On parenting in the dark.

For the next four days I am alone. I am completely alone in my house for the next four days. 

Ok well, there is a dog and a cat here but for the next 96 hours there are no other beings in this household that require my attention.  I haven’t been alone in my house for this length of time in over four years. My son’s father came and picked him up this morning, headed to see family 400 miles away. For all my initial anxiety about the upcoming trip, by the time the moment arrived to see them off I was awash with a mixture of unexpected feelings. This week has been one of the darkest and most intense weeks of parenting that I can remember.

The world at large right now feels heavy, hurting and angry.

My heart is heavy, hurting and angry.

And my son, three and a half, seems to have tapped into the collective wellspring or is otherwise coming up against his own pain and rage over the current state of things on the micro-level of his family and immediate environment.

And I am his target for all of this, of course. And target in every sense of the word. I am bruised, battered and raw from the battles of this week. Where has my sweet little companion, full of smiles and affection gone? And what phenomenon is he currently processing to cause such a disturbance in our normal balance of daily life??

I know all the “things”: It will pass, it’s normal. It’s not about me. All I can do is give him a safe place to feel and process. Stay connected. Stay neutral. Stay present. Don’t take things personally. The caregiver he’s closest to gets the worst of it. Practice self-care. Model healthy boundaries. Model healthy ways to work through strong feelings. Give him words and tools to identify what he is feeling and what he needs. Remember the relationship comes first. 

But all of these truisms don’t help me right now. Because even with trying to do my best to remember all of these things, deep in the moment parenting just feels shitty and terrible and awful and unfair. And because I am just empty. That’s it. I’ve just got nothing left to give this kid right now.

And so suddenly this trip feels like grace for both of us.

He is ecstatic to see his papa. He runs screeching and laughing into his arms. He waves goodbye and doesn’t look back. And I am grateful. For their bond and the relationship they have cultivated, which is much closer and more loving than either of us had with our own fathers. Grateful he is not fearful about leaving me. And grateful because honestly – I just don’t think I could have stood another hour of being beat up, being bullied, and of battling it out.  Grateful because honestly – I don’t even like my child right now. And I don’t feel capable of being his mother.

And closing the door behind them, this truth makes me cry and cry.

Last night I heard him tossing around in his bed, calling out softly in sleep. It woke me and I lay there for a moment, waiting to see if the he would settle himself and drift off on his own. He probably would have after another moment or so but I got up anyway and opened the door to his room and crossed the carpet to kneel at his bed. He mumbled incoherently in a half-wakened state. Tentatively, I reached out to stroke his forehead and he allowed me to comfort him. Then slowly, inch by inch, I moved onto the bed next to him and curled my body around his. For the first time in weeks he didn’t resist but relaxed and nestled against me.  I held him close and rubbed his back. In the darkness he reached out his little hand to press it against my face and I saw his brief, small sleepy smile in the glow of the nightlight. I lay there for an hour or more relishing this rare moment of closeness, not daring to move a muscle lest the spell be broken and the feral animal awake. My arm fell asleep and my back started to ache but I couldn’t bear to move. For a short time I felt again our sweet bond. I needed to remember.

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I know it will pass. I know we each have to process in our own ways what it means to not be an intact family living under one roof anymore, and who we each are as we grow into the people we are becoming.  And as we test the limits of what we think we know and are capable of and explore our own spectrum of experience, we come to understand the safety and strength of the container of this relationship. We trust that it can hold our process, that it can honor both the darkness and the light. But it is only in the darkness where true resilience is revealed, when we find it is stronger and more spacious than we thought, that it can allow and recover, heal and adapt. That it can both nurture and even be strengthened in times when the light is scarce. That it is both steadfast and constant and that it is also ready to change as we change.

Tiptoeing back to my room and back to my own bed, I feel thankful for this tiny bit of reprieve. In the morning I ask him and he doesn’t remember anything. But I know it wasn’t for him. It was for me.

As I watch the car pull out of the driveway this morning it occurs to me that there may come a day when he wants to go and live with his dad full time. The thought hits me a little like a sock to the stomach. As I stand in the middle of the empty living room I am gutted by the realization that ultimately all of this effort, the intense marathon of parenthood, the unwavering commitment to every small teachable moment, the anguish over whether or not we are doing things right, whether we are giving them the right tools, laying the right foundation for healthy relationship with themselves, with others and the world — all of it — every single worry that keeps us up or on the phone for advice or nose deep in books, all of the ceaseless energy we put into giving our children the best possible start guarantees absolutely nothing.

We do all of this with the acceptance that all possibilities exist and one being that there could come a day when our child says goodbye and walks away without looking back. We have great hopes. We cultivate hope against odds at every turn that our kids will emerge from childhood undamaged, happy, vital and devoted to us. But in the end we are all forced to relinquish every expectation and investment in the outcome. We do this parenting thing in every moment out of some mysterious compelling place of unadulterated selflessness. Its the biggest most profound lifelong investment we ever make and yet there are no guarantees of anything. And still, as a species we have decided it worth doing over and over and over again.  It makes no sense.

They won’t remember all of the tiny moments you sweated and grasped for answers, fumbling for the right tools, the right words, the right thing to do. They will just be left with this broad, colorful landscape, full of feelings they felt. And they get to interpret it however they choose. The only certain thing is that we won’t see it the same way.

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I read somewhere that parenting is the a lifelong exercise in unfailing optimism. That sounds about right.

And I have the next four days to find my bootstraps.

 

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Five Ways to Fill Your Well

I am re-blogging this fabulous post from The Practical Mystic because it resonates so much with me right now. Summer days are a time of high energy and activity, days are often full of social activities, events and trips. For me, the clear evidence that I have been letting self-care fall by the wayside is when I begin ruining those otherwise lovely, fun-filled times with friends and family by suddenly becoming a miserable grump and resenting everyone around me, including the dog and the cat (omg, especially the cat).

Part of the commitment to self, as the Practical Mystic points out, is carefully observing what your needs are today, in your body and spirit, and knowing that they will shift from day to day, season to season. My usual strong vinyasa practice is not serving me well right now and in the mornings my body is wanting to move more than be still for seated meditation. As the temperature warms and my life is in the midst of major transition, I am being drawn to more restorative or yin yoga practices, exploring tantric breath work and learning more subtle techniques for moving energy in the body.

I am thankful for the great resources offered in this post and re-commit to exploring new ways of nurturing myself in this season, paying closer attention to keeping my “well” from running dry (and I become a heinous bitch version of myself.)

And if it’s already too late and the train has derailed, don’t worry – here is some emergency first aid. I already used it this morning. (:

The Practical Mystic

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One of the things that has been turning over in my head recently harks back to a recent post, where I wondered how it was that my personal practice could be tweaked so that I could avoid burnout and illness during and after a busy period. On a walking talk with my mother the other day, she suggested that now I am in my 40s, my daily routine may need to be tweaked to reflect my changing life. After all, she said, your 40s are a time of hard work out in the world, and these busy times are likely to become the norm. Your practice needs to incorporate filling your well so that you can embrace this time, a time that you have been preparing for over the last decade and longer, without burning out, getting sick or both.

Aha! The missing piece of understanding clicked into…

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The education of a lifetime: Karen Maezen Miller on Motherhood, Meditation and Anger

Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen priest and author of Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood, Hand Wash Cold and Paradise in Plain Sight. I have written before about her profound book, Momma Zen, and how it inspired me more than any other parenting text I have ever come across. momma zen

And this interview by Shawn Fink of the Abundant Mama project is no different. Brimming with deep wisdom, humor and humility, Karen Maezen Miller penetrates to the heart of parenting as a spiritual path and delivers in a way that is both digestible and wholly compassionate. Listen to the full episode: AMPlify Your Life, Episode 7: Karen Maezen Miller on Meditation, Motherhood and Anger

There is just so much in this interview, I note some highlights here.

Karen speaks about raising her now teen daughter, how much has changed since writing “Momma Zen” and the essential process of staying with what is. She compares her work in Momma Zen as “premature self-congratulation”.

I am in trouble if I start to think that I know what the heck I’m doing or where I am going. We are consistently set adrift, washed up shore and we need one another.

Karen and Shawn chat a bit about how in this digital age we are more connected in some ways and much more disconnected in other ways which speaks to me in a big way. While on the one hand, many moms find community in online forums, groups and on Facebook which are great ways to find and share information they can never be a replacement for real human contact. In some ways, not living as close to family or having good friends nearby can make finding your “tribe”, your support system as a new mother can be challenging. Often online images of motherhood or fear of judgement makes it harder to ask, reach out and receive help.

Karen Maezen Miller on the biggest surprise in parenthood: “The real shake up for me has been the degree to which I encumber my daughter with the job of feeding my ego or emotional needs… [realizing how] “emotionally dependent upon my daughter being happy, doing things that I liked, liking the things that I do”.

Aaaahh, this one was a zinger. As a mother to an outspoken three year old, who feels at least as entitled as any teen to delivering every opinion and performance review uncensored according to his changing mood, whim and unspoken preschooler expectations. Still, I with no other rubric to go by, I sometimes find myself relying heavily on the irrational grading system of a little person still learning how to manage his emotional weather patterns and express his needs in healthy ways. After getting frustrated with him for not wanting to put on his clothes, I walk away to take a break. He finds me a few moments later, the storm between us has passed. He climbs into my lap and I see that he has put on his shirt and socks.

“Mama, are you happy now? Do I make you happy?” he asks earnestly, his face searching mine for signs that my earlier frown has faded. I am aware of his constant gauging of me, of this dance we do of reacting to one another, pulling away and drawing together – and what I may or may not unconsciously make him responsible for.

He falls and bumps his elbow. I hold him while he cries. I offer ice, kisses, a drink of water. What would make you feel better? What do you need?  I ask, wanting to find the solution, the cure, the fix to end the discomfort. It catches me off-guard every time he answers me, annoyed with my well-meant but impertinent offerings , “No, I am cry-ing!” he says, as if it were obvious. He is already doing exactly what he needs to do. And I, in my discomfort with his discomfort, really seek to reassure my tender ego that I am the competent mother, the one who can comfort her child and ensure that moments of unhappiness are brief and remediable.

The common parental desire to control and make things easy for our kids, to keep them from struggle is something (even) Zen priest Karen Maezen Miller is not immune to. And as her daughter, at 16, begins pointing out often with alarming clarity: “It’s not always going to be easy for me, Mom.” Karen grapples with the implications of stumbling along indeed the crooked path of mothering a child-turning-adult, who without mincing words, continues to hold up a mirror for us to see even more places we have yet to let go. “If the only thing [your children] can share with you is the good news, the good times or the happy… well, that’s dishonest.”

KMM on dealing with anger as a parent:

Own your feelings. Approaching our immediate response with compassion instead of suppression (which perpetuates the feeling) or judgment is the way to extend first compassion to ourselves and all compassion begins with compassion toward ourselves. Identifying and stating our feelings out loud gives others a warning about our emotional state and gives us the chance to address what is happening in our physical/emotional body before we escalate to a place of reacting in self-defensive or aggressive ways. Taking the internal temperature without judgment, as if processing data, is how we take responsibility for our feelings without blame and recrimination for whatever we feel is the particular trigger. It gives us the chance to take space, acknowledge our unmet needs or expectations in tenderness and without attachment to a story around a particular emotional response (“If I was a more better mother, I would not feel so impatient/annoyed/angry.”)

Take what you need first in order to be able to respond in kindness. Take a breath, take time, take space. I often tell my son but less often myself: “You are allowed to have your feelings. You are not allowed to be mean or hurt yourself or other people.”

As much of motherhood goes, we don’t get accolades for those tiny moments of triumph when we chose to take three deep breaths instead of lose our temper. As KMM points out “no own is keeping score of the times I didn’t have an outburst.” Or in the words of Biz Ellis host of one of my favorite podcasts about parenting,  One Bad Mother“Parenting is hard and no one gives a shit.” Mostly, that’s true. Thankfully it also the most rewarding thing we ever do. Especially when we get to see our own growth alongside our child’s.

KMM’s offers a refreshing reminder to parents of tantruming toddlers: you’re in it too. Most parenting advice I read offers an imagine of the calm and unruffled parent patiently holding space for the outrageous emotional displays of a possibly foaming at the mouth, destructive and aggressive small child hell bent on getting you to react (my son went through a period of purposefully soiling himself in a desperate act of retaliation) but does not often acknowledge the very intense internal storm raging inside yourself. It would be great if tantrums happened only when we (the parents) were well-fed, showered, had recently slept 8 hours, didn’t have any pressing tasks or places to be or outside responsibilities, were not distracted by any other sort of physical discomfort or pain, had recently had great sex, a good workout or a fantastic date with a good friend or a good book — basically, if we felt our emotional tanks were always “full”. But we all know that toddlers and preschoolers are first are predatory creatures with a recently developed capacity for premeditated action. They have an uncanny sense of knowing when to flip their shit, bless them.

Another thing I love about Karen Maezen Miller is her lack of apology about needing space and alone time from her family. As someone who desperately needs alone time to recalibrate, I  relate to this so much. I am such a better mom when I get the chance to fill up, to take care of myself, to feed my soul and care for my spirit, body honor yourselfand mind. I’m a better mom when I get the chance to miss my kid.  KMM talks about getting away and finding retreat as a way of taking full responsibility for her own life and her own ongoing process of refinement. We simply cannot skip the part of parenting where we parent ourselves.

KMM on meditation practice as a parent:

Karen Maezen Miller’s work was one of my great catalysts to my recommitment to a daily sitting meditation after becoming a mom. KMM says, “If you say you don’t have time to meditate then the truth is you don’t.”

Here is her realistic advice on developing a meditation practice: “Don’t make it hard,” she says. “Don’t make it another thing that you can’t do, you don’t have time to do or you aren’t good at. Because that is the way you [probably] talk to yourself about a lot of things and it is self-fulfilling.”

“You have 5 minutes at the beginning of the day and you have 5 minutes at the end of the day to practice being present and aware. If you can’t sit for 5 minutes, sit for 4, if you can’t sit for 4, sit for 3.

 …You can’t be attached to somehow doing it the “right” way, or getting the maximum benefit or being “good” at it or trying to turn yourself into a saint or even a better mom. Do it because you have to do it for own wellbeing and so that you will hurt people less.”

self care

(For more about self-care practice, watch: 5 Steps for Better Self Care for Moms). You can learn more about Karen Maezen Miller’s work, online teachings and upcoming retreats and events at karenmaezenmiller.comAlso check out all the podcast episodes from AMPlify Your Life: Podcast for Busy Moms.

The only true thing.

A couple months ago I got this message from the Universe (I know, one of those). The message was that I needed to get start getting up earlier.

Now, let me tell you what the big deal is about getting up early.

I have this kid, you see. This sweet, wily, hilarious and over-the-top crazy little human who controls my life. And this little human from day one pretty much wakes up at the butt-ass-crack…no, before the butt-ass-crack of dawn because it’s like he has to get a front row seat or something. (If you are wondering when the “butt-ass-crack of dawn” exactly is, it is 4:45am. Or at least it was between 4:30 and 5am for almost a solid year. And before you start assuming anything: YES, I TRIED THAT. NO, IT DID NOT WORK. )

What I learned over that year was acceptance, sometimes through tears. But all of my resistances (which included strategies to “fix” the problem) only in the end caused suffering whereas accepting what was happening just meant that

1) I was tired.

2) It is hard being tired.

Tired is one thing, suffering is another. Tired can miserable, but suffering is what I was causing myself by trying to fight the truth of what was going on: I had a kid who woke up early no matter what we did.

But here is the truth we all know: things change. This is the one truth you can tell a new parent that is actually helpful: It will change. It always changes. Don’t try and tell them when! “Oh, when he gets to 3 months….when he gets to 6 months…a year…18 months… 2 years…” No one knows when because they don’t know your kid, they only know their own experience or worse, what they heard.  People want to help and say something positive but it is really just a set up for bitterness and despair when the promised milestone is reached and you are…. still in a shit-hole. So lets just stop doing that to parents who are having a hard time.  Let’s not even say “it will get better” (because you don’t know and sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it gets worse. Or whatever is hard is replaced by something even shittier and harder.)  Eventually, it probably will get better. But no one knows when and I have never found the idea that “better” is somewhere out in the distance floating around very comforting. It’s like telling someone who is dying of thirst, “Don’t worry, someday it will rain. Try not to die until then.”

Things change. Another way to say it is right now is the only true thing

Holding on to this has made the hard moments softer to bear and the high moments ever more sweet because I know: it may change tomorrow, in an hour, next month or in five minutes. Cultivating continuous presence is the key that unlocks the ability to see what is true right now, what needs to shift and what I know I can breathe through, and what I better slow down and soak up.

So about six months ago things shifted and the little Acorn Scout started sleeping until six … SIX!! SIX AM!!!! A fucking miracle and nothing less, let me tell you. It is life-changing. I am reborn. Out of the darkness and wretched despair of night wakings, I rise victorious and the world is a beautiful place again and I am full of love for all people. Overall, things have fallen into a comfortable routine around here these days; no major struggles with bedtime, naptime, meal time. Always on the go, always talking, the little monster is generally content and increasingly independent. My work and school schedule, as well as my partner’s schedule have settled into predictability which is really nice. I feel like we are officially out of the “baby haze” and the survival mode of the first couple years. Life has lent us a bit of reprieve from any major crisis for the moment and of course, most of all, we are all sleeping. 

So when I hear this little tug I try to swat it away. For two and a half years I have been fitting in my meditation and yoga practice where I can. A few moments here and there, and at naptime or in the evening.  Juggling work and childcare and an opposite schedule from my partner meant constantly shifting things around, like an endless puzzle where there’s the inevitable jamming together of pieces that don’t fit just right and then left over pieces with no place to go. But for awhile there’s been the feeling that I want to take my meditation practice deeper and I was still struggling to make space in the day for myself.

So this inner voice pipes up (as it will do) and tells me to start waking up at 5:15. And I immediately answer with “You are f***ing kidding me.”  

Let me skip to the end of this argument (which I lost, or won, however you look at it.) When the Universe asks something of you and you say yes, all the support you need is in full supply. I go to bed early. I am usually asleep by 9pm these days. And 5:15 is quiet. It’s sacred. It’s all mine.

By the time I hear my son stirring (6am on the dot, that kid is never late) I am in a completely different space, heart, mind and body. I am able to give from a place of fullness instead of scraping the bottom and feeling the prickly irritation of having to give more than I have. And THEN this other miracle happened: My partner and I had been trading off mornings and since I have committed to every morning he has agreed to do bedtime every night which means I suddenly have a 30 whole other minutes in the evenings to do something for myself. Holy crap! What?!

Here is my challenge to you: What is your truth right now? Not the story you are telling yourself about what things “should” be like but what is true? What is being asked of you?

Remember: the Universe never asks you to do anything without being ready to rush in with full support. 

And unexpected blessings and gifts await you. It never fails.

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Samputa mudra  – For cultivating truth (Satya)

The left hand is slightly cupped, the right hand rests on top with the fingers along the left thumb, created a space as if you held a precious treasure within your hands. Your truth. The voice of your true inner being.

Mudras are gestures of the hands, face or body that are used to evoke certain spiritual, physical or psychological qualities and have been used for over 2,000 years but they can also be found in various religious,  cultural and ritual practice around the world dating back thousands of years. The hands and fingers contain more sensory and nerve-endings than almost anywhere else in the body. This makes them a powerful tool for communicating directly to our brains and the rest of the body.  The subtle position of our hands and bodies have the capacity to alter the geometry and circuitry of the body, shifting vital energies. They are a powerful tool for any mediation practice.

When using mudras in meditation we hold the core quality of the gesture in our minds lightly and simply watch the effects on our breath, body, energy, thoughts and emotions that arise. We don’t try to change the breath or battle the thoughts or feelings that come. We just notice and gently steers our awareness back to the gesture and what we are awakening within ourselves. Because there is truly nothing we need that is not already there, waiting to be called forth.

For more an amazing resource on Mudras check out: Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lilian Le Page 

Mantras for Real Parents

Today I am reposting an article from Shawn Fink of abundantmama.com. I have come across this a couple of times in the last two years and it is simply one of those posts that is worth coming back to again and again. Just…scroll… it’s so worth the read.  Oh and by the way – these totally apply whether you have kids or not.  (:

This good stuff, ya’ll.

Real Mantras for Real Parents

by Shawn Fink

I am by no means a parenting expert. I do, however, feel pretty sure that I understand the human condition fairly well.

And, well, humans have emotions.

Now, I have always been extremely passionate. But, never in my life until I had kids did I truly understand emotions. I was an only child until I was 17 years old. I never had any enemies {that I know of!}. I was just always balanced. Happy and balanced.

Then I became a mother. Of crying babies. Of two screaming, crying babies.

It was, to say the least, emotionally exhausting. {Oh, and it’s wonderful, amazing and life-changing and all that, too!}

But, in those early days, it was, at times, depressing.

And when those babies grew into toddlers …

Frustrating. Overwhelming.

And when those toddlers grew into big kids …

Easier. Much, much easier. And yet there are still many moments where I have to bite my tongue, breathe one of those deep, through-the-ribs-kinds of breaths …

and. walk. away.

Walk Away

I believe whole-heartedly in self-talk. Some might call them mantras. I call it nurturing myself. And, while, yes, this, too shall pass … there’s a whole lot more to say to ourselves when times are emotionally challenging. These sayings help me reframe a complicated situation so that I can react in a more balanced, calm way — all necessary when trying to live mindfully.

Whatever you call them — here are the phrases that I chant in my head when things are difficult in my life {and I am not just talking about raising children right now either. I use them at work ALL THE TIME.}

10 Real Mantras for Real Parents

{Trust} I used this a lot when things in our life were uncertain. I’m using it right now as I try and build this Awake community on this blog. I use it every single day when I send my girls off to school. We used it a lot when my husband took a great job pretty far away in order to get off unemployment. I Trust that this is all bigger than me. I trust the Universe is in charge here.

{Walk Away} Yeah, I’ve found myself knee-deep in an endless argument with a 5 year old. Uh-huh. Walk away. Really. Works like a charm.

{I choose peace} It’s really very simple. I choose peace. In everything that I do. Except when I’m on the phone with Verizon. I draw the line there.

{It is what it is} If I had to pick just one, this is it. I say it all day, throughout my day and rarely for anything related to raising children. This one is almost always used at work, in my role in our community and trying to make the world a better place. It’s also the most zen saying we can utter. It’s just … well, it is what it is.

{Just be kind} When the kids are having a rough day. When they’ve been less than. Just be kind. I say it to myself. I say it to them. Just be kind. It’s really that simple. And, remarkably, when I say it to them, it churns through my being as well. I am suddenly much more patient. So, just be kind.

{And this} When things are big — very big I say this to myself. And this. Another zen saying that just allows you to soak all of the feelings and emotions and chaos into one moment.

{What am I feeling?} I tend to gloss over my own emotions, walking around just doing, doing, doing and not feeling, feeling, feeling. Ever since I started doing these emotional check-ins, I have learned how my body responds to stress. So, if the kids are acting up and I do a check in, I know what I’m feeling and what I need to do for me BEFORE I respond to them. This is also great for recognizing when you know you just need to take a break from everything. It also tells me when I need to hole myself up and write a few thousand words — to get the crankies out.

{I got this} I’m not sure but lately this has been my mantra. Truly a mantra, too. I juggle a lot of things and yet … I’ve got this. Oddly enough, I just heard the Jennifer Hudson song with these same lyrics today on my Pandora station. It was hard not to crank it up at work.

{I am enough} By now this is pretty well known thanks to Tracey Clark. Still, it’s beautiful enough to repeat here because it’s so moving. So often we beat ourselves up for not doing enough, not being enough, not feeling enough, etc. This mantra is just organically soul-nourishing. Gosh, to think … I am enough. That is a wonderful state of mind for any person, any parent.

{Breathe} In. Out. One. Two. Three. Deeply. Often. Over and Over. All the time. When things are rough. When they are not. Just take deep breaths. This really make me pause and think — again, before I respond or act.

{I am thankful} Last but not least, in this past year, I am saying this more and more. I am thankful. I am thankful to have you in my life. I am thankful for this learning moment. I am thankful for this day, this breath, this sunrise.

There you have them — 10 real mantras for real parents. They are the hug you need at the moment when no one else is around. They are ways to heal in the moment when any other kind of stress release isn’t possible. We cannot always control our situations, but we most absolutely can control our thinking.”

For more, visit Shawn’s blog here.

Mama needs space – or else!

It is getting harder and harder to practice in the morning with my now two-year old… because well, he’s TWO and its pretty much hard to do anything you want to do for more than 5 consecutive minutes or risk potentially hazardous situation.

I mean, could just open the back door and set him free in the woods – I’ve heard they are ready to be released into the wild by 24 months. (No but really, I saw this story recently: Police find 2 year old missing girl. So … yeah, losing your kid for almost 24 hours is the most terrifying thing imaginable. It really happens. It can happen really easily and some kids are found safe and some tragically are not. That being said, looking at that little girl’s expression of exhilaration in the photo and imagining her informing the cops “I love it in the woods!”brings me no end of amusement… and keeps me on my toes about my own curious little explorer. That’s not to say I don’t entertain thoughts occasionally. But I keep the back door secure.)

So lately in the morning, I have managed to get a good 5-10 minutes of sitting practice before I have to stop and pick up again later in the day — these 5-10 minutes are deliverance, by the way. If I have even one minute to sit it can be pure saving grace.

And even though I know our schedules and needs evolve and shift as life with children warrants, I refuse to give up completely on trying to sit in the mornings. Especially right now as the little Acorn Scout and I have been working on what it means to “need space” for ourselves. I hope I can teach him from early on how healthy and essential it is to have time away from other people, to regroup, to learn to be alone, to recognize his own signs of needing time with his thoughts and feelings. Especially since there is heavy indication that he’s been blessed with a double-dose of the sensitivity gene. My partner and I have discussed how we both wish we had developed this skill much earlier in our lives. Learning to exercise personal boundaries, identifying my own needs and comfort level would have been life-altering tools for me had they not remained foreign to me until well into my twenties. So we have been teaching him to use these words “I need space” asking if he “needs space” or to “take a break” at times when he’s getting frustrated or overwhelmed.

And as any mother of a toddler knows well, Mama needs space too. This is a little harder for him.

But I’ve got to model it. AND honoring my needs allows me to be there to meet his.

Today I discovered a dirty little trick to getting a little bit more time. The other thing we are working on right now (ok, for the past 15 months) is diaper changes, which he kicking-screaming-practically-foaming-at-the-mouth HATES. With only a slightly guilty conscience I have discovered  that I can wield this weakness against him for the benefit of a little more borrowed time. Just 10 or 15 minutes, say. When he approaches me I ask him if he is ready for me to change his diaper. He immediately runs away yelling “Nooooooo mama! I am PUH-WAY-ING!” (I’m playing!)

Oh my, maybe I am a terrible mom. What would Momma Zen say?? (;

~

This morning was special though.

This morning we got through the diaper change. And I set the timer. I said, “Mama is going to sit for awhile and you go play. When the timer goes ‘Beep!’ then Mama will play with you, ok?” He said “Ok.”

But five minutes later I heard him shuffle over. “Mama?”

“I want to sit with you, Mama.”

So we sat together. We listened to the morning. We watched the candle flame, we talked about it how it dances and flickers. We enjoyed stillness….for about five consecutive minutes.

But it was enough.

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(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

Somehow I’ve shifted tracks. Like a train headed in one direction but that somewhere along the way began the subtle veer toward the right until on a different track completely. It’s so easy to do. And when I finally notice, it seems I’ve traveled so far off course that some drastic action is needed to catch up, to jump the tracks and get back on schedule and muscle back through to where I was, to make up for lost time. Like overcompensating with exercise after a weekend binge. Like everything else, the answer is always to do the opposite of trying to compensate or re-prove.

The action is non-action. It is still just to stop. Breathe. Notice where I am.

Sitting with myself gives me the chance to listen to hear out the story.

Much of my time is spent answering other people’s needs, listening to their stories and solving their problems. Sometimes my own gets stifled and it takes awhile to turn up the volume on those subtle messages. Sometimes our own story gets tangled up with the narrative of the people we brush up against or come head to head with. The web gets tangled. Sometimes it takes quite awhile to unknot the emotional threads of who is who.

But sitting with my story gives me the opportunity to observe the things I have been telling myself about what is, to see the course that I’ve been on and redirect if needed. I imagine sometimes that if my brain were an actual person I was having a conversation with I would think,“Woah, this person really needs some help. Yeeesh, this conversation is a real energy drain.”

I think of it as checking my vital signs, especially when I’ve been in overdrive. “Survival mode” is simply encoded into the parent experience. We all know what it feels like to running on fumes, to be hanging on to our wits by a thread for days at a time, being forced to waive our individual needs or comforts on behalf of the whole. Though the most primitive dangers have been eradicated from modern society, we have created some new ones in their place: isolation, impossible expectations, imbalanced workloads, incongruent messages about roles, identity and the value of family. I mean, really — a lot of the time managing myself feels like a full time job, much less anything or anyone else. But most parents are familiar with pressing the “mute” button on our own ongoing drama, needs, concerns for awhile in order for things to keep running. We might disconnect but the storyline, the inward drama, is still playing out while we’re attending everyone else’s.

Meanwhile, the inner child who is whining, what about ME??? is the one that gets shut in the closet for awhile in order for me to just think straight and attend to what taking priority at the moment.  What matters I guess is that I don’t shut her up in the dark and silence too often or for too long. And that I bring her dessert later and apologize and tell her I love her and listen to her tell her story. (Actually when I think about it in these terms, this totally would not fly with Child Protection Services so I wonder how we get away with doing it to ourselves??)

The most important thing is that we keep coming back to listen. And that we always try and hear out the inner storyline withholding judgement. Let her whine and tantrum, let her mope, let her be angry, let her be too tired to feel anything, let her feel empty. And then ask her what she needs.

Sitting gives me the chance to listen to my own story. To hear myself out. Be curious. Withhold judgement. Be compassionate with myself while I sit in my own skin, right where I am.

Quietly shift gears.

Remind myself of what I want.
And just be grateful to myself for remembering.

today

(True shit, man.)

xo