Friday, December 30, 2011

Taking a break

I really, really hate to do this, seems the wisest and kindest thing to do right now.

I have some pressing health issues and family matters to tend to (when it rains it pours!) so I'm having a hard time spending quality time with MaMammalia. I'm going to take a short time-out and hopefully be back within a couple of weeks. Don't worry, I have plenty of wonderful ideas in the works for the new year.

Hmmm, maybe I shouldn't call it a time-out since that has all kinds of punitive, negative connotations attached to it. How about a break? That's better. I'm going to take a little break.  :)

Friday, December 16, 2011

What Gentle Parenting Looks Like

When I tell people that I practice gentle parenting, I think they get the impression that this means always being positive, having infinite patience, and never losing one's temper or getting angry. In truth, I see gentle parenting as a practice, and one that takes considerable practice at that.

Yes, I do strive to always be responsive to my son. I try to maintain a positive outlook, to be supportive, to use gentle guidance instead of punishment, to be patient, and to keep my own emotions in check. But I'm human. And I have my own baggage. And I wasn't raised this way. And I'm not naturally patient or calm. And he's a toddler.

So sometimes I falter. Sometimes I feel resentful when my own needs go neglected too long. Sometimes I get sick of playing the same game 20 times, of cleaning up messes, of answering the same question over and over again, of repeating myself, of hearing him repeat himself, of whining, crying, and the whole lot. Sometimes I am just too darn tired to deal. While I don't use punishment, I do sometimes yell or say things I don't really mean. Sometimes I look like any other parent of a toddler.

So how is that "gentle" parenting? I think it's largely a matter of attitude and motivation. I don't condone my own shortcomings, nor do I dwell on feeling guilty about them. I apologize for my behavior to my son when I act in ways I don't want to. Then I make concerted efforts to do things differently, and tell him I am doing so. I reflect on what's driving my own emotions, then take steps to care for myself and heal myself if necessary. Sometimes I repeat my mistakes. So I try again. And again. I just keep trying. Parenting is, after all, a lifelong practice.

I also have an intense desire to be a better parent today than I was yesterday. I make that commitment every day and I make it a conscious choice. It's a decision that takes high priority in my life, but it is a decision I have to make repeatedly. I can't take it for granted that I'm just parenting along fine all the time. Even when things are going well, I still take time to consider how and why they are good so I can nurture those qualities. Over time, I believe those positive aspects of my parenting will become so habitual that my shortfalls will become less frequent and less intense. I'm growing with my son.

However, I think maybe the real trick to gentle parenting is being gentle to the parent. What I've found is that when I am patient with myself, I am patient with my son. When I put my basic needs first, I can easily tend to his. When I allow myself to experience and process my own emotions - however ugly or beautiful - I handle my son's emotions with sensitivity and compassion.

Don't get me wrong, my son's needs do come first. Sometimes his needs are in direct conflict with mine and I have to negotiate how and when to address my own needs. Those are challenging situations that I work on as they arise. Sometimes clarity comes with hindsight, but the point is I'm always looking, always trying to learn, always open.

More importantly, I am learning to love myself through those stressful circumstances so that I can show him the unconditional love that I feel for him, too. Self-love is a wellspring of unconditional love, the place where I find positivity, undying patience, and emotional well being. It's where I find my guide to gentle parenting.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Light in the Darkness

Welcome to the December Mindful Mama Carnival: Staying Mindful During the Holiday Season
This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Carnival hosted by Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ. This month our participants
have shared how they stay mindful during the holiday season. Please read to
the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Winter is usually a dark time for me. I am deeply affected by the shortage of sunlight and my body yearns for hibernation.  Blood meant for warmer climes retracts from the chilly surface. I become sluggish. My limbs recoil, aching for sanctuary.

Living in the Northern Hemisphere, my longing to withdraw is further complicated by the holidays. The season brings up a mix of both magical childhood memories and memories still too dark to fully retrieve. Adding  to the challenge is my son's birthday and the memories of his difficult entrance into the world. He was born in winter, even though he wasn't due until early spring. Keeping vigil in the NICU that year, I escaped my usual holiday anguish as I faced a new, utterly foreign reality. Coming home was even harder but we got through that, too. My new family survived that first dark winter.

When I look at my son now, two years later, I wonder how I got so lucky to have this being share the winter with me. I watch him run laughing, rosy-cheeked from the cold. I feel warm. I answer his litany of questions and listen to his endless discourse about the rocks, the barren trees, the dog's hardened poop. I feel elation. My arms unfold, extending outward. My feet move easily. I am awake.

When incomprehensible emotions creep up, when I feel disgust, distance, and discord over the madness of the holidays, I look at him. I remember his fight. I remember my own. I see the results of hope, commitment, and deep attachment. I see him grow and I see myself transform. I see the now and move beyond the past. I see the holidays as a time of joy, a time to celebrate that we are alive through the dark, cold winter. I see light.


Mindful Mama Carnival -- Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ Visit The Mindful Mama Homepage to find out how you can participate in the next Mindful Mama Carnival!

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Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Same shirt, different size

The first thing I noticed was the young boy's shirt: it was exactly the same as one Munchkin has, albeit several sizes bigger. I felt the urge to approach The Mom, to tell her it was one of my favorite shirts, to forge a connection, to have a chuckle over kid stuff.

The occasion to act on this urge was interrupted by the first strained interaction between The Mom and Her Daughter. The 9 or 10 year-old girl was climbing the jungle gym while The Mom was pushing Her Son in the cool shirt on the swing. The Mom called out that they would be leaving soon. The daughter responded with a gesture and something I couldn't hear, something that The Mom must have heard before.

"Don't do that. That's disrespectful," The Mom called out in a sing-songy voice. Her Daughter kept climbing. A few minutes later Her Daughter joined them at the swings. I heard another tense exchange of unintelligible words before Her Daughter scuffed off towards the slide play structure.

 A toddler girl, close to Munchkin's age, was exploring the bottom rungs of the rope ladder up to the large slide. The Daughter moved close and must have put a hand on one of the upper rungs because The Mom immediately burst out with, "Get away from there!" Her Daughter mumbled an objection.

"You get away from there now! That little girl is using it. She's small and you're big." The toddler's mother was on the other side of the play structure, like me, casually observing the drama unfold. I couldn't tell if she said anything, but it didn't seem to matter to The Mom. The Mom suggested -- no, barked -- that Her Daughter should walk around to climb up from another point. Her Daughter remained sullen near the rope ladder and bleated something else I couldn't hear.

The Mom left Her Son on the swing and walked towards Her Daughter, wagging that big finger. "I said, you get away from there now. You're big and you need to leave her alone. We always look out for the little guy. Always!"

Her Daughter ignored The Mom's orders. She stood close to the rope ladder, head down, gently spreading out the wood chips with her foot. The Mom made a beeline for their gear and started packing up, coughing up more admonishments to Her Daughter. She instructed Her Son to get off the swing and get ready to leave. To Her Daughter across the playground, she yelled, "If you don't get away from there, I'm leaving!" Her Daughter did not move.

The toddler girl moved away from the ladder and went off to explore the swings where her mother sat watching. The Daughter seized the opportunity to climb the ladder now that the whole reason for avoidance was gone. The Mom hissed at her before she laid a hand on the rungs.

"But Mom, she's gone now..." Her Daughter moaned.

"I don't care! I told you to get away from there. You made the little girl leave. You made her mommy make her leave!"

My jaw dropped. I stopped listening to them. It only took a few minutes more for The Mom to gather Her Daughter and Son to leave the playground. Munchkin and I played quietly in the sand box. I turned to smile at the toddler's mother, rhythmically pushing the little girl on the swing. She smiled back. I heard the wind rustle in the trees and the soft cry of a hawk above.

Maybe I should have mentioned the shirt, I thought.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Child-proof Breakfast of Champions

One of the hardest things for me to adapt to as a first-time mother of a young child was being interrupted. Constant. Interruptions. While eating, pooping, talking, dressing, brushing teeth, cleaning, and of course, sleeping.

In nearly two years, I've learned not only to accept the repeated interruptions, but how to work with them.  In addition to finding new ways to cook and do laundry with my toddler, I've found a breakfast of champions that is interruption-proof. By interruption-proof I don't mean I don't get interrupted a hundred times while I'm eating it. I mean that it can withstand countless interruptions and still be enjoyable. Unlike a hot meal, granola, or cold cereal, this breakfast just gets better the longer it sits. Interruption-proof.

What's that, Munchkin? You spilled milk all over yourself and need a change of clothes? Oh, and you spilled it on all your cars, too? You peed on the floor again? Now you don't like that shirt and want a different one? Did the grapes get squished into the couch? And now you want something else to eat instead? No problem. I'll just take a quick bite then come back later for the rest of my Child-Proof Breakfast of Champions:

plain yogurt
honey (local honey is best if you have allergies)
fresh fruit (I prefer berries, bananas, or whatever is in season)
"Grape Nuts" cereal (I use a generic brand but I'm also trying to figure out how to make my own)

Put the yogurt in your bowl, then top with grape nuts. Drizzle honey over the grape nuts. Mix yogurt, cereal and honey well. Top with fruit. If you like crunchy, eat it up immediately. If you have a rogue child to tend to, go ahead. When you get back, the grape nuts will have softened a bit, but they will still have some good texture.

In my experience, granola doesn't have the same lasting quality as the gravelly grape nuts. Granola tends to just get soggy and I rarely enjoy it later on. This, breakfast, however, has gotten me through many hectic mornings. It also happens to be delicious, nutritious, and filling. It makes a great snack any time of day and Munchkin likes it, too.

Lunch, however....

Do you have any quick, easy, interruption-proof meals? Please share!