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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Believe

To believe in more than ourselves and more than we can see is an amazing thing. Right now, my children's hearts are full of belief in magic, generosity, and Santa Claus.

To watch them write their lists, spend days contemplating what they will leave him for a snack, and track Santa across the world online has been a joy and a wonder. This morning Walkingstick raced upstairs in a panic to find me. He'd been online and was absolutely certain that Santa was going too slow and was not going to make to our house in time. He was desperately anxious for reassurance that he really would make it.

In an age when many children no longer believe in Santa and lose their innocence so young, I am so grateful that my sons still believe. Although they have asked many questions this year wondering how it can all happen, they truly believe in the wonder and spirit of Santa Claus. We generally encourage them to think of their own answers to how he can travel the world and it is always amazing what they come up with. They are much more creative than we would be.

We heard about a book this year called The Truth About Santa. It suggests that Santa uses all sorts of science to manage him monumental task. As we talked about warp drives taking him from one place to the next in a split second, Gigglebox had a huge aha moment. "That's why Christmas Eve always seems so long, Mom, because Santa stops time with his warp drive!"

There is always magic in the season of the Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanza. For me it is the gathering of family, the gift of time together, the light we bring to each others hearts as we move beyond our own lives to consider others, and an opportunity for all of us to consciously practice compassion.

May this season bring you much joy and may you find compassion in your heart for yourself as well as those whom you touch each day.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Compassion for ourselves

I taught a meditation workshop yesterday afternoon that was lovely and peaceful and very illuminating. I do not consider myself a meditation expert, but really enjoy introducing people to the concept of meditation and especially compassion focused meditation.

As we practiced, the theme of compassion emerged. This in the first yama of the eight-limbed path of yoga and is called Ahimsa in sanskrit. One student provided the best opportunity to demonstrate the practice of Ahimsa.

We were practice a metta blessing of loving-kindness toward ourselves. When we finished, she shared that she often struggles in life with giving too much of herself to others. During the meditation she found herself thinking of others when she was intending to focus on compassion for herself. Then, she was critical of herself for this. I so appreciate her honesty.

This is exactly what most of us do in meditation and in life. And this is the perfect moment to then practice compassion for ourselves. Recognizing that this is a pattern of thinking we have engaged in for many, many years and that we practice compassion by gently recognizing that we have strayed in our focus and returning to our intention. That is the practice and we offer ourselves opportunities everyday to recognize those moments and practice Ahimsa.

I see this harsh evaluation of missteps in myself and in my children. As a parent I try to model compassionate responses as often as I can, but definitely struggle when I'm having a difficult day. On those days I easily get caught up in the negative thoughts streaming through my mind and struggle to let go and refocus on compassion, for myself and them. The judgment creates barriers and walls between me and my children (or anyone else I am upset with), whereas compassion creates connections and understanding.

Image how the world can be different if we all work toward being more compassionate toward ourselves first, filling our own bucket, and then we can truly share that compassion with others, filling theirs. That positive energy can make such a difference in the world.

How often do you focus on cultivating compassion for yourself?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Getting stuck

Last week a friend posted a comment that she was having one of those days where she was seeing more of what she didn't have than what she did have. We all have those moments, days, or weeks where we get stuck and cannot seem to get unstuck. It seemed a simple, honest statement at the time, but it blossomed into a powerful teaching tool about perspective and attitude.

That evening one of my sons began lamenting about not getting the brownie he wanted and was nearly inconsolable with the unfairness of it all as he went to bed. The other was frustrated with a situation that wasn't going right for him at school. My friend's comment popped into my head and sparked an attitude adjustment for us all. I talked with them about having a choice to focus on what they didn't get and what went wrong or to put their attention on all the opportunities and things they did have and that had gone right. As we listed off the many positives in their day, the negatives began to seem quite small and insignificant. When offered that seemingly simple choice, both were able to move on and let go of the drama of the moment. Getting unstuck.

I so appreciate that my friend shared her struggle that day. Without her honesty I would not have had the inspiration to teach that concept to my sons. It is not easy to admit when we are struggling or stuck. I find when I do, others are there to support me and find a connection with their own struggles. Admitting frailty and failure, while difficult, helps me to be more compassionate and gentle with myself and others, and to remember to embrace all that I do have.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The allure of whipped cream

The pies of Thanksgiving always have me thinking about whipped cream. Yum! The whipped cream also reminds me of two great stories.

A few weeks ago my oldest son had a cold. To decrease the mucus with the cold I usually eliminate dairy from his diet for a few days. Unfortunately, the day he got sick, Dad came home with pie, ice cream, and whipped cream. He had pie, but not the toppings and was none to happy with Mama about that. I promised him I would let him have a bowl full of both ice cream and whipped cream for a treat when he was feeling better, but apparently he wasn't quite convinced I would follow through.

A couple of days later I was coming down the stairs and he came scurrying toward me from the kitchen and gave me a big hug. I didn't think too much about it, but a couple a minutes later he came back to me and told me he had to confess. Unbeknownst to me, he had been sneaking whipped cream from the container in the refrigerator when I came down the stairs. He said he didn't think I would really let him have some when he was better, so he had been sneaking big scoops of it with his hands.
He was really worried I'd be mad at him. Instead I surprised him by laughing and hugging him, then sharing with him my own story of succumbing to the allure of whipped cream.

As a little girl I had the good fortune to spend a great deal of time with my Grandma. Much of that time was also spent with my dear cousin GB. Every afternoon Grandma would take a nap for an hour or two and GB and I were supposed to rest, watch TV, or play quietly. Being curious girls we frequently found ourselves up to our eyeballs in trouble instead. Grandma had a variety of items around the house that we found quite irresistible and would frequently sneak while she was napping. The most infamous was the Cool Whip in the freezer.

GB and I loved Cool Whip and Grandma always kept a few containers in the freezer for family dinners. Once we discovered this, we made it a habit to slip into the freezer, open a container, and scrap a spoon or our fingers across the top for a little taste. We would smooth the top evenly and one time left the thinnest layer possible in the bottom of the bowl to make sure we hadn't eaten the whole thing. Somehow we fooled ourselves into believing Grandma wouldn't notice. Well, she definitely noticed!

As adults when the pies and the whipped cream came out at Thanksgiving, Grandma would tell the story of going to the freezer to get the Cool Whip and discovering the all but empty container. We tried to defend ourselves, but usually ended up laughing and confessing countless other ridiculous things we'd done while Grandma was napping. The afternoons with GB and Grandma telling that story are some of my favorite memories.

After hearing this story, my son was relieved that he was not the only one to feel the allure of whipped cream and excited that I had shared the story with him.  It was a wonderful moment of connection for the two of us. I was so proud of him for being honest with me and relieved that I had been able to handle the situation with grace and humor.

I love these moments of confident parenting when it all seems to come together. They make the frequent times of struggle much more bearable and remind me that I can be the parent I want to be, but I don't have to be perfect (and neither do my kids).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A nostalgic heart

Being one of those people to whom nostalgia comes easily, I frequently struggle with not clinging to the past. The practice of Aparigraha allows me to raise my awareness of this and to work toward being present each moment here and now. Holidays seem especially challenging for me in this practice.

As I reflect this Thanksgiving morning on all the blessings of my life, my heart is both full and saddened. I have so much for which to be thankful and yet part of me longs for those Thanksgivings of old. So many precious memories of grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, foods, afternoon naps, football games, loud rounds of cards, and most of all laughter and joy. Nothing was every perfect, but it is so sweet to soften those edges of memory by letting go of the imperfections.

And as I write, the big ah-ha moment comes...the non-clinging, aparigraha, has to do with both the good and the bad. I so often think of it only as clinging to what I want, forgetting that forgiveness and letting go of difficult times is a vital part of the practice. By not holding on to the hurt, we allow old wounds heal making room in our heart for more love and kindness.

I see this same nostalgic heart in both of my boys. It surfaces as they struggle to give away old books or toys they no longer use, pictures they drew, crafts they made, or even sticks and rocks they found on hike one day. The memories of the day and the people to whom they connect those objects create such strong attachments for them. They often feel as though they will lose that memory and connection if they no longer have the object. As I look at the objects around our house that were my grandmothers or my moms, I'm thinking it must be in our genes.

Today I am missing my grandma and the home her heart provided me.  I feel myself holding on, clinging to the desire to have it all like it was before. But as I listen to my sons chatting, watch them enjoy the Thanksgiving Day parade that my grandfather loved, smell the foods of the day beginning to simmer, I realize that like every Thanksgiving, this one too will be its own special day. It will have memories and experiences we will talk about for years to come. I just don't know yet what they'll be.

I continue to strive to be present for each moment, honoring the old memories while creating new ones. Living the practice and modeling that for my sons.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Having enough

I just read a blog by Anne at About Freelance Writing about sufficiency. Living with what we have and recognizing that what we have is enough. It is a powerful reminder for all of us. In yogic philosophy we call this practice Aparigraha.

I have been contemplating this practice a good deal over the past few weeks. Wondering if we are teaching our children what we really want them to learn in relation to having enough. We talk about it, but do we practice it?

As we approach the holiday season we are bombarded by catalogs full of fabulous treats and toys we all would enjoy but most likely don't need. Typically, the boys pour over them creating huge lists of things they want. They become overwhelmed and aparigraha is the farthest thing from their minds. This year I've taken to tossing the catalogs into recycling before they can even take a peek. It has taken the focus off all that stuff and decreased the clutter around the house. It has helped all of us stay more grounded.

The next challenge is how to move into all the holiday celebrations and maintain this practice. Stay tuned to see how we do and feel free to share any of your ideas.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spreading the joy

My sons are participating in a choir this fall for the first time. They have always loved to sing, so we thought we'd try this out.

Every week when they leave choir practice they are grinning from ear to ear and seem like they are walking on air. There is something transforming about singing for them. I noticed this from the beginning and have mentioned it frequently to friends and family. As I was emailing the choir director today, I realized I had not mentioned it to her.

So, I shared my observations and her response floored me. She replied, "Thanks for your wonderful email - made my day!"

I'm always surprised how much those little positive reinforcements make such a big difference.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lessons from the Universe

I am known for telling other people that their illnesses are their bodies way of telling them to slow down, listen, or take a look inside. Being like most people, however, it is always easier to see these things from the outside than from the inside.

Last week I started getting sick. I kept going a bit, but did take a couple of days off of work. I thought I was getting better, so charged ahead again only to find myself worse off than I was before within a very short time. Still not quite getting it, I tried to keep up with my regular routine until the chills and fever sent me to bed...for hours.

Even though I know I should just stop, I continue to think I can do a little bit more than I am. Case in point, I'm sitting here at the computer writing when my body is telling me to take a nap before the boys get home from school.

Some lessons take longer than others to learn. The universe usually gives us lots of opportunities to practice the ones with which we are struggling. So, rather than continue on, I think I'll listen to the universe, my body, and my own advice and go take a nap. :)

What lessons does the universe keep sending your way?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Just Bee

I love the Bee Movie. It has so many awesome lessons on relationships, the environment, standing up for what's right, and unintended consequences.

We had the pleasure of watching it this evening and just being. (Pun intended!) I so often am running around the house taking care of little details or working on the computer that I forget to just sit down and be with my family.

As we were all snuggled up tonight I practiced savoring each moment of being together. Recognizing that these were magical moments together, all of us content and relaxed, enjoying a favorite movie and each other.

What was your last magical moment?

How to learn the rules of the game

Last year walking stick decided to buy himself a game of chess with his Christmas gift card. He didn't really know how to play, but set about learning through a variety of paths.

He read the rules that came with the game, though those are now long gone. Played games against his parents, who never really learned how as kids so weren't much help. Played against his little brother, which often ended in tears and arguments. Played Chess Lite on my iPhone, while waiting for swimming lessons, car repairs, and little brother's choir practice. Played endless hours of games against himself, my personal favorite. And found a few friends who would play chess at school or on play dates.

Now, eleven months later, he feels fairly proficient in his understanding of the basics of chess. He still tends to recite rules as he remembers them or, as we perceive, as they benefit him the most. Typical nine year old stuff. So when the arguments begin as he plays with his brother, he feels he is now the chess expert. What's a mom to do without the trusty rule book to employ?

I love Google! In less than a minute I've got a chess rules website with descriptions of what each piece can do, visual demonstrations, and information on a few special moves. End of argument! Next step is to teach them how to gently and compassionately remind each other of the rules. Thank goodness I'm a social worker and have years of practice at that! Teach, model, supervise, recognize, re-teach, and on we go...

Infinite Possibilities

I look at my boys everyday and wonder what amazing things they will do as they grow older. Every day I see them learn and grow and change. The possibilities for what they will become are endless. As I glanced through The Parent's Tao Te Ching I came across this section:

At birth your children are filled with possibilities.
It is not your job to limit these possibilities.
Do not say, "This and that are possible for you.
These other things are not."
They will discover on their own what is and is not possible.
It is your job to help them stay open
to the marvelous mysteries of life.


It may be interesting to ask,
"What limitation have I, unthinking, 
taken upon myself?"
It is very difficult for your child's horizons
to be greater than your own.
Do something today that pushes
against your own preconceptions.
Then take your child's hand
and gently encourage her to do the same.

How do you encourage your children to find their gifts and talents and be true to themselves?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Highs and Lows

Our meditation reading this week was, "Don't be swayed by external circumstances." Easy to say, not so easy to do.

There are so many things in our lives we cannot control and perhaps not even influence. We can be tossed about on a current of emotions if we let our center be guided be the whims of loved ones, strangers, or events across the world. On the other hand, we may appear cold-hearted if we don't respond at all to the joys and tragedies happening around us.

So how can we be responsive and keep our balance at the same time?

I remember reading an interview with the Dalai Lama. He was asked if he ever gets angry? His response was that of course he does. But rather than hold on to that anger, he said he lets it touch his heart lightly and lets it go. It is the same with every emotion and experience.

I try to practice this (emphasizing the word practice!) and to teach this to my children. As they struggle with peers, teachers, or circumstances beyond their control, it is a good lesson to keep your balance by finding your center. Experiencing and observing what arises without clinging to it. When we get swept away by the struggles or the successes in our lives, we can crash hard when things do not end up exactly as we thought they would. Things that seem positive can have unintended negative consequences. Things that seem negative may have a silver lining.

We can only be here in this moment as present as possible, observing, learning, experiencing, and moving on to the next.

Do you know where your center is? Do you know when you are grounded? How?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Yoga teachers in the making

We had so much fun at our family yoga class this week. I am definitely not the only yoga teacher in the family! My boys are naturals.

Walking Stick has been coming to my Saturday morning adult classes and taught tree pose nearly verbatim to how I teach it in class. He sounded like he been teaching it for years, giving all the variations and options for extensions.

Giggle Box's expertise was helping with alignment. He was able to see the slight postural changes that could help someone improve their pose or make the adjustment I had given verbally. He is not always able to feel that in himself, but could easily see it in others.

When they were younger I was often frustrated in our family yoga classes because they would want to take over and change the directions I was giving. Before we started this session, I talked with them about this frustration. Giggle Box told me that he thought he was the teacher of the class and that is why he was always trying to take over. Too bad I didn't get it sooner, but this time we planned for them to have some leadership and it made all the difference.

It was a good lesson for me to remember that I don't always have to be the director. I've got two fabulous leaders growing before my eyes and they have a lot to teach me as well.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

By how many miles?

A sense of humor is a fabulous thing!

This evening as we drove home from hours of choir practice we were all a little slap happy. For tangential reasons I cannot recall at the moment we were trying to remember the last of the seven dwarfs. We racked our brains we began coming up with all sorts of goofy options. As we went on, the suggestions got closer and closer to that line of inappropriateness and I remarked, "You're getting close to crossing the line."

Walking Stick made one more suggestion and Giggle Box replied, "That definitely crossed the line." I agreed and then he said, "By how many miles?!!" We all burst out laughing at that little moment of literal wit.

I so enjoy laughing with my boys and finding the humor in the little things in life. When we can let go of the things we cling to, we can be present to find those moment when absurdity and humor lightens the load. Thank goodness they are here to help me with that!

What do your kids do that makes you laugh?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Can we teach insight?

Insight is an amazing gift that allows us to reflect and move forward. As a mom I often find myself trying to give my children a different perspective that will bring them the insight they need. Sometimes I think I hit the mark and other times they have no idea what I am talking about. Then, a little glimmer appears and I think maybe I'm doing something right along the way.

This evening giggle box very unexpectedly walked up to me and said, "Mama, sometimes I overreact to  walking stick." I was stunned. We've been working on these reactions for months. Talking about it, planning ahead, reflecting, role-playing...and nothing seemed to stick much. So this bit of out of the blue reflection gives me some hope that all this may be working after all.

It's a good reminder for me that we all have to get things in our own way at our own time. We can be told information over and over, but until we are ready to hear it we don't. Until it makes sense to us and is meaningful, we can't use it.

More lessons in patience for mama.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The world is a classroom

As I was writing the Mama Drama column this week, I noticed a thread related to taking advantage of the opportunities life presents. I have used the world, our community, and the people in it to teach my children lessons and morals since they were old enough to listen. I am so grateful for all the people in the world who make both smart choices and the occassional mistakes in public that I can use as teaching moments for my children. Driving is prime time for teaching in our family.

Before my boys even sat on a bike they were made fully aware of the importance of helmets as we drove through the city. I would say things like, "I'm so glad that boy is wearing his helmet. That will keep him safe." Or, "I hope he gets home safely. It is dangerous to ride without a helmet." Mistakes give me a bonus to model compassion along with noting the correct behavior expected. I knew it was working when those same statements came out of my boys' mouths as we traveled around.

As I drove the boys to school this snowy morning on the icy roads, I had several opportunities to plant seeds for future behaviors. We talked about starting out slowly to see how icy the roads were, taking our time because it was more important to get there safely even if we were late, and appreciatively noticing the safe steps other drivers were taking to keep themselves and us safe. I hope these lessons will stay in their thoughts as they grow up and become drivers themselves.

It is all too easy, however, to miss the opportunity for positive modeling and to fall into traps of impatience or frustration. I work to keep these moments far fewer than the others, but I am human so am also working on being compassionate with myself when they do occur.  Additionally, recognizing my own mistakes and talking with my children about them, is just as important as modeling the better choices. Can't having them thinking I'm perfect or that they need to be.  So when I get impatient and cranky with the driver ahead of me, I try to step back, admit that I'm overreacting and have no control over their choices, take some breaths, and get back to being present where I am.

The world provides countless learning opportunities for my children and also for me.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cultivating compassion

The Dali Lama teaches that through our thoughts and reactions we create our own suffering. That cultivating compassion for ourselves and others helps us to lessen this suffering so we can experience more joy. I had the opportunity for a little "aha!" about this teaching this week.

My little giggle box is often slow moving in the morning and needs a good deal of time, support, and at times cajoling to get himself ready. As our schedule for this week, at home and school, was going to be a bit taxing, I expected he would need more support. Therefore, I consciously planned that into my morning for the week.

On Friday, however, giggle box awoke very alert and seemingly moving at a good pace on his own. Consequently, and mostly unconsciously, I shifted my expectations. I began working from the perspective that he was perfectly capable of managing his morning routine without the extra supports I had been giving him. Didn't notice that big red flag waving in my face, so suffering ensued for all of us.

After a start of independence, giggle box began to struggle with getting things done. Since I had shifted my thinking about his needs for support, providing this support became an annoyance instead of an expectation. My preconcieved notion about his ability to manage his morning independently led me to perceive his behavior as a problem. Thus, I became frustrated and irritated without even realizing why. We muddled through our morning grouchily and I felt dumbfounded about what had made this morning so different.

Later in the day as I grumbled to my friend about our frustrating morning, the Dali Lama's teaching popped into my head. I realized that nothing about the morning had been dramatically different than any other day that week except for my perspective on what my giggle box should or should not be doing independently! I created my own suffering and frustration by the way I looked at the situation.

I also realized that I probably do this every day about many things. Creating my own suffering about all the situations that interfere with my plans and expectations. While I am working on this through my meditation practice, I am sure that most of the time I don't even notice how my thinking influences my reactions. Yet another reminder that this is what being present is all about. Feeling, thinking, doing, being in the moment, not from old patterns.  Consciously choosing how I will act and react. Noticing the old patterns of thinking that send me down that road of frustration and choosing a different, more compassionate path.

When we listen with our hearts full of compassion, we can respond full of compassion. It takes practice and attention and being present, but we can be successful one moment at a time. We will also fail and those are our opportunities to practice compassion for ourselves.

Namaste

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Raising a compassionate heart

As a social worker and a yoga teacher, empathy and compassion are always in the forefront of my mind as I navigate through life. I have worked to weave this perspective into my parenting over the years and this week discovered that you really do reap what you sow.

My dear grandmother died a year ago this week. I have missed her greatly, but she had an amazing life and was just shy of ninety when she died. I have been thinking about this anniversary coming for several weeks, but had not mentioned it to my sons.

As the morning of this anniversary dawned I wavered on talking about it with them, not wanting to upset them as they headed off to school. After much thought,  I decided to share this information them because they were so close to her and are such intuitive children that they would know something was up.

As we talked, both of their faces saddened, but neither became too upset. I expected them to say something about how much they missed her, but to my surprise they both responded with care and concern for how I was feeling.

They gave me hugs and then walking stick, with his big lovely heart, said to me, "You know where she is mom...right there." With that he pointed to my heart. As you can imagine big tears rolled down my cheeks. She is in my heart, and in theirs, and her love and kindness will be with us always.

Sharing, teaching, and modeling empathy and compassion are some of the greatest gifts we can give to our children and ourselves. It doesn't mean we never feel angry or frustrated, we just try to use compassion and empathy to work through it and to see what is on the other side.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Babies don't drive cars

My darling niece, Nutmeg, turned sixteen a few weeks ago (and may be mortified that I am writing this blog after she reads it although I did use an alias, albeit an easily decoded one [@Nutmeg: there are fun words in that sentence just for you ;)]). She was beyond thrilled to be getting her driver's license and hitting the road on her own. Her mom, on the other hand, was experiencing a bit of ambivalence, to say the least.

Nutmeg is a very responsible, level-headed girl. She has good judgement, common sense, and is an excellent driver. My husband even trusted her with his brand new car after she'd only been driving with her permit a few months. That said, in her mama's heart she is still that little baby she brought home from the hospital sixteen years ago.

Upon contemplating the prospect of her baby driving from Boulder to Westminster...on the highway...in the evening...by herself, the mama bear inside started to rise up. She emailed me, "Babies aren't supposed to drive away from their mamas!" And she is absolutely right! Except that her baby is now sixteen and is supposed to drive away, but also to come home.

So how do we let go without going crazy? Little by little. By practicing Aparigraha (Sanskrit for non-clinging). Learning when to hold on and when to let go, when to supervise and when to trust, taking small risks and leaps of faith, teaching our children the skills they need and recognizing that each little step of independence is a letting go.

For Nutmeg, that whole year of driving with a permit was part of this process...plus the fifteen years of parenting she received before that. Her parents have built a fabulous foundation and strong roots for her, the sky is the limit for how and where she will grow. As parents we work to build that strong foundation day by day and then have to trust that our kids will use those roots to ground themselves as they test out their wings and fly (or in this case drive). We are still there to catch them when they stumble or fall and help them work through their mistakes. Little by little means just that, baby steps for the kids and the parents. We are all learning together.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sweet Mama's Boys

My boys have always been mama's boys. Some might think that's a bad thing, but I love the close bond we have together. Now they definitely adore their daddy, love to spend time with him, and revel in their weekly boys' night when I go to teach yoga and they get to do boy things. But deep in their hearts they are mama's boys. This week they both turned on the sweet talk to show me just that at very unexpected times.

My little giggle box and I have an hour or so each week when we hang out together while big brother is at choir practice. This week we were chatting and snacking when out of the blue he turned to me and said, "Mom, you mean everything to me." There was such earnestness in his face and voice, it nearly brought me to tears. His little heart was on his sleeve and mine just melted. Later when I was tucking him in he said it again. Adding, "I really mean it, Mom."

The next day, coincidentally, big brother turned on his charm. He was out in the yard playing one variety of ball or another, as is usually at our house. I came out to enjoy the sunshine and began to admire the fall flowers in our garden. Between the mums, hyacinths, and roses, the shades of pink and red were stunning. I commented on how beautiful the flowers were and my silver tongued walking stick turned to me with his big brown eyes and said, "The only flower I see is the one standing next to me." I laughed, as usual, and gave him a big hug. As cheesy as it was, at that moment it was the sweetest thing I'd ever heard.

I am so grateful to have these two sweet boys with their big hearts and tenderness. They help me remember to be in the moment as present as I can be, taking in all that they and life has to offer. They will continue to grow and become more and more independent, but as they do I trust that they will continue to have that special place in their hearts for their mama.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Laughing too much?

Occasionally my boys tell me that I laugh too much and wonder if I'll ever stop laughing. (Although, they also say other people don't laugh enough and they certainly don't like it when I don't laugh and get cranky!) When it's just us, apparently all this laughing is not a big deal. However, when the friends are around...sometimes we get a little self-conscious.

This morning as we chatted in the hall with one of the friends, my little one leaned in and whispered, "Don't embarrass me, Mom." I whispered back, "How would I do that?" He replied, "By laughing too much." I reigned it in a bit and wondered to myself, "Doesn't he remember I'm Laughing Yoga Mama?" LOL

But seriously, it was a good reminder for me that sometimes I can be overwhelming with my big laugh and personality. School is his place, so I'm a bit more of a background than center stage. He's Mr. Charisma in the classroom and I don't want to upstage him. When he's missing me or needs a boost, though, he is more than willing to put on a big show with me. Like at the end of the day when barrels toward me at full tilt or jumping up to hug me when I visit the classroom to help out.

I am most appreciative (and hope I can take just a teensy bit of credit for it) that my sweet little boy leaned in with a respectful whisper to handle his worry, instead of any number of other less kind ways he could have handled his feelings. I'm so glad he appreciates his laughing yoga mama, but can ask for quiet yoga mama when he needs her.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Finding balance

Flipping through The Parents Tao Te Ching this evening I came to Number 42 - Finding Balance. It fits so much for this day of imperfection and struggling with what is or isn't and how to best be there in those difficult moments.

There are so many paradoxes in parenting
that it is difficult to find balance.
Some don't even try.
They just plunge ahead 
ignoring the subtle whispers of wisdom.
Others try half-heartedly, but resort to old methods
when they get confused.
But some hear wisdom's quiet voice
and make it their own. 


They find strength in softness,
power in flexibility,
perfection in mistakes,
success n failure,
clarity in confusion,
and love in letting go.
                *

Parenting paradoxes abound.
Don't let appearances deceive you.
Things may not be at all as they seem.
What's going on with your children right now?
Are you sure?
Or are you just making assumptions?
Buried in the most difficult of times are polished gems.
Lurking beneath serene surfaces 
lie turbulent waters.
Stay balanced.

Namaste

Monday, September 21, 2009

Don't expect applause

Seemed like any other ordinary day today as we started off for school, but it ended with an unexpected gift of kindness.

Upon entering his classroom my little giggle box's teacher asked me about an activity they were doing for math. They were going to use plain M&Ms to do some graphing and with his peanut allergy wanted to make sure this was okay. We decided to have him do the activity on a separate tray - not his desk - and to use gloves so that he didn't touch them. (He'd had an odd reaction last week to an unknown substance on the swings, so we were cautious.)

After school giggle box was telling us about the activity and how he used plastic bags on his hands as they couldn't find gloves. He thought this was very funny. Then he exclaimed, "Oh, I almost forgot!" He lifted up his backpack and pulled out a paper towel all wrapped up and taped. "I saved these for you," he said handing the package to his big brother.

Inside were the M&Ms from his math activity. Big brother walking stick was touched and amazed that his little brother would be so thoughtful. They reached across the seats to hug as best they could all strapped in with seat belts and had the sweetest expressions of love and gratitude on their faces. I was welling up with tears as I peeked at them through the rear view mirror.

Walking stick pledged to bring giggle box something the next time he had a class activity involving food. I recalled aloud that he had done just that last year during his cooking class at school. I have always tried to help him understand that they way he treats his little brother is how he can teach his little brother how he wants to be treated. Today was a perfect example of that kindness returned; unexpectedly and without request.

Last week's meditation phrase from Pema Chodron was, "Don't expect applause." Give for the sake of giving. Do for others without expecting anything in return. Walking stick did just that last year and was rewarded unexpectedly with the love and kindness of his brother today.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Grasshopper and the beginner's mind

As I watch my boys find the wonder in a grasshopper hanging on the edge of a chair on our patio, I am reminded of the openness of a child's mind and spirit. My sweet boys have shown me this so many times over the years, although I do not always recognize it right away.

My youngest son and I went walking at a nature preserve this morning. As we strolled along the path the scent of sun warmed earth washed over me, bringing me back to my childhood. I stopped and brought the scent to my son's attention. He drew in a deep breath through his nose and said, "Mom, that smells wonderful!" Then, to my surprise, he told me he was really wanting to cry and was trying to hold back his tears. When I inquired as to why, he replied, "It's just so beautiful." Then my tears began to flow with him.

It is easy to forget that our children have not had all of the experiences we have had. It is easy to discount their wonder. It is so utterly fulfilling to step inside that wonder to see a grasshopper hanging on the edge of the chair as if for the first time again.

Being present in this moment with our beginner's mind. Remembering we have seen grasshoppers and smelled the earth many times in our lives, but we have not see this grasshopper or smelled this patch of earth in this moment ever before. Allowing ourselves to see, hear, feel, and touch whatever our experiences are free of the judgement and expectations that prevent us from being fully present.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Allowing vs. struggling

I've been reading a book that was sitting on my bed stand collecting dust for longer than I care to admit (so I won't) called Stretching Lessons by Sue Bender. It leaped out at me from the shelf at Barnes and Nobles some time ago so I bought it. Apparently, I've been a bit resistive to reading it as I've even packed it on a few trips, but never managed to crack it open...until this week of course. I guess we really can only hear (or in this case read) the things we need to when we are really ready.

The content that has struck a chord with me is Sue's realization that she continually struggles for all of her successes, even when she doesn't need to. She discusses taking a "stretching class" and is opened to the possibility of allowing things to happen rather than struggling with them.

As I struggle with the demands and challenges of motherhood, I am realizing that I really do too often struggle. This seems especially true as the boys get older. I'm pushing and pulling and trying to get to some destination that apparently is not such a big priority for everyone else. This concept of allowing instead of struggling seems like a good next step to practice. I'm pretty good at the struggling, so a new skill seems like a good idea.

As I listened to one of my favorite authors, Pema Chodron, today this concept came up again. She described how everything becomes so small and narrow when we have pain and struggle against it rather than facing it. This is so amazingly true! My view is unbelieveably narrow when the sock on the floor, the dishes on the counter, or the time on the clock are the only things I can see. My vision without my glasses really is nearsighted, but I can apparently still be nearsighted even with my glasses on!

So, how do I go about practicing allowing? I guess the first step is to notice when I'm struggling. From there I can begin to step back, broaden my perspective, open my heart, and practice allowing. I'm thinking laughing is going to be a big part of this process. Laughing at myself and the crazy things I get worked up about will be a great first step. Onward, I go...(giggle, giggle)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Giggle box and walking stick cut a rug

A couple of weeks ago we were at a reception celebrating my cousin's wedding. When the dancing music came on little giggle box said, "Come dance with me, Mama." So off we went. We spun and twirled and shook our hips. Then he turned on the real show and started his fast tapping feet with the wild arm accompaniment. It was so cute and funny and really proud of himself.

Initially, big brother walking stick said he was only a "one foot dancer." He demonstrated by sliding his right foot to the side and back several times. What a goof ball! When giggle box found himself in the center of a large circle showing off his moves, walking stick decided it was time to get into the act. He slipped onto the dance floor and began to draw the crowd toward him. Feeling the rhythm, he created moves I'd never seen before. What a hoot to watch him experiment and strut his stuff.

My little giggle box was a bit under the weather and did not have the stamina to keep up with big brother. After getting his groove on for a while, he got a foot rub from mama and a snuggle from dad and crashed.

Walking stick continued on for a couple of hours working the crowd. He was so engaging with his dancing that at one point the wedding photographer took him off to the side for his own little photo shoot. I cannot wait to see those pictures!

There is something about dancing that allows us to explore and create. It was a delight to see the freedom my boys felt as they slid, shimmied, stomp, and swayed to the beat. When we put down our armor and flow with the music, our souls revel in the joy of the moment.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The results are in

I approached the weekend with limited voice and energy, but much attention to my own behavior to try to figure out this whole following directions mystery.

The first thing I noticed is that when I didn't have much voice, I had to make sure I had my children's full attention before giving them directions. (Big light bulb! How many times have I given that advice?!) I didn't have the option to holler up the stairs or even talk across the room, I had be next to them and have eye contact. At work I call that increasing proximity (love the fancy words) and model it all the time.

The next impression I had was that when my boys knew I wasn't feeling well, their empathy meters were in high gear. They were worried about me and a bit scared, so were really paying attention to what I was saying and needing. This level of vigilance is not advisable on a daily basis (it's called neurosis), so it is both positive and exasperating that they do not feel the need to hang on my every word every minute of every day.

My final bit of insight came from our dinner conversation this evening. When discussing a family outing we had this morning, my husband asked the boys why they did not stop a particular behavior when they had been asked to stop. They acknowledge hearing the direction and even recognizing that others were not enjoying their behavior. The insight came when they indicated that at the moment they were asked to stop, they were enjoying the behavior so much those other factors didn't really matter. Just what we've always suspected, but could never before prove!

So what have I learned from my weekend research? First, practice what I preach...have their full attention before saying anything I actually want them to hear and respond to. Second, remember that their little heads are full of thoughts and ideas that have nothing to do with me most of the time. Third, sometimes they are getting so much from their behavior that I need to be even more creative with my incentives to get them to stop.

It comes down to that relentless being present mantra. Being present with my words and actions, being present with their needs, and taking the time to assess the situation and respond in this moment, rather than having an automatic response that they automatically ignore anyway.

Some days I do this better than others. The good news is that I have plenty of opportunities to practice every day! 

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Parenting with a whisper

It's amazing to me how sweet and cooperative my sons have been while I have had laryngitis. What voice I have sounds like a whisper and I'm using clapping, tapping, gestures, and sign language to communicate. They are being helpful and responsible, following directions, taking the initiative to get things done, and trying to take care of me.

Last year when I lost my voice they both told me they thought I was going to die. I assured them I wouldn't die from laryngitis, but I'm wondering if that was buzzing around in their heads as they became oh so helpful the last few days. "If we are nice enough to mama, maybe she'll get her voice back and she won't die."

I was with some dear friends last night when one of them posed the question, "Why do my kids stop when I say 'that's enough,' but not when I ask them to stop the two times before then." As I noticed this recent increase in compliance with my own children, I wondered the same. What is it that is different when we are sick or exasperated that gets them to stop? And how can we bottle that so it happens all the time? Are we doing something different or are they?

Perhaps our children are better at reading us than we think they are. Perhaps we don't deliver the first message with the same intent, therefore they perceive a bit of wiggle room. Maybe we aren't fully engage or attentive with the first request or directive. Maybe they tune in more when we are sending out different signals. Maybe I should do some research!

I'm going to attempt to observe myself over the next few days with my limited voice and as it fully recovers to see what I'm doing differently that they are interpreting in my tone or body language. My mini research project for the weekend.

Stayed tuned for the results...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mama's voice

So I have my annual back to school cold that is starting to drop down into my vocal chords and turn into laryngitis. This is the fourth year in a row this has happened and I am beginning to wonder what it is the universe is trying to tell me with this ailment. I have clearly not gotten it so far!

Is it about finding my voice, using my voice, not using my voice, listening to my inner voice, listening and not talking...the possibilities seem endless.

Goodness know my boys hear my voice enough, maybe too much! That's a vote for the listening more, talking less.

I've been searching for way to find and share my voice through writing, like this blog. Maybe that's it, more writing. I do enjoy sharing all the nutty adventures of my boys and the amazing insight with which they provide me and I hope you readers enjoy it, too.

I use my voice to teach yoga - lots of talking, but just started teaching a meditation class this week - no talking. Maybe that balance of talking/no talking is it.

The vocal chords are at the fifth chakra.  "5th Chakra: Throat: Tied to creativity and communication.
Feels pressure when you are not communicating your emotions properly." (from http://www.crystalinks.com/chakras.html) That seems pretty interesting.

Lots to ponder as I begin my time of a quiet voice. At least my fingers can't get laryngitis and I can still write!

If you have any thoughts, please share. :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Still a rookie mom

I came across a book today called The Rookie Mom's Handbook. It is based on a blog by two moms who share ideas about things to do with your baby throughout the first year. As I pondered this very cute and entertaining guide, I began to wonder when we move on from being rookie moms?

When my oldest son was born everything that happened was new and I felt like I faced each day's challenges in a very mindful and present manner. I definitely knew I was a rookie mom. When my second son was born I realized that while I had the experiences from my first son, I couldn't do things exactly the same because he was a different child and had different needs. I found that when I would get frustrated I was often expecting my son to act or respond differently than he was. I wasn't being present in that moment, I was expecting it to be like some other moment I had experienced or wished for. I didn't always look like a rookie mom to others, but I was definitely a rookie at being a mom to my second son and a rookie at being a mom of two.

In some meditation traditions we are taught to practice staying in our beginner's mind. This concept helps us to keep ourselves in the present moment, rather than slipping into old patterns. If we are in our beginner's mind, all experiences are new and unique. We can be observant and make choices based on the current situation without dragging in all of our history. I think a rookie mom perspective is very much a beginner's mind perspective.

Even though my sons are nine and seven, I still feel like a rookie mom much of the time. They continue to grow and change and every day is full of new experiences. The days are also full of experiences that are very familiar like getting ready for school, eating meals, preparing for bed, etc. The challenge through those familiar tasks is to maintain that rookie mom or beginner's mind perspective. If I can do that and remain present in the current moment, I can respond to my children as they are right now in this moment with compassion. When I forget to "be here, now," I find myself much less compassionate and much more impatient.

Parenting is a practice, just as yoga and meditation are practices. We practice every day beginning where we are, listening to the messages our bodies (and our children) send us, and knowing that each time we practice we are a little bit different. Each day, each practice is different, even though much of it feels familiar. Be present. Be here, now. Breath by breath. Moment by moment. Just be.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Too Perfect

I try to remember how important it is that our children know we make mistakes and that we aren't perfect. When they are teenagers this is no problem, we can't do anything right at that stage. :) When they are younger, though, we parents seem infallible and that can be pretty intimidating.

One evening my oldest son was lamenting about how he never does anything right and that he is always making mistakes. (He definitely inherited the perfectionist gene.) I gave him my line about expecting kids to make mistakes because that is how they learn and that everyone makes mistakes. This night he wasn't buying it and exclaimed that I never make mistakes. Overcoming the urge to burst into hysterical laughter, I thought to myself, "If he only knew." Then I realized he didn't know.

I asked him if he knew how many mistakes I had made that day. He replied, "None!" I proceeded to begin at my waking moments and list off every tiny little mistake I had made that day. Not getting out of bed right away, so I had to rush; not remembering if I put conditioner on my hair, so I had to redo it to make sure; forgetting my shoes upstairs; leaving my phone in the house, etc., etc. I went through the whole day describing all the small mistakes I had made and things I had forgotten. He was truly amazed and so was I!

We went on to talk about learning from those mistakes and taking steps to prevent them from happening again. We also focused on the importance of being gentle with ourselves when we do make mistakes. Calling ourselves names and expecting the worst only makes us feel worse. Learning from our mistakes, making changes, and apologizing when necessary help us to change those patterns.

It is critical for me to let my children know when I have made mistakes, to admit when I am wrong, and to apologize to them. They won't know how to do this if I don't show them and they'll continue to expect themselves to be perfect. High expectations are important, but the expectation of perfection can be destructive and paralyzing.

Many of us put on a really good show of having it all together and being perfect. It's easy to assume by just casually observing that we never make mistakes. I think we've learned to compensate and adjust, not making a big deal about our mistakes, and moving on.

My son and I came up with a little saying that we use now and again to remind us to be gentle with ourselves and others, "I am perfectly imperfect and that's perfectly fine." It helps on those hard days when nothing seems to be going right and is an important reminder to keep it all in perspective.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Pace Car

If I had to come up with my own metaphor, the pace car would not have been in my realm of thinking. It was, however, for my son. He told me the other day that I should call his brother the pace car. Having no idea what he was talking about I asked him why. He responded that his brother always wants everyone to follow him and that is what a pace car does. He hit the nail on the head with that one!

I was truly amazed by his insight and a bit concerned that his brother might find this insulting. We explored the topic a bit more and I realized this was the perfect metaphor for helping his brother to recognize a positive way to use his leadership skills. We noted that pace cars get everyone started and then move to the side so they can take responsibility for themselves. When someone is injured or in danger, the pace car comes back out to provide support. Then again, it moves to the side allowing the race to resume.

Later, I discussed this with big brother and he loved the idea. He felt it fit him and was thoughtful about the way a pace car allows the race to happen without having to manage everything. He happened to attend a birthday party yesterday and made sure to bring home a treat for each of us that was specific to who we are. When I noted that this was very thoughtful, he said, "That's what a pace car would do, wouldn't it?" I am hopeful this insightful metaphor will give him a more concrete image to hold onto as he navigates the ins and outs of his social world.

As I think about it more, parenting is much like being a pace car as well. Knowing when to lead and when to get out of the way is not always easy. Knowing we need to helps us to keep it in mind and hopefully recognize those revving engines signaling our time to pull aside.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The wisdom of children

In difficult times I am frequently struck by the wisdom of my children. They are often more in tune with the connections of the universe than we adults and are more willing to listen to their instincts and intuition.

One of my sons frequently states that he is psychic. I'm not even sure how he learned the term, but he always uses it in the correct context. Most of the time he brings up the topic independently and has often funny and often profound things to say.

One morning he came into the bathroom with me as we were getting ready for the day and announced to me that he was psychic. When I explored what this meant to him, he found it difficult to explain. He couldn't pinpoint exact types of information he was psychic about, but had a general sense that sometimes he knows things before they happen or knows information other people don't.

He then proceeded to tell me that in my next life I was going to be a bird. I was quite surprised by this information and asked him what kind. Without hesitation he turned to me and said, "A whooping crane." It was so lovely and funny and unexpected. Imagining myself as a future whooping crane soaring over the plains of Colorado is a lovely image and telling the story always makes me laugh.

Tonight he amazed me again with his insight and connectedness. We were talking about my aunt, who is very ill in the hospital. It has been a difficult few days not knowing what all was wrong and how sick she really is. He asked me directly if she was going to die. We have had many conversations about death over the years and especially this summer with several deaths in our family. I always tell my children that we are all going to die sometime, that it is part of life, but we do not know when our time to die is.

In response to my son's query I responded with my usual preface about death and stated that I didn't know what was going to happen with my aunt. His earnest reply , "Mom, I just don't feel in my heart that this is her time to die."

Having felt so untethered myself for a few days, his response grounded me in a way nothing else could. I encouraged him to hold that feeling in his heart and I plan to do the same.

Later in the evening I received word that my aunt had become more engaged with the people around her today and active in decisions about her care. She seems to be turning the corner for now and my little psychic knew it all along.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Climb back up, Mama!

We all have those days when we've reached the end of our rope and we think our bucket is empty. It's been tipped over, kicked in, and banged up beyond recognition and it seems all is lost for it's recovery. We think we got nothing left to give to anyone. We are sucked dry without an ounce of energy or kindness or love left to give. In these moments I always seem to hear the voice of Claire Huxtable saying, "I have nothing left to give!" with all the melodrama intact.

My tendency when I am so worn out is to be cranky...which is no fun for any of us. But if I take a moment to tell my children that I am exhausted and need help, they consistently rise to the occasion. They offer help, give me hugs, make sweet pictures, sing silly songs, tell jokes, or give me the few minutes of quiet or rest that I need. They fill my bucket with their kindness and wisdom, one drop at a time. Before I know it, I am once again able to function and get through whatever lies ahead. Their generosity and love constantly amazes me.

There is a quote I love by FDR - "When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on." At the age of three my youngest son came up with his own version that always brings a smile to my face and lightens my load. I was exasperated one afternoon and I complained, "I'm at the end of my rope!" My sweet boy responded earnestly, "Climb back up, Mama, climb back up!" The wisdom of a three year old. Phenomenal!

If we can all remember to climb back up (or at the very least hang on and ask for help) when we reach the end of our rope, we can make it through even the darkest days with the love of our children guiding us on.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dancing boys make my day

As our mundane morning routine was coming to an end today, my oldest son decided to show me his "favorite dance move." It resembled MC Hammer back in the day and gave me a good chuckle. Not to be outdone, son number two joined in the hip hop fest with his latest smooth moves. Then the real fun began...

(When I'm off teaching yoga on Tuesday nights, the boys have been enjoying America's Got Talent with Dad. Apparently, this is the inspiration for what I witnessed next.)

The boys began an improvised, synchronized dance routine. They slide across the floor, twisted, spun, engaged in robotic movements, and channeled the Temptations and the Jackson Five as they found their funk and rhythm. As I watched them my grin kept growing and the giggles from all of us filled the house.

After great applause for their effort, we laughed and hugged together and headed off for the rest of the day. So glad they didn't have to rush off to school yet because I might just have forgotten to enjoy the moment and swept them off to get ready. The image of their dancing kept me going through a cranky day at work.

Be here, now...this is always part of my yoga teaching. Just as salient, if not more so, in my parenting.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Starting them off with enthusiasm

I had the pleasure today of witnessing a rite of passage for many young preschoolers. They came in with their parents to meet their teachers, see their new classrooms, and begin their journey into the world of education. Parents and students alike took in all the sights and sounds of the school building, their eyes wide with wonder: classrooms full of blocks, books, sensory tables, crayons, paints, and more; hallways decorated with beautiful colors and pictures; the playground with hopscotch, climbing equipment, and slides; and all the other children and adults joining them on this day of adventure.

The parents I saw were eager to start their children off on the right foot. They were engaged, caring, and enthusiastic about this new experience for their child. Parents reading with their children, joining in the bead games and sensory table activities, touring their school with the hope of the future.

In turn the teachers met these families with excitement and a sense of opportunity. Greeting families, engaging children, and creating a supportive and positive learning environment.

A child's first experience in school can make all the difference in their success in school. That experience is guided by their parents and teachers who offer support, compassion, and enthusiasm. These little preschoolers are our future. May we guide them everyday with wisdom and respect I witnessed today.

I don't want to grow up!

Seven is a tricky age. Your still considered a "little kid", but you can do many things the "big kids" can do. It's fun to get adult attention and snuggle up like you did when you were littler, but you don't want mom or dad doing it all for you all the time!

What is a parent to do?

Staying tuned in to the needs of the moment is a huge key to navigating the tricky nature of seven year olds. Offering choices, independent options, scaffolding tasks to support the skills they have and teach the skills they need, being flexible, listening, watching, and keeping our own egos out of the mix leads to much greater success.

But what parent can do all that all the time when juggling siblings, laundry, dinner, dirty bathrooms, work, and everything else on your plate? None of us really. That's why I try to think of parenting as a practice. I will never achieve perfection, although I hope to experience (and notice) many perfect moments. I strive each day to be the best parent I can be and to support my children in being the best they can be. No day is every the same and there are always many mistakes along the way. Staying present and being gentle with myself (not always achieved) and gentle with my children (also not always achieved) are my goals each day.

What was your perfect parenting moment today? Recognize it, honor it, and carry it with you as you continue on your journey.