Archive for 'Slowing'

This is an old post. A verbal #TBT from a few years back. Eleven to be exact. When I had 3 kids not 4. Before anyone was in school, let alone a junior in high school. When I wrote this I thought it would always be like this. Like time would somehow freeze. But when I look back? I see that every single year of parenting has been different than the last. Every child has brought something new to the table. (pun not intended but appreciated!) Every age has taught us new things about ourselves, our family and life in general. Here’s to the ever present changes. Here’s to family dinners. And here’s to the realization that right now is ALWAYS right now. Every single minute is the beginning of time – to be noticed and appreciated too.

The Table Dance (c. 2003)

In the beginning, it was just us, at our little table in our little shack of a rental house. Side by side we would make our feasts: chopping, slicing, sautéing. The two of us at the table sipping wine, eating our curries or fiery salsas and fantasizing about what the rest of our lives together would be. We’d linger for hours over more red wine and a few cigarettes and maybe a coffee at the end. We would eat late and long and imagine living in a big building with a big room and a big table – where we would eat late and long all the days of our lives.

In this same house with our first baby and still we ate late into the evening and not much changed in our ritual. Not much changed while we cooked and she snoozed in her sling. While we ate, she’d nurse, then collapse on my chest, neither of us always noticing or ever minding the salsa in her hair. In those early days of babe many things remained the same and we thought that’s how it would always be, with our little carry-on-bag of a smiling, contented, only baby.

As she started to crawl, we wriggled away from that hovel of a house that held such sweet emotion. We left that house of first meeting, first marrying, first baby and were off into our own first home. Our first own home that was not the enormity of our fantasies but rather the smallness of our bankbook – that made us choose between a living room and our dreamed of big table, and of course we chose the latter. At this big table our meals were a little earlier and our menu a bit altered and our sentences unfinished as we split chores in different rooms and we split kids, as now there were two. You change the baby and I’ll cook the dinner, you read a story and I’ll set the table, you run after them and I’ll run into the bathroom and take a deep breath. And then we’ll all sit down together at our big table, not late or long, as the attention spans are shorter and the bedtimes never early enough.

There are no more cigarettes but still there is red wine or a cold beer. Still we fantasize about the future, even more so now, as we imagine not only our own lives but our children’s too. These fantasies though are often interrupted by spills and crying and questions and directives: Eat your supper, get back on your chair, keep your hands to yourself, don’t forget to chew, and with this last command they are requesting (for the 100th time) the retelling of the caveat of the time as a kid I forgot to chew and I threw up whole orange slices all over the floor.

Three kids now and we fully surrender to the meals at 5:30 instead of 9:00 and they are in bed an hour or more before we ever would have even entertained the notion of cooking. Detailed conversations are rarely attempted, as no thought is too great to be left uninterrupted and only a rare sentence sees completion. We have ritual in the setting and the lighting of the candle and I have my own private, mindful, sanity-retaining moment of deep breathing, in through my nose and out the mouth, like childbirth and then salud, and I gulp my beer.

Dinnertime is chaotic and messy and we must remember not to sweep until the rice dries. The commands are many and seemingly more all the time, and the reminders to behave and to be nice and to listen, but so too increases the conversations and the sharing and the stories of our youth or theirs – those one or two or thirty long years ago. We exhale when all is said and done, or not (next time can we have macaroni and cheese?). With that exhale or with a lengthy discussion as to whose turn it is to blow out the flame, our dinner candle is extinguished.

Though we sometimes question our sanity at the concept of dining regularly with such ritual and with three small sometimes frantic and frenetic children, and though we sometimes start at their getting too close to the candle or their knocking over of their cup or their falling nonsensically from their chair or their singing during our moment of silence (read: moment not minute), it is our hope that what they will take away is the desire to one day sit and linger long and late and enjoy a meal shared with each other, with us, with friends or with mates.

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Midway through our last full week of school I came upon some photos from the beginning of the school year. Seriously? That much physical change has occurred in all four of my (not so) little people? Faces went from kid to teen. Bodies stretched out a few inches. Hair grew. Shapes shifted. And that’s just  their external selves. On every level, physical, mental, and emotional, the expansion, if laid out in graph form would be off the charts. From not knowing to knowing. From strangers to friends. From uncertain to certain and vice-versa too. As if I, their mother, connected to but outside of their being-ness, could even begin to fathom the changes brought on by these past 9 months. Like a gestation of a whole new being.

We are ready for summer on many levels, and for the break from the routine. We look forward to turning off our alarm clocks or at least setting them to a more humane time. We are ready for a pause from the onslaught of information and from the hustle and bustle that is the scene of the school year – socially, academically, mentally, physically.

In these last couple of weeks of school, I’m going to make an attempt to mark the here and now as a keepsake. Because even though I think I’ll always remember us as we are in this very moment, apparently, based on the shock I felt looking back to September, that’s not true.  Who we are keeps changing, morphing, growing, expanding and it’s hard to see where we were in the face of the present day.

I’m going to create a ritual that will capture this particular moment, knowing that we will never be right here right now ever again. And knowing too that it’s fun to reflect and collect our year’s souvenirs for posterity’s sake. My goal these next few weeks, whether one-on-one, or as a group, is to inquire with my children about their year. Because here’s what I want to know…

  • What were your highlights of this school year?
  • What do you know now that you didn’t know going in?
  • What was hard?
  • What was easy?
  • What are you appreciating about your own sweet life?
  • What do you love?
  • What were the highs?
  • And what were the lows? Knowing too, in retrospect, that even the lows have brought their own rewards.

Then I’ll tuck it away. And we’ll have ourselves a summer. Full of expansion in its own right and of a totally different variety. And maybe I’ll be reminded with a passing glimpse, to do this periodically, to look back on the recent past with the lens that only hindsight can provide. And years from now, when all are gone, we’ll have a snapshot of all of these successive particular moments in time.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, in parenthood, in personhood, is that no year, ever, is at all like the last. We just continuously expand into our own truest selves. And while I can’t stop time, I can capture a little piece of it as a small souvenir.

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Recently I did a post about these last few weeks of school. In it I had a list of things I was going to do to make them feel more sane, more productive, more connected and easier overall. One of the things on my list was to “schedule spaciousness” and someone wrote me to ask what that even meant.

In no particular order, here are 7 ways to schedule spaciousness…

  • Give your schedule more space. Whether it’s 2 minutes or 20, give yourself and the people in your home enough room to breathe between activities. Whether you’re picking up at school then getting to the dentist, or leaving the house for a party, or going from work to home,  factor in a few more minutes than you think you’ll need for seeing, connecting and enjoying the people you’re with. By planning in the ability not to rush, you will feel happier and easier too. And just think how much more pleasant you’ll be in traffic!
  • Do one less thing than you think you can do. Need to get everyone out the door in the morning? Need to get everyone to the table or to bed? Decide to schedule in a few minutes of just sitting. I’m talking 2-3 minutes if that’s all you have. Leave the last dishes or the email or whatever is the thing that you scurry to do before you move onto the next. And if 2-3 minutes feels like too much, take 1. Just 1 minute of standing, breathing, witnessing, or even drinking a big glass of water, can give you the pause you need to connect with yourself and a bigger connect with the people in your home.
  • Put Family Time on the calendar. Be it a few hours on a weekend, or an entire day, write it on the calendar so it doesn’t get taken up by other events. We schedule everything else, why not schedule that too!
  • Decide not to rush. Sometimes the feeling of rushing is more about the feeling than about the actual clock. When wrangling so many little people, it can feel like panicked rushing is the only option and if you don’t create a feeling of hurrying that nobody will get anywhere. Try some morning to just let go of the clock and simply move through the necessary steps of getting out the door. I speak from my own experience on this one. When I am rushing and rushing those around me, things spiral in a counter-productive direction. When I let go, and we just move through the steps, we actually seem to speed up.
  • Pause before you RSVP. Whether you are invited to a party or a committee. Before you respond, pause. And determine the cost vs. gain for you and for your family.
  • Examine your commitments. Look at your calendar. Assess what’s on there. Meetings, parties, events, etc. Then ask yourself, “Is this working for us?” Ask weekly. Or monthly at least. If it is, keep it going. If not, find a way to make a change.
  • Decide to be done. You will never really be done. So decide to be done. At various points throughout the day, simply decide to be done.

Like right now! I’m done!

I want to age like sea glass. Smoothed by tides, not broken. I want the currents of life to toss me around, shake me up and leave me feeling washed clean.  I want my hard edges to soften as the years pass – made not weak but supple.  I want to ride the waves, go with the flow, feel the impact of the surging tides rolling in and out.

When I am thrown against the shore and caught between the rocks and a hard place, I want to rest there until I can find the strength to do what is next.  Not stuck – just waiting, pondering, feeling what it feels like to pause.  And when I am ready, I will catch a wave and let it carry me along to the next place that I am supposed to be.

I want to be picked up on occasion by an unsuspected soul and carried along – just for the connection, just for the sake of appreciation and wonder. And with each encounter, new possibilities of collaboration are presented, and new ideas are born.

I want to age like sea glass so that when people see the old woman I’ll become, they’ll embrace all that I am. They’ll marvel at my exquisite nature, hold me gently in their hands and be awed by my well-earned patina.  Neither flashy nor dull, just a perfect luster. And they’ll wonder, if just for a second, what it is exactly I am made of and how I got to this very here and now. And we’ll both feel lucky to be in that perfectly right place at that profoundly right time.

I want to age like sea glass. I want to enjoy the journey and let my preciousness be, not in spite of the impacts of life, but because of them.

 

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Seems hard to believe, but according to a poll of 4 students that I know, there are only 21 school days left in the school year. Really. 21.

With a few big events behind us, like the Austin Maker Faire, a few house guests and getting our house on the market, I am ready for some solidly intentional days.  I want to make sure that events, practices and obligations created are events, practices and obligations desired.

My goals for these next few weeks…

  • Each day do my own work first.
  • Ponder each invitation before saying yes. Be they meetings, parties, or other. Not always easy for me, especially when faced with so many exciting things!
  • Schedule in spaciousness.
  • Put family time on the calendar.
  • Play outside more. And really just play more in general.
  • Turn my phone off at random intervals.
  • Schedule a couple of “spend nothing days” each week. Not even for the money but for the freedom from consuming. And the freedom from the many demands for impromptu spending.
  • Write a note to my children’s teachers telling them how much I appreciate their love and devotion.
  • Do one creative thing everyday.
  • Eat outside more.
  • Find a way to celebrate a school year completed by each and every one of my children.
This time of year, things seem to speed up a bit, so I’m going to be attentive to really slowing it all way down.

 

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New year, new habits, new goals, new ideas about how things can be done – both at home, personally, professionally, mentally, emotionally and physically. As we slide into the next we can move forward with new vision and greater clarity.

I’m calling this year Lucky 13. It’s all about clarity on every level.  The thing I like about a new year is  it’s like a new notebook at the beginning of the semester. You can fill it with whatever you choose to fill it! And make sure that the way you’re doing things really works for you in the best way possible.

I’m going for the tangibles first. Things like money which are easy to see, change, track, etc. As I was going over some accounts yesterday I noticed a monthly recurring charge that I wasn’t even aware of. It had been recurring for the past 3 months. How did I not see it? Oh, I know, I wasn’t paying attention. My goal this year is to know what’s coming in and going out and where it’s going. To pay attention.

So I called the bank. Found out what it was. (It was one of those deals where you sign up for a free 3 month trial then canceling is in your hands. Woops.) Then called the company and canceled any further payments. Easy as that. Total time about 7 minutes.

Why am I telling you this? Because it affects family life in a way. And spending less feels definitely slower and easier. Especially when it’s money you’re spending without even knowing you’re spending it.  And though some of you may gasp that I could have a charge on my account for 3 months and not know it (and in front of you I bow my head in shame), I know there are others out there who are nodding along with me getting it exactly. This post is for you. And for those who might benefit from an extra $20.00 a month to do something fun with your family. Or on your own. Or to tuck away for a rainy day.

So here’s to clarity. And a little extra money in my pocket too. And here’s to paying attention.

 

And here’s a little money challenge for those who might feel a little challenged by the idea of saving. Might be a good one for a working teen or young adult too.

 

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Members Only

Things seem to amp up a bit this time of year with fall festivals planned and fundraisers of one kind or another and Halloween parties and activities and lots of fall birthday parties and holy cow, is that Thanksgiving on next month’s calendar page?

The attempt to keep things slow and steady rather than reactive and riotous is definitely the goal. And as the kids get a bit older, I must admit, this slow and steady is a bit less in my control and pushed against a little more by certain members in my house.

Just this weekend my child-who-shall-remain-unnamed said to me, “You want to have time at home but I just want to hang out with my friends.” So we made a deal – one that I think will work for all of us. 2-3 days each month we will have FAMILY MEMBERS ONLY marked on the calendar. Planned ahead of time so as to give everyone fair warning and not necessarily for an entire day though I reserve the right to claim it as such if I want to but I might be willing to concede to a late afternoon hang out at the house with friends.  Ideally I’d choose 4 days each month – one day each weekend- but I’m willing to meet them halfway on this. And on the weekends that we don’t have family-only time, I will have one day reserved as car-free for me – meaning that I will not drive anyone, anywhere. So if they want to make plans with friends, the friends can either come over or they will figure out their own transportation.

While building family connection is part of the goal, encouraging everyone to find some sort of comfort level in just hanging out at home is definitely part of it too. I want my kids to feel that sometimes just sinking into the scene at home is not only okay but actually desirable. And yet I am fully aware of the fact that repression breeds obsession, meaning if I force them to stay home all the time, they will resent it. Oh, this give and take is such a fine line to walk and this idea of finding some sort of slow is a balancing act that requires constant calibrating. But putting it on the calendar surely helps.

Like spinning plates.  And again I say a three-day weekend sure would be helpful.

How do you make it work in your house? Do you have any tools to help you make sure that you and your family keep it all in balance?

 

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CONGRATULATIONS RACHEL!!! Send me your address and I’ll get this in the mail to you pronto!

We are back at home after a (mostly) delightful  road trip and visits with kith and kin up and down the east coast.  After putting over 50o0 miles on our van we returned home tired but happy to be back in our own beds with our own stuff. Woo-hoo!

And then just one day in,  just post suitcase emptying, the cries began from one who shall remain nameless,  ”what are we gonna do…”

Then I remembered the books I was sent by my publisher to give away to a lucky winner! The first one so beautifully and simply named, The Book of Doing; everyday activities to unlock your creativity and joy by Allison Arden.

Allison didn’t start out to write a book, rather she set out to unleash her own creativity which she feared had become dormant in all the mindless running around that  filled her days. She wanted to reignite that childhood feeling of making and doing and did so by approaching all her tasks with an air of creativity.  Says Allison, “The Book of Doing will open your eyes and mind to the energizing possibilities that you may have once taken for granted.”

It is delightfully whimsical in its layout – with simple and fun line drawings and light-hearted fonts – the kind of layout that makes me want to just browse it’s pages with a sketchbook by my side for jotting down and drawing my inspirations. And this book is FILLED with them for little kids, grown ups and families too.

From very simple things like making a list of people you love and things you love to do and then encouraging you to fit them into your schedule to learning code to mailing some random object just for the fun of it, this book will provide endless ideas and motivations for doing. And it not only gives you suggestions and projects, it also encourages you to come up with fun ideas of your own with simple prompts and an inspiring list of the “laws of doing”.  It is the kind of book that every family and couple and individual should have prominently placed on their table during these dog days of summer.

This book is filled with love and joy and creativity and it is, frankly, the kind of book I wished I’d written myself. But since I didn’t, I’m sure glad that Allison Arden did because truly, a book like this can only improve the joy factor wherever it goes. Just a few minutes spent perusing its pages by both child and adult alike and all cries of “what am I gonna do??” by both kids and adults alike will be banished forever from your kingdom.

As a kid, when we would cry bored, my mom would say, “Write a letter, read a book. Read a book, write a letter.”  When my kids whine that there’s nothing to do I tell them, “Boredom is the key to your next big idea.”  Or, when I’m feeling particularly snarky I say, “Bored people are boring.”

To win this copy of The Book of Doing, tell me something your own parents would say when you whined that there was nothing to do. Or something you’ve said to your own children when they voice their own concerns over the lack of activities.

Then I’ll pick a lucky winner on Wednesday August 8th so you can have your very own copy in these waning days of summer.

 

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Road Trip

I love road trips but it had been a while since we’d been on a big one. Then this past week we drove 2100 miles halfway across the country with all 6 of us in the minivan. It was 400 miles longer than what google maps told us but only because we chose to forge our own directions in order to see things along the way and travel the road less traveled by semi-trucks.

Overall? Awesome. In detail? It had it’s highs and lows but definitely the highs outweighed the lows. Big time.

We had plenty of good snacks, sandwiches, and treats. We had lots of drawing paper and crayons, a few audio books, and even a couple movies which I used like carrots on a string, “When we hit the 300 mile mark we’ll put in a dvd.”  We had a great list of games to play in the car thanks to an advanced copy of Suz Lipman’s new book Fed Up with Frenzy which will be available to the general public in August. And we had an open schedule that allowed us to travel on the back roads and scenic highways rather than hightailing it on the freeway. Just adding a couple of days to our schedule meant we could stop when we wanted, pause where we needed, and not worry about getting to point B on any certain date. A luxury for sure.

We ended the journey with a long ferry boat ride into Jersey and a short day of driving which meant that when we came out at the other end of the journey, at my childhood home already filling up with siblings and cousins, we were riding a road trip high, feeling good and feeling like our proverbial cups were quite full. The memories of the long driving days and fighting wiped from our collective memory banks.

As opposed to flying, which is what we have done in year’s past, driving served as a familial incubator, allowing us all to connect, talk, play, argue, resolve, and sit quietly next to each other with no agenda whatsoever. It was freeing, fun, funny, and seemed to give us all the connection we needed after a bit of a frenetic end of school year and start to summer. It allowed us all to see things we’d never seen before, see things in a different light and it gave me a presence that felt like something I could carry with me into my parenting journey.

If you have some time to hit the road with your family, I can’t recommend it enough. It was part geography lesson, part family time, part navigational instruction, part exploration and part restorative relaxation. I’m working on a list of lessons learned and for right now all I can tell you is,  if you’re torn between driving and flying and you have the time to drive, by all means DRIVE! It was worth every bit of those 2100 miles. And there was no trouble we encountered that couldn’t be resolved by a few Swedish Fish.

Admittedly, I’m not really a big fan of Taylor Swift. Oh she’s got a few fun songs that are kind of fun but really I could do without hearing her sing.

But hearing my kids sing Taylor Swift at full tilt on full volume into a microphone along with Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and some of their other faves? Now that I can handle. And that I just fully realized this weekend, can actually bump up my joy level quite significantly. And can get me singing along and dancing too right there in the livingroom with the amp and 2 microphones and the karaoke monitor showing us the way to the inner workings of each other’s musical tastes.

We had to do something. We were hot. We were cranky. And already the summer groove of just hanging had gotten to everyone just a bit. So for less than $50.00 we got 48 hours plus of music, dancing,  family duets and a little stage presence improv too. And if that feels like too much, split the cost with another family or two or three. (just be prepared to wait a little longer for your turn at the mic!)

I’m not sure how the neighbors felt after our full on family karaoke fest - but we all felt happier, more connected and more in a total groove too.

So next time you’re looking for a way to inject some fun into the family routine? Might I recommend karaoke? Right there in the comfort of your own livingroom.

 

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