Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

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Mean Mommy was back for a quick visit to our house over the past few days. Fortunately, this morning it became clear that her residency was coming to a close. Before she skipped town, the Thinking Yogi decided to sit down with Mean Mommy to find out what makes her tick.

Thinking Yogi: Mean Mommy, I'd love to pick your brain, to find out what exactly it is that puts the mean in the mommy. Can I ask you a few questions?

Mean Mommy: Yeah. But I'm busy, so make it quick.

TY: It had been a while since your last stay with us, but when you breezed in last weekend it was like you never left. What was the reason for your latest visit? Was it the fact that the kids were fighting and whining incessantly?

MM: Kids are brats. They fight and whine as a matter of course. The timing of my visit had nothing to do with them.

TY: What then?

MM: After all these years you still don't get it? Let me spell it out for you: If you're not getting enough sleep, I'll be there. If you're too busy at work, I'll be there. If you're feeling stressed, if you don't make time to eat well, move your body, and sprinkle in enough rest, I'll be there.

TY: But weren't the kids being especially difficult this past week? I mean, it can't all be about me, can it?

MM: You don't believe me? Try this little experiment next time I come to visit: change just one thing about your self-care routine (go to bed 30 minutes earlier, squeeze in a quick yoga session or get out for a run, spend some time sans kids), and see how much easier it is to tolerate the kids, stress at work, and other everyday irritations. I probably won't be around to see the results of your little experiment, but just know that wherever I am I'll be saying 'I told you so.'

TY: I'll definitely have to try that.

MM: Don't sass me!

TY: Talk me through what you were thinking in our final showdown yesterday when the kids were screaming, you were screaming, and I was trying to wrap my head around how to get us all out of the cycle of anger.

MM: My goal in that showdown was to make sure no one else got a word in without me coming down like the hammer. I want to promote an environment in which there's no reasoning, just reacting (and overreacting). I knew that everything the kids would say would be a challenge or a complaint, so before they were even done talking I was ready to dole out a snappy comeback and a punishment.

TY: I always thought the expression "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" was a vindictive take on mothers, that it was like saying "If I can't be happy, I'm taking all of you bratty kids down with me." But I now realize that it's just a pure statement of fact. Mean Mommy, this past week when you were the one running our household, your every interaction provoked conflict. The kids fought more while you were here, they tried to manipulate each other with threats and ultimatums, they mimicked your bitter tone of voice, they assumed the worst of each other (and therefore got it). You're like a cult leader. I had to really work to pull them back out of the meanness after you left. Why is that?

MM: There's a certain addictive thrill that comes with meanness, and it is highly contagious. Once the volcano of meanness starts spewing, it's hard to plug it up. Each time you yell at the kid who poked her brother or forgot to say please or whined about watching another tv show, you feel like it will vindicate you, like your kids will be recognized for the brats they are, and you will be acknowledged as the saint you are, and your meanness will be justified once and for all. But meanness.....well, it just begets more meanness. And vindication never comes.

TY: Are you crying, Mean Mommy? Do you need a hug?

MM: Shut your mouth and go to your room. This interview is over. I'm out of here.

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Posted by on in Family

Parenting spoiler alert - having kids is not all pony rides and lollipops.

I was talking with a friend on the playground the other day about the challenges of staying patient despite the everyday irritations of life with small and inherently less-rational people. On those 40-degree mornings where my kids refuse to wear jackets because they claim that extra clothing slows them down when they play tag on the playground, I remind myself that part of my frustration comes from the unrealistic expectations I have for my kids. For some reason, despite years of proof otherwise, I expect that they will take the logical path over whatever impractical, fun idea is stuck in their heads. And as they shiver yet refuse to budge in the coat department, I feel the tantrum boiling up in me, and before I can stop myself I say (to my two kids under the age of 6), "Why can't you act like normal adults?"

Parenting is trying. Children are wonderful, sweet, loving, and hilarious, but parenting them is a lot of work. Knowing that, I was surprised to find that one of my happiest parenting experiences occurred the week my husband was out of town for work and I was in charge of the little monkeys for 5 straight days (with some help from my wonderful sitter). I fully embraced the fact that I was the one who had to get snacks and drinks and break up arguments over Hot Wheels. I let small things go, knowing that I couldn't possibly fight every fight, knowing that it didn't matter if they behaved "perfectly." I had more fun with them than I'd had in months. Instead of policing their kid-ness, I tried to find more ways to be silly with them in order to entertain myself so being "on" full-time wasn't so much a job as a chance to spend time connecting with two very special little human beings. I realized that if I let my adult self go for a little bit, I could find the humor and playfulness in many of the same ridiculous games that would have normally driven me crazy.

Then my husband came back and I had a little more time to myself and I found myself getting crabby again. Now, don’t get me wrong. I'm a big believer in taking time for myself; I know it makes me happier and healthier and better prepared as a parent to nurture my children. But I also now know that the shift between sane, adult "me" time and crazy, sleeve-tugging child-time can be enough to make any adult throw a tantrum. I come home to incessant fights over who gets to use the tape dispenser first? This isn't fair! Don't these children know I just had an amazing massage? They're going to undo 60 minutes of relaxation in 60 seconds.

I'm practicing better managing the transitions between times when I've been away as an adult, in a sane and rational world, and then I come home to toys strewn about and children who need something every five minutes. I'm practicing detaching from that part of my life instead of clinging to it, instead of wishing that I could send just one more email or read just one more page of the book I was enjoying before I came home. If I am honest with myself and recognize that "me" time is over as soon as I walk through the front door, I can fully give myself to the present and really be with my kids wherever they are - silly, whining, or somewhere in between. Sometimes just the thought of having to do it makes me want to throw a full fledged tantrum, kicking and screaming on the floor, but then I tell myself to use my words and we all make it through just fine.

Tagged in: motherhood transitions
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Posted by on in Family

After years of dreading that annual piece of paper that arrives via US mail, alternately going through the whole standby call-in Russian roulette routine, and sitting in various airless rooms in governmental buildings all day in weird silence with a book and a bunch of strangers, I completed my civic duty this week and actually quite enjoyed it.

As I braced myself for the usual unpleasant jury duty experience, I went through the many reasons why I should be excused from doing my civic service: I have young children, I run a business, I only have part-time childcare, and so on. But then I got to the courthouse and saw the hundreds of other people who had somehow managed to show up that day because a piece of paper told them to do so. I listened as the head honcho of the jury room gave us instructions about how the day would go and how the process worked. Then they rolled tape and some really cheesy God-Bless-America-type music came on and Lester Holt introduced himself and his 80s mustache, and proceeded to explain in clear and concise terms the judicial process and the experience of being a juror. I soaked it all up and felt a strange pride at this incredible system that asks 12 ordinary citizens to apply the laws of our country to the facts of a particular case in order to make a decision, THE decision, about the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

Prior to all of the above, I had considered pleading to be dismissed due to childcare issues or even thinking of ways to make myself appear to be an unappealing juror in the interview process, but I'm glad I didn't. We spent a lot of time sitting and waiting in the juror room, during which time I pored over BKS Iyengar's fabulous book, Light on Life. Whenever I felt the urge to be impatient, to feel claustrophobic about this tiny room we twelve shared for hours on end, I had Mr. Iyengar to talk me down, with all his amazing insights and experience. It's not the waiting that's the problem, it's my reaction to the waiting, I told myself. As Iyengar said in his book, in Latin intelligence means 'to choose between.' So if I were to face this trial of patience with intelligence, I would have to choose between being miserable and fully immersing myself in the situation to extract some enjoyment from it. My book at my side, my yoga practice at my back, I chose to immerse and enjoy, and to leave all the other mental garbage behind. As a result, those three days will, as the judge of our case suggested, be remembered as a 'high point' instead of something I merely tolerated.

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A couple of years ago I wrote a Thinking Yogi post about an unwanted visitor in our home in the hopes that confronting her head-on would help banish her from my life for good. This visitor's name is Mean Mommy. You may know her, or someone like her (she is in cahoots with Mean Spouse and Mean Friend). She was back in my home for the better part of today, and let me just say that you do NOT want to mess with her.

 I know why she comes, I know what it takes to get her to leave, but sometimes she just lingers. Mean Mommy only shows up when life gets busy and I'm not taking enough time for myself. Whenever she's around, my perception of daily life is distorted so that what would normally seem like one of life's little hiccups becomes a catastrophic event. For example, one might expect that a sane mother of two wonderful children would patiently redirect their squabbles over library books rather than barking at them, running down the hall towards their room, and telling them how crazy they were making her. Mean Mommy thinks patient redirection is overrated, she thinks it will feel good to vent all that anger at young children who are on summer vacation, waiting around for something to do. She is, in short, a tyrant, and not someone I have much respect for.

My husband has unfortunately gotten to know Mean Mommy quite well over the past five years and he usually knows just what to say to send her packing. He starts with a gentle inquiry, something along the lines of, 'Are you okay?' Mean Mommy twitches to hear someone taking an interest, caring. Then he suggests that he might take the kids for a while and as the three of them walk out the door, Mean Mommy all but goes into the 'I'm melting...." speech from Wizard of Oz.

Today my wonderful husband did all of those things and I did a quick emergency yoga practice, which usually does the trick, but when he and the kids returned Mt. Mean Mommy still threatened to erupt for most of the day. I wondered why it wasn't working, why I couldn't get rid of her. Then my daughter politely asked for a glass of water and when I heard the cold hardness in my reply I realized I was just holding on to the meanness out of habit. I needed to take responsibility, decide to shift gears, quit frowning and slouching, and just make a change. So, I dragged my sorry self outside to play with the kids, we went to hear some music at Welles Park with friends that evening, and as I was racing down the block with my son on the way home, I knew we would come back to a blissfully empty apartment.

Mean Mommy or one of her associates visits all of us on occasion, so when she brings an extra large suitcase and wants to get her name added to your lease, just remember that eviction is a two step process. First, take time for yourself. Second, decide to let go of the meanness, the pettiness, the taking-it-all-for-grantedness, and just be nice and enjoy the people around you.

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Yesterday afternoon I sat at my desk, typing away, trying to get 60 things done in 5 minutes as my sweet children climbed on my lap to ask me questions about a book they were looking at. I answered them distractedly, just trying to keep them happy for another precious few minutes so I could respond to a some more emails. I knew I would later regret my disconnect, but I still couldn't make myself unplug enough to engage with them fully in the moment. I felt so frustrated (both with myself for not connecting and with them for needing me to). I felt powerless, enslaved by my own to dos. But if the busyness never seems to go away, how can I move beyond the busy from time to time?

A few weeks ago I had a fabulous shiatsu session with Jana, and I was remembering tonight the way it felt to let go of all the nonsense and busyness for an hour and just soak up the grounding, nurturing experience that is shiatsu bodywork. During my session I became completely attuned to the sensations in my body - warmth, tingling, pulsing, heaviness - and the thought occurred to me: in this day and age, truly paying attention is a radical act.

Think about it - how often do we really allow the busyness to fall away in order to tune in to a feeling, to a person, to nature? How often do we make the decision to turn off the phone or computer, to keep the TV dark and silent so we can zone in (instead of zoning out) on one small thing, on connecting?

For the most part, it has not been pretty around here this summer. It's a pretty simple equation. Too much to do + Not enough time = Distraction/Disconnection. But when I lose my way (and it happens way more often than I'd like), I've been returning to my shiatsu experience as a reminder of how I want to feel and be. We busy people need some kind of busyness antidote, some reminder of how good just paying attention can be. Maybe that reminder is taking the dog for a long walk, or rolling out the yoga mat, or having a long conversation with a good friend. Anything that nudges you out of the busy world and into the real world where things are slower and more simple, anything that provides you the luxury of a deep breath and a change of pace.

Last night as I tucked the kids into bed and forgot all about the emails flashing on my computer screen, as I looked my kids in the eyes and laughed with them, as I lost myself in the world of the story we were reading together, I felt that spark, that electric feeling that only true connection can bring. Not the internet kind of connection, but the connection of people breathing out words, pausing and giving pause, and the excitement of looking into someone's eyes and knowing that you are understood.

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