all the many, many belongings she had to choose from, her collection of books by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

Each day I know that I have a choice as to how I spend time with my children. It is so tempting in this culture to spend that time out gathering more things, toys, clothes, furniture, you name it. When I find myself with plans to do such gathering, I often end up changing my plans. I sit quietly and observe my boys at play. I truly see them. I see the way they delicately examine a toy. I see the movement of their legs as they run wildly. I feel so deeply within me how little the clothes I wear, the things I own, matter to me. What matters to me are the experiences I share with my family. These moments. These connections. These are eternal.

5 Benefits of Mindfulness for Mothers

I remember vividly the time in my life when I discovered that mindfulness was so much more powerful than patience. It happened deep in the night, my baby nestled in my arms like an angel, months gone by with such little sleep. And yet, there I was, finding beauty in the night itself, the hum of an air purifier, the shadow cast by a sailboat night-light, the quiet. It was in my baby, his lovely, powdery infant smell, his exquisiteness. It was in the day that followed, the wonderful pick-me-up of my first cup of coffee, “a little coffee with your cream?” my husband teased. It was in my older son, Jonah, and the thunderous call he would make from his room at dawn, “it’s waaaaake up tiiiime!” I was present in a way during that time period that I have not been able to reach since, even though I am  (slightly) more rested. In those wakeful nights with my second son, Adrian, I was transformed from someone who endured difficult situations by trying to be patient to someone who could be present and find beauty in moments regardless of how hard they might otherwise be. I received this gift through mindfulness, through a heightened attention to my senses, through my breath. It was difficult but I remember it as being so beautiful more than anything. I can only compare it to the memories I have of this same little cherub’s birth. I was able to be fully present through my labor with him in a way that I was unable to do with Jonah and although I did experience intense feelings, I road the contractions like waves and truly loved my second experience of giving birth. It was not perfectly quiet or without any moments of fear but overwhelmingly it was beautiful.

I have come to believe wholeheartedly that no matter how tired one might feel, no matter how much anger might well up, and no matter how things may appear to others, mindfulness can bring peace to any moment within a person. I realized rocking my baby in the dark all those nights that patience has limits while mindfulness does not. With patience, you may reach “the end of your rope.” You may be put, “over the edge.” In mindfulness, all is well. All is well, always. I most certainly am not in a constant state of mindfulness with my children or in the rest of my life. I most certainly am devoted to returning to what I am sure will be a meaningful moment if I can get myself there as soon as I realize I’ve departed. I’ve discovered that mindfulness itself actually offers a powerful recovery from unmindfulness – both our own and that of others. For in mindfulness you will find great love. And love heals all.

These are five ways in which mindfulness may benefit mothers today in what sometimes feels like a world too busy to recognize a moment for all that it is worth. I hope these ideas will bring you closer to your children and closer to yourself.

  1. Mindfulness will allow you to experience your children fully and remember their childhoods. Vividly. You will remember the texture of rice cereal and the look on your baby’s face the first time this mushy mix crossed his tender lips. You will remember your child’s spoken words. How they sound. The special way in which they pronounce things. There is no regret for times gone by when you have experienced it fully.
  1. Mindfulness will allow you to live forward. No more dwelling on the meltdown that you handled badly at the restaurant last night. No more guilt-tripping over using the wrong words for disciplining last year. No more worries about what you could-have, should-have done better. In mindfulness all that matters is that you are seeing your child and experiencing them right now. Given a generally healthy home, being truly with your child in this current moment can repair mistakes you might have made in days, even years past.
  1. Mindfulness will allow you to value your own judgment as a mother over the judgment, opinions or fears of others. In mindfulness you will be in tune with yourself, uncluttered by thoughts of the past or future. You will know what the right decisions are for your children because you will be hearing them more clearly, seeing them with new eyes, experiencing them as more whole beings. In mindfulness, the good and bad opinion of others of you will carry less weight.
  1. Mindfulness will allow you to forgive yourself more readily when you act in unmindful ways. Every moment, given a chance, is overflowing with love. Every moment is a miracle really. Just breathing alone is a remarkable experience given the attention it deserves. Start there. It is proof that we are so much more than what we do or think or collect. When you’ve “failed,” finding the moment may heal you in an instant and allow you to start again in love. You will find love for yourself in the moment first. Love for all others will follow.
  1. Mindfulness will set you free. You will experience more joy. You will feel happier. You will have more energy. You will be filled with love. You will realize again and again and again all that this world has to offer when we are present and looking and aware.

 

5 Ways to Return to Mindfulness with Your Children

Being mindful with your children is not about being perfect. It is about recommitting to sharing moments with them time and time again – even when you’ve gone way off of your path and have to travel a long road back to be present again. If you’ve “lost your mind” for a moment, an hour or even a year or ten years – you always have the opportunity to start again. Here are a few ways that I have found myself again when need be.

  1. Stop whatever you are doing and connect with your breath. Hold your children in your arms if you must and take a deep, stilling breath. And then another. Stay here for a while enjoying a peace that is sure to come over you. Nothing is more important than your sense of calm. Nothing is more important than the sense of peace and safety you will share with your children in this moment. Not dinner. Not the laundry. Not bedtime. In breathing we are more likely to experience compassion for ourselves and for others so that we may choose loving and kind action. And in breathing we may observe our thoughts and experience them as an onlooker, with less judgment, instead of being continually in their grip. Notice your children modeling your breathing.
  1. Look your children in the eyes and affirm that you had been gone for a while but that you are back now. Children and even babies know so much more than we give them credit for. Better not to brush over your mindlessness. Acknowledge it. Let your child know that we all lose track of our thoughts at times and this impacts our actions but that we always have an opportunity to start again. They will understand and they will follow your lead in learning forgiveness and letting go and moving on.
  1. Find an activity to do with your children that uses your hands and immerse yourself into the moment with them in this tactile way. Pull weeds in the garden. Kneed dough. Finger paint. Braid yarn. Be conscious of your breath as you play. Listen more than you speak. Allow the activity to unfold naturally. Loosen your grip.
  1. Cancel something. Too many plans, a too-full schedule makes a person ripe for losing presence. Recognize the importance of quiet, peaceful, uneventful time at home and make it a priority. Genuine friends and family will understand. You may inspire them to do so as well.
  1. Quiet your mind again at the end of the day in the absence of your children. Give thanks for them as individuals. Reflect on each of their unique, positive qualities. Imagine them feeling happy and content. Imagine them thriving. Bless them each and know that they have been placed in your care perfectly.

“The soul is healed by being with children.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

When I awoke this morning my back was throbbing and my heart was heavy. I shuffled about washing each of the many dishes that hadn’t come clean in our dysfunctional dishwasher. My husband read to our children and I welcomed a bit of time to experience myself and dive down into what was causing me pain. It was both physical and emotional. I washed a mountain of silverware. I fed my sweet kitty, wishing there were still two. I took a shower. And then I discovered that my baby Adrian – oh so quickly transforming into a little boy –was ready to nurse and possibly return to sleep having been awake since the first glimpse of sunlight. I picked him up marveling at his new ability to communicate. He has recently named nursing, “deet-deet” and his blanket is called “night-night.” When I asked him if he wanted to sleep he shook his head up and down a resounding, “yes.” We climbed the stairs. I nestled my face into his soft cheek and neck. He fought me as I changed his diaper and kept telling me, “deet-deet.” I felt my heart softening when I looked into his eyes. Who could be unhappy looking into those deep, hazel eyes? When I finished I turned on his air-filter and closed his shade. A sliver of light shone through on us, the side of the shade propelled forward by an air-conditioning unit in its path. I sunk into the rocking chair, Adrian delighted to be nursing. I found his still-plump baby hands with mine and admired the dimples at each of his knuckles. Children are so beautiful, I thought. I traced my hand along the silken skin of his arm coming into the brilliance of this moment, thinking too about the power of my children to ease my troubles. I don’t mean this in the unhealthy, they-alone-need-to-make-me-happy kind of way. I mean it in the, “how can I be in the midst of such beauty and not feel the presence of God, of something so much bigger than me?”

I found myself thinking also of the scene I’d witnessed the day before. Visiting friends at their cabin on the water I swam alone out to a giant rock about fifty feet from the shore. My friend aptly described it as, “not far but still a world away.” I’d felt so alive swimming out to that rock through crisp water. I found my footing on a slippery surface then made my way to the top of the rock and finally stood, taking in the scene surrounding me. I was technically standing on a rock in a pond but it felt more like I was in the center of a very large lake or even a river, the water passing me by like a current. I was also surrounded by tall Pines and stood for a moment mimicking their reach, arms raised upward toward the giant, bulbous clouds above me. I relaxed into the moment and finally stretched out on my back on the rock soaking in the sun’s powerful rays now poking out from behind the clouds. I gazed over at the shoreline, at my family, at my friend’s family. It was such a lovely site – each child in their own unique place of development. One decked out with snorkel gear and a life jacket knee deep in water, another sitting in a kayak popping her head in and out each time lighting up the shore with her smile. I experienced such joy thinking back to this scene. I found myself lifting from the fog that I had awakened with. Slowly, gradually I found a shift occurring inside of me. I didn’t want to miss any of this – not even one moment of these beautiful children and their brightness. The thoughts that were making me feel low suddenly began to seem less significant, surmountable. Adrian was asleep in my arms now. I rose carefully, nestling him over my shoulder. I walked to his crib and put him down, quietly giving thanks for this beautiful creature.

 

“It takes a very long time to become young.” ― Pablo Picasso

One of the best ways in which we may lift our children up in this life is to show them that the world is beautiful. We may show them shells and sunflowers, lazy days and wild adventures, delightful foods and sounds and sights to see. We may show them love and respect for self and others too. If we hope for them to go out into the world and do something profound (whether that means living a simple and happy life or making a grand discovery), they must first see the world as a safe place. And the world is a very good and beautiful place. If our children have this opportunity early in life then one day when they witness the things that may not be so good, they will know what is out of place and this will be powerful knowledge in their grasp. This is not an original thought but one that I have come to use as a valuable guide  for deciding how to present the world to my children. And for me, oh what peace I have found in the hours of digging my own fingers into sand and dangling seaweed on sticks, the endless driveway chalk drawing, dough mixing and long bedtime gratitudes. I think I may benefit most of all.

 

5 Powerful Ways to Connect More Deeply with Your Children

1. Observe your child. Find yourself directly in the moment with them and experience them more clearly now. Look deeply into their eyes and experience the color fully. Now stay there a while allowing yourself to dive deeply down into their soul through the window of their eyes. Notice their expression when they look more deeply back at you discovering your depth as well. Don’t say a word.

Imprinting Our Children with Love

One evening this past winter a dear and lifelong friend was traveling for work to the place where I live and we were able to get together for an impromptu gathering and enjoy a meal with my two sons. It was exciting for my son Jonah to leave the house at dusk and travel in the car at an hour when we would normally be settling into our dinner, bath and bedtime routines. It was a little risky, me taking him and his baby brother out at this hour. Dusk can be a fine time for emotional breakdowns and leaving our listening ears behind. It’s also regularly a time when my (then) infant son isn’t just ready for bed but insists on going to sleep right now!  Thankfully, the gathering unfolded very sweetly and we had a peaceful visit. The boys and I drove through a sparkly downtown all lit up for Christmas, admiring the lights along the way, and picked up my friend at her company’s headquarters. Jonah chatted generously, seeming much older than his almost three years. We made our way to a restaurant where the four of us enjoyed a very lovely meal together. It was extremely grounding for me to be with my friend and remember a part of myself that I knew she remembered in me. Living away, she doesn’t know all-that-well the part of me that is in an almost constant state of mothering. She knows me to be a confident and secure woman – a description of myself that I would argue does not always define me as a mother. Present? Yes. Clear on the direction I have in mind for my children? Absolutely. Certain whether I am always making the right decisions? Disciplining correctly? Weighing the important issues at the appropriate times? Of these things, I am only confident and secure a small fraction of the time.

It was tempting to elevate myself up a rung on the Motherhood Ladder when my friend complimented me the next day for the enjoyable time she had with my family and how it was a reflection of my parenting skills (on Facebook no less). I knew, however, that if I did this, I would only be knocking myself down a rung or two on that same ladder within a few hours, maybe within minutes. As soon as naptime went awry or my son suddenly lost control of his young body and accidentally hit someone (or, gasp, maybe even hit someone on purpose), I would no longer be eligible for Mother of the Year. Of the spiritual lessons that have most easily transferred from my life as a mother of none to mother of two, the spiritual principle that has proven to be the most relevant is the one having to do with staying steady in the face of the highest compliments and the harshest criticisms. In parenting, it isn’t so much compliments and criticisms as much as highs and lows but still the spiritual message is the same. We are not meant to define who we are by what we experience.

So many of the days I have experienced with my children have embodied pure, divine, joyous moments. I remember kisses and testaments of love. I remember laughing hysterically running around, playing chase, building amazing towers with wooden blocks and consuming healthy foods while hearing sweet stories told from the heart wild with imaginations. I remember cuddly nursing and bountiful baby legs bouncing up and down on my legs. I remember both of my boys experiencing success as they grow and develop. I remember quietly listening to music while doing a puzzle. I experience memories of my heart singing with a love so profound, so deep, that it can hardly be put into words. And on those same days, those very same joyous days, I can think of moments of deep disappointment and sadness. These moments are fewer – far, far fewer for certain. But they do exist. The moment when my child injures another child or me – maybe even on purpose. The moment when I cannot muster a sing-songy response to my child not wanting to go to bed for the 300th night in a row. And the moment when I feel that I have failed. With these memories, my heart aches in a way that is also difficult to put into words. I just know that in those heart-wrenching moments I am acutely aware of the impact my role has in the way my children will experience the world and I so desperately want to only make an imprint on them that is good, and healthy and pure.

I remember traveling on an airplane with Jonah when he was just under a year old. He was very active and crawling all over my lap, trying to get down and bumping into a man who was sitting next to me. I apologized to the man and he brushed my words aside saying that he had three children of his own and that he had been, “kicked, hit, bitten and everything in between,” and there was nothing Jonah could do to bother him. He was very sweet and put me at ease and I remember not being able to imagine Jonah ever doing those things.  He doesn’t do much of it. But he is a three year old and occasionally exhibits these behaviors. It is so tempting to take them personally and define myself by them. What have I done to inspire him to behave this way? I am also inclined to define myself by his deep, amazing professions of love! I must be demonstrating so much love in my life for him to be so very loving! I do believe that our children to a large degree emulate our behaviors but to define ourselves based on their mercurial natures would be a mistake. As I learned in life as a professional, prior to having children, there will be moments when people experience me as shining and creative and fabulous and there will be times when I am seen as dusty and in need of a good polish. There may even be a bit of truth in what people see, however, I am neither of these images. What they see is one thing. And then there is me. I am steady. I am a part of the Oneness. I am a part of something that once defined no longer exists. And it is this energy, this pure place that I must stay in touch with in order to truly shine. My children probably enjoy this part of me best of all. It is where I can be constant for them no matter their ups and downs and it is the place I would most like to cultivate in them. A place where they can learn to be true to who they are despite the praise that will come and go in their lives depending on who they are making happy at any given moment.