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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

10 Steps for Taming a “Tantrum” With Love

We’ve all witnessed it – our serene and blissful child transforming before our eyes over a seemingly small disappointment or discomfort. His freshly built, wooden bridge toppling over with little brother’s touch. Her sock being situated incorrectly within a shoe. The cookie denied. Suddenly our little one’s breath becomes shallow, tears spring to their eyes. Perhaps they let out a howl. Perhaps they flail their arms or legs.

There are so many reasons why a child may find himself in a rapid release of overwhelming emotions, unable to see things in a rational way. Maybe yesterday they had a long ride in the car, energy suppressed, all cooped up. Or maybe bedtime was late with an early rise for school. Now they’ve lost their ability to process things in a balanced way. Maybe they were so excited for school, they couldn’t focus on breakfast and their blood sugar is sending them on a roller-coaster ride. Maybe they took in too much television, toys with bright lights or sugary snacks. Or maybe they are experiencing tremendous development, seeing the world through new eyes and fearful of all these great, new challenges. Whether exhaustion, hunger, over-stimulation or natural development is the cause of a child’s break with their ability to process things peacefully, their ability to overcome these moments – self-worth intact – is all in the hands of their caregivers. These moments can be beautiful and transformative, filled with a parent or caregiver’s love and understanding or they can be sad and lonely times for a child.

When these moments occur in our home, I am learning to bring a more steady and observing energy to the situation and gaining in return a deeper closeness with my sons once the storm has passed. Positioning myself as a headlight in the distance allows my children to be guided back to the individuals we both know they really are, positive sense-of-self intact, feeling loved. It doesn’t work all of the time and sometimes I forget. This is a journey and all we can do is put our best foot forward again and again.

These are a few ways that I have helped my children when they have been overcome by their feelings:

1. When emotions run high there is always time to take a moment and decide how you will proceed. There is time to take a breath and center yourself before responding. Breath deeply, maybe sit down or kneel beside your child and collect your own thoughts and emotions. Maybe find a memory of a time when you have lost yourself and remember how scary and powerful that moment can be. Find a place of compassion within your being. Soften your eyes and release any feeling of needing this situation to be over. It will be over in good time.

2. Resist the urge to convince your child not to feel what they are feeling. Instead, in your most understanding tone, say something like, “that is a very big feeling you are having.” If you mean it, they will know. Then just sit and observe for a moment, concentrating on your breath. There is time for this as well, for waiting, for looking on and being steady. It doesn’t matter if you are in the grocery store, the doctor’s office or in your front yard. Most people will understand your situation. Try your best to ignore those who do not.

3. Without words, stroke your child’s arm or offer to pick your child up allowing them to choose whether or not your embrace will help. Validate their sense of loss or disappointment, upset or confusion with a simple phrase like, “Oh, I have felt that way before too.” “I can understand how you must feel.” After all, aren’t children mirrors of the emotions they witness in the world around them? Often they are simply demonstrating exaggerated version of the very same emotions we experience as adults.

4. For the younger child who may not understand these phrases, try instead saying something like, “Mama knows” a few times and wiping their tears oh-so-delicately.

5. Designate a safe place within your home that you may go to recover from incidents such as these. For instance in our home, we’ve created a “peace circle” (thanks to the suggestion of a wise babysitter and kindergarten teacher). This place is a sometimes circle, sometimes oval, crafted out of various pillows and balance boards where we spend time when we are struggling. As your child begins calming down, you may suggest that you go together to this special place for some comfort. Walk slowly, gently with your child to this space, setting the tone. Spend time there reading or playing quietly throughout the day so that your child’s special place has a positive association. Once the idea of a sacred space is established in your child’s mind, you may create this same sort of place anywhere you go, simply by giving it the same name.

6. Know that these caring gestures do not mean that you should “given in” to the demands, request or situation that brought on the episode. We are not called as parents to allow our children everything they want or think they need but to stand by instead helping them to experience their own – very significant – feelings  in a safe and loving way.

7. Observe your inner dialogue when these issues arise and notice whether or not you might be able to loosen your grip and allow for things to unfold in the most natural way possible. Notice any tension throughout your body. Notice where anger may arise. Work to recognize these feelings, validate them and  then allow for them to fall away from you. So much of how we respond to our children has to do with our own upbringing. Make certain that your response is in alignment with your present-self, not your child- self.

8. If things are not quieting down or are escalating, try stepping a few feet away from your child and beginning a tactile task. Folding clothes, stacking blocks, braiding yarn. These activities may draw a child out of themselves and allow them to begin again with something new.

9. Allow your child to rebound with dignity maybe saying something like, “wow, that was a very big feeling you were having!” “I am so glad you are feeling better now.” “Let’s go and …..” Try not to lecture your child as to what they should have felt or done differently.

10. And, finally, most importantly, know that what your child needs more than anything when they are falling apart is to have someone by their side who loves them and knows how to put them back together again. Knowing they aren’t alone, knowing someone understands them, the presence of these things, will create fewer and fewer falling-apart moments and allow for more wholeness in your home and in your life again.

“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.

 

 

 

5 Benefits of Mindfulness for Mothers

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

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

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

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