All posts by Vanessa Gobes

About Vanessa Gobes

Meet Vanessa Gobes: New Englander, peace educator, newspaper columnist, wife and mother of four. Through her writing and teaching, Vanessa offers gentle, real-world guidance and meditation instruction to parents and children through the lens of her well-developed, ever-maturing mindfulness and meditation practice. Vanessa’s motto is, “Meet kids where they are.” Her one-of-a-kind students, which include her own children ranging in age from five to 22, have taught her that each child’s interest in developing a meditation practice is ignited by a unique spark. It can’t be forced or rushed; and it definitely cannot be boring. Vanessa believes wholeheartedly in the benefits of mindful living and introduces a wide variety of kid-friendly meditations as a terrific way to solve problems, keep peace, trust intuition, and improve performance. She is an inspired, trusted teacher, leading “Om School” workshops at public schools and institutions, and privately with families. Learn more at www.vanessagobe.com, connect more on facebook.com/bringingupbuddhas and tweet more @vanessagobes.

The Beauty of Silence, Meditation and Donuts

IMG_3402There’s nothing like a donut to bring two people together.

I brought my truck in for a long overdue oil change yesterday.  My five year-old son came with me and we decided the one hour wait would be a perfect opportunity to visit the donut shop next door.  We hustled in from the cold and ordered up a couple of hot chocolates and sweet treats.

I invited my little man to choose our table and he pointed toward a two-top in the far corner.  The space felt noticeably peaceful.  Nearby three old men sat reading the paper, enjoying a warm ray of sunlight shining through floor-to-ceiling windows.  We smiled at them as we passed and I followed my son to the corner, listening to the quick, rhythmic shoosh-shoosh-shoosh of his snow pants he walked through the quiet shop.

We sat down and got cozy, shaking off our jackets and releasing shocks of staticy hair from under our hats, then reached for our goodies.  I unwrapped my go-to flavor, Boston Cream, and he slowly revealed own his favorite, Strawberry Sprinkled.  He laid the pink donut on a napkin and sipped his cocoa, “Too hot!”  I peeled off the cap and poured in a little more milk.  He tried it again.  “Mmmmm.  ‘S good.”

“What happened in school today, buddy?”

No answer.

“Did you learn anything new?”

Shrug.

He was not interested in conversation.  He pushed his cocoa aside and turned his focus on the awaiting spongey delight.  I decided to stop talking and simply enjoy the sight of my little guy wholly engaging in an exquisite eating meditation.

With deep concentration he examined his snack on the table.  He picked it up and sunk his teeth in.  When a tiny red jimmy toppled onto his napkin, he pinched it between his thumb and forefinger and meticulously nestled it back into the icing.  He chewed and paused and chewed some more.  He lifted the donut high above his head with one hand, clearly in awe of its deliciousness.  He held it up to me as if to say, Look, Mamma, isn’t it beautiful?  But he didn’t utter a word.  He just returned his full awareness to the slow and methodical extinction of one pink donut.  He carefully selected which portion to bite, mindful to save the sweetest bit for last.  He chewed and relished and appreciated the donut so entirely, I could only imagine that for him, in those moments, not one other thing existed in the whole wide world.

The last bite was upon him.  He popped it into his mouth, chewed for a long while, swallowed, then tossed his head back in the chair, staring at the ceiling, seemingly reconciling the experience.

I paused to take in the warm hush of the donut shop.  And I realized that silence is a pretty amazing way to communicate.

I smiled then laughed out loud.  I told him I loved him.

“I love you, too, Mamma,” he finally responded.

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Managing the Chill Mindfully

Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 4.31.33 PMClose that door, it’s freezing out! has been the most often heard command in my house this week.  It has edged out, No candy canes before dinner!, Don’t throw ice at your sister!, and even the recurrent Put-on-your-snow-boots-we’re-gonna-be-late!!!!!

Welcome to winter in New England – five plus months of chattering teeth and cracked lips, drippy noses and numb fingertips.  The cold here is called biting for a good reason.  The wind has teeth and its nips can hurt.

This morning I took a quick drive downtown to run errands, nestled cozily in my car’s seat warmers.  I parallel parked and pushed the door open, gasping as a frigid shock of air flooded the driver’s seat.  Heaving myself carefully onto the slippery pavement, I skated to the curb, searching out salty spots to plant my feet.

Making my way to the bank, I skidded over the brick sidewalk, involuntarily tightening my lower back muscles with a shiver and tremble, reflexively recoiling from the cold, adjusting my balance to stay upright while defending a blast of wind.  I hustled into the bank and scuffed the salt off my boots, relishing a few minutes of warm reprieve before heading back into the bluster.

As I walked out the door and stiffened immediately, I realized I was fully engaged in an internal battle against the cold – clenching my body so much my back felt achy.  The discomfort triggered my mindfulness practice.  I don’t need this discomfort.  It’s only here to tell me something.  And I’m listening carefully to what it’s saying. 

I took a deep breath, inhaling frigid air into my warm lungs, releasing it as steam through my mouth.  Warm steam.  I could produce warmth.  I relaxed my tense muscles and took a few steps, continuing to walk that way until I noticed my lower back aching and mindfully melted the contraction again.  Thich Nhat Hanh would’ve been so proud of me.

This time I envisioned warm blood flowing freely through my body, heating up my skin and keeping my muscles loose.  Cold isn’t bad.  It’s just another way of being.  Be comfortable, I thought over and over.  I considered my young children who dive into the snow hatless and spend hours digging out forts from the plowed white heaps along the driveway.  Why is it they don’t seem to battle the freezing cold like adults do?  Maybe it’s because joy trumps discomfort.  They’re not surviving the storm; they’re reveling in it.

I walked with this thought for a block or so, doing my best to fill up on joy, when another blast of wind surged, stopping me in my tracks.  My head lowered, my watery eyes squeezed shut, my hands plunged deeper into my coat pockets.  Be one with cold, be joyful in the cold, I urged myself, this time out loud.  I looked up and caught the eye of another soul braving the single digit temps.  “Brace yourself,” he warned.  “The Almanac calls for a harsh winter.”  I smiled and tried to feel thankful for all of the opportunities I’ll have to practice mindful freezing this year.

I climbed back into my car, the radio tuned to Christmas music.  “I really can’t stay…  Baby, it’s cold outside.”  You can say that again.

Empower Your Kids for #GivingTuesday

Screen shot 2013-11-12 at 3.41.25 PMIt’s a quiet evening in the Gobes household.  The autumn sun sets early as the rich aroma of Barefoot Contessa’s boeuf bourguignon peaks our appetites.  With a click of the mouse, my cozy, quiet, comfort-food kitchen is suddenly infused with emotion as my family quickly transitions from hunger to contemplation to tears to determination to inspired action.

My children and I are wrapped around the sound of a news story aired by NPR online, brought to living color by Paula Bronstein’s stirring photo of a Filipino expressing his raw suffering after Typhoon Haiyan.

For a long moment we four are suspended in stillness as we connect with his suffering.  His tears flow through our eyes as we watch the computer screen in silence.

I break the hush and spend a few minutes talking about what it means to be human.  This man is a stranger.  He is thousands of miles away, but his pain is as familiar to us as our own breath.

My youngest children are 9, 7, and 5.  They know suffering, or at least they think they do.  Their low points are dredged up by missing sneakers on gym day, by two green brussel sprouts on a dinner plate.  But their imaginations are fertile and their capacity for compassion is immense.  They examine the man’s expression and begin to list emotions he might be feeling.  They, too, feel those things.  They connect the dots.  He’s just like us.

“How can you help him?” I ask.

“We can send him blankets!” suggests one.

“He’s not cold, he’s wearing short sleeves,” says the other.  “How about pillows?”

“How can we get the pillows to him?”

Maybe the best way to help him from so far away is to raise money.  He can use it to import what he needs,” I suggest.

“Can we color him a picture, Mommy?” my little one requests.

“You bet, babe.”

My 9 year-old seems to be experiencing a paradigm shift.  She picks up the house phone and begins to dial with great urgency.  She’s recruiting her besties to lead a fundraising effort – a good old fashioned coin collection.  Empty your piggy banks, fellow third graders!  The people of the Philippines need our pocket change!  She disappears into her bedroom, chittering quickly, hashing out details and coordinating collection locations.

My 7 year-old has settled back into her book Big Nate, but upon absorbing her big sister’s charitable enthusiasm, she ditches the read and picks up a marker.  “How do you spell typhoon?”  She churns out several posters as I type emails to friends soliciting support for the children’s mission.

My 5 year-old is on the edge.  He’s constructing cannons out of Tinker Toys and monitoring the commotion cautiously.  “Mommy,” he ventures, “Can I ask Jack and Billy to give quarters to that man?”  I respond in the affirmative and hear his barely audible, “Yessssss.”  He continues to quietly play with his cannons.

“Can you believe that a 5 year-old boy like you can do something important like this?  You have the power to help a grown man feel better.  You’re like a superhero.  What do you think about that, buddy?”

“Good,” he mutters, not lifting his head.  But I can see past his long bangs that he’s smiling.  The enthusiasm for this project is contagious.

Big sister returns to the kitchen, placing the cordless on my desk.  The plan is a go.  The  primary players are enlisted.  We decide to collect change until Thanksgiving and have a coin counting party on #GivingTuesday.  They’re excited to be part of such a special day.

Dinner is hot and it’s time to eat.  I take a moment to reflect.  In the time it took a pot of stew to boil, my children adopted a cause and took action.  I’m reminded of a quote by Seneca, “It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste of a lot of it.”  No wasted time here.  Giddy-up.

Give what you can, how you can, where you can.  And be sure to give your all on #GivingTuesday.

Babies and Spoons: How I Was Coerced into the Talk by my Kids

«I love you, mom!»I had the talk with my little ones today. The conversation caught me off guard as we sat together on the couch playing Spoons, sharing a bowl of Pirate’s Booty. As the yellow puffs started running low, my youngest daughter, glancing sideways at my son, said, “Mommy, we should get more Pirate’s Booty than him because we’re girls. And girls need to eat more than boys so our bellies can grow big and turn into babies.”

I was momentarily stunned. Realizing this theory was something she had spent time hypothesizing, I stifled a giggle, “Oh, honey, women don’t have babies from eating too much food.”

My oldest girl piped in quickly and confidently, “No, we get babies by taking pills from the doctor.”

“Who told you that?” I spun around to look at her.

“Well, no one. When you were pregnant you had a big bottle of orange pills in your bathroom and you took one every day.”

“No, those were prenatal vitamins. I took them when I was pregnant to give my body extra energy while I was growing the baby.”

“Oh,” she said, looking perplexed. ”Wait. Where DO babies come from, Mommy?”

“Yah,” echoed my youngest. “Where?”

It took me a minute to gather my thoughts (and my courage). My children are 5, 7, and 9. I’m a true believer in answering their questions honestly. Life is wrought with unknowns — there’s no need to be evasive when they ask me what a tampon is or wonder when they’ll grow pubic hair. They’re asking about their own bodies after all, so I always tell them the truth. They have every right to be absolutely comfortable in their skin suits. Plus, dispelling mystery is part of my job as a parent.

I briefly considered shooing away my 5 year old boy. But if I excluded him, I’d be implying that conception is secretive. He might think that this type of questioning is dangerous.

I don’t want to close doors on my kids. I want them coming to me FIRST. With ANYTHING. If they are not comfortable coming to me, they will inevitably turn to the internet or to friends. And I know for sure that I can parent my children better than Bing! or some tween on the playground. So I stepped up and addressed all three of them together with honesty and *restraint* — because telling the truth doesn’t mean telling ALL.

We started by talking about Nat Geo and Animal Planet, two of our favorite family channels. The kids adore animal shows and are relatively familiar with mating rituals. I explained that the animals mate to create offspring. I told them that all mammals conceive the same way, and humans are also mammals. And ultimately, our primary human function, like all mammals, is to reproduce. All of our body parts have a certain purpose, like parts in a machine.  In order to make a baby, a man and a woman need to make those parts work together.

The girls followed attentively, locking on my eyes and nodding their heads as I spoke. The little guy began spinning the spoons lying on the game table, distracted.

I quizzed, “When you think of body parts on a man and a woman, which ones are different?”

“Boys have penises. Girls have van-ginas,” said my oldest proudly. The others agreed.

“Right. And inside the bodies, men have sperm and women have eggs. Once a month, a woman’s egg drops down and a man’s sperm has a chance to fertilize it.”

“But how does the sperm get to the egg?”

“It swims. It has a tiny tail and races with a million other sperm to see who can reach the egg first. The one who gets there first gets to become the baby.” Admittedly, I hoped that the kids would be satisfied with this and we could return to playing Spoons.

“Yah, but how does the sperm GET to the egg?” No such luck.

“Well, you said yourself that men have penises and girls have vaginas, right?”

Silence. Introspection. Reaction:

“WHAT?! Daddy put his penis inside your vagina?????”

I tried but failed to contain myself. We three girls started laughing. My boy, meanwhile, really had no idea why we were hooting. He probably wasn’t ready to hear it anyway, so it was all for the best. Even though he didn’t understand the content of the message, he could still benefit from the openness of our dialogue. He took what he wanted and focused the rest of his attention on twirling spoons.

The girls, however, pummeled me with questions — Did it hurt? Did hair get up there? Do I have to do that? Because I am NOT doing that. What about twins? Does that take two penises? 

I decided to steer clear of the words “sex” and “love.”  The word “sex” is polluted by pop music and I didn’t want to confuse them by introducing the word in this context. And “love,” while an important part of relationships, has nothing to do with reproduction.  They weren’t asking about relationships, they were asking about anatomy.  So that’s where I focused our conversation.  I explained to them that the woman has to have her period before her body is ready to make babies, and it’s best that she’s married and settled first, because every baby needs two loving parents and a stable, happy home.   The rest of the questions I answered clinically.

My second daughter stated emphatically, “I’m only doing that twice. And I’ll have two babies. And THAT’S IT!”

“You can do whatever works best for you, babe,” I reassured.

“Does it hurt to get your period?”

“No, sometimes you’ll get crampy in your belly, but if you eat right and take care of your body you should feel just fine.”

“How about when the baby comes out? Does that hurt?”

“Yep,” I confirmed. ”It really hurts.”

“What does it feel like?” she probed.

“Stretching. And fire. Kind of like you’re pooping a hot cannonball.”

“I’ve had big poops like that before.”

“Well, maybe not this big. Do you want to hear the stories about when you were born?”

“YES!!!!!!!” all three shouted.

As the subject graduated from conception to birth, all three kids sat up and leaned forward, giggling and scrunching up their little faces as I colorfully wove the stories of their beginnings. It was a really lovely experience and I’m so glad it unfolded in just this way, with all of us together.

A minute later my husband strolled into the room and I said, “We just learned about the birds and the bees!” Without a word he spun on his heel and strolled back out. I guess he wasn’t ready to learn yet.

Peace Matters: A Mother Responds to the Call for Action Against Syria

War and PeaceAs I pull my truck up to the local harbor beach, loaded with sunscreened kids, oversized striped towels and inner tubes, John Kerry’s voice breaks in over my radio, tuned into NHPR. “This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity, this crime against the most fundamental principles of international community, against the norm of the international community, this matters to us, and it matters to who we are.”

“It Matters” is an eloquently written persuasive argument in favor of punitive action in Syria for their obvious use of chemical weapons against their own people. And as Kerry pontificates on the necessity of action, I’m mothering my way through the last bits of summer vacation.

Kids tumble out of the truck, doors slam, happy screams pierce, sun shines, and I grip the wheel. How does a peace-seeking person like me feel about this?

I hate war. I hate it. I hate that women who lovingly grow tiny seeds into human beings have to watch as their sons and daughters are sent overseas because the overwhelming majority of men on this planet value power, money and ego over life, love and collaboration.

While I hate war, I do not hate the men who declare it. In fact, the opposite. I love men as much as I love anyone, and I want to see men live long, healthy and productive lives. But as the world turns, I see what men do and what men make and I’m tired of dealing with the consequences of greed, power and competition.

For thousands of years we’ve been deserted by fathers, raped by prom dates, suppressed by regimes, penetrated by uncles, underestimated by brothers, underpaid by bosses, beaten by husbands and ignored by society. For thousands of years we’ve had to stand by while men make decisions about our fate and the fate of our planet. If during these thousands of years, men have not found a way to create a peaceful planet through leadership, it makes me wonder if men truly desire peace. Or are men addicted to conflict and combat? Are they afraid that the end of war will mean the end of their manly value?

Every one of us is hard wired with drive, with the desire to be the best at something, with the need to control our environment. It’s always been this way. But just because this is the way it’s always been doesn’t mean it’s right. History is doomed to repeat itself because we human beings aren’t brave enough to choose collaboration over competition – on a personal level, on a professional level, on a local level, on a global level, on a 1st grade recess level, on a college application level, on an I-got-the-job-now-what level. We’re all at war with one another. All of us. Heck, most of us are at war with ourselves.

We are never happy the way we are, which makes it impossible to accept others the way they are. This seems so mundane, so small. But this is life. This is people. War is people, too. War is one man with a severe sociopathic condition and a powerful following. But the problem of war isn’t THEM. The problem isn’t WHY. The problem is US. You and me. US.

There is so much work to do. And the work doesn’t start in Congress. It starts with you and me. It starts in bed at night when your mind is focused on office politics and peer manipulation. It starts in the kitchen when I stare down a bag of Newman’s Ginger O’s that will only add to my increasingly unmanageable lower belly. It starts on the playground when one sad, confused, pained little boy is labeled a bully because he hasn’t mastered impulse control or feels unlovable and unworthy of kindness. This is where war begins.  With the tiny seed of you and me.

This brings me back to the front seat of my parked Ford truck, simmering in the driver’s seat, white knuckling the wheel, “It matters,” Kerry asserts, “if the world speaks out in condemnation and then nothing happens.”

Yes, it does matter, Secretary Kerry. It matters. But peace matters, too. We belong to the most creative human society to tromp the earth. We send rocket ships to Mars, we Skype with our sisters living in Hong Kong, we collect energy from the sun and turn it into electricity. We are innovators. Let’s use this innovation and creativity to inspire peace. There is a way. There is always a way. Peace matters.

No boots on the ground, yes I know. Just a drone strike. But is it ever that simple? Strikes have consequences and I don’t believe for a minute that three-four-shut-the-door will be the result of Obama’s proposed swift and concise action.

More lives, more anger, more more more. How about a little less less less? Doesn’t that sound nice? A little less breaking news? A little less testosterone? A little less shrouded children? A little less worry? A little less tossing and turning? As unlikely as it may seem, peace matters. Peace now.

How to Survive Tickle Torture Like a Yogi

FamilyThis summer the ever-expanding internet has been saturated with self-help titles. This year’s ubiquitous How-to columns are last year’s Call Me Maybe. 5 Ways to Know You Have a Sunburn, How to Match Your Socks to Your Underpants, The Best Way to Break Your Andy Cohen Habit. I admit, I’ve cast out a few How-tos of my own. So move over Carly Rae, here’s one more.

Okay, okay, so this isn’t the most serious article you’ll ever read, but I’ll bet my kids’ weekly allowance that mastery of this survival skill will save your butt the next time you’re hand to bellybutton with a ferocious tickler.

You’ve got to admit, being tickled is downright torturous. It’s juvenile, it’s flirtatious, it’s downright… painful? Uncomfortable? Breathtaking? Invasive? Creepy? I don’t know how to describe the feeling of being tickled, actually. But it ranks very high on my least favorite interactions specifically involving my neck, armpits, ribs, thighs, and feet.

Tonight I had an encounter of the tickling kind. My four-year-old was in big trouble. He kept pulling the puppy’s tail and laughing whenever I disciplined him. So I carried him upstairs and pinned him on his bed to keep him from wriggling away while I lectured him. I imagine that his four-year-old mind processed my words like this: “Wah wah wah-wah waaaahhh.” (I am officially a Peanuts cartoon character.)

He laughed hysterically while I spoke. At first I was offended but he kept laughing wildly.  He broke me. I started laughing, too. Then I started tickling him and he responded with relentless retaliation. Before I could run for cover he was jamming his little fingers into my armpits and I was curling into fetal position to protect my ticklish parts.

I’m four times the size of him so it was easy for me to squeeze my arms into my ribcage and protect my goods. But I noticed something while he was relentlessly searching for a way under my arms. More so than the tickling itself, the anticipation of the tickling made me crazy. Cracking up, tears rolling, chin pulled into my neck, hooting with laughter. Isn’t this the way? The anticipation of the event produces more emotion than the event itself. (Note to self: Please remember this next time you begin obsessing over your impending mammogram.)

“Why are you so ticklish there?” my son probed.

“I don’t,” snort, “know,” chortle, “Can you stop,” giggle, “pllleeease?”

He wouldn’t stop and I was frozen with red-faced breathlessness so I decided to put my meditation practice to work. I began to draw that discomfort away from my underarms and neutralize it. While he squeezed and poked, I separated my thoughts from my body and somehow extracted the discomfort from my field of feelings. The fingers were no longer tickling, just poking. I don’t know how I did it really, but it worked. And when he realized that his little paws no longer had a dazzlingly humorous effect on me, he stopped.

My torturer was outdone by my amazing power of equanimity. Take that How-to little man. Until next time…

 

More by Vanessa:

Why Kate Middleton’s Natural Childbirth Should Inspire Us All

5 Tips to Survive Summer Vacation With Wild Kids

This One Goes Out to All the “Nobodies”

 

This One Goes Out to all the “Nobodies”

girl with dandelionI’m a house frau.  I live a relatively ordinary suburban life in New England.  Technically speaking, I’m a nobody.  My name has never been in lights, I have about 14 Twitter followers, I have a moderate talent for writing.  But I do have something that makes me very special.  God lives inside of me.  Yep.  Crazy, right?  I mean, I’m not religious.  I don’t even go to church.  I’ve never read The Old Testament and I don’t celebrate Ramadan.  But God still hangs out in my heart.  Who’d imagine He’d make time for a nobody like me?  But He does.  Somehow He remembers me.  Everyday He encourages me to be better, to try harder, to do the best I can with the time I have.

I’m a writer.  I write about spiritual awakening.  I hope to share my experiences in hopes of inspiring others to live more mindfully.  This is my small contribution to world peace.  I’d like to grow my audience and make a larger contribution to world peace, but that’s hard to do when you’re nobody.  But I keep on posting blogs and mailing submissions to Oprah and creating slightly embarrassing YouTube videos because I care.  Because I want to do my part.  Because if God is going to grace me with the opportunity to live a whole lifetime with His beautiful energy in my heart, I want to do my very best with it.

I have an affirmation card hanging on my refrigerator that says, “It’s happening.”  I love that card.  It’s powerful.  Every morning I pull out my Stoneyfield Farm Banilla yogurt and think, “Oh yah.  I’ve got to pull my load today because it’s happening.  Can’t let God down.  He knows that I know that I know that He knows.  Time to work.”  So I pick up my phone and reach out to people who know I’m a nobody and cross my fingers they’ll see that God lives in my heart.  If I can’t convince them to return my calls, maybe He will.  I send emails and fumble around over-designed social media sites, strike up overly-honest conversations after yoga class and take advice from my brilliant sister – all to create connections with the just-right people to help me on my mission.  Sometimes it works (ding ding ding!) and sometimes I’m rejected.  But the rejection doesn’t feel like failure to me.  Rejection isn’t personal.  It’s just a sign that I’m not ready for that experience yet or that I’m sniffing out the wrong lead.

I’m not afraid.  Nope.  No way.  I’m not afraid to try.  Trying is risky because buried deep inside of the word “try” is the word “fail”.  But also hidden in that word is “Congratulations!  You did it!  You passed!  Now jump back in the game and try something else – there’s a lot of work to do with your life and time’s a-ticking!”  This Nobody’s got her eyes trained on the latter.

Toeing the “Blurred Lines” between Naughty and Natural

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 12.22.06 PMAs the title of this post may imply, I’ve got Robin Thicke’s summer sizzler “Blurred Lines” on my mind today. On a website like Intent.com that features subjects like tempeh recipes and chakra meditations, this might leave you questioning my relativity here. But ride out this thought with me for a minute.

Typically, the only blurred line I’m contemplating is the one surrounding the smell in my car. Is that sour yogurt? Or urine? Hmmmm… (Hey, I’m a mother of several and frequent carpooler, what can I say?) But I woke up early this morning humming Thicke’s hit song. So I came downstairs before the wolf cubs awoke and pulled his video up on YouTube. Now this is an altogether different kind of blurred line. I have three letters for you: H-O-T.

Woah.

The first time I watched the video, Robin, T.I. and Pharrell were “hey-hey-heying” to gorgeous models wearing nude illusion undies and clear plastic smocks. A little kooky but the quirk was surprisingly sexy.

After watching, I wanted to hear the song again so I pressed play for a second time and found myself watching the unrated version. WHAAAATTTT???? All the women are naked! At first I thought they were still in their nude lingerie. Nope. They were rocking out wearing only skin tone thongs and tennis sneakers. Oh, and a goat. (Huh?)

I admit I kind of liked it. But it disturbed me at the same time. I’m a modern woman after all, a mother of girls, a spiritual blogger. And I’m not ignorant of the dent a production like this could make in our gender’s progress **if we so allow it, which I’m not inclined to do**. But I’d be lying if I said I hated it.

Mod Carousel, a Seattle-based boylesque troupe, created a feminist parody featuring men in flesh-tone skivvies and honestly, I felt the opposite of turned on. I’ll go so far as to say I felt “the yuck”. They were being funny, of course, but somehow a woman flaunting her sex strikes me as intriguing while a man flaunting his sex strikes me as Cro Magnon. It’s hypocritical, I know, but hypocrisy plays a starring role in life, doesn’t it?

Oh, there are all sorts of serious opinions on this song. But I’m not sure Thicke takes himself so seriously. Based on his hilarious video remake with Jimmy Kimmel and his past seemingly-orchestrated, sort-of-embarrassing, made-me-cringe-while-I-watched-it interview with Chelsea Handler, I’m thinking he’s a bit of a goof, challenging the world to get real about their own feelings about sex.

I get the blurred lines. Not only between naughty and nice but also between naughty and nature. We women don’t want to be objectified. But secretly, we kind of do. We don’t want our daughters to base their collective self image on physical beauty, but good looks undoubtedly has an important place in our human experience. Those who don’t have it yearn for it and those who do have it work it to their advantage.

And then there’s just the sex of it all. Sex is in our nature. It’s part of our existence. But so many people, especially here in America, are ashamed to talk about it. It’s here that we toe that blurred line of sex and image and what is really offensive and what is just real. I don’t know the answer myself, but I imagine it’s part of life’s mystery that will forever be debated.

All things considered, as much as I love the song, the video makes me feel uncomfortable to watch. Is that because I’m a Puritanical New Englander and I’ve been nurtured to cover up my nature? Or is it because these men should be laying on a couch with David Duchovny trying to balance a sex addiction? I’m not sure if it matters, because whatever the reason, I love being a woman and I’m happy with myself the way I am – in a turtleneck and pants.

Oh, there are so many directions we could take this. What are you thoughts? Naughty? Or natural? Chime in below.

5 Tips To Survive Summer Vacation With Wild Kids

3766009204_8721a00ddeThere’s a picture of my sister in our family album that has inspired a family idiom: the purple kitty face. In the photo, my sis is standing in our driveway on a summer day wearing light blue undies and holding a tiny black kitten, scooped from a litter of mates produced by our ginger cat, Selena. In her sweet and quirky four-year-old way, she had convinced herself (and probably me) that the kitty was not black, but purple.

If you look closely at my sister’s expression, you’ll notice that her lips are pursed tightly in a sort of painfully loving grimace. Her teeth are clenched, as are her two little hands that are quickly crushing purple kitty’s spindly rib cage.

If a thought bubble could appear magically above my sister’s head it would say, “You’re so cuuuuuuttteee! I love you to deeeeeaaaaath!” Fortunately, no animals were injured in the filming of that scene. At least not that we knew of, anyway. I imagine that Mom swooped toward her daughter after snapping the pic, rescued the kitten from imminent death and returned her to the cardboard box from whence she came.

There’s a psycho-medical term for this exact situation I’m sure, but nothing quite pins the tail on the donkey like purple kitty. (Though that Looney Tunes scene with Daffy Duck and the Abominable Snow Man comes close, “I will hug him and squeeze him and call him George.”)

The purple kitty is sort of like that feeling of being insanely cold. When you’re so cold that shaking is involuntary. Only when you notice that your teeth are chattering so much your jaw hurts and your thighs are sore from tightening them against the weather do you become aware of the tension and mindfully release it… only to squeeze up again with the next frigid gust. (I’m a lifelong New Englander, I know about these things.)

My children make the purple kitty face all the time. We just got a puppy and she is often the recipient of squeezey loving. But I know it’s not just a behavior reserved for my family. All kids do this. I remember one day my old boss came into work and told us that her beloved family pet, a hamster, was laid to rest in a shoe box that morning – a victim of her daughter’s loving embrace. It happens. And not just with animals.

I remember doing this with my neighbor as a kid. He was such an adorable baby. I remember hugging him a little to tight, sucking my breath in through clenched teeth, body shaking from the effort of physical love, releasing only when the little toe headed cutiepie squeaked rather than exhaled. Honestly, sometimes I notice myself doing it still. What can I say? Babies are cute.

As a parent of small children, I’ve noticed that my purple kitty face, once associated with over-loving, has become one of Holy-Shit-I-Can’t-Take-It-Anymore-You-Are-Driving-Me-Crazy-And-I-Need-You-To-Stop-Screaming-At-Each-Other-Before-My-Eyeballs-Eject-From-My-Skull. I think the more common term for this is frustration, but frustration is not a rich enough word for the exasperation, disheartened-ness, desperateness, and anger that I can feel when my kids are totally obnoxious.

So I admit it. I’ve been known to occasionally squeeze my kids. And not because they’re cute. Thanks to a committed mindfulness practice, I can typically defend them from my clenching grip, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve never sent my kids off to school praying that their teachers wouldn’t roll up their sleeves and find red stripes around their biceps from where I grabbed and squeezed, imagining that my vice grip would somehow convince them to stop screaming, listen to my words, or clean up their blasted Pokemon cards.

It’s summer vacation now, and all this quality time with our unscheduled babies, as delightful as it is, provides us with endless opportunities to feel emotionally overwhelmed by their antics. So there are a couple of things I’ve done that have helped me to stop the squeezing and relax my purple kitty face, and I wanted to share them with you all.

I have three small children ages 4 through 8, and I mother each of them differently, but these five things work consistently for me with all three.

  1. Meditate. Your reaction to your babies is not about them, it’s about you. When you’re composed, no amount of nagging, screeching or spoiled-rotten-American-kid complaining will offend you.
    • A meditation practice takes time to develop, so in the meantime try this: The second you reach for that little arm, breathe into your squeezy hand and let the irritation melt like butter on plain pasta with no red sauce. Think these words: “This will be over soon, and we will be happy again.”
    • Another great mindfulness trick is the 10-10-10 rule. Ask yourself, “How will I feel about this in 10 minutes? In 10 days? In 10 years?” Probably not so great. So loosen up the tourniquet and know that this too shall pass.
  2. Make sure they’ve eaten. Hungry kids are CRAZY. We all know this, but somehow we all forget. Feed them. I always have a bag of apples and a slicer wheel nearby. It’s the perfect emergency food. But even with that, I still forget, too.
  3. Whisper or speak very softly when you’re explaining or disciplining. They’ll be like, “What? What, Mommy? What?” and they’ll stop screaming long enough to listen. Most of the time, they start modeling my volume and instantly the stress level dissipates – mine and theirs.
  4. If whispering doesn’t work, try crying. Channel your inner soap opera diva. Most likely, fake tears will not be hard to conjure, but feel free to give yourself over to real ones. There’s nothing wrong with letting your kids see you cry. They should know the effect their behavior has on others. And when you’re teetering on the edge of an emotional volcano, a sobbing mommy meltdown can be a great side effect – they stop flipping out and turn their compassionate focus on you. “I’m so sorry, Mommy. I’m so sorry,” complete with hugs and kisses and sympathy. Then they can stop being lunatics long enough for you to regain composure and control.
  5. When all else fails, put them in water. My neighbor, an experienced mother of several, taught me this and I am ever-grateful. Draw a bath, toss in a few face cloths and buckets, turn on some Mozart and leave the room – bathroom door open, of course.

Why Kate Middleton’s Natural Childbirth Should Inspire Us All

grid-cell-11924-1373657822-26Kate had natural childbirth!

Kate had natural childbirth!

Kate had natural childbirth!

I’m not sure how reliable the reporting on Access Hollywood is, but I flipped on the TV last night to get the latest royal baby update and heard that Kate had natural childbirth.

After a Google search I quickly learned that Princess Kate was taking steps to prepare herself for a drug-free experience; and if Mario Lopez’s man on the scene is correct, doulas, midwives, and natural childbirth advocates around the United States are jumping for joy.

The US ranks among the countries with the highest rates of epidural use and Cesarian section. It’s hard to decipher exact numbers as some hospitals report childbirth stats and some don’t, but on average well over 60% of vaginal births in America employ an epidural. Some hospitals report 95% epidural use for vaginal births. 32% of births overall are Cesarian, many of which are scheduled and elective.

We Americans tend to learn lessons the hard way. We think we can create answers to life’s problems and pains by outdoing Mother Nature. (Ahem, GMOs, ahem.) And then we spend generations trying to figure out how to dig ourselves out of the holes we’ve trenched. I place childbirth in this category.

We’ve created a “new normal” in America. Over the past several decades, there’s been a shift from using chemical pain relief only when labor is not progressing to using chemical pain relief before active labor has even started. This is not the case in the rest of the world. This the numbing of America. How deep will we get before having to dig out from this one?

I’m a mom of three naturally born babies. I get it completely. Birth is painful, it’s challenging, it pushes us to our limits – the perfect introduction to motherhood. From a spiritual perspective natural childbirth is an incredible opportunity to awaken. From a confidence perspective, it’s downright empowering.

After I had my first baby, there was a procession of nurses stopping by my recovery room to congratulate me on nixing the epi. I was like a celebrity that evening. One nurse even stopped in and told me she heard me growling and screaming down the hall and felt a thrill.

Really? Just for having a baby like billions of women have before me? Really really?

I can’t count how many birth stories I’ve heard over the past 10 years. The number of natural stories are far and few, but a surprisingly high number of friends have opted for the epidural and not benefited from its effects, still feeling the intensity of labor and the pain of delivery. The epidural is not always a ticket out of the torment.

That said, I encourage OBs to encourage patients to at least try a drug-free experience. The anesthesiologist will be lingering nearby in case she needs to needle up. What I always suggest to pregnant ladies who ask for advice is this – Keep the pain in perspective. It won’t last forever. Focus on the breaks between the contractions. And just when you think you can’t take another minute of pain, have the nurse check you. You’re probably fully dilated and ready to push. Pushing will hurt, but it will be way faster without the epi.

But don’t take my word for it. There are a gazillion moms out there who have forgone that big fat needle in the spine and lived to tell about it. We need more high profile examples like Kate Middleton to let women know that natural is the norm worldwide and to inspire American women to look at the anesthesiologist and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

In the end, the most important part of childbirth is healthy baby, healthy Momma.  Modern medicine is a blessing. And we are doubly blessed here in America to have top notch services to provide new mothers and infants with excellent care.

A woman needs to do what is best for her and her baby and take advantage of the resources available to her during this intense time.

That might include chemical pain relief, emergency C-section, or it might include a drug-free-screaming-banshee-spiritually-uplifting-celebrity-in-the-maternity-wing delivery. No matter how that baby comes out, he’s a miracle nonetheless. As is his Momma.

 

Image via Buzzfeed

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