The housewife doldrums

It’s a fuzzy pressure behind my eyes when Cal, Jo and I pad downstairs in the morning. It’s a weight pulling my shoulders forward and down after I sing “Happy Birthday pancake” (long story) and close Cal’s door for naptime.

I go there every Monday, Wednesday and Friday when I’m home with the boys.

Ah, the housewife doldrums. Where many have dangled their feet in the warm, slow waters and pondered the pots and brooms and dustpans that await them.

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Photo by me_maya

The air is thick and sleepy here. It suspends the forward march that keeps clothes folded in their drawers and pots bubbling tappity-tap-tap.

Perhaps you’ve been here too, this sort of relaxing and depressing place, where you start to become Her. The Woman you didn’t want to be.

She lives here, in the sway between doing and un-doing that is my weeks work. Washing clothes and dishes so they can get dirty, buying and growing food so it can get eaten, holding safe boundaries until strong, capable legs trample them down as they’re meant to.

In this hypnotic back and forth and back again, I forget the shape of my desires. I become The Woman who does the work that’s needed. She stares off into the distance, waiting until a small, urgent voice calls for her again.

I hate her.

She was inside that humorless, late-afternoon look my mother used to get, her slender fingers deftly dicing yet another onion for yet another meal.

Back then, I vowed never to be her. But I didn’t give her enough credit. She’s a skillful shape shifter. Why should she keep clearing space for herself when it gets filled with everyone else’s needs and wants? Conserving energy feels safer than trying.

I need to sit her down. Pour her some iced tea and rub her feet for a while. Perhaps then she might remember how to stop waiting. How to move forward with her whole self. Dustpan, desires and all.

Scripting my kids to emotional intelligence

I learned it from Kidpower, this kick ass group that taught our preschool about safety and strangers. (The reason Kidpower kicks ass is because they teach a whole boat-load of potentially freaky stuff in the spirit of personal power and curiosity, not fear.)

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Kick ass cartoon from the cover of Kidpower’s safety comic book that graces Jo’s bookshelf.

Our Kidpower trainer did it first. This very together woman with a very together haircut and strong, easy voice walked us through the classic scenarios. “You’re in a busy shop and you look up and can’t find your grown up anywhere…” Then she’d pluck a proud volunteer kid from the audience and show us all how to practice:

I’m pretending to be the lady at the cash register, and this is a time when interrupting is okay. Now put your hand on my arm right here to get my attention. Yep. Make it a firm pancake hand so I’ll notice you, and then with your strong voice say “I need help.”

The kid flopped out a nervous “i need help.”

Try again with your loud power voice like this, “I Need Help.”

“I NEED HELP!”

Great. That was perfect. Now look in my eyes and say, “I’m lost. I can’t find my grownup.”

And so it went with how to handle angry stranger kids at the playground to the pot boiling over on the stove while mom showers to a stranger delivering flowers at the front door when the babysitter is in the backyard.

That evening training was a long time ago. But something stuck with me about that self-assured gal with her self-assured hair confidently scripting our kids to safety over and over and over.

I revived her genius scripting move one afternoon when, for the 400th time, Jo had knocked Cal down or bonked him or grabbed a car out of his hands. Cal either screamed or cried or hulked out and started throwing his potty at the wall. And Jo just walked on, fiddled with the car and pretended like nothing happened.

Jo, get down low so Cal can see your face and put your arm gently on his shoulder like this and say “I’m sorry Cal. I didn’t see you there. Are you alright?”

And I’ll be damned if my big ol’ too-proud, easily embarrassed 5-year-old didn’t parrot my every little move, from the gentle hand to the kind tone of the question at the end. And Cal listened, said “Yeah.” and picked himself up.

And the band played on.

This discovery really killed me, because it stripped away my own judgement about Jo and how emotionally brutish and stunted he can seem sometimes. Underneath that stonewall is a kid who literally doesn’t know how to respond. A kid worried that he messed up, a kid confused by his little brother’s emotional toddler storm.

The thing that slays me, every time he echoes my script, is how trusting and vulnerable he has to be every time he accepts my instruction. Every time he repeats my words, and bends his wiry knees to get his face down next to Cal’s, he’s basically saying, “I totally trust you not to make me look like an idiot, Mom.” and “I have no idea what to do, so I’ll take the risk of doing something weird and new, Mom.”

It makes my tummy all jiggly just to think about it. My steely, ninja-warrior son. A sweet little wide-eyed baby bird.

So I’ve been scripting him all over the place. And he just keeps parroting me without any resistance in the world. It still shocks me, since Jo shuts down or revolts at the slightest hint of shame or anger. But the scripting has no judgement. It’s just like handing him a wrench in a moment when he needs one and saying, here’s how you fit it to the bolt. Now grab on here, and turn it this way.

Bless his sweet cotton socks.

My kid is letting me teach him.

Coming to terms with preschool graduation

Until just now, I found the thought of pre-school graduation mildly sickening. Something for wealthy kids in uniforms, for overly sentimental, clingy parents who iron their pants.

But here I am. Looking forward to it. Wanting it. Needing a ceremony to help me say goodbye to the school that has been a refuge for me as a parent-in-training.

Jo’s school is a co-op, so I, like all the other parents, have been required to teach there once a week. Monday mornings for the past 2 years have been me, 4 other parents dosing caffeine, 2 teaching professionals and swarm of 26 pre-schoolers.

That first year was about recovering from the shame of having a very phyiscal boy. I just kept showing up every week, peeling Jo’s hot fist out of another kid’s hair, taking a deep breath as I helped the train kids put their track back together after Jo crashed through on his way to the bookshelf. The teachers there kept reminding me of Jo’s goodness. And the other parents didn’t cast me out. Sometimes, their kids acted like neanderthals too, which was always a relief.

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Snack time was also a relief.

This second year has been about slowing down and listening. “I see that you both want to sit in the same chair. What should we do?” And then I just stay there in the silence that follows, crouched down, looking at their open faces. “No. I can’t let you take the chair away. I’m going to hold it right here while we figure out what to do.” Then Voila! after 3 LONG minutes of questions, tears and ideas, it’s over. “Oh, you wanted the chair because it’s red and she wanted it because it’s next to a friend. Let’s get that other chair and move it over here too.”

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These last weeks I’ve been surveying the dreamy landscape we’ve all created. Watching from afar as two kids tugging at the same cape decide to wear hats instead. Looking up from the tire swing to see a trio working out how to let another kid in on the magic ninja freeze tag game. And feeling like we belong. Because sometimes, other parents look just as cracked-out as me when they drop off their older kid with a sweaty, hollering toddler in tow.

What a gift it has been to have this school embrace Jo and me as we are. Unshowered and exhausted, kicking and screaming, easy and playful, nervous and open. Somehow, there’s been enough room for all of it.

Damn it. I’m totally going to be in the front row. Sitting in a chair too small for me. And crying all over myself at effing pre-school graduation.

Welcome! and The Food Convo

My phone has been beeping its phone face off for the last few days.

Months ago, something automatically set itself up on my phone (this happens more often than you would think) to brrriiingg this magic wand sound anytime someone likes or follows my blog. Over time, it’s turned all pavlovian. I hear that sound and my eyes dilate, I salivate. “Blog attention!” I chirp to AJ. He’s even started to say the same thing back (with enthusiasm, even!) when he hears the bbrrriinngg.

Over Memorial Day weekend, my phone had a bbbrrrrriinnngg-a-thon. The invisible powers that be chose to feature my recent post about eating and body image on Freshly Pressed. Thank you Invisible WordPress Powers–it’s been a fun few days.

So welcome to all you newcomers, to this special corner of the world where we encourage complaining, openly judge others and poke fun at pharmaceuticals.

And in the spirit of truth telling:

Its been a little over 2 weeks since I started to practice my new mindful/intuitive eating thing. I’m shocked to discover that my body requires much less food for survival than I originally thought. Growing two babies in utero and then on breastmilk is a distorting and delightful experience in that eating more is necessary and celebrated. But since I’m not with child and barely nursing Cal anymore, my nutritional requirements have tapered off a lot, and I hadn’t even noticed until I recently started to pay attention.

Also, I don’t always get it right. Just like any conversation, sometimes you fall off and stop listening, sometimes you misunderstand, sometimes you interrupt because the thing you have to say is just so damned interesting. Sometimes I convince myself that I really am hungry so I can have the slice of lemon cake. One night, at Prime Celebration Time, I knew I wasn’t hungry and was straight about that with myself. And I still wanted some cookie dough. So I had some. Maybe 3 spoonfuls after my body politely raised it’s hand and said, “Thanks, I’m good. No more, please.” And then I put the lid on the container and Put The Cookie Dough Back In The Freezer! VICTORY. Three weeks ago I wouldn’t have even heard my body’s subtle commentary over the gnash and hum of my own Desperate Need For Cookie Dough. And I would have finished the whole container.

And this morning. I was hungry. Ordered 2 poached eggs and latte. Didn’t listen for when I should stop. And now my stomach feels gross.

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But it’s okay! I get to try again in 2 hours. Maybe 1!

Just like any conversation, it’s a back and forth. It keeps unfolding. And forgiveness is important. You can always say “Sorry.” and “It’s okay.” and keep on going.

Learning to feed my hunger

I will never let another pair of pants tell me I’m fat again.

This from the mouth of my friend Rachael, as she speared another piece of perfectly roasted cauliflower off of the plate in front of us. We met for drinks, Rachael and I, and as the fathers of our children readied our kids for bed, we ordered another cocktail.

I eyed that tiny plate of cauliflower with resentment. It was so good. And there was so little. What a tease tapas can be.

R’s declaration convinced me of what I already knew—I must go buy new jeans.

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Familiar, anyone?

Oh, the ever changing expanse of the post partum body. I’ve been rail thin with huge boobs to very squishy and everything in between. The rail-thinness was the product of exhaustion, depression, and breastfeeding in my first four months with Jo. I remember being stunned by the sight of myself in the mirror after a shower–I finally had the body I’d been told to strive for. It was strange and thrilling to see it on me. And I enjoyed it, guiltily, like a $50 bill you find on a busy street. Does this really belong to me? I didn’t work for it. It simply came through suffering over those early months of becoming a mother.

My current squishy reality, were I to guess, is the product of going to dance class less, breastfeeding less, and a little practice I’ll call The Celebration. It starts around 8:30 most nights when the boys are in bed. AJ will make some popcorn. I’ll grab another glass of wine and the cheese puffs. And then we’ll trot out a pint of ice cream while watching some show on the computer. It’s such a miracle to Eat and Watch without having to share or explain to the children. To be left alone to make terrible health choices and then to fall asleep on the couch. Don’t ask about the couple weeks when I worked through a box of 24 Haagen Dazs ice cream bars.

The Celebration also unfurled itself during the first few months of my job. It was just so miraculous to sit, unfettered at a desk—no one needing a snack or crying or hitting. So I would buy a tub of dark chocolate peanut butter cups at Trader Joe’s and polish of half (or more!) in an afternoon. Partytime.

The women’s group I attend every month? It is an oasis. Smart, interesting, engaged women, their beautiful child-free homes, wine and food. Last month, when I walked in, I thought, “Get ready, self. Time to over-eat.” I do it every time. The Rosé and cheese platter and berries with homemade whipped cream are just so damned abundant and miraculous that I have to pack it in so that it will last until next month.

I’ve felt uneasy about The Celebrations, just as I feel uneasy inside my jeans. And it took writing this to really see it:

I’ve gone and confused food with relaxation.

One feeds my body. The other, my soul.

In the confusion, both my body and soul have gotten squishy.

When I’m experiencing a significant break, rest, respite from the relentlessness of motherhood, I pack food into myself. As though the food will tide me over until next time.

It doesn’t.

And then, instead of really sinking into the moment, feeling the rest, the support, the entertainment, I zone out on food.

This week, I’ve been reading Women Food and God, and I tripped over this sentence several times because it was such a zinger.

To discover what you really believe…pay attention to the way you eat. You will quickly discover if you believe the world is a hostile place and that you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly. You will discover if you believe that there is not enough to go around and that taking more than you need is necessary for survival.

Guess which one I am, piling more sesame noodle salad onto my plate at my woman’s group like it’s the last meal I’ll see for days?

So, I’m turning over a new leaf. The concept of mindful or intuitive eating. I learned about it from this insightful TED Talk, and while at first I was left laughing off the possibility of mindful eating, it’s been surprisingly helpful in practise:

I eat what I want when I’m hungry. Eat till I’m full. If I’m not hungry, and I want to eat, pause the food train and be in the moment.

It’s felt like a homecoming to listen to and trust my body.

The new jeans aren’t too bad either.

5 things I wish every woman knew about birth

  1. There’s no right way to give birth. Throw moral superiority out the window. Women who have epidurals aren’t weak and women who have drug-free births aren’t strong. Every woman needs to do what feels best for her, deep down in that quiet place that knows what it wants if you get really still and listen.

    Here I am, getting still and listening during my labor with Jo. Or perhaps I’m just very stoned. Photo by Candace Palmerlee.

  2. How matters a lot more than what. There’s pretty much nothing I’d rather listen to than a birth story. So I’ve heard A LOT of them. And the consistent thread is this: The way a woman feels about her birth has lots to do with how things happened and much less to do with what happened. It’s easy to see birth as a binary with Drug Free Birth on the Winning side and C-Section on Losing. It’s that kind of black and white thinking that can leave women feeling less than open to options that might be helpful or necessary when the time comes. I’ve seen epidurals work wonders. I myself, hoping for a homebirth, said “I love Pitocin!!” during my labor with Cal.
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    Pitocin ain’t too shabby. Photo by Candace Palmerlee.

    I’ve witnessed rad homebirths and victorious C-sections. I’ve also listened to women talk about hospital and home births as traumatic. If you want to love your birth, focus on supporting yourself around the game-time decisions you’ll inevitably have to make during labor, and let go of the end game. Not surprisingly, you will be much more likely to feel good about your birth if you experience it as something you actively did and chose, rather than something that was chosen for and done to you. To that end, bring someone with you to your labor who will listen to you and help you understand the ins and outs. Which brings us to #3:

  3. It’s more about who you’re with than what you want.  I always figured that the largest factor contributing to a woman having the birth she wanted was her commitment to that kind of birth. After birthing twice and working as a doula, I know that idea is complete crap. What matters more than any commitment is having a care provider at your birth who has a depth of knowledge and experience about the kind of labor and birth you want. Labor without drugs–things like how to help a you relax through your contractions, how position changes and movement can hasten your labor and delivery, and when to use certain techniques and not others. Labor with drugs–things like how to dose pitocin so it doesn’t overwhelm you with contractions but so you’re not laboring forever and what types of pain relief are most useful when. Here’s the other kicker: if you’re having your baby in a hospital with an OB or midwife, it’s most likely that you won’t see them until you start pushing. Until then, the person who is going to help you is a labor and delivery nurse who is assigned to you (or nurses if you have a long labor that spans a shift change). I was really surprised to learn this, and I decided not to put all of my eggs in my OB’s basket, since she would, at most, be attending the last few hours of my first birth. Turns out, with Jo, I pushed for less than 15 minutes. They pulled an OB out of the hallway. I still don’t know her name. But I’ll never forget the calm, constant, trusting presence of my doula, Candace and the kick in the pants that was my labor and delivery nurse, Jackie.

    If not for my doula and L&D nurse, I would have never taken this walk outside after nearly 25 hours of labor. But I did. And while my face here looks pained as hell, I remember it as my most transcendent experience of labor.

    You might luck out and be assigned to a labor and delivery nurse whose skills match with what you want. And you might not. My advice? (As if you had to ask…) Do your research about the skills that the labor and delivery nurses at your hospital have. You and your partner can beef up your skills at a birth class geared towards your goals. And you can invite a doula who has the skills you want to your birth. You should also really like your doula and feel safe around her. Which is the perfect segue way to #4:

  4. The safer and more relaxed you feel during birth the better. Trust your instincts. Go with your gut. Cause in the end, you birth with your instincts and your gut. It’s good practise, cause that’s often where you mother from too.

    Blissful, transcendent photo by Candace Palmerlee

  5. There is no plan. While I’m a fan of “the birth plan,” I’m not a fan of calling it a plan. (“Birth hopes” maybe?) If my births and every single birth story I’ve ever heard is any indication, birth follows anything but a plan. I know it’s a bit of a downer, but I’m going to call a spade a spade: no matter how many books you read or classes you take or visualizations you do, unexpected things will happen during your labor and delivery. Things that you don’t like will happen. And while that might sound terrifying, getting comfy cozy with the practice of planning for (ha!) and adapting to uncertainty is one of the most helpful things any woman can do to prepare for her birth. How the heck do you do that? Control the things you can: read the books, take the classes, and invite the people to your labor and delivery who you trust in times of uncertainty. Then throw your hands to the sky and let go.

Where I found my dreams

I was surprised that you all related so well to my post about losing my dreams.

When I wrote that one and hit the old PUBLISH button, I worried that it would thud into your lives as a big ol’ downer. Maybe it did. But as usual, reading your responses helped me feel like part of the human race again instead of like a lack-luster misfit.

Something else interesting has happened.

I’ve started to daydream. I did it right before I sat down to write this. Instead of hurdling myself straight from work into writing, like some sort of eternally productive robot, I first found a grassy field, popped out the kickstand on my bike and laid down. I do my best daydreaming supine on grassy fields. After a while, I took off my shoes. And that was that.

Taking the space to require nothing of myself has been glorious. I lay. I breathe. I close my eyes or leave them open. I smell the exhale of leaves and damp soil.

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“Daydreaming” by Eric Borgelt

Today, the idea to write this came to me. I also saw myself planting some grass seed or sod in a little strip of ground we have that the chickens can’t destroy, so I can have my own little daydreaming patch at home. And do you know what that is folks? It’s a dream. A good old-fashioned dream like I haven’t had in years.

I didn’t realize how compressed my days had become until I started breathing some space into them. I lurch from waking to dressed and making breakfast in 5 minutes or less. And on and on through the demands of the day. It’s easy to do with work and kids and bills and Netflix On Demand. There’s little if any space. By default, the days are dense. And they keep stacking up.

But something shifts when I’m laying down with my toes in the turf. My arms and time stretch out. There’s a drifting. And sometimes it’s magical.

This last week I had a Rough Day with the boys and called AJ in a very mature Take Care of Myself moment, “I need to get out of here when you come home,” I said. “Will you tell me what time that will be, so I can hang all my hopes on it?” He agreed, and I pedaled away from our house without an idea of what I was going to do.

Cue laying in grass.

I had three thoughts while I watched the wind tickle the boughs of my favorite redwood tree in the park:

Rice bowl
Cocktails
Sonya

I felt weird about bellying up to a bar for a cocktail all by myself. And I didn’t have Sonya’s number. So I just started riding towards the rice bowl place. Just before I got there, I saw Sonya’s husband standing outside their parked van, and I raised my arm and eyebrows in a “What the Eff?!” Then, who but Sonya emerged from the van, and I explained how I had actually just manifested her.

She came with me to get a rice bowl. It was great. And then we walked back to her house where her husband made me a gin and tonic. Also great. And just what I needed.

Check check and check.

The thing about daydreaming is that it’s receptive. And that’s a stark and medicinal shift away from the monotony of productivity.

To be open to receiving whatever drifts down.

That’s where dreams come from.

Giveaway winner: how to survive mornings with your kids!

Step right up! Get it while it’s hot! Get it while it’s buttered! Parenting advice you actually want is being served up by my favorite experts.

Congrats, Susie, you won!! See Angela’s letter below for help with your kid morning dilemma. And congrats to Allison, vjentzsch and Jacquie (and the hoardes of the rest of us) who share Susie’s exasperation on this issue!

And BONUS, Angela and Niels will be answering all of your other questions on their podcast! Woot!! Read on…

Here’s Susie’s question:

L is 5. And INCAPABLE of following directions. In the morning, particularly. It’s “please brush your teeth” and “please do first pee” and “please get your clothes on” and despite many calm talks, and a chart we made called “L’s Morning,” with fetching pictures of what he needs to accomplish, AND with the sometimes-threat (delivered kindly, in my defense) that he will lose the privilege of watching Wild Kratts later if he can’t help out more, he dilly-dallies like no other. I sometimes have to ask 5 or 6 times for each of the three things he needs to get done. We help more and more (pick the clothes, cue up the toothbrush), and that’s fine–we just want some ownership over the activities and a little frigging help around here, please. Often, he completely ignores us, not in a willful way exactly, but in a “I’m-spaced-out-and-am-going-to-pretend-I-don’t-hear-you-so-I-can-play-animals” way. It is SUCH A BEAR to get out of the house, and it often results in yelling or tears or drama that none of us wants. My patience has worn thin. I’m over it. THANKS!

***

Dear Susie,

Oh, yes, the morning Getting-Out-The-Door challenge. Who hasn’t been there? Whew.

First, let me say this: please, please, don’t take any of my advice as a way to be hard on yourself. Parents are stuck between a Rock (children’s hardwired need for connection) and a Hard Place (societal structures and rhythms that make connection extremely difficult, nearly impossibly sometimes).

Be mad about this. It sucks to parent in this culture of isolation, speed, stress, and the pursuit of perfection. Be very mad. But don’t be mad at yourself.

Every moment of warmth, listening and laughter with your child is nothing less than a counter-cultural act of resistance (Do I sound dramatic here? I feel rather passionate about this). Give yourself lots of love and praise for every drop of patience, compassion and ingenuity that you manage to come up with as a mother or father parenting in the here and now. And trust that your kids are resilient enough to take the bits of connection you manage to cast their way and use it to heal, grow, and create their own ways of moving through the world. So without guilt, and while dousing yourself in self-appreciation for the awesome parent you already are (and I can tell this is true!) … read on!

Ok, you might want to first watch this little video to get oriented to why connection is the key to helping things run smoothly in our families, and what this might look like in the very real, very challenging everyday moments with our kids:

So … mornings. A big time of challenge and upset in most families. These are my thoughts on it…

Mornings are really hard for young kids because they are facing many hours away from us. Children who have been pretty well treated—and yours clearly are!—still have high standards for what life should be like. And at age five, it is much, much, much more reasonable to want to spend the day with people who love and adore you than with people who might be nice enough, but don’t necessarily love you. I’m assuming that’s what school is like for kids, even at great schools. So…a five year old, whose brain still relies on lots and lots of warm, attuned limbic-to-limbic resonance (love) to be able to function well, has understandable apprehension when anticipating many hours away from you—the capitol S source of love in his life!

But there’s still lots we can do to gain kids’ cooperation and help mornings go better, especially once we understand that we are asking young brains to swim upstream from their natural impulses. And smoother, warmer mornings are better for everyone because they set us up to enter the day well. So, I think there are three main things that can make a huge difference in the morning—these aren’t easy things to achieve, but well worth our attention. (And I challenge you to do these things imperfectly, at best.)

First, calm, cooperative mornings require a calm, regulated parent. As the Master Regulators of our households, our emotional tenor sets the tone for the whole family. But before you beat yourself up about how stressed and frustrated you often feel in the morning, know that it is TOTALLY unfair that you should have to get yourself and your kids ready and out the door so early in the morning, and that to do it while being CALM is a high order, indeed. You shouldn’t have to do this, but here we are, parenting at a time in history that sets us up to have to work extra hard. So give yourself kudos for all the mornings when you don’t lose it, and be extremely gentle and compassionate with yourself when you do lose it.

And then try this strategy to help your system feel calm in the morning: wake up thirty minutes before anyone else in your family.

Spend this time being with yourself, in some easy enjoyable way, before you become Mommy. For instance, make your favorite hot beverage, sit in the comfiest chair in the living room, and let yourself enter the day gently. Sometimes I light a candle just to help me set the right tone (otherwise, I am liable to start worrying and fretting over the day as I sit there with my coffee). Do whatever you need to make this time pleasant. Recently I have added to my morning time a little self-given foot rub with coconut oil and a few drops of my favorite essential oils. This is a time to treat yourself really well because you are a champ and doing an amazing job in an impossible situation. (A mom in one of my classes recently asked if it “counts” to spend her thirty minutes taking a shower and getting dressed all by herself. I could tell that the thought almost made her giddy, so my answer: Hell yes!) But however you spend your thirty minutes, keep it simple, keep it enjoyable, and make it all about you.

Second, get your kids connected before you ask them to cooperate. This can look different for each kid, and it may change over time. I used to start the day with a morning cuddle with my daughter in bed. The only problem was that then she really never wanted to get out of bed. So we started a ritual of having a “morning couch cuddle.” When she was five I could still lift her, so I’d scoop her up and carry her to the living room where we’d snuggle quietly until she’d wake up to discover she was hungry. These days, enjoying my own morning foot rub with essential oils has inspired me to start her day in a similar way, so I sneak in and give her an invigorating foot and leg rub while she wakes up.

You can also start the day with a little dose of “Special Time”—which is two to five to ten minutes of undivided and enthusiastic attention while you do whatever your child wants to do—with a timer set. Here’s a video in which Niels describes this powerful practice.

But whatever your “connection strategy,” just think of this as a quick fill up before the day begins. Because if we can get our kids juiced up with connection right away, they often have it in them to cooperate better through the morning. You can also give them “micro-fill-ups” as you go… nuzzles, twinkling at them, extra body contact wherever you can, lots of appreciation for what they are doing right (I love how you picked out your own socks this morning!!). The more full their connection cups, the better equipped they are to do what needs to be done and face the day.

Third, make it fun. I know, I’m rolling my eyes just rereading those words because I know how impossible it sounds. But fun greases the cooperation wheels in a grand way. Kids are suckers for a good time. You are on the right track with your “task chart,” by the way. But the difference may be in the delivery. Can you make it into a game? When my daughter was in kindergarten, we went to Staples and she picked out a a write-on wipe-off board that we hung on her bedroom door. On the board, I drew pictures with little check boxes beside them of each step she needed to take to move through the morning. As she did each task she got to check it off. Something about that made it fun—and empowering. Plus, I would give her high-fives as I noticed items that were complete, and with a twinkle in my eye I’d say, “I wonder what the next step is on your list?” when I noticed she was lagging.

Fun is in the attitude. And it creates connection. You can give them piggy backs to the kitchen for breakfast, or announce that you are SURE you will be the first one to get your shoes on (and then be sure to lose). It can mean announcing that you have three things that need to go into the backpack, can anyone help by counting as they go in? Lunchbox, 1! Homework folder, 2! Sunscreen, 3! It can mean adding a dose of silly to the task. This morning, when the foot rub wasn’t enough to get my kid out of bed, I blasted Taylor Swift in her bedroom and we had a ten second dance party (and all her eye rolls let me know I was reaching new heights of “cool” by the goofy way I danced).

Making it fun is like flirting and courting your child into the day. Does it sound exhausting? Yes, I guess it is. But so is wrangling them, nagging, and yelling. And in my experience, a little connection and fun goes a long way. Opera tooth brushing and a skipping race to the car is far, far easier than having to ask my child to put her socks on fifteen thousand times. And it makes us both feel a hell of a lot better.

Smooth Mornings Getting Out The Door really begin the Day Before…, or the Weekend Before.

This is the real kicker…We really only have time in the morning to give our kids “micro-fill-ups” of connection, which isn’t really enough to get them through the morning (and the rest of the day) in good shape. Little fill ups of connection work best in the morning when a kid has had a BIG fill up of our attention sometime recently.

What does a big dose of connection with you look like? It might be a romping pillow fight or your tender attention while they feel their difficult feelings deeply and fully (or even both, because play often gives rise to the big, vulnerable feelings that are often right underneath the surface).

These are examples of the Big Doses of Connection that kids are really looking for in the morning, but who has time then? It’s much easier on everyone if we can provide the Big Doses after school, in the evenings, or on weekends. So whenever you can manage it, let yourself drop your other responsibilities and playfully connect with your kids, and if their feelings start to erupt, stay close and let ‘em flow. Be the safe container for their storm, and welcome the feelings forth. Because if they wake up on school days with their cups already pretty full, then they are more likely to be sated by the “micro-fill-up” that you are able to give in the morning.

But know that it’s not always going to happen when it’s convenient. Some mornings we just have to toss the schedule out the window, and sit down on the floor with our wailing, thrashing child, and beam our love on their emotional storm. When kids have regular chances to release the pressure in this way, you will find you get that time back in spades.

And tomorrow morning will likely go just a bit more smoothly.

I hope this helps,
Angela

PS. We, Angela and Niels, have read all the questions and thought about answering them all. And we will. This week is the start of our new podcast. One of the first episodes features an interview with An Honest Mom herself. You can listen to that interview here.

In the coming weeks of the podcast, we’ll answer all the questions you asked in the comments section of the the giveaway post. You can sign up for the podcast on the Every Parent Podcast website or directly on iTunes, so you won’t miss an episode.

You can also visit us on our regular website, Parent Connect East Bay, where you can find information about our classes and coaching.

My wish about my dreams

I’m gonna fly in the face of the wives’ tale and tell you the wish I wished yesterday as Jo and I blew out my birthday candles together. It was this: for my dreams to come back.

Is it motherhood or just good, old fashioned adulthood that clamped a lid down on the dream-spinning version of myself? That 20-something gal who would hatch a plan like working on organic farms in New Zealand and then incubate it till the shell broke open and she found herself standing, dazed, on a South Island beach with a backpack and some mix tapes.

At this very minute, sitting at my dining room table while Cal naps, these are my dreams:

  • To save some money when Jo starts going to public school in the fall
  • That Calvin will start sleeping well enough that we can move him out of our room and into Jo’s
  • A flexible career that will pay me well for my emotional intelligence, creativity and people skills
  • To be at peace with my squishy belly

Ok, so I’ve got some dreams. But I miss the sexy ones. The ones that feel more like an adventure and less like a project.

Growing older feels like a steady process of pruning my dreams back to reality. Consolidating the fruit to where I can reach it–a weekend in the city with AJ, a flexible, part time job, extra money in the bank.

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And if I tug on that thread just a little bit more, I arrive at this: It’s seeming like my life is going to be a little less grand and important and special than I originally thought.

In my adolescence, I genuinely believed I had a strong shot at becoming President of the United States. In high school, I had high-powered business woman fantasies (with images heavily stocked from the movie Baby Boom (!) which greatly impacted my life in other ways). College was all activism–ending hunger and homelessness, liberating sweatshop workers, reforming corporations. I felt reasonably sure I could save the world in a very high-profile way.

At the ripe old age of 36, I’ve scaled back. I don’t expect that greatness and achievement anymore. There’s relief in letting it go. And also defeat.

I try to invest my time, energy and dreaming in smaller, daily things that make me happy: sitting in the sun watching the chickens preen, climbing trees with Jo, a really good strawberry.

But I can’t help but wonder if I’ve pruned back too far.

In the name of realism, have I cut back parts of myself that would have grown into something inspiring and brilliant?

Is it having kids, or risk of failure, pessimism, laziness–what? that keeps me from stretching out into that ambitious dream space again?

Giveaway: Parenting Advice You Actually Want

I think my son is possessed and I’m not sure I’ll survive the toddler years.

This was a text I got last week from my friend D whose son is 3.5.

Quick on the heels of that, I got this email from L, whose son just turned 2:

It seems we have fully entered the so-called Terrible Twos (also terrific twos, at times, but…) We both brought up your name during our “we should get edu-ma-cated about how to HANDLE THIS SHIT” (not that it can necessarily be handled, but maybe more-to-the-point: how we can endure it while maintaining everyone’s sanity?)

After reading both of these, I breathed a massive sigh of relief that Jo has emerged out of his Most Difficult Stage. And then I felt extreme compassion for these gals, because I know how effing hard it is (Cal has taken to Hulking Out when I tell him he can’t open the refrigerator for the 103rd time). And then I sent them both to Angela and Niels and their website, Parent Connect East Bay, because they are the people who taught me the magic that has helped my relationship with my boys the most.

It’s no surprise that the most popular blog post I’ve ever written was inspired by what I learned from Angela and Niels. I think it struck a chord because parenting is often a lonely and desperate enterprise. We all have different kids and lives and treats that we hide for ourselves in the top corner cupboard, but we all find ourselves in the weeds. And we need resources we can come back to again and again to help us find our way out.

The thing I love most about Angela and Niels is that they teach for Real Human Parents. Parents who lose it sometimes, who don’t have the energy to do the best thing all the time, parents who are routinely judged and stressed and do their work in isolation. Parents who fail and love and try again. Down at the foundation of every tool or strategy they teach is the glorious option to not do it. I hear Angela’s voice in my head on a daily basis, “Check in with yourself first. Do you have the bandwidth to listen to Jo as he screams and throws matchbox cars, or do you just need to plunk him in front of a video and go drink some tea and breathe?” The joy of her question is that EITHER OPTION IS FINE. Her point is, do the hard work of listening and connecting with your kid when you have the time and space and energy. And if you don’t, which sometimes you wont! that’s no problem.

Angela and Niels teach classes in Berkeley, and I’m delighted to say that you can now learn their stuff from ANYWHERE because they’ve created a video series that you’ll want to watch because the videos are like this:

Don’t you already feel about 6 million times better after watching that?

The videos teach the same content they cover in their local classes including (but not limited to!) the stuff that still helps me everyday:

  • Understanding kids’ brains and how they’re totally like ours and also nothing like them
  • How to get the support you need as a parent (!!!eureka!!!)
  • Setting limits for your kid without turning into a dictator or a robot or both

So now for the giveaway part! Anyone care for some free online coaching from these two brilliant, kind, experienced teachers? Angela and Neils have generously offered to answer a parenting question from one of you. They’ll put their minds to a question that one of you raises in comments section of this post, and in a week or two, they’ll coach you here in the form of a guest post reply.

And the secret bonus of leaving a comment with your parenting dilemma? There’s nothing quite like hearing other parents talk about their unique, real, gritty parenting problems. Sigh. We are not alone.

To get you in the mood, I’ll leave comment numero uno, where I fess up to a nasty little habit I have when Jo, say, throws the lemon squeezer across the yard after I ask him to please bring it inside.

So get to it. Lay your parenting question on us in the comments to this post. Tell us where you’re stuck. You can comment anonymously if you want.

Don’t just do it for the killer coaching you’ll get from Angela and Niels. Do it for the greater good of all parents everywhere. Don’t we all need to know we’re not the only ones?

I can’t wait to see what you have to say.

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