Healthy Helps in Tough Times

It’s that time of year when our schedules and routines are being renegotiated and shuffled around again. It’s exciting to anticipate back to school, back to Kindermusik, and transitions in our daily lives.

But given the current state of the world, it’s also stressful! Planning the upcoming months under our present circumstances is a new challenge we haven’t met before. So as you adjust your routines and expectations, here are some ideas to build into your daily habits for keeping it healthy and keeping it happy.

1. Follow the Rhythm

Normally you hear advice about establishing a schedule. And yes, schedules can lead to routines that structure your day. If you have to be to a certain place at a certain time, schedules are essential. But if you’re now homeschooling, or your kids aren’t yet of school age, try following a rhythm as opposed to a schedule.

Our bodies have natural rhythms. So do our families! Your weekend rhythm might be different than your weekday rhythm. Your family rhythm might fluctuate depending on what configuration of caregivers are in the home, and how that configuration changes throughout the week and month.

Just as you listen to the beat of a song, and match your body’s movements to its rhythm, match your day’s tasks to the rhythm of your family. Follow the ebbs and flows of energy and tiredness, of alertness and sluggishness. Mold your daily activities around that rhythm.

2. Take a Walk

Studies show that getting outside is good for our mental health as well as our physical health. Maybe you’re not comfortable letting your kids play on the public playground at the park right now, but a walk is always a good idea. Send them on a visual scavenger hunt where they have to look for cracks in the sidewalk, a certain colored front door, unique yard art, ant colonies, etc.

Have them be sound detectives and go on a listening walk. Have them practice active listening so they can tell you what they heard. Birds chirping? Someone mowing their lawn? A truck driving by? A dog barking? Hummingbird wings? What else can you and your children hear?

3. Dance it Out

Joyful movement releases endorphins and decreases stress hormones. Who doesn’t want that? Especially nowadays! Your children are so perceptive that they will echo whatever energy you are putting out into your home. Stressed with distance working or learning? Your kids feel it too. One of the quickest and most sure-fire ways to break up the stress pattern and hit the reset button is to get up and move. Put on your favorite playlist or open the Kindermusik app and find a favorite tune from class, then invite your child to dance with you. You will BOTH feel INSTANTLY better.

4. Color and Crafts

Remember those Kindermusik online materials you have access to? Dust off an old unit you haven’t experienced in a while and print off a coloring sheet or craft page. There are so many ideas there for simple, quick, and easy activities you can do together at home. Or just pull out an old coloring book and some colored pencils. Let your child color outside the lines and use nontraditional colors for each element of the picture. As you color together, those feel-good hormones will flow.

5. Bring Back Family Dinner

It doesn’t have to be elaborate. It doesn’t have to take lots of ingredients or time. The simple task of teaching your child to set the table while you pull dinner out of the oven teaches them teamwork and responsibility. And then as you sit together at a table at the end of the day, it brings structure to the day, and kicks off the evening routine as you prepare for bed.

You could even put on some dinner music to set the mood, each night rotating which member of the family gets to choose the genre or playlist.

6. Set Quiet Hours

Every caretaker needs a break, some downtime, and some self-care. Is your little one too old fo nap time? Mandatory quiet time in their room is a gift to your child and to yourself. Put them to bed 30 minutes earlier. Require an hour of solitude in their room after lunch. This may be an extremely challenging one to implement, but it will reap rewards once your child learns to entertain themselves quietly for a while. Maybe they will read a book, look at pictures, color, do puzzles, play with toys, and just find ways to keep themselves to themselves. It’s a learned skill! And it gives you a few minutes to slip in a quick mindfulness meditation or cup of coffee. Put your own oxygen mask on first, grownups.

8. Give Yourself Grace

We are living in unprecedented times. It’s been a century since the last pandemic affected us this much. And we’ve never had to parent during a pandemic during the digital age before. Online learning, remote working, still trying to meet our regular responsibilities. Everyone’s cortisol levels are high right now. So give yourself some grace. You are doing a fantastic job. You’re showing up each day and giving your child what they need. You may not be perfect, you may not meet all their needs all the time, but you are doing amazingly. You are enough. Reconnect to your breath, and give yourself some grace. Carry on, Hearties.

I Love You Rituals

The last two weeks we have started incorporating I Love You Rituals in our classes. We LOVE these rituals as they perfectly align with Kindermusik’s child-development centered curriculum and our mission here at Song of the Heart Studios.

Not only do I Love You Rituals promote our studio values of JOY, CONNECTION, FAMILY, GROWTH, and HEART, but they have a direct and literal impact on your child’s brain development. Research based, these simple rituals soothe cortisol and release oxytocin in the brain. Without getting into the neurochemistry of it all, what this means is that these simple, quick, and fun rituals are a tool that will bond you with your child, will increase their self esteem, lengthen their attention span, promote cooperation, decrease power struggles, reduce hyperactivity, and facilitate language development.

Can you believe that all those benefits can come from such a simple ritual? It takes less than a minute to do, and can reap huge rewards.

We have been teaching the Twinkle Twinkle ritual in our classes in the hopes that it will inspire you to implement it at home. Here are some ideas of when to throw it into your daily routines:

  • In the morning, upon waking up
  • On the diapering table
  • During nap time and/or
    bedtime routines
  • When getting in or out of the carseat
  • Before or after meals
  • When saying goodbye

These delightful rituals were designed by Dr. Becky Bailey, renowned child education and developmental psychology expert, and founder of Conscious Discipline.

Please let us know how you incorporate I Love You Rituals into your family life. What benefits have you experienced?

Lazy Hazy Crazy Days

The old-time melody “Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer” evokes images of small town festivals, parades, popsicles, watermelon, and corn on the cob. It reminds us of our childhoods spent running through sprinklers and playing night games with the neighbor kids.

The summers of childhood have changed dramatically in the last generation. More and more children today spend their summers addicted to screens and computer games. We find ourselves over-scheduled with work, finding child care alternatives, summer camps, vacations, reunions, festivals, barbecues, and more. It’s easy to let the extra activities of summer overwhelm us and make us yearn for the predictable schedule of the school year. Some schools are already back in session!

Now our long summer days are shortening incrementally with every sunset. The oppressive heat is starting to abate ever so slightly. The back to school supplies hit the stores weeks ago. Our joy-packed Summermusik camps and classes have wrapped up. Many of us have spent our summer rushing from one activity to the next.

And while we may be looking forward to routines and cooler temperatures, we still have a little time to indulge our senses and renew our minds. Perhaps we can channel Mr. Nat King Cole’s memorable lyrics and eek a bit more summer out of the next couple of weeks.

So go out into your backyard with fresh eyes. Hunt for the nectar gathering bees. Take your little one by the hand and run through the sprinkler. Take your shoes off and let the sensory input of the dirt, sand, and grass ground you. 

Our Fall classes will be here before you know it. Reserve your spot (in one of our TWO locations) and rest easy in the final days of the season. Find a moment to breathe it all in, and love it all out.

Thank you for spending part of your summer with us. We loved every minute of it.

Connection and Failure

As I’ve mentioned before, I teach Spanish at a local school. One of my biggest rules is that the students are only to speak Spanish, or, at least, we aim for Spanish 90% of the time. Unfortunately, this is one of the rules that my students violate most often, and I’m still working out why and how to prevent the violations. The other day I gave them an exercise, wherein they were to listen for specific phrases from a video. The point of the exercise, I explained, was not to get it right. The point was to practice listening. Nevertheless, I noticed many of them had a very difficult time sitting in the discomfort of not “getting the right answer,” turning to their neighbors for English answers, rather than persevering in Spanish.

Perseverance is one of the “soft-skills” that our kids need in order to become successful in life. Yes, it is important to know stuff. Whatever our chosen vocation, we have to have certain skills. But we also have to know how to keep going even when we make mistakes.

Watching my students, I recognized these emotions in myself.  (Or, I could get all psychobabbly and suggest that I was just projecting in the first place, and that my students were in fact experiencing something totally different!)  I struggle with just sitting in that discomfort of doubt.  In the last few years especially, I’ve had to really practice being kind to myself when I make mistakes, so that I’m more inclined to work through my setbacks and try again.

Researching this idea I discovered a video, made by one of the smartest 7-year olds I’ve ever seen.

I have two favorite parts of this video (well, aside from listening to him say the word “hypothesis”—charming). The first is that going into it, he thought he was going to fail 20 times. He built failure into the project. I don’t think I’ve ever started a project saying to myself, “I expect this won’t work 20 times. But on the 21st time I’ll get it right.” Which isn’t to say that I haven’t failed at a task more than 20 times before having a success. It’s that, instead, I’ve said to myself, “Ugh! I didn’t get it right, AGAIN!” When I recognize that most of my frustration in life comes from unmet expectations, I love that this kid expected failure—so much for me to learn from him!

My second favorite thing about the video is simply that it came across my radar in the first place. It has more than a million views. Which, admittedly, isn’t considered viral. But a million views is not nothing. Despite being an amateur/mom-filmed video of a simple Rube Goldberg machine, numerous people have considered it worth viewing. Sure, it may just be a bunch of kids watching to see another kid build a machine. But there may be other reasons for those views, too. And while I can’t speak for a million other people, I can say for myself that I am drawn to the whole nature of this kid’s willingness to be so courageous (did I say I was impressed by his expectation of failure?). It’s easy to connect with him, to be inspired by him, because he’s willing to be authentic.

Connection is one of the Song of the Heart studio values. The times that I’ve been able to connect with my kids in the studio have formed many of my favorite memories with them. Knowing that my newborn babies were perfect, that there was a whole world of wonder waiting for them, made it difficult for me to accept the fact that I was going to mess up this parenting gig sometimes. Nevertheless, the longer I parent, the more I read and practice, the more convinced I am that connection (with my kids, my partner, and other parents) grows in an environment where I am willing to expect failures, to stay open despite the mistakes, and to persevere through the more difficult times of parenting.

 

 

To Soothe the Savage Beast

Those who have read this blog regularly know that I often talk about mindful parenting (here, here, here, and here, for instance), and how Kindermusik, with its focus on whole child development, has helpedme be more connected to my kids. It’s no wonder my new favorite parenting book (Move over Playful Parenting) is Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters, by Carla Naumburg, Ph.D.

One of the ways we can connect with our kids, Dr. Naumburg asserts, is by soothing them. We all get upset (just moments ago I had to break the news to my Kindergartner that yes, she does have school today, much to her frustration). She writes:

“[Our children are] young, they’re immature, and their brains haven’t yet developed the ability to figure out what is worth getting upset about and what isn’t, nor are they able to quickly and consistently calm themselves down. That’s where we parents come in. We can share our calm presence with our children time and again until they start to internalize it for themselves.” (pg. 25)

Of course, this is easier said than done, but one of the themes of this book is that we don’t have to be perfect at it, we just have to keep swimming. Oh, no, wait, that’s Dory. Well, same idea—returning repeatedly to our goal, that’s what’s important.

She mentions music as one of the tools we can use to calm our kids and ourselves. Just yesterday, in a moment of stress, I heard a few bars of George Winston’s Thanksgiving track, from the December album, one that I played often in my late-high school and early-college years to soothe my stress—and I noticed an immediate, physical calming yesterday, too.

Years ago I burned a CD of my favorite Kindermuisk lullabies. (Yes, this was before I could put together a “playlist.” But it was many years after needing to make a “mixed tape.”) They represent moments of pure joy and peace from cuddling my babies in class, and as I play the CD even today, it’s nice to see how much of a calming effect it has on everyone (this can be especially helpful on car trips, as long as the driver doesn’t get too calm).

Here are some of the songs from that album. Check them out–you can even download them for your own playlist!

Simple Gifts (this particular version I love, love, love)

Tressa’s Song

Suo Gan

The Barn Lullaby

Bubbles and Waves (perhaps my favorite on this list)

Los Pescaditos (Hmmm. . . maybe this is my favorite–tough call)

Cantonese Lullaby

And, finally, this version of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Breathing Arms

In my teaching job as a Spanish teacher, I teach all 9 grades at my school (K-8). I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a secondary educator by formal education training, and so I am relying heavily on my background as a Kindermuisk instructor to help me with the younger grades. The first graders come to class right after recess, just after I’ve said goodbye to my fifth graders. It is quite the switch.

At first, I was overwhelmed with the frenetic energy they brought to the room. With only 25 minutes to help them learn Spanish, spending 10 trying to get them to calm down was proving to be problematic. About 3 days into the job, I attended Kindermusik with my daughter and as I entered class to meet with her and Ms. Carol, we did some “breathing arms.” Of course, I have known about breathing arms for many years, but on this day, I noticed the immediate change in energy of the Kindermusik class—for both the kids and the grownups. In addition to providing us with a little routine that said, “Time to stop talking with your little ones/grown-ups and focus on class together,” it immediately relieved my own level of stress. The next day I implemented breathing arms with my first graders when they come in for recess (I could probably do it with everyone), and the difference was remarkable. They are much calmer before they even come into class and our time together is more relaxed, effective and enjoyable.

I’m not surprised to find science to back-up my claims. NPR cites research by Esther Sternberg, physician and National Institute of Mental Health researcher:

“(Breathing exercises) can be used as a method to train the body’s reaction to stressful situations and dampen the production of harmful stress hormones,” Gretchen Cuda writes. Who doesn’t need a reduction of stress these days?

Jon Kabbat-Zinn is one of my favorite people. He created the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and his work has influenced me tremendously in recent years. If you have 3 minutes today, especially if you are overwhelmed with the day-to-day challenges of balancing life and laundry and childcare, this little breathing meditation is awesome:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZIjDtHUsR0

 

The Effect of Parenting on Us

Erik Erickson’s theory of the psychosocial stages of life has indelibly shaped the course of the study of human development since its creation.  Certainly, the theory is not perfect, and others (such as B.F. Skinner, father of operant conditioning) have established differing theories of human development.   Nevertheless, without Erikson, we wouldn’t ever use the term “identity crisis” to describe the angst that teens go through during adolescence, nor would we work to make sure that our newborns felt secure in their attachment to caregivers.

In my secondary teacher training, and again in my Kindermusik training, I learned a lot about Erickson’s theory, though in the context of children and adolescents.  In the last couple of weeks, however, I have been studying about human development during adulthood and late adulthood stages.  The juxtaposition of early childhood development with my own development (now that I am officially “mid-life”) fascinates me.

Of course, like anything we learn, when something applies to our life, it sticks with us.  While I probably did have to regurgitate all of Erickson’s stages of life for some test somewhere along the line, it is now that I am actually in this stage of “generativity versus stagnation” that I can get my head around why it is that as a parent and educator I feel so strongly about being productive and caring.

Generativity, as Erickson defined it, is all about getting outside of ourselves and caring for others.  We need to feel productive.  There are ways that this occurs—through art or other creative pursuits, through employment choices (where possible), and through parenting or otherwise contributing to future generations.  If it doesn’t happen, we stagnate and feel, as Erickson put it, “personal impoverishment” (Erikson, Erik H. [1963].  Childhood and society (2nd ed.).  New York, NY: Norton.).

I think a lot about the impact that my parenting has on my kids, especially in context of the Kindermusik studio.  I often hear that I, as my child’s parent, am my child’s best teacher—this is why home materials can be so beneficial.  And it is also at the core of why we offer Love and Logic parenting classes.

But how often do we think about the ways that our children change us?

Many researchers have studied the stress that childrearing can be in our lives, especially when children are young.  However, reading Erickson’s comments about what my children puts things in a different perspective for me:

“The fashionable insistence on dramatizing the dependence of children on adults often blinds us to the dependence of the older generation on the younger one” (Erickson, 1963, p. 266).

(From a developmental perspective, foster parenting, step parenting and adoption all present their own, unique challenges—but these are important ways for adults to meet their generativity needs, as well, so I’m not speaking only about biological children, here.)

It’s fascinating to think of all the ways I need my kids.  They have all taught me how to love certain aspects about myself.  Certainly, I have changed my priorities many, many times.  With my son’s new interests, I have learned much more about bagpipes than I ever thought I’d know (no sharps or flats!).  I’ve also had to learn not to care so much about the messy kitchen (this is a daily struggle—both to keep it clean, and to let it go when it’s not).  And, just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, they go and have a birthday, and it changes everything.

There should be some concluding paragraph here—something somewhat reflective that sums this all up for you.  Unfortunately, I find myself coming up a little short with the wisdom.  After all, how much more profound can it get, then to think of where I would be (for worse AND for better) without my kids?  The ways our kids depend on us, the way we depend on our kids—I’m sure this rests at the pinnacle of why there is so much joy and so much pain when it comes to being the child or being the parent.  For those moments of joy, I give thanks.  For those moments of pain, I also give thanks, though sometimes not until much, much later.

Today, may you have a mindful day of generativity.

 

Memory and Music

I find the science of how music connects to memory to be fascinating.  Not only does it aid in language acquisition, it actively connects with our “autobiographical memories,” according to a study published by Cerebral Cortex and as reported in 2004 in LiveScience.  The author writes, “(E)vocation of autobiographical memories and associated emotions by music counts among the most poignant experiences associated with music,” and shows in his study that music is tied up in our memories because they are both activated in the same spot of our brains, the medial pre-frontal cortex (MPFC).  This is true even for Alzheimer’s patients—they can “recall songs from their distant past,” even when they have lost other, substantial memory, because the MPFC is one of the last areas in the brain to be affected by their disease.

The summer I was 15, my parents and I took one of the best trips of our lifetimes.  With our little pop-up trailer, we drove from Salt Lake City to Washington, D.C., and back home through parts of the south.  We ate at a fantastic Italian restaurant on Dupont Circle, stood in awe while watching the changing of the guard at Arlington, toured Monticello, got a flat tire in the scorching heat of Oklahoma, witnessed the most incredible lightening storm through the panhandle of Texas and climbed through the ruins of Mesa Verde.

Of course, being 15, and an only child, much of the time I spent “tuned out” on my Walkman (speaking of memories).  So, when I wasn’t listening to Frankenstein on tape (now they’re called “audiobooks,” but I still find myself inclined to call it a book-on-tape, as it actually was “on tape”), I found myself engrossed in U2’s Rattle and Hum, which had just come out.  It seemed the perfect soundtrack for the trip—just enough rebellious spirit in the music to quench my need to disengage from my parents from time to time.  And lyrics that, more often than not, seemed to match our experience on the road: “like a drifter needs a room,” and “a highway speaks of deserts dry, of cool green valleys.”  I ask you, is there any better place to hear “The Star-Spangled Banner,” (at the time, my first exposure to Jimi Hendrix) than when you’ve just come from a walk along the Mall?  Even today, when I hear those opening lines, “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles, we’re stealing it back,” I cannot help but be transported immediately to the back seat of the car, my dad at the helm, crawling along on the scenic BWI parkway.

Several years ago, I made a mixed-CD of my favorite Kindermusik songs.  (Yes, they used to be called “mixed-tapes,” and yes, I know that people now put together “playlists.” I am somewhat of a Luddite, cut me some slack?)  At any rate, the other night, as we were winding down after dinner, my preschooler decided she wanted to listen to some music, and chose this particular Kindermusik CD.  Soon, “Los Pescaditos” came on and I found myself on my living room floor, in New Mexico, holding my baby boy (who, at that point, was about 15 months old), with my oldest daughter and husband and all the other Kindermusik parents I was teaching at the time.  It was such a calm moment of connection, not just with my children, but also with people who I had come to love during our short residency there.  Lullabies in Kindermusik have been by far my most favorite moments in class, and now that my youngest is in with the preschoolers, they are by far the things I miss the most (probably because of this same music/memory connection).  Not only did this lullaby calm my stressed-out mama soul at the end of a long day the other night, it reminded me of the many times I have felt joy and comfort just being present with my kids.  As much as I love Rattle and Hum, that moment was infinitely more nourishing for my soul.

I talk about mindfulness a lot in this blog—about the importance of taking time to just notice what is going on around us and being present for our kids.  I probably do it because it is something I have come to really value, but it is also one of the things that most eludes me as a parent.  Even still, I consider it to be a gift that I have such a rich history with the Kindermusik songs that those memories and those moments present themselves to me at unexpected times.

What are some of your favorite music and memory connections?  Please, share!

The Tough Job of Parenting

I overheard a mom this week tell a friend that her son was in the process of being diagnosed with some severe learning disabilities.  She was clearly experiencing a lot of pain—it was palpable in her conversation, wondering aloud if she had done enough of the “right” things or too much of the “wrong” things.

It struck a chord in me, as I imagine it would for all of us.  I often wonder if I’m doing enough of the right things, or too much of the wrong things.  Personally, I see some similarities in the challenges we each face as parents, despite the huge differences that there may be in those challenges.  Let me be clear: I’m not trying to suggest that I have any real idea of what it’s like to be a parent who deals with a child on the Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Nor am I suggesting that having a kid who is addicted to drugs is anything like having a child who struggles to get along with his or her siblings.  Plenty of unique situations present themselves when we look at the wide variation in the experiences we have as humans.

What I do mean to say is that, at least speaking about the parents and caregivers I know, no matter where our kids are, we all want them to be successful (according to however we may define that).  We love them fiercely, even in those times when we don’t like them very much.  We worry about them when we see them struggle.  We do our best, at any given moment—and sometimes, that “best” falls far short of what our children need.  We make mistakes (as my father-in-law was known to tell his kids, “It’s hard raising parents!”).  The emotions that we share as parents, then, are the same—in the good times and the bad: fascination, gratitude, calm, ecstasy, optimism, apprehension, numbness, agitation, outrage, discouragement, envy.  The details may differ; the reasons that we feel those things may vary.  Even still, anyone who loves a child (or, frankly, who loves another human) is bound to share those feelings.

Much of my job here in writing for the studio blog is to talk about all the ways that Kindermusik benefits our children.  And I believe this passionately.  I could talk about it for hours.

However, does that mean that if your child is struggling, that you haven’t done enough Kindermusik?  If Kindermusik has all these great benefits, what if your son or daughter still struggles to read?  Or fails to follow the trajectory of a neurotypical child?  What then?

Brené Brown, one of my all-time favorite women, has this to say about shame and vulnerability in parenting—that question of whether we’re doing enough of the right things, or too much of the wrong things.

“Most of us would love a color-coded parenting handbook that answers all of our unanswerable questions, comes with guarantees, and minimizes our vulnerability.  We want to know that if we follow certain rules or adhere to the method espoused by a certain parenting expert, our children will sleep through the night, be happy, make friends, achieve professional success, and stay safe.  The uncertainty of parenting can bring up feelings in us that range from frustration to terror.

“Our need for certainty in an endeavor as uncertain as raising children makes explicit ‘how-to-parent’ strategies both seductive and dangerous.  I say ‘dangerous’ because certainty often breeds absolutes, intolerance, and judgment.  That’s why parents are so critical of one another—we latch on to a method or approach and very quickly our way becomes the way.  When we obsess over our parenting choices to the extent that most of us do, and then see someone else making different choices, we often perceive that difference as direct criticism of how we are parenting.” (Daring Greatly, pg. 216)

In other words, the question this mom had was universal and stemmed from the very difficult truth we experience as humans: everything in our lives is transient.  And so is there something more we could be doing as parents?  What if we asked ourselves, instead, “Am I treating myself with as much love and compassion as I want my kids to have for themselves?  Do I believe I’m worthy of this journey?”

Pema Chödrön, Buddhist nun, says it like this:

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” (When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, pg. unknown)

So what is the answer?  How do we find the balance of striving to create as rich and nourishing an environment as possible, while still holding compassion for ourselves when we don’t get the results we were expecting or hoping for?  In my heart of hearts, I believe that THIS is the work of parenting—modeling for our kids how to respond to the joys and frustrations of life without allowing the pain to consume us.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFgAbo9twI8

It probably takes a lifetime to master.

Gotta Do More

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.