Danger

The mind is always seeking zones of safety, and these zones of safety are continually falling apart. Then we scramble to get another zone of safety back together again. We spend all our energy and waste our lives trying to re-create these zones safety, which are always falling apart.”  -Pema Chodron

Through my work, and my community, I am constantly in the conversation of motherhood.  And that conversation usually is:  Who is doing what to better the life and well-being of their child?  What book have you read?  What is your kid doing faster than anyone else?  Slower?  What are you, as a mother, doing wrong? right?   Recently, I noticed a theme.

Danger.

What is a healthy amount of danger?  Our own childhoods would be considered ridiculously dangerous now.  Sleeping on our stomachs as infants, riding in the back of pick-ups, wearing lap belts in the back seat, if at all.  We had teeter-totters, gravel filled playgrounds and death-defying, butt-burning, sheer metal slides.  It’s wonder we all survived. So how do we let our children grow and play, and keep them safe at the same time?  What kind of mother do you want to be?

Let me compare two moms (names changed of course):

Mom number one we’ll call Jo:  this mom is fun. Her house is full of toys, laughter, swings, home made slides, forts, rope swings and enough plastic light up toys to make a Waldorf mother faint.  She lets her kids play rough, she lets them get the chicken pox, she bikes them all over town in a Chariot.   At least one member of her family (often her), has a visible injury of some kind.  She is a tough, earthy, fun mama.

Jo and I were talking about choosing a day care for her daughter, and she described a place in her neighborhood.  An older couple run a play group in their back yard.  The woman there told Jo “This place is not for everyone, kids fall off bikes, get sun burns, we all pile into a big van… ‘ as Jo was speaking, I could hear myself saying, “whoa, I would never take my son there.” And although I should know Jo by now, I was still delighted and surprised to hear her say, “I just told the woman,  sign me up!”

Later in a conversation with a student, we’ll call this mom Kimmie, I felt much more kinship.  Kimmie was talking about how she doesn’t let her husband use the cell phone while her two year old daughter plays in a kiddie pool.  And the nanny isn’t allowed to have the girl in the  kiddie pool at all.  Kiddie pool use is mostly with Kimmie present, and on the rare occasion with Daddy. Hallelujah. These are my people.

But then I thought, where would my son rather be?  Falling off a bike in a fun back yard full of kids, or playing in two inches of water with me one foot away, staring nervously at him?  There is clearly no right or wrong here.  Just as my husband will inevitably play rougher with our son than I do (to my son’s delight!), there are many ways to parent.  But how do we remain diligent with our children while still letting them have a childhood?

Have we baby-proofed the fun out of their lives?

When I was pregnant, I pictured the sweet little baby girl I would give birth to.  I saw us taking trips to the library together, and coming home to cuddle on a safety-tested hammock, reading together in the dappled sunlight of an overhanging tree.  We would have tea parties, and play with stuffed animals, and bake muffins.  Instead, I am shocked to find myself the lucky mother of a highly physical, energetic, exploratory BOY.  When my husband wants to really get me, he’ll tell me stories of his childhood exploits using phrases like ”tree-climbing, rock-climbing, building-climbing’ and my favorite: ‘bicycle polo.’  The words immediately tie my stomach in a knot.  These are not things that little girls do!  We do arm tickles, back scratches, and maybe the occasional seance at a sleepover.   Not boys.  Boys have a ton of ideas, most of them terrible.

Watching my son play is a constant mixture of delight and terror.   My anxious mind is a projector of could-be horrors, all the things that could happen if. Other times, I am able to let go and really enjoy his play, his exploration, testing of his boundaries.  If he climbs to the top of a slide, one part of me fills with pride at his act of bravery, while another wants to run up there and slide down with him, just in case.  And often, I do.  Yes, I’m that mom, sliding down any new slide with him at least once, or maybe ten times before I let him do it on his own.  I don’t want to spend his childhood with an ulcer and a frown, only to see him graduate from high-school in the blink of an eye.

Play and Freedom are essential to our kids.

There is research suggesting now that playing in the dirt actually helps children heal, builds their immune systems, and prevents allergies.  And here we are, Purell in one hand, baby wipe in the other, trying to sanitize their very existence.  Google ‘the Value of Play’ and you will be showered with articles about the importance of play, and Time last year featured an article on Helicopter Parenting and the ways in which we are stifling our children’s experience of the world.

So how do we learn to love our kids, and let them be, without panicking about their well-being every minute?

There is nothing safe about having a child.  To have a child is to come face to face with the tenuousness, and vulnerability of everyday life.  The minute we see two pink lines on a stick, we have signed a contract to risk complete annihilation.  The love we have for our children is immense, visceral, and heartbreaking.  Some choose to try to manage this love by reducing the risk of losing the object of the love.  There is no way.  Every mother wishes they could sign a contract with God, saying simply “Take me first.” But here we are, the imperfect world, watching our preciously perfect children step out into it, and feeling the lack of control.  There is no other path, no workshop, no meditation practice, that can help us evolve, and break down our anxiety like having a child.  I watch my son, with awe, with hope, with fear, and with the greatest love I have ever felt.  I see his little pinkish scar on his face from an incident with a dog leash (my fault, of course).   In that scar I see the lack of control, but more than that, I see that he can heal.  That his childhood may not, no will not, be without some bumps and bruises, no matter how good of a mother I can be.  But ultimately, we will both be okay.  We will live this life, day by day, and play together, for as long as we are so blessed to do so.  And hopefully, I can actually enjoy him, more and more, learning to let my mind be in that place of uncertainty.

And I will look to the other mamas, for compassion, and for inspiration.  I can see myself, as I watch Kimmie carefully play near her daughter.  And I will go to Jo’s house, delight in her wild kingdom, as a tourist enjoys a trip to Florida.  I may never be her.  But I can celebrate the fun she’s having, and the fun my son has at her house.  Oh wait… He’s climbing up the slide… I gotta go!

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Happy Healthy Pregnancy

(republished from my blog, written in November 2008)

I was asked on my advice for staying healthy and strong during pregnancy.  I would say that it is a three point focus: Physical (body), emotional/mental (mind), and spiritual (spirit).

First I will address the one thing that I believe addresses all three:  Prenatal yoga.

Obviously I am biased, as a prenatal yoga teacher,  but I would say this is one of the most essential practices for the pregnant woman.  Not only are you strengthening your body and balancing your mind, but you’re building community and connecting to spirit at the same time. It doesn’t get much better than that.

One caveat before you read any further:  I would encourage you to dig deep into yourself for what your body is longing for during pregnancy.  For some, becoming less active will be very important.  For others, adding more activity will be the key.  Listen to yourself above all “tips.”  Okay, now on to some tips:  I offer the best two pieces of advice for body, mind and spirit.

For your body, I would offer the following:

  1. Walking: One midwife I know recommends 5 miles a day, 5 days a week. Of course you build up to that in early pregnancy, but shoot to be walking as much as you can by 26 weeks, and walk often in the third trimester.  She used to say ‘you’ll either walk during your pregnancy, or during your labor. You choose.’
  2. Diet: A good diet is the building blocks for your baby, as well as making sure you maintain your own balance.   Your baby will get what it needs, even if it means directly from your muscles and bones.  Eat protein (nuts, legumes, meat, dairy, tofu, etc. from varied sources), minerals (5 veggies a day all different colors of the rainbow, fruits, greens), foods rich in folic acid and lots of dark leafy greens. Avoid refined sugar, processed food, and empty carbs (white rice, starchy foods, etc.)  Get your food based organic prenatal vitamins, but don’t depend on these for nutrients.

For your mind, two suggestions:

  1. Learn to stay in the now.  The mind can be your best friend or your worst enemy in pregnancy. If you are first trimester, try not to worry about the birth, or wish the baby would move.  If you are in second trimester, don’t be wishing the baby was here already.  If the baby’s here, don’t be wishing it would sleep through the night. (okay, that’s a tough one)  Be exactly where you are, as you are there. Breathe, learn to watch the mind. Byron Katie’s ‘The Work‘  is very useful for mental activity having to do with other people and relationships.  Meditation, even for five minutes a day, can be amazing.  I recommend beginning with teachers like Pema Chodron (Start Where You Are is an amazing book)
  2. Accept your emotions like weather fronts. Know they are not always as real as they feel. Hormones are real. Emotions can be very exaggerated by these things. Learn when to say, “wow, this is intense, but not real. I’m going to go to bed and think about all of this tomorrow.”  The same is true for anxiety.  You will learn, this year, how to worry effectively.  Your instinctive voice is important, and cannot be heard through all that noise.

For your spirit, I would offer the following:

  1. Stay close to God/Goddess/Creator/Mother Earth. Remember you are a creator, you are creating a life, just as God is a creator. Whatever your relationship is, or what your beliefs are, cultivate and enrich that relationship.  Read spiritual texts that speak to you, connect to your spiritual community, remember to pray.
  2. Find out what faith means. Hope is “I hope this all works out” Faith is “it is already worked out.” Live in faith more and more, strengthen it like a muscle.

If you are looking for a meditation, visualization or favorite practice/exercise to build strength, try a few of these:

I do a thing called “keep ups” that I learned from Gurmukh, which involves taking an exercise/usually yogic, called a Kriya, and continuing it for between 4 and 10 minutes. It is usually both physically and mentally difficult to do. I incorporate it into my yoga classes to practice finding that edge, and pushing through to the other side.  (on a side note:  good music, like Michael Jackson, really helps with keep ups)

The other program I like a lot is Hypnosis. There are three main methods out there:  Hypnobirthing, Hyp Birth, and Hypnobabies.  See which one feels right for you.  It is genius. It really makes a difference in the difficulty and intensity and length of labor.

And lastly , a simple meditation that I love for pregnant women is this: meditation to remove fear of the future:

Sit comfortably. Cradle your left hand in your right, right thumb across the left palm. Bring the left thumb over the right, and tuck that little x of thumbs into your heart center. Breathe deeply feeling the heart rise and fall. This can be done also with your partner sitting behind you (with back support for the partner) and holding your hands in theirs. (you do the mudra, they cover your hands with theirs) This practice is amazing because we take our own feminine, yin, slightly neurotic side, and we cradle it with our own masculine, linear, containing side. We bring the balance into our own being. Having your partner around you  just intensifies that support. So we have our own little fears (left hand) cradled by our own strength (right hand) and then that whole package contained by our partner.

Which brings me to my last offering. Support.

You are not doing this alone.

Just because baby is your little secret, and inside your body, don’t be afraid to ask for support from your community.  When I was pregnant with my son, I had a celebration at the 120th day of my pregnancy with my community, and my partner said to all of them “this is where we commit to supporting, nurturing and inspiring Katie during her pregnancy.” Don’t be afraid to let the support in. It is not that you are deficient in any way, it is that what is being required of you is extraordinary. And your partner, family, and greater community are there to help you give birth to yourself as mother, as you give birth to your child.

Pregnancy is the most amazing miracle, and yet as common as life itself. It can feel like you are the first and only woman to feel all of these feelings, but all mothers have felt them with you. Find a good community of like minded mamas and a good care provider (hopefully midwife, or super compassionate ob) and move with the strength of all the people behind you, supporting you, inspiring you, and guiding you towards your baby!