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The Tao of Tantrums

I have a toddler, and I nanny a not-yet-sitting-up-by-herself baby full time. So far, it has been very interesting, delightful, and occasionally completely chaotic. My daughter is just now entering into the phase of “tantrums”, where her frustrations can quickly explode into very intense emotion. Now all of a sudden she has to share mommy with another baby, so she sometimes must WAIT instead of having her needs met immediately. Recipe for disaster? Not necessarily!

When a baby is crying, it is instinctual to check on them to see what they need. When a more self-reliant toddler is crying, it is easier to assume that they are “just being whiny” or “can wait a little longer while I finish the dishes”, etc. But ignoring children sets a bad example, and soon they will start to ignore YOU when you want them to pay attention! Despite knowing this, I have recently been doing something foolish…

Whenever I would bring the baby in to the diaper changing room, my daughter would follow us in and start crying with RAGE. I didn’t understand why she was so mad, but I knew the baby needed a diaper change or SHE would start to freak out too, so I would just try to do it as quickly as possible. Usually I’d try to distract my daughter with an interesting object (ooo shiny!). But then the next time the baby needed a diaper change, it would be the same thing over again.

At some point, I realized that perhaps my daughter just didn’t know WHY I was bringing the baby in there and doing something on a high table she couldn’t see the top of, WHY she was being made to wait, WHY mommy was hurrying and being stressed in response to her cries instead of LISTENING. I decided to take a moment – breathe – and explain! I knelt down with the baby on my knee, and said to my daughter very slowly, and simply: “There’s POOP in the baby’s diaper!”. She stopped crying, and said “DI-PUH”, pointing to the baby’s diaper. I said “Yes. POOP! In the diaper. She wants a NEW diaper. Should we give her a new diaper?”

After that, she seemed to understand. The next time the baby needed a diaper change, my daughter pointed down the hall toward the changing room as if to say “Let’s go!”

When you are tired, trying to finish something, and there is a tiny person screaming at you for a reason that you don’t think is reasonable, it is sometimes hard to know what is best to do. Really, the best thing you can do is BE CALM yourself, and notice your kid. They are trying to tell you something that feels very important to them. The dishes can wait. The diapers can wait. What is actually needed might only take a moment.

Curry Banana Matzo Ball Soup ?!

So my friend Louis and I just created the best soup in the world and I want to write down what we did before I forget, because I’m definitely making this next Passover! Basically, he was making fun of me for making vegan matzo balls in the past and was like “What did you use instead of eggs? Bananas?”, and I was like “THAT’S A GREAT IDEA! It can be like a Thai curry soup”. So we made it together this evening and it was quite delicious:

CURRY BANANA MATZO BALL SOUP:
3 cups matzo meal
3 cans coconut milk
2 soft bananas
2 sweet potatoes
2 yellow potatoes
1 onion
5 tbsp Thai red curry paste (or more, to taste)
salt (to taste)
optional: rice cooked with lemongrass

TO MAKE MATZO BALLS:
– Mash the bananas in a mixing bowl with a fork.
– Mix with matzoh meal until doughy.
– Form into 1-inch balls (add more matzoh meal if the dough isn’t thick enough to form into balls)

TO PREPARE THE BROTH:
– Chop the sweet potatoes, yellow potatoes, and onion.
– Put all chopped ingredients into a large pot and add water until they are submerged under about 2 inches of water.
– Bring to a boil, then add the matzoh balls
– Lower head to let simmer for about 30-40min or until potatoes are soft and matzo balls have risen to the top.
– Add coconut milk, curry paste, and salt.
– Let simmer for another 15 minutes.
– Serve over lemongrass-flavored rice.

Azuki Bean Biscuits!

Azuki beans already have a somewhat sweet flavor. For this reason, they are used in many Oriental desserts, including red bean cake and mooncake. I developed this recipe so that my toddler + I can share healthy snacks that are wheat-free, sugar-free, AND delicious. They are chewy and hold together well so they don’t make a crumby mess, and they make very tasty (and adorable) tiny-sandwiches. The flavor is sweet and satisfying. Recipe and more serving ideas below!

About the beans:
Azuki beans are a small, reddish bean with a sweet flavor. They are highly regarded for their nutritional and healing properties in Oriental medicine. To prepare dried azuki beans, first let them soak overnight. Rinse, and boil for 1 hour or until soft but still firm. Drain and leave to cool.

AZUKI BEAN BISCUITS
Ingredients:
5 cups rolled oats
2 cups azuki beans (cooked + cooled)
2 cups sweet potatoes (cooked + cooled)
4 eggs
pinch of salt

Directions:
– In a large mixing bowl, lightly mash the beans + sweet potatoes together with a fork.
– Add all other ingredients and mix well.
– Form tiny (2-inch wide) biscuits onto a greased baking tray.
– Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 min
(makes about 36 baby-sized biscuits)

Fun serving ideas:
– Cut biscuits in half and make little sandwiches or mini-burgers
– Top them with tomato slices, fresh basil, and a drizzle of olive oil
– Use them to scoop salsa or dips (a yogurt-dill dip would be good)
– They go well with anything buttery or cheese-like
– Top them with your favorite jam (pepper jelly would be awesome with these)
– Serve them with soup!

Easy and Nutritious Baby Snacks (Carrot Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe)

Babies need snacks while you’re out and about, and preferably ones that make the least amount of mess possible (especially if you’re visiting friends who don’t have kids and aren’t accustomed to having bright red tomato sauce splashed all over their nice white couches… and carpets… and ceilings…).

We try to stay away from wheat, dairy, and sweeteners, AND we’re on a budget so we can’t just go out and buy fancy organic gluten-free snacky things (which are usually pumped full of so-called “healthy” sweeteners anyway). This means I have to get creative when it comes to packing snacks that will:
a) actually get eaten by a toddler
b) not spoil in the summer heat
c) not destroy someone’s house in 2 seconds
d) be extremely easy (and cheap) to make in the first place

I’ve been tinkering around with ingredients that we normally have around the house anyway, but today I had a stroke of genius… COOKIES! I NEED COOKIES!!… wait… I mean, super-healthy cookie-type-things! YES! Something yummy that my toddler can snack on without needing to be watched like a hawk, and will fortify her with protein + vegetables!

The recipe I developed requires only 4 ingredients, 5 minutes of prep time, and is so delicious that I keep snacking on them myself… I seriously can’t stop. The carrots are what really tie it all together, as they add a bit of sweetness and are just perfect with the peanut butter. Carrots have a lot of awesome health benefits too, as do the other ingredients: rolled oats, peanut butter, and eggs. Here is the recipe:

CARROT PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES
(makes about 24 baby-sized cookies)
3 cups rolled oats
2 medium sized carrots, grated or finely diced (approximately 1 cup)
4 eggs (or other binding ingredient)
2 large heaping spoonfuls peanut butter (approximately 4 tbsp)
optional dab of butter or oil (to make softer)

Super-easy Directions:
– Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
– Mix all ingredients together in a bowl + then roll out tiny (baby-sized) cookies onto a greased baking tray.
– Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes
– Yum!

Being Controlled by Being ‘In Control’

I am a person who likes to have a plan. I like efficiency and cleanliness. “A place for everything, and everything in its place”, as they say. I usually think that having everything clean, organized, and well planned will make me feel “in control”, and therefore safe and happy… but in reality, it DOESN’T. In reality, I often become uptight about “the plan” and end up becoming very upset if (and when) things don’t work out exactly as I think they should. When my husband leaves a dirty dish in the office, it is a travesty. When I am running late for a casual lunch with a friend, the world is surely about to end.

Today while taking a walk, I was planning out how when I got home, first I would clean the dishes while Brian watched the baby, then make a specific dinner, and so on. But I suddenly realized that this kind of thinking (which I often do) doesn’t add to my happiness, or even make things happen more efficiently. In fact, this kind of thinking just makes me rigid and less able to handle change. I squeeze myself around the thoughts of “it NEEDS to be this way” and I become a prisoner. So I said to myself: “I release you”. And it felt pretty good. In that moment, I was freeing myself from the NEED to know how the rest of my day would turn out. I was not giving up control– I was refusing to BE controlled by my thoughts!

Of course, this is something that you need to do repeatedly, in every new moment, for it to make any real difference at all. So I kept saying it all evening: “I release you!”, while unclenching myself from whatever new thought I had decided was important in that moment. And remarkably, the dishes still got washed, dinner still got made, the baby still got fed + washed + put to bed. Everything that needed to happen happened the way it needed to happen. I did not have to plan the sequence out beforehand. I did not have to be in control of the details. Certain things happened that I would have normally interpreted as happening “wrong”, but I did not mind– I was having an amazing time!

I am still a person who likes cleanliness, and efficiency, and plans. I am still a person who writes lists that reference my OTHER lists. But in this moment, I am realizing more deeply that I can DO all of that with joy instead of rigidity!

Why Tantrum-throwing Children Aren’t “Brats”


Imagine that you have just heard the most upsetting news of your life (your best friend died, your home town was bombed, etc.) and picture yourself totally LOSING IT. You’re on the ground crying, overwhelmed by suffering, and not even noticing/caring if anyone else is witnessing it. Now picture your partner responding to your suffering by angrily whispering “Be quiet! Behave!“, and maybe even smacking you a few times. Picture a crowd around you frowning, saying “What a spoiled brat“!

We generally think of a child’s tantrum as different from REAL suffering, because the child’s reasons for being upset “aren’t valid”.

It’s been a while since we were that small, and most adults have forgotten what it actually felt like to be a toddler. But people who DO remember describe it the same as the scenario above– as if they’d just heard the most upsetting news of their lives, and had no ability to cope with the resulting intense emotions.

If someone is experiencing suffering, then they are experiencing suffering. The reason behind it absolutely doesn’t matter, but we often dismiss people’s suffering if we don’t agree that they SHOULD be upset (especially if that person is a toddler). But if someone is upset, they SHOULD be. Here’s why:
* They don’t have the skills of dealing with stress in any other way yet (or in that specific moment).
* There may be factors that we aren’t aware of that are adding to the upset. The reason you can see might have merely been the “last straw”.
* What is upsetting to one person might not be upsetting to another. Just because you don’t understand WHY it is upsetting, that doesn’t mean the other person isn’t experiencing real grief.

So I’m just supposed to GIVE IN or I’m traumatizing my kid?
No that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that once a tantrum has begun, the best way of dealing with it is by giving the child the sort of interaction someone would want if they were experiencing REAL GRIEF (hug them and show them genuine love). Of course, showing genuine love is sometimes a difficult task if YOU are also upset in that moment. An “I love you” coming from a stressed parent just isn’t going to cut it. Kids pick up on your stress, and then escalate.

How do you LOVE when stressed?
Love is an action, and so is stress– they are not just happening to you at random. You can decide in the moment which one you want to embrace. It is unrealistic to expect a toddler to be able to recognize that their tantrum is something they are DOING (instead of happening to them), but YOU have a better chance at realizing this and turning your own silent tantrum back toward the direction of calm + peace. It is easy to think of a child’s tantrum as a problem that demands an immediate solution. But really, the best thing you can possibly do is be aware of your emotional state– be aware of the physical sensations in your chest– breathe– and notice that you can be present and compassionate in the middle of the storm.

Other resources:
Here’s what Dr. Sears has to say about tantrums
And here’s some tips from “Happiest Toddler on the Block” Author Dr. Karp

My Job is Meditation

By definition, “work” is the exertion of energy. Most people describe their work as something they do because they need the money that it provides. Even the lucky few who LIKE their jobs still describe their days as draining. But do we have to experience our work as something that depletes us?

Today, I had the insight that in fact, work can be something that fills us up! I have a 15-month-old daughter that I watch full time, and I have just begun working as a full-time nanny for a younger baby. Two babies have needs, and quite often these needs happen at the same time, in conflicting ways (for example, one needing to be cuddled + bottle fed while the other starts to poop and needs to go to the potty right away)! It would be understandable if I described my days as “toiling away”. But thankfully, I have been remembering the insights described in my post about Concious Parenting and have been able to do what needs to be done while at the same time resting in peaceful surrender. Looking into the cosmic eyes of these two beautiful babies, I did not feel like my energy was being depleted today. In fact, I felt like they were both lifting me up– giving me MORE than I had started with.

I once met a woman named Ammachi (who is known as the “hugging saint” because she spends every moment of her life traveling the world to embrace everyone she comes across with warm, loving, maternal hugs). People line up by the thousands to receive her hugs, and some wonder why it doesn’t seem to drain her. Instead, she seems even more ecstatically giving as time goes on, and everyone who comes in contact with her seems to be able to feel this joy penetrating every corner of the room. Perhaps the people that she gives hugs to are lifting her up as well. Perhaps real GIVING is something that does not deplete us, and in fact leaves us feeling more full.

I’m happy that my income-producing work is something that I’ve realized I can do in this way. Giving (and thus receiving) love. Accepting what is happening in the moment with complete surrender + joy. This is my job. What do YOU do?

Plushie Seder Plate!

While thinking of ways to make Passover more fun for kids (and babies), I got the idea to make a festive seder plate that is entirely made out of plushie toys, paper mache, and other crafts. I made a paper mache “shank bone”, cloth lettuce bunch + yarn “parsley”, plushie “charoset” (the pink ball things), squeak-toy “horseradish” (the yellow thing) and a plushie “clump of horseradish”. I had a decorated wooden egg rattle-toy that I used as the roasted egg. Then I made a couple pieces of matzoh out of cardboard (probably tastes similar to the real stuff!) + decorated them with crayons. The plate itself was a plastic serving tray that I painted. Everything was made from recycled materials and my 1-year-old LOVED playing with it when I was done!

Birthing as Awareness Practice

I was the type of person who would immediately dose up on pain killers at the first sign of a headache. But when I became pregnant, I knew that I wanted to have an “all natural” birth without any drugs or interventions. How could I possibly prepare for such a thing? I mean, I was headed toward the most physically intense experience of my life and I couldn’t even handle a little headache! I watched “Birth As We Know It” and “Orgasmic Birth” (both excellent films), and read “Birthing From Within” from cover to cover. These things were very inspiring, but I knew that in the heat of the moment, there was no way that I’d be thinking about that “inspirational thing I read about inner strength that one time”.

At some point I realized that there was actually nothing I could do to make myself have an ideal birthing experience. Everybody’s birth is different, and you can’t know beforehand how it will all unfold. I realized that I would have to learn how to be ok with whatever happened, even if it happened in an unexpected way. I started practicing being ok with THIS MOMENT, in every new moment (without a story about what happened before and what might/should happen next). I just kept noticing my body sensations, what I was hearing/seeing, etc., without focusing on my thoughts about any of it. And something awesome began to happen. I noticed that my experience of reality was largely based upon my interpretations of what was actually happening.

For example: In the past when I would get a headache, I would immediately start thinking something like “Oh no! This is a headache and it is gonna suck!”. But I noticed that without that description, there was just the sensation in THAT MOMENT, and it changed from moment to moment. When I started to think “This is pain, and pain is BAD!”, I would start to tense up my body and mind, and THAT was what actually made the experience so horrific. Without the story, it was just a squeezing sensation, and eventually it passed.

Ok, sure. But can that really work during CHILDBIRTH?

Yes! But you might have to practice it a lot beforehand for it to become second-nature. All throughout the last couple months of my pregnancy, I spent most of my time noticing my body sensations and what I was hearing/seeing/experiencing, and noticing that my thoughts about all of this profoundly altered my experience of it. I practiced being aware in every new moment that I remembered that I could. I had no real background in meditation, but I have come to understand that this is what I was doing. I was basically meditating for 2 months.

So when the time came to give birth, I felt a calmness and a trust in my body. I experienced every intense sensation that came along with labor, without a story of “pain” or “suffering”. And thus, I did not experience any of it as pain or suffering! I went into a deep trance, and envisioned being in a cave with drums beating. I felt a powerful spiraling energy moving through me, and I trusted that it knew what to do. All I had to do was to let it move through me, without tensing up or trying to stop it.

A “contraction” is that intense spiraling energy pushing through you, and people experience it as pain when they try to fight against it by clenching down on it or “being tough” to get through it. It is like huge waves in an ocean, and you can either try to fight them (and lose), try to ignore them (and they will hit you anyway), or you can RIDE them!

I was surprised to find that I didn’t need all the hysterical screaming like you see in movies. I made some low groaning noises when I felt moved to, as the energy was moving through me. Much of the time I remained silent. The midwife said that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a woman with such focus during labor. To me, it felt effortless because I was not DOING something extra; I was merely letting myself have the experience. At one point I made a noise and she said something like “was that a contraction?”. Her speaking brought me out of the trance and I realized that perhaps I should let everyone know that I had already gone into the final (pushing) phase some time ago. My nurse, midwife, and husband all swooped over as soon as I told them. I thought it was funny because I felt like their presence was totally unnecessary. I was doing fine on my own, and feeling powerfully awesome. Moments later, little Ariana burst into the world.

Later, I realized that just because I had already gone through the intensity of labor did not mean that I had to stop using this meditation practice. Now, when I am experiencing each new moment, and noticing how my thoughts change my experience of it, I have so much more enjoyment from life. Some people have esteemed gurus as their “spiritual teachers”. I had pregnancy as mine.

Fun Passover Crafts!

I put together a fun + meaningful haggadah, and now it is time to decorate the covers! I decided to do collage art, because it is something that the baby can participate in (ripping paper, yay!) without causing toooo much of a mess. Later, we’ll decorate the inside pages with crayons, and tie the pages together with colorful ribbons. Here are a couple of my favorite ones so far, and “how to” instructions below…

happy helper

FREE YOURSELF cover (look: she’s holding matzoh!)

MATZOH cover… mmmm

How To Make Your Own Haggadah Covers:

You will need:
– 8.5/11 card-stock paper (fun colors preferable)
– pictures to collage with (magazines, family photos, drawings, etc)
– scissors
– glue

Begin by finding the perfect pictures to create a picture that is both fun to look at + meaningful to you. Lay it out on the card-stock page to make sure it looks right before you start to glue. When the covers are finished + dry, use a hole-puncher to make 3 holes down the side (and do the same to the pages of your haggadah). Tie the booklets together with decorative ribbons. Enjoy!