Being Enough


“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.”

Maya Angelou

For as wonderful as the holiday season is, it does not come without its challenges for me (and many others). Earlier in the year, I had convinced my family to take a trip to San Diego with our gift money, so that I could escape the shopping and the hassle of decorating. However, as it turns out, our trailer needed some repairs to make it road-worthy in a storm, and it wasn’t something we were going to have time to do. So now, the kids are excited that there will be presents, my husband is excited that he doesn’t have to drive anywhere or fix a trailer. And I’m so not-excited, as the all the things I was hoping to avoid are inevitably falling back in my lap. Le sigh.

I knew it was December 1 on Monday, because my insomnia kicked in and my eye started twitching. I’ve got all these people telling me to keep it simple, but I also have my daughter who erupts into tears every time I suggest that I need to eat breakfast before I can help decorate the house. It is a difficult balance, for sure, and requires regular patience.

Yesterday morning I was feeling particularly overwhelmed, as I was on the way to work, and also making other big decisions this week (because, that’s the way to simplify life, right? Adding, “make other big decisions about things” to the to-do list, right next to “eat breakfast” or “take a shower”).

I was getting ready to meditate and came across this clip from Pema Chodron and Oprah Winfrey:

It was transformational for me yesterday, and helped me find the patience I needed to get me through the challenges of the day. It is part of the human experience that we pass through periods of suffering—on large scales (with death, illness, and major life transitions), and on small scales (can’t find a parking spot, the clerk at the store wasn’t helpful, have to shovel the walks). And so, with that in mind, I pass on a message that I hope may be healing to anyone in our Song of the Heart community who may be suffering: You are enough.


“We have a choice. We can spend our whole life suffering because we can’t relax with how things really are, or we can relax and embrace the open-endedness of the human situation, which is fresh, unfixated, unbiased.”
Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change

This morning my sister-in-law told me that my nephew, who is 27 months old, got very upset when they bought diapers yesterday. While she was able to sneak them into the cart when he wasn’t looking, he was so adamant that they not come home that, when he saw them at checkout, he took the package back to the diaper aisle and left it there. Of course, he’s not really potty-trained yet, either, so she’s helping him clean up, a natural consequence.

I really love my sister-in-law, and I admire the sense of humor she had in telling me the story. I believe that one of the things that helps us through such days as parents is a sense of acceptance—or, at any rate, I’ve learned that the more accepting I am of the situation as I find it, the easier it is for me to get through such moments with a bit of humor.

These days, with my relatively new job, people often ask, “How is it going?”

I teach Spanish to Kindergarten through eighth grade students. However, they don’t come in order of age—so, my first graders come into class right after my fifth graders. I go into Kindergarten between seventh and eighth grade classes. While I try to teach some of the same lessons to multiple grades, even within that lesson I have to make micro adjustments according to which group of kids I’m teaching.

And, just as in parenting, things go more smoothly when I practice acceptance of where my students are at any given moment. The first graders come right after recess. It took me all of about two days to realize that I could either spend the whole time telling them they couldn’t go get water, or I could line everyone up at the drinking fountain before coming into class. (This happened right about the time I figured out we needed to do “Breathing Arms.”) In my ideal world, of course, they’d all have water bottles, full and ready to go. I can have a high level of expectation about that. However, it’s not the reality, and to maintain that expectation only means frustration for everyone. Such an age span means that I continually have to adjust my expectations for where the kids are at on any given day, at any particular age, with any particular mix of kids. It is good practice for my life outside the classroom, too.

I notice the same with Kindermusik. When my child is tired or hungry, being in class may be tough for her. “Should” it be? No, often she just ate. But maybe it’s that she’s going through a growth spurt and needs more sleep or food. Maybe she’s getting a bit of a cold and I haven’t realized it yet.

In Kindermusik, we follow the child. That means sometimes our kids may not feel like participating as fully as they did last week or will again next week—and it’s OK! Maybe they decide to have a full-blown temper tantrum in the middle of class because they just can’t let go of the scarf. My son regularly did not want to do group things during Kindermusik class when he was a preschooler. The quicker I get over thinking, “This is not how it’s supposed to be,” the sooner I get to, “This is how it is,” and consequently, the easier it is to just deal with the situation at hand and calmly allow the natural consequences to follow.  That may mean hanging back and letting my child participate on her own terms.  It may mean getting food, or leaving class altogether, or otherwise patiently implementing some discipline strategies.  (To be clear: I’m not saying this is easy!)  When I’m parenting from this place of self-acceptance, I am giving my kids the gift of a mom who also accepts them.

All this goes to the heart of what I believe is one of our greatest needs as humans–to know that we are loved, wholly and completely for who we are, rather than for what we do.

Balance and Patience


“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ”

–Pema Chödrön

This week my 12-year old had a root canal due to a tooth injury she sustained over the summer. The doctor came out afterwards to show me the baby tooth he extracted. Apparently, she hadn’t lost her full baby tooth, and the gum has been growing up around it. It’s probably been irritating her for a very long time. I realized that this would have probably happened right about the time that my baby was being born, when I was sleepless and preoccupied otherwise.

At that moment with the doctor, I felt this immediate rush of Mama Shame, believing that I had somehow neglected my oldest daughter’s oral health during that time (I’ve since talked to a few people and have developed a little compassion for myself).

Later that afternoon, my youngest (who is now almost 6) was telling me that her ears were popping (like when we go up the canyon), and asked me if I sounded different to her. I didn’t give it much thought because I was shuffling my oldest around between school and the dentist. This morning, in the wee small hours, I felt a tapping on my leg and heard a crying voice, “Moooom! My ear really hurts!” We just got back from the doctor and she has a raging ear infection. Again with the Mama Shame, only this time in reverse: much preoccupied with my oldest daughter, I’ve been neglecting my youngest daughter’s earlier signals that something was amiss.

I was engaged in an online discussion this week with several other women who worry that they are messing up their children’s lives. I admitted that I struggle with getting the laundry done—my son hasn’t worn a different shirt all week. (Eeek! I’m putting this out there on the Internet for ever and ever and for thousands of people!) I regularly fear that I’m That Mom. The one who will be saving up for therapy for my kids rather than for college.

Perhaps this is the kind of discussion that only perfectionists like me have (others in this world seem to have an easier time having patience with themselves than I do). Perhaps not. But I share here, with the hope to impart some compassion for us, with a little pep talk.

Being a parent is hard. Being in relationship with anyone, it is full of risks and rewards. Finding a balance between all of our responsibilities while guiding our kids on this journey, can be really difficult. Inevitably, we will fail. Because now that I consider myself to be a “recovering perfectionist,” I fully understand that the beauty of life comes from the great variation that exists in everything. The shades of gray are the tones that make a black and white photograph attractive.

But I hold strongly to the idea that we make meaning in life when we persist in engaging. When we dust ourselves off, forgive ourselves, and keep moving forward. Like Dori sings, “Just keep swimming.”

Or, as Theodore Roosevelt put it:

” It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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.

It probably takes a lifetime to master.

A Time to Dance

Yes, it was a couple of weeks ago, but we just passed the autumnal equinox, and the lesson that I learned about it as a metaphor for my life still lingers on my mind.  So pretend that it didn’t snow this week and hearken back to those 2 weeks of September when it still felt like fall.

There are two times of the year when the day and the night are in balance.  From the vernal equinox, the daylight increases and we remember birth and renewal.  I start looking for the bulbs to sprout.  They are by far my favorite types of flowers, because when I plant them in the fall, I do so with hope for the spring.  Then, just when I begin to believe that spring, in some great anomaly of nature, will never come, up pop the crocii.

crocus image

From the autumnal equinox, we experience more night, and we enjoy and give thanks for the harvest season.  We slow down (well, except for when we’re knee-deep in parenting, then it seems like approaching the holiday season requires a certain speeding up).  The first day that we get lots of snow I always have mixed emotions—frustration that I haven’t yet completed all the yard projects I planned, and relief that there’s little I can do, anyway.  I will just have to wait until spring.

The metaphor of changing seasons is nothing new.  I’m beginning to sound like The Byrds.

However, for the first time this year I thought about the equinox in terms of the balance I’m striving for in my life.  For two magical days, the day and the night are exactly the same.  However, a day of equinox doesn’t come around very often.  In fact, 363 other days of the year, things are not in balance. It’s a worthy goal, but sometimes it requires the very act of absolute imbalance to help us come back into equilibrium.  In fact, if everything were always perfectly balanced, we would miss the beauty of the solstice.

With three kids, I find myself continually washing the kitchen floor.  Or, rather, continually sticking to the kitchen floor despite the number of times it gets washed.  I’m learning the electric guitar.  I’m trying to spend one-on-one time with each child and I’m trying to nurture my marriage.  I’m going back to school and I’m trying to carve out time to volunteer.  I have Halloween costumes to get ready and I have scones to prep for Trick-or-Treaters.  And a storage room to clean.  So many roles, so many places to spend my time.

Pema Chödrön teaches us, though, that with all the chaos swirling around, with trying to keep everything in balance, there is hope.  It comes in embracing the moments as they come (and it certainly requires practice!).  In her book The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World, she relates the following:

“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”

May you find a big, juicy strawberry today and enjoy!

Flying Fish

My in-laws live in the Puget Sound area.  I’ve landed at the Sea-Tac Aiport more times than I can count and I have always enjoyed looking at the bronze fish swimming along the floor (which I have just learned were created by Judith and Daniel Caldwell and are called, “Flying Fish”—thanks, Google!)

Last year, something magical happened.  I traveled through the airport for the first time with my kids.

 flying fish

Fresh off the plane and with lots of energy, they had the good sense to actually look at each fish.  Most of them are normal fish, of course–your regular, run-of-the-mill salmon swimming upstream.  But every so often, one of them carries a suitcase, or is shaped like an airplane.

I’ve walked by a thousand times (well, maybe dozens) and hadn’t stopped to actually observe what I was seeing.

Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist nun from America, says, “We train in being present with whatever arises in our experience, whether it is pain or pleasure, something agreeable or disagreeable. This is our path. We need to be mature about the fact that the terrain in which we are waking up is rough as well as smooth, churned up as well as calm, sour as well as sweet.  The challenge is to be completely present with whatever comes up and see what you discover.”

Sometimes what “comes up” isn’t as pleasant as luggage-carrying fish.  Sometimes, its vomit.  Or sleepless nights.  Or long-term illness.  Still, I’m learning that to be present for the good stuff, I have to also be present for the bad.  The discoveries I’m making, are pretty amazing.  I’m so grateful for the little lessons my kids teach me daily.

What about you?  What have you discovered today?  Any journeys planned (of the exotic or close-to-home sort)?  What have your kids taught you today?  Let us know!

by Kari McMullin

Tags: Pema Chodron, presence, mindful parenting