Tag Archives: vanessa gobes

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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Like Vanessa’s post? Adopt, support or share these similar intents on Intent.com!

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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.

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”

 

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.

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

5 Questions Every Modern Parent Should Be Asking

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 1.00.44 PMDo you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re sort of uncomfortable but you don’t complain, don’t leave, don’t speak up because you don’t want to cause a scene or make anyone feel bad?

Even when we have concerns that are legitimate, sometimes we hold our tongues to avoid awkwardness or confrontation. We don’t walk away because we believe our departure implies criticism, judgment or lack of trust in another’s decisions or lifestyle.  We take care not to step on anyone’s toes. We don’t want to be rude or offensive by questioning what folks are doing. Maybe we assume that the other person knows better – or knows something we don’t.

Of course we know just fine ourselves. Our little voices whisper to us, “Get out of here. This feels wrong,” or, “This guy has no idea what he’s talking about. We’re in danger.” And our little voices are usually right on target. Those voices become especially useful when it comes to our kids. But sometimes, just as we ignore it when it comes to our own safety, we ignore it when it comes to theirs.

Even though we like to think that we’d never put our babies in harm’s way, it happens to every parent at some point. That moment when we know we should be changing course but we stay put instead because we don’t want to make waves. At times like these it’s important to remember that there’s nothing rude or offensive about being a good advocate for our children. After all, our kids trust us implicitly and believe that when we send them off into the world that we are sending them off to safe place with responsible people. They never say, “Momma, will I be safe?” They move through the world with confidence, knowing for certain that we have their little backs.

We are our children’s best advocates. We are responsible for our children’s safety. And knowing about the world and how it spins in 2013, we can initiate some pre-emptive, full-disclosure conversations that will provide us with comfort and trust as our children explore the world independently. These are five “little voice” questions that every parent should be asking without hesitation or fear of imposition:

1. “Can you please not drive and text or talk on the phone while my child is in the car?”  

We all know the stats. Distracted drivers hurt people. Carpools being a vital part of parenting, often times we toss kids into minivans assuming that the drivers are responsible behind the wheel simply because they are responsible for children. Do you know if the parents or guardians in your carpool are texting while driving? I admit, while I’ve asked this question to friends on occasion, for the most part I assume that people are doing the right thing. But there’s nothing wrong with asking. We have every right to protect our kids.

2. “Do you keep a gun in your house?”  

The Newtown tragedy was not lost on anyone, certainly not parents of small children. Let’s use this tragedy as a lesson to us all when it comes to gun safety. A few weeks ago, my son was eagerly anticipating a play date with a new friend. The night before the big day, I received an email from the boy’s mom, “Don’t take this the wrong way. But in light of everything that happened this year, do you keep guns in your house?” I was so happy that I wasn’t the only parent asking that question. There is nothing intrusive about ensuring our children are playing in a safe environment. I assured her I don’t have any weapons in my house and we cleared the way for a terrific conversation about modern parenting.

3. “Will there be any other people in your home during the play date?”  

Listen, I’m not a paranoid parent, but when I drop my kids at someone’s house, I want to know about older siblings, friends, visiting uncles or handymen hanging around. When we are alert, we pass this awareness onto our children and we give them a beautiful gift called confidence. When their heads are up, they are better prepared to protect themselves if placed in an uncomfortable position. Abusers seek opportunity.

I always tell my kids this: When you go to pick out a puppy, do you want to take home the puppy who is nipping and barking? Or do you want to take home the puppy that curls up in a ball in your arms? Of course they vote for the snuggly puppy. And then I tell them that abusers think this way when they pick out victims. They want easy prey. When we are confident, when we look people right in the eye and use our strong voices to tell them when we don’t feel comfortable, we are unbreakable. Knowing who is in the house, we can prep our kids with an easy conversation and remind them that if they are ever in a place where they don’t feel right, they should go to a parent and ask for help.

4. “Will the birthday cake have nuts in it? Will nuts be offered at the party?” or, “Does your child have a food allergy?”

According to Food Allergy Research & Education, 1 in 13 children has a food allergy – that’s about two kids in every classroom. With this in mind, the likelihood that an allergy sufferer attends your child’s birthday party is pretty darn good. Peanut is obviously the most prevalent allergy in children, though lots of other issues are out there – eggs, shellfish, gluten, dairy, soy… how can we do the right thing? Some kids know enough to ask the right questions. My son, for example, has been asking, “Are there nuts in this?” since he was two years old. He has a genetic allergy and knows to be vocal. Other kids might just trust that the food is safe. So it’s important for us parents to clear potential danger out of the way by asking about allergies ahead of time. This way the party host has a chance has full disclosure.

But even though the party host may not have an allergy kid, it’s also important for her to ask guests ahead of time. Because the last thing anyone wants to do is serve a strawberry cake with almond extract to a kid with a nut allergy and sit there helplessly while the child breaks out in hives and gasps for air. This is the world we live in now, and these are the precautions we need to take. We can no longer take the “I didn’t know better” approach. Because we do know better. Ask the questions. Protect the child. Protect yourself.

5. “Can you please not use your cell phone or go in my bedroom while babysitting?”  

We may be comfortable assuming that our babysitters know better than to text, play “Words with Friends” and chit-chat on their iPhones while caring for our children. But most likely, this is not the case. Very rarely do teens log out. But it is absolutely acceptable to ask them to turn off electronics while watching our kids. We are paying them to give their full attention to our children, after all. And if there is an emergency, they can use the house phone.

We may also assume that sitters respect our privacy when they’re in the house. But I’ve been shocked to hear many adult friends confess that they used to rifle through bedside goodie drawers and personal spaces of parents for whom they sat as teens. If it’s an uncomfortable topic to discuss casually, write down a short list of expectations for the sitter like this:

  • chicken soup for dinner
  • PG movies only
  • no texting or phone calls while kids are awake
  • be sure toys are put away and kitchen is clean
  • kids in bed by 9pm
  • my bedroom is completely off limits
  • we’ll be home by 11 but call for any problems

By taking time to create clear boundaries, we are letting others know that we value ourselves and our families. This is a good thing. And really, when we share our expectations we are helping everyone by avoiding uncomfortable situations. It’s okay to speak up. It’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to advocate for our kids’ safety. Safety is the last thing on their minds so it needs to be the first thing on ours.

A Story of Fatherless Daughters and God’s Grace

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 5.05.19 PMPreface:

I haven’t seen my Pop in 20 years or so. I’ve forgiven him for skipping out on his fatherly duties and have accepted that he walks a path that leads him far away from home. His dreams were always much bigger than the reality his small suburban family could provide him. He wanted to change the world. And he did so through education.

He taught English through a bilingual program he developed at Boston English High School. He lectured passionately and positively about the growing Latino movement in Boston. He was even invited by Harvard University to do a lecture series about his work. I remember attending one of his lectures and was completely shocked when a swarm of undergrads rushed the lectern after his presentation, praising him for his work and his passion. His students loved him, his teacher community praised him, and his family thought he was nuts.

Pop walked down the street pinching a joint in one hand and flashing a peace sign in the other. His signature look was a “No Nukes” sweatshirt, overalls and long curly hair wrapped up in a red bandanna. No apologies. Crazy genius, I like to call him. I respect him for achieving some pretty amazing things as a teacher and advocate for the Latin community in Boston, though as a father he pretty much sucked.

Today’s story…

In 2001, my husband MG introduced me to Dorchester’s Mother Caroline Academy and Education Center, a tuition-free inner city middle school for bright girls of limited financial means. He’d been involved with the school’s fund-raising mission for some time and brought me to their annual spring event in Jamaica Plain. I remember being greeted by a bunch of smiling girls in plaid kilts, knee socks and over-sized red blazers with shoulder pads – all singing, chattering, laughing and doing double dutch. Suddenly an nun came out of nowhere and jumped between the ropes. She was really good. A couple of other nuns ran in and did the same. It was absolutely adorable. I laughed out loud. And so the love affair with MCAEC began.

After a few years of attending MCAEC’s Spring Gala, their annual fundraiser, I joined the planning committee, eventually co-chairing the event for 3 years. As my family grew, I’d take my babies along with me to the school for meetings. I would sit and breastfeed at the conference table and hand off my full-bellied baby to a friend when it was my turn to speak. I enjoyed the experiences, but longed for a real connection with the girls for whom I spent so much time raising money. Plus I was knee-deep in diapers and nap schedules. So in 2009, I took off my co-chair hat and signed up to mentor a student.

My girlfriends KF and CP also decided the time was right to reach out to one of these amazing Mother Caroline girls. So the three of us attended a meet and greet with the entire 8th grade class at a swank football party in a private box at Foxboro Stadium overlooking the 50 yard line (provided by a generous donor, of course). After a few awkward conversations, I came upon a charming girl, LR – well, “came upon” might be an unfair way to put it. Honestly, I practically gave CP the Heisman to get to her, interrupting their conversation and shoving myself between them. The reason for my boldness, though unknown to me at the time, would be revealed later.  ;-)

LR and I chatted easily for a long while, sharing some pretty personal things about each other and discovering lots of commonalities between us. She’s an old soul. Thoughtful, inquisitive, interesting, genuine, beautiful. I cornered the head of the mentoring program at the end of the game and gushed to her that I had a great conversation with LR and would love to have her as my mentee. As it turned out, LR liked me, too. So we were matched and spent the next few months getting to know each other.

The program head shared with us that typically mentor/mentee relationships start off slow. And I think that’s true for LR and me. Friendship and trust grows over time and as LR has told me, “We have a lot of years to do that.” So we’ve been sporadically setting up outings and getting to know each other. A couple of weeks ago LR and I were in the car together, talking about high schools. I mentioned that my Pop taught English to bilingual students at Boston English. She said, “My Mom went to Boston English.” Some quick math led us to realize that our parents were there at the same time. And LR’s Mom being Puerto Rican, the likelihood of her knowing my Pop was good. Really good. Really really good.

About 8:30 that night LR called and told me that her Mom had class with my Pop, “Mr. Cronin”, and remembered times staying after school with him when he’d tell her about my family and his days living in Honduras with the Peace Corps. Not only that, but she also spent a couple of years as a counselor at Pop’s summer camp “Campamento Hispano Internacional” in Waltham. I had also spent a fair amount of time at that summer camp as a kid, visiting with Pop. Weeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrd.

I’d just spent the last couple of days blogging about coincidences so I was certainly conscious of the ones happening in my life and was well-studied on synchronicities. And right there, on my family room couch, I was living through a pretty major one. I hung up the phone with LR and chewed on the idea for a minute. Then I proceeded to burst into tears. Fat ones. A full-on contorted-face-heaving-chest ugly cry.

I surveyed my mind to figure out why I was having a fit and realized that I was feeling the loving presence of my Pop for the first time in 20 years. I felt our intangible connection through the Universe. I saw the parallels between us, our mutual desire to make the world a better place, and the genetic gifts he gave me that have allowed me to be where I am today. I understood in that moment that God’s power is great. That there are no coincidences. That LR is my karmic gift, one that I am so happy to accept.

The things that had to happen and the timing of which those things had to occur was perfect. Divine. How on earth could something like this happen without God? God is perfection, organizing events in just the right way, even though to us it looks like total chaos. But it’s not total chaos, it’s divine chaos.

For me there has been a paradigm shift. LR fell away from my Mother Caroline family and neatly settled into my soul family. We are part of each others’ weaving labyrinth of life and always have been. And now we know. Now there’s no question, no surprise that I practically gave my dear friend a black eye to get to her at that football game over a year ago. Everything is written.

I thought about the series of events that had occurred over my lifetime and decided this…

Change (in some cases loss) is inevitable. Embrace it. Everything will be okay. And sometimes, what you think is lost forever is really not lost at all. God will bring it back to you in one form… or another.

Reach Further: Your Life is Only As Big As the Communities You Serve

In a recent TED Talk, Dan Pallotta boldly stated, “No one ever went bankrupt giving to charity.” I love that line. The words remind us that we can give a little cash and still have enough to fill our own needs. That’s true of our energy, too. We can give a little time and still have enough to do the things we need to do.

So often we get caught up in the complexities of our lives and forget that we co-exist in a big world filled with people who need our help.  My vlog today is a loving challenge to parents. The hope is to inspire families to work together to serve the greater community, to spend time helping folks who can offer them absolutely nothing in return. Today’s message focuses specifically on parents because I blog about mindful mothering on Bringing Up Buddhas; but really this message is for everyone. CEOs and introverts, democrats and yogis, students and circus performers. We all have something to give.

So I’m officially dubbing this season the Summer of Service. A perfect time to let our babies use their superpowers to give freely, love wildly, and live fully.

Click to read the Huff Post article.

Click to read the story of my mentee and me.

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