Skip to content

mindfulness

Summer vacation, when doing the dishes is fun

This last week we’ve been hanging out at a sweet spot just a couple hours away. I chose it because of the stream running by—big enough to splash in but small enough that it didn’t set off any alarms in that “I could drown your children” way. I had visions of sitting on the deck with a glass of wine watching the boys splash and explore.

It hasn’t been *exactly* like that. The deck wraps around so that it takes long enough to get to the creek from my wine-drinking perch that it didn’t feel safe to have Cal down there. What we’ve done every day that I didn’t envision is rock hopping downstream, looking for crawdads and picking the juiciest blackberries along the way.

I had an afternoon while Cal and AJ napped to do just this. Me and Jo splashing around, the gentle joy of discovering what’s around the next bend and the next, feet sloshing through cool creek water. A hot topic of discussion during our meander was conceived of by Jo: “No, Mom, it’s not beautiful. It’s awesome.” He was talking about some moss or a tree or some ripples in the water. And so a new game was born: Beautiful or awesome?

Discarded crawdad claws we found on a river rock after someone’s midnight snack?

photo

Decidedly awesome.

This dreamy riffle?

photo(1)

J0: awesome and beautiful. Me: I love this kid.

These are the moments when I totally get my kid. When we’re outside, exploring, both alert to discovery. Our chatter ebbs and flows. Our attention doesn’t. Just two companions, with nothing but interest, space and time.

photo(2)

Should life require a modest vacation budget and a creek-side cabin to enjoy the people we love in this spacious, easy way?

I’d like to say no, but then I wouldn’t completely agree with myself.

There’s something about being away from the place you know (or think you know) that allows these other parts of yourself to light up. The explorer part, the bored part, the lazy-in-a-good-way part, the “sure, let’s try it” part.

Life at home can bog me down. The relentless weekly schedule, my constant tracking of things that need to be done, the unending stream of things that need to be done. It’s no wonder I angle for boy bedtime so I can lay on the couch and hypnotize it all away with a little sugar and internet tv.

Here, I have actually enjoyed doing the dishes. In a day with no demands, only options (and fewer of them) I’ve become interested by daily chores. Why should sweeping feel any more or less monotonous than reading a magazine? The truth is, both can be relaxing or drudgery, depending on the context. Yesterday’s highlights were spent on my knees cleaning my yoga mat with soap and water and scrubbing the brownish crust from around the burners of the stove. I leaped into both activities with the same interest and satisfaction that I see in Cal while he spins the clear glass knob on our bedside table for 20 minutes while I doze.

I’m hoping that these reminders – that time can feel big and open and interesting, that dish-doing can be a sensory reprieve – will carry over into my regular life. But I know that within a few weeks I will have forgotten. Maybe that’s why vacation exists.

On being tipsy and resenting children and Eckhart Tolle

My nearly 4-year-old J has really been getting to me lately. God love him, he knows how to push my buttons. (Perhaps anyone’s buttons–because really, who likes being communicated with in a steady stream of whiiiINE?)

I’ve found myself wishing, at times, that I had a different child. One less kinetic, less fiery. One less interested in turning every object into a weapon. I’ll take that boy over there, the one talking to himself while he colors at the table, absorbed. Or that little girl, sitting in her mom’s lap, watching the other kids at the park.

As luck would have it, I’ve started leafing through my still unread copy of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I’ve had previous love affairs with Eckhart, but the last few years, I’ve found him so hard to relate to. Does he ever wear colors? Or burst out laughing? Or swear? Is he really a person? Or just a little alien elf, ported down on earth to write unnervingly insightful books and high five Oprah?

Anyhow, I stumbled into this:

Place your attention on feeling the emotion, and check whether your mind is holding on to a grievance pattern such as blame, self-pity, or resentment that is feeding the emotion. If that is the case, it means that you haven’t forgiven. Non-forgiveness is often toward another person or yourself, but it may just as well be toward any situation or condition–past, present, or future– that your mind refuses to accept… Forgiveness is to relinquish your grievance and so to let go of grief. It happens naturally once you realize that your grievance seres no purpose except to strengthen a false sense of self. Forgiveness is to offer no resistance to life–to allow life to live through you…The moment you truly forgive, you have reclaimed your power from the mind. The mind cannot forgive. Only you can. You become present, you enter your body, you feel the vibrant peace and stillness that emanate from Being.

Thank you, Eckhart, for this life-altering little nugget. You may be a strange, impish man with a monotone voice who wears too much beige, but damn, you’re good.

This whole forgiveness thing helps me understand a momentary break from my resentment towards J that I had last night:

After the 35th whiny intonation about why the chalk road I was drawing needed to be longer or orange or “more crazy,” I poured myself a nice big glass of wine.

I had a few sips. And I felt a little less resentment over the fact that I was squatting in our driveway, maintaining a slight jiggle to to keep baby C asleep in the moby wrap, and managing by some feat of flexibility and balance to draw a road for J’s dump trucks and dragons with teeth and spikes.

Halfway through the glass, I was actually enjoying J. Well, first, I was angry because I couldn’t find him, and was ready to enforce the rule about staying on our side of the white fence. And then I saw a rustling in the grass on the little planted strip between the sidewalk and the road. There he was, all nestled down, staring up at the golden seed pods arcing into the sky.

JinGrass

I had done the same thing as a child. I followed our black and white manx cat, Dolly, up a grassy hill near our garage and found her in a perfectly soft and matted cove in the tall grass. I crawled in after her, layed down, and had that dreamy feeling of being underwater, light filtering down through the green.

The nest in the grass that J had found was a few feet beyond The White Fence border past which he is not supposed to go unless he asks. But in that moment, in the glow of the wine and my childhood memory, I just connected with him.

As we smiled at each other and talked about how beautiful the grass was, I felt less angry, less resentful, less a beast of burden.

I don’t know how Eckhart would feel about this, but I think the wine helped me forgive. I think the wine helped me get out of my incessant mental chatter stream about all the really good reasons I have to feel resentful towards J. And I was able to just see him. And be there. And see how beautiful he was all nestled down under a grassy sky.

Small victories for a new mother of 2

1) I had 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep last night. My dearest A. took the first nighttime shift with my new dearest baby C. who is taking a bottle like a champ.

2) Rather than trying for 2 hours to put C. to sleep between the hours of 5 and 7 a.m., I just held him this morning and dozed off and on. In the end, when my dearest 3-and-3-quarters child, J woke up at 7:20 a.m., C was asleep and I was able to put him down and go enjoy a full 45 minutes of morning time with J. It was blissful to have some uninterrupted time with him, all warm and rumpled and bright.

3) At some point in the afternoon, A. said he’d make dinner, an offer that nearly moves me to tears these days, since I’ve been nearly 100% on dinner duty for the past months while A. does things like demolishing bathrooms and putting up siding. I handed both boys off to him, and they all headed for a quick runaround at the park. I went off to do some caulking the bathroom of our rental. The caulking was dreamy. I was unencumbered by the stream of spontaneous toddler and baby demands and able to focus on one single thing—in this case, creating a mildew-free, water tight seal around our renter’s bathtub. And I listened to this episode of This American Life, which I found characteristically soulful, charming and thought-provoking (I just effing love that show). Just as I was finishing up, I felt my own hunger pulling me towards dinner time, so walked back to our place to find it empty.

My mind immediately hopped on the hamster wheel it runs in such situations.

343309195_27b2e162a7_z
Photo by Beth L. Alexander

Yep. 6:30. Also known as dinner time. And he offered to cook dinner, and he’s nowhere to be found and now dinner will be late, bedtime will be late and J will get all hopped up and hard to put to sleep. Not to mention that I’m hungry and just want someone else to make dinner for once.

 I figured that they were still at the park and got ready to walk over and go find them in order to pull out all the passive aggressive stops to make sure A knew that I was pissed about the lack of dinner.

But instead, I stopped. I felt myself revving up in this familiar way that I do when I’m tired and frustrated. And I just stopped for a moment. I was hungry. Almost shaky with hunger as only a breastfeeding woman who has been caulking a bathtub can be. And I also remembered for a moment that A. is capable and smart and caring and probably had some reasonable thoughts about why he wasn’t in the kitchen working on dinner.

Instead of marching out to the park to let A. have it, I opened the fridge, found some leftover chicken and a beer and sat down to eat it.

Tonight, I took part in a quiet revolution at my dining table: I was hungry. So I fed myself. And I gave my partner some credit.

A few minutes later, he came home with C sleeping in the sling and J trotting beside him. “Sorry we got held up at the park. I’m just gonna figure out a quick dinner for J.” And he did figure it out. More importantly, I let him. I did not bang around angry to find a quick dinner for J. And when they all walked in the door, wasn’t resentful because I was already eating my dinner and drinking a beer and knowing that A. was a capable, reasonable person.

4) I am now going to stop typing, turn on the white noise, pop in my earplugs and go to sleep alone in this queen sized bed while A. takes another night shift with baby C. Here’s hoping for another 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. But I’ll settle for 3-4.

p.s. I’m posting this at 7:30 am after 6, count them SIX hours of sleep.  And C. is sleeping in our bed with A. And J. is awake but playing in his room quietly.

Small victories.

How I came to love the hospital birth that I didn't want, Part 1

Two weeks ago today, I had a baby.

He’s right over there, in bed next to me.

Photo on 2013-06-15 at 09.58
He is very blonde.

Two weeks and one day ago, I agreed with my midwives that the home birth I had hoped for was not the safest option, and I sobbed while I packed my hospital bag.

Three weeks ago, I was 41 weeks pregnant with an emotional state the equivalent of soggy tissue paper, battling the daily mind-game of “Why isn’t my body going into labor?”

I had forgotten, since the birth of my three-and-three-quarters (!) year old, J, how strange and vulnerable it feels to stay pregnant significantly past the “due date” of a baby. I mistakenly thought that my experience as a doula and of birthing J 13 days after he was “due” would carry me through. I know that statistically, most women carry their babies past 40 weeks. I talk my doula clients through this all the time—and even gave myself the same pep talk I gave one of them in the latter part of this blog post (which may also delight you if you like gluten free baking).

But memories and knowledge barely stack up against the gravity of an extremely pregnant body and the wash of emotions constantly lapping at the shores of the extremely pregnant brain in a culture that celebrates planning and “due dates” and has erected a very intimidating, medically-recommended cut off date of 42 weeks to most pregnancies.

Let’s just say that in those last couple weeks, I swung dramatically between 1) a tower of mindfulness and brave surrender and 2) a complete disaster puddle.

One day, I would feel completely unfettered and at peace—enjoying the relative simplicity of life with only one child and eating these incredible doughnuts.

Thank you, Doughnut Dolly.
Thank you, Doughnut Dolly.

The next, I would be plagued with worry that despite all my efforts at natural induction—sex, acupuncture, membrane stripping—that I would reach 42 weeks and, according to my home birth midwives’ policy, no longer be able to have the home birth that I wanted. And then I would envision a whole host of unlikely and horrendous birth defects that might be the reason I wasn’t going into labor, and also the complete financial disaster that would ensue once we had our complicated hospital birth of our very sickly child on our not-so-great insurance policy.

And then, it happened. I had to jump headfirst into my hospital birth fear and let go of the last shred of control I thought I might have when my midwife said, “This looks like a baby that wants to be born in the hospital.”

At a routine non-stress test (used to assess the health of the baby by monitoring its heart rate and amniotic fluid levels) the nurse saw one significant deceleration of our baby’s heart rate. And my amniotic fluid levels were quite low. My midwives consulted with their back-up obstetrician and recommended that I check into the hospital for an induction in a few hours. Their concern was that the low fluid levels were leading to cramped conditions in utero and that some sort of compression was leading to the heart deceleration that we saw. If those decelerations continued and intensified, they would lead to consistently reduced blood flow and oxygen to the baby.

I was devastated. I would never light all the candles that my friends had given me when I went into labor at home. I wouldn’t hear my own moans in our living room as I labored our baby into the world.

I was scared. Would I feel cornered into making decisions that I didn’t want to make at the hospital? Would the Pitocin make my contractions unbearable? Would the post-partum nurse cram this baby’s head onto my breast in those first few minutes instead of giving me and the baby time to try breastfeeding on our own?

The questions rolled through my head and I cried. I packed. I ate dinner at our house. And said goodbye to my mother and J. It felt like I was heading to a kind of death. Two hours to pack and say goodbye, and don’t forget to pay attention because your family will never be like this again.

We drove to the hospital and stopped on our way to get a popsicle. I allowed myself the extravagant purchase of a local, artisanal, tangerine gelato version from Whole Foods. My partner A. and I scarfed them down while we lugged our bags up to Labor and Delivery.

Photo by sleepyneko/flickr.
Photo by sleepyneko/flickr.

That popsicle was my turning point.

We settled in and unpacked. Hung some colorful scarves on the wall. Chatted with our midwife and laughed with our nurse.

I took some Misoprostol at 10:30 pm, and contractions started 5 minutes later. Sweet, blessed contractions that I’d been dreaming of for days. They were nice, rhythmic, easy ones. The baby had more heart decelerations with those contractions. They gave me oxygen started an IV drip so fast that it left me shaking with the flood of cool fluid in my veins. The decelerations stopped. And I knew at that moment we had made the right decision.

When I agreed to be induced at the hospital, I was overwhelmed by disappointment. This was not what I wanted. And I needed to sob myself silly over it. Now, here I was, thanking my baby for those heart decelerations. They helped us all make what we hoped was the best decision for him. And they confirmed, as I breathed in oxygen and watched the methodical IV drip, that it was.

***

It has taken me the better part of a day juggling one toddler and one baby to write this, so in the interest of my own sense of accomplishment, I’m going to post this now. I hope to deliver part 2 “soon.” ((And here is part 2…only took me 3 weeks…))

Why I take my brain out for dinner. And what we talk about. And what we eat.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an increasingly intimate relationship with my brain.

Thanks to my friend D, who introduces me to at least half of the things I love the most in the world, I started going to meditation and dharma talks led by this guy. The practice of just sitting with my often frenetic brain for 40 minutes every Thursday was sometimes a refuge and sometimes completely infuriating, but it served the function of sitting down over a nice, lingering dinner with my brain on a weekly basis.

A dinner my brain and I enjoyed recently: Cuban Chicken Salad w/ Garbanzos. Brains really like protein.
More about that later.

We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. And I now understand that my brain does what all brains do. It thinks. A lot. Unceasingly at times. Just like hearts are completely obsessive compulsive about pumping blood, brains are like hyper OCD versions of that one friend you have who needs to discuss everything, all the time.

My weekly meditation pretty much went the way of the dodo as soon as J was born. Much like my relationship with my partner A, my brain and I had a nice solid foundation to draw on in those first soaring and, well, shocking post-partum months. And, much like my relationship with A, the groovy connection I’d developed with my brain started to flail and falter pretty quickly after J was born. And ever since, we’ve been scrambling towards recovery.

The Zoloft certainly helped, as did J growing into a person who sleeps more and has more predictable, human-like behaviors. And, as I’ve discussed, I’ve been trying in the last year to reach a nice, steady, and dare I say optimistic place with my post-partum brain.

Enter: Brain books.

They’ve taught me that I didn’t know my brain as well as I thought I did.

One of them was tucked in the bed side table of the house where we stayed while on vacation in my Colorado hometown. (We managed to sort out a house swap during our time there, which was awesome.)

I’d been meaning to read the book ever since I heard Taylor’s TED talk (which is, coincidentally, the second most-viewed TED talk of all time) and BOOM, there it was, begging to be read. Taylor describes her experience of a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain, and her stroke of insight, as it were, is that once her left brain shuts down, her right brain floats into a sort of timeless, peaceful bliss.

So I’ve developed this image of my left brain, all numbers and science and words–a stern accountant sitting at a perfectly organized desk, making sure every ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ is crossed. And right hemisphere, a buddha-like child, giddy with the sensory input of the present moment and happy to sit dangling her toes in the stream and feeling the warmth of the sun. Maybe it’s not necessarily a matter of seeking peace, but rather tapping into that right brain that’s already there (and perhaps tying up and gagging my left brain).

Since we got home from Colorado, I’ve been reading this:

It’s been a game changer for sure. The biggest revelation so far: there are a lot of other mood issues other than depression that are associated with having low amounts of serotonin in your brain.

  • low self esteem
  • obsessive behaviors
  • controlling behaviors
  • false fear in the form of shyness, anxiety or panic
  • perfectionism

Reading that list, while an unnerving indictment of my life for the last 6 months, has been deeply liberating. So maybe it’s not just that I’m one of those perfectionist types, but this could actually have something to do with my brain chemistry. And more than just feeling liberated by an idea, I’ve been actually feeling better. My mood is improved.

As the book recommends, I’ve been paying more attention to my diet, and focusing more on good mood foods–fish, poultry, eggs, lamb, beef, pork, Pippa milk, veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains, butter, coconut milk, olive oil. And having less of a love affair with bad mood food: sugar, white flour, wheat, and soy. I’ve also been paying more attention to my daily mood cycles. Ross says that it’s very common to have a serotonin dip in the afternoon, which is why we often crave sweet snacks and caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon–to prop up our mood.  So I started taking my Zoloft around noon–instead of before bed as I had been doing.

And shazzam. My mood is improved. My brain seems to like this new turn of events. And it’s better company during those long, get-to-know-you dinners.

Before this starts to sound like some hopped up infomercial, let me please just say that my main motivation in writing this is:

  1. To celebrate.
  2. To share–in the hopes that you’ll find it helpful for you or some anxious, OCD perfectionist you love.

I just honestly never knew so much about my brain before. And I feel a lot more fondness, interest, and compassion. And less like wanting to exchange mine for a new one.

On zen and the domestic arts


I spend most of my days doing housework. For the last 2 years, I’ve wrestled with what that means about my identity and value in the world. After my recent reality tv bender, I found that doing the dishes isn’t the worst thing on earth after all.