A True Champion: What My Dad Taught Me When He Almost Lived to See the Cubs Win the World Series

posted Nov 3, 2016, 9:56 PM by Smith Moments   [ updated Nov 6, 2016, 5:29 AM ]

Something epic happened last night.


The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in what the media is calling “the greatest game ever”. In a jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, up and down, 10-inning, rain-delayed, 7th game the Cubs finally prevailed and “The Curse” was broken. The Cubs are no longer the team that couldn’t quite make it to the top for over a hundred years. They are now World Champions.


There’s a twist to this story. At least for my family.


Last night, while fighting fatigue, my widowed mother and her children and grandchildren gathered wherever they could to root on the Cubs in honor of her husband, a die-hard Cubs fan who lived to see the Cubs make it to the World Series, but didn’t live to see them win it.   


My dad was born in 1949. He spent his entire life rooting for the Cubs. Due to challenges with his sight, he never felt like an adequate athlete. He compensated by using his keen mind to memorize statistics and diligently strategize from the sidelines. He knew everything about the Cubs and he used his giant heart to cheer them on--triumphs and sorrows--until he passed away last Saturday morning, 4 games shy of living to see them become World Series Champs.


At first glance this sounds like a tragic story. But in reality, it’s the story of a true champion.


Though we mourn the loss of a great man and feel jipped not having him by our side to celebrate alongside the rest of Chicago, his premature passing actually taught us unforgettable life lessons that go far beyond a baseball game.


My dad’s lengthy battle with cancer was coming to a close while the Cubs fought to become National League Champions for the first time since 1945. He feebly watched them play their first World Series game of his lifetime on October 25. Hospice was called on October 27. When the nurse predicted a lifespan of 1-5 days, I looked at the calendar to check the Cubs schedule...game 7 was on Nov. 2.


“If the series went that far and if the Cubs win it, would Dad even live to see it?” I wondered.


“Maybe Dad’s actually hanging in there to see the Cubs win the World Series,” I tearfully joked with my brother who was at my dad’s side and had just texted an update the day before Dad died. Deep down I was growing anxious to see him released from suffering. Yet I tried to convince myself that adding a Cubs World Series victory to his bucket list would lighten the blow of his death.


In future retrospect, we’d follow up sentimental memories with a smile and a nod and say, “And can you believe Dad lived to see the Cubs win the World Series? Who would’ve thought? What a miracle! I bet they did it for Dad!”


But then my brother’s response jolted me from my dream and filled me with a peace that surpasses this bucket list wish.


“Has [older brother] told you what he told me last night? Dad told him 10 years ago that he didn’t want to be alive to see them win. Something about always rooting for the lovable losers. So maybe he will jump out early.”


“Huh,” I thought.  “Could that be right? An avid Cubs fan not wanting to see them win a World Series?!”


Then it hit me. This is Dad we’re talking about here. He’s a fun-loving, tender man who greatly valued sentimental deeper meaning in life. So what message was my sports-loving father, who always reminded me during my young MVP softball-playing years to not forget to talk to the neighbor girl at the bus stop, sending when he said he didn’t want to live to see the Cubs achieve the ultimate baseball dream?


I think he was saying: I’m a true Cubs Fan. I don’t have to see them win to feel content.


Dad was essentially saying 10 years ago that he cheered for, rejoiced with, and drooped his head alongside the Cubs his entire life because they are the Cubs. Period. Even in the 10th inning of the 7th game of the World Series last night, Dad pledged years ago that had he lived to see them make it that far, he would’ve accepted them and loved them and lived in the moment with them, regardless of whatever that final moment WAS.


I know for a fact that Dad would’ve been jumping out of his seat in celebration last night if he could have been there. But the irony of his sincere contentment in being willing to forever watch them try to win the World Series without ever hoping to actually see them win it in his lifetime was proof of his ultimate loyalty.


A week ago I thought I’d feel an extra sense of loss if the Cubs won and my dad didn’t live to see it.


Last night, however, instead of wondering what to do with ourselves while the rest of the country hooted and hollered, we changed from our funeral clothes into our Cubs shirts and drove to my mom’s house where her grandchildren filled her otherwise empty family room and cheered in Grandpa’s place. As the game unfolded, I didn’t find myself overly mourning my dad’s early departure. Rather, we all marveled, perched on the edge of our seats, at how this historic game was truly a remarkable tribute to him.


For example, my dad is:

  • An eternal optimist. The Cubs won in the 7th game after 10 innings and a 1-3 deficit. Dad would’ve believed in them the whole way.

  • A suspense-seeker. First batter home run, a wild pitch that gave away 2 runs, and a tie score at the end?  Definitely a dramatic nail-biter until the last pitch.

  • A weather-enthusiast. How many World Series Game 7s come complete with a rain delay right when the game’s tied after 9 innings? It was the same rainstorm that soaked us walking into Dad’s funeral in the Chicago suburbs earlier in the day. Did you plan that, Dad?

  • A statistician. After all of the above and more, what are the ODDS of a game like that ever happening again?!

  • A history buff. This one is definitely going down in the books.

  • A procrastinator. Waiting until the last minute to clinch victory? All the more thrilling.

  • A mind-bending jokester.  I honestly think he was smiling from above at how it all played out.

  • A Cubs fan. And they finally did it.


Above all, the fact that Dad spent his entire life cheering for the Cubs, but didn’t live to see them succeed as World Series Champs felt like one last way for him to illustrate the exact lessons I think he’d want to leave as his personal legacy:


  1. Enjoy, appreciate, and accept life, even if it doesn’t go as planned.

  2. Love people and accept people for who they are today.

  3. No matter how people are now, confidently expect good things in their future.

  4. If you are a loser, you are still loved. And there's always next year...

  5. If you happen to be a winner, have a good heart, too.


My Dad loved the Cubs this way. He loved everybody this way.


When the Cubs won, I cheered and I cried.


Last night’s game wasn’t just epic. If my dad had to go, perhaps it was his way of saying a perfect goodbye.


Thank you, Cubs! My family and I will forever look back and say, “I bet they did if for Dad!”

My Mama-Yoga Marathon

posted Jul 30, 2016, 12:07 PM by Smith Moments

I was shooting the breeze with my awesome, but ordinary neighbor recently and she shared that she’s training for a marathon. I felt my jaw drop. And then without thinking (I was still in shock), I repeated so many of the familiar phrases I hear when people learn I have 8 children. “Whoa! I can’t imagine. Why?! That’s crazy!! Good for you! There goes your summer. HOW do you do it?!?”

She smiled and nodded and assured me that yes it’s incredibly hard, but it’s a dream of hers, she enjoys it, and it makes her a better person.

Still baffled, I asked for details about her running schedule: Pretty much every day. Keep adding miles. When you hit a wall, decide to keep going.

DECIDE. Got it. That’s a prefrontal cortex workout. I can relate to that.

I walked away from our conversation with new respect for those who have aspirations to run a 26.2-mile foot race and some inspiration of my own about how to explain the crazy marathon I’ve chosen in my own life.

To fulfill this dream of mine that I’m now in the middle of, I get up every day and DECIDE to nurture and guide my children as best I can. My best varies from day to day, but deciding to keep trying conditions me on this journey nonetheless. And the more I keep trying, the better I get.

PFC workouts are a powerful experience.

It reminds me of yoga...which I tried once.

Yoga, though it’s been around in Hindu societies for centuries, has taken the western world by storm in recent years. Why? Because the combined forces of stretching and conditioning the mind and body together are both phenomenal and invigorating. Yoga practices are linked to improved mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Mindfulness gurus recommend yoga. Meditation gurus recommend yoga. Despite its religious roots, public schools even teach yoga.

I wanted in, too.

So...during my 6th postpartum experience a few years back, I got ready to jump onto the yoga bandwagon. I figured that once I'd gotten my post-pregnancy I-can-actually-leap-off-the-couch-in-less-than-10-minutes energy back, adding yoga to my existing hobby mix of mindfulness and meditation would be perfect.

When THAT DAY arrived, I put the baby down for a nap, grinned confidently at my flabby body in the mirror, dressed in some yoga sweats, and googled ‘beginner yoga’ videos. I was feeling it already.

But I didn’t even say “OK google” out loud, and within seconds I was surrounded by curious little eyes peering over my shoulders and bouncy bodies merging into my circle of awareness. My kids were feeling it too...I guess.

“That’s okay,” I thought. "I can still do yoga." I was determined.

The soothing voice on the video started and I focused on my breathing and sensed my muscles stretching beyond preferred limits. “This IS invigorating!” I felt so successful as I consciously blocked the sensations of my giggling, clinging children during their sudden game of tag around my legs.

But soon my heart started to droop. The ladies on the video weren't getting trampolined on during cobra, or tunnelled under during downward-facing dog. My expectation of having healthy moments of peaceful, personal rejuvenation began to break alongside my sense of concentration.

In came a reality check.

Fact: Yoga requires an intense focus on personal space.

Fact: I am a mama with littles swirling around me all day.

Conclusion: Perhaps yoga isn’t for me.

Wait a second. A lightning bolt pricked my heart.

Yoga is all about being in tune to our bodies and making them sturdier. It's all about connecting our minds and bodies to our souls, right? And about focusing our attention on stretching just beyond our current capability, enduring it, and becoming stronger and more balanced because of it.

Maybe I couldn’t improve my form much on yoga poses like eagle or monkey or warrior II during this mama season of my life, but I CAN do a different kind of yoga every day. In fact, I NEED to do a different kind of yoga every day.

My older kids need a mom who can stay focused on their words, a mom who’s mind doesn’t wander or start to lecture when they decide to bravely slip a personal story into our routine “How was school?” conversation.

My younger ones need a mom who’s body embraces the aches and pains of their everyday jungle gym demands, a mom who gently guides them towards intuitively knowing appropriate uses of those growing bodies of theirs.

My baby needs a mom who feels strong and secure with herself, a mom who confidently walks the walk with her during her walk-the-hall crying fits for as long as they need to go on.

Sometimes I can't do those things very well. Sometimes my kids' needs outlast my current abilities.

All of my children deserve a mom who is willing to stretch my parenting patience beyond its current limits, who is willing to endure their lack of stability during their growing up years with more confidence and grace, and is willing to provide them with direction and balance...until they become strong, too.

And so I embarked on Mama-Yoga: intentionally focusing on and accepting how my mind and body is so undeniably intertwined with my children’s minds and bodies; and how it is together that WE are stronger.

Mama-yoga is so mentally and physically similar to regular yoga. But in mama-yoga, the poses look a little different and I don’t always get to be the one to decide when to practice each one. Instead, I must be ready for my mama-yoga alarm to go off 24/7 at random. It really stretches me.

Early in the morning, my alarm for hungry game pose goes off as big kids prepare to hustle out the door and little kids beg for their first meal of the day. Sometimes I want to lay in bed a little longer, but I know my kids appreciate every second hungry game pose can offer them.

When my 2-year-old throws her billionth tantrum of the day, it’s time to challenge my body, my mind, my soul some more...how long can I hold my rock in the sunshine pose? Can I hold it longer than my toddler can fight and scream? I try to. And when I do, we’re both glad.

I practice my make-believe pose when I hear screams from the basement telling me my littles need help learning to take turns with favorite toys. Modeling is magical for teaching them. And it’s magical for me if I’m trying to improve my yoga skills. Has anyone else tried to outlast their kids in a game of pretend? I never can, but I do have my good days. It takes some serious mind and body power to stick with it as long as they can.

When someone cries out in the night and my eyes feel heavy, can I manage to arouse my mindful zombie pose...again?! It’s one of the hardest poses to do. But I’m getting more advanced at my mama-yoga, so it actually feels pretty natural these days.

Laundry pose...don’t even get me started.

In recent months, the alarm for taxi pose has practically blown up my phone. I decided I've got to master it. Interestingly, once I truly accepted that this pose was going to relentlessly find it’s way into my daily routine for years to come, I immediately sensed that I should extend myself just a little further and add taxi II pose to our constant journeys. Transporting my kids safely from point A to point B is good, but including the difficult element of mindfully using those precious car moments to really get to know them is a stretch that makes us all better. My toddler especially loves it when I practice taxi II because we notice the trees and the clouds and all the familiar road signs along the way. Taxi II with my older kids means I’m in tune enough to actually ask them intelligent questions that show I care rather than muttering the routine phrases and superficial “wows” that would otherwise slip from my mouth automatically when I was just focused on taxi I.

And btw, I also just started taxi III pose and NO one warned me about how mentally and physically tough it would be compared to taxi II. Sitting in the passenger seat while my teenager controls the wheel...talk about mama-yoga in action!! It’s a good thing I’ve been working out for several years.

A yoga master knows that you can't do yoga once and feel fit for life. Strength and balance that endures the test of time takes intentional focused repetitive effort. Daily Deciding.

So it is with Mama-Yoga. It's an eternal marathon. It's hard. It's crazy. It's invigorating. It’s me and my kids becoming better together.

The Decibel Level

posted May 23, 2013, 11:54 AM by Smith Moments   [ updated Jul 28, 2016, 4:14 AM ]

Sometimes the noise in this house drives me bonkers.


As a mother who tries my darnedest to open my heart to as much energy as my children have to share with me, and as a mother who values the creative clamor that comes from instruments and pretending and singing and laughing and joking, and as the mother of a really ear-piercingly screechy Baby #6 who never took a pacifier and has now grown into a really ear-piercingly screechy 23-month-old...


I expect a lot of noise.


But wow. Sometimes...


And the decibel level follows me wherever I go. I feel like a noise magnet...especially when I'm cooking dinner or on the phone or in the bathroom. I don't think I've successfully ducked away to the bathroom in the last 10 years without hearing, "Mom...Maahuum...!!!"


I find that the noise level is hardest to handle when my mind is busy thinking and churning over something deep and personal and bothersome. When my brain needs time and space to solve a major (or minor) life issue, I crave quiet.


But quiet is hard to come by in my neck of the woods.


So, what's a mother to do?


The other day I sat in the middle of our living room floor like a zombie because my mind was full of some big, worrisome thoughts. I just couldn't bear to let more chaos into my body and I felt like exploding when trumpet noise and piano noise and "Mom, how do you spell..." noise and "Mom, listen to this" noise and "Mom, can you..." noise and "Whaaaa!!" noise all echoed off my ear drums at once.


I almost screamed, "Why in the world are we all in the same room together??!!"


The thought of retreating behind a closed door...for just a few moments (or until Daddy came home)...seemed like the only solution. Instead, I shut down right in the middle of my bouncing children and I built a mental wall to protect myself from all of the noise, noise, and more noise.


I knew my children noticed (because children always do), so I added guilt to my list of emotions.


But then an idea came to me.


Is it possible to meditate in the middle of noisy, needy chaos?


I summoned my prefrontal cortex neurons and together we decided to stop building a defensive protection from the innocent noise surrounding us...and instead welcome it in.


My natural mind objected and argued that an invasion would threaten my peace in unthinkable ways. It reminded me that self-defense was the only weapon I had complete control over and therefore the only way to fight for personal peace. But my PFC and I felt determined to take a stand and try something different...something selfless.


So I set my personal struggles aside for a moment and...


I turned my attention to my son playing his trumpet. I watched him carefully. His eyes were focused. His fingers moved fluidly. He struggled on a few notes. He tried again. He smiled when he finished his piece. My eyes softened and agreed with his...success after many attempts IS so satisfying.


Next, my mind shifted to my daughter playing the piano. Her feet dangled at the bench. Her self-created pig tails swayed gently back and forth. The song she was playing...I clearly recognized it...it was the one that was such a challenge several weeks ago. When she turned to share her triumph with me, I was already watching her.


"I love listening to you play," I smiled.


Then my six-year-old...what was she writing anyways? Was it a thank you note? A birthday card? Ahh, this time her creation was a pretend math worksheet. She's been watching her older brother a lot lately. Such diligence in that mind of hers. I admired her fingers for a moment or two longer as she formed a line at the top of the page and wrote "Name" and then I turned my focus to...


Miss Cienna. A few minutes earlier she had asked me if she could pretend to be my dog in real life. This is a question I'd answered at least a hundred times in the last month, so "Yes" came spilling out of my mouth without me really noticing at all. Satisfied with my half-answer, she was now crawling around on the floor and talking to herself and several of her stuffed animals. She barked occasionally.


"Cotton," I called. "Come here, Cotton! I want to give my cute doggy a nice back scratch." She bounded over with her tongue hanging out and a very large grin on her face. She panted happily. Wow was it easy to make her day. And having a mind that's quick to forgive, quick to accept, and quick to share simple joy must feel so enlightening.


Finally, my MaryAnn (Kenny was away at school). MaryAnn squirmed on my lap, making irritating whiny sounds which indicated that she, too, was wrestling with how to digest all of the chaos in the room. (I don't blame her...she doesn't have much of a prefrontal cortex yet to have the option of choosing something other than self-defense.) She could also sense my attention on her siblings and naturally yearned for a piece of it. I rolled backwards onto the carpet and pulled her on top of me. My eyes met hers. Her face lit up. "What is she thinking?" I wondered. The one the thing she cares about most in life is getting her mama's attention. So simple, so sweet, so pure.


As I turned from my inner noise to truly focus on the noises my children were making, what a houseful of lovely surprises I found. When thoughts of chaos threatened to return and take over during this meditative experiment, I noticed their existence and politely asked them to wait while I focused on something that would strengthen me in my time of need...my amazing children.


Later, I still churned over whatever challenges needed churning...but my children's decibel level that I had been protecting myself from became the very healing balm I had needed to sooth my heart, and face those tough adult-issues again.



<This is my Mother's Day breakfast in bed. I used to think of Mother's Day as the one day I deserved a retreat...away from my children. But over the years I have noticed the innocent enthusiasm of my children as they climb in bed next to me to proudly show me which part of breakfast their little hands had prepared. Then they naturally reach over to share my orange juice and eat some eggs. They seem to cuddle me with extra hugs all day long to show their gratitude for having a mother. I have realized that isolating myself on a day when my children are bubbling with celebration for ME would cause me to miss out on a whole lot of love. So, now I expect (and love) that Mother's Day is a day where my children are glued to me all the more. I will soak in these types of Mother's Days because some day these children of mine--the very reasons I am called a "mother"-- will be too big to squeeze all together onto my bed with me. I will miss that.>


2 Cents and a Million $$ Smile

posted Mar 9, 2013, 5:02 AM by Smith Moments   [ updated Jul 28, 2016, 4:17 AM ]

A box of 100 generic band-aids costs about $2 at Wal-mart. That's...2 whole pennies each.


When I was little and my parents kindly reminded me that I was wasting my dad's money whenever I didn't finish my food, I used to envision dollar bills swooshing right out of his wallet that sat on top of his tall dresser at the very moment I cowered at the kitchen sink and secretly dumped my soggy cereal down the drain...I was terrified.


Since those days (even though my imagination is much more tame now), I still tend to notice when pennies disappear...and try to avoid that experience. It keeps me in my comfort zone.


So, naturally when my older children were younger, there had to be blood gushing out of them somewhere in order for me to cough up a 2-cent band-aid from the first aid stash. Band-aids don't grow on trees, ya know. 


But then I started to study brains and such. As I gained a clearer picture of emotional health, I started paying closer attention to my simple interactions with my children. And I recognized a need to identify a few of my personal "issues" (like severe penny-pinching, eh-em)...and work through them so I could have a more balanced mind for my children's sake.


I think I'm making at least some progress because...I was bustling around the kitchen one recent evening when Cienna (child #5) entered and asked for a band-aid...a small circular one to be exact. I saw no signs whatsoever of even a pretend injury and quickly and quite naturally dismissed her pleas. But when she politely asked a second time, I paused and sensed a spirit of adventure about her. I decided that $ 0.02 was worth investing in her growing mind, and I became quite curious to discover what her imagination would choose to do with that band-aid.


A few minutes later, I heard Cienna happily carrying on a complete conversation between her and an imaginary friend. Then a camera flash caught my attention as she posed for a few self-portraits:  





I don't think I could put a price tag on that.

Meditating with MaryAnn

posted Jan 23, 2013, 11:28 AM by Smith Moments   [ updated Jul 28, 2016, 4:20 AM ]

This is MaryAnn's favorite spot to sit while her mother bustles around from fridge to cupboard to silverware drawer to counter to table answering a ga-zillion requests for relief of hunger pains all at once.


Recently, when my head was spinning as fast as the fruit blending into a smoothie nearby, I paused long enough to watch how peaceful and pure MaryAnn's mind seemed. I observed MaryAnn's extended ability to focus on the effects of water filling, dripping, rolling, smearing, and soaking. Her facial expressions showed thoughts freely flowing from one observation to the next...all as if her routine discoveries were a brand new experience...unmarred by previous judgments and conclusions.


I found myself deeply admiring her patience, her curiosity, her attention span, and her open, peaceful mind.



                           



 




So...I made a conscious effort to mimic her mind for a few moments. 

Watching the water flow over her fingertips had a refreshing effect on me, too. (true story) My staring didn't disturb her. In fact, she was delighted to share her wavelength with  me.


As I returned to my next task of pouring the completed smoothie out into 8 colorful cups scattered across the counter top, I made some future plans...I said to myself [paraphrased], "I'm going to dedicate as least a few of the mundane minutes during my daily kitchen duty time to set aside my scattered thoughts and observe and focus the way MaryAnn does as she sits at the sink's edge."


As I soak in the source of the non-stop dialogue, deafening decibel levels, stomping feet, smeared food, spilled milk...my gaze will ultimately rest on my children...and I'll have no choice but to remember that my true purpose for busying myself with food preparation in the first place is to nurture all those bodies...and fill them up with some goodness. 


Perhaps as I seek to actually understand their constant energy that they unleash around me while I work in such a staple room in this house, my meditation efforts will give my blood pressure a chance to remain more stable (I hope). 

                                                          Thanks to MaryAnn, ...it already helped at least once. 


Oh How I Love Thee...let me count the ways

posted Jan 19, 2013, 1:55 PM by Smith Moments

I recently received a few hints that my mind is quite distracted with all the pondering-on-how-to-explain-brain-theories thoughts running through my head lately.

When we came across Table Topics* question: "What can parents do to show their kids love?" during dinner recently, my 10-year-old said, "I like it when parents really listen when I tell them something...like one time I told Mom I'd hurt myself and she said, 'Oh, that's nice.'"

Yikes.  

A few days later, my 8-year-old daughter was still churning this question and suggested, "I know what parents can do to show kids they love them...they can not mix up their kids' names and they can put the kids' underwear in the right piles. Mine has the squiggly pattern at the top, Allison's doesn't...K, Mom?"

Got it. 

Jotting down notes to self regarding what should receive my focused attention this next week:
    1. Set aside distractions when my children are baring their souls to me so I can be present with them and connect in meaningful ways that will uplift both of us.
    2. Remember the name(s) of the child(ren) I'm talking to.
    3. Underwear...squiggly pattern...correct pile.

Looking forward to an awesome week.

*The link and photo appears on this page not because we have any affiliation with the folks over at Table Topics or Amazon. (In fact, I'm quite sure they pretty much don't know we Smiths exist...except Amazon does seem conveniently aware of my brain-book-buying weakness). Rather, the link is provided in case any readers felt a yearning to encourage the duplication of such enlightening moments around their dinner tables.  

 

The Best Beauty Salon...Ever

posted Jan 7, 2013, 8:04 PM by Smith Moments   [ updated Jan 23, 2013, 7:20 PM ]

I'd never been to a beauty salon...until my birthday last week.

I had just cuddled up on the couch with my laptop. I felt relieved that MaryAnn was finally down for a nap...and pressure to make the most of those minutes...the clock was ticking. I was planning to post the blog entry that would announce our new www.presentparenting.org website. It felt like a monumental moment for me. After years of stirring up ideas and hypotheses, I was finally ready to share. Excitement welled up inside me and out through my fingertips as I tapped away.

30 seconds later, I heard giggling in the vicinity...and footsteps. I peered above my screen just in time to see a toy mailbox planted at my feet with three cards in it. The backs of three girls scampered away up to the bathroom.*more giggling*

I hesitated...should I accept their energy? Or block it and get back to my important task at hand?
Their giggles rang through my mind. I smiled. I reached into the mailbox and opened card #1. It was written by my 4-yr-old. Random letters filled the inside. Card #2 came from my 5-yr-old. It said, "COME TO THE MOMOSOG."  Interesting. Good thing there was a card #3. 

"Come to the salon in the kids bathroom. Come as soon as you get the card. Love, Kirsten, Allison, and Cienna   See you there."

Decision time. Beauty Salon or Pyramid Post? For a former jock/drummer and future brain scientist wanna-be who now has 4 girls...this was a very challenging decision. I hesitated again and noticed my insides trying to process the conflicting issue at hand. 

It was my birthday, so I could rightfully pick whatever I wanted and feel guilt free. Correct?  Actually, even on birthdays...it depends on which part of my brain I'm using. If I respond only to my own stomach churning and fail to pause and consider the needs of all parties involved in order to the make the best decision in that moment, the issue would remain unresolved and guilt might be one of the consequences.

So, I paused and asked my prefrontal cortex to take an honest look at the situation. 
 
Then I decided that my birthday was the perfect time for my first spa experience. I set my lap top aside. As I ascended the stairs, I consciously called for my mind to come along, too (because my lower brain wasn't convinced yet), so my children and I could benefit from a fully present mother. (I knew if I left my brain back at my computer, we'd all have a 'half-there' experience...and our brains would take note and have to cope somehow...I knew because we've done that at least a million times.)   

I drew on powers beyond my own as I knocked on the entrance door. 

As my girls greeted me with, "Welcome to the our salon!" in lavish accents, my heart swelled and I was there...fully.

I felt water splash from my companion's toes to mine in the soothing foot soak...

I breathed in the smell of fresh polish as I received a full personalized manicure by small hands struggling to stay steady (with free nail-drying included).

My toes were stretched beyond prior capacity during my spectacular pedicure.

And at THIS salon, the hostesses even let you paint their nails! So posh.

My girls filled me with their love and energy in that salon and when the memory comes back days later (and most definitely in years to come), that same energy flashes through my mind and zings through my whole body...again...and again. 

Being pampered by the minds of my children...It's truly a beautiful experience.

PS. Our giggling woke MaryAnn up early from her nap...so The Pyramid had to wait. It was posted at 10:16 Central Standard Time later that night. 

The Birth of The Pyramid

posted Jan 3, 2013, 8:16 PM by Smith Moments   [ updated Oct 7, 2016, 1:05 PM ]

Birth Announcement: The Accountability Pyramid has Arrived. 

Brent and I have been working on a unique kind of “baby” this past year. We’ve created a simple website (including an initial version of The Pyramid) to share our parenting theories, brain research, and discipline experiences.
Conceived in the spring of 2009 for use in our own family, The Pyramid will be viewable to the world starting on January 3, 2013. We’ve decided to name it “Present Parenting: Giving and Receiving the Gifts of Peace and Wisdom.” It weighed in at: Tons of Work; and is 43 pages long.

Visit www.presentparenting.org to take a peek.

There’s so much more to add...more adjustments to make. But it’ll grow and develop as we nurture it some more. We look forward to lots of sleepless nights and page changes. PLEASE NOTE: While we hope to spend time with this new “live” baby, our eating and breathing children will always take priority. ;)

Read on for a more detailed ‘Birth Story’ from Amy’s perspective:

The Present Parenting Birth Story

Everyone's parenting journey is unique. 

Mine includes love, laughter, frustration, guilt, struggle, joy, growth (all of these pretty much every day)...and the birth of 6 children…and a pyramid. 

When I was pregnant with our first child, preparing for the much anticipated, torturous, beautiful, and widely bragged about experience of giving birth, I vividly remember a friendly but hasty debate regarding parenting styles between two mothers I admired very much. Their attempted civil, yet heated, discussion about whether or not to let a baby cry itself to sleep shook me into an awareness that differences in parenting practices existed. But the details of their conversation sailed in one ear and out the other. 

I didn't think much more about this debate for many months because my first born only whimpered a little once in awhile. (His younger siblings all showed me the real meaning of the word ‘cry’. Wow. I get why letting a baby cry is such a debate. I’ll post my opinion on the topic at some future point.)  However, then my first little angel baby did something appalling around 9-months-old. He learned to crawl and curiously grab at the curtains with a grin on his face even after I said a firm "No" from across the room (*gasp*). 

Something churned inside me when my first attempts to actually “discipline” my perceived wayward offspring seemed to fail.  I was filled with all the emotions mentioned in paragraph 2 as I sat in my living room rocker projecting the future. “My son’s not listening to me. What if he never listens to me? Or worse…what if he only listens when he wants to listen? What kind of teenager will he become? What kind of man will he become? What kind of husband…father…Oh no!!” 

I’ve never paid much attention to curtains (just visit, you’ll see), but my curtains in our small California apartment showed me how deeply I care about raising a son…a good son.  Should I yell louder? Should I spank? Should I slap his hand? Should I put him in time-out? Should I distract him? Should I ignore it (because I really don’t care much for curtains)?  So many disciplinary choices…very different choices.  
 The simple baby routines (sleep, eat, diaper, play, sleep, eat, diaper, play, diaper) taught in a book one of the two mothers had given me had worked quite well…until a more complex form of discipline was in order. I felt compelled to understand what my disciplinary actions (verbal and non-verbal) were doing to my child’s brain.

So, in desperation, I read a different parenting book...and then another one...and another...and a few psychology books...and books about education...and a book about motivating employees (because years had passed and my children were doing dishes by then)...and books from many religions...and lots of brain books (of course).  

Brent and I also felt inspired to become foster parents about 7 years ago when our oldest three were 5, 4, and 2. We cared for 2 teenage girls from Ethiopia for about 6 months (before getting transferred to IL). The experience was life-changing...not just in caring for them, but also because we were required to take a parenting class in prep for the experience. In that class, we learned that attachment “issues” were a primary cause for pretty much any unruly behavior that we would see in foster kids. 

A light bulb turned on in my mind. Maybe my own children’s “issues” could be related to lack of proper attachment concerns. Or better yet, regardless of the cause of my children’s “issues,” maybe working on loving attachment would promote progress. 

But the subject of Attachment is so highly debated. So what should I do??

Being a logical person, I became obsessed with understanding what’s going on inside my child’s brain when an “issue” came up. In short, my library card has been well-used...especially in the last 5 years...and I’ve learned a lot about what’s going on inside my brain, too. 

What I didn’t know in the beginning, but do understand now, is that when the human brain encounters opposition (often while interacting with another human…like my curtain conflict), there’s a host of complex neuron explosions (emotions) that work together to try to make sense of the situation. Then the brain has to re-balance and find stable ground…in order to survive. Some brains prefer to fight. Others submit. Some ignore. Still others laugh away the stress. But they all must re-balance. Most brains use a mixture of responses…based on various situations and past re-balancing experiences. 

As an adult, I had a huge history of how to cope with conflict…and it all came gushing out when I had a moment of opposition…with my infant, who had virtually no history of dealing with conflict and innocently had no neuronal recognition that he and I were even having a conflict (hence his adorable, but bold grin).

Without properly engaging the most mature part of the brain (the part of the brain that humans eventually have a bigger chunk of than any other living species: the pre-frontal cortex, which is ultimately responsible for handling conflict in the long-run), I call this reaction/re-balancing process coping. But when we manage to positively involve the prefrontal cortex in the face of adversity (which an infant has almost no access to yet), re-balancing is called progress. 

So how do I help my children develop a healthy prefrontal cortex? The answer to that question has become my life’s mission. (Is anyone else with me? ready. set. go team!)

I’ve made some progress. 

Mostly during the quiet of the night (with special thanks to lots-o-nursing babies, several rounds of the stomach flu, and the wolf that keeps hiding under my child’s bed), life's great parenting issues (sleeping, tantrums, teasing, tattling, potty training, chores, homework, burping at the table, sneaking dinner down the garbage disposal, etc.) have swirled around in my mind along with all the research I’ve read and I’ve labored to painfully piece together the best disciplinary actions for our family...actions that don’t just solve the in-the-moment issues by re-balancing momentarily, but that actually help a child slowly develop the part of his brain that will become his key to long-term peace and joy.

And early one morning almost four years ago, my mind exhaled a big sigh of relief when a parenting pyramid popped into my thoughts and fed my brain like manna from Heaven to combine everything I like (and leave out the things that make my stomach churn) from all those books out there.

I started calling this other Baby: 'The Pyramid' (because I'm not very right-brained) when I was having a serious conversation with Brent about making parenting adjustments. Brent jumped on board (he’s such a supportive birthing partner), and we've been using it as a parenting guide ever since.

Because of The Pyramid, we've made many changes...some shocking ones that are counter to what many leading parenting books recommend. Many parenting styles use defensive or offensive tactics that push accountability in children before the brain is programmed for it and place the child in full responsibility for actions and emotions at a young age (like even at the curtain-pulling age). These tactics can work well in later years when the child is more mature and has an open window of opportunity in the logic area of the brain. But we’ve found devastating results when we use isolation or behavioral manipulation tactics on children who are younger than 8-ish. 

My oldest kids developed some scary coping styles in order to defend themselves against these unnatural tactics.  I now know that when we were attempting to change their “bad” behaviors, we were stunting their long-term progress when we tried to slump full consequences for their immaturity on their shoulders before their brains were ripe enough to handle them. 

So we’ve eliminated consequences for our young (under 8-ish) children that don’t involve us setting a better example for them to follow or us sharing accountability with them as part of the disciplinary solution.  (After switching styles we had to do some “un-doing” on the older kids…but they’re happily recovering ☺). Honestly, ‘The Present Parenting Pyramid’ (that’s the full, more grown-up name we’ve chosen) is transforming our family in a lot of good ways and we (including our kids!) give it rave reviews. 

PERSONAL DISCLAIMER: While I’m thrilled to have ‘The Accountability Pyramid’ in a condition where it might be useful for other parents in the world, I’m nervous, too…because parenting is NOT black and white. It is not mechanical or robotic. I worry that transforming what we do into written words may lead some parents astray as the individual interpretation of words gets translated back into someone else’s actions. Words carry lots of emotional history…like how do you feel when you hear the word “attachment” or “time-out” or “meatloaf”…yep, different feelings for everyone. 
And remember, I don’t have any initials after my name. Probably never will. The Accountability Pyramid is a hypothesis. It’s never been tested...except by us. Use at your own risk.  
I did graduate with a BA in PR just a couple of months before my first curtain-puller was born. Since then, my children have given me more education than I could ever hope for from an institution. But amidst all the laundry and fruit smoothies, I do admit to daydreaming of having an intelligent and energetic discussion about children and parenting and discipline and human potential with some of the world’s brain science rock stars... And when it’s over, Dr. William Sears, Dr. Daniel Siegel, Daniel Pink, Dr. Susan Smalley, Dr. Daniel Hughes, and Dr. Oliver DeMille and I will exchange rounds of fist bumps.
But in reality, I’m just a plain parent (my windows that do have curtains have white ones) with a passion for how to discipline. ;)

2009-2011: Learning to “Use Your PFC”

In the last few years, I’ve started to focus more on which part of my brain I’m using when I’m interacting with my children. I’m certainly far from perfection, but have experienced the joy that comes from even small progress. I use the prefrontal cortex acronym (PFC) to help me remember what to do and how to use that part of my brain when I sense a conflict brewing.

P for Pause
Now when my kids act immature (like when MaryAnn yanked on the curtains for the first time a few months ago), I try to Pause  to congratulate myself that I noticed the immaturity (because that takes a little bit of brains) and while pausing I attempt to accept the immaturity for what it is and ponder the potential still possible (which is often very difficult…it takes a bit more brains and often some recovering from past personal issues).  

F for Focus
Then, I Focus my attention on the child(ren). I try to make eye contact, block out distractions, and become fully present with them (which fills me with warm fuzzies because being on the same brainwave as a child is awesome). 

C for Charity
Finally, I think of my other “Baby” (the Accountability Pyramid) to figure out what kind of Charity will help my child’s brain mature. It’s different depending on age. An infant needs calm physical closeness. A young child needs an example to follow. An older child is ready to practice taking accountability for actions. Teens need space to self-govern as they accept natural consequences. And all ages need to feel assured that Mom and Dad understand their challenges and are confident that their children will progress...even when mistakes are made. Maturity is a slow process, but behavior certainly improves over time. 

By attempting this disciplinary pattern, I think, act, and feel more mature myself (even ask my husband) and my prefrontal cortex is more in control, which I think is the main reason my kids’ behavior has improved (their pre-frontal cortexes are slowly figuring out how to keep their bodies in balance because their mirror neurons are copying my attempts at maturity during stressful situations).   
In short, human brains (ie parents and children) mature (or not) together. We need each other. And I’m discovering what a gift it is to be truly present with a child. 

The Year 2012: Deciding to Share

Because we’re experiencing such a great emotional transformation in our family and I understand some of the brain science about why, I felt inspired in throughout 2012 to find a way to share our insights with other parents.  I started posting a few blog entries now and again. I shared background info with a few friends looking for feedback and Brent and I toyed around with how to build a website that would accurately depict the beauty we see in The Pyramid. 

Weeks went by. Then months. Life is super busy with lots-o-kids. Summer came and went. Then Brent was laid off.  More time to type?? Maybe. But we felt he should spend ample time assisting a small business venture. He did (and is). He’s been very busy (he doesn’t do anything half-way). 

The Pyramid/website went back on the shelf. But sharing it kept churning through my mind. Unfinished.

Brent kept encouraging me to just post what I had done so far. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I needed more time to transform it into something that would actually make sense for other parents. 

Finally, at the end of October, I decided I would never feel like The Pyramid was done, ready for others to view, use, and critique. And then I remembered that that’s okay. When children are born, half the beauty is that they come with such pure innocence, unmarked by the world and with such Divine splendor. The other half of the beauty is that they come incomplete, with an open slate, ready to learn, grow, make mistakes, and then grow some more.

So Brent and I set a deadline to post our initial discoveries...the end of 2012. 

A few days later, the term “Present Parenting” and the Parenting Response Hypothesis came to mind on November 3, 2012. 

As 2012 was coming to a close, January 3, 2013 seemed like an appropriate date for The Accountability Pyramid to make an appearance in the world. It’s a nice day for a birthday...
The hours of website work during these last two weeks was Brent's birthday gift to me. (Did I mention he's an awesome birthing partner? I can always count on him. )

Welcome to the family, www.presentparenting.org!

Knight in the Kitchen

posted Jan 2, 2013, 10:16 PM by Smith Moments   [ updated Jul 28, 2016, 4:35 AM ]

June 11, 2012 
While I was rushing around the kitchen (again) cooking dinner (again), the kids were supposed to be tidying up (again), but suddenly princesses in distress were screaming and clinging to my leg (again) because monsters were tormenting them (again)...and my blood pressure rose (yep...again). 

Trying to keep my cool, I made my frustration find a hiding spot inside me for a moment. 

Then it almost exploded out when Cienna (age 3), who was sitting on the counter eating watermelon (again) screamed at the top of her lungs, "Guys!!" 

Just before I launched an attack to stop the chaos (my plan was to out-shout the troops. Smart, eh?), I paused...but this time it wasn't to tuck the madness away. It was to notice the fairy tale unfolding right before my very eyes...in 3D! 

"You have to feed the monster watermelon if you don't want him to get you," Cienna boldly continued with the confidence of a well-experienced knight. 

Kirsten and Allison stopped squirming between my legs and listened as if their lives depended on it. Then they tested the watermelon theory. 

Diggy smiled. So did I. 

I'm glad I didn't miss the climax. 

And we ate dinner...happily ever after.

The Open Window

posted Jan 2, 2013, 10:09 PM by Smith Moments   [ updated Jan 2, 2013, 10:26 PM ]

June 4, 2012 
The lunch rush was over. I scurried around the kitchen sweeping up millions of crumbs with my mind wrapped around just as many racing thoughts. Laughter entered the open window. I stopped the broom and gazed out at all 6 of my children playing on the trampoline. The boys were perfecting kung fu moves (they don't take lessons) and bragged about their ability to defend the backyard. The girls sat around the edge cheering enthusiastically. Even little MaryAnn bobbed on Kirsten's lap, cooing along. My mind rested from all my motherly worries as their joy became my joy. 
A few minutes later, I stopped the broom again. Most of the kids came swishing back to my side. At least two of them had something urgent to cry or whine about. But I was ready...full of love and waiting for their return.

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