March 16, 2013 § 24 Comments
Often we have to break down in order to break through – Renee Peterson Trudeau
When a publicist emailed me to ask if I would be interested in reviewing a book on my blog, my first reaction was no, thank you. However, after hearing about Renee Peterson Trudeau’s Nurturing the Soul of Your Family, I agreed to at least read it and then decide.
And I was hooked after the first page.
Rather than trotting out a 10-step plan for perfection, Trudeau begins her book by talking about how chaotic her early years were and she freely shares challenges she had with her husband and son. Like many other books, she emphasizes the importance of self-care, but in Nurturing, it goes beyond pedicures and massages. “Nurturing yourself is not selfish,” she writes. “It’s essential to your survival and well-being.” What I loved was that Trudeau outs many of the ways our society doesn’t promote self-care and often shames mothers into feeling selfish if they put their own care on a par with their families’. Instead, Trudeau takes multi-tasking out at the knees by illustrating how much of our own lives we miss when we try to do too much: we react, we take things personally, we lose compassion, and we miss the good stuff.
This isn’t to say that Nurturing the Soul of Your Family is an easy read, however. While Trudeau is relentlessly compassionate, she is also relentless. The book is divided into five sections that focus on healing and supporting yourself, reconnecting to what you love, spending time together as a family, doing less and learning to say no, and finding support. Within each part are journaling exercises, new practices to try on your own or with your family, and really tough questions that demand honest answers. And I appreciate this so much! My own family is in a time of growth as Gus, my baby, is now four, and Oliver, seven, is in his first year of full-day school.
This winter has been a tough time of growing and molting for all of us. Oliver broke his arm in November while riding his bike and was in a cast for eight weeks. He’s already a sensitive kid, and being sidelined during recess and play time was devastating to him. Additionally, right after his cast came off, his entire school participated in a jumping rope fundraiser for the American Heart Association, which proved difficult with his arm. His seat was changed on the school bus, his new seatmate sometimes teased him, and his best friend from Washington, DC stopped returning his letters. One day he came home from school upset and told me that he doesn’t want to only have girls as friends but sometimes the boys are really rough. The months of January and February were difficult in our house, full of tantrums and unexplained meltdowns, tears and anxiety.
Added to this, I’ve felt my own unraveling this winter. It seems that the more yoga I do, the more I recognize unhealthy patterns and even unhealthy friendships that I’ve had to come to terms with. For years I’ve been able to bury my head in the daily tasks of raising babies and toddlers and preschoolers, but this winter, I’ve had more time to face my own fears and obstacles.
One morning last week, after the jump rope competition, and after Oliver reinstated himself on the recess monkey bars, he woke up upset and cranky, yelling at me before he had even climbed down from his bunk bed.
“Oliver,” I asked, feeling weary already, “What is it you need?”
He lay his head in my lap. “I want to stay home with you,” he said, in an uncharacteristic moment of vulnerability. “I want comfort.”
He wanted to read in bed, watch a movie with his brother, eat Starbucks lemon pound cake, build new Lego sets, go down to the bay and visit the “secret” cave. I explained that if he didn’t go to school that day, the following Monday would be that much harder, but we made a plan for a lazy afternoon full of Legos and reading, and even lemon muffins, which I adapted from Ina Garten’s supposedly “healthy” recipe (we all know better, Ina).
And I had Trudeau’s book to remind me that my to-do list could be put on hold for a day, that I could trust myself to recognize that my son needed comfort more than he needed to be reminded not to yell, and that I didn’t have to ignore my own needs in order to meet his.
Today, as I lie in bed on this gorgeous spring day, trying to recover from the bronchitis that won’t seem to leave, my husband glanced at Trudeau’s book, laying next to me. “Huh,” he said, “Maybe I’ll read that.”
Hopefully you will too. I’m giving away a copy of Nurturing the Soul of Your Family to one lucky reader. And you all get my adaptation of Ina Garten’s Lemon Yogurt Cake, below.
1 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond meal (Bob’s Red Mill is good)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup almond milk
1/3 cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs
zest of 2 organic lemons (organic is preferable because you are using the rind)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
juice of 1 lemon
For extra lemony-ness:
juice of 1 lemon
1-2 tablespoons agave nectar
For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line muffin tins with muffin cups.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the almond milk, sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the coconut oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the muffins are set and a toothpick comes out clean.
Meanwhile, for extra lemony-ness, cook the juice of one lemon and the agave nectar until it boils and then simmer for a minute. Set aside.
When the muffins are done, pour a tablespoon of lemon/agave mixture over each muffin. It will be quickly absorbed.
For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice and pour over the muffins. My kids love the glaze because … well, obviously. But these are also great without the glaze.
March 11, 2013 § 17 Comments
Oh, I’ve missed it here and I’ve missed all of you. I wish I could give you a good reason why I haven’t been to this blog in a long time, but I don’t really have one, other than to say I’ve been digging. I turned 40 in January, and Scott and the boys built me a garden. Because I live in The South, we’ve already planted kale and mesclun, sweet peas and arugula. I’ve also tried my hand at flowers and on a cold and windy day last week, I ripped open a brown paper bag full of tulip bulbs. Supposedly they are late blooming, but my British neighbor shook her head at me and wagged her own trowel in the sharp breeze. “Nah,” she said, “You need a frost. They’re not going to grow.”
But still, Gus and I raked away the pine needle “mulch” base housing dumped all over our front garden beds last fall and we dug a few inches down, because that’s as far as you can go here before you hit sand. I had to pause and figure out which way to plant the bulbs because it wasn’t entirely clear which way was up. By the time I finished, my hands were cold and covered with dirt that seemed to be baked in, caked under my nails, streaked across my face, where I paused once to itch my nose.
I’ve been doing another sort of digging as well this winter, a much less interesting sort, so I won’t bore you with the details. I think maybe it had something to do with turning 40, with the realization that the days of waiting for my real life to begin were over. This is it, I thought, as I blew out the candles and then began to panic a bit. At 40, time isn’t as luxurious as it once was. Time now seems to be cracking a whip, stamping its foot, whispering in my ear in its dry, husky voice.
Or maybe it started with books: Katrina Kenison’s Magical Journey allowed me face my own looming compost pile and Danielle LaPorte’s Fire Starter Sessions dug its fingers into my shoulders and pushed me to the ground. I called my yoga teacher, Laura Plumb, and in our sessions, she has been encouraging me to sit quietly and then to push my fingers into the soil, even though I keep worrying about the worms and the bugs.
“Live into the questions,” she reminds me and still, I want only clear answers, a way to scrape the confusion away and wash it clean. But of course, there have only been more questions, which I think are probably the garden variety questions that stay-at-home mothers my age begin to ask. Questions mostly about what I can ask for, how much I am allowed to have, whether or not it’s OK to take something and claim it for my own. And there are other questions as well, the kind that come from living on a Marine base, surrounded by guards, an ocean, and a chain link fence. Questions about freedom and obligation, prerogative and service.
I’ve been asking questions that I’m not sure you can ask anymore in this age of competitive parenting. Questions about a purpose beyond making lunches and cleaning up spilled juice. Selfish questions about carving out time for myself, about an interior life, which has been limited since the birth of my oldest son. These are not questions about how to love my family less, but about how to love myself more.
In January I dug through shame, in February anger, and now, in March, I am stalking fear, with the help of Ana Forrest’s book, Fierce Medicine. I have been practicing handstand again and forearm balance in the middle of the room, where I feel both hopeful and hopeless, clumsily hamstrung between gravity and flight. I awkwardly hop from my forearms, I plant my hands down into the floor and sometimes hover before I realize that I may actually be doing it, which causes me to come tumbling down onto the wood floor, the bedrock, the facts of my life that stand as they are, immutable as granite.
There is the fact that I don’t yet work, that we will never afford childcare or someone to clean our house or private schools. There is the fact that we move every two years, that I get frustrated because my choices are limited, that I am scrubbing the toilets with a brush and my Ivy League education. There is the fact that an almost daily yoga practice has not made me into a better person, but rather, revealed the ways in which I am selfish.
I have been trying to blast away the earth to clear a space for my life. I have been desperately clawing at stone in an attempt to build a foundation. I have been using a dull knife to scrape out a sacred space in the bedrock, an alter in the midst of the duties and the obligations. I have been trying to erase what is there so I can start again.
But maybe I have been going about this all wrong. It might be that while I have been railing against the boundaries in my life, they have been the walls keeping everything in place. It could be that I have to start building here, on these uneven rocks. What I should probably be doing, is not trying to bludgeon the earth, but drawing a blueprint of a castle that will fit in the land I have purchased. Maybe I should be learning how to live in narrow hallways and odd-shaped rooms. It might be that the duties and the obligations are the tight things that will grow, that maybe the flower is not more holy than the crust of the Earth.