Thursday, August 5, 2010

Monkey Mind

This summer, for the very first time since Annie was born almost six years ago, I have a regular time each week when I can count on three hours of the kids being somewhere else. Tuesday and Thursday mornings, they've been at gymco, flipping around bars and jumping on trampolines and trying new projects with a bunch of their friends.

It is strange - in a good way - to be alone in my own house. Some mornings, I am full of motivation, and I knock ten things off my list: run errands, get groceries, make a meal, clean a bathroom, edit writing, work out. Other mornings, I admit, I get sucked into the computer, or a good book, or watering the garden, or painting my toenails and talking on the phone to a friend, and that's OK, too. I am letting myself use the time in any way that feels right at that moment because the time itself is such a gift.

Alongside this newfound time, I've been reading things (this, this, this, and this) and watching things (this) and for the last few weeks, my brain has been working on some type of manifesto, some way to pull together all the thoughts swirling around my brain about motherhood, the way it's changed over time, and the way it changes us. Or, I should say, the way it has changed ME, because one thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the last six years is that no two people experience this ride in quite the same way. (Nor should they be expected to; do we expect everyone to have the same feelings about marriage? Or to have the same college experience? Or to like the same type of exercise, or food, or music? Why, then, is it so hard to remember that each woman will feel differently about the experience of raising the tiny people in her life?)

My brain, more specifically, has been doing what my yoga teacher calls "the monkey mind," climbing spastically from one thought to another, jumping around without taking the time to make sense of anything. I've sat down three times to try to write some of it down, and I can't. There's too much. It's too hard. But here are some things I'm trying to remember:

I want to remember to stop what I'm doing (unloading the dishwasher, checking e-mail) and sit down on the couch to watch the girls sing and dance to "Take a Chance on Me" and give them my full attention.

I want to give myself permission to forgive myself for not always responding in exactly the "right" way to every situation.

I want to remember that parenting is hard in different ways for everyone, and that for me it is hard because I am slightly introverted, not a morning person, and someone who likes control over situations.

I want to be grateful every day that I am not a 1960's housewife, that I have so many more choices, while also recognizing that it is the multitude of those choices that makes parenting feel so uncertain at every turn.

I want to keep telling the girls every day how amazing they are; how much I love them; how lucky I am to be their mom. Even - especially - on days when things have not been magic rainbows and unicorns.

I want to keep telling the stories that are mine, ours. And I want to tell the whole story (not just the happy parts) so that my two little girls, if and when they become mothers themselves, will know that it is just fine to sometimes feel that parenting is "All Joy and No Fun" - or to laugh at the quote from that article that says, "Children are a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit." (For the record: I don't agree, but I almost would have about three years ago, when the mere possibility of going camping or eating dinner out or talking with friends was next to impossible with the kids there; when the choice used to feel like choosing between having fun OR being with the kids.)

I want to, in the words of Seth Godin, "market a perspective and attitude of generosity" in the stories I tell myself.

I want to remember how, in those early days of mothering and round-the-clock nursing, I had no confidence that my life would ever return to "normal," no perspective to see that life as I knew it hadn't, in fact, ended, and I want that knowledge to remind me how fleeting every stage of this journey really is.

I want to say to every person who is about to embark on this journey, "Come see something amazing!" as Jemma said to me last weekend.

I want to tell Annie and Jemma that the single best thing I have done in the last six years is to keep a part of my life just for me, to set aside at least a single hour in every day to read, write, run or talk about things that have nothing to do with being a mom.

I want to say that, weeks ago, my yoga teacher asked each of us in class to think about what the last five years had been "about" for us. What had life been teaching us? At the end of the class, she asked each of us to say our word aloud. Mine was "patience."

I want to note that, just this minute, on the cusp of leaving my little family for four days to be with five friends who I love dearly, I almost don't want to go. Part of me wants to be here, climb into bed with them in the morning, drink coffee while they dance, put ponytails in their hair. I'm not sure this feeling - needing and wanting to "get away" while simultaneously not wanting to leave - ever goes away.

I want, though, to give myself space to rest and recharge, to go away and come back again, ready to dive back in wholeheartedly.

I want to give the monkey mind a rest.

"Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment is better than rest, that doing something--anything--is better than doing nothing. Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever-growing expectations, we do not rest. Because we do not rest, we lose our way. We miss the compass points that would show us where to go, we bypass the nourishment that would give us succor. We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom. We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight. Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest. And for want of rest, our lives are in danger."
-Wayne Muller, from his gorgeous book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives


  1. Wonderful, WONDERFUL post. Honest, refreshing, and inspiring (for me). So many thoughts and feelings you've evoked. I appreciate you sharing.

  2. Steph, I am so glad you wrote this! I have a feeling I'm come back to it again and again.

    This really stood out to me, especially as I contemplate what our first few months will be like once we have a child: " perspective to see that life as I knew it hadn't, in fact, ended, and I want that knowledge to remind me how fleeting every stage of this journey really is."

    I think we can be mothers and still be us. I think we can not enjoy parenting all the time and still be tremendously good parents. I really believe this, and it's partially thanks to reading blogs like yours, where the writers are honest about the ups and downs. That's a huge gift to other parents and parents-to-be.

    I'm really excited to come see something amazing. :)

  3. Hi Stephanie...just responding to your comment on my blog (I tried to reply, and of course, it goes into the blogger abyss!) Anyway...BALANCE. Are you a Libra, too? This is my big passion and my big challenge as well (I even went totally out of character and got a tattoo when I turned 30 that symbolizes balance for me). And, being a mom seems to be the most challenging of balancing acts. I just wrote to my sis-in-law how balancing the posts of the tough stuff with the shiny stuff is difficult for me because I can be a glass-half-empty kind of person, so I'm trying super hard to see the positive. I'm aware of my tendencies, and I think it's swung me a bit the other way. You do a beautiful job of this! Thank you.

    On the balance note...I spent so much of my time and energy on this topic with clients when I was coaching. I have long been working on "giving up" the notion of balance, and rather trying to focus on harmony. I often felt that balance required equal time/energy/effort. Harmony, on the other hand, comes when we invest adequate time and energy on those areas that are most important to us (cause we know we can't do it all). It's more individualized I suppose...time might not be equal, but it's what is right for a person. Alright, I'll quit. I could talk at length on the topic!

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