Eek! I cannot believe this is my baby’s last day as a four year old! We’re counting down the hours and replaying the memories of growing up alongside this great little guy.
before their shopping trip yesterday, my mate and i discussed our son’s inevitable request for a new toy. i was emphatic that the singular focus and purchase be new pajamas.
but i know my partner and our son very well [that’s my sigh of exasperation you’re hearing] so was hardly surprised when K bounded up to me with his new mini-figure in hand. showing me the micro-catalog that came with the package, he excitedly pointed out the next collectible he wanted to get.
i excused myself to go to the bathroom, so our conversation continued through the open door (’cause that’s how we do):
me: i really don’t think you need all that.
k: i know i don’t need them, mommy. but i like them, which makes me want to buy them.
my mouth fell open! did my on-the-brink-of-5 year-old child really just discern the difference between a want and a need?! And, on top of it, understand that it was his appreciation for the object that sparked his desire to buy it?!
i called K into the bathroom, saying i wanted to see his face. we high-fived, and i told him to kiss his brain (what we say whenever someone has a cool idea or solves a problem) because i liked the way he thought through the idea about shopping for new toys.
i can only hope that the seeds we plant and water in K about mindful consumption will bloom into skillful decision-making as he navigates the material world.
my darling boy has reached a stage where, unprompted and of his own accord, he has gotten serious about making his bed!
my mate and i don’t fret about unmade beds. but, over the years, stripping off the linens and putting on fresh sheets has become a family sport. the kiddo loves to climb into the center of a quilt to be “swung and flung” until our arms burn.
our bed is his playground where comforters get piled high and molded into mountains with winding roads and caves for crooks to hide out in. we are constantly rolling onto Legos or getting a stray car wedged at the base of tangled sheets. recently, K has taken to assiduously smoothing out our queen-sized bedding–circling from head to foot as he pulls each corner tightly down around the edges–so that his constructions have a solid foundation. and he’ll huff and reprimand us if we make a wrinkle!
that’s all for play. but, to take such time and care with his own bed, is a whole new thing! so i asked why he started making his bed in the morning, and K explained that he didn’t like it to be “all crumply” because it was too small. plain and simple.
to me: a sweet reminder that my on-the-brink-of-five-year-old is growing into an awareness of the order and suchness of his domain.
No tree. No lights.
No wrapping paper or gifts (from mom or dad, at least).
And, this year, no snow…
Which is, as my 4 year-old son declared to his dad this morning, the sole factor dictating whether this “quintessential” winter holiday can happen (especially for us Michigan natives): “It’s not Christmas because it’s not snowing!”
The Zen(x)Mas Way
“Buddha Blessings + Merry Christmas!” My sister, in all her silliness, affected a sacchrine, almost-pious, and breathy tone when I answered her call this morning. (I could tell she’d been cackling to herself while rehearsing this greeting in her twisted head.) We immediately burst into laughter!
Our families know that we are staunchily against the holiday madness that often prevails in the seemingly endless weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years. We’ll watch the holiday-themed movies and generate some cheer over food and drinks in the company of loved ones but make no extra effort to aggrandize the occasion. We enjoy participating in the low-key Christmas Eve dinner with my mates’ family and then spending time with mine on Christmas Day. But in the years since our son’s birth (not to forget, the multiple back-to-back births of his cousins on both sides), the holiday festivities have thankfully and decidedly been downsized. Cause ain’t nobody got time or energy for all that!
Our inter-spiritual household of three lives by and cultivates the ethic of simplicity. While my dharma practice is a cornerstone in our foundation for being, the plain truth of it is, in heart and soul, we are just not traditional when it comes to many things.
So (since we live knee-deep in Legos and other construction sets year-round) this greeting card was a perfectly awesome way of letting our more “observant” loved ones know we were thinking of them as they celebrate!
Wishing you a happy, healthy and Lego-tastic holiday and a new year full of unimaginable adventures!
[Disclaimer: Ironhide is K’s newly-adopted imaginary pet. We DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT have a dog, as several have wondered. We’re keeping life super simple that way!]
My little guru happily demonstrates how to relax the mouth during the inhale + exhale for this yogic breathing practice! #dhammaWITHmama
I have found Kaki (Beak) breathing technique to be one of the simplest to teach, learn, and, most important, to make a regular part of my practice. I use it to cool down my body when I’m running or practicing an energizing yoga sequence, to quiet and center my mind while meditating or when a task that requires my full attention, and to feel relaxed whenever I am feeling stressed.
You may practice this anywhere, at any time—sitting, standing, lying down or walking. With eyes opened or closed (as long as you’re not moving, that is!)
Begin by observing your natural breathing cycle for several moments. Use each exhale to relax your muscles and to feel connected to the earth. Use every inhale to create space in your body and to maintain a lengthened spine.
Relax your tongue and gently bring your lips together to form an “O” as if…
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I cringe every time I see a parent or caregiver taking shortcuts when it comes to car seat safety: improperly installing and securing a car seat; putting a child into type/size of seat they are too big or too little to safely ride in; leaving straps twisted and/or unbuckled; allowing underaged kids to sit in the front seat without even knowing/understanding the impact of airbags on their little bodies.
Newsflash: These are milestones that are not to be rush.
7 out of 10 kids in child safety seats
are not properly buckled in – SeatCheck.org
Let’s get educated. Let’s stay aware and informed…and hold everyone who transports our children to the same standard of care.
Parents Central – Car Seat Recommendations
Find a certified car seat inspector in your area: Seat Check
my on-the-brink-of-four-year-old child just told me (threatened, was it?) that i would not be his best friend if i didn’t let him have ice cream for breakfast!
he wasn’t mean about it. but he was as sincere as a little one who’s coming to understand the “suchness” of friendship could be. he really wanted that statement to mean something to me.
i held back the laughter. (the ridiculousness of it all: K is cute and funny when he pouts and rationalizes; he’s persistent in his requests for sweet snacks at inappropriate times; we have this debate several times a day!)
i then probed deeper, talking with K about feeling sad or mad or disappointed at not getting what he likes when he wants it. i asked him what it meant that i’m not his best friend. but he’d already changed his mind, climbing into my arms for a hug.
here begins another teaching moment for the family in patience, fairness, friendship, teamwork and kindness. always exhaling…to invite mindfulness to the madness.
We were standing in the grocery aisle when K said it. I turned to look at my not-quite-four-year-old son and, with disbelief, asked, “What did you say?”
“I’m bored, Mommy,” he repeated. “I’m not having any fun right now.”
My jaw dropped as if K had actually uttered that other 5-lettered curse word. Seriously, how did he even learn about the concept of boredom when it’s not in my vocabulary?! (The answer popped up between my silent bouts of huffing and teeth-sucking: TV or D-A-D, of course!)
After I recovered from the shock, I assured him that I understood shopping wasn’t his top choice of activities (despite his previous excitement over getting to cruise around in the plastic car attached to the shopping cart). Then I immediately told K he was not allowed to be bored! Seriously. He’s too young and imaginative: this child of mine who nearly goes into a trance over the simple joy of pushing his fleet of cars around the bed for hours on end—molding the sheets and blankets into mountains, ramps, and parking lots.
I mean, have mercy on your dear mom—a/k/a your human jungle gym, running buddy, puzzle partner, play date coordinator, and master problem solver who does her best to engage you in stimulating activities to help you burn energy and learn new/interesting things. This is no small feat on a regular day. Now add the relentless surge of winter storms from the Polar Vortex, which has limited the time we can play in the snow, and the battle against cabin fever can become excruciating. Oh, and, mustn’t forget to multiply it by occasional bouts of must-have-Mommy-by-my-side-at-all-times. EXHALE.
Since then K has tossed out the b-word a few more times. Thankfully, it’s only taken a little bit of quizzing about his ideas and feelings to divert the restlessness toward a satisfying creative outlet. But, man! I had really hoped we would have a few more years before our kid started complaining about boredom.
Ah, the curious things that preoccupy the mind of my 3 year-old at 5 am! Sitting quietly on my lap, waiting for the sun to come up (and, by far more important to the kid, what Mommy deems to be a decent hour for her early-riser to start watching tv), K cheerfully rattled off a list of sizing categories: smallest, small, (and my personal favorite) Mediumest, big, bigger, biggest!
After reading about the planets in our solar system, K invited me on a space walk.
We twirled around the ottoman,
sliding by or colliding into each other, in a game of galactic bumper cars.
*to tv or not to tv: a “kiss-your-brain” moment
As I read Space Walk, K quickly made connections to what he had previously learned about the planets from an episode of Bubble Guppies. He pointed to Mars, remembering that it was too hot for the characters to visit; then to Uranus, saying it was too cold.
K took one look at his plate and exclaimed that the noodles looked like the picture in the book where you puke! He was so excited to show me and dashed upstairs to grab How The Incredible Human Book Works so we could, he suggested, “compare.”
The Incredible Magic of Ordinary Things
I was cuddling one autumn morning with my then 15 month-old son. Nestled in the crook of my arm, K suddenly pointed at me and asked, “Whuzzat?”
“My armpit,” I laughed.
I was thoroughly tickled! For one, K was fascinated by this new discovery. He fearlessly inspected it, pinching at the sprouting hairs (um, yeah, I’m sharing this). I marveled that my child would find the ordinary, or otherwise maligned, armpit a source of wonder. Not to mention that he had used his word-of-the-moment in context!
See…See? What Is It?
My baby’s first uttering was “see.” A statement and a question.
He’d gaze intently out of our front window, repeatedly pointing at the scene before him. His dad or I would hold him close and name everything that was in view–elaborating on each detail or making up little stories or rhyming songs.
Together we’d soak in the sounds and sights with bright curious eyes.
It was easy to make the connection between this act of observing the world with my son and what I had learned through years of meditation: to look deeply, with every sense engaged and opened to the wonder arising in the moment.
What is this? The fair-witnessing mind gently asks.
Look. See truly. A reminder to strip it bare. Peel away the layers. Get to the core. Reveal the heart: Simple. Rich. Vibrant. Suchness.
And Then What Happens?
With every ensuing question K began to ask, my mind and senses were bathed in mindfulness. I had to pause and consider how to answer in ways that could be understood by a toddler.
An exercise in skillful effort, indeed.
This meant each arising thought and spoken word was filtered through the four gates of speech (attributed to the Sufi tradition and referenced frequently in Buddhism): Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? Is it kind?
Parenting books would translate such ancient spiritual wisdom as “keeping it simple and sweet.” But there’s so much more to this lesson.
We can cultivate our own skillful understanding as we break things down for the little ones in our lives. We refresh our perspective, search for new meaning (I mean this literally, too. Hello0ooo, Google!), and recognize, in truth, just how much we don’t know about this world.
My son has truly helped me unlearn, relearn, synthesize, and renew my practice of looking and listening. By nourishing his inherent joyful curiosity about life, I am learning alongside him how to penetrate the surface of all that we encounter:
For example, while playing at a park last summer, we noticed an enormous bee-like insect zipping around. Another mother warned her kids away, understandably concerned by the prominent stinger. We too avoided colliding with it, but our curiosity was definitely piqued. I even mentioned to my mate that I’d spotted something I’d never seen before! A few days later, upon leaving the children’s science museum, K and I spotted a sign in one of its gardens that identified this strange creature as a cicada killer wasp. He was excited to know all about it, so when we got home I read through articles and found a video on the internet to watch together (see previous link). For weeks afterward, he was talking about it–impressing his grandfather with the story of the cicada killer. Had I offhandedly dismissed it as a scary bug, we might have overlooked the sign and missed this opportunity to understand the nature of this creature.
With senses sharpened, we see the minute details and puzzle them together into an experience that reshapes us. This capacity to see clearly may expand into a capacity to speak truthfully and skillfully about what troubles, intrigues or excites us in life. For my son, Whuzzat became Why morphed into And Then What Happens? and begat the twin wonders What Does That Mean? and Tell Me About This, Mommy. Our questions bloom into explorations, discoveries, reflections, imaginings, stories and memories.
As Rilke once assured a young poet, we learn to live the questions now. Living the questions may often test our faith, compassion, and understanding. We may get stretched out completely. But our willingness to be present to them helps us develop the resilience to survive even the most difficult questions. So we listen and look closely and grow to love the questions and the journeys they lead us on.
This much I have learned from really hearing the wisdom in my son’s question and looking deeply into the coolness of an ordinary armpit.