Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Rhythms that Hold Us Together

Early this morning, a colleague of my husband committed suicide in the office. He had been laid off by the firm a few days ago as part of their second round layoffs. This man was superbly intelligent, an accomplished lawyer, and a friend.

When my husband called to tell me the news, I had just put Elsa, 5 months, down for her morning nap. Arlo, 2, was engaged in his play and I was about to take my quick morning shower and get ready for the day. Today is "preschool day" - a day that I take each child to his or her own parent/child class at the Waldorf school down the street. After hanging up with my husband, it was all I could do to hold myself together enough not to alarm Arlo and to get myself into the shower. In the shower, I prayed for the family of the man and allowed myself to cry.

It is my experience that children pick up on our emotions and know when something dreadful has happened. When I am upset and therefore distracted or anxious, my toddler and infant exhibit similar emotions in their own ways - generally, contrary behavior and fussiness, respectively. It seems that children do best when their caregivers to be happy and settled.

Life doesn't allow for us to always be happy and settled. Change is constant and stuff happens. Bad things happen to good people for unexplainable reasons. We as adults are left trying to come up with rational explanations for irrational behaviors and outcomes.

The way to do this with young children? First, honor their insights and understanding that something is going on. Our wonderful Waldorf teacher told Arlo "Something is going on but you know what - it is ok. You and your mother are going to be ok." Second, use your routine and family rhythm as sanctuary: playtime, snack time, playtime, lunch, rest. Playtime, dinner, bath, bed. It is the equivalent of breathing in and breathing out as the baby or toddler breathes in with food or rest and breathes out with play. The rhythm gives structure to your day and moving with a purpose is the key to survival. Finally, as the caregiver you must remember yourself: eat, drink, rest, warmth. Take care of yourself with wholesome meals, lots of water, rest even when you don't think you can sleep, and warm clothing to support you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

When you are a stay at home mom, there are some days that are just golden. The babies wake up feeling refreshed and full of energy. You wake up not feeling like you've been run over by a truck, but like you got enough hours of consolidated sleep to count as a good night's sleep. Your toddler is agreeable with meals and plays happily and independently long enough for you to get control of the dishwasher/laundry/bill paying/clutter cleanup. The infant is smiling and pleasant, taking two-hour naps in the morning and afternoon. The mother-children family unit is happy, healthy and harmonious.

Today was not that kind of day for me.

I just couldn't get into a flow. To top it off, my car was in the shop and it rained all day, which had the psychological effect of making me feel anxious and trapped. Instead of taking it easy and having a relaxing day at home, I kept having to remind myself to be present. My toddler and infant were in similar moods and I just couldn't wait for that magical moment when the clock strikes 7:30 and the little ones go to bed and I can collapse onto the nearest couch.

Knowing that tomorrow is a new day, but one that will come fast and could be filled with similar challenges, it is crucial to find ways to regroup, chill out, renew. Here are some of my time-tested survival actions:

1. Hot bath + juicy book. I don't do this enough, but when I do, I am so rejuvenated. You have to make sure that there are no children's toys in site. Just you and your adult space. The book must not be about parenting or infant sleep or toddler pottytraining. My husband creates the best baths for me on days when I'm at my wit's end: lots of unscented white candles, clean fluffy towel, glass of water, tub full of hot water and some great bath salts, bubble bath, or essential oil. I love the "Nude" bath balm from Lush.

2. Chill music + mellow yoga poses. I will publish great playlists in another post, as well as some ideas for a relaxing short yoga practice that will help you unwind from a stressful day and send you off to dreamland.

3. Get out of the house. There are lots of places you can go, but the point is to have some alone time where you can spend some time on yourself. Go for a walk, take a yoga class, browse the aisles of Target, hang out at a bookstore, treat yourself to dessert at a nearby cafe or restaurant. Tonight, after my husband and I put the two little ones to bed (7pm) I treated myself to ice cream and then strolled through the different sections of Barnes and Noble, looking at the stationary and travel books. It was fabulous.

4. Indulge. Find something that appeals to your senses and feels really extravagant and INDULGE! Be really present as you eat one amazing, mouth-watering Vosgues truffle, give yourself a lavendar salt scrub in the shower, make your partner massage those shoulders or feet with soothing oil, or ignore the laundry/clutter/dishes, turn into bed early and watch a chick flick such as Sex and the City or He's Just Not that into You.

A holistic life counselor once told me that it is important to take a few minutes each and every day to nurture and replenish yourself. I think this is absolutely critical for those of us that spend the major part of our days taking care of other people. You gotta fill up your well so that you have the strength, where-with-all and energy to do it all again tomorrow.

Happy indulgences!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

what i'm dreaming of today

what i'm dreaming of...

watching my wisteria tree grow and create a beautiful aroma and cloak for our deck

learning to cook healthy, delicious food for myself and my family featuring whole grain, fruits and veggies (this is the year i will learn to cook!)

learning more about art, both modern and historic

taking biweekly artist dates (alone time, imagine the thought!) to renew and inspire

learning at least one foreign language with my children (probably french first, then either spanish or portuguese, and then italian)

taking up knitting and pottery, two crafts involving one's hands and that have always intrigued me

travelling to lots of foreign places with the kids in a few years (thailand, peru, tibet, india - i can just hear my poor mother freakin' over this thought)

snowboarding with my son arlo next winter season, when he is 3

writing the fiction and nonfiction books floating around in my head

appearing on oprah to discuss my nonfiction book!

starting each morning with meditation

going to bed early instead of very, very late

passing to my daughter elsa some incredible family heirlooms given to me by my grandmothers

becoming a better listener

making an impact on the world

Monday, April 27, 2009

Space of One's Own

There is an eternal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.

- josephine hart

It was a chilly day and I was restless, unsettled. I share a big house with my husband and our two babies, as well as his teenage daughter who lives with us exactly half time. All this house, which I tend to day after day, and yet nothing to call just mine. All the rooms had been divied up - kitchen, dining room, living room, baby's room, toddler's room, teenager's room, guest room, etc - and I couldn't claim anything as just mine. My soul craved personal space for writing, an inspiration board, favorite pens, secret musings, space to think and be someone in addition to my roles as mother and wife.

A corner of our master bedroom held a chest piled high with clutter. I pushed aside the clutter, moved the chest, and swept up the dust bunnies that had been hiding underneath. In their place I pushed the most amazing flea market find: a small oak table with deep drawers and just enough space for me to sit and do my thing. At the feet of the table sit a few of my favorite books on writing, including "A Writer's Paris" by Eric Maisel, and on the wall hangs a beautiful photograph of a rainy day in China purchased from an amazing cafe in Washington, DC that hosts rotating collections of artists' work. Each item associated with my table has been carefully selected (no clutter!). The perfect final touch is a beautiful zebra striped lamp sent by my lovely mother.

Sometimes all one needs to open the doors of discovery is a little space, a carving out of physical or mental space. Once you allow for this to happen, the magic follows. So go for it - find your corner and stake your claim. And let the search begin.