Category Archives: mindfulness

The Gift of A New Year

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Both of my parents are Jewish and were brought up with Jewish customs and culture. But they were atheists for most of my childhood, and we seldom celebrated Jewish holidays. We lit the menorah some years, and when we lived near my mother’s parents, we went to their house for the holidays. But that was about it.

I will admit that I really knew very little about Judaism growing up. I don’t think I even knew that Rosh Hashanah (the holiday currently being celebrated) is the Jewish New Year. I only learned that a few years ago!

My mother-in-law does all the major Jewish holidays at her house, but in a very loose way. We gather, eat Jewish food, and make merry. We’ve tried to do some kind of Seder during Passover, but it’s totally thrown together ourselves, with my two children acting out the parts of Moses (my younger son is baby Moses; my older son is Moses all grown up).

The point of all this is that this year, for the first time, I have been embracing this time of year as a new year, a kind of beginning. And it’s been wonderful to think of it that way. We all need new beginnings sometimes, and why not have more than one occasion to start over? The fact that the weather is cooling off, fruit is growing ripe and falling off trees, and a new school year is underway—this all seems fitting as well. In fact, I almost always think of the school year as a time to reframe my life,  especially since my husband is a teacher and my son is in elementary school.

So, to that end, here are some of the things I want to focus on this year (on the Jewish calendar we are entering 5776!):

  1. I want (no, I need!) to carve out more time for self-care. I have a tendency to want to do, do, do—for my kids, for my work—until I run myself ragged. It’s not good for anyone. So I want to remember to take things slow. My goal is to meditate five minutes a day (a little goes a long way), and give myself the gift of a solo run twice a week, even if that means doing it at 5pm when my husband gets home and it’s right smack in the middle of the dinner/homework rush. I’ll still walk/jog with my toddler in the jogging stroller and throw on the TV so I can do some yoga, but I want to find times to do things on my own, in my body, without kids, even if all I get is 30 minutes a few times a week.
  2. I want to spend more real time with my kids each day. Life is ridiculous sometimes. It feels like some days there is literally no time, even for my kids, who I spend every waking second with. We are either on our way somewhere, in the middle of one of our many meals, or transitioning to something else. Each evening, I spend one-on-one time with the kids when I put them to bed. I want to strive for more than just that. But on the days when that’s the best I can do, I want to be as present with them as I can. Listening, cuddling, inhaling their essence. Yes, please.
  3. I want to read. I read a lot. But it’s all online! This summer I read a few books and it was divine. It was so much more silent, delicious. I could focus on the words, the feel of the book in my hands. It’s tougher to find reading time during the school year because by the time the kids are asleep, I am too tired to do anything but check Facebook or watch TV. But reading actual books is so enriching, so I’m going to find time. My goal is to read one book each month (Book of the Month style!). I think that’s a reasonable goal, especially since I usually choose a slim book of poems.
  4. I want to make more time for my friends. A lot of my friends have moved away in recent years, but I have a few dear ones who live nearby. And yet, it’s so hard to make plans. We each have full lives and opposing schedules. But I’m going to do it. Now that my little one is older, I need to get out more. For real.
  5. I want to find ways to make work to fit into my life, not take over my life. With a little one still at home with me all day, it’s hard to find time for my writing and lactation business. But I do them because they are my passion (and I need to pay the bills!). It’s a constant balancing act to fit it all in, but I have gotten better at doing so. And yet, I know that as the school year advances, it’s going to be harder to do it all and stay sane. So I need to remember that it’s OK to say no to things. It’s OK to put my children and myself first. And that the weight of the world doesn’t rest on my shoulders.

That’s it, I think! L’Shana Tova to all who celebrate.

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End of Summer Sorrow

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Tomorrow marks the beginning of the last week of summer vacation. Sigh.

It’s been a good summer in many ways. In July, my husband (who is a full-time teacher during the school year) worked part-time and the big kid had some day camp. We went to the pool a bit, played outside in the sprinklers some too.

In early August, we all took a trip to visit my dad and stepmom in California. It was really nice to see everyone, but traveling with little ones is far from relaxing. Still, the kids (especially the big one) remember it as an awesome time and are excited to travel again.

But now. This right here is my favorite thing in the world. No one has had work or other outside commitments for the past two weeks (and counting). It took me a few days to really relax into it, but oh my goodness, it’s good. I know that some people don’t love being home with no activities. And I have heard the words “I’m bored” uttered more times than I’d care to, but it doesn’t really matter when both parents are home to help (and our kids are finding stuff to do with a little nudge here and there).

I just love feeling this relaxed. I can feel each breath enter and exit my body. I can feel my heart beating slower. And I can enjoy the children—spend those few extra minutes inhaling their hair, watch the precise angle of their backs as they lean into the couch. I love the freedom of it all, not having to plan my day up to the minute so I can fit everything in and make everyone happy.

And sleeping. Taking turns sleeping in if the kids wake up too early (and dare I say that sometimes the kids are sleeping in themselves—wow!).

I know it will be impossible to bottle these feelings of slowness, solitude, and relaxation. But I hope the goodness we have been feeling—that feeling of all being together, in sync, loving on one another—will propel us forward into the busyness of September with a little more patience and understanding.

Let’s face it—the busyness of modern life can kind of suck sometimes. Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful that my husband has a good job, that my kid goes to a school he likes, and I have the kind of flexible work schedule that allows me to be home for my kids pretty much all the time. I know new adventures await us all in the new school year, and I’m excited for them.

But I see this summer ending, and I feel a little sad. No, very sad. I just want to hold on a little longer. I like the nothingness of our days. But most of all, I like these people. They are pretty much the best thing I have in life. I am eternally grateful, and so in love.

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Family photo from the other day. The best we could get. Love the pile of junk next to us on the couch. Totally authentic.

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Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

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It feels good to feel wanted. I have felt that these past few months. Awesome places want to publish my work (and, often, pay me for it). New mommies want my help and advice. And of course, my children with their endless wants and needs (and love).

I had always been a writer, but things slowed down a bit when my first child was born eight years ago (here’s a new piece I wrote about my firstborn). When the new year hit this year, I decided I was ready to “dive in” again. I have been blessed with words, and new places and people to share them with.

In addition to freelance writing, I’m a volunteer breastfeeding counselor and IBCLC. I get frequent emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls for help. I manage a Facebook discussion group, and I host a monthly breastfeeding support group. I have a part-time IBCLC business. I do consultations on weekday evenings and weekends. It is very part-time at this point, but I always have a mom or two I am working with in this capacity.

Let’s not forget (because I do so often) that I am a full-time mom. My own mom does come by to help a few hours a week, but it’s just me in charge of the house and the kids for 10-12 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

I think I kinda forgot that. I thought I would do it all, all at once. I was wrong, as usual. It’s happened to me before.

I reached a breaking point last week. I had about four writing pieces out (including this one about breastfeeding older children that went kind of viral), which meant promoting them, getting and answering emails from fans, and just generally feeling full and overstimulated from it all. Plus, there were a few breastfeeding emergencies along the way, from both my volunteer work and paid work. And of course, kids, replete with tantrums, spills, nightwaking, early mornings, and sibling squabbles.

I don’t drink coffee (gives me terrible anxiety and tummy aches), but I eat bits of dark chocolate to power me through the day. I realize this is not a terrible thing if done in moderation. It started with a few squares here and there. But with all the endlessness of my days lately, I had been going through several bars of chocolate a week. Plus, I’d been exercising less, eating more crap, and just generally putting everyone else’s needs in front of my own. I don’t usually weigh myself, but I’d gained five pounds in about a month.

I felt the weight of it all, just everywhere.

So I did some things I’d been meaning to do for a while. I figured out some ways to cut back on my volunteer work, and streamline some other aspects of my life.

And I made the intention—just like I did six months ago, when I decided to write in earnest again—that I would take care of myself. That’s it. Take care of myself: those four words. However it works, however it manifests.

It may be thrilling to “do it all.” I may be able to do to it all, in the sense that I can get it done. But it doesn’t always feel right. Something gets lost along the way. This time it was me. Sappy, yes. But true, 100%.

Just saying I need to do it has made a difference already. The days have felt simpler already, less encumbered. I have been taking more time for stillness. I have been putting my phone away. I have been eating my bits of chocolate, but savoring each small bite instead of stuffing in more. And I have been enjoying my babies more, taking the time to sit with them, read to them, cuddle with them, draw with them—all those good things.

I want all the other things to, and I can have them, but I just need to take it slower, say no to some of them, and say yes to the ones that matter most.

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The Gravity of It

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Nothing in my life is convenient right now. Being poked by a two-year-old at 4am most mornings? Nope. Never eating a meal without having to feed other people at the same time? I don’t think so. Never being able to leave the house without needing to persuade little people to put their shoes and jackets on, to stop fighting, stop kicking the wall, stop wiping snot on each other? Nah.

I used to be able to glide through my life effortlessly (though I probably didn’t feel that way at the time). My life was my own. I could wake up when I wanted, eat breakfast in silence, put my shoes on and leave. I could go where I wanted, nothing but my wallet and keys to keep track of. It’s hard to even remember when navigating the world was that effortless.

Things are different now. So different. I accept that most days I am tangled up in children. I accept that I am weighed down by their needs. I accept the gravity of it.

And yet, I feel the burden deeply. It pushes my body into the armchair at 4pm. It makes me say yes to extra screentime at that hour because I just can’t move another muscleI can’t muster up another smile. I can’t listen to another word coming out of their adorable little mouths. 4pm, baby, is when I feel the mind-blowing, earth-shattering heaviness of it all.

I think it’s important to say it, how terribly inconvenient motherhood is—especially motherhood at this stage, when the kids are so incredibly dependent on me. I think it’s important to say I feel buried in it.

And now I feel the push (from where?) to write about the joy, to tell you it’s all worth it. But I feel like that is the obvious part. My sons are gorgeous. Their stunning wondrousness makes me cry.

But I can’t deny that it is terribly inconvenient, stifling, so very hard to care as deeply as I do for them, and then to find the energy to care for myself as well.

I am trying to find the balance. Aren’t we all? I do, sometimes. And other times I don’t, at all.

And so I write. I tell my stories. I walk. I meditate. I do my best. That’s self-care. That sets me free.

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This post was inspired by a prompt from the wonderful Jena Schwartz.

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Spring Flowers & Sleepless Nights

This week was tired. This week was first spring flowers. This week was sleepless. This week was happily digging in the dirt. This week was new beginnings and tired ruts.

This week blessed me, and tested me. This week is over, and for that I am grateful.

My two-year-old did this weird thing where he alternated nights either sleeping like a log, or waking up like a newborn.

Half of the days this week I looked like this. Tired, haggard, beat.

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The other days we woke up and played happily in beautiful, bright spring.

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I have had this thought all week: parenthood is messy. It’s unpredictable. And all I can do is get better at accepting that.

I know my two-year-old is inching toward more of those good sleep nights. I know nightwaking in toddlers is normal (breastfed or not). I know I could try this or that technique to accelerate the process. I know it might work. I know it might fail.

Having gone through all these stages with my older son gives me a helpful perspective: no matter what you do or don’t do, all the stuff you are hoping will get easier (sleep, potty training, weaning, tantrums, etc.) has a way of working itself out in the end.

I still don’t know a lot about being a mom. I have only been at it for 8 years. But I know that some days I’ll be exhausted to the bone, and other days I’ll be running through fields of wildflowers with my kids (wouldn’t that be nice?).

So here’s to diving into the chaos. Letting go. Knowing that we know nothing. Accepting what is.

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Speaking of those hard days of motherhood, check out this piece I wrote for Scary Mommy. It’s all raw emotion, and I’m proud to have it featured on the site: On the Dark Days of Motherhood.

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Mindful Mothering: Doing My Best, One Breath at a Time

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I’ll be honest. Most days I’m just trudging through this life as a mother. I’m on autopilot; serving meals, packing backpacks, wiping noses, waiting for naptimes, lifting tired bodies in and out of beds, counting the hours until I have to wake and do it all again.

I’m not as present with my children as I want to be. I can’t always feign interest in my younger son’s cars and trucks, or my older son’s rants about Minecraft. I spend way too much time on my phone when I really should be soaking in their (mostly) sweet, precious selves.

I am well aware how fleeting these years are. My older son is eight and when I look at his long legs and his toothless smile, I want to cry. I remember so vividly when he was as small and round-faced as my 2-year-old is. At the end of our long days together, I sometimes ask myself: Where have all the years gone?

But as much as I want to be as present as possible, I know that motherhood is a balancing act. Sometimes I just need to decompress on the couch with my phone, connecting to other adults. Sometimes I seriously need to get the dishes into the dishwasher, and can’t focus on the precise way my toddler is sliding his garbage truck across the kitchen floor.

Happy to have this piece over at The Huffington Post. Click here to read the full article.

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Gestation

This morning, mud on my morning walk. And now, the sun shining bright enough to fill the room where my son is napping with a soft, margarine light.

Spring is near.

I am looking forward to walking—running—on sidewalks clear of snow. I am looking forward to just running, not having to navigate over snow banks, ice patches. But I will miss the frozen bay, its bright white glow. I will miss the empty tree branches that rest their hands against the shoreline. Black against white. There is a clarity there, a predictability that gives me solace.

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Last winter was one of the most difficult in a while. So much snow. Days canceled. Kids sick with every imaginable illness. The apartment on the market, trying to keep it clean for showings—constantly clearing away the salt that collected in the entryway, the muddy shoeprints, the extra dust born of days on end spent at home.

Last winter left me panicked. I didn’t like the unpredictability of it all, the loss of control.

This winter, I told myself to try to let go. Illness and snow would happen. There was nothing I could do about that. I just needed to surrender. And remember that it would pass. It had to. It would. There was nothing to be afraid of.

I let it gestate in me, that knowledge. And it was better. It was. Not always. I panicked some this winter. I felt the weight of the dark days. The illness came. The snow came. But I was less encumbered by it, less afraid.

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For this, I am grateful. The simple fact of asking, of making that intention.

I think it was around the same time that I asked to write. To write every day. I signed up for Jena Schwartz’s class just as winter began. And I did it. I did that. And in between, I wrote. Every day. Every damn day.

Now I’m back. Writing again with Jena and a new group of beautiful writers. What good fortune. Just in time for new life to spring up all around me.

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If you can’t tell, I highly recommend Jena Schwartz’s online writing classes. They’re for anyone who wants to write, experienced or not. Any kind of genre. All you have to do is show up. No judgment, just support. It’s a beautiful thing.

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