By Mari Andrew.
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
It's 8:00pm on a weeknight. The sink is full of dishes, the lunchbox hasn't been unpacked from daycare and there's a tiny sock off to the side of the playmat. The only sounds in the house are the hum of the baby monitor and the drip-drying of the washcloth in the bathtub that just wiped away a day's worth of germs from tiny hands and feet.
You sit alone on the couch, tired eyes barely watching the screen in front of you and you are so damn ready to check-out for the day. Except you're not done yet because before each day closes, you must prepare for the next. The bottles will be repacked, the lunches made and everything set by the door so that tomorrow you won't forget a thing during the chaotic morning rush.
When I was in my twenties, carefree and alone, my mother used to say that she couldn't wait for me to find my partner so that we could "get messy" together. I never fully understood what this meant until I finally met that person and as we started experiencing life together. We made moves, lost jobs, fought, made up and wandered on our way together. But for the most part, we managed a pretty nice balance in our routine together until we had a baby. And that's when the full catastrophe began.
When I was pregnant, I read the beautiful book "Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting" by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn, and it was in this book that I learned about "the full catastrophe of life" as explained in the movie version of Zorba the Greek. I immediately fell in love with the concept because it speaks to what is so true about being a parent - the challenges, the pain and the can't-deal-with-you-right-now-but-love-you-so-much reality that comes with raising a child and trying to stay sane throughout the process.
Motherhood, in many ways, is a calculation made up of physical resources. We spend all of our time and energy during the day giving ourselves: to our partners, our children, our colleagues and to anyone else that will take. And what is leftover? That's for us - the one who quite often needs it the most but prioritizes it last.
But perhaps it is in these moments of full catastrophe living - when the bottles are dirty, the child refuses to go to sleep and we just need a minute to breathe - that we can gain wisdom and learn to grow ourselves. Of course there will be moments where we ask ourselves "how did I get here?" But to quote another line from Jon Kabat-Zinn, "wherever you go, there you are."
When we acknowledge that this is, in fact, our life - the one that we are living at this very moment - then we open ourselves up to possibility of learning from the trying and tiring moments. We come into the present and time stands still.
We can realize that our children can be wonderful teachers if we let them. We can begin to see where our value is most felt, and when we can give ourselves permission to phone it in. And mostly, we can better tap into ourselves and begin to understand what it is that we need to refresh and restore and make the most of that slice of the pie that we call our own.
Hey there. It's been awhile, huh?
What a fitting blog post below to reflect on when we last left off here. Last December, I was truly doing just that - walking slowly into a mystery. I was in the exciting-yet-nerve-wracking first trimester of my pregnancy, quietly moving towards change that I couldn't even fathom.
Our son was due in July and I spent the first half of the year focusing on preparing for his arrival and tying loose ends up at work. We moved apartments, traveled and entered the summer with a new nest to build.
Meanwhile, I rushed to finish up the transformative coaching program that I started in 2015 and was slowly completing on my own time. Doing this while pregnant was an interesting experience, and in a group coaching session, a deeply intuitive peer mentioned that she envisioned me working with and helping mothers. My heart and mind were not there yet, so when I finished the program in June, I knew that stepping away from that process made natural sense so that I could honor my path to motherhood.
My first lessons in parenting arrived even before he did - ten days late on a hot August day. Rule number one? You Can't Control Everything. The lessons that followed in the first weeks of his life read like chapters in a "How To" book: Some Babies Cry More Than Others, Sleep- Who Needs It? and How Stepping Away From Google Can Save Your Life.
There were so many things that I learned and even more that I wish I had known ahead of time - despite the amazing advice, support and love I had from family, friends and a life-saving girlfriend who responded to texts at all hours of the day and night. It was after I began to regather, start showering regularly and learn how to gently nurture myself again that I connected the dots in my mind for how I wanted to develop my coaching offerings.
Self-care, in today's world in particular, is critical, and I've found that learning how to do it is key for mothers. They are caretakers who give endlessly, balance constantly and don't always know what they need or how to ask for it. I know this from experience, from speaking with family, brainstorming with friends and from participating in several mothers groups in the past months.
I'm thrilled to begin this new chapter in my coaching experience and watch it grow and change. I look forward to the lessons it teaches me and will continue to share those in this space along with other musings on motherhood, self-care and building a healthy whole lifestyle.
While you're here, look around and check out my updated site and offerings. Sign up for my monthly newsletter, or just reach out and say hi. As always, thanks for following along and being a part of what happens next.
"It only takes a reminder to breathe,
a moment to be still, and just like that,
something in me settles, softens, makes
space for imperfection. The harsh voice
of judgment drops to a whisper and I
remember again that life isn’t a relay
race; that we will all cross the finish
line; that waking up to life is what we
were born for. As many times as I
forget, catch myself charging forward
without even knowing where I’m going,
that many times I can make the choice
to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk
slowly into the mystery."
- Danna Faulds
'You’ve come home at the end of a long workweek. Your spouse, partner, or roommate poses the query: “How did work go?” If you’re anything like the writer of this blog post, you might tell your roommate, “Ugh, it was super stressful.” It makes sense – in our culture, work is thought of as stressful. But [Todd] Kashdan says that you should dig a little deeper, and examine how you really feel.
“Describe your emotional life with more precision, and say, ‘I’ve been a little bit anxious, excited, curious, and confused as I’m working on this presentation.’ People that can describe their emotional world with more precision, they end up less likely to have experiences of anger with their romantic partner turn into hateful comments… and they’re more likely to enjoy spending time with their kids.”
McGonigal adds that “as soon as you start to pay attention to what you’re feeling, you increase activation in parts of the brain that give you more control and flexibility over your behavior and responses.”'
One of my favorite parables is that of the tiny flower - a small bud that struggles to strive and grow amidst the opposite pulls of the sun and the earth. The tiny flower fights and fights, until it finally breaks free from the earth, only to lose all of it's petals and wilt back to the ground. You might think that the story ends there - a typical tragedy of sorts - but what happens next is beautiful. The petals around the base of the flower bring nutrients back to the earth and the sun cries tears, which water the plant back to health. The tiny flower grows tall and is happy.
As I explore this new moon in my life, I continue to think about what new activities to add to my calendar. Besides re-immersing myself in my coaching certification, I want to add a few scheduled classes, and ensure that our weekly date night stays put. But I am reminded quickly that an overcrowded calendar can have an effect like the sun and the earth - they pull us in opposite directions and can leave us wilted and burnt out. And, more importantly, they leave little room for the activities that nurture and feed us, recharging our batteries so that we can continue to operate well.
Building a health routine is all about figuring out what feeds your flower, and making sure to incorporate this soul food on a regular basis. These acts of self-care can take many forms. It can be as simple as carving out an extra thirty minutes to consciously prepare a meal for yourself or as complicated as turning down a night out in lieu of a gym class or respite. Whatever it entails, the act of incorporating such tasks into your schedule should be a conscious and deliberate one. It is helpful to truly tap into what your body and mind are telling you, and pause to consider the space between what you want and what you need.
Admittedly, it's not always easy to take the first step towards nurturing your roots when all you want to do is be out there in the world. Self-care can be a quiet and personal thing. But the most challenging part of building a new routine is just getting started. The tiny flower had to fight to get those first nutrients and to claim its space, but it eventually started to feel better. It grew, and it soared. Here are a few tips for finding what works for you.
Tips for Introducing a Health Routine
- Tap into your experiences to determine what you need. Sometimes it's as easy as intuitively knowing that your body needs a break or you want to shed a few pounds. But oftentimes, it can be difficult to truly listen and understand your needs. In this case, consider the ratios. What did you experience last time you did something, and how did it make you feel? If the bad outweighs the good, consider introducing nixing that activity for one that nourishes instead of stresses.
Start small. You can't run a marathon without a pair of shoes. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals for yourself when introducing a new activity. Make the goal Specific (like identifying where to buy shoes), Measurable (such as determining the key points in your process that you can track success against), Achievable (realistic steps in your plan), Reasonable (your expectations in being able to identify where to buy the shoes) and Time-Specific (the time you allot yourself to buy shoes). Being direct about your goals will help you take them down piece by piece and prevent you from making mountains out of molehills.
- Be flexible. Get creative. Some weeks my self-care looks a lot like a spa vacation. At other busy times it could look like a long walk and a podcast instead or an extra five minutes of washing my face. Be flexible in your routine, but don't let that become a detractor in your success. Be creative in thinking up contingency plans in advance each week. If you have to work late and can't go for a run, research a workout video ahead of time to do in your living room.
The key to building a successful health routine is investing the time and energy in making your well-being a priority. A little can go a long way. So what is it that feeds your flower?
"Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the native ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers' hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?
And you—what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down—
papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: "Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I'm through blooming."
Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these."
- Lynn Ungar
"True gardeners cannot bear a glove
Between the sure touch and the tender root,
Must let their hands grow knotted as they move
With a rough sensitivity about
Under the earth, between the rock and shoot,
Never to bruise or wound the hidden fruit.
And so I watched my mother's hands grow scarred,
She who could heal the wounded plant or friend
With the same vulnerable yet rigorous love;
I minded once to see her beauty gnarled,
But now her truth is given me to live,
As I learn for myself we must be hard
To move among the tender with an open hand,
And to stay sensitive up to the end
Pay with some toughness for a gentle world."
- May Sarton