Impermanence & Sentimentality

As someone who is interested in both honoring impermanence and upholding sentimentality, I’ve not kept every scrap of art or pipecleaner creation my stepson ever made but I did keep a few select pieces. I’ve been intentional in my keepings, careful not to clutter up our life holding on to the past.

One of my prized possessions – prized as in: I’d want to snatch it up on my way out the door if our house were on fire and I were a quick enough thinker – is a clay mug he crafted in middle school.

The assignment was to make a cougar mug, in an effort to instill a certain prescribed affection for the school’s wild feline mascot.

It feels a bit odd to me now but didn’t at the time, to align such young minds in the direction of school allegiance. Now I wonder what early prep work this is for a lifetime spent, for some of us, trying to find our self and un-conform.

In Quiet Peaceful Protest

The Quiet Room at the Philadelphia airport. Dec 22, 2019

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? Me? I’m in quiet (not silent, cuz here I am blogging about it) peaceful protest. Still, I can hear the bells tolling on Santa’s sleigh; from around the necks of his jolly crew of reindeer; on the shoes of his hard-working elves; from cash registers near and far. I wish forever and a day this holiday of Christmas was held in sacred accord with religious vows and values. That it wasn’t about what Santa wraps and leaves in secret under the tree. That it wasn’t about glorifying the acquiring of a bunch of stuff we don’t need. That it wasn’t about lying to our children.

It isn’t stuff we’re short on. Time and un-distracted presence is what we’re collectively lacking. Both are free; priceless.

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Life is short, time is precious

 

In the time I spend weekly with elderly patients, I continue to learn and deepen my understanding of how life is short.

In the time I spend weekly with young children, I continue to learn and deepen my understanding of how time is precious.

And it’s these two sentiments cultivated on-goingly, that have sculpted my view of the world and my place in it.

It’s these realities that propel me to do what I do – and to keep doing it, with love and vigor.

We Are What We Read (to our kids)

Titles published from the Little Golden Book are a common staple to find among the shelves of most households sportin’ young children. Having started in the early 1940’s – and an instant hit on the market – people of all ages (in the U.S anyway) likely recall having read at least a few books in the Little Golden Book series, in their day. The one I’m holding in the pic above, was loaned to me by the 5-year-old I nanny for. He wanted me to borrow it for a few days, which I immediately saw as a great act of generosity, as not only is this book new to him but he LOVES Star Wars. So wanting me to borrow this book was on par with a kid – any kid – offering to share their candy. Wanting to support his kindness, I gratefully agreed to take it home.

I made sure to read it, of course. I mean, I have to be prepared should he ask me what my favorite part was. It’s also simply not kosher to borrow a book a 5-year-old insists on you taking and then not read the darn thing. That’s just not cool.

So…the thing is, this so-called “kids” book, is chockablock with violence and drama. There is a weapon, bad guy, and/or an explosion on every single page. Here are the trigger words peppered in:

Page 1/2: war, evil, captured, gangster
Page 3/4: capturing, captures, dungeon, attacks, crushes
Page 5/6: punish, sand monster, fight, henchmen, KA-BOOM!, explodes
Page 7/8: evil, battle, destroy, Dark Side, X-wing fighter
Page 9/10: destroy, Death Star, attack, strike team
Page 11/12: (has bad guys, weapons, and explosive action picture but no trigger words)
Page 13/14: strike team, captured, fight
Page 15/16: attack, Death Star, destroy, enemies, traps, destroy, Death Star
Page 17/18: Death Star, rage, dark side, fight, duel
Page 19/20: battle, destroyed, evil, Zzzaap!, Death Star, destroyed
Page 21/22: battle, TIE fighters, Death Star, BOOM!, collapse, Death Star, explodes
Page 23: evil, roars

And here are the sentences that especially stood out to me:

“To punish Luke and his friends, Jabba will feed them to the Sarlacc, a sand monster. It will digest them for a thousand years!”
“He shocks Luke with evil Force lightning from his fingers. Zzzaap!”
“With the last of his strength, he rises up and heaves the Emperor into a deep reactor shaft!”

What the heck Little Golden Book?! Did you guys actually write: heaves the Emperor into a deep reactor shaft?

Is it just me that finds the above trigger words and associating violence and drama on every page alarming? Did I mention Little Golden Books aim to target kids ages 5 and under?

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Everything Dies

On our way home from the carousel yesterday, with his 4-year-old brother asleep in the car seat next to him, the soon-to-be 3-year-old I nanny for began spontaneously – and very calmly – listing aloud all of the things and people that are subject to die.

He listed individuals, inanimate objects, and really anything he could think of. While I couldn’t quite make out most of what he was saying, I did hear: “And Finn (his brother) will die. And garbage cans will die.” His list went on for a while. And ____ will die. And ____will die…

He ended by saying: “Everything…in the…WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD…will die.”

I thought it rather impressive that he saw fit to not only state this in slow fashion but also put emphasis on the words that he did.

He then added the words: “right away” to the end of his declarative finale. As in: Everything in the whole entire world will die. (pause) Right away.

I queried back in response: “Everything will die right away?”

“Right away.” he repeated.

Sensing there was something lost in translation, I rephrased and asked, “Everything will die right now?”

“No.” he said, very matter of factly.

“Do you mean that everything will die some time?” I asked.

“Yes,” he agreed, everything will die some time, Cole.”

“That’s true.” I said.

And that was that.

A Teaching Moment

It was deceivingly chilly outside the other day, when we went for a walk. Still, I dressed them in a warm-enough outer layer and hats that covered their ears. Half-way down the block, though, the allure of a late-October stroll to the park amid a blue sky and sunny day was masked by whipping winds, which carried winter’s slow approach on its breath. Suddenly, the delight of traipsing through colorful and crispy leaf piles was replaced by great discomfort. Scrunched up faces of disapproval and whining quickly ensued.

“It’s cold, let’s go home!!” said the 4-year-old.

“Eeehaaaaaaoohhh,” said the 2-year-old – or something to that affect.

I did briefly consider their input. I even glanced in the direction of the warm house we could return to, before determining that what we had here before us was an opportunity. This was a teaching moment.

I made some minor adjustments before we proceeded, one of which was to redirect our destination. The others involved putting the 2-year-old in the empty stroller I had carted along and showing both boys how to tuck their frigid fingers up into the sleeves of their sweaters, like turtle heads retreating into their shell. Lastly, and most important, I shook off my own feelings of cold displeasure, buoyed my attitude, and re-calibrated my compass in the direction of adventure. For good measure, I reminded my fellow travel companions that we were heading to the place we intended on going after visiting the park, which would afford them the chance to pick out a treat in which to enjoy after lunch.

The two-year-old was appeased enough to stop his caterwauling, once he was nestled in the stroller. The four-year-old, however, was decidedly unconvinced that anything other than returning home was in his best interest. Since he really didn’t have any other viable options, though, he reluctantly trudged alongside of us. Through his continued pleas to turn back and complaints of how cold it was, I made out-loud observations about the Halloween decorations on display at the houses we passed by and the beauty of the day. It wasn’t that I was trying to dismiss him or tune him out, I just wasn’t adding fuel to his detrimental utterings by listening intently – which, I might add, also helps with not getting personally swept up in the falderal of children’s un-skilled (and fleeting) reactions. After all, young ones are constantly learning from the words and behaviors of the adults that surround them. So, if I were to become as eq!”ually dis-satisfied with the coldness as he was, it would be teaching him to stay in that mode, instead of learning how to transition out of it. It’s worth mentioning that regardless of what’s going on, the level of our happiness depends almost solely on our attitude. We are presented with an active choice in every moment in regards to how we respond to whatever it is that’s happening.

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Sometimes that happens!

I use the phrase “Sometimes that happens” often enough that when the play-doh factory broke, one of the little boys I nanny for, who was 3 at the time, turned to me and asked, “Does that happen sometimes?” I answered in the affirmative and we went back to playing.

Side note: I’m thinking this might make for a great children’s book. I’d call it Sometimes That Happens, team up with a local artist, and include a variety of kid-related topics all ending with the catch phrase: Sometimes that happens!

Here are a couple of things I’ve experienced over the past week that happen sometimes:

– Your stint as Movie Captain with the online platform Gathr becomes more than you bargained for when you’re forced to field a wealth of confusion after they email your ticket holders about a change in venue to a theater located 2,500 miles away. Sometimes that happens!

– After finally deciding that no, you will not drive 4-hours south directly following a 4-day camping trip with friends in hopes of seeing the full solar eclipse and you’re perfectly happy to see the 90% visible from Missoula, you change your mind after listening to a NASA historian give a talk about the eclipse at your local library, where he offers the analogy that the difference between seeing a partial vs. a total solar eclipse is the difference between reading about chocolate and eating it. Sometimes that happens!

I find this phrase incredibly helpful and use it often throughout the day. It helps me to not get bogged down in my set expectations, plans, or attachments to how I think things “should” be. And it’s a work in progress, of course, too. Some things are easier to transition along with than others.

As I often say: The practice continues!

On Kindness

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Kindness is more than an act of care and support.  It’s more than a pleasantry or nice offering.  Kindness is a way of living.  A way of responding to and engaging with the world around us.  If our sole practice was one of cultivating kindness it would contain all other important and beneficial teachings within it.  The diligent practice of kindness has more than enough conditions to transform suffering and establish us happily and joyfully in the present moment.

I was reminded about the importance of kindness last week when helping a student of mine.  I work part-time as a teacher’s aid in a local middle school.  Primarily I work with students who need one-on-one help with reading and writing skills, and comprehension.  Oftentimes the students I work with are very hard on themselves.  They consider themselves stupid because they are not at the same academic level as their peers.  Their feelings of inadequacy and self-judement in comparison to their classmates often shows up as frustration, behavior issues, social discomfort, and oftentimes an aversion to receiving the help they need.  Their feelings of frustration make perfect sense to me so it’s relatively easy to not take it personally when a student shuts down or acts out when I’m simply trying to help them.  Still, it can be stressful at times to be confronted with the difficult situation of a student who desperately needs help but refuses it and is angrily pleading with you to leave them alone.

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The Joy of Kid’s Art

snow

Kaylee Cole, age 10, of Plains sent in a weather picture with BFFs walking in the rain. Weather art from Montana kids runs every day in the Missoulian. To offer your child’s (or students’) creations, please send the artwork on an 8.5×11-inch piece of paper and carefully print your phone number and the name, age, birth date and hometown of the student. Horizontal pictures work best. Send pictures to Missoulian Weather Drawing, Missoulian, P.O.Box 8029, Missoula, MT 59807-8029. The newspaper holds on to each drawing for a month or so after publication, if you wish to stop by and retrieve it.

– From today’s Missoulian, our local newspaper

When I came across this picture this morning online in the Missoulian I was filled with a sense of joy.  I love that the girls in the picture are out in the rain/snow with their umbrellas smiling.  They’re BFF’s (best friends forever) and they seem content simply being together out in the elements.

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Basking

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After I saw my thirteen year-old out the door this morning on his walk to school I did a few minutes of sitting meditation embraced in a warm spring sun beam shining in through my bedroom window.  I felt my posture stable and relaxed soaking up the sun as my lips curved to form a gentle smile.

After my meditation I headed out to do some childcare for some friends of mine.  They have a five-year old boy and a recently turned 2-year old girl.  Before I was injured and contracted a nerve disease which qualified me for disability a few years ago I was a nanny and before that I worked in pre-schools and day cares.  I love hanging out with kids.  They have much wisdom and much to teach.

I spent my day making up silly songs about underwear falling down (to the tune of London Bridge), since the 5-year old, like many boys his age, enjoys toilet humor, negotiating healthy snacks and a proper lunch to kids who would rather eat popsicles and pizza for every meal, playing frisbee with suction cups in hand (an idea sparked by the five-year old), and trying to convince the 2-year old that bugs were not bad.  I also fielded many 5-year old budding questions such as, “Why do you wear the same clothes everyday?” and in response to my bowing in gratitude to my plate of food at lunch, “What are you doing?”

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Indeed I have been wearing the same clothes everyday now since November.  I have two pairs of the exact same style and color of dark brown pants and about five or six of the exact same style and color moss green shirt.  I commended him for his awareness and explained how I enjoy the simplicity of having only one outfit.  He seemed to understand and then asked me how many pairs of shoes I owned, to which I answered, “I have three pairs of shoes.  These ones I’m wearing (my crocs which I wear most often), my snow boots, and a pair of motorcycle boots (which I only wear when I’m on my bike of course).”

I also enjoyed talking to him more about why I give thanks to my food before I eat.  With a really puzzled expression on his face he asked, “Do you thank your food EVERY time you eat?” to which I answered, “Yes, I do!”  Unlike the having one outfit conversation it took him longer to begin understanding this concept of thanking the food.  I spoke with him about how having food was a gift and that not everyone in the world had enough food to eat.  Then I mentioned how the farmers had to grow the peanuts for the peanut butter and strawberries for the jelly, how the trucks had to work to transport the food to the stores, and about all the different workers involved in helping bring the food to our plates.  After briefly explaining all of that he said, “OR you could just go to the store and get the food,” to which I asked, “But how does the food get there?”  He thought about it for a moment and then I said, “We need the farmers and the trucks and all the people to get the food to the stores.  Without all of those people we’d have no food in the stores.  That’s why I like to give my thanks to the food.”

A productive day I would say!  Kids have a beautiful and simply way of communicating and they are in every moment always ready to absorb and learn and grow.

Reflecting on the day the practice of present moment, wonderful moment was alive and strong.  I feel gratitude coursing through me for youth, playfulness, the sun, laughter, silliness, good questions, and taking the time to stop and literally smell the blooming flowers.  And now in the solitude of night under a clear dark sky I am enjoying the ease of a clean and quiet house.