Safety, love & connection. The best relationships are build on these things…starting with the ones we have with our kids.
Flow State: “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” - positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
As soon as I knelt down and looked into her sweet, squishy little face, I realized how long it had been since I had to do this with my own, but how natural it still felt. One of my favorite yogis of all time, Jeri, was standing at the Strand wall, watching us play volleyball, and being exactly the grandma I knew she would be with her darling little Krikit girl. Jeri weaves the concept of flow into her awesome stories as she teaches yoga and the connection I have found in her class and with her is deep and magical, just like she is. It’s amazing how easy connection can be found in the eyes of a child, especially one who is being infused with Jeri’s brand of presence, as her smart little toddler self commented on the color of my bathing suit and pointed out the awesomeness of the tractors pushing sand all over the beach. Intuitively, I knew this the first time I looked into my baby’s eyes, when I was still a baby myself, and Krikit took me back to those moments. There have been so many things over my life that have made me shake with nervousness and feel unsure of who I was, but for some reason being a parent was never one of them. Call it the naivety of youth, or a true calling, and even though the job has more ups and downs than the streets of San Francisco, I wouldn’t trade it for anything…and why I’m so grateful I have four of them.
All around me, people are still having babies…some my age, some much younger, and I have already sent one off to college, and I’ll send another one next year. I will still have two at home for a couple more years and then it will be down to just one. Any way I look at it, in less than seven years I will have four kids out in the world. When they were tiny, and they physically needed me so much of the time, and I had to invent things to do everyday to bridge the gap between nap times, the days passed slower.
The older they get though, parent years are like the reverse of dog years, so seven years is really like one.
All of these memories, and the reality of both what has passed and what lies ahead, has me thinking about creating flow in my parenting and breaking down in my mind what was important at each stage to get to where we are today. I think like this because I am proud of where we are, but also to be mindful and focus on what lies ahead.
I can feel it in my heart and deep into the marrow of my bones that there are challenges ahead that press on the edges of the most difficult realities of this life. What gives our lives value is how we challenge the depths of our potential and wrestle with intimacy and vulnerability in a way that brings our healthiest and fullest selves forward, with pride and conviction about the way we live and who we are.
Teaching this to them is my path and it that will take all of my strength, faith, and presence to navigate it. Still, parenting has given me moments of flow that I have never felt on any other stage, and these moments have built my confidence and optimism to handle what will come.
It started young, when I had to get down on their level, look them in the eye and take the time to see what they cared about, and then show them I cared too. The later years are all about building on that.
As I reflect on the last 20 years that started with that extra pink line on the test, the years begin to fall into three categories:
The early, physical years (one to seven)
The focus is building what I call the base…safety, love, and connection. This is the foundation of everything that creates those moments of flow, even when you are sleep deprived, and in up to your eyeballs in the monotony of schedule and routine. I remember sinking into the solitude at 3am as I sat nursing Kate, my third, because I could attend to just one thing, feeding her, without any other distraction, knowing that the other two were sleeping soundly. Unitasking is paramount in parenting and also a cornerstone of the mindful life, even if it’s just for brief moments because there are always more things that can be done…but my best moments were, and still are, one on one.
The Wonder Years (eight to seventeen)
As the years passed and the social and emotional picture got more complex, I realized that we have to possess the skills that we want to teach them, so the work we do on ourselves, and letting them see that work, is important. Parenting is so much more about what we do than what we say. I’ve challenged myself to sink into the imperfect, the realness of life. If something is wounded, let it bleed, and then show them how to heal it by doing what we love to do, staying present, and doing the hard work on ourselves that growth requires. Teach them that consciously out is better than holding it in…because eventually it always comes out somehow and I would hope that it doesn’t take the form of passive-aggressive words or a pessimistic outlook on what can be a beautiful life. I work to inspire health through each deep breath that I take and pray that they will feel the calm that it brings. I am teaching them to ride that line between contentment in the present, and striving to achieve what we know is ours to have in this life if we are willing to do the work.
That doesn’t look like attending to their every need at this point, sometimes it looks more like me peeling off and doing what fills me up while they support each other. It’s giving them time to figure out a solution before I give them mine, and asking them to consider each other, because we all get lonely or need a hand sometimes and that’s what deep connection is all about.
We also use music to connect. I’ve used my speaker more than once to pull one of my introverts out of their room with their favorite song or Broadway musical. If you listen to what they choose, it can tell you a lot about what’s going on in their head without them having to say it. Just this week, as I was being schooled on the talents of Drake by my 12 year old Matthew, he changed course and queued a song I wasn’t expecting as he, his sister, and I cruised on the freeway. Lauren Daigle, You Say…
one of my favorites when I’m not feeling all of myself. With his choice, I got further confirmation, of how he’s feeling, the challenges he faces, and the hope he is beginning to know is there on his hardest days. He has the sense to let the good stuff sink in and that’s what optimism in the face of adversity is all about.
Growing Into Friendship - college until forever
I’ve only been at this stage for two months, it’s definitely not a point of arrival, but I think that is true of most places we go in life. These conversations, mostly over the phone, sometimes on FaceTime or in person, are where I’ve had the chance to see what has sunk in. Seeing the conviction she has, not to get it all right, but to live her life and make an impact, when she has so much freedom inspires me with what I want to stay with for the younger ones. I want to bottle up the words that come out of her mouth as inspiration for my own life and writing, and then I see my influence in what she says . There is no exam, but I know she gets it. I know it because of the songs she sends me, her ability to charge forward and fight a little harder for herself when things get tough, and most importantly her understanding of who she is…strong, optimistic, independent, coachable, and most importantly confident. As much as I like to say she raised herself, and I just fed her and drove her around, I know today that these qualities were nurtured in those moments of flow, when I took the time to get down on her level and care about what she cared about.
Parenting is never underestimating the power of the simple moment to create flow. I no longer have to kneel down to connect with them, today it’s in a hug where I am reaching up or across a booth in a favorite restaurant. Even though the position has changed they know that I care about what they care about and the flow will always come from there.