When Tantrums Attack: Go High or Go Low?

“NO!! NO!! I don’t WANT to do that!” My 2-year-old yelled, his high-pitched shriek reverberating off of the metal grocery shelves and speckled tile floor. He awoke 1 hour ahead of schedule and we were in meltdown mode with 3/4 of the grocery run to go. So, I had two choices: go high or go low.

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“Do you see the color purple?” I asked trying to distract my little grumpus. “NO!!” He seethed. I waited before offering: “Where is a circle? I see a circle.” “No! I don’t LIKE that game!” He retorted. Now for the big guns: “Do you think we’ll see the train?” I asked, knowing the ceiling-mounted toy train is often the highlight of the grocery trip. “NOOOO!! I don’t WANT to see the train!” My 2-year-old stomped, clanging the metal frame of the car-shaped shopping cart, signaling my failure.

What a traitorous beast, this mammoth 18-wheeler of a cart! It’s cartoon car shape promises smooth, tot-friendly shopping but, instead, it has betrayed me as I navigate the well-stocked aisles with the grace of a blind water buffalo all while employing every last one of my mommy tricks to keep my raging offspring confined to the cart. Jackassery! Yet, I know full well that I will grab its unwieldy handle upon my next shopping trip because woe unto the parent who shops sans car-cart!

Car-cart in use, snack given and ignored, distractions employed and refuted, I was left with two choices: go high or go low. Essentially the fast-food fries vs. the kale salad of reaction options.

Little self-control required, going high would be the fast-food fries of options: temporarily satiating, effortless, and quick but a poor choice in the long run that might be regrettable sooner rather than later. Going high, I would release myself from the obligation of centered self-control. I’d allow my blood pressure to rise, give into the easy flight towards flustered anxiety, heightened embarrassment, and increasing aggitation. I’d risk reacting instead of calculating, moving in emotion-based speed with the ultimate goal of ending the undesirable scenario quickly but not necessarily well.

To go low I’d need to channel willpower and a centered focus. I’d need to breathe in that yogic part of myself into which I must consciously dive to make wise — yet not always easy or immediately desirable — decisions. Like the kale salad, it wouldn’t be as easy to choose or as appealing as the fries, but it’d invariably be the wise, healthy, unregrettable, adult choice. Instead of releasing control and allowing my body to naturally jitter into high-speed, I’d downshift. To go low I would ease into a calm state of even blood pressure and steady breathing, my mind centered simply on my task and my child, with only minimal awareness of those around me.

The choice was mine because I consciously retained the power to choose instead of allowing my emotions to run the show. I chose to go low.

I asked if my toddler needed a hug. He declined, only a half aisle later to yell that he needed one. I breathed and embraced him smiling. Moments later, more skrieking: “I don’t WANT to get Daddy’s cereal!” Yeah, well, too bad kid.

A fellow mom passed by giggling in that, been-there-and-thank-heavens-I’m-not-the-only-one way. I didn’t even notice her until she was beside me. Our eyes met, hers still warmly squinted in friendly laughter. “This looks just a little familar?” I said. “Very!” She replied, nodded towards her cart-riding youngster.

This was a completely developmentally normal experience. Kids obliterate your ego… that’s just parenthood. There was no need to feel the hot flush of embarrassment or let emotions boil over. But it wasn’t always this easy to choose low.

I had consciously endeavored to choose to go low daily. I wasn’t perfect but I tried. And that trying — over and over, day after day, meltdown after meltdown — is what got me to this point. In a year I imagine it’ll be an even more natural progression into steadied calm in the face of toddler terrorism.

The more often we make a certain choice — whether it be dietary choices, thought patterns, physical habits, or verbal response — the more we train ourselves to revert to that path. For example, the more I eat fries, the more I crave them. Whereas, if I habitually make healthy food choices, over time I less frequently and less fervently crave fries. Eventually I will naturally choose the kale salad and not even consider the fries. But to change that habit takes time, effort, patience, diligence, self-awareness, self-forgiveneness, and — most importantly — self-empowerment. We can’t simply play victim to our emotions; we must own them. We may not be able to control how we feel but we CAN control how we behave. That’s what we teach our children afterall, isn’t it?

Will I always choose the kale salad over fries? NO, definitely not. Some days and some situations just call for fries but, more often than not, kale salad is the better choice. I am human afterall.

In the end, the errand culminated in check-out line hugs and a little voice saying, “I’m sorry, Mommy” into the side of my neck. And I felt completely at ease. What a gift to give yourself — and others — to choose to go low!

I can’t say I’ll always be so wise, but as long as I continue choosing to go low MOST of the, I’ll be pleased.

What will you choose?

 

 

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The Other Side of Shyness: How I Stopped Being Shy

As far back as I can remember I was shy. I was scared to speak with strangers, even for something as trivial as ordering food at a restaurant. My heart would race, my throat would clench, my mind would spin on how I’d be perceived… how I’d be judged. Now, I don’t care.

I remember one afternoon circa 1993, when my mom stopped the hunter green minivan with the faux-wood paneling, handed me money, and told me to run into the convenience store to get milk. I curled into myself and shook my head. I was NOT going. Give me a tetanus shot, make me do dishes, heck have me scoop dog poo… anything but have to talk to the cashier. No. Way. My sister — two years my junior with not one ounce of social anxiety and lax impulse restraint — leapt from her seat reaching for the $5 bill. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” She clamored. “No,” my mom said, yanking the money away from my sister’s reach, “your sister needs the practice.” My sister balked. I crumbled. I survived the 2-minute errand, but it was far from a cure. Bless my mother

Decades went by and I was still shy. Cashiers and waitstaff no longer made me shrivel, but I would never dream of entering an unfamiliar room and striking up a conversation. Making friends was hard. Really hard.

More often than I’d like to admit, there were incidents in my early life when a close friend sought to expand the social circle, not wanting to end our friendship, but simply wanting to add to the group. Anxiety and ego inevitably overwhelmed me, and I would foolishly take the request as a traitorous dagger (which it was not — at all — but just try telling me that back then!) Because I couldn’t fathom reaching out to gather more friendships, I was jealous of others’ ability to do so. I felt vulnerable and defensive. Lesser. So I would get angry and end the friendship. Stupid, right? Yep.

Come young adulthood, the first years of corporate life were challenging. Most of my coworkers were at least a decade my senior and in different life stages than recent-college-grad me. I made myself even more guarded with a “work” me and a “home” me, hoping to off-set my obvious youth with professionalism. Needless to say, that level of detachment paired with shyness was not conducive to numerous work friendships.

Then I got engaged. People I barely knew would approach me with wedding-related questions throughout a workday. My shyness was waning with the increased socializing. One wedding and a few years later, I was pregnant. My world changed.

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Being pregnant granted me access to a secret club that was constantly seeking members: parents! That baby belly was like a beacon to any parent — young, old, first-time, or seasoned — and even grandparents to immediately strike up conversation. And once I was really showing, the world had a talking point in full view. As long as I kept a sense of humor and viewed awkward questions and others’ verbal diarrhea as fodder for my mental “shit people say” list, it was all good.

Then, I had my first child. I was set on giving her a variety of experiences, getting her socialized, getting her out. I took her to mom meet-ups and baby-and-me tumbling classes, story times and swim classes. We did something every day.

One day, as I entered a mom meet-up, I felt the anxiety and internal concerns over others’ perceptions bubble up within me. Then, I looked down at my chubtastic baby and thought: “but I have a built-in buddy!” And I was at ease. Being alone in a busy room without someone to talk to wasn’t so scary anymore because I had my daughter beside me. I was OK.

Not too long after, I had my middle son. I was so busy nursing my newborn while chasing my toddler, I didn’t have the time to worry what others thought. Instead, I sought out friends who resonated with me, who shared perspectives and viewpoints with me, who could relate to my present life stage. I still hesitated before reaching out, but I was getting better.

Two years later, I had my third child and by then I was comfortable with myself. I was so focused on my own standard daily chaos that I could hardly care less if you gave me the side-eye for having a tantruming toddler (that says more about you than me, afterall) or balked at my snot-smeared yoga pants and breastmilk-spotted nursing cami. I had way too much stuff to wrangle to worry about that. Even more, I realized most other people were like me and had too much going on in their own heads and lives to give me much thought! So why assume they’re judging me harshly when I may not even be on their radar or, if I am, maybe it’s positively so. If they are actually being mentally critical of me, why should I care anyway?

Less shy, I began conversing freely with fellow moms at playgrounds, classes, story times, and in the grocery store. After two incidents when I let my fear stand in the way of asking, “Want to do a playdate sometime?” (The mom version of “Wanna grab a drink?”) and subsequently suffered missed-friendship regret, I decided to do better.

I began listening to my gut, honoring my intuition. If I was drawn to connect, smile at, or chat up someone — even if I didn’t immediately understand why — I did it. And that is how I began making some of my dearest, strongest friendships: listening to my inner self, not my fears.

I was now on the other side of shyness. I could easily enter a room with confidence, seek out a person with whom I could relate, and start a conversation. I became the human shepherd, constantly aware of those on the periphery, gauging shyness verses disinterest. If I sensed shyness, I tried to bring them into the fold. If I felt a group with whom I was talking appeared unwelcoming or closed-off to others, I changed my positioning and body language to open the circle. I never wanted to make others feel the way I had so long felt: judged, alone.

I had not realized how far I’d come until recently at the playground. A mom I’d only met last year was floored to hear I was ever shy. I was floored she was floored! Little did she know, I spent more of my existence shy than not. I surely have changed. And for that I am grateful.

The world is a brighter, friendlier place when you’re on the other side of shyness. I like it here.

Finding My Path: Learning to Say “YES!”

This year was the lull in my journey. The necessary resting phase before change rattled its way through my life. I knew that. I honored that. As a type-A planner, I had a hard time accepting that. Then I learned to say, “YES!”

As summer turned to fall and we bid the beach farewell, I felt a simultaneous sadness and trepidation. I was sad to see the chapter close; I knew this summer marked the end of not just an annual season but a life season. I felt in my core that I was entering a transition phase. But into what was I transitioning?

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Fall was busy with adjustment to the school year. I eventually settled into the pattern and, once comfortable, that’s when my mind began whirring. “What is my path?” “What should I be doing?” “When will I be able to pursue my lactation consultant goals?” In response, the wiser portion of my mind whispered, “Appreciate the lull.” I knew with absolute certainty that life would unfold in its own time, but — let’s be honest — waiting sucks. Especially when you’re a planner.

So I filled my time. Errands, yoga, volunteering at my kids’ schools, building deeper connections with friends, and eventually forming a bi-weekly mom meet-up group for my sons’ preschool.

A month went by. Sometimes I treasured my freedom. Sometimes I felt guilty… too free. Sometimes I felt I was just drifting. I was constantly eyeing path opportunities wondering, “Is that the one?” Then, one day as I readied my yoga nook for my morning practice, I realized I needed to just ask God/the universe/life to show me my path and to agree to just say, “YES!” So I did.

That day I took a walk alone in my neighborhood. As I strolled, I felt compelled to head down to a little creek. I often avoid going to the creek alone because of anxious “what ifs?” But that day it was as if I was pulled by a string to the bank of the creek. There I stood, watching the frigid water, listening to the soothing trickle.

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The chilly air biting my reddening cheeks, I shifted my gaze up creek. I noted how the water changed as it travelled. It began its journey racing, moving quickly around bends and turns, over sticks and rocks. Then there was a lull. The creek grew wide and the current slowed. Just before the water reached the stepping stones, twigs, leaves, and debris filtered out of the flow and rose to the top, creating obstacles and dams for the water. The filtered water gathered speed past the stepping stones, racing in a straight channel towards a small waterfall of rocks. Again, more debris was pulled from the water. Gradually the current smoothed and the creek was clean, free of the muck the previous lulls and obstacles withdrew. The creek ambled on in twists and turns out of sight.

Seeing this I knew somehow this was representative of my life. A reminder for me to cling to when uncertain. But I wasn’t sure how or really even why.

The next morning I met with my favorite yoga teacher turned friend. She strongly encouraged me to pursue yoga teacher training. “You’re already teaching yoga,” she said of my present lifestyle, “even if you’re not teaching the asanas.” (Asanas are the yoga poses. Yoga is more than just stretching and breathing, but the practice of mindfulness, kindness, nonviolence, giving, letting go, and more.) She told me I should connect with a woman at her yoga studio. I agreed, because why not? I left the chat smiling, feeling honored that a woman I held in such high esteem considered me worthy of walking along her own path.

I awoke the next morning to find I was copied on an email from my teacher-turned-friend to the woman she had mentioned. In the email she asked the woman to make me a yoga ambassador. I. Was. Shocked. My mind started rattling off roadblocks, doubts, and a million reasons why I shouldn’t or couldn’t pursue this. I was in panic mode all due to mom guilt, self-doubt, and fear of failure. Then I took a breath. I remembered my yoga practice. “You asked for your path”, my heart told me. I knew I had to say “YES!” So I did.

The woman contacted me asking to talk with me to go over yoga ambassador details. I agreed. We clicked immediately. She told me I could not have received a better referral than the one I had from my teacher-turned-friend. I felt deeply honored.

“I’ll need you to come in for three hours once a week,” she explained. “There’s no contract, but I’ll ask you to commit for three months.” I looked at the calendar and realized that three months from my starting date would have my shift agreement end the last week of my sons’ preschool school year. Perfect!

I spoke with my daughter and husband about possible shift times. I didn’t want to inconvenience or slight anyone. I wanted to be able to do pick-ups and drop-offs, volunteer, keep up with friends, do errands, take the kids on playdates, spend time with my husband. EVERYTHING. Like every mom, I wanted to do, be, have, and give it all.

“How about Thursday mornings?” The Hubs suggested. That was my only option for a shift that wouldn’t interfere with others. I realized I’d need to ask my husband to do preschool drop-off and a fellow preschool mom to cover the Thursday meet-up. I had to trust it would work if it was intended. I emailed the woman my one and only shift option and sighed, knowing if this didn’t work it wasn’t meant to be.

Hours later, the woman called me thanking me for choosing that shift. She had been stressing because no one had that timeslot available. My jaw dropped. Question answered: THIS was meant to be.

My husband willingly took on Thursday drop-off duty and, when I asked a fellow preschool mom to cover the Thursday morning meet-up, she happily obliged. It all went smoothly. Because it was meant to be.

From that point on, I surrendered. Everything came happily, easily, beautifully, organically. I had learned to not stand in my own way.

I learned to say, “YES!”

 

 

What I Ate: Gluten-free Vegan Edition

“You’re a gluten-free vegan? What do you eat???” Lots. I eat lots of food.

I recently got an Instant Pot and love using it to make big batches of beans or lentils and rice. I like to use those goodies for breakfasts, lunches, and even quick dinners. That said, this is what I eat on a typical Wednesday amidst drop-offs, pick-ups, appointments, homework, and extracurriculars.

5:50AM

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Banana and green tea… perfect early morning yoga fuel! I used to start my day with an apple but then I began realizing that was a tad harsh on my belly. Since switching to a daily banana, I’m feeling much better.

8:00AM

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Beans, rice, hummus, and fresh spinach… it takes but a minute to throw together from my big Instant Pot batches, and keeps me healthfully satiated until lunch.

10:00AM

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Jasmine green tea. A coffee shop chat with a dear friend means jasmine green tea for me! Warm, hydrating, and mildly caffeinated, it leaves me feeling cozy comfort without the energy plunge.

11:30AM

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Leftovers for lunch. I generally make enough for dinner that my husband and I can have leftovers for lunch the next day. This lunch was savory gluten-free veggie cakes topped with marinara and Follow Your Heart vegan parmesan-style shreds, and a salad on the side topped with Just Chipotle Ranch.

2:00PM

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Kombucha. The Hubs has a beer home-brewing hobby which paired with my chewy granola’ness to make for homemade mango-orange kombucha on tap in my fridge. (On the granola spectrum — with untamed body hair and commune yurt living existing as the crispity crunchiest on the “crunchy” scale — I’m like one of those packaged chocolate chip granola bars)

5:00PM

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Quick dinner. My 6-year-old and 4-year-old have Tae Kwon Do at 5:30, so fast and filling is the name of this dinner game. Instant polenta topped with sauteed garlicky spinach, broiled cherry tomatoes, and herbed cannelini beans did the trick.

5:20 PM

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Dessert. After school pick-up and homework and dinner prep and a mad shuffle out the door, this mama needed chocolate. So a piece of Theo’s vegan gluten-free chocolate covered coconut came along for the ride to Tae Kwon Do. Yum!

8:00 PM

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Popcorn. The Hubs and I sit down together most evenings to watch a couple of shows and rehash the day. It’s “our” time. What better snack than popcorn to go along with a TV and chat session?

And that’s my day in food. Yummy, satisfying, and far from flavorless. One really can eat more that twigs as a gluten-free vegan… who knew?!