Lost and found: My kid

Here we are in Baja, just off Isla Espiritu Santo, and I'm teaching Kip how to snorkel for the first time.

Here we are in Baja, bobbing around in the Sea of Cortez near Isla Espiritu Santo, and I’m teaching Kip how to snorkel for the first time.

I lost track of my youngest son Sunday afternoon. At a crowded beach on Chicago’s North Side, I looked around and discovered Kip, my soft-cheeked, sweet-spirited, strong-willed, face-caressing, twinkly eyed, soulful, viking-metal-loving, sun-bleached blond of a four year old was missing. “Where is Kip?” I asked his buddies, my husband, my friends. “Have you seen Kip?” He was completely out of range. Friends scooped up babies, grabbed tiny hands and, all together, combed the shoreline both directions in search of him.

He wasn’t by the kayak. He wasn’t by his other little friend, who’d wandered a ways south as well. He wasn’t up in the grasses. He wasn’t on the sidewalk. He wasn’t on the wall from which he’d asked to jump earlier. He wasn’t on the playground. He wasn’t anywhere. I tried to still my worry so I could feel his energy, wherever he was. I figured maybe I could detect on the woo-woo waves whether he was in danger, and where he might be. My gut told me he was ok, but I prayed. And prayed. And prayed some more nonetheless. He couldn’t swim very well, and yet he had a lifejacket on, so after a cursory search, I ruled out drowning and my mind jumped almost immediately to “someone took him.”

I stopped a lifeguard. “Hi. I’ve lost my son. Is there protocol in place for when this happens? Anything you can do to help?” She very calmly led me to another lifeguard, who asked me what Kip looked like and what he was wearing. I told them in detail. Someone radioed someone else. My surrounding friends looked at me with concern. They hadn’t found him, either.

Charlie, my oldest, who has beautiful intuitive gifts, looked shaken. He had been running down the beach yelling, “Kip!” I grabbed his hand, knelt down, looked into his eyes and placed my hands on his heart. “Charlie. I need to ask you to do something really huge. If it feels ok to you, drop down into your heart, close your eyes, look in the center of your forehead and see if you can see Kip. See if you can see where he might be.” He nodded his head once and closed his eyes, then opened them almost immediately and turned around. My gaze followed his. One of our friends, with a baby strapped to her chest, was rushing toward me with Kip’s hand in hers.

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Kip’s hands. Oh, his sweet hands. They hold delicate things so softly and grip cameras just so to snap photos like this one, on the Ambar III last April.

I promptly lost all composure.

I ran to my amazing little boy, scooped him up and wrapped my arms so tightly around his damp lifejacket, hand on the back of his head as though he were a newborn. He sobbed into my neck. I sobbed into his cheek. We both held each other and heaved.

“I was so scared, Mommy,” he bawled. “I couldn’t find you anywhere.”

“I’m so sorry you were scared, my Kippy. You’re ok now. I was so worried about you,” I cried and cried. “I am so happy you’re ok. I am so, so happy you’re here in my arms. We are going to do a better job of keeping our eyes on each other from now on, ok?”

“I just wanted to give Maya these stones I found,” he sobbed even harder. As we suspected, it seemed he’d gone on a mission for his favorite girl. “I was trying to find sea glass to give her, but I didn’t find anything good. I kept looking, but could only find these ones. And they’re not even that good!” He opened his cool little hand to reveal two stones, which were warm from his careful guarding.

“Oh, buddy. She’s coming back from the paddleboard with her daddy right now. Would it make you feel better if you could see her and give them to her?”

“Yeeeeesssssss!” he cried. “I want to give her these rocks I found for her.”

I don’t know how that amazing little six-year-old girl knew to be thrilled with the nondescript rocks he brought her, but when she approached moments later, he presented the two smallish stones and her face completely lit up.

She said something like, “Wow, Kip! Thank you so much! I love them!” Right then, his face cracked into a big smile and everything we’d just experienced seemingly washed away from his being.

My recovery wasn’t as quick. It felt as though I’d aged a year in however many minutes it was I thought he might be gone. My eyes hurt. My heart felt tender. Brian couldn’t fall asleep that night. But hours after we returned home, I was able to go into Kip’s room and curl up next to his sleeping body, safe and sound. And that felt absolutely euphoric.

He gave her a couple unremarkable stones, she gave him this hug. His heart is full.

He gave her a couple unremarkable stones, she gave him this hug. His heart is full.

To be clear, this is not a cautionary tale

I don’t need to tell you to learn from my mistake and make sure you watch your kids closely at the beach. Because, if you have kids, or even friends, or cats, you all probably do that already. That’s why I’ve omitted the details of the moments before we noticed he was missing—they’re inconsequential because we obviously weren’t en pointe, and mistakes happen. To everyone. It’s really obvious that if we’d been keeping a closer eye on the little guy, this wouldn’t have happened, and any amount of ridiculing you could throw down would pale in comparison to what’s already been unfurled in my own head. (you’ve met my inner mean girl, yes?)

But I do want to drop a tiny piece of preaching

I was surprised by the response of passersby once I had Kip safely in my arms. When Laura found him, the countenance of the lifeguards and the surrounding people who’d worn masks of concern moments earlier shifted completely. They glared at her as she ushered Kip back to our spot on the sand. As I hugged my baby and cried, the lifeguards looked me up and down, cocked their heads and darn near rolled their eyes at me. On the way toward me with Kip in hand, one woman even snarled at my friend: “Happens fast, doesn’t it?”

Ouch, bitches.

Unfortunately, this was a bad thing that happened. We effed up, and it could’ve gone much worse. Thank God, our beach companions and the pack of concerned little kids who searched for Kip, everything turned out ok and I was supremely supported in the emotional aftermath despite the weirdness of strangers.

Next time it turns out ok for someone—anyone—would it be possible for all of humanity to hide their disgust, pretty please? Like, maybe try tapping into a loving or compassionate place and saying something to the tune of, “I’m so happy you found him,” or “Oh, wow. We were concerned. Glad he’s ok.”

As the cropped t-shirt of one woman strutting down the beach an hour or so later read in huge block print, “Shit happens.” It sure does, I can attest. To everyone, I might add. (Even to generally type-A, hypervigilant parents.) And, when it does, an outstretched hand and little compassion goes a long way.

Kip parties on. And now understands a bit more about the importance of staying with his grown ups.

Kip parties on. And now understands a bit more about the importance of staying with his grown ups. Note: This was second his costume change at our block party this summer–he washed off *most* of his face paint and threw on this Hawaiian get up from Aunt Andrea so he could really tear it up. And, of course, by “tear it up,” I mean stub his bare foot on the curb and rip his pinkie toenail off. This kid has given me too many a fright this summer…

 

Paving the transition from summer to school year

Today, we made s'mores. Summer yum.

Today, we made s’mores. Summer yum.

His energy is out to here, he’s frazzle dazzle beyond the norm and he cannot stop his renegade fists from hurtling toward his little brother, who’s taunting him, yes, but the rising anger doesn’t seem commensurate with the four-year-old’s na-na-na-na-na-s. His own body hurls him one direction as if to pull him away, to help him stop himself, but his hands reach farther and make contact before his core can carry him out of striking distance.

This is happening a lot lately. I was mystified for a few days of this until I remembered that a sudden surge of quick frustration and lack of impulse control signals one thing: It’s transition time.

School starts in about two weeks, and Charlie isn’t sure what to do about it. Neither am I, frankly. He’s flailing around in the dark waters of his unknown first-grade future and it’s doing a number on his sensory system. His radar is up, he’s looking for clues as to what it’ll be like going back to school, everything looks murky and he’s not sure how to feel about it all. On one hand, he’s excited for first grade. He can’t wait to see his friends everyday again, particularly his beloved Rosie. On the other hand, he knows he’ll be learning to read—for real—this year, and he’s daunted. He’s reluctant to recite his popcorn words, to read aloud, to practice handwriting. “I just want to play and have fun,” he whines.

“Reading is fun, Charlie,” I console him.

“To you,” he says, mastering snark way too early in life.

The next moment, we’re wrestling on the floor in a mock fight to prove who’s tougher, me or him. He’s grunting. I’m growling. We’re loud. We’re rolling around in a giant hug of doom. After a couple minutes, we both forfeit the match and lie on our backs, giggling.

Me: Bud, do you remember that time I cut your ear off when I was trying to cut your hair?

No joke, when he was nearly three, I snipped a piece of his everloving ear. I called my doctor’s office bawling, the nurse laughed and told me this happens all the time. It’ll grow back, she said, but you can bring him in tomorrow if you want. I did and, sure enough, he healed.

Charlie: (laughing) Yeah, Mommy. I do remember when you cut my ear off. And that’s why we go to the Hair Cuttery now. Why on earth did you do that?

Me: (softly pinching the tippy top of his ear) It was an accident! I was just snip, snip, snipping, you moved your cute little head and—AAAH!—I cut off a tiny piece of your ear. Right here… I felt sooo terrible, Love. Do you have any sadness or madness about that happening? If so, you can tell me about it.

Charlie: (hugging me tightly) No way, Mommy. I know it was an accident. I know you wouldn’t cut my ear off on purpose. Wooooould you???

Me: No, I definitely would not cut your ear on purpose. What do you remember about that moment?

Charlie: Oh, gosh, Mommy. It was so funny. I remember right after it happened you yelled, “CROPS!!!”

Me: Crops?

Charlie: (giggling and clenching his fists, mocking me) Yeah. You were like, “CROPPPPPPSSSS!!!”

Me: (relieved he didn’t detect what was more likely an emphatic f-bomb) You mean I was like, “CORN! SOYBEANS! WHEAT!!!”?

And in this instant, the coolest thing happened. We both started laughing uncontrollably. Really, really hard. I wasn’t pretending to be tickled, as parents often do with their kids; and he wasn’t giving me any courtesy chuckle, either. Together, we disintegrated into deep, true, breathless laughter that went on for several minutes. As soon as our laughter slowed, he yelled out, “TOMATOES!!!” and we started laughing again. Next it was “CUCUMBERS!!!” and we laughed some more. It went on.

Afterward, we fell back into an all-consuming hug, so tight around my neck were his arms and his cheek pressed so hard into mine. I think we both felt heaps better about first grade.

I keep searching for the answer for how to bridge my boys’ transition from summertime to first grade and pre-K, respectively, and it’s actually so easy. What do most of us want when we’re facing the scary unknown? Hugs, laughter, love and time spent together. Here’s to lots of that for all of us.

R.I.P., Mommy

I’ve been getting some interest in posts about Sensory Kids lately, so here are some thoughts on aggressive play from a couple years ago. I just had to confiscate a light sabre this morning, so it remains germane…

emily en route

A 32-year-old north side woman was turned into a banana and eaten this morning. The only witnesses, her two- and three-year-old sons, were unable to recall exact details of the incident, but it appears it might have involved foul play.

An angry young chef chopped up a 32-year-old Chicago mom at 4 p.m. this afternoon. He then put her in a soup with carrots and cinnamon. Her husband and two sons are being questioned.

A mother, confused for wild game, died of fatal wounds from a bow and arrow this afternoon. Just before the incident occurred, neighbors say they heard a young voice yell, “You’re a turkey and I’m a Wampanoag. I’m gonna shoot you, turkey.”

Image Sharks? Guns? “Yes, please!” Charlie and Kip say. (Daddy is much more comfy with violent play than I.)

I die at least three times a day. Each time, it’s new, in a way I’d…

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Viking metal, preschool board games and the space between

ImageMy 4-year-old, with his delicious cheeks and Darth Vader t-shirt, set up a board game for us to play during lunch today. He still pronounces his “l” and “r” like a “w” so I couldn’t deny his request for me to find some “angwy wock and wohl music” on Pandora. We ended up blasting Viking Metal (it sounds just how you think) and playing Snail’s Pace Race, all while Kip sucked down a carrot-apple squeezie, hanging it from his teeth to free up his hands to move the colorful wooden snails across the board. Our favorite was a song called “Free Will Sacrifice.” The singer’s deep, scary voice made us giggle.

I’m walking in a world of contrast lately, some of it run-of-the-mill, some of it more complex. Whatever it’s all about, I’m getting plenty of chances to encounter my truth in whatever duality rears its head. (serenity/dissonance, clarity/confusion, lightness/heaviness, wisdom/ego, connection/distance, vitality/dormancy.) Ah, life. Even in the bumpy times, I have to look at it all and be amazed.

And also, laugh.

For all the uncomfortable contrasts, which really are kinda funny if you look at them just right, the universe also dishes out plenty of overt amusement. In a roundabout way, the moment at lunch today reminded me how enriching contrasts can be. Without them, everything would be in gray scale.

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Last week, I got to do one of my most favorite things ever: drift in the sea between the earth and the heavens. (this sort of being is infinitely more blissful literally than figuratively, I suppose, but perhaps all the same in the grand scheme.)

I’ve been told Jesus loves me.

Note: Below I’ve written about God, Jesus and Mary because that’s what I experienced. That said, I well know the Divine extends far beyond the Christianity of my Bible Belt beginnings, so please feel free to replace my vernacular with words that resonate with you…the Universe, Nature, Mother Earth, Gaia, the Greater Order, Goddess, your guru, Divine Mother, Buddha, Krishna or any deity that resonates with your heart. After all, we’re all one.

Most days, after I drop off the boys at school, I duck into the nearby church sanctuary for five to 10 minutes. Once inside, I pause to gaze at the statue of Mary as I take a seat beneath cathedral ceilings smudged with stained-glass-filtered light.

Sometimes I admire Mary’s likeness. You’ve got it all locked up, Mother of God. How do you do it?

Sometimes I feel awe. Wow, you are pure grace. Amazing.

Sometimes I want to cry. When you were living in the body, did you ever feel the stuff I’m feeling now? You were a woman in the world before you were divine, right? So how did you handle it? What did you do when you struggled?

Sometimes I feel gratitude. OMG, you are really actually here for me, Mary. I can feel it. Thanks for being so expansive.

Sometimes I ask her for help. I wish I could be more like you. Could you help me do that? Work through me. I am so, so lost right now. Please take over because I am just not nailing life at the present.

For reference only, this is me nailing life. It happens sometimes.

For reference only, this is me actually nailing life (with holes in my socks).

After a minute or so of reflecting on Mary, who I experience as an expression of the Divine Mother, I sit up straighter and close my eyes to meditate. Looking toward the center of my forehead, I repeat a silent “hong” on the in breath, and sau (pronounced “saw”) on the out breath. In repetition, this mantra slows the heart rate and paves the way for greater concentration. (Pow! That’s meditation. ‘All there is to it.)

Sometimes I float into bliss for a while. Sometimes my mind races the entire time. Eventually, I end with a prayer of protection and thanks to Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Christ and all the great ones. And then I walk out the big double doors and into my day.

Today a woman wearing a long, hooded powder blue coat waited for me at the door. I gave her a friendly smile and she followed me out.

“I see you in here praying a lot,” she said, squaring her body in front of me on the steps. She had a low, melodic voice and was tall—a little taller than me. She looked to be halfway between my mom and my grandma’s age. Her face was smooth and soft, and even the skin around her eye area was youthfully taut. She wore no makeup, and her light brown eyes were twinkly. If I had to read her energy, I’d say it was loving, strong, protector-y and practical, in that order.

“I want to let you know about a special chapel I think you’d like,” she said. “It’s not far from here and if you enjoy praying in this sanctuary, I think you’d really enjoy this other chapel.”

She proceeded to tell me about the tiny 24-hour chapel of a huge Catholic church a couple miles away. I’ve seen the church before, and it’s beautiful from the outside. She told me of the chapel’s beauty, of the special feel it has, of how the laity meticulously maintains it, of the beautiful statue of Mary and of how adorers are welcome at all hours of the day.

“Adorers?” I asked. I’ve not heard this term before. Is that like what I did with Mark Wahlberg this summer?

“Yes, adorers,” she said matter of factly. “Of Mary, of Jesus.”

“Oh, ok,” I said, feeling silly. “That’s beautiful. I’m not Catholic, so ‘adorer’ is not a word I’m familiar with.”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be Catholic. I invite Muslim people there, too. You’ll feel Jesus, and it doesn’t matter, he’s for everyone,” she said, pausing for a few beats and looking deep into my eyes with a gaze so steady and warm I felt myself melting into it.

“Jesus wants to love you,” she said. “That is a grace you are blessed to have. You know.”

Instantaneously, I began to cry.

The last time I experienced mystical insta-tears was after a chat with nun at my guru's hermitage in Encinitas. This photo was snapped moments after.

The last time I experienced mystical insta-tears was after a little chit chat with a Self-Realization Fellowship nun at my guru’s hermitage in Encinitas. This photo was snapped moments after.

Something in her countenance when she said “Jesus wants to love you” reached into my being and ripped down a hard-fought wall, releasing a swell of emotion. She stood solidly before me, gazing at my face with serenity and compassion from Lord knows where. Or how. I swear she glowed. What was this phenomenon? I felt wrapped in love beyond love, unaware of space, people and things around me. Unable to stop the tears from coming, I smiled bashfully and threw my hands in the air as if to apologize for my show of emotion. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly and she nodded her head once like she’d seen this a hundred times. She stood close, simply regarding me.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling and shrugging my shoulders, mystified. “Thanks so much.”

Her mouth turned up further into a sweet smile and she excused herself. I rushed off to the car. Once alone, the tears continued, and in the same moment, they became laced with laughter. Joy in abundance. “What was that?” I heard myself say aloud. “Who was that?”

I don’t know why I was incredulous. This morning before leaving the house, I read that today, Feb. 19, is a good day to ask for guidance from your higher self. So I did. Instead of just asking to receive the guidance, I asked to feel it, to experience it and to have the courage to take action on it. Additionally, as I do every morning, I asked to be a channel for God’s love to all I meet.

I figured I’d receive some sort of mandate from my higher self, like, “Yes, we know you’re having a hard time right now but be spiritual about it and rise above it all, will you? You want superconsciousness? You better straighten up and fly right. Get over all this dumb human stuff already.”

It’s like I was expecting my guidance to come with a healthy serving of shame. But that is just not how God works. I always forget.

When I asked for it this morning, I never suspected I’d receive divine encouragement to let myself be loved. And by Jesus, no less. It’s too simplistic, too nice, too outrageous. But it was unmistakably divine. “Jesus wants to love you,” said the woman in blue. To me, implicit in her words was, “Open your heart and receive the love of all loves. You are worthy. Jesus wants to love you.” Suddenly it was so obvious: I can share God’s love with others only if I allow my own self to revel in that great love first.

I don’t know why this woman chose today of all days to speak to me. I’m sure there’s a good explanation for why she was bundled in a full-length, light blue down coat on the warmest day of the winter, and why she had her hood covering her head. But despite all logic, standing in the morning sun of those church steps, she looked every bit like Mary to me. What’s more, she felt like Mary. As sometimes happens with phenomena, I may see her again and experience her in a completely different way, but what matters to me is that today, on the day I asked for an experience of divine guidance, I was overcome with wonderment on feeling Mary’s love flowing through this very person.

So, my wish for you today is that you open yourself to an experience of divine guidance.  Just ask for it, aloud or in your heart. Then, when you have the experience, I hope that you know it, and that it moves you in some wonderful way. Finally, may you allow yourself to revel in the love of all loves. Just like I was told this morning, Jesus wants to love you.

We thrash to be still: A tale of detox after a tough day

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The sensory-magical power of bowling was revealed to us last weekend. Heavy lifting, gross-motor throwing, twirling around in slippery shoes on waxy wood floors. Both boys were in heaven. It was a dream. We went twice.

I knew it’d been a rough day at school by the way the teacher handed me the clipboard to sign Charlie out. Before she could share any details, he darted out the door toward the parking lot in an attempt to avoid the ultimate nightmare—mom and teacher converging to talk about his tough day. He couldn’t dematerialize fast enough.

Tough days are the same for kids as they are for grown ups, I think. Something not awesome happens. You make some sort of mistake. Someone gets upset. You feel in some way uneasy. You try to pull yourself out of it. But it’s hard. What does this situation say about me? How do I feel right now? What do I do about it? Maybe you keep getting reminded of your shortcoming. Maybe you’re not sure of how to recover, so maybe you keep messing up. Maybe you feel generally discombobulated. Maybe you don’t want to face anyone because you’re embarrassed. Maybe it’s just one of those days. In the end, it doesn’t matter what went down. It’s just a tough day.

I said some things—shamey, punitive things—to him as we walked to the car that weren’t my best parenting. Maybe I haven’t been my best in general lately. Maybe I’ve been having my own tough days. Maybe my cropped-up-out-of-nowhere, monolithic internal shifting has prevented me from showing up for my kids in the super-present, heart-centered way to which I aspire. Maybe I could’ve been trying harder. Maybe I could’ve done something proactive to prevent the overload of his sensory system that’s been causing him three tough days in a row at school. Maybe.

Chicago is going on 21 days of below-zero temperatures. It’s been nearly a month of no outdoor recess, no park play and no running around out front. Too cold. This doesn’t bode well for a kid who regulates his nervous system primarily through gross motor activities.

We’ve had a ton of snow, which is heaped in parallel strips through unplowed alleys and side streets. When the sun comes out, it melts ever so slightly, such that it softens to collect and later freeze in the tire wells of our car. Charlie likes to kick at these hardened deposits of grimy, icy snow before and after school. Sometimes they dislodge from his blows, which he relishes; sometimes they don’t.

We pulled into the garage after school yesterday afternoon and he began kicking, to no avail. I helped him get one of the ice blocks unglued from the car’s undercarriage and what happened next amazed me.

Charlie began kicking and stomping the ice block with ferocity. Oh. He is mad, I observed. Wow. He’s really fucking pissed off about something.

“Kick it, buddy,” I encouraged, considering he might need to express his emotions physically. “Stomp that ice chunk. That’s it. Get it.”

His fervor in kicking and stomping grew. With each chunk of ice he chipped, he seemed a little more consumed by it. I stood nearby watching him, being there with him in his expression.

“Hey, Charlie. Are you mad?” I asked gently. He just kept kicking, almost as though he couldn’t hear me. “Yep, you’re mad, aren’t you buddy?”

He looked up at me and nodded his head once before going back to the demolition.

“I totally get it,” I said, noticing a delightful cocoon forming around the two of us. “You know it’s ok to be mad, don’t you? You won’t get in trouble for feeling mad. Say it out loud, even. Let yourself feel angry. Let it out.”

“Ok!” he fired back at me. “I’m mad. I’m really, really mad.” He looked up and, through the anger, I saw his relief. We found another ice chunk, but this one was too stubborn for his boots to dent, so I picked up a skinny length of firewood and he used it to whack the ice into oblivion. We found some more ice. And when all the ice was fractured in pieces around the garage, he marched into the back yard, where he began thrusting piles of snow off the table, chairs and steps with sweeping arm movements.

I pressed him on why he was angry, and at whom. It was a short list of people, and I was on it. I told him I understood why he was mad, and that I knew it was a hard day for him. He didn’t say much. Just kind of growled. “You don’t have to talk about it, but if you want to, I’m here to listen,” I said. “Or you can growl, or yell or whatever feels right to you. This is a safe space for that.”

He went to the trampoline, jumping and kicking at piles of snow, sweeping it away with a ceremonious combination of punches and footwork. On the stairs, he kicked at the ice buildup on the sides. Kip got a little too close and I encouraged him to steer clear of Charlie’s thrashing. “Kip, stand back,” Charlie cautioned. “I am like a ball of fire right now.”

He thrashed around the yard, strumming tiny icicles from their place under the back stairs, kicking at ice and whooshing his arms around wildly through piles of snow for a good 10 minutes. I could hear his breath from a few feet away. All throughout, I acted like a congregant at that Baptist church we’ve visited a few times.

That’s it.

Mmmhmm.

Do your thing.

I feel you.

All right, now.

That’s how you do it.

I got you.

Finally, with a touch of flair, he yanked his hat from his head, handed it to me and heaved a sigh. “I think I’m done, Mommy,” he said, the sweetness back in his face. “I’m ready to go inside. I feel so much better now.”

After the thrashing, we snuggled and played into evening, and we talked about what to do when he’s feeling overloaded at school. The next day, his teacher handed me the clipboard and tossed her hands in the air. “Well, today was much better,” she reported, baffled. “I have no idea why, but it was.”

I guess kids aren’t much different from adults on this front. After a tough day, sometimes the best medicine is to call it what it is, give yourself room to be mad (reeeeally mad, if need be), get your heart rate up to flush it out of your body and then go for hugs.

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While Brian was at a meditation retreat all weekend in Encinitas, Calif., this trio took to the bowling alley. After a rousing game, we huddled together for a photo. (it’s really too bad the scoreboard doesn’t show, because yours truly bowled an impressive 130. I felt sufficiently awesome about that. Grandpa Fogel would’ve been proud.)

357-word review of Frozen (yep, that Disney cartoon)

You don’t have to see the movie, Frozen, for a good gobsmacking, but if you like cartoons and musicals as unashamedly as I do, I recommend it. (Cynics, be still. Everybody knows neither cartoons nor musicals are “cool” and I just don’t care.)

Yes, the characters are vibrant, the compelling love story is between two sisters rather than a shallow prince/princess and the music is off the chain. In any event, the importance of Frozen lies less in the visual and aural appeal, more in the prevailing theme, which is this: Fear and love cannot coexist.

When Queen Elsa is raked with fear of her own power, everything becomes cold, frozen and bleak. When Elsa chooses love over fear, everything melts, blooms and flows again. Her fear causes destruction. Love makes everything ok. And love allows her to step fully into the brilliance of her own power.

Did you get that? Because my kids sure did. And, whether they were conscious of it or not, so did every other kid in that theatre, something for which I want to high-five the hell out of Disney.

But let’s talk about you. Did you know fear and love were incapable of coexisting in your consciousness at the same time? It’s true. Try it:

  1. Think of something that terrifies you. Something you can’t control. Someone you don’t want to lose. A possibility that makes you shudder.
  2. Now think of the object in those scenarios, whatever or whoever it is, and send loving thoughts toward her, him or it and send love toward yourself as well.
  3. Buh bye fear. Hello, vulnerability. (Not that vulnerability feels good, exactly, but it gets better over time, and anything is better than the fear space.)
  4. Eventually, with practice, that gripping, freezing fear automatically transforms into a cagey sense of vulnerability, which ultimately melts into blossoming love and tranquility.

You can either freeze or you can bloom. You can choose fear, or choose love. Please choose love, if only for this one moment. And maybe the moment after that. And again after that. Just go see Frozen if you need more convincing.

Love lessons from kindergarten sweethearts

ImageLove flowing freely is a wonder to behold. Think back. You know the feeling. It’s that pure, can’t-stop-it-and-why-would-you thing that happens when you meet another who sparks you, the sort of falling-in-love kind of love that brings spectacular joy without condition or expectation or design or hope. It wants nothing; it just is. Your souls spark an ember at first meeting, the ember catches flame and, when the love is returned, it consumes your whole being and warms everyone in your radius.

I believe I’d grown a bit out of touch with the magic of this glow, the spectacular power of seemingly out-of-nowhere, ancient love. Then on the way home from school yesterday, Charlie opened his mouth, seemingly out of nowhere, and we all grew warmer.

Charlie: (Mumbling) Mommy, I’m in love with Rosie*.

Me: What, bud?

Charlie: Oh, never mind. I didn’t say anything.

Me: Babe, did you just say you’re in love with Rosie?

Charlie: (Getting worked up, about to cry) Yes, I did! I said that, ok?!

Me: (Gushing) That’s wonderful, Charlie! Wow! I’m so happy for you that you feel so much love for Rosie. How does it feel in your body to feel this way about someone? How does your heart feel?

Charlie: (doing his little half-smile.) Really, really good. Awesome, even.

Long pause

Charlie: I thought you would be mad at me.

I admit, my gut-nanosecond reaction was to think, “What the—? But he’s too young for this kind of…” And then I remembered that falling in love is recognizing the infinite light in another, and no one is too young or too old for that.

Falling in love is seeing the truth of another’s perfection and him or her beaming your own perfection back at you. It’s pure. It’s beautiful. It’s world enhancing. It’s everything and the only thing. And, without a doubt, this glimpse of heaven is entirely accessible to two bright-as-the-sun five-year-olds.

Me: Mad at you? No way! Being in love is such an amazing feeling and I’m so happy for you that you get to feel this way for your friend. This is a huge deal, Charlie. You must enjoy it! It’s absolutely wonderful. You can’t control who you end up loving, I know that. So I will never be mad at you for falling in love with someone.

Charlie: Ok, Mommy. That’s good. Thanks. (smiles.) I’m just really in love with Rosie.

In the words of Rosie’s supercool mom: “If only love could stay this simple forever.”

Kindergartners, they only know one way to love:  With abandon and without expectation. Grownups, on the other hand, we don’t always get this. And if we ever did, we may have forgotten it by now. We’re so quick to build walls, apply stipulations, put up protections, drive expectations, make demands, play games and otherwise move further away from the unconditional, unattached purity of that first divinely orchestrated spark.

Kindergartners, they don’t want to hold the other, they just want to love the other. For Charlie and Rosie, there are no plans or aspirations, for example. Just loving is quite enough.

We arrived home, went inside and opened his backpack for the note Rosie’s mom said would be in his folder. She’d written him a note over winter break, presumably because the only thing that feels more victorious than simply loving is speaking it aloud. He opened the note slowly and intentionally, savoring the moment. I read it to him, right down to the “P.S. I love you” part, and he smiled.

“That’s so nice,” he said. “I’m hungry. Can I eat something?”

A couple moments passed as we dug into the pantry and then…

Me: How did it feel to read that super sweet letter from Rosie?

Charlie: Awesome. So good I almost feel like I could cry. Can I have some pretzels now?

Even at this stage of life, maybe it can stay that simple. I, for one, am going to take a page out of Charlie and Rosie’s book, and look for the perfection in others, raze my walls and detach from expectations. If just loving each other is enough for them, maybe it’s enough for all of us.

(*Rosie’s name has been changed.)

Surprise! Professional portraits prove more pleasurable than…alliteration, I guess.

Yes, the cocked hip is weird and unintentional. Kip would. not. look. at the camera, so I’m sure this odd positioning must’ve helped. Nevermind all that. We did it! We got professional family photos taken! And I didn’t hate it! And I actually will consider doing it again! It’s amazing!

I never sent birth announcements for our sons. We don’t do holiday cards. (But I really do love getting yours, so please keep us on your list.) No one is shouting out the adorable Quinn family on Facebook or blogging about how delightful it was taking our pictures in the dewy field that weekend morning.

Historically, the phrase “professional photographs” makes my teeth hurt. And so I don’t do them.

On the other hand, Andrea, my way cooler little sister, loves preserving family moments professionally. To give you a landscape of her diligence versus my neglect on this matter, Nora, my glorious niece and goddaughter, is one year old and they’ve already had professional family photographs taken three times. My boys are four and five and we’ve had our photos taken once. But I thought I looked awful in all the shots, and we never did anything with them.

So…a couple weeks before we celebrated an early Christmas with my parents in Kansas, and Andrea was all, “Sister, I’ve arranged for a photographer to come to Mom and Dad’s house Saturday when you’re in town so we can get some pictures taken of all of us,” I was all, “Oh. Uhh. Ok. That’s…really…nice.”

And she was all: “Dude! What’s your deal?”

And I was all: “Ok, I don’t really know. I just hate getting pictures taken.”

And she was all: “Why!?!?”

Because I feel pressure to look happy and perfect and amazing all at once. I spend so much energy trying not to worry about appearances and then I’m supposed to pose at flattering angles and ask my kids to smile so that we have a happy family memory preserved in excellent lighting? My childhood memories of professional photos include all the women in our family picking at each other and their daughters and telling them to stand up straight and hold their tummies in and it wasn’t fun at all. But what I really hate is the part of me that will pick at my own kids, sweep the boys’ hair with my fingers, tell them to smile and bribe the little guys with candy if they will just stop hiding their faces in my torso. I can’t be expected to look delighted when in fact I’m petrified that, when these pics come back, I’ll find myself looking stressed out and very much the opposite of a gleaming mother.

I don’t remember if I spoke this aloud to her at the time, but it doesn’t matter because my sister knows how I feel about all this, and she’s given me one or two great pep talks on WHY it’s important to get photos taken.

What I did say was this: “Whatever happens, know that I appreciate you wanting to preserve these memories. And I ask you to give me a lil room to figure out what my deal is. I promise to try really hard not to suck when it comes time to get our pics taken.”

And she was all: “Cool.”

So, the second Saturday in December, I made myself look a lot like a news anchor, the Quinn men and I got all dressed up in shades of blue and purple, and we snuggled together in front of the wall in my parents’ living room.

Does my family of origin not look like everyone’s favorite warm, engaging and credible-looking 5 o’clock news team?

And, know what? It was actually kinda fun. It could’ve been the ease, grace and eye of the photographer, or the fact that she used to be a pediatric nurse and knew just how to talk to my boys—one who was being a touch obnoxious and the other defiantly reticent. Or it could’ve been the fact that my enjoyment of the group and the day conjured some primal desire to capture an official portrait of our family. Whatever it was, the fact is, I’m glad we did it.

You probably still won’t find giant portraits of four Quinns dressed in coordinating colors on the walls of my home or in your mailbox in December, but I bet we’ll do this again before another five years go by.

See here for more images from the shoot with Lori Ruf, and check out Lori’s work at Lemon Tree Photography. And, KC peeps, hook it up with her next time you want your pix done. She’s vivacious, easy to be around and great with the childrens. Everybody’s happy.

The greatest gift of this photo shoot with Lori Ruf was scoring several never-before-captured snaps of my little guys and I interacting authentically and joyously in our own way.

I’ve never seen our playfulness and snugglelove in action like this before and it melted this mama’s heart to see it in still. (yep, because nothing is so heartwarming as a head lock…)

Can we all agree my news anchor hair really does look kind of amazing here? I’m pretty happy we got that on film, too. (because it may never look like that again.)

A bedtime meditation for sensory kids

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For those who don’t already know, I have two sons, one of whom is an official sensory kid, the other unofficial. While heightened intuition, innate wisdom and emotional sensitivity are grand gifts in today’s world, parenting sensory kids like my little guys can be a nail-biting ride.

Throughout the course of a day, these kids absorb a lot. By “a lot,” I mean they take in all surrounding sounds, smells, sights, touch, tastes, energies and even other people’s emotional frequencies. In other words, their level of perception can get a bit like that of Robert Downey, Jr., as Sherlock Holmes. At the end of the day, if I’m lucky, their little nervous systems may have processed all this input effectively. However, after a long day of school and/or the stimulation of daily life as a city kid, it’s more likely they’re amped to high heaven.

So, before they go to sleep, we clear it all out. That way, they can start the next day fresh.

When they get older, they’ll figure out their own tricks for hitting the re-set button, but because my kids are so little, I’ve found they need help releasing all the gunk they’ve absorbed throughout the day. After years of experimenting with different approaches and gleaning knowledge from friends and experts like Alicia Isaacs Howes, an intuitive coach and friend who’s used visualization with her own sons, and Nancy Floy, whose powerful Mindfulness of the Body exercise prepares her patients to receive miraculous healing through her acupuncture practice at The Heartwood Center for Body, Mind, Spirit, I’ve come up with an evening meditation that works well for my boys. If anyone’s wondering, it works for grown-ups, too.

After we’ve bathed, brushed teeth, read stories, snuggled a bit and the lights are low, I help them draw attention to the soles of their feet by taking their feet in my hands and gently yet firmly squeezing the bottom of each foot, using my thumbs to give them a little massage. The idea is to treat the soles of the feet as exit doors for releasing built-up energy. If your child is super ticklish, just press the bottom of the foot firmly with your fist or open palm, using the heel of your hand to press into the heel, instep and ball of their feet, to the extent that it’s peaceful for them. If it’s not, just skip the touch and go straight into the guided meditation.

Guided bedtime meditation for Sensory Kids

The following is just a guide; it’s what works for our family. If a bedtime meditation resonates with you and your kids, play with your “script.” Tailor it to your kids, make it your own.

You’re walking through the forest* and you notice the ground feels soft beneath your feet. Right there, amid the tall, tall trees, you take your shoes off and let your bare feet sink into the cool, squishy mud.**

You feel the mud squishing between your toes, and it covers the tops of your feet, just up to your ankles. As you stand there feeling the squishiness of the soft earth, you notice the bottoms of your feet opening up, releasing all the stuff that you don’t need anymore. Any thoughts, feelings, experiences, beliefs, energies, ideas and other things that no longer serve your highest and greatest good come flushing out of your body through the bottoms of your feet and into the earth, where these things are cleaned and transformed. Anything from this life or past lifetimes that no longer serves your highest and greatest good flows gently and easily out of your feet like a faucet and you feel light and free.

At the same time, you notice a cord extending from the base of your spine*** into the ground. It extends down through all the layers of the earth—grass, mud, dirt, water, rock—all the way to the earth’s core, where you are always connected for as long as you want to be.

You now notice the crown of your head tingling gently as shimmering white light enters your body through the top of your head, filling it, your brain, your eyes and your throat with the brightest, most beautiful, most peaceful white light. This sparkling white light fills your chest, your heart, your lungs, your spine, your nervous system, your blood vessels and all your glands, purifying everything it touches and recharging every cell in your body. The glistening white light fills all of your organs, cleansing and restoring your liver, your gall bladder, your kidneys, your pancreas, your spleen, your stomach, your intestines, your bladder and your reproductive system. The shimmering white light then moves down into your arms, hands and fingers, and your legs, feet and toes. All of the bones and tissues in your body are filled with this brilliant white light. Soon, your whole body is shimmering light, and you feel totally free, totally peaceful and totally rejuvenated. You are ready for a wonderful night’s sleep.

Let’s pray:

God, give these children all the protection they need tonight while they sleep. As they journey through dreams, bless them that they may be bathed in Your protective light, accompanied by angels and filled with the peace, joy, love and belonging that comes from knowing Your constant presence. May they sleep beautifully and awaken in the morning feeling peaceful, restored, joyful, excited about the day and filled with the knowledge that they are loved, wanted and supported as Your divine child and as my child on Earth. Thank you, God. Bless these children. Amen.

NOTES: I use the term, sensory kid, to describe a child who has sensory integration issues or has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder (SPD). If you’re not familiar with SPD, see the SPD Foundation website. Regardless of how your child’s sensory issues present, I’ve observed that all sensory kids have at least a few things in common: They are highly intuitive, sensitive, quirky kids who often seem to have an otherworldly wisdom about them. (Not that it presents all the time but, when it does, wow.) These kids have great imaginations, which makes them especially open to visualization and guided meditation. I came up with the below script one night while putting them to bed and it stuck. Now, it’s part of our nighttime ritual. 

*Pick the element of nature that resonates most with your child. Nature is the ultimate cleansing agent for all of us, which is why many guided meditations begin by setting the stage in some beautiful outdoor place. As I desire to bring a sense of grounding before my boys enter the superconscious sleep state, I choose to paint a picture of earth and trees. However, we’ve tried it with sand and sea before as well. If your kid loves mountains, describe a mountain setting. If your kid loves the lake, describe the lake. If your kid loves rocks, describe a field of boulders. And so on.

**If your child is sensory averting, you may wish to describe something that feels less messy and offensive than mud or wet sand. For example, you guide them in removing their socks to feel a warm or cool stone beneath their feet.

***You may wish to touch the base of the spine to help your child with the visual. In fact, feel free to have your child lie on his or her stomach so you can give a gentle full-body massage as you walk him or her through the meditation.