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My ride in today was raining.

My ride home was dry.

From the window of the train, gray clouds, white clouds, and some blue too.

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This week’s Mama Makeover theme is Being vs. Doing. Self-nurture is about both, with an emphasis on the Being part. Doing nurturing activities is perhaps our first thought when we think of how to take care of ourselves. Get a massage. Go to the gym. Eat something decadent. But the Being part is much deeper and has a more profound influence on how we live – and find satisfaction in – our lives.

It was a true shift for me to start thinking about this deeper level of self-nurture. I know I’m not the only mama (or human for that matter) to feel the need for self care and then immediately give up the notion because there is no time, no money, no support, or what-have-you to go do something for myself (Calgon take me away!).

When I put my focus on how I am showing up to my life – how I am being in my life – I open up to the possibility of making any activity nurturing and energizing.

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When I picked up Griffin at school today, Mother Nature was playing her funny springtime tricks on us. She had been up to it all day – weird rain patterns, sunbreaks, more weird rain. Happily for me, we were in a break period when we headed from school to car. My sweet toddler was in a delightful mood (read: not yelling in my ear like a pterodactyl) as we crossed the parking area to get into our car. He immediately noticed piles of pink petals all around the sidewalks and quickly discovered the trees over his head that were dropping the flowers.

“Look! A lot!”

“A lot over here!”

“Flowers!”

He ran from pile to pile, pointing and touching and exploring the whole scene.

He wasn’t nearly ready to get in the car, so I just stood there and watched him. Helped him reach into the tree to see and feel the blooms there. And joined him in marveling at what might look to him like piles of pink snow on the ground. I listened to his laughter. I noticed the clean smell in the air from the rain and the blooming trees.

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I could have just as easily herded him right into the car, insisting that the rain would be starting any second, or that we need to get home for dinner. Both of these reasons – and many others – could have been true. But had I not given him – and myself – permission to slip out of our normal routine, we both would have missed this few minutes of pure, simple joy. Relaxation. A multi-sensory experience.

This 10 minute “field trip” was nurturing to me. I felt calm. Connected to my boy. Happy to just be there.

And the rest of our evening seemed to flow right along on the feeling of connectedness and calm. Oh sure, there was a moment of mayhem when one brother destroyed the other brother’s carefully built barnyard scene. But even reacting to that and helping resolve it felt like less effort and less stress.

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I’m not sure that I can credit the entirety of one low-stress evening back to looking at flower petals in the street gutter with a two-year-old. I also had a pretty satisfying day at work; had lunch with a special someone; came home to dinner simmering on the stove and freshly cleaned bathrooms and a kiss from that same special lunch date.

But when I think about it, each bit of goodness from my day does tie back to how I approached it, how much I was open to it, and how much I noticed it.

When I have been away from my kids – whether it’s been an hour or a day – they greet me with open arms and an open heart. My two year old is most expressive. He drops everything and runs full speed to crash his little body into mine and squeeze me soooooo tight. My six year old will do the same – most of the time – and even when he is in a more reserved mood, his eyes tell the story. He loves his mama.

To be loved so completely and without judgment is one of the great rewards of being a parent. But what moves me so deeply, what is most profound to me as a mother, is what I learn from being loved this way.

My children teach me about being passionate, enthusiastic, and joyful. Their only way of being in the world is open and honest and ready. They remind me of the power of these qualities and how much I want to mirror them back to my family and to the world.

I find this way of being endlessly challenging. Yet all the while my little boys inspire me to keep seeking this Truth they seem to know intrinsically.

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One morning a week or so ago, our day got off to a rough start. At the height of a frenzy involving a foam roller and a metal bowl, I completely lost it. Said bad words, slammed doors, and left with hardly a goodbye.

A real low point. I hated myself for it.

An amazing thing happened when I got home that night. They boys did what they always do. They came running. Happy to see me, grab me, hug me and pull me in to whatever they were up to. They had already moved on from that bad scene that I had replayed and relived all day long.

Was it forgiveness? Trust? Faith? Or just plain old unconditional love? They seem to do whatever-that-was effortlessly at their ages. I treasure that about them, and I am sad to know how difficult it is to maintain.

::

My own words seem inadequate to describe it, but these do the job so well…

Give Us the Spirit of the Child
by Sara York

Give us the spirit of the child.
Give us the child who lives within:

The child who trusts, the child who imagines, the child who sings.

The child who receives without reservation, the child who gives without judgement.

Give us a child’s eyes, that we may receive the beauty and freshness of this day like a sunrise;

Give us a child’s ears, that we may hear the music of mythical times;

Give us a child’s heart, that we may be filled with wonder and delight;

Give us a child’s faith, that we may be cured of our cynicism;

Give us the spirit of the child, who is not afraid to need; who is not afraid to love.

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When they hold me tight, may I breathe in that spirit and make it mine.

Only Go Forward

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had taken up sports in junior high (more accurately, had I made either team I tried out for in seventh grade) or had I taken harder science and math classes in high school. Or what would have happened if I had followed down the artist path that I longed for in college but was too afraid to pursue after graduation. What would I have become if I had…

I could go on and on. But what’s the point. I am here, who I am right now, because of all those things I did and didn’t do all along the way. There’s no going back.

Dwelling in the past is a very human tendency; one that keeps us from fully enjoying the present and colors our vision of where we might go in the future.

It takes discipline and resilience to only go forward.

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My Mama Makeover goal is to become for comfortable in my body. I’m trying Pilates to gain strength. I am considering what I eat and how I dress. And most importantly, I am using mindfulness practices to become more attuned to how my physical body is an expression of my whole self, how my mood, emotions and intuition can be known through my physical self.

It’s tempting to look back and play out the “what ifs” that got me to this place. For sure, some bad decisions and poor choices have shaped the body I have today. Wonderful, amazing, life-affirming events have also created this body – my children are living proof of that. Acknowledging that is fine, but dwelling on it gets me nowhere.

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I was inspired by this article about resilience. Everything is in a state of constant change and going back to some “original” or ideal state is not possible. Not for our bodies, not for any natural thing.

So we must work with what we’ve got. We can only go forward from where we are right now.

Tom can attest to my (now no longer) secret wish to be on a makeover show. I have watched episode after episode of What Not to Wear – imagining it was me being humiliated in the 360 degree mirror, and then eventually exalted in my triumph over bad fashion.

Though Mama Makeover is not a fashion makeover show, the allure of transformation is strong and I so wanted to be the big winner. A team of experts, focused solely on your success, help guide you through a revisioning of yourself. No wonder so many women applied for this! I was thrilled to learn that I had been chosen as a finalist, but in the end someone else gets to live out that dream this time.

Luckily for me, “losing” the makeover contest opened up a different opportunity. I was asked to participate in another way, by sharing my writing and by helping create a community of mamas who commit to taking better care of themselves. There are 600+ people following Mama Makeover on Facebook. Getting to write in front of this audience is completely a dream come true.

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Here we are in Week 2, and I am inviting the MM followers to set intentions for what they want to change or improve in their lives. In my MM application, my response to that question was a three-part answer:

  • Mind: more focus, clarity and resourcefulness to manage all the many roles I play in my life
  • Body: increased strength and fitness
  • Spirit: more skillful ways of sharing spirituality with my kids to encourage them to live a meaningful life

I’ve encouraged readers to set their sights and intentions on one small thing that can be addressed over the coming month. Since I’m not the ultimate winner with the whole packages of services available to me, I’m going to narrow my scope and focus on my body goal.

I’m going to try Pilates for the next six weeks. In fact, I am going to my first class tonight at Pod + Kin, which is a MM sponsor. My goal is to learn enough that I can take this home and do it on my own. I’ve got other regular out of the house commitments, so adding a weekly Pilates class long-term may not work for me. But I’ll commit to it for six weeks and see what happens.

I’m particularly interested in awareness of mind-body connection and will be exploring how the wellness of my physical body helps or hinders the wellness of my whole self. Seems like a no-brainer: healthy body = healthy person. But I want to make that connection on a deeper level. I have some interesting thoughts to share on that in the days ahead.

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What’s one thing you want to do over the next six weeks to take good care of yourself?

This week at Mama Makeover the theme is creating  community.

Here are some other ideas for creating connections with other women. Many are free or low cost; most can be designed to be low commitment in terms of time; some take advantage of the glorious internet; each represents a possibility for developing meaningful community.

:: Create a private Facebook group and invite your circle of women friends to come there to support each other. Make this as focused or as open-ended as you want.

:: Plan an women-only evening to connect on a meaningful topic. I did this a couple of years ago before returning to work after my second baby was born. My women friends and I pooled our funds together to compensate Savannah for facilitating a discussion on “staying inspired and engaged in life, even when it is overwhelming.” It was a lovely time with my friends and felt so good to be able to hear all of their thoughts on this subject.

:: Gather a group of women together to discuss a book you all agree to read. Choose something light; choose something heartfelt. Make it a potluck and sink in to an evening of sharing. Some suggested reading: I Don’t Know How She Does It; A Life of Having, Being, and Doing Enough; Parenting with Spirit.

:: Get together for a pampering activity. Try Girl’s Night (or Afternoon) Out at Zenana Spa and Wellness Center.

:: Host a Serendipity Swap. A spin off of the “Naked Lady Party” concept I’ve heard of. Invite your women friends to bring something – or multiple somethings (clothing, home item, kitchen gadget) they are ready to part with and do a swap. This is not a time to unload your worn out stuff, but an opportunity to share something that still has life to live… but in someone else’s home or closet. Remember to only go home with what truly speaks to you. This is not a time to take home an truckload of goodies that will end up weighing you down. Unclaimed items can be donated.

:: Coordinate a food exchange or a group cooking gathering, like the one described here.  Fill up your freezer and share the love with other families.

How do you connect with other women and mothers? What other communities are important to you?

Gathering of Spirits

A few years ago, Tom and I spent some time writing down personal goals for what we wanted to have; what we wanted to do; and what we wanted to be in life. It was a sweet time together and enlightening to see the paths we each wanted to explore in our lives (subject for another post: what to do when your mate has different life goals!)

One of the things that was high on my list of “to do” was to attend a women’s retreat. What I was longing for at that time was a connection to feminine wisdom and to like-minded women. I live far away from my mom and from many of my closest women friends. The idea of a “women’s retreat” was something I thought I could do to fill a need at that moment in time. A way to recharge my batteries and get a fresh perspective.

The annual women’s retreat sponsored by my church always falls around my birthday which is both perfect and terrible timing – I’ve never been able to attend. And so the wish for “women’s retreat” sat there on the list, waiting to be realized.

Now four + years later, I still have not attended a women’s retreat!
… And that’s okay.

When I put that intention out there, I thought I needed one discrete thing: a weekend away to connect to other women. What I eventually presented itself is much bigger and infinitely more fulfilling. I joined a Women’s Circle, and I learned about the power of gathering spirits.

Two years ago I stepped into one of several Women’s Circles that meet at First Unitarian Church. I’ll skip the detail of how I came to join that group, but will tell you that this circle has been around for something like 20 years. Members have come and gone, but there is a strong bond there that keeps this group together and evolving year to year, cycle over cycle.

We meet twice a month to explore a topic chosen by the group. Exploration can look like discussion, movement, and other creative expression like collage or singing. One of the greatest treasures of this community is that the women who belong span multiple generations and range in age from twenty-somethings to seventy-somethings. There is an tremendous depth and diversity of experience here. All the while, there is shared humanity that binds us together.

Compassion :: Acceptance :: Laughter :: Support :: Challenge :: Admiration :: Teaching :: Encouragement :: Disagreement :: Learning :: Loving

This is what I give to and receive from my Circle. It has enriched my life greatly. Its power reveals itself in other parts of my life. I tap into those women when I need to see life from different perspectives. I channel their wisdom and support in my daily comings and goings. They remind me of my unique gifts and they reassure me that we have all “been there” before. We are not alone in this world.

What a gift this community has been to me. What an important lesson it is teaching me about the value – the essential nature, even – of community.

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How do you connect and create community?

In our busy techno world, we have ever expanding options and resources for “connecting” with our people. I may be a bit slow on the uptake, but yes, I joined Facebook and cultivate my love-hate relationship with it on a daily basis. And earlier this year tried out Twitter (which I have currently “given up”). There are plenty of other social media outlets, like Pinterest, but I swear, I am not going there. Don’t forget good old email, and now with our miraculous smart phones we can video chat, and text and yes, we can make “long distance phone calls” for free.

In some very specific and meaningful ways, I benefit from these virtual connections. But I also long for – and need to have – real life human interaction. And human contact. As a busy mother of two, I have carved out my Women’s Circle time and I hold it sacred. Community connections are a non-negotiable for my well being.

Do you feel that too?

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A note about Mama Makeover:
For the next six weeks I am contributing to Mama Makeover 2012. I’ll be introducing weekly themes on the MM Blog, and hosting discussions on the MM Facebook page. I hope you’ll join me – and about 600 other amazing mamas – on this journey!

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