Why clinging to the past (or the future) makes you suffer

Being a parent forces you to constantly be aware of the passage of time. Your life runs to the rhythm of school years and holidays and sports seasons and annual checkups. Parents feel it, and kids feel it too. I don’t know how many times my kids have said they can’t wait for this day or that trip or alternately, that they don’t want summer to be over or to grow up too fast.

If you haven’t seen this video about the girl who doesn’t want her baby brother to grow up because he’s just sooo cute, it hits you in two layers. The first is how adorable she is (and she’s right about her baby brother). But there’s also a deeper undercurrent of the pain we share with her of wanting to stop time.

I recently read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Tolle explains the difference between clock time and psychological time. Clock time is what you use to function day to day, to get places on time and do what you need to do. Psychological time is the attachment you feel to the past or the future, anything that is pulling you away from the moment you are in right now. Psychological time can bring suffering because you are either comparing now to the past and finding it lacking, or you feel that you need something in the future to make you happier.

The girl who doesn’t want her baby brother to grow up was experiencing the pain of living on psychological time. I see it in my own life as well. I am flooded with old emails that I don’t want to get rid of in case there’s an important memory I’ll lose. I sometimes feel sad when I look at family pictures, even though they are from happy events, because I long to relive them or to be younger (or especially to see my kids be younger again).

When we hold on to the past like this, we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to fully experience the present. By lamenting about how short the summer seems or how quickly a vacation passes, you are robbing the event of its enjoyment by anticipating its end. If you are a planner like I am, you might spend a lot of your present time with your thoughts on the future. People say I’m “organized,” or but it’s really a form of anxiety about things that haven’t happened yet.

Since reading Tolle’s book and watching Sadie cry over her baby brother, I am trying to keep re-centering myself in the present moment, to stop dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. I hope that my kids see a difference in my attentiveness toward them and that they too practice living in the now.

As Oogway says to Po in Kung Fu Panda, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

If you like reading about families, please check out my novel, Giving Myself Away.

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I hope my kids will always be able to look up to me

“Mommy, I don’t want to grow taller than you. I always want to be able to look up to you,” my tween son told me last night. I’m sure he meant that literally, but I couldn’t help but take the message as a figurative one. Can I be a mom who will always be worth looking up to?

I give a lot of thought to what I can pass on to my children because I realize that I have limited time left in which their parents will be the central figures of their lives. Soon their friends will matter more, followed by girlfriends and wives. I can only hope that the seeds of what I’ve tried to plant in their hearts will take root and bloom.

These are the ways I hope to be a mother worth looking up to:

  1. Faith: My faith brings me comfort in this modern “I need proof” and “I need answers now” world. No matter what your belief system, just the thought that there’s something out there larger than ourselves that there’s a plan for us (though we may not understand it yet), eases the pressure to feel like I need to know it all. This leads me to

 

  1. Humility: Our privacy has been replaced by the overwhelming popularity contest of social media. For many of us, our jobs depend on what others think of us and how many people know and care that we exist. To be humble today takes an extra measure of self-control. Of course I hope you read this and enjoy it and comment on it and share it, but whether you do or not, does that have bearing on my worth as an individual? I need to say what I believe and live my live according to my principles, which leads me to

 

  1. Openness: I never want to offend anyone and I can see multiple points of view on just about any issue. I tend to be a private person as well, but two years ago, I adopted a “theme” for myself of Put Yourself Out There. This simple statement brought about so many wonderful changes in my personal and professional life that I became determined to stop hiding. Kids (especially firstborns) try hard to please adults, a habit I never fully outgrew, but now I accept that not everyone will like what I say, and that’s okay. My desire to respectfully be who I am leads me to

 

  1. Kindness: The comedian Louis CK in one of his hilarious skits pointed out the fact that even the most mild-mannered people can turn aggressive in their cars. I have been known to utter “What are you, an idiot?” (and much worse) while driving. I’ve had uncharitable thoughts about other people that I wouldn’t say out loud, but my goal is to not even think them. It is so easy to get caught up in our own egos that we forget the struggles and fears and tragedies that have molded the people around us. And going back to the principles of faith and humility, who am I to judge? My desire to believe in the innate goodness of people leads to

 

  1. Optimism: There are two ways you can go through life: believing that humankind is selfish and inherently evil, or that people (for the most part) do their best with the resources they have to be cooperative and generous. The filter you choose is the one through which you will measure everything that happens to you, both good and bad. The good things will seem less good because you’ll attribute them to chance, while the bad things will seem predestined, part of life’s agenda of screwing you over. Like everyone else who exists, I’ve had some really good parts of my life and some really bad ones too. It’s a decision I make every day, but I choose to believe the universe is fundamentally good.

There are so many things I could wish for my children: that they find good partners, do well in school, have fulfilling and well-paid careers, and become good parents themselves. But instead of wishing they become certain things that may or may not happen, I will try to nurture who they are right at this moment. I hope that regardless of height, they see my path as one worth taking.

 

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When did you bond with your baby?

My brother and sister-in-law recently welcomed their first baby into the world. I am so excited for them and can’t wait to hold my niece and see the people I love in their new role as parents. Part of me envies the wonder and joy of becoming a first-time parent, while the other part thinks whew, glad I don’t have to go through that again!

Naturally, a birth in the family causes people to reminisce about their own baby stories. I have two sons, but because of circumstances surrounding their births, the bonding process felt instant and natural with my first child, but came much later with the second.

I had a healthy first pregnancy and delivery, and when my older son was born, he spent the entire hospital visit in the room with us. I don’t think he spent a minute in the nursery. He took to breastfeeding immediately and seemed very content from the get-go. I wasn’t nervous during my pregnancy because I felt no reason to be. Other than the typical fatigue and weepiness a new mom faces, becoming a parent was a natural transition.

Halfway through my second pregnancy, I found out I had a rare condition that could cause me to suddenly hemorrhage and bleed to death. Needless to say, this put a damper on the normal joy of pregnancy. I was fortunate to have skilled medical care and a safe delivery, but nevertheless, my second son was born premature at 35 weeks. He didn’t yet have a sucking reflex and his blood sugar dropped easily, so he spent his first two weeks with a feeding tube in the NICU. We could only see him by showing identification and passing through locked doors, then scrubbing up as though preparing for a medical procedure. I couldn’t nurse him. And when I was discharged from the hospital, I had to go home, an hour away from where he was. I didn’t even see him until the day after he was born.

He did not have formula because I was able to pump milk for him, but even when he came home from the hospital, he was only taking milk from a bottle. It left me in the frustrating position of having to get up in the middle of the night to use a breast pump and then feed him with a bottle. I was agitated, he was agitated, and it took us a while to get in sync. To me, breastfeeding was one of the easiest ways to feel bonded to my babies, so I was relieved when, a month later, he finally got the hang of it.

I think the major bonding experience for me and my younger son did not come until last year, when he was seven years old and spent three days in the hospital for a severe asthma attack. He endured needle sticks day and night, all kinds of pulmonary testing and chest x-rays, and an entire night in the ER. It was just the two of us (and many medical personnel) for three days together in the ambulance, the ER, and a hospital room. I gained so much pride and appreciation to see how my son handled himself under duress. I will never know how he felt in the hospital as a newborn because obviously he couldn’t tell me then and he doesn’t remember it now. His more recent hospital stay felt like our better-late-than-never bonding experience because I was fully focused on nothing but him and we spent the days and nights together that we should have shared when he was first born.

In my first novel, Giving Myself Away, my main character, Adrienne, who is already a mom, faces the heartbreaking decision of whether to give up her third baby for adoption. I incorporated some of my birth story into hers, but it was fascinating for me to explore this dilemma in writing because it’s an experience I could never imagine going through myself.

At a writers’ conference this past spring, I met a woman who found herself exactly in this situation and her story was amazing. If you are willing to share, what was the moment you felt bonded to your baby? I’d love to hear it (and it might inspire a story for a future novel!).

 

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Photo: A moment of bonding with my little guy while he was in the NICU.

5 ways to take better care of yourself as a mom (bonus spa giveaway)

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The two things that have held me back from taking care of myself as a mom are time and money. I even used to put off doctors’ appointments when it meant I’d need a few hours away from my kids. I went six months at a time without a haircut because I felt like the money could be better spent on the kids. That extra time and money I thought I was saving for the family only led to me feeling like a run-down martyr with no distinct identity apart from Mom/Mommy/Mama (depending on what the kids want at the moment).

Now I am functioning on a much better level.  I have a lot more confidence and energy because I take care of myself. I exercise regularly, I eat well, I get highlights (expensive AND time consuming!), and I get a massage or a facial now and then. Little indulgences like that make me feel so much better that I find I’m more attentive and patient as a parent. I enjoy life more, even with the constant hustle of our work, school, and activities.

We can certainly live without a trip to the spa, but ask yourself, as I did, whether the time and money you’re saving by not doing anything for yourself is really enhancing your family’s lifestyle. If you want to change that dynamic, here are some tips to free up the time and money you need:

 

  1. Save up for what you want to buy ahead of time so that you’re not feeling guilty putting something on a credit card that you really can’t afford. One of the best ways to feel on top of the world is to know you have a grip on your finances. If you’re not used to handling money, take on the challenge and feel the satisfaction of knowing you’re living within your means. If it helps, keep a picture of what you want to buy in your wallet to motivate you. Having a goal stopped me from getting coffee drinks, extra makeup I don’t need, or other little expenses that don’t seem like much but add up quickly.

 

  1. Trim money from other spending. When my kids were younger, I budget $100 a week for our family’s food; whenever we were under that, I put the extra money aside for myself. This gave me the motivation to creatively plan meals and not settle for fast food, which is overpriced and under-nutritious. At first it was a hassle for all of us: we had a routine of stopping at McDonad’s every Friday night, but that $20 was a fifth of the week’s food budget! We spend more on food now that they are older, but we’ve dropped the habit of eating out. Now going to a restaurant is a special, once-in-a-while treat we all look forward to and appreciate more.

 

  1. Decide as a family what you can give up in order to get something better. I realized I could not afford both cable TV and high-speed Internet access, so the kids and I voted and unanimously chose DSL. We haven’t watched TV in three years now, and after the initial shock that lasted about a week, it’s never bothered us since. Again, since you are giving something up, find something even better to replace it. One of my goals was to find new hobbies we could enjoy together. Not paying for cable TV meant there was enough money left over to go ice skating a few times a month. It’s become an activity that we all enjoy and look forward to and something we all learned together. If ice skating isn’t your idea of an indulgence, find something that is.

 

  1.  Look for ways to pursue your own interests, and find babysitting where you can. Fortunately, my mom lives nearby and even though she’s a busy woman herself, she makes it a priority to see that I get some time off from mom duty.  My brothers know that more than any stuff, the most valuable gift they can offer is some time with the kids so I can go out. I’ve also taken my kids to events and then sat on the sidelines to pursue my favorite passion, writing. Instead of watching them watch a science presentation, I pull out my laptop and write. I always wanted to write, but one of the things holding me back was feeling like I was doing something that wasn’t bringing money to the family and was taking time away from my kids. I’ve saved a lot of money on babysitting by finding fun things at libraries and schools for the kids to do while I take the time to write.

 

  1. Stop feeling guilty that every waking moment isn’t focused on your kids! This was the hardest one for me, but also the most necessary. There’s no point saving up money for a massage if you’re lying on the table feeling bad that you’re not home playing with the kids. A family needs times of separation to appreciate the togetherness. Tell your kids what you’re doing and why so that you can be a role model for how to balance work, parenting, taking care of your home, and taking care of yourself.

 

The first massage I ever had was because of a gift card, so I’d like to get the ball rolling for you on taking care of yourself.  Please visit my Facebook author page (Grete DeAngelo, Author) on the Giveaway tab or click here http://tinyurl.com/nurmmou to enter a random drawing for a $50 Spa Finders gift card!  Drawing ends Wednesday, July 16, 2014, at 10:00 am EST.

 

 

When did you stop picking up your kids?

 

I am usually a forward-thinking parent. I celebrate all the milestones and enjoy them – my kids taking showers instead of baths, cutting their own fingernails, making their own lunches and beds.

But sometimes the whoosh of passing time strikes me so hard that I can’t help but get sentimental about how fast it’s all going. On vacation recently, my son told me he felt sad because he missed his friends. That was the first time he had ever mentioned such a thing and it made me realize he’s making the transition to a point where his friends equal, if not surpass, his parents in his sphere of influence.

In this tenderhearted blog by fellow mom Kara Uhl, she wrote about her husband’s lament that there comes a time when you no longer pick up your children. That point passed for me long ago; I’d hurt my back if I even tried to pick up my sons. But sometimes I still grab one or the other of my boys, get as much of them onto my lap as will fit (pretty much just head and shoulders at this point), and talk baby talk to them. They still tolerate my fits of maudlin mushiness and probably secretly enjoy them.

Now and then I tease them and tell them they’re not allowed to grow up or get taller, but I know it’s their job to grow up and my job to let them grow up. I am proud of every new accomplishment and often find myself pushing them to try more than they thought themselves capable of doing on their own.

I am simultaneously drawn to cuddling my boys and pushing them away, knowing that soon the boundaries of our physical and emotional relationship will change. Other mammals go through the same weaning process that we do, and sometimes the young will live with their mothers for years before striking off on their own. In many animal groups, the female young stay with their mothers their whole lives, while the boys are cast out to find a new family group.

Even if I can’t pick up my children in my arms, they still need me to pick them up in other ways. There are days and nights of tears and anger and slights and things to be fearful of. Little problems turn into bigger problems as kids get older. There’s a comfort in knowing that no matter how grown up my kids are, they’ll always need me.

The best part of all is knowing that now they pick me up too.

 

If you like reading about families, please check out my novel Giving Myself Away, available now.

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Photo credit: “Mother Giving Hand To A Child” by David Castillo Domini / http://www.freedigitalphotos.net