A Love Letter to Alanis

September 19, 2012

Every once in a while someone comes along to change your life in surprising ways. You don’t expect it. You don’t anticipate the vastness of their effect on your life. And then there it is ~ a newness you never thought possible.

Alanis Morissette is one of those people. And because I love her so much, in all her frailty and grace and honesty, I thought I’d pen a love letter just to say it to her too. So here goes.

Dear Alanis,

It may seem strange to receive a letter from someone you don’t know, but I’m sure you have had some practice. How did you jump inside my head, read my thoughts, then sing about it like that? You recorded seemingly every painful, joyful, messy, divine experience I have ever had. And you belted it out like you had experienced the same thing too.

I love you for your honesty. I love you for your courage. I love you for showing me your authentic self.

Your latest album Havoc and Bright Lights once again hit a nerve. At first I was a bit skeptical as your sound seems to have ripened with age. Maybe it was the years between this album and your prior one, Flavors of Entanglement, which I played until the CD gave up cough and wheezing into retirement (I burned a new one – totally legally of course!). Maybe it was motherhood, which is bound to change anyone, but your lyrics, once digested, are as profound and moving as all your other work. As a fellow writer, I am left astounded by your keen ability to squeeze multiple human experiences into tiny words.

Listening to your voice gives me the sense that all is right with the world, even as you sing of the things that are not.


There is another reason why I am writing you. You give me courage. You give me the feeling I can do anything. And while you sing, I think you are simultaneously listening to my reaction. It is as if you know how I feel. That is your art. That is your talent. That is the beauty of you.

You sing of empathy and how you appreciate that in others. You speak of the creative spirit in Magical Child that carries us forward. You recognize how powerful women are (and love them for it). You ask if we have found our own true North, that direction in life that keeps us centered and on task.

I’m not sure I have yet, but I am trying. With your help I may just get there yet.

With love,

Christine

Motherhood is as sacred as Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and Yahweh combined. People often have specific notions about it so most people don’t address the topic with much neutrality.

Motherhood is a state of being. It is a relationship with others. And it signifies the perpetuation of humanity.

Therein lies the challenge.

When we start to dissect contemporary motherhood, different lines of thought emerge. There are those who think mothers should care primarily for their children (and lay succinct judgement on those who opt not to), while others believe mothers are people too who don’t stop being people once they push that baby out into the world. In their view mothers should be allowed to lay claim to things beyond childcare. Then you have a grey spectrum of people who have super ideas about what a mother should be and either aren’t one themselves or can’t remember how hard it is to raise them.

According to a recent report by the Motherhood Recuperation Society (a loose translation for Müttergenesungswerk, a German group that support moms to return to sanity in the throes of motherhood), the number of mothers in Germany who suffer from a psychological illness has increased by 33% in the last eight years.

I’m not surprised.

The increased pressure through the school system that syphens out “low performers” by age nine sets up an expectation that you, the parent (read: the mother, really) are solely responsible for the child’s ability to either make it in this highly competitive world or not. The added crush of little to no childcare available before the age of three leaves many mothers scrambling for less than ideal solutions.

Life is full of compromise. Indeed that is true. But when left alone mothers are getting sick by the thousands.

If we are to perpetuate humanity, how about a little more help? If you are a mom reading this, know that you are doing the best you can. Let’s support each other and remove those taboos.

It really is okay to be human, just like the people you are raising.

 

Bear with me. It sounds complicated, but really, it’s not.

My e-friend Bernadette Noll, who is friends of friends of my friend living in Munich, is the co-founder of the Slow Family Movement, the idea of investing time in our families instead of the activities that keep us away from them.  It is incredibly encouraging that mainstream media outlets such as yesterday’s USAToday have embraced the idea of the power of slow in so many areas of our lives.

And here’s the thing. It works.

This morning our kids were calm, centered and ready for their school week. It wasn’t only because we opted to do virtually nothing this weekend. It wasn’t only because my husband and I joined them in doing, well, nothing. It was also because the kids are firmly rooted in the understanding that we want to be with them whilst doing nothing. They built a fort out of chair and blankets, then slept under them at night. They played horse on their bikes and gathered walnuts that had fallen from our tree in the yard. They were happy just being. And it was beautiful to watch.

At the risk of sounding pious (and I really don’t mean to), you reap what you sow. And lately I’m beginning to understand what Bernadette Noll means when she says less is more for families too.

I spend a lot of time with my kids. Sometimes toooooo much time, if you know what I mean. But the truth is I wouldn’t change a thing. Their time at home is limited to a handful of years. That’s all we have before the comings and goings and laundry drop-offs begin. It is a precious time of instilling how valuable they are as human beings. If we didn’t invest time in them, what would they think about themselves and the world they inhabit? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be the one to show them the way than to leave it to chance…or television and YouTube.

Investing in your relationships, whether with children or other loved ones, is the best insurance policy life can give you. It is time well-spent, or in the eyes of Bernadette and myself, invested ~ for the future is tomorrow’s present and your time is a present too.

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Do Busy Moms Have Time?

April 1, 2010

After reading Washington Post staff writer Brigid Schulte’s time starvation manifesto, “The Test of Time: A busy working mother tries to figure out where all her time is going,” I couldn’t resist but to reach out to her to share the power of slow. I felt an affinity for her and her struggles. It seemed like the right thing to do.

She sent a lovely response, agreeing to meet for coffee if I was every in the area. It just so happened I would be. So we sat down for a chat while I was in Washington, DC in mid-March. In our one-hour discussion, we covered a lot of ground, which she wrote about in today’s Washington Post.

We talked at length about our lives as working mothers, the constant external pressure to keep it altogether, and our intense need to do this despite how taxing it can be. Her children are roughly the same age as mine (primary school); like me, she works in a deadline-driven environment, often from her home office; and, like many people, she struggles with the clock.

That is where our lives diverge.

Somewhere along the line, I consciously decided to disengage from clock combat. I began to look at time as a resource I could work with, not against. It was a subtle, yet profound paradigm shift that leaves me feeling calmer when life gets messy.

With two kids life is often chaotic and loud and odiferous. Just yesterday my son dropped a strawberry on my favorite pants, staining them a lovely red hue. We learned that berries really can stain. But we learned something else, too.

Boundaries matter.

This mind-shift of time-as-friend-not-foe happened because I saw how my children, back when they were age one and three, lived in a timeless state. To them the clock meant nothing. So why did it mean so much to me? What would happen if, for a moment, I stepped out of time altogether and walked more slowly to the car, to the grocery store, to the laundry room? What would occur if I took the risk of slow-poking it to work, thanking the fourteen-wheeler for giving cause to ease off the gas for the ten-minute ride?

Wonders occurred. My life occurred. I occurred.

Sitting in the trendy metro-area coffee shop with my new Post pal, I delighted in Brigid’s company as she admitted she delved into the procrastination chapter of The Power of Slow first. Life can be so overwhelming! Where to start! Working toward deadlines seems to help. It must as she manages to meet her timelines like everyone else. But along with the workaday routine, she is accompanied by a deep feeling of dread. Tell me really, she said to University of MD leisure studies professor John P. Robinson, where does my time go?

She even went on the Dr. Phil show to address this same issue.

It got me to thinking.

Where are we spending most of our time? If I were to calculate how much time I spent in my car, for instance, while in the US for just that week, I would say a good deal of our time is spent inside our vehicles. How can we cut down our personal traffic? Is it feasible?

Telecommuting arrangements are one way to navigate the time continuum. For moms who work without pay (read: full-time parenting), how can we carve out moments of time for ourselves? In a past essay, entitled “Minute Snatchers ~ How to Be a Writing Parent” I called time carving  minute-snatching. I’d snatch a few minutes during naptime to write. In fact, I wrote three books that way. It was fulfilling because it gave me a sense of control, something many moms struggle to regain in their lives dictated by so many external demands.

Having blocks of time seems like a luxury, yet it is possible. It really is about task management.

My kids, for instance, are home for a two-week Easter break right now. Like boomerangs that hover low to the ground, then high in the sky, they double sling-shot their way through the day. Sometimes, they make arrangements with their friends; at other times they are sitting on my lap, asking what they can do. Just when the pain point of their boredom gets unbearable, they come up with an idea. I call it skating on the fringe of creativity. They need those unstructured days to feel the timelessness of youth. Then there are moments in which they are in structured play, such as a two-day riding camp. It is about blending both to find the optimum experience.

Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we don’t.

Think of it this way: when you fill a tablespoon with water, what takes longer? Running the water at full speed or raising the faucet handle just a tad to fill it once without spilling?

The other day my son ranted about how his jacket wouldn’t zip up as he hurridly struggled with the zipper.

“Sometimes slow is faster,” I said in my best mommy voice. He smirked as I showed him what I meant.

Today he proudly showed me he could zip it himself.

“Look, Mom!” he beamed. “There really is power in slow!”

Why yes, honey, I’d say there really is.

The outdoor temperature flirted with freezing as we shifted our weight from one foot to the other. The rain pelted our heads relentlessly as we waited for the command.

“And…action!”

We quickly whipped off our hatwear, pretending it was a breezy spring-like day. It wasn’t. Our hands were frozen, our shoulders perched on our ears. Because the camera couldn’t pick up the ‘light rain’, we had to act as if it wasn’t precipitating. Life on television is a lot different than life in the real world. And I loved every minute of it.

Like many women, I wear many hats: wife, mother, PR consultant, writer, actor, friend. Every now and again I step out of life and in front of the camera for a day or two of complete release. Hanging out with crew members and  feeling the sense of temporal camaraderie are rewarding experiences. As Dena Marie Patton says in Gina Blitstein’s piece, “Where is the ‘i’ in my life?”, we must step out of our myriad roles, if only for a few minutes, to rediscover the me in we, the self in the collective. Dena herself experienced a minor stroke at age twenty-six after living a workaholic lifestyle. She knows of which she speaks.

Believe it or not, bundled under five layers of clothing to ward off the freezing rain, I found myself. Despite the straining external circumstances, it was a journey of self-discovery, a true test of desire, and a marvelous return to me.

How will you carve out those moments for yourself? Which avenue will you choose to ‘step out of your role’ and into yourself? I’d love to know.

The Gift of a Year

January 3, 2010

The Christmas gift I enjoyed most this year was a used book my sister sent me. It was simply perfect as my sister had gushed for almost an hour on the phone about the effects the book had on her earlier this summer. The Gift of a Year: How to Achieve the Most Meaningful, Satisfying, and Pleasurable Year of Your Life by Mira Kirschenbaum walks you through the steps to take a year for yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to shave your head and enter a nunnery. Nor does it mean leaving your friends and family in the dust literally. It is about focusing on the one thing that’s been ‘missing’ in your life.

Looking back on 2009, I lived the gift of a year without really knowing it. I merely decided to fulfill my childhood dreams by doing things differently. Acting in German television shows, doing commercials and video skits, I enjoyed my year immensely. Now that I know what to call what I did (gifting myself a year), I  decided this year would be the year of beauty for me personally (my husband and I name each year something by selecting a focus. Last year was the Year of the Book. This year is the Year of Entertainment). Whether I commit an act of beauty, marvel at the beauty of nature, or surround myself with beautiful people, I have decided beauty, both inside and out, might be just the thing to keep my focused and in alignment with my truest purpose.

So it was perfect timing when I came home after the long six-hour drive from the Swiss Alps to our home nest where a copy of Shannon Honeybloom’s new release, Making a Family Home was waiting patiently by the wood pile. The book’s premise is to be conscious about how you design your home by taking into consideration the sensory aspects and the hidden meaning behind the space. In flowing prose, Shannon conveys her own struggles with raising three small children in her Austin home. The isolation, the challenges, the taxing nature of early parenting can all be alleviated by using the home as the basis on which to build our lives. Beauty, joy, love and warmth are what nurtures our souls. The lovely photography by Skip Hunt augments the book’s message: home is where the heart is. Fill your house with love, no matter the location.

How will you gift yourselves this year?

Slow Mom Movement

October 6, 2009

Kiwi magazine and I had a chat recently about living the slow life. Perhaps indicative of the topic, my phone didn’t work the day we were to have the moms meetphone interview so we had to reschedule for the following day. Embracing the slow, I realized there are many ways to connect with people. Luckily, my email was still working so the writer and I were able to remain in communication despite external circumstances.

The Slow movement is gaining a strong foothold in our society as people realize their current pace is not sustainable. At one point we all give out if we don’t rest and take time for self-care.

As the seasons change (for the Northern Hemisphere, things are turning colder), we need to be reminded to:

1) Breathe.

2) See the big picture.

3) Laugh. A lot!

4) Allow for tears and periods of mourning.

5) Accept ourselves for who we truly are.

Let us remember what is  important. And what is not. It’s not winning the soccer game or getting a perfect score that matters. It is the process of becoming we must cherish most. Slow Moms unite!

Author of A Better Day – A Better Life, Kelly Wilson, a work from home mom better daywith toddlers about her feet, equates her ‘me time’ with the time her husband spends on the golf course on Saturdays. Taking on the mindset that her free time is a round of nine or 18 holes helped her establish some ground rules for herself.

Listen to Kelly Wilson’s ideas of how your leisure time can be like a day on the golf course, too. [Listening instructions: Click on the link, then click on it again for it to open your media player. Be sure your pop-up blocker has been deactivated.]

Lisa Belkin has her finger on the pulse of contemporary motherhood like no other. She blogged about her chat with Carl Honoré about slow parenting and what it means for parents today. I love his message. It harmonizes with mine.

turtleGo at your own pace (remember Eric Yaverbaum? His slow might be your fast). You need not be a total turtle (although they are adorable and remind us all that they get work done, too), but remember what happened to the hare in that children’s fable?

Yes, slow is good. Add a dash of it to your relationships today and see what happens!

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