“There is no instinct like that of the heart.”—Lord Byron

A thick frost glazed the sea grass this morning—the sun luminous on the horizon highlighting the tiny, white ice crystals formed in the night, drenched in moonlight.

It isn’t snow, though. I’ve been checking the forecast for weeks, hoping for a shower of white to sweep across the landscape like a billowy curtain closing out the grey limbo that hovers between Autumn’s festival of color and winter’s achromatic stillness.

In a season that invites such busyness, it seems that snow has a way of landing like a gentle palm—holding down the corners of us—and directing us to our beating hearts, right there within, a palpable reflection of our breath and being.

I listened to an interview recently of an anesthesiologist who wrote a memoir about his experiences in the operating room. He spoke of witnessing the human heart for the first time and the impact it had on him. The interviewer expressed her distress in the prospect of being exposed so intimately to how consistently the heart must do its job.

I find comfort in coming back to the knowledge of our heart’s steady rhythm and it’s reminder of the tightrope that hangs taut between our to-do lists and life’s potent fragility.

There was a leaf caught in my windshield wipers on the way to tennis lessons. At just four o’clock in the afternoon the dark was being drawn like a shade, the rain coming down steadily. I said to my boys that I would remove it when we arrived. I promptly forgot. We noticed it again as we were driving home. It became a challenge wondering how long the leaf could hold on.

A week later, the leaf has become, our leaf. We’re wondering if it might stay with us through the coming tumultuous elements—through the slush and snow. It miraculously made it through a car wash. It is strangely connecting to discuss the leaf stuck in the windshield wiper—giving us a break from the normal pressure around, “how was school?” I see that our scrappy stowaway has grown dry and rounded. There is a little hole on one side of it. I wonder how much longer it will be there.

A friend once said I have a soundtrack for every part of my day. I sometimes put on yogic, kirtan music in the evenings. It acts like a steady pulse beneath the ruckus of two energetic brothers unwinding like spinning tops let loose after a long day of containment.

On one such evening, I put a pot of water on the stove and dropped in two eggs to boil for lunches. I loaded the dishwasher and walked Adrian upstairs to his bath. Jonah went alone to my bathroom where he gets ready for bed by himself now. I admired Adrian’s display of animals lined up on the side of the tub—there was a hippo, a cheetah and a plethora of other animals, a testament to his ability to elicit a “yes” to more of anything.

He told me he’d divided the animals into girls and boys and I asked how he could tell the difference. He explained, “I made them alive,” so of course, he knew which was which.

For a change we decided to read picture books before sleep instead of our regular chapter book and the three of us piled together on one bed—our backs against the wall, legs propped out in front of us. Jonah played with the hair beneath my ponytail that had fallen to my neck. Adrian nibbled on apples.

The door to the room was closed, any tension from the day having fallen away.

And like always when I am engaging with them—beneath nearly every interaction—I was imagining that somehow our time together was filling every vein of them—every single pore of them—with the boundless love and hope I feel for them.

Even as I read, there was an alternate story playing out in my head—my attention weaving a root system inside of them, vast and steadying and strong—capable of keeping them safe and upright in this capricious world.

Suddenly, we were startled out of the bubble of our togetherness by a very loud sound—almost as if something large had dropped or maybe even popped. It stopped our reading in its tracks and we looked at each other in wonder. We almost decided to ignore the sound thinking that, in fact, something large had toppled over and I could check it out later.

Then I caught a whiff of something burning and I suddenly remembered. The eggs! I had dropped them into the pot, intending to go back down shortly to turn off the water and let them sit. I had forgotten about them completely.

We ran downstairs and found that the water had boiled down to nothing and one of the eggs had exploded—pieces of shell and cooked egg were scattered across the kitchen island and the floor. I ran and turned off the stove. The yogic chanting music was the backdrop to this messy scene.

It didn’t take me all that long to clean up the scattered pieces and thankfully there was no real damage—even, surprisingly, to the pot I had been cooking in.

Jonah lit a stick of the awareness incense in the green box to cover up the burning smell. Adrian had calmly found a book with colorful drawings and had sprawled out on the floor to look at it.

I noticed that my heart was beating wildly. If I had put my hand to my chest, I could have felt it thumping. There it was—doing its job—mirroring the narrative of my life and drumming out the measure of surprise.

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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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“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”—Albert Einstein

Early this morning I caught a glimpse of the pumpkins on the steps of our front porch, a thin layer of snow covering one side of them—the contrast of colors, striking. Coastal Maine leapt brazenly this past week from an extended aura of summer into the arms of winter’s chill.

I look around noticing the people now bundled up in defense of the cold. Some are lamenting the rapid change in weather along with the clocks turned back—driving home from work daunting in the evening shadows, looking out for the nocturnal creatures venturing out earlier than before.

For others, the shift ushers in a deeper inhalation of brisk air, a feeling of aliveness rising up in them. There is an invitation in the ethers this time of year toward a more inward journey—enhanced by the element of fire burning hotly in woodstoves and fireplaces.

This is the season of candle lighting and a time for absorbing the few remaining bursts of color present in the foliage hanging—just barely—onto the branches of deciduous trees.

I missed the brief flurry of snow yesterday, tucked into a hospital bed and then under my own down comforter at home for much of the day. Even in minor surgery, there is a seriousness—an almost reverence—presented by the various players. It got me thinking about how in some ways our culture reflects an immense value on the preservation of and care for life. In some ways, it clearly does not.

One by one various medical staff came and talked with me.

Their mantra, “We are going to take good care of you.”

The surgeon took and squeezed my hand gently after explaining again the procedure then leaving to prepare herself. I wondered if this was her way or something she had been taught to do. It translated to me, “I care.”

I was in the prep-room for quite some time and found myself thinking about the idea of calling protection to my body. I imagined the people who I have loved—though now departed—surrounding me.

It is typical for me to linger one-part in the tangible aspects of the world while another part of me interlaces with the vast landscape of the unseen. Perhaps it is my Gemini— twins—nature that compels me in this way. Perhaps it is the distinct impression I have that nothing ever truly ends or dies—we just go on in a different way, in a different realm.

At first, I saw them in the forms they inhabited here on earth.

My grandmother on my mother’s side held her purse under her arm—there was sure to be a little bag filled with mints inside it if I needed one. I could see the steel blue eyes and grin of my paternal grandfather. My father once said of him that he left everything he touched better than he found it. I count this as one of the ways I aspire to be.

There were others, too. I imagined who they all were beyond their physical bodies— releasing them in my mind from that which had been so defining when they had lived.

Throughout my childhood, a wooden, adorned, mantel clock chimed throughout the day in my maternal grandparent’s home calling out the hours and marking the steady rhythm in which they lived. Its song warm and cheerful, like them.

It was the ubiquitous Westminster Chime that rang out in my presence for so many years of my life. I remember sleeping near it in the living room as a young girl on a pullout couch and waking in the night to the coppery tone of twelve gentle beats.

It took three tries to get an IV into my arm. I have tiny veins that want to roll away when poked. The anesthesiologist intervened and finally got it himself. I noticed a difference in the way he approached it. It seemed there was no way he wasn’t going to get it done. It made me think about the times when I have been sure that there was no way I wasn’t going to get it—something—done.

Taping the IV down tightly, he’d said, “You’ve earned this, I don’t want there to be any chance that it will come loose.”

“I’m going to take good care of you.”

There were two heated blankets covering me while I waited. I had no idea what time it was. I was hungry from fasting. I was growing tired of waiting.

Suddenly, I heard the chiming of a clock—a sound you would find in a home—not in a surgical hospital. It rang out a song that was warm and cheerful and familiar. It was the Westminster Chime announcing itself there in the medical building.

I asked the nurse about the clock and she said it had been moved there from another facility. It had lived for many years on different parts of the campus and now it was there, just outside my little room—one of the few places close enough to experience its calming, exquisite song.

 

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10 Questions for Reflection in Light of Continued School Violence

A few nights ago I spent an unusual and grueling amount of time taking in the news. I curled up on my couch as if to settle in to watch a film—only the story I took in was all too painful and real, once again. I felt like I needed to force myself to learn the details of this current tragedy, the last two—or three—having been avoided. I felt like I wanted to know whether I have become numb to these tragic occurrences plaguing our nation. I wanted to confirm that my online support of SandyHook Promise and Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America —two dedicated and powerful factions—was not really enough. I listened to an interview with a well-spoken young man who was in a classroom next door to where the shooting began. He was still visibly shaken from the events of the day. The interviewer asked if he was in any way “prepared” for what had occurred. He mentioned that he had been prepared in lower grades of school, but that he in no way expected this or was spoken to about this in his preparation for college which had only just begun. This idea has stayed with me —this idea that he had been prepared in some way previously as a younger child. I feel sickened when I consider the moment when either of my still-little children catch wind that they may have to be concerned—prepared even—for the possibility of being shot at or even killed in school.

Driving today, I began to think about the individual that is capable of committing such senseless acts of violence. I do not profess to know all of the statistics—I have tried not to pore over the characteristic of these troubled souls, not wanting to be a part of bringing glory to their unfathomable acts. Certainly there have been some cases of serious mental illness. With two young boys of my own, I began thinking about these perpetrators as young children. I connected with the innocent place from which we all begin—where they began. I started to think about all of the places where we—as a society—may go wrong with boys, with children, with people. And internally I began to come up with a list of questions that we might ask ourselves at least in an attempt to be the change we would be so heartened to see in the world.

I by no means think or feel that I have all of the answers and I can only speak to what I know—the power of mindful awareness, and the insight that mindful presence may bring. I do believe in the potential for small shifts to usher in big change and in the words of Margaret Mead, that we should, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

My hope is that in contemplating these questions, we might all shift ever so slightly and tip the balance in favor of greater peace and greater love in both our communities and in the world.

  1. In how many ways do we make individuals “wrong” from the very start?
    Children have endless energy for running and jumping, climbing and shouting, wielding sticks and throwing balls in the house and playing with their food and pushing boundaries and not quite understanding from the very start what is expected of them by our communities at large. How we respond as a society to this energy begins to stitch the fabric of a child’s being and their way of seeing themselves from the very beginning. There is gentle teaching of appropriate behavior and boundaries and there is shaming into submission. There is protecting the needs of children with appropriate outlets for physical activity and there is repressing, denying or ignoring energy to a point that it may begin to simmer inside waiting to find its way out at some later date. Which of these pathways are we fostering in our communities and in our schools? And what of the emotional lives of children? Children are teeming with emotions—the same as we adults. How might we allow these feelings—these sometimes unseemly expressions of feelings—a place to come forth, a place to land safely so that they too may not build up over time in destructive ways? How might we better gather as communities and ensure that every child is embraced and cherished and heard?
  2. What are the characteristics in the individuals who we celebrate?
    Somewhere in my following of the tragic events in Oregon, I read that the gunman had written that he didn’t believe that he was a significant person, that he would never be a significant person and that only this act would make him significant. I began thinking about all of the striving that goes on in our society. Some of it is very good. I strive quite a lot myself. Yet, as children are coming into their own in this culture, how might they be affected by what we set out before them as a way to measure their own worth? We have become an increasingly celebrity-centric society with individuals gaining fame and 24-hr news coverage because of their appearances, because of their money, even because of their killing sprees. How might we communicate to the children in our community instead that they are worthy just for simply being here on earth as human beings? How might we demonstrate an equal value for the many gifts that reveal themselves in individuals if only given the opportunity to come forth? How might we strive to celebrate the varied ways in which people may show up in this world? It doesn’t really matter whether children end up as the wealthiest individuals, with the best degrees and the most prestigious jobs. Nurturing kindness and love as valuable attributes within households and communities can and does spread in the same way as any other popular trend.
  3. On what do we place our attention?
    My family is fortunate to be a part of a school community in which less-media exposure is considered better for our children. My husband and I both have “smart phones” that we use more than we probably should and I have found a lot of connection as a stay-at-home-mom via this outlet. But we do try to put aside our phones when we are with our children. When we travel, I look around the airport lounges and the airplane isles and I imagine that I am in my children’s mind’s eye. I look around and I see that just about every person is engrossed in some sort of device. What kind of message is this sending to our children? With heads so often tipped downward into a seemingly important world, imagine the number of missed connections with children or young people or even adults who are feeling isolated and like they don’t matter. What would it look like to put our devices away, to look around and really begin to see one another again? What would it look like to engage, instead, with the person sitting next to us in a waiting room, the person ahead of us in the grocery line? What message would this send to our children?
  4. How do we measure success in our societies?
    
This morning a contractor who had previously done some work at our home gathered two young men from his team and brought them to our home at 6:45 am in order to help move a very heavy and cumbersome piece of art from my attic to my garage. They arrived five minutes before they said they would, worked diligently on my behalf and refused payment. I was so touched by their generosity of spirit, by their grace under the pressure of this heavy move, by the example of the lead contractor to these two men “coming up.” How are we finding ways to celebrate the day-to-day generosity and kindness of people like this? How might we better let our children know the value of a kind-heart, a willingness to give? Of truly honorable living? How might we better celebrate the meaningful gifts of the spirit that every individual has access to?
  5. How do we express our personal values?
    I made the Sandy Hook Promise. I remember where I was when I heard the news about this particular school shooting. I often receive e-mail letters from Nicole Hockley, reminding me of her precious, little boy Dylan who was killed on that horrific day. I can hardly read her words—the pain I feel for her is so overwhelming. I believe that increased gun regulation is at least one component of this complex issue. What have I done about that belief? I have signed a few petitions, forwarded letters to congress and made one small donation but mostly it seems that I have left the real fight to the members of a club that no mother (or father) would ever want to be a part of. I shudder at the thought of the number of prayers that go out in this country of, “please don’t ever let this happen to my child.” How I spend my time and resources is a reflection of my values. How might I better assist these parents who have already been through more than anyone should ever have to go through? How do we as a whole express our values within our communities?
  6. What happens when lives are too full?
    I am fortunate to be a part of a community that values down-time for our children. This is not a typically over-scheduled group of people surrounding me. And still, many moms and dads feel spread too thin with too much to do and not enough time to accomplish everything. Today’s world has our plates filled to the brim and at a point something has to give—something or someone falls through the cracks. Where are we letting the children in our communities fall through the cracks? When there isn’t time to notice, much less offer to help or report the red flags that are occurring right before our eyes, we have gone off track as a society. What do we need to adjust in order to be more present, more aware, more kind and more open to connect with those in need who walk among us?
  7. How might we be more intuitive to those around us who may be suffering?
    There is a quote by the young-adult fiction writer, Wendy Mass that says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” I have found this thought process useful in coming to a place of consciousness and awareness in how I meet others who live differently from me. There are so many ways to be and so many ways to live. We all have a right to be valued and to be seen. Who are the people among us that could use a greeting, a smile, an offering of support? These ways of reaching out, of connecting multiply and grow exponentially.
  8. Is my mind too full to really listen? Is my mind too full to hear?
    
In this life we have a finite number of moments to share with others and we can never really know when our—or their—last breath might be. Is there something that matters more than giving our full attention to one another? Is there a way that we might slow down our minds and discover a quiet place in which we might be more open to listening? We can’t stop living—growth and expansion are beautiful aspects of life—however, when our ambitions, our “to-do’s” usurp our ability to connect, to truly see one-another, we’ve lost our way. Are there any souls in our midst in need of deep-listening? How might we listen more closely to our own inner-whisperings?
  9. Do we really value every individual in our society equally?
    I recently wrote a post about the innocence of children and how we were all at one time innocent. One child might have come into this world surrounded by luxury, another by squaller, but our essence—if only briefly—was good and pure and divine. What happened, then? Connection. Separation. Praise. Shame. Attention. Neglect. Regard. Disregard. Activity. Idleness. Love. Hate. For every human alive today there has been a unique combination of actions and reactions making up each of our very own personal lives and here we are friends. How do we meet those who we come in contact with? How might we raise our level of consciousness in order to recognize the true and inherent value of every single soul who walks this planet? How does that level of respect and reverence for human life spill forth?
  10. Do we really believe that small gestures can have significant impact?
    I have known the impact of a smile from a stranger on a lousy day. I have seen the sad face of a child light up with a warm hug from an attentive adult. I have made a stranger a friend to me and to my boys in a grocery store and witnessed the joy it brought to us all. I have talked with homeless individuals and noticed our similarities, our need to feel safe, to be seen. It doesn’t take all that much to touch a life. Things may not transform overnight, but little by little we can make a difference. This is our world, let’s fill it up with love.

In Memory and with Deepest Condolences to the Entire Umpqua, Oregon Community 

Lucero Alcaraz
Quinn Glen Cooper
Kim Saltmarsh Dietz
Lucas Eibel
Jason Johnson
Lawrence Levine
Sarena Dawn Moore
Treven Taylor Anspach
Rebecka Ann Carnes

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

Yesterday was a scorcher by Maine standards. Temperatures in the upper 80’s sent those of us without central air-conditioning scurrying to the beach. My two boys and I were among the earliest to arrive. Traveling down a winding, narrow road to reach a far-away, sprawling spot on the ocean with tumbling waves and a desert like quality, felt like an adventure. Once we arrived we were like camels making our way from the parking lot to a distant tide pool a football field’s length from the entrance. Even from our tide pool we were still another long stretch away from the rolling waves. It was worth the journey. My boys—Jonah with his wide rimmed, navy blue sun hat, Adrian with his ripe orange baseball cap—took their buckets, shovels and wave board into the shallow pool and were busy at play within moments. Adrian piled sand ice cream into his bucket while Jonah pulled the buckets around on top of the board. I set out our blanket and then lying back on the small bag I had packed, took in the rocky cliffs in the distance thinking about the turn of events that brought me there alone with my two boys instead of where we had planned to be—back in the place where I grew up, surrounded by family, cuddling my little niece and nephew who I missed like a drought misses rain and hadn’t seen since winter winds were blowing snowdrifts at Christmastime.

I was sitting in the parking lot of a very large adventure travel store when I received the call. My husband had run into the store to pick up a last item for our travels. The following day he was heading West for eight days for work and I was heading to a family summer home to be with my sisters, their children and my parents. I was looking forward to the companionship. I was looking forward to the comfort of “home.” I was looking forward to the fun of all of our children being together. A few days before, my son Jonah had come down with a virus that gave him two painful sores in the back of his mouth and a low-grade fever. He was feeling well enough to travel though and my sisters had agreed that exposing their children was not ideal but that we should come anyway and just be mindful of washing hands, of separating sippy cups. I had not thought about my Mom, though. I had not thought of the terrible illness she had battled this past winter and how exposing her to something now—even something minor in the world of childhood illnesses—would not have been wise. With an immune system compromised, she could be a magnet for such a virus. She told me as much when she called. She didn’t want to say those words—she wanted to say anything but those words—but she had to and in the blink of an eye we were staying home for the next eight days without any activities planned and quarantined from our friends because of the illness. My husband would be 3,000 miles away. I sat stunned in the car wondering how I would break the news to Jonah who was deep in sleep in his carseat now.

I spent the afternoon and early evening mourning the loss of precious time with those I love so much—time that we have so little of. I felt angry, too. I wanted to blame someone but there was no one to blame. I cried and thought about how hard it would be to shift gears and refocus. I told my sisters and Mom that I was looking for the silver-lining but I couldn’t find it. By nightfall, though, I knew that I had a decision to make. I knew that I could easily spend the next week regretting every moment not spent with family, or I could lift up these precious days and discover their purpose. My greatest concern was with how I would remain present and responsive—not reactive—to the mercurial nature of my children for—what to me felt like—a long stretch of time. I bow down to the wives of deployed servicemen for whom this is their nearly constant state.

At the beach, we were a few days into our time alone together and we were finding our rhythm. With our self-imposed quarantine and everyone feeling better now we were completely free to roam and go and play as we wished. We eventually left our tide pool and made our way down to the crashing shoreline. Jonah timidly dipped his toes in and observed his board bouncing around in the waves. I sat with Adrian and followed my breath noticing the way my stomach, my chest rose and fell with the waves. We meandered down little paths of water that flowed along the sand into bigger and bigger tide pools. We found ourselves finally in one pool deep enough to soak our bodies in and for Jonah to float on his wave board. I should have been tired—Adrian had made a before dawn wake-up call that morning—but instead I felt invigorated. I was pulling Jonah on his wave board from one end of the pool to the other and suddenly I began running with him in tow, splashing a good amount of water up onto my legs and some even onto my face. Adrian was in a very shallow part of the pool, lying on his stomach, propped up on his forearms. His face was filled with a grin. Soon I discovered that if I ran with Jonah for a long stretch and then suddenly let go of the string that was pulling him he would go sailing ahead of me with delight, riding on his board up onto the sand like a surfer with so much momentum. I was doing this for him over and over and at one point I was running and I could feel the water splashing my face and I could hear the pure joy in Jonah’s laughter and I could see Adrian luxuriating in the water and I let Jonah go and then I just stopped and I looked up into the sky. I stopped and I looked into the sky.

It was so vast.

It was so vast.

I could feel my heart beating from running and I could feel my heart expand.

It was so vast and beautiful and miraculous  it took my breath away.

I felt alive.

I felt so very alive and I knew in that moment what it meant to live.

I knew the ecstasy that is complete oneness with life.

“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 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.

 

Slow Down With Your Children and They Will Show You the World

I like to joke that when the time comes for my son Jonah to choose a partner in life, I will know the right person for him because they will not be rushing him down the aisle. Jonah, like most children, lives very much in the moment and takes his time, soaking in every experience for all that it has to offer. He luxuriates in life. His baths are long and when he builds a train track we always grant time for cities to be created at every stop. Allowing these moments to unfold organically with my children and living according to their rhythm has exposed me to a wonder and amazement at the world and an attention to detail that our society often does not have time for. It is in these precious pauses that my children and I have experienced surprises and truly seen each other. With this in mind, I almost never utter phrases like, “we need to hurry.” Or, “we’re running out of time.” I might use the gentler, “please put on your Super Fast Superman Shoes so we can finish this task really, really quickly!” But only if there is a plane to catch or we are about to miss an event altogether. So my formerly, highly punctual self has had to acclimate to a fair amount of tardiness. Slowing my pace and committing to truly being present with my children is among the greatest gifts I have offered myself as a mother.

In the late winter Jonah and I were getting ready to go to his school where we attend a parent and toddler class one morning each week. We were running “late.” Our babysitter, Sarah, who was coming to take care of my younger son Adrian, entered our home just about the same time we needed to leave. She had accidentally taken Jonah’s winter hat (with a monkey face on it) home in her coat pocket the day before. She pulled the hat out of her pocket and proceeded to tell us how surprised she had been to find it there when she was out for a walk with her Mom the evening before. An adult might have chuckled at this story and then kept moving – especially if in a hurry. In his response to Sarah’s story, Jonah taught us something that morning and thankfully we had the presence to allow for the moment to unfold and recognize all that it was worth.

First Jonah enjoyed hearing Sarah tell the story, eyes wide with attention. He giggled and laughed when she pulled the hat out of her pocket in surprise. Then he paused, clearly reliving the story in his own mind and then he shared, “that’s funny!” Then he retold the story, complete with putting his own hand in his pocket and pulling an imaginary hat out in surprise. Next he asked Sarah some questions about the story, wondering if she was really surprised when she found the hat and again commenting on how it was a funny thing to have happened. We were standing in the doorway from our house to our garage as this moment unfolded and even after hearing the story, retelling the story and making some comments, Jonah still lingered. Then Sarah and I talked for a few minutes and we headed out to our car. I knew all the while that we would not be arriving at our class exactly when we were supposed to but I also knew the value of listening to Jonah and sharing in his interpretation of the story. I believe taking our time offered him a sense of importance for what his thoughts and feelings contribute to our family and his relationship with others. In my experience I have found that an unhurried approach to the world offers children a sense of peace and comfort. And I know that in particular, not rushing Jonah as much as possible fosters a sense of imagination and the space to develop his own thoughts – thoughts he expresses more and more each day. He has begun to share insightful observations recently, some prompting my husband and I to ask, “who taught you that?” In actuality we have discovered that they are his very own ideas.

We left for school in peace that day instead of in a frenzy. These opportunities present themselves many, many times each day as I interact with both of my children. I was recently nursing my son Adrian and at the same time he raised his arm up in the air, his tiny fingers finding my mouth over and over again. He would touch my mouth with his hand and look up at me with a twinkle in his eye. I saw that he thought it was a bit comical so the next time his fingers met my lips I surprised him by nibbling on them in jest. He began laughing hysterically and then went back to nursing. A minute later he lifted his arm up to my lips, now giggling with his eyes in anticipation. I nibbled, he laughed hysterically. We did this over and over again until he decided he was ready to move on. This is not what a lactation consultant might call a productive feeding! However, these are the moments that I cherish and (excuse the pun) milk, for all that they are worth.

Last night our family went out for a Japanese dinner. On our way out of the restaurant Jonah stopped to admire a very large Maneki Neko, which is a traditional Japanese sculpture of a cat, beckoning with an upright paw. He sat down next to it and I observed him as he petted the cat, gave it a kiss and stroked its’ whiskers. I had never been up close to a sculpture like this one and probably from a distance wouldn’t have noticed that it actually had clear but distinct whiskers. When he was clearly finished exploring the cat I picked Jonah up and chatted with him about our meal as we headed to the car. Some strands of my hair fell across my face and Jonah took them holding them up over my lip and said, “look Mama, you have whiskers too!” I took note yet again of the gems that I am continually presented with when I simply allow the space for them to appear.

What has your child introduced you to recently that you might never have noticed operating at your usual pace?

Accessing The Moment with your Children Through Your Senses

My favorite friends are those with whom I may skip the small talk. We almost never discuss shopping or our hair. We may not know where the other went to college or how our bills are getting paid. We may speak every few days or every few years but when we come together our conversations quickly launch into explorations of universal truths, the meaning of life and our reasons for being “here.” I have a special place in my heart for these friends (and family members). It was a friend like this who I was sitting with recently in my driveway while the three children between us created chalk art and squabbled over a big wheel. Our conversation quickly turned to the philosophical. A storm cloud rumbled in the distance and in between our shared thoughts I assured my older son Jonah that he was safe. Thunder is just a sound after all. It was the perfect segue into a question I had wanted to pose to my friend regarding coming to mindfulness through our senses. Are my methods of accessing mindfulness with my own children too simplistic to share with the public? After our discussion she assured me that they were not. We agreed that small tweaks to how we live and act as mothers can create momentous change.

I use many methods for coming back to the moment with my children when I find myself operating on autopilot. I am particularly susceptible at these times of unconsciousness to speaking carelessly, not meaning what I am saying, becoming frustrated, generalizing and generally not enjoying the moment. This is not who I want to be as a mother and so when I feel this way I know that I must quickly change my state. The approach I have found to be most powerful to bring me back to my self, my highest self, is to use my senses as a guide. As I described this to my friend I asked her to become engaged and truly experience our surroundings in that moment. With the storm coming more near now, on an increasingly blustery summer day in Maine, our eyes, ears, noses and mouths had more than enough stimulus to draw from. I asked my friend to truly see the giant puffy clouds before us, growing like mountains as we spoke. We listened with heightened attention to the many birds chirping near our rural home excited for the impending rain. Then we took deep breaths together, inhaling the crisp, clean air relaxing into and enjoying this process. We raised our hands up toward the sky, stretching and genuinely feeling the wind on our fingertips. We didn’t exercise our sense of taste in that moment but my friend was getting the idea and looked at me excitedly and said, “I already feel different.” “I can better see my daughter as a part of the Oneness just from having listened to the birds.” I do not move through this senses exercise myself without finally acknowledging my most important sense. My sixth sense. In times of stress or unsettledness I almost always tap into the energy that is all encompassing and that I know will support me through any situation big or small. I call to my angels. I call to my grandparents who have gone before me. I call to my highest self to come forward and assist me. All of these things combine with the new energy brought to me by my senses and bring me back to a newer, fresher, more brilliant perspective of the two little ones before me and I experience them with love anew.

A Beam of Light Illuminates My Value as a Mother

I expect myself to be a perfect Mother – to always be warm and loving and to unceasingly do and say the right things. I expect for the foods my children ingest to be organic and the words and images they experience to be pure and wholesome too. I plan for the time we spend together to always be rich and meaningful. And when I fall short, as I inevitably do, I suffer a feeling of failure beyond any that I have experienced before. After all, there is so very much at stake in being the very best mother that I can be.

These failures are most likely to occur when I have a lapse in mindfulness or presence. In fact, that is the only way that they can occur and even in those moments, I am my higher-self standing outside of my body as a witness, knowing all the while that the scene that has unfolded could have been avoided. My higher-self is also forgiving and feels a warmth toward me, knowing that even this imperfect way of being is so very perfect. I am on a journey toward living in the most mindful way that I can with my children and stumbling along the way only strengthens my resolve.

Six months or so ago our family went out for breakfast on a sunny, Sunday morning. In my head I had imagined pulling my chair close to my husband’s after breakfast, sipping my coffee snuggled up to him and marveling at our two beautiful boys. Instead we ended up packing up and leaving the restaurant in a huff, not even bussing our own table – an expectation of this establishment and an oversight I only later realized in horror.

The meal began sweetly enough with our baby Adrian sitting in a highchair joining us for the first time at the table at a restaurant and our (then) almost three year old Jonah generously sharing his food and nibbling off of our plates. When Jonah decided he was finished eating and ready to play in the children’s area it didn’t raise any red flags. He is usually an easy-going and well-behaved little guy and we are generally able to trust his behavior. At a point my husband needed to use the restroom so I walked over to be near Jonah who was now high up on a children’s play fort. Adrian was in my arms when Jonah leaned forward from the structure in a way that appeared dangerous to me. I asked him to step back and he chose this moment to test his boundaries – something all two year olds (he was still two at the time) will do. He kicked his foot out from the high ledge and it scared me. Looking back I see this was the turning point for me. Normally this scenario would not have rattled me and I would have handled it with flying colors. Even if I was annoyed, I would have breathed my way through it using calm language and getting myself intellectually out ahead of Jonah and redirecting him with ease. Instead, low on sleep, high on caffeine and a bit fearful because Adrian was in my arms and I felt a bit uncomfortable to physically deal with the situation, I made a mistake, wasn’t the perfect mother and acted out of frustration.

I demanded that Jonah get down, “right-now” which he didn’t. I have said “right-now” about twice in my life and I’m not sure what compelled me in that direction of communication in that moment. But there I went. Jonah did eventually make his way down the slide on his own volition. I was irritated and not present and what ensued was completely unnecessary. After coming down the slide, Jonah decided he wanted to play a game with the sugar packets on the tables – something he had played with his friends at the same restaurant only a few days before. For some unknown reason I decided it was acceptable for him to use one sugar packet container but not more than that. The scene that unfolded was one of me chasing Jonah around from table to table, dangling Adrian in my arms, telling Jonah “no” and Jonah screaming that he needed those sugar containers! In retrospect I feel so badly about the whole thing. Every toddler needs to be able to respond when told, “no” and on the spectrum of parenting I consider myself somewhat strict, however, toddlers also need understanding especially when they have a goal in mind and are just trying to actualize it. I’ve also learned since the importance of picking my battles. I could probably have completely avoided the whole scenario had I allowed Jonah to have one last container or if I had just breathed before telling him what to do, firmly grounded in myself. There are a hundred ways that I could have dealt with this scenario better.

Jonah didn’t want to leave the restaurant, but we did and he promised as we walked to the car that he would, “think about his behaver.” There is no single more endearing voice than a toddler in contrition. We salvaged the day pretty nicely with my husband and I putting our heads together and coming up with a way to serve each of our spirits in the remaining hours of the day – both of us disappointed in the way that our morning had ended. We played soccer, balloon baseball and danced in our living room. I called an old friend, Adrian got to have a bath with his big brother – an activity that he loves – and Josh and I watched a favorite HBO TV show before bed. But even days later I still felt guilty and sorry for how I acted. I realize upon reflection that the guilt does not even really come from wanting to be perfect in someone else’s eyes or to be some image of a perfect Mother but in not wanting to miss even a single moment with my children, wasted in frustration. I find a way to forgive myself though, knowing that these are actually valuable moments for me to continue my resolve toward mindfulness. These moments have benefit for our children as well. Later that Sunday afternoon, recumbent on his changing table, I leaned closely toward Jonah, looking deeply into his eyes and told him that I was sorry for how I had acted that morning and that I wanted to teach him in a better way. He said, “Mommy, I’m sorry too.” Although I do not wish to invite more experiences like this one, I do see that if we as mothers never failed, our children would never have the opportunity to learn about apology and forgiveness.

I am so grateful that toddlers have short memories of their emotions. Jonah can recall who gave him a stuffed animal that he received more than a year ago, but emotions that he felt yesterday seem to drift away into the ether moments after they occur. He is too wise to hold a grudge, too pure to feel resentment. Babies too move on so quickly from their pain. When Adrian was sick for several months, he received many oral medications and really disliked them, pursing his lips together and turning his head to the side anytime a syringe or dropper came near. Initially upon coming home from a hospital stay he wasn’t interested in solid foods at all. He believed that anything that came toward his mouth would be unpleasant. But within a week and with a little coaxing he was enjoying a wide array of foods again, gobbling them up eagerly. As adults we can take a negative experience and transform it into months or even years of adverse associations, but children, they live life much more in the moment and given a safe and generally happy home, suffer much less.

I am also grateful that miracles reveal themselves at the most unexpected of times and in the most unexpected of ways. Thinking back to an experience I had with Adrian a few weeks before the restaurant “incident” helped me to feel better about the way that I handled (or didn’t handle) Jonah that morning. After a long night of responding to frequent awakenings with Adrian, I found myself mid-morning sitting in a rocking chair cradling him in my arms, gazing out the window, admiring a summer scene and tired to the bone.  A beam of light came from behind the clouds and landed on this perfect, sleepless child. My whole body, tired and weary, lightened at the sight of him basking in sunlight. I observed his skin so flawless and soft. I touched his fingers, his cheeks, his chubby thighs, enjoying his perfection, connecting with the miracle of his being. In my eyes he was an angel. This alone was not new. I have long known that touching and really seeing my children and witnessing them in their glorious perfection is an excellent means for bringing me into perspective. What I had not experienced is what happened (or seemed to happen) next. I suddenly felt the warmth of the sun open up and fall on my own cheek – a cheek I had recently begun to see as sagging and old-looking. When this happened, I witnessed Adrian transform. He lightened in the same way that I had before when looking at him. I could feel him observing me with sunlight gracing my face, dancing through my hair, glittering on my skin. It was then that I saw myself for the very first time through his young eyes as they darted across my face, smile forming. He took his time examining me, taking me in through his innocent perspective and at once I saw myself in the perfect, unflawed way that he saw me. I suddenly felt validated and seen for the mother I have tried to be to him and to Jonah. It turns out he hasn’t been critiquing my mothering in the way that I had been. He hadn’t noticed all of the many ways that I felt I had already failed him in his short seven months. I knew in that moment that I mattered to someone in a way that could never be matched and was not dependent on my being a perfect mother. He saw me for the deep love that I felt for him and that was all. I saw myself suddenly as beautiful in his eyes. I saw myself finally with the love I have always tried to show to both my children.

** This is a sitting in the sun meditation. Find a beam of sunlight where you can feel the warmth of the sun on your face.

 **Sit quietly and experience the sun warming your face and your hair, enveloping all of you. Experience the sun revealing you, the real you, and your inner light rising out of your center to meet the sun. Take a moment to forgive yourself of any ways in which you feel you have let your children down.

** Place your child in a beam of light. Sit away and observe this precious being in all of their beauty, making your way slowly from the top of their head to their little toes. Experience them as separate from you and also as a part of the Oneness of all things.

 

 

 

How a Single Leaf Took Me to a New Level of Letting Go

No matter how hard I try, there is so much that I cannot control. Strike that. I cannot control anything no matter how hard I try. A few months ago I came home from a doctor’s appointment in the mid-afternoon and my almost three-year-old son Jonah was cuddled up on the couch with my father who was visiting from away. My father draped his arm around my son and declared that they were two “Fat Cats.” I observed more closely that they were eating buttered (white) toast and watching Some Like it Hot, on the television, Marilyn Monroe, all steamy and kissing on Tony Curtis. Or was it Jack Lemmon? Jonah could tell you and he did in fact tell someone a few days later that he very much enjoyed watching Marilyn Bunroe with his Grandad when he had visited. All of this was potentially concerning to me because we are an almost no TV household, generally geared toward whole grains and fairly observant of naptimes. After the months I’d experienced leading up to this incident though, the kind of letting go and relinquishing control that I needed to exercise in this moment was a piece of cake. I very quickly got to the idea that my son was connecting with my father, making sweet memories, no matter how greasy my couch was getting or what ideas about kissing might be forming in my young child’s impressionable brain.

Relinquishing control when your infant son is suddenly very ill and in need of emergency surgery is another story. Normally, a 101 degree temperature and short breast-feeding hiatus would not have sent my husband Josh and me to the emergency room at 1:00 am. I was blessed with a strong intuition though, and it was this inner-knowing, more than any outward symptoms, that kept us driving south to the nearest major medical center in Portland, Maine, even as our seven month old son Adrian cooed in the back seat playing happily with his stuffed “guitar dog.” A random jingle from the toy announced his presence in the darkness every few minutes. I knew in my heart that something wasn’t right and I trusted that feeling to guide us. It took many hours and a blood test (that my husband insisted upon) announcing a white blood cell count of 30,000 for the investigation of what was going on with our sweet baby to kick into high gear. Around this time a red circle began forming around my son’s belly button. It seemed highly suspect to me and I was certain it wasn’t there previously. More than one doctor attempted to explain it away as so much poking and prodding on sensitive skin. A highly attuned nurse and a bright intern took our growing concerns about this new symptom seriously and began noting the circle’s expansion by drawing a circle around the original redness. A CT-Scan soon revealed that our son had an infected abscess in his abdomen in danger of rupture and would require immediate surgery.

Within an hour of this discovery our son was out of our arms, under general anesthetic, and in the hands of a surgeon. He was in the hands of his own little – yet powerful – life force, a force, again, that I had faith in. Even up to this point I remained very calm. When my husband talked to his parents after the surgery, I heard them ask how I was handling all of this. He replied, “cool as can be.” My sister later said to me, “I’ve been crying so much, worried about Adrian. You must have been a mess!” But I wasn’t. And it wasn’t denial or shock or stoicism. I felt fully connected to the gravity of the situation. I just didn’t feel panicked or paralyzed or distraught. I was able to release on a level I was comfortable with. I felt trusting of my instincts, of the surgeon, of my son even. I drew on my many years of spiritual study and experience. I knew release. I knew surrender. I had exercised this spiritual muscle in so many ways over many years. This is an important point. It was this level of unexpected events that I was comfortable with and that I could make my way through with seeming ease.

In the weeks that followed we found out that Adrian would need a second surgery to remove the remnant from the Urachal cyst that had wreaked such havoc on his little body. In the meantime more fluid had collected in the cyst and it was a very uncomfortable time with little sleep and much anticipation for the second surgery. We plodded along and gave thanks for each moment with our cherubic baby. His smile continued to shine despite the long nights and tummy troubles. We made it through a second surgery, second hospital stay and second separation from our older son Jonah. I exhibited further comfort with the lack of control I had in all of this. People kept telling me how strong I was. What a great attitude I had. I prayed a lot. I stared at both of my children constantly, taking in their brilliance, the way they radiated with new life. I would pick Adrian up from his crib for the hundredth time in the middle of the black night and smell his neck, kiss his cheeks over and over, giving thanks for this spirit who was limiting my sleep so much. I very clearly recognized him as a being whom I would give my life for. I talked with Jonah, this other precious child in my life, attempting to glean from him how all of this made him feel and spent as much time as I could playing with him, dancing freely and giving voice to the endless line of stuffed animals who he wanted to talk.

It wasn’t until after the dust had settled from this tumultuous time that I experienced the real pain of surrender. It turns out there was a point where I would no longer stay calm and trust. Thankfully, it happened in an almost comical way. It was a very beautiful fall day in Southern Maine. The water glistened with a warm Indian Summer sunlight. The leaves painted the landscape in gold and burgundy. There were no further surgeries scheduled and a dear friend had come to our home for a visit with her daughter. We decided to go for a walk to “Jonah’s tree” – a tree we had discovered a few years back on a neighbor’s property. It was a favorite destination and we had through the years marked Jonah’s growth with photos under this tree. Its’ draping branches created a cozy nook perfect for learning about roots and branches and such. At first Adrian was content with watching us from his stroller as we explored under the tree but soon he wanted to be included. Who could blame him? I picked him up and ducked under a large branch to bring him closer to Jonah and our friends. I was talking and enjoying the moment when all of a sudden Adrian reached up and pulled a leaf off of the tree and quickly put it in his mouth, biting off a piece with his two small teeth – all in one motion! I took the remaining leaf from his hand and rushed out from under the tree so that I might see better and hopefully remove the gnawed-off leaf from his little mouth. I was panicked at the idea of him either choking on the tiny leaf or being poisoned. Out from under the tree, in the light, I could see the bright green leaf under his darting tongue and then it was gone. I felt my body grow cold and my stomach turn upside down. I looked at my friend wide eyed and we began discussing whether or not I knew what kind of tree this was. I did not. I had often wondered and even asked a few people but had never found out. We quickly gathered the other children together and headed back to the house, my friend asking if I had a number for poison control. I don’t know whether or not I revealed this outwardly, but I fell apart inside for a moment. I could not bare the idea of my son going through anything else. What if he needed his stomach pumped? What if I had to call an ambulance? My husband was going to kill me! Just about then Adrian coughed a little. My heart stopped briefly. We picked up our pace.

Once back home, Adrian was happy as a clam but I was scouring the internet trying to discover the name of the tree. My wise friend had the wherewithal to bring a branch home with us. I sheepishly called my pediatrician, embarrassed at such lack of care for my infant who had recently undergone not one, but two, major surgeries! They referred me to poison control who assured me that Adrian was going to be fine. It turns out that there are very few poisonous plants indigenous to Maine and even if the tree were toxic, in such a small amount, it would be nearly harmless. The real risk had been choking and we had already passed that potentiality. My friend and I let out a deep sigh and managed to laugh a little at the irony that that my breaking point turned out to be a leaf. I imagined a lone leaf drifting through the air, making its’ way down and settling gracefully onto the ground.

I have reflected greatly on this experience and my eyes have truly been opened to the profound way in which we cannot control how life’s lessons will be presented to us or how our enlightenment will occur. This is not to stay that we are powerless by any means or that we do not have the opportunity to create our own realities. I believe wholeheartedly that we do. It’s just that I’ve come to know deeply that the world will speak to us according to its own wisdom. If we are lucky it will do so with humor or irony. May we ride the wave? Yes. Steer? We can try. I’ve learned that I could take my son to the best hospital and trust in the best surgeon and know that machines would be monitoring him and pray and give thanks and trust and trust and trust but I could not control his reaching spontaneously for a leaf and quickly putting it in his mouth. I will continue to try to protect my children in the very best way that I know how for as long as I can all the while knowing that they have a journey of their own to live out and I am just along for the ride.

** This is a walking meditation. Find a quiet place in nature where you can walk. Be conscious of your footsteps and observe your surrounding as if for the first time. With each step imagine your grip loosening on areas of your life that you may have been trying to control.

** Find a handful of pebbles and along your path allow these pebbles to represent ways in which you try to control what cannot be controlled. Release the fear of losing, release all of the talking and release the judgment of yourself and others.

** Commit to an afternoon of play with your little ones where you allow them to be exactly who they are. Allow them to get too dirty. Allow them to talk too loud. Witness where they take you if you let them.