Off the Mat: Autumn Autonomy

Autumn Autonomy

“Safety is what we want for those we love. Autonomy is what we want for ourselves.”   – Atul Gawande

My childhood yard held ample trees: the willow planted in the wet culvert that didn’t grow gigantic like we’d hoped. The huge blue evergreen. The fragile mimosa we were chastised for climbing. The red maple I practically lived in the summer I turned eight. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Sandwich Generation

Eclipsed

Full moon shines through the camper van window, directly onto my face. I take advantage, risk the click of the door waking my guys. Upon arrival, we’d scoped the lay of the land: bathrooms, camp store, path to the beach. I head toward the latter, no need for a flashlight in the moonlight.

And have the beach to myself, so far as I know. Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity! I sit. Listen. Think. Stretch some. Breathe. Notice. The movement behind me is my own shadow. I cast a moon shadow. Yes, it followed me, just like in the old song.

Weeks later… Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Take a Breather

Take a Breather

Stomach tense, not grumbling but hard, a potato sized stone sitting just below my ribs. Centered, which isn’t where my stomach is. So this is muscle tension? Breathe in more deeply and breathe out, focus on the potato. It softens, moves down an inch or two. Let’s try again. Yup, there it goes. And beautifully, the deep inhale harmonizes with a dissonant chord in the Bach cello piece playing on the stereo. Breathing with Bach.

Stomach looser, I now notice the scowl on my face, there since waking. Can I relax it with breath, too? Purposefully smooth the skin between and above my eyebrows. Feels a little surprised. The remaining frown below the spread brow feels sad. Feels like the moment of realization – whatever the realization might be – that tears are coming. Feels like disappointment. What can breath do for my mouth? I’ve heard it takes more muscles to frown. Is that accurate? In this day in age, it seems more of an effort to choose happiness, to concentrate on what’s working and what’s hopeful than on what’s wrong. Especially when hormone cycles resemble spaghetti bowl tangles more than predictable sine curves.

♦♦♦

Letting breath guide movement is central to my yoga training. We teach what we most need to learn; I’m someone who holds her breath walking down the sidewalk!  Yoga breathing practices purposefully employ our inhale, exhale, and retention of breath to affect our physical, mental, and emotional health. Science now has the technology to explain how and why this works.

Researchers at Northwestern used brain scans to show how breathing through the nose affects areas of the brain associated with emotions and memory. A team at Stanford has identified jumbles of nerve cells that connect the brain’s respiratory center to the area in charge of alertness and attention. (If you geek out on this stuff like I do, this article in Neuroscience News describes the findings in understandable terms, down to a description of mellow mice.) One researcher described the almost 200 neuron subtypes as “well stirred spaghetti.”  This spaghetti tangle serves to calm. Breath is automatic and can be controlled through behavior, as well.

Too often still, I look outside of myself first – caffeine, conversation, therapy, vacation. I “should” myself with goal setting and exercise plans, social media challenges. Bemoan the lack of resources: money, sure, but also time, for self-care. And yet the simplest tool is right here, flowing in and out, rarely noticed except in its absence.

♦♦♦

Teaching yoga class, I notice one of my students looking flushed and worried. I check in – she can’t catch her breath. There’s a slight edge to her voice as she shares how she’s trying to breathe deeply but not getting air and fears she’s triggered an asthma attack. In my best calm teacher voice, I instruct her to breathe out all the way. She releases a long, large exhale. Now there’s room for fresh air to come in. Oh! She smiles, breathing in deeply.

♦♦♦

In the Sanskrit language, the word for breath, prana, is also translated as life force or spirit.  Some days, the only dedicated yoga practice I can muster is breath. Close my eyes. Turn attention to breath. Soften belly, gently spread ribs, lift collar bones as breath stretches me from the inside. Comfortably full, muscles lift from inside, gently squeezing air up and out of my lungs. Repeat. Long, smooth inhales. Full, complete exhales. In and out through my nose. Notice the movement breath creates. Sound like ocean waves. Unwind the strands of my mental tangle. Free my spirit.

[Photo credit: (cc) Lorianne DiSabato]


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice. http://www.ginnyhamilton.com

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Off the Mat: Independence

Independence

Heat has me up early. Serendipitous, since perennials from a neighbor’s garden need to get into the ground. With soil and space they’ll bloom beautifully without much assistance. At this moment though, they’re still dependent on me.

Once outside, I’m unwittingly drawn to the overgrown flowerbed by the patio. A mix of should and want rise within me every time my gaze lands here, which is often, given its location across from the kitchen window. It’s been a four year desire to clear this bed. I’ve toyed with it a few times, until shovel meets root bound resistance or halfhearted weeding leaves the area looking like a bad haircut.

Today, it’s less a decision and more a reaction. Oh, I guess I’m ready to do this. Perhaps due to dampness from recent excessive rain, this attempt feels easy – notably different from the last few times I’ve tried and given up. Separate bulbs. Root out weeds. Uncover perennial treasures left by a previous garden mama.

As a reasonable hour dawns, my house wakes up. We join briefly for meals but mostly go about our own Saturday projects. Weeding near the street, I hear my son and his friend squeal in the back yard. It occurs to me I hadn’t been monitoring their whereabouts at all. Focused on dirt and weed, lost in my own independent thoughts.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Stay

Stay

Many of my yoga students are surprised when I share that the seminal text on yoga doesn’t describe physical poses at all. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written down about 2,000 years ago, collects aphorisms passed from master to student in the oral tradition. Scholars describe them as talking points, bullets, or pneumonic devices, chanted to memorize the concept. Patanjali would’ve have done well with PowerPoint.

Of the almost 200 verses, less than 2% talk about physical yoga postures. There’s no mention of downward dogs or triangles. Rather, these few lessons center on the purpose of the posture. In short, stretch your body so you can sit comfortably, with steadiness and ease, to do yoga.

Postures get us ready to do yoga.

The majority of the Sutras contend with how to focus attention and quiet the mind. One verse basically says it doesn’t matter what you focus on, just choose something!  Sit with steadiness and ease, breathe, focus attention, repeat. By doing so, the mind will begin to still, freeing us from the exhausting perseverations, nagging, and judgments of our inner dialogues and the mania of our outer lives. Choose a focus. Keep at it. Keeping coming back.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: On Motherhood

On Motherhood

The author, branded as Mama.

His cry has a different tone than I’ve yet heard in his 9 months of life. Urgency. Bewilderment. Entering his room, I see why. Child and crib covered in vomit.

Chubby baby arms reach toward me, fully confident that Mama can make all this right. Resisting the urge to recoil from the smell, I lift and comfort him as the next wave of puking begins. Aim into the crib? On the rug? In a split second, I realize the most comforting and most easily cleaned barf-target is…me. So I hold my sick, sobbing kiddo to my chest and let him throw up on and down my shirt. This, I think. This is motherhood.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Down the Drain

Down the Drain

Fascination with drains.

My two-year-old son and I sit beside the water in the Boston Public Garden. Picturesque landscaping, iconic swans, a steady stream of smiling passersby – business people, kids with caregivers, tourists of all ages. If it were duckling season, we’d be in a McCloskey picture book. Morning errands accomplished, there’s nothing to stop us from enjoying this beautiful sunny morning in one of the city’s finest spots.

Separation anxieties run high at the moment. It takes extensive coaxing for him to walk away from the water’s edge, across the foot path, and 2 feet into the lawn to throw away a wrapper in the nearest garbage can. When he finally accomplishes this Herculean feat, 3 onlookers (no joke!) applaud his success.

One, a police officer, rewards his bravery with a sticker badge. It’s even yellow, his favorite.  I’m telling you, it’s a picture book day.

Sticker comes on and off. On and off. Less sticky. More rumpled. Barely recognizable. Still the object of great fascination. So it’s only natural it would come into contact with another item of fascination. A drain.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Gentle Discipline

Gentle Discipline

Early in the school year, my wily son and his 7-year-old co-conspirators figured out they could “trick” their teacher into extra recess by sitting longer. He says we’ve been sitting too long, and we say no, we can sit for 5 more minutes, and he lets us and then we get to go outside, my kiddo tells me with a sneaky grin.  When I ran to relay this story, his teacher laughed heartily – please tell him to keep tricking me!  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Bearing Witness to an Act of Compassion

Ode to a Hamster

My anxious boy follows hamster ball through kitchen, every 2.3 minutes asking, Can we put her back in her cage? What if she gets out? What if she gets stuck? Hurt? What if I can’t find her?

The worry. The holding on too tight. The annoyance of being woken up in the middle of the night. The basic cleaning and feeding. There’s a certain pleasure in watching him shoulder these responsibilities. Welcome to parenthood, kiddo. Welcome to caring for another living creature.  Read the rest of this entry »

Suggested Events for January 28 – February 3, 2017

Hilltown Families List of Weekly Suggested Events

“[Last year] was the first year my three year old participated in the Valentine’s Day swap & we had a blast making and receiving our cards in the mail. This site truly enhances what western Massachusetts is all about community and our great state!” – Summer Mikaitis (Pittsfield, MA)

Suggest EventIf you have a community event, educational program or service opportunity for youth/families happening in Western Massachusetts that you’d like to let us know about, self-post your event at any time on our Suggest An Event bulletin board. The events below are “suggested.” Please take the time to confirm that these events are happening, along with time, place, age appropriateness, and costs before attending.

Enhanced PublicityServing Western Massachusetts since 2005, Hilltown Families supports development and enhancement of our local economy and community. Local businesses, individuals, schools and non-profits are encouraged to partner with Hilltown Families through sponsorship and advertising. Let us help get the word out about your after-school/homeschool class, event, camp, workshop, fundraiser, business/school, service, open house, volunteer opportunity or general announcement. Deliver your message to thousands of families living throughout the four counties of Western MA while supporting the community development work of Hilltown Families! Click HERE to find out more.

Hilltown Families Events

It’s that time of the year again for the Hilltown Families Annual Handmade Valentine Swap! For the past nine years Hilltown Families has coordinated a community Handmade Valentine Swap — and we’re doing it again! Making handmade valentines is a great way to push against the commercialization of yet another holiday, while being creative with your family and friends. JOIN US! It’s free to sign up and open to all families in western Massachusetts! Last year our community generated over 1,550 handmade valentines! Let’s do it again! Deadline to sign-up is Wed. Feb 1st!

Saturday, February 4, from 10am-12noon at Flywheel Arts Collective, Hilltown Families and the Flywheel Arts Collective are continuing the Saturday Morning Music Party series with a breakfast bash featuring food, dancing, and diversions for kids! During a free breakfast of fresh pancakes, juice, and fruit, you can craft handmade Valentines with the Easthampton Parents Center. Then we’ll enjoy special guests, DandyLions Garden, a musical act for kids and inner children alike. We’ll round out the morning with DJ Youthelectronix for the “best ever dance party before noon!” This is a fundraiser for both Flywheel & Hilltown Families, with a “pay what you can” admission to attend with your family. For more information, email info@hilltownfamilies.org.

Bulletin Board

Open House:Jan 28

The Common School: Community, collaboration, creativity, social justice, inclusivity, environmental education – Come learn how these words are put into action at their winter Open House on Saturday, January 28, from 10am-12noon in Amherst. Play in their classrooms, meet their teachers, chat with current parents, and tour their beautiful campus situated amongst 140 acres of conservation land on Larch Hill in Amherst. Light refreshments provided. Questions? Contact Director of Admissions, Dana Kadish at outreach@commonschool.org or visit www.commonschool.org.

Open House: Jan 29

Cloverdale Cooperative Preschool invites new parents to an Open House on Sunday, January 29th, from 2:30-4pm. Cloverdale is located in back of the First Congregational Church on 130 Pine Street in Florence and is a half-day preschool with the option of STEAM focused extended day hours. Come find out about their new expanded hours starting next fall while spending time playing with your children in their engaging learning environment. Meet the teachers and some parents who will answer your questions about their program. For more information, visit www.cloverdalepreschool.com or call 413-586-1106 after 12:30pm.

Open House: Jan 29

Sunday, January 29th: Open House from 2-3:30pm at Smith College Center for Early Childhood Education (Fort Hill). Visit welcoming classroom environments, chat with teachers, and find out more about the Reggio Emilia-inspired curriculum. Providing engaging, intentional early experiences that support children in becoming lifelong learners, joyful investigators, and thoughtful citizens of the world. Fort Hill has dedicated visual arts and music teachers and studios, an emphasis on natural materials, and classroom experiences that nurture joy, curiosity, deep thinking, and imagination. Consider joining the Fort Hill family! Actively accepting applications for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers for 2017-2018. Contact forthill@smith.edu for information.

Open House: Feb 4

The Campus School at Smith College. Prospective kindergarten through grade 6 students and their parents are invited to an open house on Saturday, February 4, from 9:30am-11:30 am at the school on Prospect Street. Tour the school. Meet teachers, staff, and parents. For more information, contact the admission office at 413-585-3270 or visit their website, www.smith.edu/sccs.

Open House: Feb 5

Sunday, Feb. 5th: The Center School Admissions Open House, 2pm-4pm. The Center School is a preschool through 8th grade progressive school, serving Hampshire and Franklin counties. Prospective families are invited to explore the school on Sunday, Feb. 5th for a Birds-of-Prey themed Admissions Open House. Come early to enjoy a live Birds of Prey presentation with raptor rehabilitator Tom Ricardi from 1pm-2pm. Then, classrooms will be open and teachers will be offer bird-related activities for kids of all ages. Light refreshments will be available. The Center School has been offering rigorous education for deep thinkers and creative spirits for 35 years and is currently accepting applications for all ages, for fall of 2017. centerschool.net

Feb 20-24

Looking for something fun and creative for your kids during the February break? Check out Valley Performance Playground’s February Vacation Camp with Sarah Marcus and Felicia Sloin! This 1-week camp runs Monday, February 20 – Friday, February 24 from 9am-3pm and will feature theater games, singing, drumming, movement, and fun times with creative friends for students ages 7-11. Valley Performance Playground’s February Vacation Camp takes place at the Northampton Karate Studio, 320 Riverside Drive, in Florence. Cost: $250. Registration Deadline Feb 1. For more information, email sarahlaurenmarcus@gmail.com or visit online at www.facebook.com/valleyperformanceplayground.

ADVERTISE HERE: Reach thousands of families in Western MA while supporting the community development work of Hilltown Families! See your summer camp, class, community event, school, open house, audition, homeschool program, workshop, volunteer opportunity, wellness program, local business, after-school class, or non-profit featured here in the Bulletin Board section of our list of Weekly Suggested Events and in our weekly eNewsletter, reaching thousands of families living throughout the four counties of Western MA while supporting the community development work of Hilltown Families! Find out more about our advertising options and how you can partner with Hilltown Families in your online marketing by emailing us at info@hilltownfamilies.org.

Become a Contributing WriterJOIN OUR TEAM OF CONTRIBUTING WRITERS: Interested in becoming a Contributing or Guest Writer for Hilltown Families? We welcome writings that reflect the community-building and educational efforts parents, teens, teachers, artists, activists and community leaders work towards and accomplish, and how that affects, supports and empowers our families. All writing styles welcomed, including local reviews, DIY posts, seasonal cooking/local food, and community-based educational & community service learning opportunities/resources. Send your query to info@hilltownfamilies.org.


LIST OF WEEKLY SUGGESTED EVENTS
January 28 – February 3, 2017

SaturdaySunday
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Suggest an EventCultural Itineraries | Forecast | Museum Passes | Weekly eNewsletter | Farmers’ Markets | Storyhour & Playgroups| Berkshire Family Fun | Advertise/Sponsorship | en Español

Donate Now Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Being and Doing

Being and Doing

“To be is to do.” – Aristotle
“To do is to be.” – Sartre
“To be or not to be.” – Shakespeare
“Do be do be do, be do be do be…” – Sinatra

12212575524_5b9e2f06be_nI remember this list from days long ago, an era when we shared memes via T-shirt rather than gif. The fact that it keeps popping into my head indicates there’s a message for me here.

I’m a list person. The type who writes down a completed task to have the satisfaction of crossing it off. Kitchen chalk board lists the week’s meals and food in danger of spoiling. Mobile app separates TODAY/THIS WEEK/NEXT WEEK/SOMEDAY actions and includes a DONE column, the virtual equivalent to crossing it off. Placing a task on my list means its accounted for and needn’t rattle ‘round my brain during work hours or at 2 a.m..

Because I trust my list. It holds what I need to do so my brain doesn’t have to. Reviewing my completed tasks talks back to my anxious critic inner voice, the part that says I don’t do enough. My brain was raised on the Sartre perspective. Doing makes me who I am. You’ll be known by your deeds. Actions speak.

And yet, as social media replaces year end top 10 lists with New Year’s resolutions, the list in my heart focuses less about what I intend to DO and more of who and how I want to BE.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Dark Days

Dark Days

Driving his die cast metal school bus ‘round its pressboard wooden route, my kiddo hums under his breath. Tune recognition takes a while to reach my conscious mind.

Do you realize you’re humming the Darth Vader music?

Oh.  Mama? What’s the music for the bright side?

Setting the clocks back messes with my head. Don’t get me wrong, I relish the extra hour of sleep.  I can even appreciate how the “earlier” sunrise means we can stand in sunbeams not shadows while waiting for the bus. But the darkness is challenging. Over the years, I’ve tried exercise, high dose Vitamin D, natural light bulbs, to mixed effects. Mold allergies leave me head-achy and spent by mid-afternoon. Now mid-afternoon grows dark.

Do I rage against the dying light, pressing on full tilt through the December schedule? Hunker down and hibernate, slowing my pace to baseline functions only? Or seek a middle way – look for the light?  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Election Edition – NO on Fear! YES on Love!

Election Eve: Tools for Hope and Love

Last Sunday found the three of us gluing felt feathers onto felt wings. Smile on my lips. He’s old enough to truly join in making his costume. I’m the jumpy one. Not one to be crafty. Why are you nervous, Mama?

I worry that it won’t look like the picture in your head and you’ll be disappointed. I want you to like it. In this simple case, acknowledging it was enough to dissipate my fear and open room for love.

Too often, fear becomes the guiding force, squeezing out love. Too often, my love for my child leads down the fear path. As if my worry can protect him.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Crazy-Making Cycles of Perimenopause

Cycling

Which direction are you going Mama? my boy chirps.

Dunno yet.

When should we expect you back? my hubby inquires.

Bite my tongue to stop the nasty voice in my head from coming out of my mouth: If, not when. The logical voice exits instead, 2 hours tops. I need to blow off the stink.

Conscious enough to take his good advice and slip a granola bar into my jersey pocket. Water bottle already full, waiting. Pound pedals out the driveway. Up the hill. Match breath and legs to mantra in my head.

  1. Am. E. Nough.  I am.  Enough. I am enough.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Old Traditions, New Stories

 Old Traditions, New Stories

Relaxing on my parents’ porch, I watch hummingbirds vie for feeder spots and recall Dad’s story: A hummingbird came to the feeder and found it empty. It flew to where Dad sat a few feet away and hovered directly over Dad’s newspaper, then flew back and forth between paper and feeder until Dad got the message. Dad put down the paper, filled the feeder, and returned to reading as the hummingbird ate.

One family story among many, teaching me about animal intelligence.

A train whistle sounds in the distance: Long, long, short, long. The signal for a crossing. Did I ever tell you about the time… Dad retells the familiar story of his father teaching him the signals, his father explaining how the engineer made the last whistle trail off, long before my dad learned about the Doppler Effect in college. Granddaddy was a college educated man, but this physics fact was not in his knowledge base.

A family classic demonstrating how knowledge changes with each generation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Meditating and Parenting

Peace, Happiness and Fried Eggs

The object of my meditation.

Fried egg. Toast.

Brown flecks on pure white. Whiter than my t-shirt. I need a new white t-shirt. This one probably isn’t nice enough for work. What’s that stain? Marker? Blueberry? Can I tuck it in or do I need to change before my 1:15? What else is clean? I wonder if the washer is done.

Oh. The egg. The toast. Sunflower yellow yolk. Sunflowers didn’t grow this year. Too dry? Chipmunks eating the sprouts? Chipmunk darting through the garden now. Naturally still one moment and then scurrying someplace new.

Like my mind.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Love Makes Heroes

Love Makes Heroes

I didn’t tell him about Newtown.  Turned off the radio. Hid the news home page. Still, awareness seeped in. Days later, he dreamt that his preschool playground suddenly wasn’t safe. In his dream, he was the hero, the helper. He told everybody to get inside before the bad people took pictures. Took pictures? Shoot pictures. My boy in his innocent preschool bubble associated shooting with cameras, not guns.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Honest Questions About Honesty

Honest Questions

A missed call from school. Voicemail reveals the principal’s words: playground altercation.

I reach her 10 minutes before dismissal, so time is limited. The swing-set scuffle was typical and the other child thankfully is fine. “I’m less concerned about the shoving,” she shares in a carefully modulated voice, “than his insisting on a false story.”

When I concur, yes, we’re seeing this at home lately, we’re working on it, her voice relaxes. This was not news to a parent she barely knows. We talk strategy and messaging, educator to parent and mom to mom.

Honesty. Why is it so hard?! Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Water as Self-Care

Prime the Well

We climbed Mt. Tom on a recent Sunday that was hotter than forecast by 10 degrees. No leaves meant no shade. We brought enough snacks, but ran short on water. Thirst, headache, and grumpies served as solid reminders of the importance of hydration. The importance of reserves.

I’m attempting to drink more water lately. When successful, I have fewer aches and more energy. I stop at the sink, fill up a glass and sip and – lo and behold – realize I’m thirsty! Water tastes good. I’m reminded of what I’ve been missing.

“How much am I supposed to drink?” clients commonly ask as I make the link between pain relief and hydration. Online medical consensus now gives a formula to replace the old “8 glasses a day” advice from last century: Take your body weight in pounds, divide in half and drink that number of ounces each day.  I’m not sure who first proffered this formula, but mainline medical, fitness, and alternate health sites use it.

What to drink? That’s where the disagreements begin. Recommendations vary widely from “food counts as water” to “any drink counts” to “no caffeine or sugar” to “only unadulterated water – not even herbal tea.”

Then comes conflicting advice on how to drink. One liter before noon. Nope, mostly at night. With meals but not after meals. Only hot. Actually, cold is ok. Sip, don’t gulp. Filtered water. Bottled water. Enhanced water. We’ve taken one of the most basic elements of life on earth and made it complex, even controversial.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Take a Breather and Reconnect

Secure Your Own

“Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” The plane safety video shows neat and calm children obediently letting the nearest masked grown-up mask them. The real-life first grade boy next to me fidgets, tugging at the silly band bracelet on his wrist. I smile in a way I hope will reassure him I’d help him with his mask. Then crack open my new novel. He glances across the aisle to his mother. He’s not mine.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: How Much Do You Love Me?

How much do you love me? This is a test.

First grade, declares my six-year-old, is all about learning to sit at a desk. Kindergarten block center, dramatic play, and extra recess have been replaced by dictation, handwriting, and tests. Yes, I’m surprised to learn. Tests in first grade. I was ready to get worked up about the diagnostic tests in the fall – my boy spending the good part of two school days filling in small circles with a number two pencil – until he came home. Excited.  My nerdy little boy LOVED filling in small circles with a number two pencil!

♦♦♦

Testing. We’ve seen a good deal of testing behavior this year. Will I actually be in trouble if I play in the basement like I’ve been told not to? What happens when I freeze OJ, olive oil, and blueberries in a cup? What happens when my friend and I get into the spray paint? Will Mama follow through on the consequence she said is coming? This is the kind of testing that belongs in first grade, in my oh-so-humble opinion.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: When My 1st Grader Asks About Sex

Consenting to Questions

It starts simply enough. These conversations do. We pull onto I-91, skirt Northampton afternoon traffic to the edge of town to get my allergy shots.

Mama, why do they throw away the needles? Why don’t they use them again?

My practice is to answer my child’s questions when he asks. The trick is answering only the question he has asked. Questions beget questions.

I explain about contamination, how my blood is on the needle and could share germs with somebody else if the allergy nurse used it again. I can’t recall now whether he asked what germs or whether I volunteered information, but within a quarter mile I was explaining HIV.  How scientists haven’t figured out how to fix the disease from those germs so the best thing is to not get it.

How do you get it? Of course he asks.

Not through sneezes or spit like colds, but from blood and …. take a deep breath as silently as possible so he doesn’t notice the pause before I answer honestly… from the liquids from your penis or vagina. (Yes, I know, not from pee. But I was improvising at 65 mph!)

Which of course begs the question how those liquids get shared. And suddenly I‘m talking about sex with my first grader. Again. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: 20 Welcomed Bits of Advice for New Parents

Solicited Advice

I recently exchanged emails with a friend from yoga teacher training. Ten years younger than I am, she now lives on the opposite coast. Facebook keeps me up on her world travels, recent wedding, yoga for refugees and cancer survivors. But a personal email these days feels as rare as a handwritten letter.

“How’s your private work going? And raising a kid in Western MA? My god, how old is he now? Six?! Are you making a manual on all the great things you’re doing to bring up a kid in today’s crazy world? I’ll memorize them by heart when we jump down the family path :) lots of love”

I started a wry response, naming the importance of deep breaths and good wine. But then recognized, knowing her, she was serious. In a world of unsolicited advice, she was asking.

And I realized I have ideas to share!  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: The Deep End vs. In Over Your Head

Going Deep

Do you let your kids quit? Do you let yourself quit? In this month’s “Off the Mat: Reflections on the Practice of Parenting,” Ginny Hamilton explores the difference between being comfortable in the deep end and being in over your head.

Today, I quit. I’m not big on quitting. But I am proud of myself in a way. Hear me out.

In September, my son started swim lessons. Despite our best intentions for fun, exercise, and life skills, it quickly became a dreary slog. Timing is everything, and Fridays after school isn’t his best time. Even so, I refuse to let him consider quitting until he can swim in water over his head.

Last week, when offered a Monday lesson slot, we switched without hesitation. Suddenly, swimming was fun again! He cut through the water, head down, crawl strong, buoyed by success. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Higher Priorities

Priorities

Visiting extended family of my parents’ generation, I’m aware of how little we’ve focused on manners thus far in my kiddo’s life. He still eats with his fingers, comments on people’s appearance in a matter of fact way, and asks how old they are, assuming everyone is as proud of their years attained as he is at 6 and a half.

The age question catches our hostess up short. Sorry, I say, we haven’t put much focus on manners beyond please and thank you.

What do you focus on? she replies.

And I’m stumped, realizing I can’t articulate it.

♦♦♦♦

Given that “why?” remains my child’s favorite word (followed closely by “poopy”), I’m regularly prompted to explain the logical reasoning behind various social norms. Take table manners, for instance. Napkins in laps protect pants from spills. Elbows are less likely to knock over milk glasses, again, if they are off the table. Talking with your mouth full is a choking hazard, besides just being gross to look at. These are concrete reasons to practice politeness.

But what about my higher priorities? What about honesty? Kindness? These require a greater appeal than logic. Honesty involves owning up to our faults, foibles, and imperfections. Kindness grows from compassion and acceptance that run counter to the mainstream in which we swim. I was taught how to be polite, not how to be kind.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Constructively Compassionate at Home

Constructive Compassion

Open hands. Open heart. Loving gracefully begins at home.

My hubby and I are arguing in agreement. Again. This time about word choice in an online article about parenting boys. The content is almost irrelevant. Almost because these tiffs often arise when discussing parenting and gender. Societal messages to little boys and little girls. We argue in agreement, differing over minutiae born of perspective, gender, age, family of origin experience.

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Off the Mat: Fairies Gather Here

Fairy Summer

There’s a magic to childhood, especially early childhood. Developmentally, I’m told, it’ll last another year, two tops. Yet I don’t want my son to lose his belief in magic. I (want to) believe in fairies. I want my son to stay open to that which he cannot see.

What did Dwagon do today?

My son prompts our bedtime story, then leaves the telling to me. Blurring the line between real and imaginary, I spin an improvised tale of a magical dragon who lives in the Holyoke Range. Dragon often finds himself in similar situations to my guy, with similar fears and worries.

Given our nightly sojourns with his magical friend, I’m surprised by my kiddo’s early summer assertion that fairies aren’t real. He turned to me for confirmation,

Wight, Mama?

Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there.

I was relieved when he accepted this at face value, then gladly helped his human playmate build a fairy house. Later that day, he constructed more under our lilac bush.

♦♦♦

It took a while to find my stash of confetti hearts that night. A few sprinkled around the entrance seemed enough to create the intended effect.

The next morning, I lingered at the sink, watching out the window. A perfect vantage to observe his discovery.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Growing Pains

On Pain

“Why did you hurt me on purpose, Mama?,” comes the zinger from the back seat. In this month’s “Off the Mat: Reflections on the Practice of Parenting,” Hilltown Families Contributing Writer Ginny Hamilton explores growing pains, painful patterns, and the truth that life hurts sometimes.

My kiddo sits in the grocery cart. He’s really too big, but containing him removes one variable from the shopping experience. Getting him in is akin to a choreographed 50s swing dance move – jump up, arms around my neck, lift hips, shimmy down. We both grunt and groan good-naturedly with the effort, usually prompting my teasing exclamation – Stop growing!!!  And his grinning response, No! I’m supposed to grow! or You’re kidding Mama. You want me to grow.

This is true. And not. But that’s a topic for another day.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Bravery is Being Scared But Acting Anyway

Dad’s Dreams, Mom’s Heart

What’s an anxious Mama to do when presented with a last minute chance to travel to Alaska with her Dad? I remind myself what I teach my son: Bravery doesn’t mean not being scared. Bravery is being scared but acting anyway.

Date night, Pioneer Valley. Scrunched down in my seat at the Academy of Music, tears roll down my cheeks. And I let them, which is unusual for me. On stage, Heather Maloney sings,

I am made of
All the same stuff
That makes the seasons what they are.
I am made of
Dirt and stardust
My daddy’s dreams
My mother’s heart.

What do I know of my dad’s dreams? What did he hope to be when he was six? A country boy with a frog in his pocket, he knew the answers but rarely raised his hand because of his lisp. I know he was often the kid picked last. I know he preferred Gene Autry to John Wayne. Were there dreams in between being a cowboy and a retired chemical engineer? Had to be. An outdoorsman turned corporate traveler, I learned last summer that he’s made it to all but six U.S. states. Next week, he and I check Alaska off that list. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Letting People Help

The Village Helps

Yoga instructor and pain specialist Ginny Hamilton has never been good at asking for help. In this month’s Off the Mat: Reflections on the Practice of Parenting, she shares a story of independence and interdependence from her first days of motherhood.

I’ve always been fiercely independent, which is not necessarily a useful trait in the blurry days of new motherhood. Pushing 40, it was my first time around – and for me the only time. Thankfully, my sister came to help. She played with her newborn nephew overnight so I could sleep, taught us to swaddle, and fed me while I fed him. And she provided the other main support I wanted: company as I tried to go about daily business by myself. I drove, baby in back, sis in the passenger’s seat. We took the subway downtown, bought button-down tops to make nursing easier, and she stood guard as I nursed in a dressing room.

The store clerk, an older woman with a Middle Eastern accent, cooed over my tiny son curled up in the ergo carrier. “I’m amazed at how people in this country bring babies out so young. In my country, the mother stays home. Aunties bring what you need to you.” Her tone wasn’t critical. More sympathetic, offering condolences.  Read the rest of this entry »

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