Maternal Responsibility

Almost three years ago I started my little book of mini-essays, maternal meditations, if you will.  As much as I’d like to think I’ve climbed some mountain of achievement as I have filled the last pages, I realize I’m still in the foothills.  My kids aren’t yet teenagers.  I’m sure those years will warrant their own book of assurances!  I still see and hear my mothers and grandmothers worrying about their children, welcoming them back into their homes, living daily into their role of mother, a.k.a. friend, confidante, nurse, shoulder, financier, comedienne, etc.

Looking hard at my current situation, my husband and I conclude that we don’t focus enough quality time on the kids.  It’s hard.  We are but two, they are four.  We both like to be involved in our community.  I like to keep a tidy house.  The kids only really like to do things if it’s their own idea, even our toddler.

Yet another realization sets in, as lessons seem to be coming at me hard and heavy these days.  I’ve never wanted to have kids that resent me because I was too busy working on this or that or too adamant about keeping the house clean.  While I’m not likely to let go of the minimal cleanliness we have going around here, I know I cannot take on any more projects.  Any thoughts I have of going back to school or working in any way outside the home will have to wait at least another three or four years.  Right now I need to be the mother I say I am, the mother I want to be.

“I’m just a mother,” I usually say when people ask what I “do.”  After all, I don’t want to make them feel bad for not volunteering as much as I do, and I don’t want to make them feel bad for not spending more time with their kids.  But if I am to validate myself, devote more time to my kids, make my writing time spare and intense, then I shall declare, “I’m a mother of four exceptional children” (as my husband describes them).  If others offer that look of “oh, that’s all?” then I shall ask if what they are doing is having as great of an influence on the next generation as nurturing four souls.  I’d like to think I would, anyway.

My gift, my charge, is maternal responsibility.  Being a good mother for my children now will only make me a better person later, no matter what I do when I get older . . . when I grow up.  πŸ™‚  Besides, don’t I always say that life is all about living in the moment?
When we go on vacation, I don’t like to be the one behind the camera — not because I want to be in all the photos but because I want to experience the real thing, photos or no.  May I be blessed enough to offer my kids the real thing.  May there be something, some way for me to be for my children a window to the Divine.  What greater responsibility is there?

photo from everystockphoto by Rosa y Dani

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There’s No Room If It’s Overflowing

I watered the plants one day last summer, for they didn’t look like they could wait any longer for the rain that promised to come any minute but hadn’t for days.  Little sprinkles just don’t quench a great thirst, though, any more than little pecks of a kiss give justice to great passion.  So I watered the plants.  Within 15 minutes it was raining and continued to rain on and off for most of the afternoon.  I joked with my kids that I watered the plants just so it would rain, kind of like washing the car to make it rain.

Almost as much as the plants needed water, I needed some fresh air.  We had turned on the air conditioning just a couple of weeks before, so the home was sealed off from the natural flow.  As good as it is to keep the humidity off our pictures and portraits, there’s something to be said for being in tune with nature as the temperature and humidity rise and fall.  I was grateful for my fresh air that morning  and enjoyed the once limp flowers rising tall again.

As for the rain barrels that provide the water for my watering cans, they were overfull when I began my chore.  I should have known they would be filled again soon.  With our summers around here, though, you never know if it’s going to rain for a week or come a drought.  I shouldn’t have worried. 

As with all things, if we hoard or collect, we can become stale and stagnant.  It’s much better to be useful and beautiful in due course and then be renewed when the time comes. 

I remember the story of the proud Zen student asking the teacher why he hadn’t experienced enlightenment, especially since he knew so much about the ways of a good monk.  It was tea time, and the teacher poured the student some tea as he listened.  And he kept pouring.  The cup was overflowing, and finally the student asked the teacher why he didn’t stop.  The teacher asked how he could teach when the student’s mind, like the cup, was so full.

Hopefully I didn’t completely destroy the beautiful story, for it is one of my favorites.  (If you enjoy good, quality dharma talks and Zen stories, please visit Zen Reflections.)  I think of this story, though, when I feel like I’m all used up, when like the flowers and plants, I’m wilted.  It’s not entirely a bad thing.  When the rain comes, when the energy returns, the sense of vitality is incomparable, the possibilities endless.  Best to use while it’s fresh and make room for more than worry about what may or may not happen, wasting what is already at hand.  Plus, I’d hate to miss an important lesson, not able to catch it because I thought I already had enough.

May your days be fresh and fruitful.


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Just Ask . . . and Mean It

Do you know people notorious for insisting on doing things themselves?  If they want something done, they really want it done their way now, and you should know how they want it done without asking lots of questions. 

Sound ridiculous?  It is, and we know it.  There is no sane, healthy way to get everything done all on your own . . . if you happen to know that sort of person . . . or be that sort of person.  A-hem.

Miracles can and do happen.  You can learn to ask and really mean it.  Often when we “ask” people or children to do something, we’re really telling them to do something our way.  Truly asking someone, though, means you would like a desired result.  The means of getting there are out of your hands.

Think of asking your kids to clean their room.  You can ask them and then sit around directing them to do it, putting things where you have told them they go, or you can let them do it, perhaps given a set amount of time or pending a certain reward/consequence.  My kids need motivation.

Think of asking the Universe for financial assistance.  You can have your plan and stress through your idea of a budget and your needs/wants, or you can work diligently and listen for opportunities, follow synchronicities and trust.  (Usually it takes a combination of these things, doesn’t it?)

The main lesson I’ve learned is that to truly reduce my stress load, it helps to just ask for help and let go of my ego enough to appreciate others’ ways of doing things.  We learn so much from other people, whether they be family, friends or strangers, but we have to give them room to share their individuality, their different perspective.  Heaven forbid we discover a better way of doing something!

Our personal finances are really tight at the moment, as are most everyone’s, but when I was reminded of Women’s Institute, a women’s retreat our church diocese has every year,  I remembered how I had promised myself I would go this year.  Would I let the cost stand in my way?  Would my husband be up for yet another weekend of me being away?

I asked.  I asked for a scholarship.  I asked my mom to take the boys for the weekend.  I asked my mother-in-law to take our oldest.  I asked my husband to just be home for the weekend with the youngest.  I asked for guidance from the universe.  (Well, the last bit is just a daily request anyway, so I don’t know how much that factors in, but it never hurts.)  This weekend, I’m getting my retreat.

The more you do it, the easier it gets, but every time you’re learning another lesson and growing into a more open, truly receptive person.  The next time someone asks you to do something, perhaps you can do it with an open and compassionate heart, showing them that it’s okay to ask, helping them to grow, too.


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Why Make Things Difficult?

daisy_green_blue_242467_l.jpgIt’s a sunny spring day here, and I am inspired to accomplish much, including making some honest commitments to do good for myself.  Along with eating well (which I am doing), I want to sincerely simplify my life.  Who doesn’t?

Chances are, you might share this characteristic with me — making things harder than they have to be.  Why do we do this?

So, as we strive to make every day simple and less complicated, let’s make note of our steps along the way.  Here are a few things I’ve done in the few months since starting this blog:

  • More times for crafts/hobbies
  • Increased environmental awareness
  • Planning meals better

I keep saying I’m ready to clear out the clutter, but I have yet to make the giant leap.  I’m taking baby steps in that regard, I suppose.

Life is easy, right?

Live in the now, filled with compassion for yourself and others, with no attachments.

Like I’ve said before, it is definitely easier said than done.  It fails to mention the small stuff, right?  The bills, the errands, the cleaning.  But isn’t that part of the “now”?  And isn’t there a book about not sweating the small stuff and another about chopping wood, carrying water?

When I think about choices I’ve made in my life that seemingly complicate things, I daresay that these choices have also helped me.  Lessons come my way that illuminate my ways of thinking, my way of life.  Without the attention the “drama” brings, I may not have noticed my own patterns of behavior.

It’s finally Friday of what has been a particularly difficult week with the kids.  A friend of mine agreed that she, too, had a hard week but didn’t know if it was her or the kids.  Were my week and the kids really difficult, or did I make it so because I let my ego get in the way?  Did I get trapped somewhere not in the present, lose some compassion and get too attached to what I thought had to get done or be done?  Sounds to me like a sure recipe for a rough week.  I wish I would have thought of that on Monday.

So this weekend, go forth with awareness, love and non-attachment.  It’ll be a weekend.  That’s all we can promise.  May it be a simple one.

(photo from, by Henkster)

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Time to Listen

As important as our time in community with supportive others is, our time alone holds answers to questions we may not have realized we had.  With a quiet  environment, we can hear the racket in our minds.  If we sit in the outer quiet long enough, our inner quiet comes.  The “stuff” that clutters our mind hushes gradually like a first grader at the beginning of class.  “What will the lesson be today?”  If we hush and listen patiently, what’s important will reveal itself.

Perhaps our intuition will reveal itself, too, answering those questions we previously thought were beyond our comprehension.  Mind-thinking becomes centered response, a much better and more mindful way of saying “gut reaction.”  The power and wisdom of God is accessible through us, just as it was for Buddha, Jesus and others.  We’re just too busy to pay attention and too caught up in our own agendas to let God’s will be.

* * *

Now, interestingly enough, I originally wrote the above meditation sometime early 2006 in my journal from which I am pulling posts from time to time.  Here’s the really interesting bit.  I spent most of last week in Orlando, FL at the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services Forum.  (If you read my ACOG response post, you’ll know I mentioned them before in regards to Mother-Friendly Care.)  At this forum, I met amazing women, women who have spent most of their lives advocating mother-friendly care at all levels and women who are new to the effort but have dived in completely.  (I suppose I consider myself one of the latter.)  I spent last week surrounded by “supportive others.”  This is a WONDERFUL motivation for action.

Yet something happened which could have been considered unfortunate.  I left the forum early to catch my flight . . . the flight that got delayed.  I would have missed my connection, so I switched flights . . . to the one that got cancelled (after we were all boarded) because the co-pilot’s travel time was up (or something like that).  Because of the morning’s weather, most flights were delayed, and Atlanta was basically crazy.  I would be stuck in Atlanta’s airport all night even if I did make it there.  In line to get a voucher for a hotel in Orlando, a gentleman told us there were no hotels available anywhere in the surrounding area.  I was getting to stay in the airport all night anyway.  I must say images of The Terminal ran through my head.  But what could I do?  All along, I kept telling myself to just go with the flow.  Believe me, there were many others expressing their anger, and negativity can be hard to resist.  Perhaps it was a good thing I was tired already.  Only 12 hours until my flight.

Fortunately I had my bag filled with notes from the forum, my notebook (my memory) and some books.  Eating dinner of some highly nutritious Burger King, I settled to finish book one — Cesarean Voices.  (If you want to know what doctors aren’t telling you about cesarean sections, READ THIS BOOK, along with Silent Knife.)  Finishing and resolving to share the book, I moved on to organize my notes from the forum.  Sounds easy, but there were many slide show handouts to sort and pages of notes to categorize — tedious but necessarily helpful.  Then, on to the project that lasted the rest of the night and through the next morning — reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.

Normally, I’m not one for hype.  Just because it’s an Oprah Book Club book doesn’t give me incentive to read it, but a recommendation from my spiritual director does.  Turns out, I love the book.  It voices and clarifies much of what I have experienced and feel in and about this life.  Thoughts I had would be addressed in the next pages.  I’m sure I’ll refer to it frequently, as I received much inspiration in my night alone in the concourse, despite the constant reminder of the terrorist threat being Level Orange.

For now, I’ll wrap up an otherwise long ramble to say that synchronistic events led me to have a night alone, a night of relative quiet, a night and morning of genuine insight and revelation that might have been otherwise missed or delayed.  Hopefully you won’t have to spend a night in the airport to get your quiet, but if it is due, apparently the Universe will go to great lengths to help you.


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Put Beauty on Your List

A few years ago I realized I really shouldn’t spend so much money on make-up.  In actuality, I didn’t have the money to spend anyway and felt it was one of those places to cinch the budget a little tighter.  Then we had our third child, and suddenly I felt like I needed to beautify myself.  I bought hot rollers to curl my long hair, and I spent about $50 on make-up.  Less than a month later, I had cut all my hair and was using less than half of the products I had bought.  Lesson:  don’t shop with the hormones flaring!

So, another few years have passed, another child, another haircut, and now I’m hearing these ads on the radio.  “Eighty percent of moms admit to letting themselves go,” say the ads.  Apparently a beauty company conducted a survey and have partnered with our local mega store chain to convince us mothers that we really need “to put beauty on our list” of things to do.  I agree . . . in a way.

Self-care is one of the greatest assets a mother can have.  A bubble bath, some chocolate, great music, a clean house, a favorite outfit — whatever works for you and keeps you from feeling like you’re on the edge.  “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” was a great quote from my uprearing that I’ve brought into our household.  Mothers do have a stressful job, and like everything else, we have to have coping mechanisms.  If taking the ad’s advice and buying some Brand S body products will do it for you, go for it.  Maybe my Walgreen’s splurge a few years ago kept me from going into postpartum depression.  Seventy bucks is cheaper than therapy and make-up less addictive than drugs.

I don’t mean to sound flippant about this.  Many women feel they are beautiful when they have make-up on.  I like to apply some powder, blush and liner when I’m going out for a special occasion, too.  But I know that’s just for me.  I feel a little more “dressed up.”  On every day occasions, I get to ask myself every morning if I feel beautiful.  Sometimes I have to tell myself, nearly remind myself that I am a beautiful woman.  I smile to myself in the mirror.  Why do I feel so surprised when people say I have a beautiful smile or that I have a wonderful energy or such a beautiful face?  Inner beauty is a hard thing to disguise and is the cheapest blemish remover I know.

Do put beauty on your list.  Find your beauty and how best to nurture yourself so it will glow so brightly you couldn’t hide it if you wanted to.  A shower daily is nice, too, but we didn’t need a radio ad to remind us of that one.  Lesson:  stick to listening to NPR.

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It’s All about the Breath

You would think I would know this by now.  I took a Buddhism class, attended sitting meditations and part of a Zen retreat, had four children, teach a natural childbirth class and am now taking aikido lessons.  I know that breathing is important, not to mention necessary for life.  We can breathe and live, but breathing well means a better life.  I know this, so why do I keep having this lesson taught to me over and over again?

In my childbirth classes, I have an excuse to see how many people chest-breathe (only the chest rises and falls when breathing).  Nearly half the class breathes as if they are panicked, even if they are “relaxed.”  My goal, of course, is to help them make a habit of breathing deeply, abdominally.  A baby does this naturally; just watch one sleeping, her little tummy rising and falling gently, rhythmically.  That’s our bodies in a non-stressed, healthy state.  In deep relaxation or great awareness in meditation, the breathing slows greatly. The body can work magnificently and efficiently when it doesn’t think it’s being chased by lions or deadlines or whatever your running beastie may be.  All this I know.

Yet in pottery as I’m trying to center the clay, I’m holding my breath.  In aikido, doing roll falls, I start well but catch my breath half-way through (resulting in being stuck on the floor unintentionally).  Driving in traffic, am I breathing?  I probably don’t want to know how much of my life I’m spending or rather wasting by unnecessarily stressing myself.  Granted, life can be difficult.  Learning a new skill takes time, and I should cut myself some slack.  I’m just ready to absorb the knowledge I have, to put it into practice.  Aren’t you?

There is another level to this, too, however.  At the end of summer, with our last-minute vacations, we took a hiatus from church.  Being spiritually inclined, though, I usually find a way to incorporate the Divine in my daily life.  You can imagine this breathing business is no exception.  The Holy Spirit, the Breath of Life, sound familiar?  Could it be as simple as breathing deeply, consciously pulling Spirit into our very being, that makes our lives more calm, puts our bodies and minds at ease?

When I face a new challenge or am revisited by an old one, it is comforting to think that instead of panicking, shallowly gasping for air, I should invoke the Divine simply by pausing, inhaling through my nose, pulling the breath into my lungs so deeply it raises my abdomen and fills so fully that it eventually raises my chest.  There is more Spirit to renew me, so I must exhale completely, releasing any negativity or stagnant energy to make room for this wonderful Spirit.  And to think that this magic trick is available my whole life.  Perhaps watching a sleeping baby is so addictively sweet because they are so purely filtering the Love of God into our lives.  I would like to think so.  It doesn’t surprise me that monks and nuns can continue in prayerful silence for days on end.

Since prayerful silence isn’t on my agenda most days, I pray for mindfulness.  I’ll pray to breathe well so that I can do all that I do with attention and a calm that I feel comes hand in hand with a connection to the Divine.

May we all breathe well.

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