So, I Threw A Spatula…

Just last week, in a fit of quiet rage and a heightened sense of perceived injustice, I hurled a spatula across my kitchen.

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I cannot convey to you, by the way, how hard that sentence was to admit, write and publish.

Anger’s not cute

Anger is not cute. Rage…even less so. It’s not an emotion many people, women specifically, proudly tout. Lack of control, specifically expressions of anger, seems to run counter to the current culture of mindfulness and increased emotional intelligence.

I admit, I’m not proud of throwing that spatula in fury. However, I choose to share my embarrassing outburst on social media because despite being one of the least favourite emotions, anger is a human one. It’s part of the colourful rainbow of sentiments that contributes to the privilege of being human. No one is exempt or immune. Nor, should we strive to be.

Nevertheless, we rarely see examples of healthy, thriving women in their anger. Somehow, anger doesn’t fall into the parameters of what society believes a woman should exude.

As Soman Chainani, acclaimed author and filmmaker, asserts, “Social media has made it so that we are constantly judging ourselves and others. If we’re not careful, our social media feeds become a torture device, an assault of beauty and perfection designed to make you feel inadequate. It makes you intolerant of other people’s real imperfections, and it makes you start to despise the weight of real life, and invest in shallow, flimsy, two dimensional mirrors of it.”

Our growing understanding of emotional expression has somehow coincided with raised and often unrealistic expectations of how our emotions should manifest themselves, which can result in feelings of shame in moments we don’t present as calm, cool, and controlled. We can even tell ourselves the story that we’re somehow ‘defective.’

A bit of background…

I should mention, for the record, that I didn’t throw the spatula at anyone. I was standing alone in the kitchen, ruminating.

The rage had been fuelled by a recent article in Maclean’s magazine, titled I Regret Having Children. The article reported that an increased number of women across North America were expressing regret for having had children, a fact I vehemently DO NOT personally agree with.

Reading it made me angry for three reasons:

  1. Mental Load: Most mothers these days share a profound first-hand understanding of the day-to-day inner conflicts one experiences when trying to meet insatiable, constant, 24-hour needs of our little people, balance and manage a household, nurture a flourishing relationship, nail it in our ambitious careers, all the while attempting to maintain a stronghold on one’s own identity and wellness. Just look at popular posts like the recent work by cartoonist Emma, You Should Have Asked, which depicts the pressures of ‘mental load’ in a hilarious and all-too-familiar manner. It resonates. However, it doesn’t mean I REGRET the choice to have children. It breaks my heart that for a rising number of women, the only relief comes from wishing they never had children. I HATE that women feel like they need to choose some binary definition and experience of motherhood. And that a surprising number feel like they chose wrong.IMG_2650
  2. I felt set up: After finishing the article, I couldn’t help myself. I continued scrolling down to the comments section, anticipating the onslaught of inevitable traditionalist commentators. Sure enough, comments judging the “regretters” harshly, each one echoing the other, affirmed that our current cultural and family denigration is owed to women forgetting their place. Blaming and shaming women for being selfish in their pursuits. Declaring that they should only find fulfillment by filling their pre-determined roles. Where is the village? The lack of support, the sometimes-lonely nature of parenting, and the expectations of living up to some ideal make it difficult to be a mother. It’s unjust and unfair…and heartbreaking. The underlying cultural viewpoint that this is somehow a mother’s issue is infuriating. Really, this comes down to perpetuated societal injustices. This is everyone’s problem!
  3. A building sense of injustice: So, there I stood, staring at the piled-up dishes taunting me from the sink, the next day’s awaiting lunch Tupperware practically begging to be filled from the messy counter, and imagined the wet laundry impatiently admonishing me for my turtle’s pace…empathy, solidarity, heartbreak mounting. I just couldn’t help myself…

So, I threw the spatula…

We feel we should know better

As soon as it clattered against the squared edges of the basin, the heat of shame quickly replaced the rage. Shocked, I realized that in spite of regular journaling, meditation, gratitude practice, and exercise, I had experienced an uncontrolled, reactionary outburst.

At the time, I thought, I know better! What is wrong with me? What had made me react like that? More importantly, I wanted to know how could I stop it from happening again.

I believe some people turn to mindfulness as an inoculation against uncomfortable human emotions like grief, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, and anger. That somehow, there’s a perception that meditation is the answer to ridding us of these feelings.

Our current mindset seems to be that the more we know, the more we should be able to control ourselves. Ironically, I have heard friends mention that mindfulness just doesn’t “work” for them, dejected in their inability to get ahead of their unwanted emotions and the humiliating ways these feelings can sometimes express themselves. Or, some teachers impatiently lament that reflection and meditation in school doesn’t immediately cause tangible changes in behaviour. But, maybe, we’re all missing the point?

What is authentic mindfulness?

Here’s the thing, resisting negative emotions only exaggerates them. Genuine mindfulness comes from acceptance and deep observation. Observing all emotions, accepting their existence, and dropping the expectation that we should somehow be immune to negative feelings. Only through that acceptance, can we alter our, possibly inappropriate, reactions.

Simple concept, challenging to execute

As Shawn Achor, Harvard-trained happiness expert and author asserts, “common sense is not common action.” What he means is that even if we know what to do, actually doing it comes down to more than just our willpower or intellectual knowledge. That’s why experts in the field refer to mindfulness and meditation as a practice. Much like going to the gym, we can’t simply attend for a week and expect to reap it’s benefits for the rest of our lives. It’s an on-going labour of love. We win some, we lose some, and the overall trend keeps us headed in a positive, self-aware direction.

What happened on the brain-level?

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(Pic credit www.greenlightheidi.com)

In order to explain what happened, we need to talk about the two parts of our brain that duel for supremacy.

First, we have the emotional, limbic, reptilian part of the brain (amygdala). When we’re threatened, cortisol and adrenaline (neuro-chemicals) course through our veins throwing this ancient part of our brain into fight, flight or freeze. This reaction can prove tremendously helpful in protecting us from the perils of huge predators; however, it is not of particular use when employed in day-to-day stressors. Cortisol shuts down the body on a fundamental level and is only meant to be present in our bodies for short bursts. The problem is, every single time we get stressed, cortisol is released. The compounding effects of stress on the body has been linked to decreases in effectiveness of the immune system, cardio-vascular functioning, digestion, cellular growth, empathy, and increases in depression and anxiety. It’s toxic stuff!

The other part of the brain, the logical prefrontal cortex, is responsible for rational thinking. It takes into account a myriad of factors about a situation, risk-assessing as it goes along, before advising you on how to react.

It’s fair to say that after reading that article, my limbic brain hijacked my rational brain, and consequently, I jumped into fight mode.

And so, I propose, maybe it would be more useful to be calculating success in terms of our Recovery Time, as opposed to some unattainable obliteration of negative thoughts. Recovery time meaning, how quickly are we able to get to a place of authentic, self-forgiving, ego-free reflection after an emotional breakdown?  How long does it take for the rational brain to regain control?

What Now? How do we increase our recovery time after an emotional outburst, anyway?

The key is letting go of the ego-which says that if you’re not winning, you’re losing. Compromise and self-reflection are not the ego’s favourite thing to do. We have to have more patience of ourselves and others in the process, so we can move on and bounce forward. Mindfulness plays a big role in recovery time.

And, a little bit of reflection also goes a long way…

Five things you can do to increase your recovery time:

  1. Your story: Ask yourself, What story am I telling myself right now?
  2. Let it out: Find a way to express your voice through journaling or talking. Sometimes, those big feelings just need validation.
  3. List it up: Create a mental or written list of what’s inside your control and what’s outside of it.
  4. Small Steps: Create a small goal you know you can accomplish. Doing that has a way to building your confidence. The all or nothing mindset serves nothing. Small steps lead to big changes!
  5. Celebrate: Holding yourself to an unrealistic ideal, when it comes to any behavioural change is a recipe for disaster and failure. Celebrate small triumphs!

 

 

 

 

Tantrums, Toddlers, Torrential Rain: How One Mom’s Decision Paid-it-Forward

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Just the other day, as the children in my household pressed pause on their play to catch up on some much-needed rest, I rested an elbow on the smooth surface of the kitchen table, my hand cupping the ceramic promise of wakefulness. I inhaled the delicious moment of silence for a few extra seconds before hinging open the silver lid to the computer that sat slightly askew before me.

 

As I opened my email, her message practically jumped off the screen at me.

 

“Thanks for your inspiration to step out of my comfort zone today!” she had written.

 

I was intrigued.

 

Tingling chills climb up my spine and spread across the surface of my skin whenever I hear about people helping people. When I hear that an individual has pushed themselves to take a risk in being kind to another person because of a story they’ve heard or an kind acts they’ve seen, it confirms my deeply held personal belief that kindness inspires kindness.

 

“I’m normally a very quiet, reserved person, and have a hard time initiating conversation. But today, I pushed myself.”

 

Happiness washed over me as I read on.

 

The message was from Denise, a teacher and mother, like me. We had both attended the same classes in university and graduated alongside one another. Although we had fallen out of touch, we would often see each other at the park, running errands, or chauffeuring our kids around town.

 

As a result of the Beacon Hill blog post I had published just days earlier, she had made it her mission that day to strike up a conversation when the opportunity arose.

 

That morning, as she spoke to strangers in line, smiled at passers-by on the sidewalk, and chatted with fellow parents at school drop-off, she felt rewarded in knowing that such a small effort positively impacts many people’s day.

 

But it was a decision she made later that morning, that would truly become a defining moment for her.

 

After drop-off, she hurriedly parked her vehicle near the entrance of a local grocery store. Glancing at the list of items she had written on a neatly folded piece of loose-leaf paper, she gathered her purse and keys, then fastened the buttons on her waterproof coat just as wet droplets began tapping at roof of her car. Within seconds the rain was pelting the windows; people scurried to their cars shielding their heads from the rain with anything they could find: flyers, clasped hands, and even boxes of cereal.

 

She took a deep breath, assembling her things under an arm as she pushed the door open, readying her legs to sprint to the entrance of the store.

 

Then, Denise stopped dead in her tracks, as her gaze fell on her.

 

The woman, whose face was plastered with soaked wisps of a messy bun, pleaded desperately in the assailing rainstorm as her one arm wrestled a coat onto the flailing limbs of a tantruming toddler. An unmistakable wail drew Denise’s eyes to the woman’s other arm, which held a new baby, red-faced, screeching furiously, and blinking as beads of water accumulated on her tiny body.

 

Denise immediately recognized the woman as one of the teachers she had taught with in the past.

 

Instantly, her mind went to the huge list of errands in her purse. She barely had time to get it all done as it was!

 

In that moment, a distant memory interrupted her thoughts. It was a dark, rainy night just a few years earlier. A new mother, Denise had found herself in the parking lot of a grocery store much like this one, a cart filled to the brim, her new baby crying, and her car keys were nowhere to be found. Frantic, she had searched for the keys, rain dripping from her forehead into her purse and onto her screaming baby, aware of her galloping heart as panic rose in her chest.  Right then, a stranger had stopped to help her find her keys. She remembered being filled with a such a deep sense of gratitude.

 

With a look of determination, Denise deposited her belongings on the seat, gently shut the door to her car, and headed straight in the direction of the woman and her children.

 

Pic credit: Fatherly.com

 

Diapers, a Duchess, and the Disaster that Gained Me a Friend

The blood drained from my wearied face, as I stared at my smiling 8 –week-old son, sprawled precariously on the thin change pad barely separating him from the gritty and germ-ridden coffee shop bathroom floor upon which he lay.

Desperate times. Desperate measures.

My little man had just blown through his 5th diaper of the morning.

Through my “work” in the field as a mother and my own countless unfortunate, surprising, and embarrassing moments, I’ve come to an undisputed scientific conclusion:

Newborn babies are conveyor belts.

Nothing goes in without something coming out.

But, the real kicker?

As any parent knows, babies up their game when the stakes are excruciatingly high.

Public outings where finding any semblance of a change table becomes a veritable logistical-nightmare,

lengthy car rides,

and, my personal, much-revisited favourite, that moment when you’re about to put freshly changed Sweet Cheeks down for the night, visions of rest and relaxation dancing in your head.

My sister and I had chosen this particular sunny Saturday morning to venture downtown for our first shopping adventure, my then-two-year-old daughter in tow.

Coincidentally, Prince William, Duchess Kate, and their two children had come to visit our beautiful city on their Canadian tour. The crowd spilled out onto the streets. It was insane. Fanfare, celebration, and electric excitement was in the air.

Armed with idealism and naiveté, we walked amongst the people with a skip in our step.  We entered the first store, only to be hit hard within minutes by reality. Unyielding demands from the two-year-old for snacks, toys, and adventures behind sales counters combined with the very real need to feed a new baby, forced us to re-evaluate.

Shopping would have to wait.

We ducked into a popular nearby coffee shop chain and claimed the corner of a communal table for ourselves. We sipped, snacked, and scanned the room.

My eyes immediately met the kind eyes of a woman, busily tending to her own baby. Gentle-faced, warm, and open, she nodded and smiled at me silently signalling her solidary as a fellow mom.

Instantly, I was lurched back to the present by the unmistakable sound of The Blowout.

Clutching my black diaper bag close to my body and my son even tighter, I stood up, and painstakingly wove my way in and out of the bodies crammed in the serpentine queue for caffeine.

After an eternity, I reached tiny bathroom. There was a line up several people deep. When it was finally my turn, I shoved the door open, my eyes searching the room frantically for a change station.

“How is it possible that a busy coffee shop like this doesn’t have a change station?” I thought in frustration as I dug through the bag, retrieving a portable change mat and placing it on the greying, discoloured tile. This would have to do.

I couldn’t help but think how unlikely it would be for Duchess Kate to find herself in such a predicament, as I dug around for the diapers.

My heart stopped.

THE DIAPERS!

For a never-ending minute, panic and desperation washed over me in relentless waves.

I envisioned them sitting forgotten on the dark stone counter in my kitchen. In my state of new-mom-exhaustion, I had failed to actually pack them into my diaper bag.

Thankfully, having remembered the wipes, I cleaned my little guy up redressed him, and ventured out diaper-less. A scary, but necessary prospect.

Sheepishly, I made my way over to Solidarity-Mom. I felt stupid and exposed. Shame quickly followed suit. What kind of a mom forgets THE DIAPERS?

Smiling apologetically, I asked her to bail me out.

“Oh my goodness, of course!” She exclaimed with a warm smile, with neither pity nor judgement, but total empathy.

As she held out two diapers in her outstretched hand, I felt so grateful. It felt like she literally saved my life, or at the very least, my dignity.

That night, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I had to find a way to thank her.

I happen to be part of an outstanding mom’s Facebook group. These women build each other up, share stories without fear of judgement, and mobilize when tragedy strikes. In a world when motherhood can be a minefield of over-commitment, snotty noses, and unrealistic expectations, this group has been a beacon of strength for many.

I posted a short version of the story, exclaiming how impactful that moment had been for me, hoping to “pay it forward.” Numerous moms immediately commented, not only to reassure me that I was not alone in “screwing up”, but hoping we’d connect, becoming friends in the future.

Sure enough, within a few hours, Solidarity-Mom, Abbie, responded:

“That was me and you are more than welcome! By the way, my guy is 8-weeks old, too!”

As luck would have it, our baby boys were coincidentally born on the exact same day. After some back and forth, we made plans to meet up for a walk with some of the moms from the group. We hit it off, and it has become tradition to see each other as much as our packed schedules allow.

Because of the diaper disaster, not only have I gained a friend, but my son has, too.

Sometimes it seems hard not to believe that the universe works in mysterious ways.