Back to School

Yesterday, I took my daughter to an event at her elementary school where we could drop off supplies and spend time with other families.  In two days, she will start second grade and my family will transition from the rhythm of summer camp and travel back to 5:30 am alarms and remembering that it’s Wear Clothes From Your Favorite Sports Team Day, 5 minutes before we leave the house.

I love these kinds of occasions.  The first day of school.  New Years.  Birthdays.  Anniversaries.  These moments remind me to pause and reflect on what has changed over the course of a year.  What traditions do I want to maintain?  How have the four of us grown?  How can we make our routine easier? 

In some ways, mornings have always been hard for us.  When the girls were infants, they couldn't do much for themselves and we had to schedule buffer time in case an extra outfit or diaper change was needed.  Now that we have one in elementary school and one in preschool, the challenges are different.  I get stuck feeling frustrated and fall into a pattern of self-talk that doesn't help the situation.

“This year needs to be different.  Mornings are too hectic!  You should make all the lunches and pick out their clothes the night before.  You should start waking up earlier to exercise before the girls get up.  Also, you should meditate so you can feel more patient when they’re being difficult.  Which means you should go to sleep two hours earlier.”  Notice that ugly little S-word.  It is insidious.  When my inner-dialogue is full of judgment and shame, I feel awful.  My chest caves in.  My shoulders creep up to my ears.  My jaw clenches.  My stomach churns with acid.  Yuck.  

When I get stuck in “should”, I believe the story that:

My mornings are always difficult, stressful, and overwhelming.  I’m powerless to change this pattern.

If I believe this story, what else is true?  I see myself as a victim.  I feel isolated.  I start blaming others for how I feel and expect them to help without being asked.  This is a pattern we all fall into from time to time.  

What happens if I create a new story about my mornings, one that is the opposite of my old belief?

My mornings are a time of ease when I get to connect with my kids, my husband, and myself.  

Wow.  That feels amazing.  In this story, I get to be a leader in my home.  I try on a different word: “choose”.  How does it feel if I choose to make my mornings feel spacious?  I close my eyes and imagine having enough time to prepare for the day.  I imagine the girls taking more age-appropriate responsibility for tasks.  I can see myself sitting at a table, savoring my breakfast, and talking to them about the day ahead.  This thought is so compelling that my body begins to shift.  I feel my throat soften as my chin lifts away from my collar bones.  My chest expands and my shoulders relax. I have more ease in my body and remember that I’m breathing.

What support do I need to make that new vision a reality?  My husband is an equal partner in our parenting and housework.  Because he does so much more than many of my friends’ partners, I’m often hesitant to ask for more.  But the truth that I learn over and over again is that all four of us benefit when I ask for help.  My husband doesn’t know how difficult it has been to get the girls to eat while he’s in the shower.  I can ask him to wake up earlier or ask for ideas about how to help them focus.

And how can I connect to myself?  There are many mornings when finding 20 minutes for seated meditation doesn’t feel possible.  Fortunately, I always have access to my breath.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  “I notice that I am breathing.”

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  “May I find ease in this moment.”

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  “You’re doing a good job, Lauren.  Keep it up.”