Just swimming in metaphors

You are suddenly a mermaid. Swathed in cloudy turquoise light, you dive down, down, down toward sand and tiny threads of seaweed growing from the bottom. Soaring through the water, for a second you are almost certain you are part-woman, part fish.

Ripples in the sand, not a creature in sight. Surrounded by unbreathable faded blue, this Atlantean water feels familiar, like you know it. You feel like you could stay there forever, making waves of your body beneath the waves of the ocean, bright yellow fins propelling you along the sand you’re grazing with your chest.

No one is watching you, no one knows where you are. You remember hearing about bull sharks in this area. You haven’t speared any fish, and you’re not particularly afraid, so you’re not high on a shark’s radar, but the fact that you can’t even see two feet in front of you does make you a little uneasy. They say the sharks in your mind are scarier than the real thing.

You turn over, do a quick 360 scan for dorsal fins and recline into your favorite place in the world—on your back, in the ocean, submerged in water, breathing air, staring at the sky, your body rolling with the waves. Your feet rise, then fall, gently, so gently. The water raises and releases your knees, your hips, chest, head and eventually your arms, the swell at last lifting your fingertips and setting them softly back down where they were. And the next swell comes. And another. And the clouds are beautiful. And you are certain there’s no more mystical place to be than in between earth and sky, buoyed by the sea, which you equate with God or Spirit, all by yourself, and somehow nowhere near lonely.

At the same time, it’s hard being alone sometimes. As a single, working mom, that is. You’re thinking about it a lot on this trip, which you’ve been anticipating for two years. One of your best friends curated her best friends for a birthday trip to her parents’ home in the Bahamas, and these women are awesome in all kinds of ways—funny, graceful, powerful, kind, running companies, raising families, blazing trail, nailing it in general. They each delight in their respective marriages and you’re very aware—because of you, not because of them, and no more clearly than when they wrest you away from the dashing Southern sportsman you all call “Marky Mark” at the bar because it’s just time to go home—that you are unaffiliated.

They jokingly wish that the guy, provided it’s a guy, who owns the ridiculous yacht in Baker’s Bay (Podium, if you’re curious), whoever he is, will find and fall in love with you. That, or a fun, kind, open, spiritually evolved, sexy, athletic hedge fund owner who likes you and your kids. In other words, a unicorn. You well up about the sense of aloneness at dinner one night, and one of the girls says very clearly and directly: “This is just one moment in time in your life.”

Right. It’s easy to forget. This transition you’re in, it won’t last forever. You’ve just got to move through it.

You can’t help spotting the metaphor in the opaque sea around you, and tying it to this broader moment in time. You’ve been swimming in “unknown waters” with limited visibility for a while now. Not ideal conditions. You wish it were clear, like some of your dives off the Ambar III in the Sea of Cortez, or like the deep blue off the coast of Kona. You want to see in front of you and behind you and beneath you. When you dive down, you want to behold something wondrous and to reach for it. But here you are in a cloudy, unknown corner of the ocean. You have no idea what could be swimming—or not—around you and you are not entirely sure where you’re heading.

It feels a little nerve wracking, this not knowing what surrounds and awaits you. And yet you don’t get out of the water. You heave a deep breath, pop your snorkel out of your mouth and go down, fin tips the last to disappear beneath the surface, dolphin kicking, clearing your mask and ears, to the sandy bottom, which you cannot see until the very moment you touch it.

That’s what this season of your life must be about. Diving, going, trusting, moving forward fast and hopeful into unknown waters to see what’s there, open to whatever you find. (But you think it might be nice to come across that unicorn…)

Eventually you do come back to shore, the setting sun shining a light so magical you can’t believe it. Stepping out of the hazy turquoise breaking on the beach, a mermaid transformed, you look down to see your skin appears golden. It actually looks gold in this light. And although you don’t have anything figured out, and you don’t feel any lighter, wiser or more secure than when you entered the water, in this moment in time, you know you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. Slathered in sun and saltwater, glowing and unknowing.

Note: This is just one tale from your visit to the Bahamas, a mere snippet of a broader four-day experience, which involved all sorts of succulence you embraced with abandon. Lobster salad, island hopping, fast boats, strolls through quaint towns, conch fritters and cold rose, meditation under infinite stars, dance parties, conversations with awesome women, yacht gawking, rum punch, daily solo SUP-ing, the world’s most generous hosts, private air travel, delightful new acquaintances, swimming, paddling, laughing, reading, writing, eating. A beautiful journey. You are ready to return immediately. Still, the ocean brings stuff up for you, and even amid all the wonderment, shit gets real, so that’s what you write about.

 

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The looks of love

By the looks of things on social media, the love was flowing this Valentine’s Day. And, to my delight, Love (let’s capitalize it, shall we?) looked different for everyone.

It wasn’t just flowers, a hot date or a perfect marriage on display. As seen on Instagram and Facebook, which have been known to dampen one’s enthusiasm about one’s own life on occasion but valiantly took the high road yesterday, Love included kids, pets, lovers, friends, parents, grandparents, sports, self and more. I was struck by the outpouring of self-love, friend-love and love of what is, whatever that was. At least in my feeds, I didn’t see a single person lamenting Valentine’s Day, regardless of their lot in Love. But I saw a whole lot of nurturing of varying kinds.

I have more than a couple friends who kicked it alone, and relished it, more power to ‘em. Others partied. Others worked. Others traveled. Others cuddled up with partners, kids and/or dogs. One friend unexpectedly ended up apart from her loved ones and surmised that God was her Valentine this year. “If you want to come over for a glass of wine,” she invited. “God and I will be here just hanging out. We’d love to have you.”

I’m a girl who loves quirky twists as much as I love Love itself, so seeing my friends stake their own claims on a day filled with all kinds of weird expectations kinda ruled.

For me, Love included a yoga class and long shower, pretty flowers from Brian and pink buttercream, sincere conversations and hugs, Thai takeout and family snuggles. After dark, as I drifted to sleep way too early with my arms around two boys who dampened my chest with drool, I thought, This doesn’t look like a traditional mass-market, gender-normative Valentine’s Day, but it’s kinda perfect.

It was a major scene at the store Friday. Kip wanted to pick out some jewelry for me. Charlie wanted to as well. I politely refused. They raised hell. "I just want to get my mommy someping as beautiful as she is, ok?!" Kip cried. "Wet me just pick someping beautiful out for you!" It was loud. I almost cried, too. He selected this bedazzling bracelet and Charlie chose the earrings and necklace. "The two little owls are me and Kip," he said. "And the big owl is you. You can wear these and think of us, all together."

It was a major scene at the store Friday. Kip wanted to pick out some jewelry for me. Charlie wanted to as well. I politely refused. They raised hell. “I just want to get my mommy someping as beautiful as she is, ok?!” Kip cried. “Wet me just pick someping beautiful out for you!” It was loud. I almost cried, too. I pointed him to the clearance rack. He selected some glittery Halloween earrings and this bedazzling bracelet and Charlie chose the earrings and necklace. “The two little owls are me and Kip,” he said. “And the big owl is you. You can wear these and think of us, all together.”

The scene of the sweetest Valentine's Day party ever, at the home of my pal, Lyz, who has found favor in heaven for welcoming five extra boys and their mamas into her very pretty house and arming them with frosting and sprinkles.

The scene of the sweetest Valentine’s Day party ever, at the home of my pal, Lyz, who has found favor in heaven for welcoming five extra boys and their mamas into her very pretty house and arming them with frosting and sprinkles.

We did a little family cupcake decorating.

We did a little family cupcake decorating on the big day. As you can see, Quinn men take their cupcakes very seriously.

No such thing as too many toppings.

No such thing as too many toppings.

New heights of connectedness (i just love trampoline puns)

Thumbs up for jumping

Thumbs up for jumping. This is what joy looks like for us.

My boys were off school Friday and because physical activity is their love language, we went to a giant warehouse filled with trampolines. We call these sorts of outings “Mommy-Charlie-Kippy Time” and, on this day, we were going to make it count.

“Are you going to jump, too?” the woman behind the counter asked me.

“I totally am,” I replied, maybe too enthusiastically. She raised an eyebrow and gave me a free wristband.

We walked extra fast to the shoe cubbies, removed coats and gloves and boots and socks, and then the three of us, holding hands, skipped up the stairs to the 6 & under section.

Getting ready to play

Getting ready to play

We were all so excited. Mommy-Charlie-Kippy Time translation: We party.

We started jumping. Charlie threw balls at my torso and cackled. I chased Kip and he guffawed. We had the space mostly to ourselves, so we went all out. Big, arms-flapping-in-the-air jumps. Spins in midair. Pink cheeks. A neverending game of dodge ball. Belly laughs. Funny faces. Ninja kicks. Lots and lots of ninja kicks.

Jumping!

Jumping!

I was the only parent jumping like a kid and, weeell, I admit it felt a little funny. Most of the other moms and dads sat on the bench with their phones and their Starbucks, a role I myself have nailed many a time. But not this time. I made the decision to engage in a major way with my sons, to meet them where they were and to relish the time with them.

I got a few glares. I got a few stares. It seemed to help when I jumped with my back to the gallery. (Looking back, I kinda can’t believe I subjected those moms, dads and nannies to all that full-frontal jumping for as long as I did. Poor souls.)

Kip catches air.

Kip catches air.

I considered bowing out and telling the boys I was going to hit the sidelines with the rest of the parents, but it’d been a while since my teeth got so dry from smiling that my lips stuck to them. How long do you have to smile before your teeth go bone dry, I wonder? All I know is that, in one hour of jumping, I smiled that long a lot of times.

So I kept jumping. Because my kids were giddy. And because they couldn’t get enough of leading me to the far corner to show me their trick jumps. And because, together, we were experiencing mega pleasurable depths of joy and connection.

And so, despite my assumption that bouncing tatas were not a fan favorite among moms in Lululemon, I kept on ninja kicking with my kiddos. And, before long, a bunch of other kids were ninja kicking all around us. The glow on all their amazing little faces—and particulary on Charlie and Kip’s—as they looked to see if I saw their kicks made me smile even bigger.

Soon the jump fest came to an end and, as we were tying shoelaces and zipping up jackets, Charlie said something that made all my embarrassment and potentially offensive jumping completely worthwhile:

“Mommy, this is the best day I’ve ever had,” he said, grinning. “I’m going to remember this time today with you for the rest of my life.”

After that, we took our Mommy-Charlie-Kippy date out for chili cheese fries. Definitely the best day ever.

Chili cheese fries.

Chili cheese fries.

A bedtime meditation for sensory kids

I finally made friends with soundcloud and updated this post with a recording of the bedtime meditation I play for my kiddos every night. It helps Charlie and Kip–and sometimes even Brian, me or the occasional babysitter–to clear the energy of the day and prepare our bodies for a beautiful night’s sleep. I created this guided meditation for my own sweet sensory kids, but meditation of any kind, especially at bedtime, is for everyone. May all in your home sleep peacefully tonight.

emily en route

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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…

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Impulse control is for everybody

You can be anyone and still face temptation to knock down the Jenga tower.

Impulses take many forms and have varying degrees of consequence, but you can be anyone and still face temptation to knock down the Jenga tower.

The start of another school year—a massive transition period in our family—inevitably marks the start of my six-year-old sensory kid’s battle with impulse control.

If you’re not familiar with the term “impulse control” as it relates to children with Sensory Processing Disorder (oh, and to everyone else on the planet) allow me to explain with a haiku:

I want to do this.

But I probably shouldn’t.

I’m doing it now!!!!

Most of us can admit to having issues around impulse control from time to time—we all have our triggers and weaknesses—and transitions are Charlie’s kryptonite.

Autumn, when we remove our toes from the sand and plant them in school shoes, generally brings the crazy. For all of us, yes, but my sensory kid feels it bigger and harder. When settling into a new routine, something happens in his brain that seems to wear down his nerves, making him just a little more raw than normal, a little unhinged.

Fall is a big departure from this. We go from dirt, sweat, sand and sun on our skin to covering up with lace-up shoes and school uniforms. Summer girl that I am, I come a little unhinged at the thought, too, so I can't fault Charlie for doing the same.

Fall is a big departure from this. We go from dirt, sweat, sand and sun on our skin to covering up with lace-up shoes and school uniforms. Summer girl that I am, I come a little unhinged at the thought, too, so I can’t fault Charlie for doing the same.

Sometimes transition behaviors surface predictably—flying off the handle at home when he doesn’t get his way. And other times, they are a wild card. Take, for example, the following tale.

“Mommy, Mrs. G says she needs to have a conversation with you,” a macabre Charlie informed me after school a few weeks ago.

I soon learned he had snapped the erasers off of a whole lot of classroom pencils.

“I kept finding all these erasers all over the place,” Mrs. G. explained. “And, finally, I realized what was going on. He wasn’t alone—there were others involved—but it appears Charlie was the main one. I already talked with him about it, I could tell he felt bad and he had a great day otherwise, so I don’t want him to get in trouble, but sometimes it helps to let the parents know so we can nip certain behavior in the bud.”

If only I knew how. My kid loves to break stuff. Even on a good day, he’s a destructobot. Charlie lives for the snap of a twig, the dismantling of a prized toy, the rip of paper, the cracking of plastic, the feel of his brother’s skin pinching between his fingertips, the energy released when one thing is made into two, the power of breaking something unbreakable with his own bare hands….

He knows it’s wrong, but he has a hell of a time stopping himself. It’s a daily challenge at home and, while he usually can keep himself together at school, during times of transition, he struggles with impulse control outside of home as well.

“Um, Andy inspired me to do it,” Charlie explains when I question him on the ride home. “But he just did one pencil. …And then I just sorta did a whole bunch more.”

“Hmm…I think I can see how that happened,” I say. “But you knew it was destructive, right? So why do you think you did it anyway?”

“I don’t know…I thought it was funny at first. And then I just couldn’t stop myself,” he says, the words tumbling rapidly from his mouth like boiling water.

“You know, Charlie, Mommy knows what that’s like. I’ve had this same problem before,” I say, trying to soothe him. “Sometimes there are things Mommy reeeeeally wants to do, but they’re not a very good idea, so I have to stop myself.”

Thankfully, I walked away from this vintage romper. But, don't worry, I sure did get the one-piece pantsuit in the background. I think I might be Zool for Halloween. (Aside: I snapped this special selfie for Kellie, who encouraged me in my hunt for an age-appropriate romper this summer. Unfortunately, I never found one and am yet uncertain of their existence.)

Thankfully, I stopped myself from this vintage romper. But, don’t worry, I now own the plum silk jumpsuit in the background. I might be Zool for Halloween. (Aside: I snapped this special selfie for Kellie, who steadfastly encouraged me in my hunt for an age-appropriate romper this summer and courageously gave me the thumbs down on more than one dressing room snapshot.) Unfortunately, I never found my mythical romper and am unconvinced of its existence.

“What do you mean? Why are they not a good idea?” he asks. (Also not a good idea: speaking about myself in the third person. He’s six. It’s time for pronouns.)

“Wellllll,” I draw out a pause long enough to gather the right words. “Sometimes I realize that things I want to do may have consequences that aren’t good for me or for people I care about. So I’ve had to try to stop myself from doing them.”

“Was it hard for you, Mommy?” he asks.

“Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes, no,” I say. “It depends on what it is. Sometimes, it’s easy. But other times, it’s reeeeeeally hard to stop myself.”

He regards me quizzically.

“This drive to do stuff and learning to decide when you need to stop yourself is something you may face your entire life,” I admit.

“My whole life?!” He’s incredulous, like, this simply cannot be. It can’t be.

“Yep. That’s why I want us to come up with tools for you to start learning how to do it while you’re young,” I say, deeply wishing I could tell him from experience that it would get easier.

Lookie here. It's a gelato party! Tip of the iceberg as far as my impulses are concerned.

Lookie here. It’s a gelato party! Tip of the iceberg as far as my impulses are concerned.

We immediately begin workshopping ideas for how he can stop himself from acting on potentially negative impulses. It’s not a perfect list, but if you’re looking for tools—for your sensory kid, or for your perfectly grown-up self—here’s what we came up with:

Sensory Kid tricks for interrupting an impulse

  • Get a cup of ice from the freezer and throw ice cubes off the back steps. Hard.
  • Thrash around on your bed punching the pillow till you get it all out.
  • Sing a song…an actual song, or a made-up song about the feelings you’re having.
  • Count to 10 and then think again about what it is you want to do.
  • Grab some sticks outside and break them into pieces.
  • Listen to heavy metal on Pandora and headbang till you feel better.
  • Tell the person you’re with how you’re feeling. Give the feeling words. (i.e., “I am so frustrated! I am really mad at you! I don’t like this at all! I reeeeeally want that! I feel impatient!” etc.)
  • Ask Archangel Michael to help. (Charlie’s selection. You could personally ask for any kind of divine intervention. Some ideas: your higher self, God, the Universe, your angels, Jesus, Mary, Goddess, Allah, your guides, your guru, a deceased grandma, the spirit of your favorite dead pet, etc. Whatever works!)
  • Take three deep, slow breaths.
  • Step outside and listen. Pick out as many sounds as you can.
  • Go stand next to a tree. Hug it, even.
  • Pet the dogs.
  • Ask for more divine intervention.
  • Rub some salt between your hands, take an Epsom salt bath or get in the tub and rub salt scrub on your feet (grainy textures sometimes help to take you out of the impulse and into the present moment.)
  • Go for hugs. The big, lingering, strong, don’t-let-go-till-you-feel-better variety.

Sensory kid wisdom: Healing the body

As we lay in his bed by the glow of a nightlight, my arms wrapped around his body and his head resting in the curve of my shoulder, I had this conversation with my sweet, soul-wise sensory kid tonight.

Him: Mommy, my tongue is feeling so much better. I just bit it yesterday—remember how bad it was?—and now it’s almost all gone. It doesn’t hurt at all.

Me: Oh good! I hoped it would heal really fast.

Him: Yeah, my body does heal extra fast.

Aside: It’s true. He gets a cut and it’s all better the next day. He slams his back hard against marble stairs in the rain and is doubled over in pain, but totally fine the next day. He bites his tongue at the playground such that blood gushes from his mouth and a black-and-blue lump swells, but hours later it’s as if nothing ever happened.

Me: I think it’s because you’re aware of God living in your cells. So your body heals itself superfast.

Him: I think that is why, Mommy. (pause.) But I think everyone has God living in their cells.

Me: I agree. But so many of us don’t know it. I mean, I technically know it, but I don’t really feel it all throughout my body like you do. I don’t live in the consciousness of knowing God is in me as much as I would like to. This seems to come a lot easier for you and most of your friends. You kids being born today get this way more than people my age do. We have to work to understand it. That’s why I meditate, I guess.

Him: Yeah. It can be really hard for some people. It can take a lot of work, but it’s so important you and they know God really is in all of us. Sometimes I wish I could just tell them.

Me: It’s so cool you see God in people, buddy. Thank you for reminding me of this in your amazing way.

Him: I wish it weren’t so hard for some people to feel God inside of them. But it’s just really difficult for certain cells of certain people to understand it sometimes. For some people, it can be tricky for them to know God is in their heart, and for others to know He’s their brains. Or, like, other people can’t remember God is in their intestines. But God is there and they can heal fast if they remember. … Wait, Mommy, what are intestines?

Bathed in his spiritshine, I felt relieved that I can serve a purpose other than just to feed him, clothe him and send him to school–I can explain what intestines are. Soulwise sensory kids + earthwise parents = match made in heaven.

And, by the way, Charlie wanted me to tell you that God is in your cells, too.

Looking for Charlie this weekend, I came across him perched on the bathroom sink decorating his face with a magic marker.

He marches to the beat of his own drum, for sure. This weekend, after a little too much time had passed without a peep from Charlie, I came across him perched on the bathroom sink decorating his face with a magic marker.

He thought he was going to get in trouble, but he looked legitimately cool, so we let him wear his marker mask until it dyed the bathwater green later that evening.

He thought he was going to get in trouble, but I legitimately appreciated the intricate face art, so we let him wear his marker mask until it dyed the bathwater green later that evening.

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.