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The last couple of weeks of my life have been really hard. Not in any life-threatening or debilitating way—I’ve had those weeks (or months or years), and I’d rather take the stress that I’m under right now, thankyouverymuch. Still, a bunch of things have piled on top of me and the background noise of “gotta do more, gotta BE MORE!” is taking its toll. Not that this is something I take joy in admitting, but I’m hoping that in sharing I can connect with the other parents who also feel somewhat overwhelmed, trying not to blow it.
A couple of years ago, I had a life changing experience, and I found myself meeting people who had parenting challenges far greater than my own. When my kids were babies, there were lots of things that worried me. I’ll never forget the moment that my first baby spit up, hours after being home from the hospital. Yes, we called the on-call pediatrician at 11 pm. I hope he got some extra karma points for being patient with us. Still, talking with these parents, I realized that as my kids get bigger the things that I worry about won’t get any easier for me (after all, I sincerely was in a panic that night with my baby!). Instead of the worry about a little bit of spit-up, however, it may become a worry about the consequences of a binge-drinking episode. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks about this from time to time!) Of course, I’ve seen some of my friends deal with big crises with their little ones, so I’m not trying to suggest that our babies can’t be in situations that are deadly or very serious. Just, as I sat with those parents, I realized that the love I have for my kids, and the vulnerability I feel when I realize that those joyful moments are fragile—those emotions aren’t going away any time soon.
Like most parents, I imagine, what I want for my kids is to take care of themselves. I want them to deal with their stress without resorting to activities that will do more harm than good—please, don’t let them think that underage drinking will be the solution to their problems! (Sitting in a cave reading poetry: OK. Smoking a pipe: Not OK) I want my kids to love their bodies so that they eat healthily and exercise. I want them to have lots of practice making small decisions so that, when faced with a choice of getting into a car with a drunk driver, they can predict the consequences of their decisions. And I want for them to know and understand their feelings so that they can deal with them in a way that works best for them, coming to me for help if they need it.
Still, sitting with those parents, I also learned that I can’t give my kids what I don’t have. If I don’t take care of myself, I can’t teach them to take care of themselves. We know that one of the most powerful ways we have of learning, especially as we’re growing, is through observing others. So, if my kids see me indulge in the ice cream rather than go for a run as a way to negotiate some frustration, that’s what they will most likely learn (this part of parenting can really stink at times!). Additionally, if I’m taking care of myself, I will be less likely to cause additional problems for them. I know, for instance, f I’m uptight about some problem I’m having, I’m much more inclined to lose patience with them or yell, shaping their nurturing environment in toxic ways. Finally, if I don’t take care of myself, things could go south in a really serious way—the very last thing I want is for my kids to lose their mom.
So, I woke up this morning with still far too many items on my to-do list. Realistically, I can shift some of them around a bit, and I recognize that in a couple of months some of these deadlines will have passed and my schedule will loosen up. But, through my meditation practice, I’ve also learned that I can tell myself one of two stories. I can keep telling myself that there isn’t enough time, and I can’t do it all, and life will fall apart if I don’t get an A in my class and I’m a failure because I didn’t get to the guitar to practice, and I’ll probably make a fool out of myself next time I play (there you go—the thought patterns of a perfectionist). Or, I can tell myself that I’m using my time as best I can, and that even a getting a B in class means that I’ve passed, and that slowly and surely wins the race, and even if I don’t get everything done, I’m still worthy of love (the thought patterns I’m trying to develop as a recovering perfectionist). When I work on the second script, even though my to-do’s haven’t changed, the way I carry that list does. (Well, “write blog for Kindermusik” is now off the list,” so it’s changed a little bit, anway.)
At any rate, the reason for this blog post is to remind myself that slowing down, being mindful, and taking care of myself need to be at the top of the list today. Everything else will wait. If you’re having one of those days, I challenge you to do the same.