An Afternoon Oasis in a Sea of Stress

An Afternoon Oasis in a Sea of Stress

What a perfect afternoon.

An afternoon to remind me of the power of one-on-one time. Of observation and connection. Of slowing down.

Straight after GG’s nap – when he’s often super grumpy – I took him out for a date. And yes, I totally bribed him out of his bad mood with ice cream, I’ll admit it. But watching him eat it was a meditation. He loved every lick, every bite of the cone. He was so in the moment he couldn’t even speak to me while he ate.

Every meal should be like a 3-year-old boy eating ice cream.

After the ice cream we ran around an empty mall. Hopped, jumped, fell to the ground at his whim. I showed him how to do somersaults in a baby play area. I fought the urge to play with my phone when his attention wandered from me, and instead kept mine glued to him. Yet another exercise in mindfulness. In staying in the present for once.

On the way home we stopped to fill the car up with petrol. He got out with me and asked questions. A million “why’s” that for once I had the time and the head space to answer. Or try to answer.

Why is petrol dangerous for little kids, anyway?

It was just an hour and a half, but we so needed that time, GG and me. Time together with no agenda, no bathing or dinnertime or bedtime battles. No baby sister or other adults. Just us.

When we got home, some kids from his new kindergarten were meeting in the local playground, so his dad took him to join them. And so it was just me and Little A at home. Again – a rare treat.

Babies seem simpler, but I think that’s just because we don’t pay them enough attention.

Every move this kid makes is an exploration, an experiment, an expression. Every turn of her hand is a preparation for her next move, or bite of food, or request. And I’m her mama, I know her back to front, I can preempt her requests before she’s even made them – but sometimes it’s beautiful not to. Rather, to lay next to her and see the world through her eyes for a few moments.

We ate, played, bathed. For once I wasn’t rushed as I washed her, fending off GG’s “help” in the form of buckets of water on her head. Instead I watched her examine each toy with her mouth, giggled with her, cuddled and marveled at how big she’s gotten, though it seems like she was born just yesterday.

It all sounds awfully flowerly, I know. But that’s really how it felt.
An oasis of joy in a sea of stress, emails, anxiety, drop offs and pick ups.

A reminder of what it’s all about.

The Opportunity Cost of Being a Mindful Mama

The Opportunity Cost of Being a Mindful Mama

Coming to terms with the new priorities in my life over the first year of parenting has been and continues to be a huge challenge for me. I’m finding it hard to accept that if I’m going to be the type of mother I want to be – mindful, present and intentional – other things need to give.

In practice, it’s all been pretty natural – my family is number one, health is up there – exercise, sleep, meditation and food alike – and though it’s at a slower pace than before my career is definitely still a factor.

So what does that look like in practice? Let’s start from the morning – though sometimes I still feel like there’s no real night and day, just the constant flow that I first met almost one year ago when Gadi was born. We wake around 6am and spend an hour or so together as a family. We eat, get ready, chat, cuddle, sometimes dance. This time is precious – crucial to anchor us all together in preparation for our days apart. We head off to daycare and our respective workplaces, where the baby has a ball and my husband and I do our best to do our little bit of good in the world (read: try not to fall asleep at our desks). On the three days a week that I pick Gadi up, we have about two hours together before bath and bed time.

That two hours feels like nothing. Not nearly enough time to properly reconnect, to ask and tell each other about our days – without words for now. To cuddle and play and eat and wind down. So I put my phone aside, I try to forget about work, and about all the things I want to get done once he goes to sleep. All the phone calls I want to return, blog posts I want to write, work calls I have scheduled for the evening. I want my attention on him 100%, and I want him to see that. Even if I’m just watching him play. I want to teach him about doing one thing at a time, about being where you are – and I think the best way to teach is by example.

Then we start the bedtime routine – which is sometimes easy and sometimes a bit more challenging and pretty much always exhausting. He’s asleep by 7pm. And to be honest, half the time I fantasize about snuggling up in his cot with him. I’ve been meaning to work out how much weight that thing can support for months now.

Evenings are important, too. Because when I say that family is a priority – I don’t just mean Gadi. The time that Uri and I spend together at the end of the day is a huge part of what keeps me sane and grounded. What keeps us together. What has made this past year the most amazing one of my life. Often all we manage is eating dinner and chatting on the couch before we both start to fade, but those moments are precious, too. Same goes for an episode of The Big Bang Theory or whatever we can manage to keep our eyes open long enough to watch. We collapse into bed together every night, exhausted but happy, and wake up – once if we’re lucky and three times if we’re not – through the wee hours to feed Gadi and help him get back to sleep.

One or two nights a week I might “make it” out of the house to meet a friend for dinner or a walk. I keep scheduling yoga classes in my diary for 8pm but I haven’t made it yet – once I’ve got the baby to bed it’s just so hard to get out of the house. I know my body would probably thank me for it but… I just don’t seem to manage it. Maybe once we’re sleeping through the night – if that ever happens. At this point I make it to one afternoon class and one weekend class – and that will have to be enough for now. My semi-regular meditation practice could do with some work too and ditto for running… but c’est la vie.

And weekends? My priorities don’t change. We love our time just the three of us. Sometimes at home, sometimes out and about, often eating. Most things in our household revolve around food and cuddles – and Gadi’s sleep. We enjoy time with friends and family, too – but nowhere near as much as I used to.

But my point was neither to share our routine nor to complain about it – I love every moment I just described. That is, unless I slip out of the moment and start thinking about the opportunity cost. About the phone calls I haven’t returned and the parties I don’t attend and the type of friend I used to be. Hour upon hour of phone calls helping my friends and family sort out their issues and mine. Minor and major alike. Bottles of wine. I loved those hours, and I miss them dearly – but I just don’t have them at the moment. Instead I’m choosing to spend them on real, present time with my family, on sleep, and on my own mental health.

It’s not my new priorities that I struggle with per say – it’s what I’ve had to let go of to put them into place. And I guess in some way I’m still coming to terms with the opportunity cost. I know that this is the way to be the type of mother and wife that I want to be – but at the same time, I miss the me of one or two short years ago.

When I do finally catch up with the dear people that I used to have so much more time for, I feel pressure to complain. To complain about being tired, and about how hard it is to be a mother, and about the laundry. But honestly, that’s not it for me. My challenge is learning to accept where I am right now, to respect it and embrace it.

Otherwise, how can I expect anyone else to understand?

Tricks of the Mindful, Part II

Tricks of the Mindful, Part II

Several weeks after writing about my efforts to mindfully release some painful thoughts, I’m pleased to report marked success in the next phase of my little operation. Whereas a few weeks ago I was really suffering over a crisis with my relative, Vanessa, I now feel much better about the situation, and have even managed a calm conversation with her to share some of my feelings – without pointing fingers or dredging up the issue.

To recap, the first step was to mindfully note whenever the thoughts in question arose. This helped to distance myself from the mental churning, and even stopped thoughts dead in their tracks at times. To neutralize the threat altogether, I planned to cultivate some “lovingkindness” or compassionate thoughts – by consciously reminding myself of how much I love Vanessa and her family, every time the topic arose in my mind.

Full disclosure: In the meantime, some events transpired that helped put things in perspective. Birth, death and war – would you believe. The big things that have a habit of making us realize how little the little things really are.

In any case, back to the second step, the lovingkindness plan: Each time I notice a thought about Vanessa, I note it as above, and then I take a deep, slow inhalation. As I inhale, I imagine I’m breathing in love and kindness – simple as that. Yes – it feels a bit contrived, I’ll admit. But it’s working. I’m noticing more and more that the thought is followed by the realization of it – rather than seconds or minutes of stewing angrily – and then almost immediately, feelings of forgiveness and kindness start to bubble up before I even start my dorky love breathing.

On top of these changes, I’ve noticed a pleasing by-product. Little by little, my mind is starting to follow these simple steps for all sorts of scenarios – before getting sucked into going over unpleasant situations. Instead, I’m noticing a spark of looking for the good in people, an almost undetectable deep inhalation of lovingkindness. They’re just glimpses of progress at this point, but I’m optimistic that they will grow.

Ultimately, I know I can’t control my thoughts – that understanding is one of the main gifts that I’ve received from mindfulness meditation. But I can choose how I react to them. And more than that – I can create the conditions for thoughts which serve me well to thrive – and work out ways to minimize the damage caused by thoughts would do me harm.

Peace of mind, here I come. Piece of cake (almost).

Tricks of the Mindful, Part I

Tricks of the Mindful, Part I

There’s a personal, family situation that’s bothering me at the moment – swimming around and around in my head against my will, despite my having decided numerous times not to confront the issue. A few moments free to mull and my mind inevitably ends up there, rehashing an extremely uncomfortable conversation that took place a few months ago, drafting emails and SMSes that I will never send, scripting phone calls I will never make, and imagining responses that will never eventuate.

With the dispute itself months in the past, it’s no longer my relative that’s making me feel bad; now it’s my mind – dredging up uncomfortable feelings over and over again in some sort of demented, hopeless effort to make me feel better. Such is the mind; we are largely powerless to control the thoughts it entertains. But I do believe we can nudge it in the right direction, and that’s what I’ve decided to do with this little battle.

The first step – as is often the case – is awareness. Every time I notice the chatter in question – whether I catch it a second or a few minutes in – I note it. I mentally say to myself “thinking about Vanessa*” And surprisingly, the effects have been almost immediate. By naming the occurrence, I am straight away distanced. It becomes clear that it’s my mind – and not ‘me’ – which is going over and over things, and I am able to walk away from the noise in a way that I haven’t been even vaguely successful in doing so far. It totally, magically deflates the process, takes the pain out of the mental churning.

The bottom line is that I do want my relationship with Vanessa to be better, to get back to normal. After literally hours of talking, thinking, and writing, I’ve decided not to do anything further about our disagreement and just get on with things, but my mind hasn’t caught up. So inevitably, thoughts of the conflict keep arising. Rinse and repeat – I note the self-chatter and it simmers down, again.

But this noting alone won’t be enough to make things right. I still need to find a way to feel better about it all – to cultivate lovingkindness, rather than hurt and anger, into my thoughts and feelings about her.

Here’s the plan: Every time the thoughts in question come up and I shine a light on them, I will add in a conscious, positive thought. Something about how much we care about each other, and about her good (though misguided) intentions. I’m hoping I can gradually take the sting out of the conflict by massaging my mind in this way, so that eventually the thoughts can just flicker by like the host of other crazy shit that goes through my head, without getting stuck on the big screen, so to speak. And in time, they’ll be gone, or at least barely noticeable in the babble of everyday life.

Stay tuned for Part II to see how it goes.


*I don’t know anyone called Vanessa; I totally made up that name. The rest of the post is true, though.