Most people don’t realize I’m a picky eater because, well, I’m a grown-up. The truth is that I have been highly selective (ahem) since I was a little girl; I’m just better at hiding it now. I’m also the mother of one consistently and highly selective eater and one intermittently and moderately selective eater. Not to brag or anything, but I’ve got forty years of rejecting suspicious foods under my belt, and almost a decade of experience trying to feed my own little food-rejectors. I’ve read all the books, talked to lots of experts, sighed all the sighs, and driven myself bat-shit crazy trying to figure out how to get my girls to eat more foods. I’ve finally found some peace with it all, and if I can help just one parent avoid a power struggle over a single grain of quinoa (not that I would know anything about that, ahem), then it will have all been worth it. Well, mostly worth it. First, we’re going to start with the Golden Rules. Forget these at your own peril.
I love airports. The inevitable lines, layovers, and delays rarely bother me because I’m just so damn happy to be there. I sit and watch the people go by; I check out their luggage choices and eavesdrop on their conversations and wonder why anyone would travel in 4” heels. When I’m done doing that, I wander up and down the terminals, occasionally stopping for a cup of coffee, a package of peanut M&M’s, or a magazine I would never buy at home. It doesn’t actually matter what I do because it’s not about the doing; it’s just about being there. Airports have been one of my happy places since I was a little girl. As the child of divorced parents who lived two states away from each other, I was flying unaccompanied (with my older sister) at an age when most kids are still learning to read. The airport was a respite, an easy, relaxed space that allowed me to transition between two very different homes and families. I’m sure my parents thought that sending their young daughters off to fly alone was less than ideal (to say the least); little did they know that all of those hours I spent in airports when I was young would serve me so well later in life. I was thinking about this yesterday as I finished reading Captain Underpants with the girls. At the end of the book, the author, Dav Pilkey, shares the story of how he invented his half-naked hero. Perhaps not surprisingly, it all started when he was eight years old and getting in trouble in school. Dav was, apparently, “disruptive and behaviorally challenged” and Captain Underpants was born out of the boredom of detention. Now, I know absolutely nothing about his parents, but I would be willing to bet you a first class plane ticket that they weren’t so happy about little Dav’s behavior back then. I feel pretty comfortable guessing that they did not console themselves with the thought that their troublesome son would grow up to be a bestselling author and illustrator with a sweet movie deal. The point here isn’t that every less-than-ideal parenting challenge is going to land your kid a movie contract; of course not. (I’m still waiting for my starring role in the sequel to The Terminal. I’m sure the phone call will come any day now.). The point is that you just don’t know. There is no way to know.
My daughters, who are 7 and 8 years old, learned about 9/11 this past summer. I wasn’t intending to talk about it just then, but it was a plot point in a book we were reading, and so we discussed it. The girls learned that 16 years ago, bad men flew planes into buildings and a lot of people died. They learned that yes, Mommy and Daddy were alive when this happened, and we remember every moment of it. They learned that it was a scary and sad time for our country, and that we hope it never, ever happens again. Fortunately, they didn’t ask the big Why questions, and I didn’t offer up any answers. I know we’ll get to those soon enough, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to share these stories with them one piece at a time. They asked if they were safe now, and I said they were, and then we went back to our book. As I write this post, parents across the country are talking to their children about anything from 9/11 to hurricanes to constantly shifting, and often upsetting, political news. Here are a few ideas for how to have these conversations:
Most days, I go for a walk. I live near a small lake, and the loop around it is about two miles long. I listen to audiobooks or podcasts, and I usually stop somewhere along the route and take a picture or two. My favorite images end up on my Instagram account with the hashtag #SanityWalk. These walks help me stay sane. Before I became a mother, I was an organized, type-A, get-things-done kind of person. I got into a good college, graduated in four years, got a job, went to grad school, and got married. I thought I could handle anything. And then I had kids. Almost overnight, everything changed. Needless to say, I was no longer on top of my game all the time. Most of the time I wasn’t even sure what game I was playing, what the rules were, or how I could possibly win.
“If you do that again, I’m going to be pretty unhappy.” I made that bold and daring threat to my younger daughter this morning. Ok, it’s not officially a threat. It was more like a fairly accurate description of what was likely to happen if she continued to be annoying, but I’m sure her six year-old brain heard it as a threat. Either way, I said it. I say some variation of this to my daughters several times a week. This “threat” has been a fairly frequent visitor recently, thanks not at all to strep and snow days and waaaay too much time together. And I’m ok with that, because every parent - even the most “mindful” parent (ahem) - needs leverage.
Finally. After making our way through intention, attention, the present moment, and kindness and curiosity, we’ve come to the my favorite part of this whole mindfulness shtick: choosing what you’re going to do next. The ability to be thoughtful and intentional about how we respond to our children is the pot of gold at the end of the mindful parenting rainbow. It’s why most of us got into this in the first place. Don’t get me wrong; paying attention to whatever is actually happening in a kind and curious way can be a reward in its own right. The ability to be fully present and not beat ourselves up when the present moment is less than ideal (aka “reality”) can make our lives feel easier and more enjoyable. And the trick to moving mindfulness from our minds to our interactions with our children is simple, but not always easy. It's about using our mindful mindset so we can choose our next behavior.
Welcome to part 5 of my series on the definition of mindfulness: setting an intention to pay attention in the present moment, with kindness and curiosity, so we can then choose our next action or behavior. In past recent posts, we've chosen to pay attention to the present moment, and we've arrived at the present moment. But it doesn't stop there. There is a popular misconception that once you get to the present moment, everything will be fine. All of your worries and regrets and distractions will suddenly melt away, and you will find yourself in a state of pure mental bliss. Um, yeah. Sorry to burst your bubble, folks, but not so much. Generally speaking, our present moment experience will be some version of good, bad, or neither. (I think the technical term for that neither space is “meh.") And no matter how awesome, awful, or completely uninteresting our reality is, our brains will judge whatever is happening and wish it was different. It’s easy to see how we might judge a bad moment: we want it to end, or at the very least, we want it to be less irritating or painful or confusing or whatever. But our ever-thinking minds don’t stop there. Even if our experience is good, it could always be better, or last longer, or it definitely needs an Instagram filter to brighten those colors and really highlight the beauty of the moment. And of course, a boring moment could always be more interesting. The minute we start doing all of this thinking and wishing, we’re actually removing ourselves from the present, which is the very place we're trying to be. When that happens, we miss the good stuff, avoid dealing with the difficult stuff, and get so caught up in our own thoughts that we can’t see what’s right in front of us. So, what are we supposed to do instead? Well, if you want to stay in the present moment, here are three easy options: Breathe, be kind, or get curious.
Well, folks, it’s been over a year and a half since I’ve updated my blog. I could give you all the reasons, from building a new house to moving into it to writing and marketing my second book, but those are just details. The important point is that I’m back. And if I’ve learned anything about parenting and life from my mindfulness practice, it’s that we can always, always begin again. So here I am, ready to pick up where I left off – with part 4 of my 6-part exploring the definition of mindfulness. In Part 1, we talked about how I define mindfulness: “Mindfulness is about setting an intention to pay attention in the present moment, with kindness and curiosity, so we can then choose our next action or behavior.” In Part 2, I wrote about the importance of setting an intention, and Part 3 explored what it means to pay attention and how to do it. This brings us to the present moment. How very, well, mindful of us. Here’s why the present moment matters: it is the only place we can accurate data on what is actually happening.
In my last post, I explored the importance of setting an intention to pay attention as a crucial part of mindfulness. Now it’s time to talk about paying attention. Paying attention is key to mindfulness; if we can’t direct our awareness towards something and then bring it back to that something again and again when it wanders, we will be at the mercy of the distractions of life. I see this in my daughters all the time; they’re young and their little brains are still learning to pay attention. They can focus fairly well on something that’s new or interesting, but they are also distracted mid-sentence by a squirrel or a plastic gem on the floor or a memory of something that happened earlier that day or even earlier that year. This a very handy thing when I’m trying to distract my girls out of a tantrum; it’s not so handy when I want them to pay attention to something such as putting their shoes on or eating their dinners or brushing their teeth. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told my daughters to pay attention, but I’m not sure I can remember ever explicitly telling them what it means to pay attention, or how to do it.
I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop. I have my laptop on the table right in front of me. The screen is bright and glowing. Even so, here are a few of the things distracting me from my writing: -- The background music. -- The woman sitting at the table behind me watching the news on her iPad. She has the volume turned up quite high. -- My phone, which just beeped to alert me about an incoming text message. -- The activity tracker I wear on my wristband, which just vibrated to let me know that I’ve been sitting for 45 minutes. Whoops. -- My friend’s super cute necklace that has all of her children’s initials on it. -- A large water bottle that I feel compelled to sip from every sentence or two, even though I’m not that thirsty. -- My own brain, which is currently wondering if I remembered to book the hotel rooms for our upcoming family vacation. Also, I have two scarves, which are roughly the same color, but not exactly the same, and I can’t quite decide which one I like better and if I should keep both, because it does seem a bit indulgent to have two scarves that are exactly the same. And the royal baby was named this morning, and her name is Charlotte, which I totally predicted, so I’m feeling quite proud of myself. Did I mention my neck is a bit sore? I wonder if there are some stretches I can do to loosen it up a bit. I’ll just click over to the Internet for a minute, just one minute, to do a little research… Here is the one thing I actually want to focus on: - This post. Sigh.