Riding the Waves

I thought I’d been handling everything so well. Like everyone, I’d been scrambling to figure out how to continue my work while practicing social distancing, which for me meant figuring out HIPAA compliant video conferencing options, adding telemedicine to my license, and contacting clients about alternatives to meeting in person. I’d managed to stock the fridge and assign my homebound kids meals to prepare, written daily missives to them about chores to do and ways to stay active, all while keeping up with the laundry/cleaning/extra disinfecting. I’d managed to make daily contact with my baby boomer parents, making sure they were heeding the warnings to stay inside. I was riding high on the wave, getting things done, Surfin’ USA, baby.

And then the wave crashed. All it took was some extra eyerolls from my teenager, and suddenly all my practiced calm came crashing down. Tears filled my eyes, and I stormed into my room, slamming the door like I was a teenager myself. I cried and cried, realizing that my tears weren’t about the contemptuous teen body language I was on the receiving end of (I’m relatively used to that), but that it was the catalyst tipping me into the well of feeling I’d been avoiding.

The well was filled with the what-ifs about the future—What if we get sick? What if we don’t have enough money to ride this out? What if this lasts over a year? What if my business can’t survive this? What if my parents can’t survive this? They are the same what-ifs swirling around in everyone’s mind right now, even if they are soldiering on and just getting stuff done. And I realized that in there with all those what-ifs was some mighty, heavy grief. And I had to acknowledge that grief or it was going to spill over into everything else in my life.

We are all riding the waves right now. Sometimes the sea feels calm, almost normal, and we’re just paddling along, doing our thing. Then a tsunami crests over our heads and crashes down, and we are left soaking wet and gasping for air. Part of being able to ride these waves is to be able to expect the tsunamis. Life is different now, and our emotions are going to be more volatile then we are used to. I was caught be surprise by the depth of my emotion because I was pretending that my emotional reactions were typical for me. But they’re not. They are big, and I need to make a little more room for them. I need to give myself time to cry, to laugh, to write, to nap, to talk to friends and loved ones about my fear and sadness.

Making room for these feelings doesn’t mean being taken over by them. If we can actually honor the range of emotions we are feeling right now, we are less likely to be blindsided by them, and less likely to spew them on others.

After my meltdown, my son came knocking on my bedroom door, asking to talk. We were able to acknowledge that we are both needing different things right now, and agreed to try to be more careful in how we treat each other. That little bit of connection helped me to pull myself back up to the surface, to feel the sadness and let it go. My awareness that the ocean is different now, and requires something different of me, helps me to carry on and maintain the relationships that sustain me.

Self Care–it isn’t just pedicures and cashmere wraps

“Self Care” seems to be one of those buzzy phrases that has been showing up in the culture for a while now. Often it seems to be connected to some act of consumption–paying for a fancy haircut, or buying yourself flowers. While these things are great (don’t get me wrong, we all love a little pampering at the salon), it sort of misses the point. It perpetuates that idea that caring for oneself is something only accessible to those with money, and that an act of self care is an act of consumerism.

Radical self care isn’t about getting pedicures or buying the latest gold leaf laced face cream. It’s about doing the things that you need to do in order to be functioning at your best. And sometimes, it isn’t particularly fun. I swim three mornings a week because I need to do it for my body to feel functional. But when I’m pulling on my swimsuit at 6 am, I am definitely not in a state of bliss or joy. However, I know that after I swim I will feel energized, and my body will thank me. So I keep doing it as a gift to myself, a gift that requires effort.

Self care can manifest in many ways. It can be the act of saying “no” to yet another responsibility. It can be the act of saying “yes” to something that might take you outside your comfort zone. It can be giving yourself the gift of time–time to take a walk, or read a book, or just sit on the deck and breathe. It can be feeding your body with nourishing food, moving your body, or letting your body rest. It is the message we send to ourselves that we are worthy of care and nurturing, and that we are listening deeply to that inner voice that is letting us know every moment what we need.

Basic mindfulness practices for kids

What is mindfulness? Basically, it’s the practice of bringing your attention to whatever is happening in the moment. It isn’t about changing your experience (although often when you begin to bring your full attention to your experience it begins to shift), but about gently noticing what is happening. Teaching children mindfulness is a powerful way to help them be less overwhelmed by their thoughts and emotions. Studies have shown that mindfulness helps to mitigate the effects of bullying, helps with focus and attention, and improves social skills. It helps kids build awareness of their own experience, and ultimately to exercise some control over their experience.

There are some simple mindfulness exercises that parents can practice with their kids. Here are a few:

1.       Body Scan—lying down, tighten all your muscles as hard as you can for a few seconds, then let them all relax. Starting at your head, bring your attention to various parts of your body, noticing how they feel. Notice how your breath feels moving in and out of your body.

2.       Glitter Jar—put a spoonful of glitter in a jar filled most of the way with water. Shake it up, then set it down. Watch how the glitter swirls around, but how as it sits, it starts to settle. Explain how this can happen with your mind as well. Practice watching the glitter settle to the bottom, giving it your full attention.

3.       Gong—ring a bell or chime and listen with your eyes closed for as long as you can hear the sound, then raise your hand when you can’t hear it anymore.

4.       Eat the raisin—take a few breaths to bring yourself into the moment, then put a single raisin in your mouth. Notice how it feels on your tongue, how it tastes. Slowly chew the raisin, paying close attention to every moment of how it feels to chew it, how it tastes, and how long its flavor lasts in your mouth after swallowing it.

5.       Mindful breathing—set a timer for 1 minute (or more, if you have practiced this for a while). Close your eyes, and breathe in and out. Notice how your breath feels going out, and how it feels going in. Is it cool? Warm? How does your chest feel? Does your body feel any differently at the end then it did at the beginning? Was the experience unpleasant? Pleasant? There isn’t a “right” way to breathe–just try to notice your experience.

Mindfulness practices are exactly that—practices. They need to be done regularly to be of benefit. Spend a minute or two mindfully breathing before dinner or at bedtime. Incorporate ringing a bell into some part of your day. Find a way to weave the concept of mindfulness into your everyday life so that it becomes something you can turn to when faced with challenging circumstances or overwhelming emotions. Just like teaching your kids manners or hygiene, teaching mindfulness can be a part of raising a confident kid who knows how to navigate both their inner and outer worlds. 


7 ways to approach uncomfortable conversations with your kids

When it comes to talking to our kids about the “hard stuff” like sex, drugs, bullying, porn, racism, or the many other issues facing our society today, many parents find themselves shying away from difficult conversations. They worry that by bringing up these issues they will be introducing their children to inappropriate topics, or bringing up something their child has never heard of or thought about. While it is possible that taking a fairly pro-active approach to discussing difficult things with your kids might bring up new topics, this allows you to control the conversation and present things in keeping with your own value system. It prevents having to do after-the-fact damage control following little Jimmy’s playground conversation with an older kid about where babies come from. And it gives your kid the message that you are someone they can come to when they need to talk about hard things. Continue reading “7 ways to approach uncomfortable conversations with your kids”

Walking Toward Fear

We live in a time when uncertainty is high. Our entire country feels on edge, politically, economically, and emotionally. At times it feels as if something is going to blow up at any moment.  It is no wonder that anxiety disorders are increasingly prevalent, and that many of us struggle to keep our fears at bay. But the more we try to control our anxiety, to tamp down our fear, the more it catches us off guard. There are times we awaken at 3 am with a feeling of dread in our stomach, or times when our thoughts begin to race and our heart begins to pound, and we’re stopped dead in our tracks by anxiety. Continue reading “Walking Toward Fear”