Yeah, yeah… mommy and daddy zen, deep breaths, downward dog that isn’t a pull toy as much as it is a ‘position’…it’s all just one more thing to incorporate into our our busy lives and our conscious parenting. After 6 months of blogging, I have become mindful of too many things I need to be mindful of… not to mention the ongoing blog popping out of my mouth. Sometimes it is intentional, (as my daughter said recently, “you just sounded like a Disney Channel Mom”), but more often unintentional, as I suddenly realize ‘that’s the lead paragraph I have been waiting for’ which kicks off the 3 hour blog writing session before the universe swallows the moment again.
This particular morning last week, -I kid you not- out of my mouth popped, “Hurry up Ayli, if you get out of the door quickly enough, you can stop to smell the roses on the way to the car”… (I know that the ‘hurry’ part was counter to the idea of mindfulness, but if you knew how slow our morning activation is, you’d understand).... anyhow, when we moved into our new (but kinda old) house 6 weeks ago, I pruned the old dead rose bush along with all the other clean up. I really didn’t think it was still alive as it was so brittle, but low and behold, a beautiful red rose bush has bloomed. The new blooms are the closest thing to long stem red roses I have ever seen growing on a garden rose bush, and they are, oh, so fragrant. So fragrant, in fact, that I stop to smell the roses at least once per day…so, Mom if you are listening…I am both figuratively and literally stopping to smell the roses these days. I am also listening to the sounds of the birds, and watching butterflies… no joke, sometimes to stay out of the athlete parent frenzy… I watch butterflies at softball games.
But there was more to this particular morning’s scene, -I still kid you not- Jake suddenly says “shhhhh, it is so beautiful, don’t scare them” as he shifts our focus up to the swallows building their mud nests in our front yard foyer. For one teensy, tiny moment of the busy morning rush, we all sat there staring up at them. When our moment of awe was up, my 13 yr old took out her iphone 6 and captured a photo of a swallow in mid flight, and yes, I also proudly told Jake to tell the attendance lady that the swallows building the nest made us late. (I haven’t had a better excuse for our daily tardies all year long). I also marked the date of April 4 in my calendar as perhaps the swallows return the same day each year like the swallows of Capistrano. And now, a week later… one swallow nest is complete and 3 more are on the way…
My husband laughs at me, I can find the smallest things in the sand at the beach, and I can identify types of birds, recognize crops, and randomly remember names of wildflowers out the window of the car on our long road trips. At my schools, I always encouraged casual treasure hunts, creating cubby collections with doodads, and when the world was seasonally not in the mood for natural goodies, I even spent curriculum funds on treasures to sprinkle here and there through the tanbark and sand box. Many a child had their regulatory need met on their self-directed treasure hunts, brown lunch bags from the art cupboard and their eyeballs were all that was needed for ‘separating from the fray.’
I rarely didn’t take the opportunity to “look” when a little hand tugged at my shirt and pulled me to see the garden spider web, sprouting bean plant, or gross rotting apple dropped from the tree and was now covered with ants… this was my favorite time with my preschoolers… our quiet moments of joint attention and thought. In fact, I will profess that these were my most powerful teaching moments, when I didn’t teach at all. These were the moments I built relationships with kiddos, the moments which made them listen to my voice and follow directions during the rest of the day… and this, I believe, was how I taught mindfulness. It wasn’t a book, or a circle time game (although these things can also support the development of mindfulness) and it definitely wasn’t flashcards, incessant questioning, or worksheets (those were forbidden at my schools). The first examples of mindfulness we show our children are the shared moments of sensory intake and observation… the moments when we rarely say it, but simultaneously think it… “that is soooo cool”. And those were the moments I knew who my preschoolers were on the inside… whether it was the sparkles, the plastic mini animals, the gold pirate bootie left over from St. Patrick’s Day hunts 6 months later, or the silly green lady bug who wasn’t red. Observation begets mindfulness, mindfulness grows our thoughtfulness and thinking, real thinking leads to discovery, and discovery leads to knowledge. It may sound revolutionary, but do you really know how something works if you haven’t seen it, heard it, or felt it? Isn’t that the real magic of mindfulness--- taking the time to really know something? To recalibrate?
I always thought it was just “one of my things”, this ‘random identification’ of the world around me… I am not a savant by any measure, I don’t memorize lists, and it isn’t because I went to an Ag school. Infact, I failed miserably at categorization and classification, (ask my physical anthro and Zoology professors if you don’t believe me). But when I want to, I can recognize dog and cat breeds, flowers and plants, types of birds, reef animals, types of penguins and monkeys, Madame Alexander dolls, types of fine china, Hummel collectibles, and I even know my fair share of art history.
The funny thing is, I usually know exactly when and where and why I know these things. My random knowledge is based on life’s little experiences. When I point most things out to my kids I have little stories; ‘Grandma used to do this’, ‘my friend taught me this’, ‘Uncle “whatchamadoogie” had an old truck like that’. And because bloggers start to look for sense in all types of occurrences, (what original spin do I have on this topic???) I started thinking about this phenomenon and realized most of my stories come from my parents or are stories associated with profoundly important relationships in my lives...the clinking of coins in my Dad’s pocket when he was nervous… the marine bio boyfriend who my nephews and I spent a significant portion of 2 summers tide-pooling with… facts about bugs from my entomologist brother… and my mother… mostly my mother…
My mother was my person.
I haven’t written much about my mother in my blogging yet. She died 18 months ago at 92 years old. For me, being the youngest of nine and born when she was 46 years old, she was older and for much of my childhood she was not the “cool” mom. She was stricter, seemed crankier than other moms, and spent most of her time on housework and meal preparation. But my mother, she was my person. She is who taught me mindfulness to shut other things out when I really wanted to think, feel and observe. Mom was a child of the depression who raised 9 kids through 4 distinctly different decades she was NOT a Zen Buddhist, in fact, her idea of meditation was telling me to “be quiet and contemplate my navel”. As I grew older, she’d say “Slow down, you’re doing too much” and warn “you’ll make yourself sick at this rate.”
But Mom was a secret poet...a keeper of scrapbooks and memories…a collector of doodads and dolls… of stray pets and sometimes stray people… of African violets and pussy willow… she taught me about nap taking and walks… (she never learned to drive, so there was quite a bit of walking). There were years she got a little obsessed, like when we found myriads of tiny sand dollars at the beach and she bought us all gold sand dollar necklaces, and the same thing goes for the year she overdid California poppies...but she took note of the simple things… and for most of my childhood we didn’t do things like travel the world… the simple things were right there in front of us...the simple things were how she taught me to slow down.
I learned about aphids, roses, and fruit trees (she had all different types of roses and fruit trees in our non coiffed back yard). We called hummingbird hummers and had a house full of pets. We took springtime walks to see the purple tulip trees throughout our neighborhood… she pointed out robin red breasts and red wing black birds...she’d say ‘a baby’s skin is velvet’, and the smell of babies she’d describe as ‘ashes of roses’. She introduced me to fragrances… lavender for your underwear drawer, wet sidewalk on our walks… we’d check how full the nearby creek was getting on rainy days meanwhile smelling the wet eucalyptus trees. And even though there was rarely a quiet moment in our busy big family house, and even though she was a screamer, she somehow stopped during moments that mattered to enable meaningful joint attention. Introducing me to descriptors and imagery, to smells and textures, perhaps leading me to want to stop and smell my newborn baby as many times as I could before it was gone and my time as a young mother was too… feel the velvet skin on my cheek...listen to the ocean...greet the sun with my upturned face. I am quite certain her way of being, enjoying the simple things, is why I point the simple things out to children, and why I stop to look when they want to point something out to me, to take the moment to remember that the things around us are amazing.
When I grew up and I studied mindfulness in a class based on the teachings of Jon Kabat Zinn, I realized that mindfulness for me was the ability to stop and sense the world. To look, listen, and touch without having to do anything more... to really see, really hear and really feel in totality… a whole bunch more isn’t necessary. But the truth is; I lose that ability sometimes… I forget the truth of ‘less is more’ and ‘the simple things are right there around us’ ...like the taste of your favorite food, the luxury of a warm shower, how it feels to hold hands with someone you love.
So, the swallow nests will stay, even if I have to clean up the droppings, and my kids and I will continue to mark the construction progress. Perhaps they, too, will develop some random knowledge, but most of all, I hope they continue to have moments of pure “oh, that is sooooo cool” thoughts… all in the name of mindfulness…that hip new idea for children that has actually been around for generations!