Being Present: Learning to Listen, Forgive, and Give Thanks

Indicative of my daily state of being.

Indicative of my daily state of being.

Have you ever felt, at the end of a long, exhausting, and non-stop day that you accomplished nothing? Like you never stopped moving but have nothing to show for it? No sense of accomplishment? No warm and fuzzy ‘I’m such a great parent’ aura? No fat paycheck? Nothing but frazzled hair, brain, and body?

I’m embarrassed to admit, that until recently, I didn’t know that there were people who didn’t end every day feeling that way. Say what? I can end the day feeling happy, accomplished, energized, and only somewhat frazzled-haired? Tell me more.

After examining the pattern of my days I noticed that I rarely finished anything in one go, even diaper changes. Yes, unfinished diaper changes get messy. I would start a project, task, workout, meal, or bathroom visit, and would quickly be interrupted by a lovely baby, phone call, remembrance of another “more important” task, or something of that nature, and would shift gears, leaving the last activity half completed, and leaving half my mind with that activity, while moving on to the next. Starting to get a whiff of why I always ended my days be-frazzled?

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Even though we think we can effectively multi-task, and do two million and five things at once, our mind can really only focus on one thing at a time. So, if the mind is thinking about the directions to the doctor’s office, and the hands are working to wipe poop off a wiggling child’s everything, something has got to give.

One thing my mind was able to hold on to, regardless of what it might be thinking, was guilt. I felt guilty for the task I had left behind, I felt guilty for not being completely present for the task I was currently doing, and I felt guilt for feeling guilty. A fraction of my guilt stemmed from mistakenly labeling myself as a ‘P’ word (a procrastinator.)

During further examination of my patterns, I realized that I was not actually a ‘P’ word, but a ‘W’ word, (a waffler.) I was easily swayed by what others thought I should be doing, and couldn’t make up my own mind regarding what was actually important for me; and because I’m the mother of a small child, I also had to consider what was important for him.

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Solution? Okey dokey; I decided that I needed to start putting my phone on silent, saying ‘no’ when necessary, and forgiving myself for putting off tasks when it was in the name of spending time with my kiddo. In addition to those action steps, I also needed some metaphysical solutions in there, which came in the form of being present. Really really really being present in each activity I was partaking in. If I was writing, I was writing. If I needed to stop writing and shake the sillies out with my son, I was no longer thinking about writing, I was shaking my sillies out. When my son then occupied himself with something else, I could then shift my focus back to writing, because that was the main task of importance I had identified for the day, besides chillin’ with my mini homie of course. Guess what happened at the end of those days? I felt fulfilled! I felt accomplished! I had put aside phone calls, laundry, and other important tasks that I would get to tomorrow (on their set day,) but today I wrote, and played with my run-ddler (a toddler that runs.) Sticking to the tasks that I had identified as important was so empowering, it helped me remember that I am indeed the master of my own universe, regardless of how badly I occasionally want to pass on that responsibility to someone else.

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If you, like myself, have grown tired of un-bedazzled frazzled days, try out these action steps, sprinkled with some metaphysical:

Be Present. In whatever activity you’re engaged in, practice being present, being completely mindful of what you’re doing. I say ‘practice’ because this does not come easily (at least not for me!) it takes conscious intention to make mindfulness and being present a subconscious natural part of your experiences, every last one of them. When you’re in this activity, leave the other one behind; write it down on your special list if you need to, but leave it behind, you’ll come back to it, it will get done, but this is what you’re doing, right now.

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Forgive yourself. If you occasionally find yourself having to start-stop-stop-start something important, that’s okay. You’re not weak, uncommitted, or lazy, you’re human. As long as you can recommit and refocus yourself when the time is right, you’re doing great. It’s never a bad time to tickle your kiddo, kiss your partner, or hug your mom; the laundry can wait.

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Listen. Listen to yourself, your child, the person on the phone, the breeze in the trees, the persistent woodpecker sculpting your yard, listen. I’ve recently learned to listen and it’s been quite wonderful, less pressure on me to come up with something interesting to say, and more connection and respect with the speaker (or sound maker) whom I’m listening to. It’s near impossible to not be present when you’re actively listening, take a load off and listen.

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-Give Thanks. Appropriately, I’m writing this on Thanksgiving! What a perfect day to marinate on the value of giving thanks to and for everything and everyone, yes everything and everyone. Even the perceived muck that we inevitably deal with, usually on a regular basis, has a purpose (and not just the purpose of pissing us off.) Time spent honestly reflecting on past “mucky experiences” usually reveals a valuable lesson, or subsequent amazing outcome from the seemingly mucky muck. Add gratitude to your present moments, say thank you for the poop in your baby diapers, if they weren’t pooing, you’d have problems. Give thanks for the missed job opportunity, a better one is coming. Give thanks for the espresso maker that exploded coffee grounds all over your kitchen (ceiling included,) your kitchen will never be cleaner after the one hour clean up. True story. Adding active thankfulness to your tool belt of conscious turned subconscious daily states of being, you will notice a shift from worry, to being, well happy, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Happy Thanks-for-everything-and-everyone Day!

Smiling at Strangers: Learning to Connect

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My child has ceased being cool with me doing anything without him. I go to the bathroom, he follows, I walk two feet to pick up the phone, he follows, I walk to the changing table…. He runs the other way. I guess there is an exception to every rule.

Because I have a 2.5 foot shadow my ‘solo exercise’ sessions have become a thing of the past. My weights have become dusty and my ‘too shabby for public display’ comfortable workout garb have grown lonely stuck in the back of their drawer. My shadow and I have taken to the streets. The only way for mama to get her sweat on, without risking stepping on sneaky baby, is to strap baby into a moving harness, that is not located in a moving vehicle, he’s not into that.

Just kidding. Not our stroller.

Just kidding. Not our stroller.

When we first commenced our tandem jogs, I was fascinated by the colorful cast of characters we would pass on the way; fellow runners, pairs of chatty Cathys, recreational bicyclists, ‘I’m going to work’ bicyclists, ‘move out of my way’ bicyclists, solo-talkers, and other ladies with babies.

When you pass someone on foot you have to do something, even if that something is ‘awkwardly look away,’ you do something. In the beginning, I would base my something on the other person’s something. If it looked like they were going to smile, I would smile, if it looked like they were going to avoid eye contact, I would avoid eye contact, if it looked like they were trying to work out a toot, I would start working on my own toot.

He just tooted.

He just tooted.

As our daily (or almost daily) jog-walks continued, my courage to be the leader in the something grew. At first, my something was to smile at the passing people, pets, and critters. Some people returned the smile, some people ignored us, and one day someone actually said something! Now they were courageous, they were actually talking to strangers! I needed to get me some of that stranger-talking courage.

The next morning, equipped with my baby, and experimental courage, I headed to the bike path that was sure to be flush with stranger-talking opportunities. As we neared the first pair of ‘ladies who walk’ I mentally conjured up the novel greeting I would use, ‘Good morning.’ As they passed I smiled and said….’Morning.’ Morning? What happened to the ‘good?’ My morning blessing had transformed into a ‘hey look it’s morning’ statement. The women smiled and mumbled back their own ‘morning.’ Where have all the ‘goods’ gone? I needed to stave off the laziness of my greeting and add some serious blessing in there. My chance was approaching, an older gentleman walking some poodle mix; labri-doodle, mini-doodle, oodle-poodle, something like that. As he neared, I prepped the smile, and willed the ‘good’ to precede the ‘morning.’ Here he comes; (smile) ‘goooood morning!’ Yes, my first ‘good morning’ was a bit exaggerated, but I did it! He was so shocked by the full morning blessing he stopped and talked to us! The adorable toddler, who was likely delivering his full-lipped irresistible smile, may have had something to do with it as well. This kind man and his oodle-doodle stopped and asked how our morning was going. We inquired as to how his morning was shaping up and we learned that he was on his way to his toddler-grandson’s house. We happened to have a few extra toys in our overloaded stroller and were able to impart one on him for his grandson. This exchange took less than 60 seconds but when we were once again on our way, our way was much merrier. Wow! It feels grrrreat to make connections with strangers.

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After that I was a bike trail smiling-talking-greeting-blessing machine. We’ve also given away a few more toys (much to Hudson’s chagrin.) I would return from our runs feeling full, full of love, joy, and usually pee. I also noticed that Hudson had ceased to get pissed off half way through our jogs, it seems that the excitement of the varying interactions had worked to distract him from the fact that he was not able to sit and dig in the mud bordering the trail.

My resolve to be ‘little miss chipper lady with baby’ was occasionally tested when we would pass an ‘ignorer,’ but hey, maybe they were having a bad day. Although my ego would take a little bruising every time someone looked away as I would let out my over annunciated ‘Hi, good morning,’ I finally realized that it wasn’t personal. Or was it? No, I don’t think it was. Even if that person was, for some reason, peeved at me for smiling and speaking to them, knew that I was just sending them some love, and I feel good about that.

One of our first runs! Breastfeeding break.

One of our first runs! Breastfeeding break.

These morning outings became my mediation on the goodness of humankind. I felt so much more connected to myself, my baby, and everyone else after getting over my shy ego, and becoming a connected being. This simple act of acknowledging other people on our runs spilled over into other parts of my life; it now takes me three hours to go grocery shopping because I stop smile, chat, and listen to my fellow shoppers (even if they’re not talking to me, eavesdropping can be highly entertaining.)

My Get Over Myself Checklist (Because every blog post needs a checklist right?)

-Meditate. Set a timer and meditate for 5 minutes every morning, clearing out any gunk of negativity that may prevent me from sending a bit more love out there.

-Smile. Smile at everyone, even that person that gave me the stink eye, smile even bigger at them. Smile at myself in the mirror, smile at my baby, even when he’s griping at me about my inability to properly toast toast (it’s always too crispy!)

-Let it go. If I’m thrown some negative energy, not so nice words, or a non-smile, I need to let it go. I’m still working on this one, but the times I am able to let negativity wick off me, I feel so much lighter. Why take on the weight of the negativity of others? That doesn’t serve them and it most certainly does not serve me. Let it go, because what’s the point of holding on to it?

-Listen. I’ve felt so much more connected to everyone and everything since I’ve begun to practice active listening. I never realized how vocal the crows outside out bedroom window were! I was never really listening. I never realized how interesting my friends and family are. I was always thinking about what was going to say. I never realized how close my little 17-month-old love bug was to being a full-blown ‘talker.’ I was always talking back to him. Until now, I’m listening! Come and talk to me.

-Love. When it doubt, spread the love. When not in doubt, spread the love.

Here’s to making connections! (Even with grumpy people.)

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Adult Conversation?

This is the image that would pop into my head when I would try to think of conversation topics….

This is the image that would pop into my head when I would try to think of conversation topics….

I was a bit distressed last weekend when I came to the realization that I had seemingly lost the ability to have non-work related adult conversation. If I was not speaking with a fellow parent who was well versed in the art of standing diaper changes, the importance of poo color and consistency or the latest and “greatest” sleep training technique, I was at a loss for words. I would just stand there with the following possible conversation topics popping up in my mom brain:

‘So last night Hudson did the cutest…’ (Nope, that’s parent related.)

‘Hudson learned how to poo outside.’ (Nope, parent related, and gross to most.)

‘My boobs have been leaking SO much lately.’ (Possibly intriguing to some, but TMI.)

So I was stuck with, ‘Wow, this 75 degree weather is really something.’ The weather, I honestly talked about the weather, to more than one person at this ‘adult conversation’ shindig. Luckily, it began to rain for the first time in nine months at said party, so the topic of the weather was surprisingly somewhat interesting. But still, the weather? Really?

I felt lost. I used to thrive at parties, floating around from person to person, dropping a bit of “wit,” and never weather, wherever I went. What happened? My mind had been overtaken with thoughts of baby sign language, what will happen when baby first eats peanuts, and how to refill the baking soda “de-stink-ifier” in the diaper pail.

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As I snuck away to the bathroom to mull over my newfound inability to engage in anything but G-rated talk, the following suggestions dropped in on me.

If in doubt ask them about themselves:

Seems like a no brainer, but I used to be so nervous of the dreaded lull in a conversation that I would consistently try to summon anecdotes from own life, to share with my fellow conversationalist, in the fear that they would stop talking, and I would have to say something interesting.

Now, I ask them about themselves and then fulfill my side of the conversation by saying….

‘Tell me more.’

‘Oh wow that’s really interesting, tell me more.’

‘I didn’t know that, tell me more.’

You get the idea. Keep them talking. People like to share. When I first began my ‘tell me more’ing it felt a bit forced, but after awhile, the information that would flow after that simple request was pretty fascinating. I actually began to learn quite a bit about people I thought I knew pretty well. It’s amazing what I learned when I cured myself of the need to babble on.

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My primary fellow conversationalist.

Listen (actually listen):

This piggybacks on what I just said, but were you listening? (wink wink) There’s something so powerful in the “simple” act of listening; you’re fostering encouragement, respect, and camaraderie with the person speaking. Back in the days of desperately needing to know what I was going to say after that person ceased talking, I would only listen to enough of what they were saying to devise my response; I wasn’t actively listening. I would leave conversations feeling like I had achieved a surface level connection, but didn’t have a deeper understanding of that person and what they had been trying to share. When I closed my mouth and opened my ears, a beautifully enriching world opened up; I was able to tune in to the nuances of what was being said, the emotions behind the words, and the information that was being conveyed. My ego used to always say. ‘Yeah yeah I already know what you’re saying, how should I respond?’ But now, I was able to learn all the things I used to think I already knew, and was able to use some of these gems of knowledge to spur on future adult conversation.

Avoid talking in high-pitched Goo-Goo-Gah-Gag voice:

I have honestly found myself, numerous times, since giving birth, slipping in a high pitched, ‘Ohhh how exciting,’ ‘Isn’t that just precious,’ or ‘Gooood job’ to a conversation with an adult. Luckily, none of the adult recipients of my high-pitched cooing threw me a ‘lady you’re crazy’ look, but I witnessed myself (via a home video) delivering an ‘Ohhh you look so cute!’ to a woman at my son’s birthday party, it was not cute. I’ve since been working on keeping the high-pitch on the down low, for adults and my baby, because he does give me a ‘lady you’re crazy look’ when I high-pitch talk him.

There's the look.

There’s the look.

Come equipped with a few adult convo topics:

It’s hard to talk about “big kid” stuff when all you read is from the ‘Parenting’ section, all you watch is from ‘Netflix Kids,’ and all you hear is Raffi. It’s no wonder I had nothing ‘adultlike’ to discuss. I have since begun reading a book on Biocentrism (that is far above my head but gives me enough ammo to get someone other than me talking,) watched a salacious R-rated movie that most childless adults have seen, and went to a concert (that served alcohol! And didn’t have Baby Beluga on the set list!)

Mixing up my interests to include some topics that aren’t discussed in my ‘Mommy and Me’ class has balanced out my brain (at least a little bit,) and renewed my faith in my ability to read non-board books that are longer than ten pages.

Don’t be Afraid to Throw Some ‘Baby’ in the Mix:

Hi, my name is Bailey and I’m a mom. I’m not only a mom, but mommyhood is a huge part of who I am. Preventing any baby-related sentences from exiting my mouth is denying my authentic self to shine through. I’m a parent and I own that. Are you a parent? Go ahead and own it. It doesn’t have to define you, but there’s no denying that it’s a piece of you and likely a very significant piece. Childless friends aren’t as anti-baby talk as we may think; some of them may be considering signing up for a lifetime membership in the ‘with child’ club, be genuinely interested in the foreign ins and outs of raising a tiny human, or may find the story of baby’s latest blowout disgustingly fascinating, maybe.

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I found that there was no need to only let my parenting flag fly while in the presence of real live adults, but I’ll certainly let it fly amongst my variety of other flags.

I’ve been attempting to put the ‘above-mentioned’ to practice, and while I still drop the occasional, ‘Isn’t it nice out,’ or ‘Wow, my baby bit my boob SO hard last night,’ I’ve been feeling more at ease with conversing with people who are able to stay out past midnight, keep breakable items in their home, and don’t have Curious George and Mickey Mouse Playhouse on their Netflix queue (or do they?)

Traveling to Costa Rica with a Baby (Part 456, just kidding, Part 6) : Toucans, Tree Frogs, Giant Ants, Oh My!

We “should have” turned back when I almost walked into the spider who was so big he told me we should turn back, but there’s no adventure in turning back.

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We were back at The Hill, or ‘The Slippery Hill of Doom.’ But today, instead of traveling up The Hill we were going to travel up the creek that lay at the base of it, without a paddle.

With my stocky offspring securely strapped to my chest, I began to gingerly wade my way up the creek, attempting to keep up with my fellow creek waders (who weren’t wearing a diaper wearing accessory on their chest.)

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As we meandered our way through the water, up, in, out and through the jungle banks, and across deceivingly slippery boulders, items from my mental bucket list began to slough away:

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  • Earn the ‘I’ve gone on an off-the-beaten-path Costa Rican waterfall hike’ bragging right.
  • Carry twenty-two pounds of boob sucking baby through the jungle, without serious injury to my back, or boobs.

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  • Take 4,567 “artsy” nature photos without dropping my new and case-less flimsy iPhone in the water.

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  • Witness the flight of Toucan Sam, free from the constrains of the cereal box.
  • And five, swim in a Costa Rican waterfall, and explore the surrounding banks without being poisoned by a deceivingly cute frog.

Before I reached number five on the bucket list, number one on my ‘Anti-Bucket-List’ occurred:

  • Lose mom, dad, and aunt in the Costa Rican jungle.

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As our group of travelers trickled into the waterfall oasis, it soon became apparent that the oldest, wisest, and best smelling members of our group were not in the trickle. Oh (not so) great.

After a worrisome amount of hours (just kidding, ‘minutes’) ticked by, I rallied the young strapping men in our group to go back and retrieve the lost travelers. The next sluggish twenty or so minutes I spent developing the nervous habit of nail biting, and perfecting my nervous habit of ‘worst case scenario’ obsessing.

As the search and rescue team returned, their faces showed signs of stress, but not of dread, all was good; our three stray travelers were alive and well, albeit understandably irked that we had accidentally left them behind.

Although ‘The Three’ did not encounter any jaguars, rabid monkeys, or cute frogs, they did have a taste (or should I say ‘give a taste’) of the local flesh-eating ants. As my mom had sat contemplating her state of potential peril, a curious ant had traveled up her leg; when she felt the little prick give her a prick, she reached down to remove said prick and witnessed the little flesh eater latched on to her leg. More effort than would be expected was exerted and the ant was removed, leaving a trail of blood, and a tiny chunk of missing skin in his wake. To my mother this was the epitome of ‘adding insult to injury,’ and she was “over it.” Luckily, the knights in dirty board shorts arrived shortly thereafter, and guided the bloody travelers back to our nomadic tribe.

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As the band of heroic dirty board short wearers returned, they turned their attention back to the waterfall, and commenced determining the most reckless waterfall related activity they could partake in. It didn’t take much time for them to decide that the “best idea” would be to climb up the wet cliff face, and jump off the top of the slippery cliff into the murky waters below. Usually, this activity wouldn’t alarm me, because I usually have cliff jumping ignorance on my side, but this time, we had an experienced guide with us. He looked on nervously as they ascended the cliff and verbally noted the fact that in twenty years of living in this particular region of Costa Rican he had never seen anyone jump off this waterfall. Never. Not even the locals. Never ever. Oh great.

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Besides fretting about the physical safety of the jumpers, I also grew concerned of our group’s ability to cart the injured soldiers the mile back down the creek if/when someone cracked a head open. I could barely handle twenty-two pounds of baby, 160 pounds of sweaty teenager was not going to happen.

The jumpy countenance of our guide was not doing much to mollify my fears.

True to form, ‘father of my child’ Eric decided he would be the first to jump off, “to make sure it was safe.” I held my breathe, closed my eyes, and pleaded with the universe to allow his giddy-with-exhilaration face to pop out of the water, preferably without a gaping head wound. My pleading was answered and pop up he did. The moment he was out of the water and re-scaling the cliff, my brother made the leap. This reckless rotation continued for another thirty minutes or so before I had to put a stop the foolhardiness, in fear that my heart might explode with anxiety. They were not as inclined as the universe was to honor my pleading, but my persistence persisted and they ceased to leap.

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As our group, now high on adrenaline, journeyed back to our vehicles, Mr. Big Spider let out a smug, ‘I told you so.’ Jokes on you spider, we just had an adventure worthy of a blog post.