$10 Mood Magic

What if for $10 a month you could change your mood…at any point in time…to be more upbeat, nostalgic, joyful, comtemplative…or whatever strikes your fancy? Well, as what happiness expert Gretchen Rubin calls an “underbuyer”–someone who hates to spend money–this is pretty appealing. There’s no way I’d spend $10 a day to boost my mood, but 33c a day…I can handle that..even with my Scottish stinginess.

So what’s this magic I’m referring to? Music! Recently my husband told me that iTunes has a special feature where you can listen to any albums, any time, for any number of times, for $10 a month. You just sign up for an apple music membership, go to the iTunes store music section, and click browse. Then voilá, whatever music appeals to you that moment is yours…and I don’t mean just the 30 second soundbites, but the whole album, uninterrupted.

So I’ve been having fun indulging in highschool nostalgia like the Ally McBeal soundtrack (yup, despire my current memory-lacking mommy brain I still know all the words), college day X-files tunes, and a university favourite, the uplifting Christian singer Chris Rice, as well as classics like the greatest hits of Fleetwood Mac and eclectic things like medieval music for a feast. It’s really fun to see how the kids respond to all this new-to-them music. The way they dance, make up adventures stories and act them out to the music, and generally get down and groovy. When it’s my 15 month old bopping his head, its hilarious!

Wanna check it out? The first three months are free. And while this might seem like an ad, I’m not being paid for this endorsement…I just love it, and honestly, I could only “sell”–in the sense of promote– what I love. My husband loves this gift, which he got for the kids on his birthday (this highly impressed them), because it takes up no room. No piles of CD’s falling over and getting chewed on by the baby!

Apple Music Membership

One other cool feature…it’s so handy for homeschool music appreciation because we can listen to anything, anytime, without having to sift through tons of YouTube videos with adds. Whether it’s music for a First Nations unit study or fun bible songs to sing along with, or that “real castle music” from the middle ages, iTunes has you covered! Let the dancing begin…

Angel Dreams

A little while ago I promised to dig up some of my  old poems and let them escape the confines of my notebooks. Here, in honour of St. Valentine’s Day, is one recalling a date from over a decade ago, when my husband and I were just dating. Enjoy!

Angel Dreams

Sometimes I wonder if
my guardian angel gets tired…
Does she weary of my insistence
of consistently wearing myself out?
The fact that she, too,
gets dragged about by my passions–
late night bus rides and cabs–
holding my hand
and watching my day-weary face,
hours passing like years.

And what does she think
as she broods in her
milky moonlit hammock,
hanging by my window
like a spider
catching dreams.
Does she hear my cry–
torn about by sleepless dreams–
or do her angel thoughts
fade me out?

Does she spend the time I’m sleeping
sewing the names of people I love
into her gown with starlit thread?
That she may be held aloft
buoyant with their love
remembering me as fingers remember lips.

Was she there that time at Rossini’s?
With the live jazz
and James and I gazing at each other
and grinning–
bouncing around in our seats like kids–
so impressed by the wonderful, throaty
wailings and croons of the black singer
we couldn’t help but dance to her voice.

Did she sit, invisible,
at the table beside us
sipping at a mug
of dream-drowsy blueberry tea…
eyes glazed with candle glow…
Or did she hover near the ceiling above us
just watching
and no drinking on the job,
for when God’s your boss
there’s no sneaking,
although there must be
benevolence.

The Importance of Emotional Connection in Marriage

I started reading a fascinating new book called Created for Connection: The “Hold Me Tight” Guide for Christian Couples, which explains the importance of authentic emotional connection in marriage. Maybe this sounds obvious, but what makes it interesting is the application of ideas from attachment parenting to attachment in marriage. Studies found that orphans and widows after World War Two both exemplified similar symptoms of trauma, and had similar needs. Things like emotional connection, stability, warmth, and affection. They needed a reliable, emotionally accessible person to attach to in order to feel safe and able to flourish. Come to think of it, don’t we all?

Absolutely, yes! We were indeed created for connection. We are social beings–made in, for, and to love. We aren’t solitary snow tigers who are happiest prowling the mountain tops alone, glorious in our defiant independence. While we all have a strong need to be ourselves, few of us are called to be ourselves, by ourselves alone…as hermits for example. So while we may value independence and self-reliance as signs of maturity or being “grown-up,” we should question whether they are the sole indicators of true maturity. Well-developed emotional intelligence should reflect our true nature as communal beings, and value connection, empathy and understanding as equally valid signs of maturity. In this view, “to turn to others for emotional support is a sign and source of strength.”

So how does this apply to marriage? The writers of the book, psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson and Emoionally Focussed Therapy trainer Kenneth Sanderfer, who both work as marriage counselors, say that their clients often get trapped in negative cycles of communication…attack and withdraw, verbal dumping and retreating into silence, etc. They call these negative speech patterns the “Demon Dialogues.” Conventional therapy tends to focus on clearing up communication issues and resolving conflict. Although valuable, this approach is actually dealing with the symptoms of marriage crisis (nagging, fighting, withdrawal into silence), rather than the source (lack of emotional connection and fear of abandonment). The authors found that the key to real progress in therapy was getting the spouses to stop accusing and attacking, and open up emotionally to explain how they really felt and what they needed. In short, letting their guard down and being vulnerable.

So instead of a woman accusing:

John always ignores me and goes to his office when he comes home! That’s why I have to nag him…or he won’t do anything to help. I have to do it all.

She could express her fragility:

I am lonely after a long day alone with the kids. What I really need when John comes home is a big hug. I want to feel we are a team and that I am not alone.

And instead of a man complaining:

It’s so stressful coming home. The second I get in the door I am barraged with demands. She does nothing but yell at me. No wonder I try to  escape.

He could admit:

I am tired after work and don’t want to lose my temper and get into a fight. I feel like I can’t do anything right, so I just try to get out of the way. I feel useless and unloved.

This vulnerability allows the other spouse to approach without fear of being pushed away. They are moved to mercy. Once they have the opportunity to comfort and reassure their spouse, they can begin reconnecting emotionally. Spouses who are able to be vulnerable with each other can start strengthening their marriages, and healing their wounds to work towards “emotional and spiritual wholeness.” They can work as friends and not as competitors in a contest of ‘who is the worst spouse.’

Even if you’re not in a marriage crisis, a greater awareness of emotional needs and insecurities underlying common marital tensions can help you draw closer to your spouse. How many times have we projected negative thoughts on our spouse when asking for a favour? How easy is it to not ask for help and then be resentful, or to be afraid to help out in case we do it ‘wrong’? How much drama do we live out in our heads, not realizing that so many negative interactions are the result of misunderstandings? Keeping silent is not always the best way to keep the peace…rather finding good moments to gently and honestly share how we feel or what we need can help us deepen our relationships and give our spouse a better chance to respond to those authentic needs.

I think it’s useful to use the tools from attachment parenting in marriage. When a child is acting up, you assess circumstances (tiredness, overstimulation, hunger, need for reassurance, etc) before responding. We can do the same for our spouse who is grumpy…look at the facts of the situation: “Are they tired or hungry? Are they stressed after a long day of meetings at the office? Or of caring for sick kids? Are they suffering from illness, or grieving a loss of a loved one?” Keeping these things in mind can hopefully help us respond in a way that will help us reassure and reconnect. Perhaps a snack, hug or friendly joke will do more to improve things than entering into their grumpiness or punishing them with silence.

When we feel supported and understood, we are better able to cope with difficult circumstances. Created For Connection mentions studies which find spouses who are well-connected emotionally can cope better with stress and even physical pain. Happy marriages also effect our health by lowering our blood pressure and making us more resilient in recovering from serious health crises like heart attacks. On the flip side, blood tests reveal that the stress of fighting with our spouse has been found to lower our immune system for up to a whole day! So it’s worth it to work on our marriages in little ways every day, and to offer our spouse the same grace and understanding we offer our kids. Instead of wanting our spouse to “grow up and get over it” when they are struggling, we can honour their need for connection and try to provide emotional closeness and affection. We will all be happier for it!

Coffee and Anger: Is there a link?

Have you ever noticed in the morning, after stumbling out of bed and hanging onto your steaming coffee cup as if it were a life saver, that this warm creature comfort has the undesired side effect of making you excessively irritable? I find this is especially the case if I get busy serving the kids breakfast and drink coffee before eating myself. What was meant to help me get going (a big adult soother really) can often make me much more wired and jangley than I would like, and about half hour after coffee, I find myself short-tempered and wound up, especially of we are trying to head out the door.

“Mom!” the kids complain, “Why are you being so grumpy? We are not even being bad!” It’s true…my reactions become disproportionate, and it’s hard to calm down and be cheerful. Why is this?

In his article Why does coffee make some people irritable and others not? Will Wister explains the stress-inducing effects of caffeine.

By stimulating your adrenal glands to produce adrenalin, caffeine puts your body in this “fight-or-flight” state, which is useless while you’re just sitting at your desk. When this adrenal high wears off later, you feel the drop in terms of fatigue, irritability, headache or confusion.

How many of us in our busy world push ourselves beyond our natural abilities by using stimulants like caffeine? “Oh, I’m exhausted but gotta keep truckin’. Guess I’ll have another coffee.” It’s a quick fix…but at what cost? Rather than trying to take a power nap, or eat a healthy meal to give us long-term energy, we grab a cuppa joe and keep racing around. We ignore exhaustion and mask fatigue, ramping up our adrenals as if to deal with constant emergencies.

If I fail to take little breaks to read, pray or put my feet up, I end up frazzled and impatient. Having another coffee to “make it until bedtime” is just a bandaide solution. Real self-care takes more work and more discipline. It is hard to stop and rest when your revolving to-do list is endless. You feel you can’t. The world might fall apart! Or at least the house!

I guess the important question is, do we really get more done by constantly multitasking– never stopping for a break? Or would we benefit from quiet moments of reflection, where we can calmly plan our day, reflect on our life, and redirect it when we are veering off course? I remember a famous doctor saying that his productivity trick was taking quick cat-naps between patients. He knew the magic of doing one thing at a time. There is such a peaceful feeling in focussing on just one thing…and as a mom this is rare unless you’re really intentional about it. Yet it is so necessary to slow down, and get out of panic mode.

Wister’s article describes the long-term effects of stress:

When you are exposed to long periods of stress, your body gives warning signs that something is wrong. These physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral signs of stress should not be ignored. They tell you that you need to slow down. If you continue to be stressed and you don’t give your body a break, you are likely to develop health problems. You could also worsen an existing illness. Below are some common warning signs of stress….Anger, anxiety, crying, depression, feeling powerless, frequent mood swings, irritability, loneliness, negative thinking, nervousness, sadness[7]

These are pretty serious!! We are talking crisis level emotions…constantly!

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If we don’t break down the stress chemicals (e.g. through physical activity) they stay in the blood, preventing us from relaxing. Eventually this results in a permanent state of stress. That initial buzz turns to worry, irritability or panic. Challenges become threats; we doubt our ability to do even simple things and problems appear insurmountable. [8]

My Dad, who is a master herbalist, reminded me that caffeine depletes B vitamins, which are essential for stress management, brain function and a hormone regulation. So we had better replace them! This morning I drank Oasis Green Smoothie (full of B vitamins) and ate my porridge before I had a cup of coffee. Perhaps for long-term depletion, a B vitamin supplement could help, or adding more B vitamin rich foods to your diet. I also like to take the omega-three Evening Primrose oil, which contains fatty acids helpful for mood regulation.

But my Irish temper still matches my red hair far too well! So I think–shocking as this may be for coffee lovers–that I should try to switch to tea for a bit, and see if it helps. My kids are worth it…I don’t want to snap at them so much. Someone said that having a house full of young kids is like living in a constant state of emergency, but I don’t need to make my body think its an even greater emergency than it is by pumping up my adrenals with too much coffee!4-up-on-2016-11-07-at-9-53-am-5-compiled

The other day I got my favorite ever penance in confession. I was mentioning how I get too busy running after the kids sometimes to eat enough, and I know it makes me more prone to grumpiness. So Father advised me to make a point of eating a good lunch, and offering up the sacrifice of taking time to do so. Hurrah! what a great resolution, and one that will benefit everyone. When my step-dad visits and we have a nice early afternoon coffee with real cream, after a solid lunch, I am so much more calm than after a morning coffee with watery almond milk on an empty stomach. Yuck! Eating well makes a difference, and we have to be humble enough to acknowledge our basic needs, and to take care of them. Nobody else can–nobody else can eat, rest, take a nice bath or relax for us. All you moms out there, are you with me? No more surviving on coffee and peanut butter sandwich crusts the kids left behind!

Shining Eyes

At the back of the church

a woman rocks a smiling disabled boy.

Her delight in him–not even her own child–is obvious.

 

“Look at your smile,” she coos,

wiping his face with a soft rag

in a gesture that is more a caress

than anything else.

 

All this is not distraction

but divine work.

As the choir sings of the incarnation

and the boy’s eyes shine,

the woman knows she is touching

a piece of Heaven.

 

Post-Partum and Embracing Imperfection

Today at our parish we had a guest speaker, Georgie, from the  Pacific Postpartum Society. She came to spread awareness about postpartum depression and to give some insights on helping families cope with it. During the presentation, we did an exercise where we compared what “the perfect mother” would do, as opposed to what the real mother would do. “Always be patient and smiling” vs “losing her temper sometimes,” “always making gourmet meals” vs. “ordering pizza or making Kraft dinner sometimes,”keeping the house gorgeous all the time” vs “coping with mess.” You get the idea.

We did this exercise to emphasize the pressures we put on ourselves to be “perfect”– to be “leave it to Beaver moms” who always have a clean apron, a bright smile and freshly baked cookies in our hands. Georgie talked about how our happiness is greatly effected by our expectations, and how far we fall short of them. This is compounded by all the images of seeming perfection we see online, where we only glimpse into people’s lives after they have been edited and airbrushed. Someone joked we need more realistic magazines, like “Mediocre Homes and Gardens.” Recently I saw a funny meme that had a cartoon woman and read “World’s Okayest Mom.”

Why do we keep going after perfection like rats after poison, when we know how miserable it makes us to compare ourselves to others? There are many sayings to help us: “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” “best is good, better is best,” etc. Being gentle with ourselves and humbly accepting where we are at is much more likely to bring peace to our families than striving for unattainable perfection and then beating ourselves up for falling short. As the cleaning guru the Flylady says, “You’re not behind, you’re where you are: now jump in!”

My buddy Monique and I have a “one awesome thing” check-in. We call each other and share the one awesome thing we did that day. It could be anything…that we sent an important email, that we cleaned out the fridge, that we did a cool art or baking project with the kids, that we had tea with a friend who really needed a heart to heart chat, whatever. The point is to focus on the little successes, rather than the long list of “not yet done’s.” As a bonus, the joy of celebrating those little accomplishments is energizing and helps us feel brave enough to try a little more.

Embracing our imperfection allows us to appreciate real life and to accept it, mess and all. And it gives other moms permission to do the same. Rather than wasting time wishing we were like someone else, we can pour our energy into becoming more ourselves, and fulfilling the unique missions we all have. Now that’s beautiful. So next time you wish you were a perfect robot, like Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” remember that for all his intellect and calm demeanor, what made him really special was when he developed the ability to feel emotions. We feel pain, we are weak, we struggle, we laugh, we love–because we are real. And teaching our kids to deal with their real life emotions and direct them towards love is likely the most important thing we will do as parents.

Taking care of ourselves and learning to love ourselves as we are, while always trying to grow better, bit by bit, will be the first step on this journey. Fellow moms, let’s walk it together!