Blog Archives

Body-centering Babies (and Mommies!)

When babies cry “for no reason”, people usually try to distract them. I had the realization the other day that doing this might encourage habits of dissociation + escapism when they get older, instead of being present with their feelings (“I’m upset, oh I’ll go into the next room and look at the computer for a while”, etc).

Today I was caring for a 5-month-old. Right after a nap, bottle, and diaper change, the baby started to cry. I knew it wasn’t one of those three things she needed, and she had that glazed-over look that babies sometimes have when they are crying “for no reason”, so I thought she might like me to help bring her attention back to herself. I moved her legs and rubbed her belly and said “here you are!”, and she IMMEDIATELY stopped crying and regained focus in her eyes. She looked at me with a deep, fully conscious look, and let out a delighted laugh.

How awesome is THAT?

I also sometimes need help coming back to myself. My husband (who conveniently for me, is skilled in teaching various body-centered somatic psychotherapy practices) is an awesome resource for me when I am stressed and want to just go on autopilot instead of confront those feelings. When I am lost in thoughts, he’s there like a light in the fog to tell me “here you are!”. And here I am, needing nothing in this moment other than what I have already.

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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.

Kittens, Pink Unicorns, and Trucks

When I was pregnant, I had all kinds of ideas about how I was going to raise my child without enforced gender roles (such as “girls wear pink + play house” and “boys wear blue + play football”). I was determined to only have gender-neutral colored clothing + toys. But at some point I realized that banning the color pink was just as foolish as FORCING it upon a daughter. I realized that I can provide a full spectrum of colors + styles + themes, and let my child decide what s/he actually likes.

As it turned out, I had a daughter. This makes the whole situation easier, since (for the most part) girls are allowed to have “boy” clothing + toys + activities without seeming weird. Her tastes are all over the map, but I’ve noticed that most people are very selective in what they notice about children. Pretty much all toddlers like mud, toy balls, cuddly animals, and sparkly things. But adults observing children playing with such things tend to see it through a filter of “boy” or “girl”. People focus on the girl when she’s playing with a dollie and say “what a sweet little princess”, while dismissing the fact that this same person was covered in mud + throwing rocks moments earlier. If a girl is playing with a ball, it is more likely to go overlooked. But if a boy is playing with a ball, people make “cute” comments like “he’s practicing for the NBA!”

My daughter IS pretty stereotypically girly in many ways. She likes to give her dollies hugs + kisses, and try on jewelry. She is also small + dainty looking (and when dressed in something frilly + pink, it is probably very hard to see her actions through anything but “girly” filter). But she also is obsessed with trucks, toy balls, and trains. Pretty much anything with wheels is fascinating to her right now, but she favors her yellow dump truck + her front loader. When we pass by construction sites and sees REAL excavators + bulldozers + loaders, she becomes EXTREMELY EXCITED and insists that we stay and watch for a long while.

My daughter is now starting to take an interest in what clothes she wears. Her clothing drawer is close to the ground, so she is able to go through it and select what she wants to wear. When she finds something, she hands it to me and insists I change her into it right away (otherwise she tries to put it on herself, then generally gets it stuck on her head and becomes very angry). So far, she’s been favoring things with BRIGHT colors, but sometimes prefers brown or black. When I laid out an assortment of bathing suits for her to choose from (including “boy” swimming trunks, “neutral” colored full body swimsuits, and “girly” swimsuits), she immediately picked one covered in hot pink cherries with a frilly skirt + bow on it. Then as soon as I helped her put it on, she went over to a puddle and began splashing in it, laughing with glee as mud splattered all over her face, hair, and pretty pink swimsuit. Toddlers of all genders are like little cave-people that are amused + amazed by every new experience. I’m happy that we aren’t limiting hers by keeping her away from “boy” things OR “girl” things.

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.

Conscious Parenting

Judging requires effort.  Anger requires effort.  Believing and reacting to thoughts about what “should be happening” requires effort.  Believing and reacting to thoughts like “this is more than I can do” or “people are asking too much of me” requires effort.  These are the things that are actually draining, not what is happening in the moment.

If people imagine that they are needed to do more than they think they are physically able to do, this can be a very stressful thought.  But often what is actually happening in those moments is that they are either not realizing what their capabilities are, or they are misinterpreting what is actually needed in that situation.

I experienced this early on when my infant daughter would cry, I would put out a lot more energy than was necessary as I tried to “fix the problem”, and would feel exhausted and nervous about not being able to calm her.  Then my husband had the insight that all the baby ACTUALLY needed in that moment was for me to be present, and hold her while looking at her with love and acceptance.  And it was true.  I realized that I obviously couldn’t calm her while believing the stressful thought that I HAD TO calm her.  Without that thought, what naturally happened was just experiencing being true love, and this is what is actually needed when there is no obvious physical need.  Everything else requires effort and becomes draining.

Being infinite love requires no effort.  It is not training yourself to have “positive thinking”.  It is what happens before thinking begins.  It is surrendering and letting everything happen through you instead of being done by you.

I used to think that this experience of complete surrender into infinite love and consciousness was something random, ephemeral, and sporadic.  But I have learned that consciousness is actually a muscle that can be exercised (by doing body-awareness and thought-questioning exercises, or by praying in a way that invokes real surrender instead of just feeling safe).

In any moment, you can choose to fully embrace believing your thoughts, or choose to fully embrace consciousness/G-d/surrendering.  I think this is what that “Jesus” guy was talking about when he said to give up all possessions and follow him (I like the idea of reclaiming Jesus as a cool Jewish dude, instead of thinking of him with the mythology/concepts that Christians came up with)… Anyway, I don’t think he was talking about morals or afterlife; I think he was talking about having freedom from suffering NOW.  I think he was talking about giving up all of your baggage (in every moment that you remember that you can) and embracing what is happening in THIS moment instead of believing that you know better than the universe what SHOULD be happening in this moment.  Such sweet bliss is available in every moment, but we often pick “being right” over it.

Mother Poetry and the Jewish “Divine Feminine”

There are many reasons that I love Rachel Barenblat.  I have been following her beautiful Torah commentary and poetry on The Velveteen Rabbi for years, and was delighted when she became pregnant at the same time that I did because her poetry began to follow the amazing journey of pregnancy and motherhood as I was having similar experiences.

I co-lead a workshop recently with Rachel Galper, about connecting with the ”Divine Feminine” (in a Jewish context) through art and storytelling.  My experience of divinity as female is directly linked to the intensity of my body bearing, birthing, and nourishing a child.  The following poem by Rachel Barenblat really captures this experience.  The poem is based on Psalm 126 and on her experiences of her first year as a mother:

ONE YEAR

A psalm of ascent

When the doctor brought you

through my narrow places

I was as in a dream: tucked behind

my closed eyes, chanting silently

we are opening up in sweet surrender.

The night before we left the hospital

I wept: didn’t they know

I had no idea what to do with you?

Even newborn-sized clothes

loomed around you, vast and ill-fitting.

I couldn’t convince you to latch

without a nurse there to reposition.

But we got into the car, the old world

made terrifying and new, and

in time I learned your language.

I had my own narrow places ahead,

the valley of the postpartum shadow.

Nights when I would hand you over,

mutely grateful to anyone willing

to rock you down, to suffer your cries…

But those who sow in tears

will reap in joy, and you

are the joy I never knew I didn’t have.

I have paced these long hours

bearing a baby on my shoulder

and now I am home in rejoicing,

bearing you, my own harvest.

http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/mother-poems

 

Inspiration + Advice for Artist Parents

Being with a baby 24/7 can be pretty overwhelming.  Even if you somehow manage to find the time to create art, you may feel like you completely lack the energy to DO anything about it!  For the first year of my daughter’s life, I tried out all sorts of different art-making strategies in attempts to find something that worked.  As a SAHM of the “attachment parenting” variety (with a daughter who tends to only take naps while nursing), I have discovered a few tricks to help me continue making art on a quasi-regular basis…

1. Keep it simple, keep it small
Now might not be the best time for ambitious, gigantic, or super-messy projects. If you feel like you need to get momentum going to make something really awesome, you will be disappointed when you have to stop every 5 minutes to play with the baby, nurse, clean up some poop, etc… Instead, see if you can figure out projects that take less time, and can be done in little spurts without needing a lot of preparation or cleanup.

2. Accept that your art will be different now
That might sound scary, but it is not a bad thing! As mentioned above, you may only have 5 minutes at a time (or less!) to work on your art, and this will definitely have an effect on the outcome. This game of musical chairs might end up giving your artwork an interesting new flavor.

3. Try new mediums
I was primarily a painter in my pre-baby life, which has totally not been working out for me in the past year. But I am now discovering the joys of illustration, collage, and fabric art.  When I’m working with baby-safe materials (like fabric), she can even play alongside with me while I work!

4. Make a plan while nursing
I prefer spontaneous, unplanned, messy art-making. But I have discovered that when every half-second counts, it is better to begin making artwork when I already know what I’m going to make. And what better time to plan it all out than when trapped under a nursing baby?

5. Let your baby teach you how to appreciate everyday awesomeness
Babies are amazed by simple things like mirrors, bubbles, or seeing a flower that is PURPLE. Instead of thinking this is cute and then focusing on “important stuff”, take a moment to really investigate the awesomeness that your baby is pointing out to you. See it for yourself as if YOU are seeing it for the first time… and notice that it really IS amazing! This is a great opportunity for art inspiration.