“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.”

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