Meditation, interrupted

Meditation, interrupted

I finally have a few minutes to myself. The boys are out, the baby is upstairs asleep, and there’s no pressing work to do. It’s Saturday morning. All is still.

My mind whirrs into action, trying to figure out what to do with this precious gift of time. Do I sit and write? Cook? Clean? Declutter? Do I call a friend? Dust off my yoga mat and move my body?

I choose to meditate. It’s been way too long.

I grab a cushion, sit myself down among the toys strewn around the floor. I set a timer for 20 minutes. On one hand it seems like nothing – I used to sit for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening – and on the other hand… 20 uninterrupted minutes? That’s an eternity.

The bell dings, I settle in. My mind is a mess. Loud and frenetic. But of course, after a few minutes, it starts to settle. I sink into that familiar old sensation of being here. In the moment. In my body first and then in my mind.

At 9 minutes and 45 seconds a different bells dings – Little A, crying upstairs. At first I wait, maybe she’ll go back to sleep. Not happening.

So I take my meditation upstairs with me, I notice the cold of the stairs on my feet as I run up to her. I gather her up in her blankets and smell her little chocolate milkshake smell. I notice how my heart swells.

Something’s bothering her. She twists in my arms. So big and so expressive yet still such a baby.

For once, I’m actually there with her. Not looking at my phone over her shoulder, not wishing she’d hurry up and get to sleep so I can start getting GG into bed, or get back to work, or go to sleep myself.

She gets herself comfortable in the nook of my elbow, rests her little head and drifts back off. She reaches for my face in her sleep.

And I’m still there, still meditating, present with her. I am hers and she is mine. I’m pretty sure I can feel the oxytocin flooding my body.

I look down at her peaceful face and realize I don’t take photos of her sleeping anymore. I used to do it all the time when she was little. Another reminder that time is passing. As it always does. That it’ll pass no matter what.

To be honest, at first when I heard her voice as I was meditating I felt annoyed. I can’t even get 20 minutes uninterrupted.

But as I snuggled her back into her bed I felt so grateful I could cry. I feel so far away from my kids through long days at the office during the week. Through rushed bedtimes and difficult mornings.

This is the antidote – actually being with them when I’m with them.

She relaxes into her bed and I come back downstairs, free again. Time to chop veggies, sort out bags for the new week, tidy up a bit. Maybe I’ll finish the meditation later. It’s the usual grind, but hopefully I can be a little more present as I move through it.

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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.

On Tiredness

On Tiredness

When I was first learning to meditate, I remember feeling so left out of this tiredness thing that the teachers were always speaking about. I’d see people on retreats falling asleep while meditating, standing up to avoid nodding off, asking questions about how to avoid it. And I just didn’t get it. I was so filled with energy, with movement. I struggled with the opposite issue – with restlessness, the urge to fidget, with excess energy.

I was so out of touch with what tiredness meant that I couldn’t even label it to observe it.

Now, some 7 years later, I’m a fucking tiredness master.

I am perpetually exhausted. I can observe the sensations of tiredness in intricate detail, I can feel it in every cell of my body. I can observe what it’s doing to my mind and my emotional stability. My sex life. My work. My relationships.

I’ve always been able to function on relatively little sleep. My father is the same, and his mother before him. Six hours and I’m golden. Eight hours and I’m diamond encrusted, sure, but it’s not a necessity. Even as a baby I had mega FOMO, always preferring to stay up to avoid missing any fun over getting my beauty sleep.

In recent years, largely thanks to my sleep-worshiping husband, I’ve learned to value my rest. To prioritize it when necessary. To identify the times when I’m tired and would be better off refueling than burning the candle at both ends, as is my natural tendency. I’ve intentionally rewired, in a way. A good way, I think.

Nonetheless, my ability to get by without that much sleep has served me well in the initial months with both my babies. Whereas I know many new parents suffer from exhaustion in the first days and weeks after bringing a new baby home from the hospital, I run on adrenaline through the Fourth Trimester and beyond. I relish the early morning hours up with my babies, the excuse to be texting round the clock, the afternoon naps. I’m tired, sure, especially the second time around, but not exhausted.

Until somewhere around the 6-month mark. that’s when I hit a wall.

And right now, I feel like I’ve been running into that wall, reversing, and running into it again, over and over, for about 3 months.

It was the same with GG. I put it down to going back to work, but I think it’s probably a combination of factors. A hormonal shift, developmental changes in the little one, and a sleep deficit so huge that I can no longer power through it with homemade dark chocolate and a good attitude alone.

This afternoon when I was driving home from work I was terrified that my eyes were going to give out. I guess I mean I was worried that I’d fall asleep, but it didn’t feel like that. It felt like I just couldn’t focus anymore, that I could only see the dashboard and not the road. So I pulled over and set my alarm for 7 minutes – the most time I figured I could afford in order to still make it to pick up the kids on time – and closed my eyes. I woke up with a start to the timer going off, felt much better, and had a nice afternoon with the kids without passing out and leaving them to fend for themselves. That felt like a win.

This sort of exhaustion is something totally foreign to me.

If I stop typing right now and pause, I can feel it. In the aching headache always sitting just behind my eyes, like two tiny hands squeezing my eyeballs. In the almost unnoticeable lag in my vision, like my brain is only just keeping up with the information it has to process second-to-second. I can feel it pulling me downwards into the couch, like a sleepy gravity-booster. Willing me to just give it up, to lay down, to become one with the cushions.

And it’s not just my body. My mind is also a victim. I went back to work after a 6-month maternity leave 2 months ago, to a new job. A job at which a high-functioning brain is a solid prerequisite. And multiple times a day it’s like I can feel my mind trying to think and just stalling, over and over again. Like it knows what it needs to do but just can’t do it. At least not at the required speed.

And this tired mind of mine, it plays tricks on my emotions. It makes me sensitive and anxious and easily irritated. A winning combination for when I’m already feeling like the stupidest version of myself.

It’ll get better, I know. Little A will sleep better and I’ll settle back into being a working mama. We’ll all sleep through the night again one day.

For now, I take solace in being able to call a spade a spade. In hanging onto some last thread of mindfulness in recognizing tiredness and how it feels right now. I’m grateful for the rest that I do get, and I hail its restorative powers by pondering its very absence.

Enough musing. You get it. I’m exhausted.

Time for sleep.

How to Be a Mindful Working Mama

How to Be a Mindful Working Mama

Being a working mama is hard. I went back to work full-time after seven months on maternity leave, and the month that followed was one of the hardest of my life. I was nervous about leaving GG, getting my brain back into work mode was hell, I was racked with guilt, and exhausted to boot.

Now, one-and-a-half years later, I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on it. I’m sure in a few years time I’ll have loads more insight to share – it’s a skill after all, and this is all just practice – but this is what I’ve learned so far:

1. Choose Your Job Wisely

Being an awesome mama and having a thriving career aren’t mutually exclusive – but not every working situation is a good match for the gig. Especially not in the first few years. I had a high-pressure job that required insane hours and dedication a few years back and I loved it – but I recognize that right now is not the time for such a position.

Similarly, two of my close friends are currently in the process of getting themselves out of work situations that are negatively effecting their personal lives. Two part-time jobs instead of one full-time job sounded like a great idea in theory – lots of flexibility and variety – but it turns out there’s no such thing as a part-time job. Instead, these two awesome mamas are neither seeing their kids as much as they want nor paying the bills, so they’re realizing that it’s time to reel it in.

A full-time job can sound daunting right after maternity leave – especially if you’re off work for more than a few months, but if you choose a family friendly workplace and set some boundaries it’s actually a lot less work.

2. Choose Your Childcare Wisely, Too

This is crucial. If you have an uneasy feeling in your gut about how your baby is being treated, you’re gonna feel guilty about leaving them and going to work. If you feel 100% comfortable about the daycare situation, you’re more likely to feel like you’ve made the right choice. For me, it was even bigger than that. I went back to work when GG was seven months old, and he’s been in a small family daycare ever since. From the first month I realized that not only was this okay – it was great for him. While we all had to adjust to eight hours apart five days a week, the clear reality was that GG was blossoming. He gained so much from making friends, learning how to go to sleep by himself, eating in group and making close relationships with other adults that now I wouldn’t have it other way.

3. Be Where You Are

Once you know that you’ve got a job that fits the life you want to lead and childcare that works for your family, it’s all about being where you are. If you’re thinking about work when you’re at home and home when you’re at work, you’re not being the best of yourself. Your work will suffer and so will your parenting. This is where you need to switch on your mindful attention.

Here’s what works for me: as much as possible, I use the Pomodoro Technique to maximize my efficiency at work. I write detailed, prioritized to-do lists for the next day before I leave the office each day, and then I work in 25-minute time slots to get through the tasks. This is the kicker: I turn my phone onto airplane mode for 25 minutes at a pop, during which time I’m totally focused on the task at hand. I check texts, emails, Facebook etc. in short breaks in between.

When I leave the office – I leave the office. When necessary I get in a few more hours at night once GG’s asleep, but from when I pick him up in the afternoon until he’s asleep, I’m in mama mode. I don’t answer phone calls, I don’t play with my phone except to take photos of him doing ridiculously cute things and I don’t check my emails. I enjoy every moment we have together – and I’m sure I’m a better mother for it.

When you’re at work, be at work. When you’re at home, be at home. Leave the exceptions for real emergencies.

GG visiting me at work last summer. A bad example of boundaries but a very cute photo. 

4. Take a Mini Meditation Break

I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a lifesaver for me. I have an alarm set on my phone for 11:45am every day. If I’m not in a meeting or involved in an urgent task when it goes off, I shut my office door and meditate for 10 minutes. Ultimately I’d like to be meditating every morning/night too, but it’s not happening right now and these mini meditation breaks help me keep a base level of mindful attention throughout the day. Give it a go and see if it works for you.

5. Reconnect at the End of the Day

I find mindfulness really important to ease into the transition from work to mothering. I make a point of pausing before I knock on the door at daycare or walk in the door at home if GG is already home with his father or grandmother: I take a deep breath, and ground myself. I make sure I’m fully present for that moment when we reunite at the end of our days.

Up until recently nursing was our reconnection ritual – now it’s finding a new place. Sometimes I join him in whatever he’s doing, sometimes it’s a long hug, sometimes a conversation. Making that conscious effort to really be with him for those first moments flicks the switch, and I’m home.