Spring Makeover

Hi there.

We did not mean to be away so long, but we are glad you are here!  This spring we have a new title and a fresh perspective- on creativity, motherhood, and life in general. We’ve got projects in the works too; I have a book coming out this fall titled The Uncluttered Mother (more on this soon!) and Brittni is working on a children’s book (more from her later!)

I’ve got some creative goals and projects in the works, and my 55th birthday is bearing down on me, so I’ve been doing a conscious clean sweep of all the things I no longer want to give time or energy to.  

Here is my list of What I No Longer Have Time For:

Procrastination (“Do it, don’t deny itis a phrase my husband coined many years ago when teaching our youngest daughter to be consistent in brushing and flossing her teeth every night. After that, it became our household catch-all when faced with any less-than-thrilling task.)

Excuses

Foods (and drinks) that don’t fuel me

Disempowering thoughts (seriously, our thoughts will make or break us)

Self-doubt

And here is my list of What I Do Have Time For:

Creative Goals (and the bold action they require, but more often the small, consistent steps)

Love

Joy

Mystery

Simplicity

Beauty

Believing in & encouraging others

What about you? What are you giving your precious time and energy to this spring? I hope those choices reveal how amazing you really are.  

Yours Truly,

Dana

Your Sensitive Child

There are many things parents can do to nurture and encourage highly sensitive kids, but I think the most important task is to love and accept them as they are. There is unspoken pressure on parents to coax sensitive, quiet or cautious kids into being more assertive, outgoing or bold at a very young age. Sometimes the pressure is put on the parents by themselves.  They know how outgoing and funny their child can be at home and they are eager for the wider world to know her as well. Or they fear that if their child isn’t speaking up and joining in now, then they will be left behind in life.

But this hurry-up-and-be-braver-louder-friendlier approach will simply backfire if it feels like criticism to the child. A child who feels comfortable about who she is right now even if that means a little scared, a lot cautious or simply reflective and observant in certain situations, will grow to be confident and kind.

The best essay I’ve ever read on this subject  Stop Worrying About Your Sensitive Child  was written by Janet  Lansbury, author of No Bad Kids. Having been a sensitive child herself, Lansbury remembers what attitudes did her more harm than good. Spoiler: Having parents who saw her sensitivity as a flaw that made her fragile was not helpful.

By not worrying about your sensitive child, Lansbury is not suggesting throwing them to the wolves, so to speak.  Sensitive kids often need extra time, encouragement and warmth, and those who receive that can turn into the most amazing adults.  What she is suggesting is to remember that your child’s temperament may be his greatest gift;  even if the world is yelling too loudly to notice this, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. When your child knows in his heart that you trust that he is exactly who he is meant to be, he will blossom beyond your wildest predictions.

~ Dana

 

Empty Cup: When Motherhood Runneth Over

I’m tired. Burnt out if you will. I almost followed that up with a list of disclaimers about how I know there are a zillion people in this world that are way more exhausted than I am and have every reason to be burnt out and who would probably (understandably) label me as whiny and privileged. But I  honestly don’t have it in me right now to appropriately excuse myself of my whiny and privileged tone, so please bear with me as I get this off my chest.

147261My twins are 16 months old. They are my only children. They have been sleeping through the night for eight months. They nap every day. My parents live in the next town over and give me a generous amount of help. Technically, I should not be tired.  I should be full of life and energy. But for whatever reason, I am not. I am a stay at home mom and I love my job. Truly. Deep down I love it. But my God it is a lot of work.

Before I had kids, I was dancing professionally and working as a freelance visual artist as well. I was an avid gym-goer, a consistent maker of healthy meals, a keeper of the house and a doer of fun things with my husband, sisters, or friends.  I was a reader of books and a follower of news. A lover of the outdoors and an appreciator of the arts.

And then baby fever hit hard. My husband and I put it off for a little while, but when the time came, we were both ready and there was no denying it any longer. One baby was the immediate plan. We eventually maybe wanted a second, but we’d decide about that later. I told myself it wouldn’t be unrealistic to be a stay at home mom of one baby and still be able to consistently fit in some of my own art or dancing, or at least something of my own.

Of course it was not one baby, but two (surprise!), and now I can’t imagine it being just one. But wow. Since the day they were born, I have been slipping away from myself. Not in a way that I think I’ll never come back. I will. But right now – who I am today – is almost unrecognizable to me. I’m still “me” of course, but I’m temporarily (I hope) wilted. My entire existence is spent loving my babies and I don’t know how to leave some for myself.

I do get breaks during the week from my parents, and my load is lightened by my husband on the weekends. But even time “off” is spent catching up on daily tasks I’ve fallen behind on. And even when I find myself with free time – or choose to ignore the chores for a bit – I’m too bone-tired to muster up any creativity or stamina to even want to do anything I used to do.  

Who is this person? This can’t possibly be me…but it is and I sometimes get so discouraged by my own lack of energy that I send myself into a downward spiral of negativity and self-criticism that leads to an even deeper slump.

During the full throes of the day – when I’m in full mom-mode, I’m rarely faded and droopy.  I love these kids and I love raising them and I love doing all the fun mom things. We play and dance and read and go outside. I feed them healthy foods and keep them on a good nap schedule and bring them to playgroups. I often find myself blissfully lost in the moment, laughing so hard at their adorable silliness that tears roll down my face, or dancing so enthusiastically to “Old McDonald Had a Farm” that I end up winded. I of course have plenty of parenting-fails and plenty of days when I just don’t live up to my expectations as a mother. But when the good and the bad days are averaged out, I’d say I’m a pretty darn good mom.

As for taking care of myself, I do have some days that I make myself a nice healthy lunch, or use my girls’ naptime to exercise in my living room, or work on a long-forgotten art project after they go to bed. But overall – when averaged out – I do a pretty crappy job of taking care of myself. I like the idea of self-care. I want to feel good. But when the day is over and my beloved little monsters are in bed and I finally have a moment to myself, I have nothing left. I give myself away day after day and I just don’t have anything left over.

This lack of leftover gusto could be due to the physical stamina it takes to get through a day with twins; the double-carry, the double chase in public places, the double diaper changes, double meltdowns, double sicknesses, double doctor appointments, double…everything. Or it could be that I am an introvert in every sense of the word and after a day full of interaction – be it only with two tiny humans – I am simply drained.  Or it could that I need eight hours of sleep in order to feel rested and I don’t always get that because sometimes sick or teething toddlers = night wakings. Or it could be that I’m worrying myself into exhaustion. I worry a fair amount, but I’m pretty sure that’s just a normal mom thing to do.

Whatever the underlying cause may be, I am – in a word – tired.  I hurt. I’m dragging. I’m not fully myself. I also recognize the fact that my girls won’t be this little forever and this feeling will most likely pass. In the meantime, I would love to start bringing back small pieces of my old self. I don’t think that can mean daily trips to the gym or big blocks of time spent working on my art just yet. But maybe trying to make myself a yummy healthy lunch more days than not would be a good start. I have unwittingly set my self-care bar quite low over the past 16 months, so almost anything would be a good start. And burnt out as I may be, these babies are worth every bit of exhaustion.

~ Brittni

Holy Unfiltered Truth

“We have to fight harder to safeguard our time and our dreams and our souls.”

Brendon Burchard, The Motivation Manifesto

 

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Mother: In my earliest memory of church, I am standing next to my grandmother, reciting a prayer by rote memory: “Lord I am not worthy to receive you….” 

Why am I not worthy? my five- year- old self wondered.   What have I done?  The prayer was coming through my lips. My thoughts about it were coming from my head. My heart was sort of disconnected from the whole experience.  

“…only say the word and I shall be healed.”

All around me people were broken. I would come to believe that it takes more -so much more-to be healed than only saying the word in church – things like courage, desire, truth, reflection, and yes, faith. My faith would come much later though, and have very little to do with a Catholic mass, or so it seemed. It would have much more to do with sitting with my self than with a congregation; more to do with uncovering worthiness than denying it.

***

When my three children were of the age to attend church, I did what every lapsed Catholic was doing. I dressed them up a bit and with my husband, who somehow thought I was equipped to make this all-important choice, took them there. I felt like a bit of an impostor, because I just never really liked going to church. Besides, I’d taken up meditation and yoga, one hour of which seemed to put me in alignment with Best Self more than any church service ever had. I loved devoting time to strengthening my connection to the divine, and to my own soul, but for me it was a private endeavor.  

I guess I’m  just a bit more hippy than churchy; More personal freedom worshiper than authoritarian follower. You could say it’s a personal preference. There are many paths to God, right? So how do you go about choosing for an entire family? 

Anyhow, I dutifully signed our oldest up for the First Communion classes, because in the moving sidewalk that is Catholicism, when it’s time, it’s time. This meant that she had to attend a class before the church service each Sunday, and then also attend mass after the class. She was six years old. By the time mass rolled around, she was hungry and bored and feeling about as Christlike as a famished banshee.

And just to add to my cognitive dissonance, one of our daughters asked, “Why is the priest always a man?”

I think something like, “Um..no good reason?” was my brilliant response. I thought she was a bit young to have a discussion on patriarchy or the history of Christianity or the merits and pitfalls of organized religion.

So that’s how we spent our Sunday mornings- for a short time- making everyone stop whatever activity they were engaged in to get ready for a round of church. Gather the snacks and the nursing baby and take the playing children out of the moment where God resides because it’s the Lord’s day and who needs peace anyway?

 

The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself. R.M. Brown

 

On one such Sunday morning, which is etched in my memory, my husband tried to gently and quietly carry our daughter out of church as she had grown increasingly agitated. When they got halfway down the aisle, toward the exit, I heard my darling, free-spirited daughter’s explosive cry:

  “I HATE CHURCH!”

 

And now let us pray.  Jesus take the wheel.

 

Sometimes parenting is a lesson in humiliation.

 

The Path of Most Resistance

Mother: Despite my being ignorant to the fact that it was the school bus that my daughter  was afraid of, even 20160516_175414more than school itself,  she did eventually adjust enough to make it through her Kindergarten year. In all honesty though, I think that she did not adjust to riding the bus as much as she accepted her miserable  fate..oh the guilt. It breaks my heart even now, two decades later, to think of putting her little tear-stained face on the bus. And for what? All in all, Kindergarten sucked more life out of her than it gave.

***

Summer flew by, filled with free play and fun, reading and swimming, family and cookouts. The jaws of the school bus came around again, this time gobbling up my little girl for the an entire seven hour day. I would come to detest those back-to-school commercials that portrayed the gleeful mom, happily shopping for her kids,  knowing they would be “out of her hair” soon.  For some of us, back-to-school was something to dread. And in those early years I could not shake the nagging feeling that our current setup was just a matter of inertia.  My kids were reading, learning, and exploring the world outside of school, with joy.  What in would they gain by joining the masses in a building that seemed to drain the joy from them? Could anything  be less natural a way to learn and grow than what our society deems mandatory?  What about freedom? What about play and creativity? And peace and authenticity? What about their brief childhood

But school is  the norm. School is what we do to kids.  School is what kids do. And therefore I was scared to face how wrong it felt  to me for us.  I was almost scared to think it, let alone speak it. 

What if I became a dissident?

What if I didn’t? 

I taught Kindergarten long ago, before I became a parent.  It was hard. I recall being under significant pressure to get all the kids “up to speed” and ready for first grade. There were twenty-five of them. Part of me just wanted to set them free.  I wanted to let them stay outside, or play indoors all day if they wanted, or go home, or take more than twenty minutes to eat their lunches. I wanted to let them climb in my lap at circle time and skip nap time – or extend nap time if they were tired. But I was a professional with an assigned agenda, not their mother.  I felt conflicted and overwhelmed.

At that time, I worked with some fabulous people who made teaching their career and have family members and friends who did as well.  Getting done what must get done in a school year while simultaneously nurturing a child’s sense is a tall order.  I feel strongly that we should value the teachers who do this well.  They spend over a thousand hours with our children in a given year! This is important.  If a child feels safe -safe to learn, safe to be curious, safe to be herself- at a school, in a classroom, with a teacher, then wow, this is the season for open heavens, rejoice! If your child loves and embraces being at school? Thank your lucky stars.

***

To “celebrate”  Brittni’s first day of first grade, (I was trying very hard to put a positive spin on this, and to focus on the success! She went! She arrived back home!) I  had the bad idea that our family would go out to dinner.  What was I thinking? Oh to be able to go back in time and let the older, wiser me make some past decisions. I think this is why I don’t often get nostalgic- In so many instances, I want a redo. This day is one of them.

We all piled into the car and drove the fifteen minutes to the restaurant. The next scene involves Brittni hugging a telephone pole outside the car, screaming and crying at the top of her lungs, wanting to go back home.

Why someone did not call the cops at this obvious sign of a kidnapping, I have no idea. But at that point I really thought we could not allow her to dictate the family’s evening plans, and so we waited it out, doing our best to soothe her tantrum, and assure her that dinner really could be pleasant and peaceful.

All of us a little less hungry at this point, but no longer making a scene on Main Street, we got through that meal quietly, deflated.

And here is what I now know, and what Brittni articulated many years later: School took every single ounce of her energy and then some- to pay attention, to follow the rules, to tune out the noise and focus on the teacher,  to be around many people, all day long as an introvert, to squelch the desire for quiet, for art, for more movement- to be a good girl.  

And she was being a good girl at school!  The teachers were happy with how diligent she was doing her work.  She was easy, quiet, smart. 

Then she came home and lost it.  And I wondered what had happened to my child. What was school doing to her? And why couldn’t I fix it?

And when she calmed down, she would sit at the kitchen table doing her homework, glancing out the window and asking aloud one day, “Is anyone really free?”

School may have been sucking the life out of her, but it was giving her some very big questions.

Mother of Girls

Mother: After my third daughter was born, the realization began to seep in that I would have three sets of eyes, watching me, learning what it means to move through this world as a female. As overjoyed as I was with being a mother of girls, and I truly was, I also wondered if mothers of boys had it easier simply because their offspring was the other.

It was not as if the enormity of the responsibility as role model hit me all at once, exactly. It was more like a slow drip drip into my gut.

While in the thick of caring for a young family, it becomes alarmingly easy to begin to forget oneself, one’s potential, ambitions or dreams, outside of family life. Family can become synonymous with Self.

And although I was blissfully focused on raising my daughters, (okay, it wasn’t always bliss- it was damn hard sometimes too) years turned into decades, and I would later wonder if I might have robbed them of the chance to see a mother with a career, pursuing goals outside the home, making money, earning a living. 

Sure I would eventually pursue my creative goals while they were still young, but until they were nearly grown, it never took up more than a very small space in my life.  

What if it wasn’t enough to be a female role model who was happy, had a healthy body image, a solid and loving relationship with their father?  What if I was suppressing a deeper longing for fulfillment and leaving something very critical out of the equation?

Those were questions I would ask later  – and I know it is a privilege to be able to ponder this.

 At the time though,  with a new baby girl added to our family, I just kept loving them all, and occasionally slipping away, for a few hours, a day or a weekend, to write down my thoughts. These thoughts would eventually, over the course of many years and words, lead to the birth of a creative vocation. 

Did being such a later bloomer in this way deprive my daughters of something? (because this is what mothers always ask, right? How did I do for them? Was it enough? And don’t mothers of daughters demand an answer of themselves more so than mothers of sons? Or maybe not, I don’t know. I will never know.)

And would I have done it differently for myself? 

Maybe? I don’t know.

Everything seems as it should be today, so probably not.

Does it really matter?