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Thursday, December 9, 2010

None of us get out of it alive

This is a quote from my aunt today, "None of us get out of it alive." What is it, you may ask? Life. Oh, the irreverence!!! And the laughter that followed.

We will all die at some point, we just don't know when that will be.  The question then arises ~ how do we live each day fully while still acknowledging our mortality and the fact that we could die at any time?

My aunt and I struggled with this question today as we discussed her cancer prognosis. It seems to be a paradox, but it reminds me of the yogic teachings of non-clinging, aparigraha. Accepting what is without holding on. Being present without trying to control the outcome of our actions. 

I had a visual image of walking a line and leaning from to the left, then right; moving from light to dark; from hopeful to hopeless. Then more irreverence..."weebles wobble, but they don't fall down." We all wobble along that line every day, although sometimes we dip too far into one side or the other, drowning in denial or darkness.

As I think about my life, I am reminded that truly all I have is this moment. Nothing else is guaranteed. Whether the moment is full of laughter and joy, pain and sorrow, or something in between, this moment is the only one I have. It can be difficult to stay present when I'm tired, frustrated, and at the end of my rope. It's easy to escape into drama, self-pity, or blaming others.

But what can I teach my children by practicing staying present, being in the moment, recognizing when to let things go? I can teach them trust, acceptance, and love. My daily struggles and successes as a mom and human being can be lessons for them and me.

I can teach them to honor and savor each moment, to rejoice in what they have, to know that they are loved, and that their love and lives make a difference to others.

It often takes the reality of loss to help us cherish what we have because it is so hard to wobble along that line, feeling each moment fully.

May this remind you (and me) to notice this moment and all that it has to offer, then with lovingkindness gently release it as we step into the next moment, should it be there.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Truthfulness, Revisited

Satya, truthfulness, has continued to be a theme in our lives throughout the fall. It seems to come up on a daily basis.

I answered a Mama Drama question a couple of weeks ago about lying. In the process I looked at current research and found some new perspectives to consider when supporting honesty with my children. There are two that had the biggest impact on me and have influenced my interactions with my children over the past couple of weeks, for the better I might add!

The first is that our children's primary motivation for lying is to make us happy. Huh? you might ask yourself - I did the same. Children mistakenly believe their parents will be happier if they pretend they didn't do something wrong than if they tell the truth about their mistake. As parents we have to impress upon our children that telling the truth will make us happier than if they hadn't made the mistake. I have practiced this several times over the past few weeks when big issues have come up for my sons and have been stunned at its effectiveness.

The second ah-ha in my research was how we often set our children up to lie through the questions we ask and the demeanor we use to deliver the question. Because they want to make us happy when we ask, "Did you...?" they immediately say no. As parents we think we want to give our kids a chance to come clean on their own without accusations, but sometimes we just have to call it like we see it. For example, last night I came downstairs to find the foil on the sweet potato pie pulled back and a finger print in the pie. I knew which child had the opportunity in the kitchen on their own, so went to address him.

I calmly entered his room and stated, "You put your finger in the pie, right?" Without hesitation, surprisingly, he answered, "Yeeeessss, but it was soooo good!" I gushed appreciation for him telling me the truth right away and said we'd address any consequences about the pie in the morning. He was happy, I was happy, all was good, no lying. Practice was paying off.

Previously, I might have asked my sons if they had done it in a stern tone. That usually led to a denial, even when the evidence was all over their faces.

I have never wanted my children's behavior to be about making me happy. I always want them to feel happy internally about making the right choice. Given what the research states and my sons' responses, I believe I will have to make an exception in the case of lying.

Parenting is always a journey of growth and self-reflection, svadhyaya.  I am sure my dear boys will provide me with many opportunities to hone my skills and practice tapas, self-discipline, in managing my responses. I hope to return the favor with opportunities for them to practice satya, truthfulness, as often as possible.


Thursday, August 26, 2010


Teaching truthfulness to my children has been an interesting and complicated journey. It seemed so easy at the outset - always tell the truth. But as they got a little older we began to set limits about telling the whole truth, such as when they said to someone, "You're fat." It is the truth, but then we taught them that we don't have to say everything we think even if it is the truth. There are also more tactful ways to tell the truth that don't hurt people's feelings. This gets a bit confusing when you're a little kid.

Then there are surprises. Is it lying when you tell a story to set up a surprise birthday party? It is, but it's for a good cause, right? Well, what about when my son's good cause is so he doesn't get in trouble? Same reasoning, but...

Telling the truth when it's hard to tell is especially tricky, for parents and kids.

When there's shaving cream all over the bathroom andmy son really wants to stay out of trouble because he was just being curious, that is a hard truth to tell.

When my son said he was doing his homework, but was really playing games on the computer and doesn't want to lose his new computer, that is a hard truth to tell.

When we were all looking forward to a trip and realized we couldn't go because we had to spend the money on house repairs, that was a hard truth to tell.

When my Grandma's cancer spread through her body and her choices were to live longer miserably or shorter more comfortably and I had to tell my boys she was going to die soon, that was a heart wrenching truth to tell.

I try to be a good model for truthfulness by admitting when I make mistakes and explaining why we are doing what we're doing. My biggest struggle is not overreacting to my children's mistakes so they will continue to tell the truth, even when it's hard.

Truthfulness in yogic philosophy is called Satya. It pervades every aspect of our lives from answering a simple "How are you?" to owning up to a big mistake. Our children are watching us and learning. No matter what we are saying to them they follow our actions, so we have to act thoughtfully.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Balance is an ever-shifting ideal. I have a dear friend who once expressed his exasperation at everyone telling him to work on balance. It seemed an impossible thing to always be in balance. In exploring this idea of balance we decided that balance is different every day and even hour to hour, moment to moment. Certain situations require us to give much of ourselves, while others allow us to receive a great deal. Rarely do they ever seem evenly balanced like weights on a scale.

As we move from the school year to summer finding the balance between work and play is its own challenge. I wrote a blog in April for Mile High Mamas about Being vs. Doing. I believe our kids should have carefree summer days to wonder and explore...a being sort of summer. Sometimes, however, my kids have a different idea.

Walkingstick is ten this year. He loves the structure and predictability of school and often struggles to ease into the free flow of summer. He solved this dilemma this summer by landing a part in a summer children's theatre production that requires rehearsals six mornings a week. It gives him busy mornings, plenty of time to play in the afternoons, and then more structure two nights a week with baseball practice and games.

Gigglebox is on the other end of the spectrum. He wants to be home with mom or dad and doesn't want any activities except baseball, which of course we are at with him. It's been a month now and he seems perfectly content with this arrangement.

Then there is me. I am writing, teaching yoga classes, and being a stay at home mom this summer. Trying to squeeze in time to write and play with the boys has been more challenging than I expected. At times I get focused and want to blaze through the writing and other times I just pack up the boys and we head for the pool or some other adventure.

Dad seems happy to be at work most days, he's a structure guy like walkingstick. He is joining in the fun by coaching the boys' baseball teams and taking a few days off here and there to play.

I believe we are all finding our own balance this summer. Somedays more than others, but then that's the point isn't it...staying grounded amidst the chaos and the calm, the light breeze and the blustery day, finding the balance within ourselves regardless of what is going on around us. Not altogether easy, but a worthy goal nonetheless.


ps - if you'd like to see walkingstick live in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland it starts July 13 at The Aurora Fox Theater

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Must Read for Mamas

I have a mission in life to create a community of moms where we support each other and are gentle with ourselves about all our human imperfections. My editor at Mile High Mamas posted this amazing blog today that brought me to tears. She's an amazing mom and an advocate for moms and kids!

If you are a mom, know a mom, or have a mom you must read this.

This Mother's Day take time to show lovingkindness and understanding to all the moms you encounter.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Living with an open heart

Living with an open heart...seems so easy on the surface. Be open, accepting, compassionate...easy in those moments of comfort...harder in those moments of difficulty.

In meditation and yoga we often talk about opening our hearts, letting go of barriers, being compassionate to all. In those brief peaceful moments it feels attainable. Yet when we go out into the world and face the challenges of our daily lives, keeping an open heart is a challenge.

When frustrated or angry, my response is often to shut down my heart, build a barrier, and refuse to feel compassionate. Those habitual patterns seem easier than facing the difficulties within myself or my relationships. But, as Pema Chodron says, if I do something different, anything different, I can change those patterns and keep my heart open.

Sometimes its as simple as breathing...yet simple as it is, it is often difficult to do. Sometimes it's laughing at the absurdity of the situation or of my own response to it. Mostly it's letting go of my expectations, changing my perspective, and softening the rigidity that sets in when facing difficulties.

Taking a moment to put myself in the shoes of the other person, trying to see things from their perspective, is a huge part of my practice of compassion. A friend recently asked me if understanding the other person's situation justifies their inappropriate behavior. I of course said no, but if I can keep my heart open to understand and feel compassion for a person who has hurt me or someone I care about, then perhaps the next time I make a huge mistake or a small misstep I can be compassionate with myself as well. We all know we are harder on ourselves than anyone else and compassion must start within.

So why try to live with an open heart? It is, after all, a difficult journey. I believe that through practicing living with an open heart, mistakes and all along the way, that I can change the world one moment of compassion at a time. I can teach and model this for my children, pass it on to those with whom I interact every day, and have positive impact on the world. Idealistic, yes. I don't expect to change everything and everyone, but those little ripples and waves of compassion flowing out into the universe will grow and influence each life they touch.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Surrendering to Sickness

When my boys are sick it is often easy to view the illness as an inconvenience that interrupts our schedule. The yogic niyama of surrender - ishvara pranidhana - helps me with these situations.

Ishvara pranidhana teaches me to surrender to whatever is happening and to be open to what it has to offer. As I have stayed home with my boys over the past week I have found much to appreciate. A slower pace to the day, lots of snuggling, reading books, listening to stories on cd, quiet afternoons as they slept reminding me of their younger days, playing scrabble, and moments of talking and giggling.

One of the funniest things that happened was when Walkingstick and I found a new stomach settling trick that is perfect for ten year old boys. In my book of yoga mudras there is a mudra breath called snake breathing - bhujangani mudra - that eliminates stomach complaints, cleanses the digestive tract, and eliminates gases. The best part of the mudra from Walkingstick's perspective is the end when you get to belch. He thought that was hilarious! And it made him feel better. :)

To practice snake breathing you sit cross legged holding your hands in Apan Mudra (middle and ring fingers touching the pad of the thumb). Swallow air, as if slurping it, sending it into your stomach. Arch your abdomen gently and hold the air for a moment. Then let the air back out by belching. Practice this for three to five breaths. (For more info see Mudras, Yoga in your Hands by Gertrud Hirschi)

While many tasks at work did not get accomplished, surrendering to the moment and appreciating the extra time I have had with my sons has been a gift I can truly appreciate.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Girl of My Dreams

My little Gigglebox gave me quite a boost (and a laugh) the other day when he exclaimed, "Mom, you're the girl of my dreams!" He was so earnest and sweet, but it was hard not to giggle given the circumstances of his comment.

I had just taken his big brother down to the floor in one quick swoop in response to his telling me I couldn't. Both boys were stunned, big brother laughingly so, and apparently quite impressed with my skills. My prowess at wrestling ten-year-olds will become legendary I'm sure.

A few minutes later Gigglebox decided while I could take down his brother so easily, he was certain there was no way I could take him down. Again, there was a quick swoop and he was on the floor. "I wasn't ready, Mom," he claimed. I let him prepare, which in seven year old terms means to put on his determined grimace and run at me, and proceeded to drop him to the floor again, gently of course. We laughed and he tried the not ready again, but I figured twice was plenty for the seven year old ego. He then proceeded to try to lift me off of him which had tears rolling down my face it was so funny!

It was wonderful to watch their faces as they realized I was more than they had thought. They always perceive their Dad as the strong one, which he is of course, but I was glad to remind them that girls are strong, too. It's a good lesson to realize that people can be more than what we perceive of them. And in a house full of boys, it's good to remind them that boys aren't always stronger and better just because they are boys. (Yes, I'm a feminist and proud of it!)

We too often limit ourselves, our children, and others through our expectations or lack thereof. Narrowing our view narrows the possibilities. Opening our hearts and expecting that anything is possible provides a launching pad for our children to be and become anything they can imagine.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Growing Independence

I discovered early on in my life as a mom that letting go and fostering independence are a huge part of the process of parenting. The trick is to figure out when and how. This is never clearcut and is different for every child. Something that worked for Walkingstick often does not for Gigglebox. While they are similar in so many ways, they are also dramatically different. Certainly no cookie cutter parenting going on in our house, or anyone else’s I’m sure.

Being the oldest Walkingstick has always embraced independence a bit more quickly than his brother. I, however, am not always so quick to recognize his ability to do so. Because he can be so self sufficient, at times I forget to give the support he needs. Other times I don’t pay attention to all the signs he’s giving me that he is ready to take an independent leap until he gets crabby with me, such as “It’s not your homework, Mom, why are you so worried about it!” Sometimes I need a push rather than a nudge. :P

Gigglebox on the other hands is generally perfectly content to be the little brother and continue his dependence on Mom, Dad, or big brother to do things for him or take on his responsibilities.  However, once he has mastered a task, has supports in place, and the expectation for him to be independent are clear, he usually rises to the occasion. Recently he has begun to recognize his own need for more independence and has pushed us a bit.

As I recognize their differences I am reminded to continually pay attention to the little things. The aspects of their personalities and perspectives that inform me about who they are and how they see the world. When I’m more tuned in, we have fewer struggles. When I’m tuned in, I help them tune in to themselves and those around them. Connecting without expectation of anything in return.

Pema Chodron’s book on compassionate living is entitled Start Where You Are. An amazingly simple statement with profound meaning. Start where I am and start with my children where they are. Not ahead, not behind, but right where we are at this very moment. Being gentle when we (or they) aren't where we think we should be. Being compassionate with ourselves when we realize we started three miles beyond where our little one is.

Be here now. "There is always grace in the present moment," as my dear friend Marie told me yesterday.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Parenting with my heart

Over the years of teaching yoga, friends who have come to my classes have told me how my voice changes as I start teaching class. We call it my yoga voice. As I begin class I feel my words move from coming out of my head to out of my heart. My generally high pitched voice changes to a slightly deeper and more resonant sound. I still laugh and giggle, especially at myself when I tip over or mix up body parts, but there is a different place that the yoga comes from in my body.

I was contemplating this at the end of class on Saturday as I enjoyed the peaceful sense of calm I experience when leading my class into relaxation. Then the light bulb flashed on. I have been spending far too much of my time parenting from my head instead of from my heart. My head parenting gets cranky and irritable, often irrational and overreactive, high pitched and high strung. My heart parenting is kinder, more patience, and allows for space and silence.

They say the people in our lives are mirrors of us. My children have certainly been mirroring my spending too much time in my head as of late.

For the past two days I have spent more time and energy intentionally breathing into my heart, allowing for silence, practicing compassion, then speaking or acting. As my energy and reactions change, so does that of those around me. My mirrors, my children, have begun to move from a different place as well.

Now I have no doubts I'll falter and stumble, it is after all a practice. But how fortunate I feel for the opportunity that teaching and parenting offer me to practice listening to and moving from my heart first. Allowing rather than forcing, breathing in and out, again and again and again.

May you be safe
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you have peace
May you awaken to the light of your true nature.
May you be free.
~metta blessing of lovingkindness

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Practicing what I teach

In every yoga class I teach I encourage my students to listen to their bodies, pushing themselves to their edge but not beyond it. I share this same lesson with my children, helping them to notice and understand the messages their bodies give them. And then...

...and then I busily run around working on a bazillion different projects not paying attention to my own body's messages such as nearly falling asleep while writing at the computer, puffy tired eyes when I wake up, and a need for too much Awake tea everyday to name a few examples, until my body has enough and decides to let me know in a bit louder voice that enough is enough and I need to rest, really rest.

So on Monday morning when my sweet husband awakened me I was quickly greeted by a headache. Now I get headaches fairly often and didn't think too much of it. I usually press on, drink  water, maybe a bit of caffiene, do some yoga and energy work and it usually settles out.

Not this time. Moments after getting out of bed I realized that bed was the only place I was going to be that day. Not just a little annoyance of a headache this time, but a nausea inducing, eye piercing, room spinning, sound and movement sensitive migraine. My body was no longer saying slow down and take a rest, it said STOP! in no uncertain terms. So, finally, I listened (what choice did I have at this point) and I stopped.

I stopped for the entire day, barely dragging myself out of bed at midday to try to eat something and continued to rest or sleep until late afternoon. I was still not quite myself until the next morning, but in all that stopping and resting I remember that lesson I say everyday and remembered I have to practice what I teach. Listening to, respecting, and honoring my body's messages. Trusting that when I do, I am healthier, happier, and more grounded than when I run around like a chicken with my head cut off ignoring that fact entirely.

Again I am reminded this is a practice. Yoga and life. We don't always get it right and sometimes we need a siren instead of a whisper to notice. But we can laugh, be gentle with ourselves, and practice some more.


Monday, January 11, 2010

What's in a decade?

So much can go into a decade. More than I ever imagined. A decade ago tonight I was in labor with my oldest son. Excited, scared, and in awe of the amazing ability I was given to grow a baby in my womb. I had no idea at that moment how my life would change and grow with this baby boy.

Every year on the eve of their birthdays, we tell our boys their birth stories and look through the wonder of their first year and sometimes beyond. Their stories are magical to me and they treasure hearing them each year. As we look through the tremendous growth of that first year from a completely dependent infant to a toddling boy with a scrunchy face grin I am reminded of the gift parenthood is in my life. I look at the innocent face of my baby boy along side the naive faces of his parents. We had no concept of the joys or challenges that awaited us.

I sometimes wish I could say I am always the parent I planned to be, but reality is a much richer picture. I hope that our mistakes and missteps, along with the moments we get it all right, will teach them that none of us are perfect, yet we can continue to strive for excellence. Acknowledging our mistakes, learning from them, and growing stronger along the way.

I realized a decade ago as I labored to birth my sweet walkingstick that giving birth and raising a child is so much about letting go, a lesson I revisit daily. So often as parents we want to hold on to and protect our children and that is very much a part of the process. But we must also let go enough so they can take those steps into independence. My biggest struggles as a parent are often at this juncture when they are ready to step and I have not yet let go. I try to see each little bit of independence as a letting go, in hopes that it won't be so hard when they leave the nest for good (although I'm observing from friends with adult children that they often return when you least expect it!). I'll let you know how that has worked in another eight years. Yipes!

Tonight I am letting go again as my sweet boy becomes a ten year old. I had no idea it would be so hard and yet I am so proud and amazed by the boy he is today. Kind, intelligent, insightful, and curious, yet still full of attitude and oblivious at times. When I can honor all he is I also honor all I am.

I celebrate this decade full of hugs, kisses, giggles, tears, struggles, growth, celebrations, and loss. My life is richer for having shared this decade with my darling boy.