Mindful Parenting

The energy of intention & where the river of stones went

Hands up! Here’s a message from a mum of four who’s blog is about headspace and finding time to write and paying attention and who said she was going to participate in the River of Stones Project this January (posting a few lines of a mindful meditation or observance every day) but hasn’t had the time! The message is Sometimes you can’t do it all. I started on Jan 1st with a stones post, on the second day my computer ate my post, on the third day I mentally wrote a post and even took a picture (it was about the dumplings that I’d cooked in the stew). The next day I thought about what I might write about but none of these observances made it to the computer, which in a way doesn’t really matter. And here’s why.

I met many new people on the blog last year who enjoyed reading my Jan 2010 stones posts and I in turn enjoyed the observances blogged and tweeted by others. However the main point of the project is to orient ourselves towards small observances and mindfullness of place, time or emotion and as a whole, I’m doing that. In December, through Barbara Scully’s wonderful blog At My Kitchen Table I won a Thank You book created to raise money for the Irish Hospice Foundation. The book is on my hall table and just seeing it reminds me to be thankful for something even if I’m having a rotten day. I also encourage the children to write in it or remember what is good. So my orientation is towards reflection, observance and gratitude.

I read earlier in the month an article by Orna Ross on her creative intelligence blog about resolutions vs intentions and firmly agree when she says that

New year’s resolutions are often framed as negative injunctions (giving up, never again) and based on self-judgements and -criticism. Creative Intention is framed as a positive proposal, moving towards something you’d like to see more of in your life.

I particularly identify with the idea that there is movement involved in intentions, that you are orienting yourself towards how you want things to be and even in that first initial orientation is the energy that will propel you along the route you have turned towards. I’ve talked about this before in relation to identifying yourself as a writer – the act of turning towards writing in a positive way puts your mind in the frame of taking further decisions and achieving further momentum along that path.

It’s a question of putting yourself in the mindset of what you want to be engaged in. If you’ve ever been in the process of buying  a house you know that you suddenly see For Sales signs everywhere. Once you are in the mindset of an endeavour, signs and opportunities will become more obvious. Not miraculously of course – you are putting yourself in the way of them. For me, a serious orientation towards being a writer included being involved in blogging, twitter and a writer’s group as well as submitting more of my work. These actions in themselves have generated further connections and opportunities. Learning about flash fiction through #fridayflash (click the image on the sidebar) led me to blog about it, then to be quoted in a national newspaper, then to get involved in the National (UK) flash fiction day, for example. Blogging here led me to be asked to blog for the Irish writing website www.writing.ie.

What is important when you orient yourself towards something, when you have an intention rather than a resolution, is that it is a positive thing, an action that has energy. Sometimes a resolution has an ‘ought’ quality and ‘ought’ means guilt. Resolutions may sound firmer – the stuff of Antarctic explorers but to me they can be ‘all or nothing’. Intentions can bend with you and work with you. In this case, I’m not really letting anyone else down – which is another matter and perhaps a topic for another post (saying yes to too much at once). So it’s okay that the stones have disappeared. It’s wonderful that I’m writing other stuff that I hope you’ll soon be able to read. It’s great that I’m still making still moments and observances in my own life and I may still have some stones for you before the month is out.

School Hols & the writing parent: Week 1

I baked a cake

And what a long week that was!

I want to keep these posts short and I want to be realistic. What is possible when you have four children between the ages of 10 and 3 in the house, one of whom is a night owl, the others who are larks? I’ve had this dream for many years of a continuous span of writing time, a writing retreat perhaps, or a weekend lost in the corridors of my novel. In reality, I work best in shorter bursts with an energetic and engaging activity in between.  I am not a fast writer, even though I wish I was. I do manage to do the 1667 required for the novel writing month by doing odd things like getting up in the middle of the night if I wake up or writing 7000 words in one day when the kids are elsewhere.

But what is the reality of this week since the holidays began?

I am a little adrift to be honest. I have been up early several times (although the children soon joined me) . I have begun to read through my newly stuck together novel and one morning to write a new scene. But I’m too full of thoughts about what my novel might need and all the other projects that are lined up. I have stepped back from Twitter and moved back into life a bit.  I think my novel needs more stewing and I have been giving myself stewing time, taking walks, relaxing (for a change), watching the telly, reading the sunday magazines, listening to the radio.  I have found several ideas along the way. I have written 700 words of a short story or flash about a bug.

No themeparks. The three youngest with Thomas and an ornamental hedgehog at the DIY store

I have been a mother. I have baked a birthday cake for son 2, now 9 and arranged a little  family party with grandparents and cousins. I have run alongside my children on the Wii Fit. I have gone to the local DIY store and bought a sandpit, sand and an ornamental hedgehog.  I have done something interesting. I have taken my three older children on a walk individually, just a circuit from the house, around the local small lane, to the main road and back again. I introduced the idea of observation. I pointed out garden ornaments, poppies, cracks in the pavements, ambiguous painted stencils on walls. I listened to each one of them, noted how they were different. With one it was all about action, leaping up onto walls and gates, running fast and much talk of zombies and codes.  My daughter wanted to gather wild roses, and we did, despite the thorns. The eldest enjoyed discussing scientific fascinations.  Each of them surprised me.

 

 

I saw a rainbow in the morning before anyone was up. I enjoy seeing people catching buses in the nick of time.

My second son inspired the story about the bug through an amusing remark.

In my writing I am edging along very slowly. I become frustrated because there is so much to do. I become afraid that, although I love to write, some of the precious time given over to it may be wasted if I can’t make the novel work, if I don’t finish these projects and follow through on them. It matters, and then it doesn’t matter. It matters again.  It is all a muddle.  Sometimes the challenges of parenting (especially a child with Aspergers during less structured holiday time) can be draining.

A beautiful bouquet of roadside flowers from the walk with my daughter

I read a very helpful post lately on writing time, versus writing energy and it really made sense to me.  Especially as writing parents, we need to use the time we have carefully and maintain our energy, to put something back in, to replenish ourselves for the job of being a consistent, stable and comforting entity in our children’s lives. We need to have a life too, a feeling of vitality, a marriage, a means of income, nothing is in isolation.  As Miranda says in this wonderful post on studio mothers, there is no such thing as balance, we might not ever get everything just right.

So then what? A novel to write. A dinner to make. I sit in the early morning at my writing table. My newly nine year old boy arrives sleepy eyed and wants me to look at his Moshi cards, to chose my favourite. This is the same boy who gave me the idea for the bug story, who leaps on walls and gates, thinks of zombies, is writing his own stories about islands and adventures. I put my writing away, for now.

 

Pay Attention

 

Back to ‘normality’ after the school holidays, time has evaporated once more, appointments and deadlines beckon, meals, uniforms, homework, housework, nappies, snacks and pickups fill the space. Four clamouring voices make me addled and the temptation is to fob the children off in favour of getting things done. However I have found, when I remember to do it, that the more focussed the attention I give the kids, the calmer they and the household become. By focussed attention I mean, really listening when they are trying to communicate, getting down on their level, stepping outside of the situation and seeing what is really going on (tiredness, hunger, overwhelm, boredom) rather than issuing them with vague commands to sort it out or stop wingeing. Distract, disarm, tickle them into submission or give them a few minutes each of special time more about those in another post). Help them to focus themselves, to engage in an activity, to rest, to help with the dinner (something very basic please!).

 

It pays to pay attention to your relationships. My husband and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary. We enjoyed a night out, just the two of us at the Porterhouse in Bray. It was a Saturday night and ridiculously I couldn’t get over how busy it was, how many people were actually out. (Life continues even when we’re not there? How did I not realise that?)  We sat across from each other, chatted without interruption, enjoyed the music and the atmosphere, drank cocktails (our attempt at decadency) and ate great food. I have to tell you how much I enjoyed a giant Yorkshire pudding filled with bangers and mash and lathered in onion gravy. We dreamed of going to the nightclub but couldn’t stretch the circumstances that far. (Will have to remember the nightclub still exists when all the children are old enough for a sleepover. – Do they still call it a nightclub?)

 

Normally we wave vaguely and occasionally at each other through a mental and physical fog, meeting for the odd hour on the sofa, during a house programme or in the hallway between the kids bedrooms. Much more rarely do we have time to pay attention to each other. We sometimes remember to hold hands, to kiss each other instead of only the kids, to sigh or smile simultaneously at the end of a favourite film, to meet each other’s eye for that extra split second across the dinner table, to say how are you or well done or sorry or I care about you even if it doesn’t look like it and I’ve hardly spoken to you all day. To say, you mean something, you’re important.

 

Finally (and it usually is finally), yourself. The wonderful aspect of being a hard pressed bamboozled parent is how much you appreciate even the small pleasures that others take for granted. Some of my favourites are going to the bathroom by myself, managing to drink an entire cup of tea while its hot without being interrupted, five hours sleep in a row, a lie in until quarter to eight, walking down the road without pushing a buggy or cajoling a preschooler, having a whole HOUR to read a book or magazine, watch a programme, write a blog entry. Glorious bounties! These are the ways we need to pay attention to ourselves. These are things we absolutely need in order to soldier on in the boot camp of parenting.

Taking Stock

More on the theme of Mindfulness, I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to call Slow Thinking. It takes a holiday, like the Easter break, or one beautiful Sunday sunning yourself in the back garden to make you realise the frenzy in which we conduct the rest of our lives. As mothers we are busy anyway with day to day chores, with the hands on care of children, applying ourselves to their physical needs, their emotional and mental development, their health and wellbeing, their happiness. (If you like you can read my poem under Pages – Poetry – Now). We can also get caught up in the whirl of social norms and pressures, we make decisions without always fully thinking them through. Does my child really have to do all those after school activities? Does my two and a half year old really have to get up and get out five days a week for two full years of preschool so that they don’t fall behind with their social development? As a full time mother I am not qualified to comment on the pressures of mothers who combine outside employment with caring for their children. But the heart rending choices about childcare, work-life balance, financial security versus quality time must have them in a spin.

 

This recession has come with a jolt and its making us take stock. Already there are new TV programmes about home making and interior design on a budget and the associated joys of crafts and other home made accomplishments. Those familiar with the craft group my sister Sharon O’ Kelly organises have experienced the satisfaction of taking home a personal handmade object (and have discovered the joy of Mindfullness in the process of make and do!). Cottage industries, cottage gardens and allotments are in vogue and charity shop chic has never been so in fashion. (Finally the town of Bray, Co. Wicklow has found its true calling! It is the capital of second hand shops in Ireland, boasting at least nine at last count.)

 

The catch phrase of today is no longer ‘I must have’ but ‘do I really need?’ Houses and apartments are no longer being thrown up at a frenetic rate. Excesses are being reined in. There is a general slowing down in the economy and in society and we can match that in our personal lives, taking the time to make decisions, waiting for the right moment where the way forward isn’t obvious instead of blundering along in a panic. Our parents and our grandparents knew that things would come in time, that anticipation was some of the fun. We need to re-educate ourselves to feel the truth of this and help our children enjoy what they’ve got, a precious little at a time.

Now is all there is

Hello.  Today you can just see the top of my head over the waves. Recently I edited a newsletter for parents on Mindfulness and Wellbeing. We wanted to explore how parents in the maelstrom (or sea, to keep to the blog’s theme) of raising children could possibly find the space in time or within themselves to re-energise and take stock of their circumstances. As a writer (I was going to say would-be writer, but here I am)  and mother of four young children, aged between 8 and 18 months I want to share with you whether or not it is possible to get your ‘Head above Water’ and find that moment of what Buddist’s call concentrated awareness, the now that has depth,  slows time and gives it greater quality.

My baby gives his absolute attention to the texture of a pebbledash wall. I feed off his fascination. As a writer I need to pay attention, to notice. As a full time mother I am prey to the constant demands of requests and chores, the hands on care of small bodies and the fuelling of expansive minds.  I cannot find a quiet place in my head or imagination. Friends in the parent support group (Cuidiu) in the early days of total immersion caring for a newborn alongside their other young children have experienced it as a kind of drowning.

Today all four children were at home on their school holidays. Two had very bad colds, the four year old in particular was constantly in crises and tears from sheer exhaustion. The two older boys were in a hyperactive frenzy usually directed towards each other.  While I checked my email this morning I distracted the baby with my paper clip container, while writing this tonight I have been treated to the sound of my eight year old whistling and have answered several calls for assistance. Is there still an identifiable train to my thoughts? You decide.

There are many reasons these days why people’s head are ‘wrecked’. It’s the fashion to be on the go, to be getting somewhere. To squeeze the last out of the analogy, sometimes we are wasting our energy swimming against the tide. (Groan, okay, I’ll be more inventive next time). In this blog I’ll be looking at how we can get our heads above water and maybe even spend sometime sunning ourselves on a some well-placed rock in a more gently flowing river.  And then I might even talk about writing as well.