Self-Care Rituals

As World Mental Health Day (October 10) is today, and Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day (October 15) is approaching later this week, i wanted to share with you a tool that can help you take intentional steps in take care of your emotional well-being.

I know that there is a lot of talk about self-care and it seems to be a trendy word. But being able to take time out for ourselves, to rest and recharge is so important to building post-traumatic resiliency as well as helping us put our needs down as a priority.

There are other similar tools that help us find a moment to do something for ourselves each day. I think that it helps to be able to find or steal a few moments for ourselves every day. Especially when we are busy with other things and are starting to feel overwhelmed.

I call this tool the Weekly Self-Care Routine. I put it together i noticed it is something i do in my own life and it helps me. It is a part of my Wellness Toolkit. Some activities can take a mere few minutes, and others are more indulgent. I put together this weekly routine as each day touches on key areas that can help boost our mood as well as distract us from what was causing us stress or anxiety. For instance, a few activities encourage you to connect with someone you love and trust (i.e. Motivate Me Monday). Having connection and belonging have been shown to help with our mental health – just ask Brene Brown and her great new book Braving the Wilderness.

Another activity i touch on is using the body to move and get feelings out (Tuesday Jam Session). Movement exercises like yoga and dance have been proven to help boost our moods. The brain geek in me is always telling people about how amazing and powerful the mind/body connection is.

As someone who uses expressive arts tools in my life, i also wanted to incorporate some here – the dance exercise above for example, as well as Woman in the Mirror Wednesday (who doesn’t *love* a good role play?!) and Thoughtful Thursday journal exercises. You can also do a fun art activity alone or with your family on Friday Family Fun Day or a class for yourself on Saturday Self-Care Day.

Feel free to download this worksheet as a starting point for yourself: you can tweak it to suit your needs and routine. Each week, i will share some suggestions on my Facebook page to help if you get stuck as well.

It may feel strange at first to do some of these exercises, and hard to convince ourselves to take this time out. But feel free to include family members in some of these activities, or do it when you have a moment alone after everyone is asleep. Remember, we can’t give from an empty cup so if we don’t take care of ourselves, who will?

Expectation vs Reality: The Anniversary Edition

This weekend was a special anniversary for me. I’ve been with my partner for 17 years. Call me sentimental but i like to honour that. So, when our favourite summer music festival changed the dates on us, we (naively?) thought we could still all go and enjoy ourselves.

Typically, my partner and i go to the Hillside by ourselves for most of the weekend, and bring the kidlets on Sunday. It’s a win-win: we spend the day outdoors listening to music we love, and the kids stay at a pool with their cousins for the day. This year, as the festival dates fell right on our special day, we tried to have the best of both worlds – take the kids to the festival AND be all romantic like.

It almost worked.

We decided to take the kids camping at a nearby conservation park. One that was part of the early days of my dating life with my partner. We are by no means camping experts, but we go each year. This year, we jumped on a recent sale and bought a 6-person tent. One that my partner (all 6 feet of them) could stand in. We also treated ourselves to those fold-up chairs. So fancy. What we didn’t plan was the tantrum both kids threw when we told them there were no more caves to walk to and discover. That the first night away from home is always a shit show. That the Elora Quarry was too full at 2:00 to allow us to go swimming. That they couldn’t finish that world’s biggest lollipop on an empty stomach. All this was on the Saturday, which was my special day. MINE.

In the midst of all this, my son lost his newly bought souvenir. He’s been wanting ‘real gold’ for a while: why, i have no idea but it’s a thing. And so when we found this dig-your-own gold nugget toy, we treated him to one. In the span of an hour, he forgot where he left it. We were already back at the camp site when he wanted to dig for his gold. Our tensions were already high from the shit show i mentioned above. A part of me really just wanted him to Learn His Lesson for losing yet another belonging. But another part of me wanted to just turn the day around. I went with that decision. He and i ended up having a lovely scavenger hunt for it in town (kind of like pirates we are!) and no we didn’t find it. So what did this great and understanding parent do? I bought him a new one. Yes i did. We told the store clerk what happened and she said ‘you’re the world’s best mom.’ No, i’m not but i did tell her i did it for me too – it would make MY day better too: and he did learn a lesson – we agreed he was going to pay me back

Call me selfish i guess. I did get the best hug ever after from lil c, and he made sure that all his body was hugging mine. And, did he found gold? No. He lucked with a plain ole rock. Has he left it in his pocket and forgotten about it? Yes he has.

Ahoy matey!

But, we all had a good night’s sleep in this massive tent, with our cozy sleeping bags. And we went to Hillside recharged and refreshed. We selvedged the weekend and had a glorious time at our annual summer music festival.

One thing that i will especially treasure if my older kid (lil c) has recently discovered his own style of music. He appreciates music and performance and jumped right in there appreciating it all: This is what i hope to give him with our annual ritual of going here. My youngest (Miss M) was happy just to go around and around (and around) on the homemade Merry Go Round.

While it wasn’t exactly what i wanted, i did get to enjoy a favourite musician, eat great food, and see the night sky. I got to cuddle with my sweetie and remember why we are still going strong 17 years later. That counts for something and i’m so glad we honoured our tradition. I love this chocolate – the names were as much action as i got this weekend. But the chocolate was amazing.

We Marched

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This Saturday, we joined the masses in the Women’s March. I definitely didn’t want to miss it and my daughter was happy to attend as she has learned already (at 4) that ‘Trump doesn’t like girls, and we’re girls mama!’ She made a sign, i knit pussyhats, and packed snacks.

More importantly, we had a good conversation with her and her older brother about what it means to be a feminist, an ally, what privilege means, and how to make our voice heard. My son joined us for the march too, as we have been talking about how language is powerful and about consent. As a white woman, who is currently able-bodied and partnered with a man, i know i have a lot of privilege. I work on being an ally and to unlearn the mis-truths i’ve been taught. I know it’s also my place to teach this to my children. We don’t know yet who they will love, but we do know that they need to learn more about being an ally and about consent.

Both my children know about consent and the correct words for their bodies. My daughter in fact used her knowledge of consent recently when she wanted to cut her long hair into a bob. I was suggesting just a trim, but she wanted more – ‘my body my choice mama’ is what i got. Of course i couldn’t challenge that. My daughter is also a hugger and a really good one at that. We are working on reminding her too about needing consent from others. It’s a continuous conversation surely.
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My daughter decided against carrying a poster so she wore our Vagina Activist pin proudly. We have discussions about gender fluidity often. Miss M has a good understanding of this, so she wore the pin in reference to her own vagina and her rights. I appreciate that. We’ve been talking a lot about gender and labels, and my son is quick to remind us that he has pushed boundaries with his clothes in the past. In the context of my work, my kids know too that not all women are mothers, and not all parents who birth babies or chestfeed are mothers. This will be an on-going conversation too as they get older and unpack things more.

It was a peaceful march, a walk really. My son called it a ‘standstill’ at one point for all the standing we did too. They learned some powerful songs and chants, and read some great posters. My daughter took notice of all the other Pussyhats that looked like ours. For these reasons, i believe whole-heartedly that there is a place for children at marches. It teaches this new generation that change is possible, and that we can be at the centre of making change.

The people united will never be defeated.

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!

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?

A Simple Summer

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Today starts the summer break for school age children and their parents. It carries with it a lot of excitement, expectation, and ideas.

I can remember some key summer days with my sister and our friends. What I remember is playing in the various backyards, school playgrounds, and fields. I remember eating a lot of popsicles, freezies, and fruit. I remember shucking peas out of their shells, making tie-dyed tops, and making friendship bracelets. I remember playing with bugs, caterpillars, and frogs.

What I don’t remember is the work my mom had to put into it all but I’m sure she did. I do know I loved summer more than any other time. Maybe because it was fun, maybe because I was with my bestest friends, and maybe because there was no pressure of school. But I do think ultimately it was because it was simple, sweet, and unhurried.

In this day of gadgets, play dates, summer camps, and full agendas, lets also remember that its ok to not do anything at all some of the time – to just unwind and put your collective feet up. The kids won’t mind. Really they won’t. They too will relish the time to do nothing and (egads) be a bit bored. It won’t last long, really.

Give yourself a break too – your children will love summer anyway and we too deserve to put our feet up with a cold class of lemonade. They remember the fun days of summer and we need to as well. So put down your agenda and to-do list and help yourself to your (third) popsicle today.

Here is a link to a lovely site that honours a Simpler Summer: Simplicity Community And for more good reading about summer, check out this article. Oh and ETA a similar article by Hands Free Mama writer that was written later in the day that i originally posted this – i couldn’t pass this up!