The Art of Living

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Happy New Year! I hope you had a restful holiday season and took some time to yourself. I know how hard that can be, so i don’t take my saying this lightly.

This past weekend, we went through our Gratitude Jar (see here for a reference ). It was just what we needed after a busy week, to sit down together and read summaries of each week of 2016. While there were some lows, we were able to sit and laugh and reflect on the highs more.

I think this gave me some insight to the above quote: “The art of mothering is to teach the art of living to your children.” I saw it recently and it really sat with me. The author of the quote is Elaine Heffner and she writes on Good Enough Mothering.

I know that i am like so many others when i say ‘i had such a hard day’ but when i sit and reflect on it, sure one part was AWFUL (like when my son bit my daughter, when my daughter had a high fever and all our plans had to change, when my son called me a fricken’ stupidhead, you get the picture) but other parts were fantastic. Like when my kids went rock climbing for the first time, or when we had a blast bowling. Each day has some good parts in it. And if it hasn’t yet by 8:00pm, i make a point to do something nice for myself intentionally.

I’m not one to do New Year’s Resolutions as i think it puts a lot of pressure on, but i like the idea to set an intention or to use a Core Word that helps motivate me. This year, i’m going to focus on Breathe – to breath in and out before i respond to my kids’ when they are entering Bananas Zone. And for myself when i start to feel like a chicken with her head cut off.

I think this will help me teach the art of living to my kids – to stop and take a breathe, to notice things around me, to bring joy into the mundane parts of my life. I am working on creating a balance with what i need as a woman, and to be present for my children. It’s my job as a parent to teach this balance to them. I think this is the ‘art’ part of living. Kids can teach us about being mindful too – i love watching my daughter draw forever, and my son is devouring books. I need to remind them that it is important to create this balance so that our needs don’t collide. It’s a good lesson too that our children can teach us the adults about living as well.

Expectations Versus Reality: The Sugar Plum Fairy Didn’t Make the Cut

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The month of December is a whirlwind of busy-ness – holiday parties, things to make, presents to buy, school concerts, and more. It also marks my birthday on top of everything else. This year i thought it would be great to introduce my kids to The Nutcracker ballet.

I was wrong.

Now, to give me some credit, my kids already know the story. We read the book numerous times over the year, and that much more in December. We also have seen the New York City Ballet movie production of it, complete with a young McCauley Caulkin. We have even acted out the play at home, where i got to wear my old ballet shoes and wedding dress. Yes my wedding dress! And we listen to the sweet audio story by Sparkle Stories where the big brother Martin (age 7) gets to go to see the ballet with his mom. As my kids are similar ages to this story, i was sure that they could sit through a dance school’s production of it.

Oh, and i need to mention that my kids also attend dance classes themselves and have been in dance recitals. So, let’s just say i did my research and thought they were ready to share something that i love and was so eager to invite them into.

If i may back up a bit, i also had a birthday party out on the town the night before, which means my kids stayed up late too with their babysitter. My son (i’m sure) did not get enough sleep. So, in his excitement and with lack of proper sleep, he is not the most cooperative of folks. Who is, right?

At intermission i should have taken their behaviour as a clue to leave – they were irritable, loud, whiny and agitated. But i truly just wanted to sit through the second half and bear witness to the lovely Sugar Plum Fairy and company, and to see my kids excitement of it all.

Needless to say, i was that mom who had to shush her kids loudly many times, and to tell them to get their feet off the chair in front of them, and to sit still and be quiet, and to cuddle/hold them down from leaving their seat. It was rough but i also refused to leave.

It was a lovely show and i’m so glad that we chose a small dance school’s production as their initiation to the ballet, and not the professional dance company. I’m also glad we were in the cheap seats surrounded by other young families.

As we walked out of the theatre, my son declared ‘i never want to do THAT again.’ After my heart fell a few inches, i agreed with him that this was a bad day to choose to go. Who knew but hindsight. And then my sweet boy backtracked and said ‘well, let’s not do that after i stay up late and have a bad sleep.’

I couldn’t agree more.

Next year we may not go to see the ballet in person but i’m sure to be more mindful both of their need for sleep as well as my need to have the birthday i’d like. That may mean doing things a bit different as the mom to young kids, and that may mean i get to celebrate my birthday on another day and over the course of a few days. And not all if it with my kids in tow. That’s ok too.

How to Bring Joy

We’re in the midst of the holiday season right now. Our home is decorated, we’ve already watched seasonal movie classics, our holiday records are on the ready, and we have been excited about our Advent Calendar each day. It’s hard to not be excited about the holidays, when you have small children it’s almost a contagious feeling.

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But, there are times when it’s just so.much.work to be happy and on top of things. We did two holiday fairs yesterday alone. We had to see Santa and we had to see the Good Witch too. So that means TWO full fairs that are normally not on the same day, nor should they be.

So, as someone who tries to live with an intentional word for each day, i made a point to bring JOY into my day yesterday. And you know what, it worked! I had a blast – i was in there when it came to strolling in the school halls of standing room only busy-ness. I caught myself smiling while watching my happy kids talk to Santa. And i loved how earnest they were in their wishes this year – my son wants a Star Wars Lego toy more than anything, but when Santa also offered Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, my son thought it was best to wait for that request until next year. Thank goodness – little does he know i’m making him just a regular Hogwart’s cloak. My daughter – well she asked for a ride on a unicorn as her special gift from the heart. Of course she did.

I know it can be so hard to get into the holiday spirit and this time of year can be especially triggering for some of you. It’s also hard to spend extended time with family, and their unwelcome and unkind comments. While we can’t control other people’s comments, nor can we wave a magic wand a la Harry Potter, i do think it’s a good practice to reclaim the holiday spirit and work at staying positive. I love the workbook Mind Over Mood, and i also love the mindfulness practice of the holidays – the scents, sounds, visuals, tastes, and the cozy textures are a great way to absorb Joy for instance. Even when i can’t escape the hecticness, the work, or the stress, i know i can come home and put my cozy red slippers on and drink a hot cocoa – complete with Elizabeth Mitchell Christmas album.

I guess i’m a kid at heart – it doesn’t have to be hard to be this month!

Dates to Remember

Timing means a lot to me. I know not everything happens for a reason, but i can appreciate when some things happen just when i’m ready to open more. Strange how that happens. I’m also good with remembering dates. I still remember my first boyfriends’ birthdays, you know the boys i dated in high school. And i’m in my 40s now…I also remember other more pressing dates and like to honour special dates throughout the year.

In reflecting back about my own loss, something i have learned about myself and the women i support is that we need to be intentional with how we take care of ourselves on dates that are hard – whether it is an anniversary of a loved one’s death, a larger community loss like December 6/Montreal Massacre, or Remembrance Day. We can feel the date slowly start to creep into our consciousness so it’s helpful to prepare for it mentally.

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Someone recently shared a very powerful and heartfelt article about her miscarriage loss. It came into my feed on social media and i couldn’t believe the timing: just 2 days prior to the anniversary of what would have been my first baby’s expected due date.

So, when i noticed that November 19 was fast approaching, i started to prepare for it and take care of myself. This is not an easy task as a working mom of two energetic kids. And my kids don’t know that they could have had an older sibling, or that 9 years ago i would have had another first child.

I thought i was being more mindful and attuned to my feelings, but life still gets in the way. Friday was a PA day and the weather was glorious outside. Maybe because it was so lovely out, maybe because the kids felt my energy, maybe because i was just too introspective, but wow was it ever hard to be a parent that day. I take that back – it wasn’t hard to BE a parent, but rather have the presence and patience to parent my children when i was not feeling my best.

A good learning moment for sure. Luckily, after a stressful morning, we had a lovely play date (for all of us!) all afternoon at our local favourite park. I also scheduled in a luxurious facial for myself on The Day and told my partner i needed to take some time to myself. This helped – i didn’t want to assume he remembered the date or that he knew what i wanted. Telling him directly is something i’ve learned is the only way for me to get what i want and need.

For me, i have moved on with my life and don’t need a whole day of self-reflection, but i do need some time to honour my miscarriage and to take a moment to slow down and breathe out.

This made my day so much better and helped with my healing.

Music for My Heart

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Music is definitely a support to me. From my teen years, to low times in university, and now as a mom to young kids, music gets me through the witching hour and times when i just need to scream.

This summer, at our annual trip to Hillside Music Festival on Guelph Lake, i discovered Old Man Luedecke. Particularly this song: The Early Days. It’s a perfect anthem to my life right now. Yesterday, after the kids tore away from the breakfast table and we yet again had to remind ourselves that they are grateful to us, this song came on our Spotify mix. Perfect timing – because it wasn’t deliberate it really made me stop and listen and be mindful how i was feeling. I love that my kids have an appreciation of music too, and can really hear the words and recognize the melody. Dance hour is a special and purposeful time for us at our home – it gets the sillys out and also helps us re-focus our energy into a more positive direction.

Here are the lyrics – it really speaks to me and i suspect it will for you as well.

The Early DaysOld Man Luedecke

I was standin’ out at Stanfield, had to go away
Saw a brand new baby and the mother’s face
I knew that it was over, all those early days
Our babies are not babies, we’ll never be the same

Shopping cart full of toddlers at the Superstore
They were eatin’ Goldfish, askin’ for more
An old man lined up behind us, and he shook his head
The kids were strangely quiet
I heard him when he said

You’ve got to hold on, it goes so fast (Chorus)
These early days, well, they don’t last
Got to enjoy them, they go so fast
The baby days, well, they don’t last

Look forward to the evenin’ when the monkeys go to bed
Then we talk all night about ’em, we feel half dead
We used to be too tired to eat in but it’s a total crap shoot to eat out

(Chorus)

Oh you’re gettin’ rid of diapers that you washed every night
And we’re saving up for date night so we can have our fight
If its quiet for a moment, oh you better run upstairs!
‘Cause the toothpaste in the bathroom is redefining everywhere

(Chorus)

Oh, I like the way you talk now, you talk like me
All the funny things you’re saying, you’re real good company
Oh, the odds are strong and crazy, and our love profound
you make our messy house feel like holy ground

Pretty awesome right? It puts things in perspective when my 4 year old is being especially challenging. What are some songs you gravitate to? Does music carry the same tune for you heart?

Who Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

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Yesterday was a favourite day at our house. We celebrate All Hallow’s Eve (aka Halloween). Not because of the candy (but that is a lovely bonus), but rather because we love the sense of community that it honours. We live on a small street, a bit away from the hustle and bustle of our popular neighbourhood. So while we fill our bags, it’s not due to all the houses we see – it’s because of the connection we’ve built with our neighbours.

My kids went to a handful of houses and each person knew them, either by name or recognition. Most of our neighbours gave the kids small packages of candy and toys. With their name on it and everything. That meant a lot to all of us. With our bags full in just a block, we went home happy and excited.

Another reason to love All Hallows Eve is the dressing up. Of course. We all dress up in our home and make the costumes over the course of small snippets of time. We have some House Rules about costumes – can’t all be store bought, no weapons, and the final decision has to be fully chosen with 2 weeks to spare before October 31. That’s the hard part i think! So we all help make the costumes and get into the spirit.

My kids dress up on a regular basis, and love to role play. What i love is the opportunity to see the world through their eyes and some things they would like to be – whether when they grow up or in another version of their life. I also like to choose characters that i admire and would love to be in another reality.

When the night of collecting goodies was done, we got into the nitty gritty of our other tradition – looking over all the candy goodies. We have a tradition of having the Good Witch come to our place. She gets to receive the leftover candy so that she can help make Fairy Dust for the year. She thanks our kids with a present the next morning. This year, the decisions of what candy to keep were painstakingly hard. I had to hold back a few times to not prompt my kids to PICK MORE CHOCOLATE. They are into lollipops and fruit candies but i think they have no idea that they missed the abundance of wee chocolate bars that were sitting right there.

It’s a good lesson for all of us – my kids got to pick things they were excited about, do some math to count how much they get to keep, and i got to learn to breathe in breathe out. We want to give them some choice and also learn to make some critical decision-making choices, even if that means more chocolate to give away to the Good Witch (ahem, me and their dad).

I guess that’s a win-win in the end, anyway right?

I Want to be My Children’s Compass Point

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I was listening to a CBC segment a few weeks ago, with a writer who shared her philosophy on this whole ‘parenting’ movement. While she too wrote a book about it, she wonders if we are doing ourselves a disservice with all this pressure and industry around parenting.

There are a lot of books, workshops, and ‘experts’ that are available to us these days. Each is designed to help you be the best parent you can, and also to find solutions for places that you are stuck. While i guess we fall under this category a bit, i prefer to see our practice as an extra support to you as you guide yourself to the best parenting path. That said, we can be overwhelmed when other parents or even just the regular folk who are waiting in line at the grocery store, ask you if you are an ‘attachment parent’, ‘free range parent,’ or a ‘peaceful parent’ or even a ‘helicopter parent.’ There is just so much pressure and pull to be defined as ____ parent: I just want to be the best parent i can for my children.

So i hope this doesn’t sound too contradictory to that writers point: i really love reading books and finding ones that speak to what i hold dear to me, and what our family’s values are.

As someone who really values being attached to my children, my partner, and to the people closest to me, i relish the chance to integrate this bond in any way i can. Having read Hold On to Your Kids by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate, i wish all new parents can read this book. In it, they describe how attachment can play out between our children and ourselves, to the better of our relationship and also for our communities.

Neufeld goes on further to explain that attachment is not just about the practices – things we do like wear our babies in carriers, co-sleep, stay with our babies all the time, and exclusively breastfeed. Rather, it is a relationship between the child and parent. This relationship gives a context to how the child is raised in the family and grows up in the world. I so love the idea that we are to be our child’s compass point, and that it actually puts them at a disadvantage when we hurry them to stop being dependent on us. There is a dance of attachment that we go through with our children, and in order to keep that bond alive, it is our job to remain the alpha in their lives. It may sound daunting in this day of technology, and peer orientation, but i also really hope that my children come to me No Matter What when they are in their teen years. The work i’m doing now fosters that future attachment.

What that in mind, I’m really excited that Dr. Neufeld is coming to Toronto at the end of November, to flush out this theory of attachment and development. He is giving two talks – one is a two-hour discussion on how play can help build attachment, and the other is a full day workshop on resiliency and attachment. If you want to learn more about this theory, why don’t you come check it out!

Giving Thanks

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This weekend is about being thankful, about taking a moment to take notice of the things you are grateful for. It can be hard to acknowledge these things as most of us get too busy with the daily grind of life. It’s hard to s l o w d o w n and say thanks.

Of course, it doesn’t help that our kids and partners may not take a moment to say thanks to us. I hear myself saying out loud ‘thanks mom’ whenever I do something kind for my kids. Sure I’m saying it with a bit of sarcasm, but I’m also doing it to hear it said AND to model for my children that it feels good to hear it.

We have a tradition in our home to do a weekly entry in a Gratitude Jar. It’s a time that we put aside after our Sunday dinner, to reflect on the week and the things that we liked about it – or rather were thankful for. We do this weekly, and then at the end of the year – during our New Year’s Eve meal for instance – we take entries from each month and share them again. It helps keep the gratitude flowing, and it enables us to hold on to the things that were dear and meaningful and positive for us. Here’s a helpful article to make one yourself – they’re really easy to make!

I appreciate this intention – to purposefully gather together and share moments in our week that we hold special. It can be as simple as being grateful for your new toy truck, or sharing a coffee with an old friend, or being excited to be asked to be part of a new team at work. It gives us space to relish this feeling even more, giving us more time to be thankful and happy.It helps guide is to be more mindful of what is important to us, and to hold on to it.

My daughter made this poster at school this week – she shared that she is ‘thankful for my mom’s food.’ I have to say that it came perfectly time on a day that she devoured her dinner and also barely ate a morsel of food at lunch. Seeing this sweet painting sure filled me with gratitude – to her for doing this activity and also for her teacher for making a point to show the students what being thankful really is about.

How do you show your gratitude with your family? And more importantly, how do you show to yourself what you are grateful for? This weekend will be a perfect time to set aside a moment and have the intention to write 3 things you are grateful for, or go for a walk in a forest and take notice of the changing leaves – and take that time to reflect on things you are thankful for from this past month or year.
The more we practice being grateful, the more readily this practice comes. Setting this intention will enable you to take notice of it more quickly and therefore fill your being with more love and kindness.

Everything is Better Outside

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We went camping recently with our little ones. We like to do it once annually and haven’t yet gone this summer. I’m a fan of camping and being outdoors, but I’m not a very experienced camper. I am amazed by friends who can go camping for a week – I’m more of a two-night camper. And there has to be a large lake nearby to seal the deal.

On the morning of our planned trip, my daughter was having an especially strong bout of strong will and disagreement. She started Junior Kindergarten this month, and Saturdays have been especially tiresome as she is adjusting to this new routine. And, I think her quota for being nice nice to everyone and cooperative was done.

So, she argued with her big brother, she argued with me, she argued with her dad. If she could have, I think she would have argued with our turtle and cat. That said, the empathic and wise side of me knew that it’s about her feeling tired, excited and full – but in the moment, all I want to do is get the car packed asap, eat breakfast, and get her dressed. In any order.

My partner looked at me after yet another difficult moment and declared, ‘that’s it, we’re not going camping’ and I promptly stated ‘oh yeah we are, we can’t stay here all day like THIS. Remember our mantra: Everything is better outside.’

Let me explain: a few years ago, after a hard few months being indoors with the winter blahs, I was looking for support from a friend. I was sharing our feeling of cabin fever and she, a wise friend, told me that ‘everything is better outside.’ She shared that it’s almost instant, the change our body and mind feels after getting outdoors – be it your backyard, porch, sidewalk, a park.

Being the therapist that I am, I looked up more info about this theory. And sure enough, studies show that being outdoors improves mental health and well-being, fights off feelings of depression, and it also helps heal physical health issues like colds and more. Win-win, right? Here’s a good article that explains this more.

And now, I can confirm that this theory is true. On days that the kids are at each other, or are bored, or I’m feeling low or drained, I suggest going to our neighbourhood park (or even our backyard if I’m too unmotivated). My kids usually are quick to get ready and burst out the door – and if they aren’t, we pack toys and the best. snacks. ever and go.

This past weekend was the icing on the cake to prove this theory to be true. We were camping for just over 24 hours, and in that time, there was not 1 fight, we all were jovial and excited, the kids slept well and through the night, we swam our last swim of the season in a lake, and I remained calm. We all relished the outdoors and were even content with the flies and fire smoke.

So the next time you have a day that is just too much to bear, take it outside. You don’t have to do it with the kids even. Why not go outside to read a book (or who’s kidding, your social media news), enjoy a tea? You will also see that everything is better outside.

Vacations

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As today begins a new school year, summer break is officially over. This is a time for a big shift in routine, rhythm, and real life. While most of us as adults don’t have a break from ‘real life’ like our children do, summer still brings a slowness to life and a happier approach to daily living.

I like to think of September as an opportunity for change and renewal. It seems like a more realistic opportunity to make space for New Year’s resolutions and the pledges we make for change. Maybe I’m just being optimistic though: I like to think September as the new January.

One pledge i am working on is to hold on to the summer slowness as long as possible. Here’s why:

I was listening to a story on the news last week that shared new research about the vacations we take. It really sat with me. As I was able to go on a vacation with the family this summer, I truly relished the gift of being away from home and everyday life. It was a wonderful trip, though it came with stressors of heat waves, stitches (we’re all okay now), sibling arguments and spending over budget. What this new research shows is that it takes just about a week (or two if we are lucky) to get back to this so-called real life after we go away, or at least take a break from it. It also shows that it’s best to spread out our vacation time over the course of the year, so that we don’t use up all those great relaxed and happy feelings that come being on a break. The article further shares that people who do (and can and are privileged to) take vacation, are healthier both physically and mentally.

Of course, as a mama to 2 young children, my vacation time is not truly a break for me but rather a trip to a new place where i still have to cook, clean, pick up, tidy, and coordinate my kids daily lives. Sometimes a trip is actually more work than being at home as we don’t have the luxuries of our usual appliances, etc. So, it’s important to be mindful and intentional with what you need too. Maybe we can’t take a trip without our children – or you don’t want to – but in that time away, make a point to take time for yourself. Be it a long shower, reading in bed after the kids go to bed, morning walks, a quick get away in the canoe, and even turning the work of cooking in a leisury act.

It also helps to do things to savor the good memories from you summer vacation. This helps us reflect and stay mindful of the moments we hold dear. In our family, we keep a weekly Highlight Jar where we share things that happened in the week that made us happy. We do this each Sunday at dinner. We also make a communal art work that depicts something we cherish. This year, we are making a painting together where each of us share 1 thing from our trip that we loved. Other families I know make photo books just as summer is ending so that they can look at the books in the Fall and Winter, in order to stay connected to the good times of summer. And look at this sweet crafty idea, a new message in a bottle of sorts!

What will you do to help you stay mindful to the things you loved about this summer?