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“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will pass and that eventually I will be embarrassing them in their teenage years with my leg-warmers and other various out-of-date pieces in my wardrobe.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.

 

 

 

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.