Today on my way down the street to my job at the Ashland Library, I heard the familiar call of my favorite bird. “Cheeeese-burger,” the little bird seemed to be saying. I stopped to look, and there in front of me, flitting around in a (bush) at eye level, was a Black Capped Chickadee! I stood transfixed, watching the chickadee’s antics, and then I noticed the way the sunlight was bouncing off the red and orange fall leaves. I took a deep breath and felt my shoulders relax. I took another deep breath and looked up at the blue sky peeking through the leaves and listened to the chickadee’s happy song. “Right here and right now,” I thought to myself, “life is good.” And I was grateful for that moment.
Life has been hard lately. Many of us are wondering what there is to be thankful for this coming Thanksgiving, and with good reason. Losing a home or a business to a fire on top of the stress of Covid, climate change, and the growing polarization of our neighborhoods and communities has everyone on edge and wishing for better times. It’s even harder for parents, because, despite our own stresses and concerns, we have the added responsibility of reassuring our children and somehow lessening their own stresses and concerns.
It is not easy to do. Sometimes we fail. I speak from experience. When my oldest son was just turning five, my daughter was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. This condition was completely unexpected and, quite frankly, overwhelming. Nursing involved an IV-like contraption that took two of us to manipulate. In addition to all the weekly and monthly appointments with doctors and specialists, she had her first surgery (of many, many surgeries) when she was just four months old. Sixteen months later my youngest son was born, and shortly after diagnosed with Systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, a severe autoimmune disease that can aggressively attack not only joints, but also tissues and organs throughout the body. Thus began another ongoing round of hospitalizations, appointments, and of course the day-to-day care and existence of seeing to the needs of children with different, but no less intense, medical conditions.
I’m going to be honest, sometimes it just felt like too much. I was having trouble coping with the constant stress, worry, energy, and time it took to meet those needs. The person who suffered the brunt of all of this was my oldest son. Oh, how I needed that seven-year-old to just understand how hard things were, to magically grow in adult-sized empathy and wisdom. Oh, how I beat myself up now, years later, for not being there for him when he needed me the most. He, too, needed the reassurance and love, the time and the energy just as much as his siblings, but how do you find that to give when you’ve been up all night with a one-year-old trying to rock and sooth away pain that you couldn’t even fully comprehend and felt helpless in the face of?
Yep, those were tough times. I guess I’m sharing this because I know how hard things are right now for so many families in our communities, and how hard it is on the children of these families as well. Covid adds the extra obstacle of not even being able to reach out and get the support from others, and something as simple as a visit to the playground, or a meal out, is fraught with its own anxieties and concerns.
Looking back over the struggles I experienced in those early years, I recognize that when I was able to get out of my own head and took the time to stop and breathe, it made a difference. Call it meditation, prayer, mindfulness, or simply the act of being aware. It has been this hard-earned experience that has led me to deal with stress a little differently these days. Slowing down and recognizing (despite the hardships and the struggles,) that there are still little things to be grateful for. If you can find that space in yourself, you can help your child find that space in themselves.
The library can help you get through the hard times. Look for books and resources on slowing down, mindfulness, and meditation at a library branch near you. For more books on this topic geared specifically to children and families take a look at the list titled Taking a Moment in the library catalog.
In the meantime, for a more concrete version of slowing down and mindfulness, check out this week’s Take and Make Kit at the Ashland Library. After you complete the craft, you can use it throughout the month of November as a way to reflect and focus on the little things, like chickadees in the fall leaves, reading a fun book with your child, or remembering that you are not alone – that we are all in this together.