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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.


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 the 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 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.