Life with a toddler is like riding on a revolving see-saw all day long. UP. DOWN. ALL. AROUND. My head spins trying to keep it together. The other day my son wildly pecked and pawed at my laptop keyboard. “He’s literally pushing my buttons,” I told my husband later. The power struggle is real my friends. I’m doing my best to control my own emotions. I’m casting my attention to parenting books aimed at helping me stay present in the joyful waves while trying to stay calm during the daily lows.
Brandon’s second birthday ushered in a surge of personality, demands and feelings. The swell of his new sense of self— challenges me every day. He’s so unpredictable. Sometimes he’s sweet and communicative. Sometimes, inexplicably, he stops using real words. He ditches the spoon in favor of shoving rice into his mouth by the fistful. Then there’s the screaming. That little barbarian leads me straight to the swamps of my reactive, primitive brain (the crazy leaks out).
I recently picked up “10 Mindful Minutes.” Author/Actor Goldie Hawn does a great job of illustrating real techniques used to teach children and parents about mindfulness. The work of the Hawn Foundation through its Mind UP Program is remarkable. In her book she explains practices like mindful breathing, mindful sensing, and mindful movement in everyday language. The guide provides research backed information quoting experts like Dr. Dan Siegel. His books helped me sort out feelings when I first documented my struggle, transitioning from my career into motherhood in Reporting Live from Studio B.
In times of stress, I’ve turned to mindful breathing over the years. However, I’ve always felt as graceful as a bull especially now. By the tenth time “Be gentle,” turns into me breathlessly shouting “STOP hitting your sister!” Angry sighs are all I can muster. My sanity ebbs. In these moments, breathing is the only buoy. Yet, I’m reactive not meditative.
I can tell you, I NEVER expected to feel anger on a consistent basis as a mother. I guess that’s why this quote and question from “10 Mindful Minutes” was so eye opening: “It is well noted that anger is only fear in disguise….Have you ever experienced anger when your child runs into the street to retrieve a ball without thinking?” Absolutely. No matter the scenario if Brandon is in danger I’m awash with fear and anger.
I’ve watched Brandon jump from the ottoman to the couch and hurt himself. He bonks his head and bruises his knees. I fear the next time it will be worse. These fears create scar tissue in the form of anger and anxiety. I can’t keep him from falling. He doesn’t always listen. It infuriates me. I just want to keep him SAFE. My anger blossoms in the irrational space where head bumps prove deadly and every regression means he’ll grow into an adult who doesn’t use utensils. Clearly, I’ve sailed away from the present.
Marianne Williamson famously says we’re either coming from a space of “fear or love.” I’m discovering this is true about motherhood. My soul craves calm and order not possible with rice stuck to the wall and mapped out by streaks on the floor. I fear it will always be this way. Enter this super simple mindful breathing hack from Goldie to help me find the love. “Each time you notice that you have wandered off into thoughts, feelings or sensations, let them go; don’t attach to them. See these thoughts as clouds floating across the sky of your mind; then allow them to drift away,” Hawn from “10 Mindful Minutes.”
This powerful visual helped me improve my own mindfulness practice. Here’s how: I get Brandon and the baby outside where they’ll be distracted. I sit or stand (whatever is possible with the baby in toe) and close my eyes and imagine the ocean. I picture a wave returning to shore and back out to sea with each breath and each exhalation. If I pay attention—the sound of my breathing mimics the sound of wind and water coursing across the sand. I can almost hear the seagulls. Now, for the last week, if I am having a really hard time with my son; I visualize him playing happily on the beach as sunlight skips and sparkles for miles. I can float the rest of my day (well, the next twenty minutes or so, in peace).
I’m not saying this is the cure to all of my frustrations. This practice just helps me bounce back from moments of anger much faster. It’s nice to know I can go the beach anytime I need. Brandon will outgrow the trying-two’s. After dinner, the other night Brandon said “Thank you mommy, cooking.” He didn’t use his spoon but he did use his manners. He’s a good boy. I’m trying really hard to be the mommy he deserves. It just takes practice.