Traditions

in Salamanca, SpainPhotos courtesy of the Eleven O’Clock Dad

So you’re starting a meditation practice. With a child. Yes, this is possible. And bravo to you! You’re in for a treat. And so is the child who’s about to benefit mightily from learning to quiet his or her mind.

Of course you’re wondering, But how will he/she sit still long enough? Ah, that’s the rub. Below are three keys for creating a successful meditation moment with your child. Likewise, I’d love for you to share yours, if you’ve got a few that work well for you.

First key. Create a quiet, comfortable, distraction-free space. This means no. Other. Noise. Literally. Goose and I do his meditation in the morning, early, before phones begin to ring or texts begin to arrive or other family members begin to be up and doing. Because kids are easily distracted anyway, front loading the experience so it’s interference-free can mean the difference between a profoundly quiet moment or a total bust. We also opt for early morning light rather than artificial light of any kind. Something about the time before sun-up works perfectly for us. Though I have a particular position I like for my own practice, with Goose, we simply sit side by side on the couch. He crosses his legs pretzel style and keeps his hands relaxed, palms up, on his thighs–a way to signal his openness to the creative energy he desires to connect with.

Second key. Breathing matters. Really matters. As his guide, I start the meditation by having him breathe in deep, right from his gut, then hold it for a couple of seconds, just to pull air deep into his body. Since I practice Japa, which involves making a slow “Ahhh” sound on the exhale, I’m teaching him to do likewise. As he breathes out, he simply says “Ahhh.” The sound doesn’t have to be generated with the voice; it can be whispered and still be a powerful lever for focusing and quieting the mind.  I’ve been surprised to see how quickly he falls quiet and still with breathing as the initial mechanism. I pause frequently throughout the meditation to guide his breathing.

Third key.  I provide the mental infrastructure for the meditation, and I do this by narrating a story–one of my own making. My objectives are simple. First, I want him to identify through an empowered ‘self’ (he’s the main character!) going on a brief but intriguing journey of some kind. Second, I want the journey to be vivid enough that he feels he’s there, experiencing it. Third, I want him to feel deeply empowered in both mind and heart once we conclude the exercise.

Our first time, I had him imagine that he was in a Redwood grove, where he free-climbed a giant Redwood tree. Could he do that in real life? Nope. Can he do it in a meditation exercise? Absolutely. Moreover, when we finished, he confessed to being amazed at how real it felt–how much like lived experience. But then that’s the power of a good practice: you can go places in your mind that you’d never be able to go otherwise. And the feeling of doing the impossible proves real enough, potent enough, that you’re transformed–maybe just the tiniest bit, but you are.

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Already, Goose describes the benefits of going deep into a quietly imagined moment in which he is both journeyer and hero. He says he feels calmer, that he trusts himself more. In these meditations, he is a kind of Odysseus, scaling mountains, seeing through the eyes of Bald eagles, diving deep as he searches for sea creatures, venturing into mountain caves in search of rare gems, and finding–wherever he wanders–that real power always resides within.

In a time when gadgets rule the day; when each new form of digital wizardry dazzles and distracts, the wisdom of going deep into oneself might seem like a less-than-impressive place to find the Answers. But one of the greatest benefits of any meditation practice is the way learning to empty your mind in order to refocus it in more intuitive directions actually connects you to the real locus of your power. For every practitioner, that locus feels a little different, but it’s there, and tapping into it unlocks hidden but rich reserves of very real strength.

Being a 21st Century Kid is a fraught business. Why not navigate it knowing how truly fit you really are to do so?

Jaén, Spain

Stay tuned for thoughts about how to craft the perfect meditation narrative!

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Silas happy with ballooon_5215 Photos courtesy of the Eleven O’Clock Dad

Answering to the name of “Goose,” the youngest member of our family frequently struggles with a problem common to many otherwise healthy eleven year olds. I call it the I Stink At Everything Syndrome, and it manifests thusly.

One. Said eleven year old scores two goals for his team during a soccer game, let’s say. During the second half of the game, when he is put in as goalie, the other team scores two goals. The only post-game thoughts of which this boy is now capable include self-torturing variations of “It’s like I didn’t even score in the first half!” or “Gah!!–how could I have let those balls get past me??” or “I stink as goalie . . . WHY did coach leave me in for so long??”

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Two. Said eleven year old is required to write an essay for a testing exercise at school, let’s say, an endeavor that results in an outbreak of self-doubt and accompanying self-flagellation likely to mortify even the most pitiable Dan Brown character (i.e., Da Vinci Code’s crazy monk).

Three. Said eleven year old notices that a couple of neighborhood friends have congregated for some outdoor playtime–without him. Ipso facto, this means that he has permanently fallen out of favor, that our doorbell will never ring again, that some vague conspiracy has begun whose stated goal is “Leave Goose Out Of The Fun, Forever.”

I ask you: what is a mother to do?

Well, I’ve pondered that question long and hard, and I’ll tell you what doesn’t work–like suggesting that such patterns (failing to catch soccer balls arcing over your head, for instance) are merely temporary. Wow, big mistake. All this does is reinforce a child’s certainty that his mother doesn’t have a clue what it’s like to be the victim of an unhappy fate. Another thing that never works?–suggesting that there might be some valuable take-away or learning that could put everything into meaningful perspective (completing an essay on a topic you loathe, for example, which then serves as a lever for teaching you that you actually can do hard things, and do them well). The fact that a mother has logic and wisdom on her side doesn’t make a lick of difference to a kid who has convinced himself that his is the Worst Life Ever. And finally, one thing that really doesn’t work is suggesting that perhaps the neighborhood chums aren’t deliberately leaving anyone out; they’ve just gotten something going, and now it’s, well, going. It happens all the time, I pointed out one day not too long ago. Nobody’s fault, I added. Go join the game, I urged. (Note: advice like this is often met with The Stare, which communicates a child’s contempt for motherly wisdom as surely as if he’d said, “Could you BE any thicker?”)

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And then, recently–maybe a month ago–I took up a meditation practice. I’d gone in fits and starts over the years–flirted with it, in other words. But I’d never been consistent. So it was with the most profound sense of humility and delight that I realized: If a mother can a) quiet her mind long enough to connect with her bliss, and b) do it for upwards of thirty days, why couldn’t she teach her eleven year old to do it, too? Stranger things have been attempted, am I right??

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And so, maybe a week ago, I began in earnest, my primary objective being to stage a moment of effective meditation with/for Mr. Goose. Starting out, I had three very simple goals. One, teach him how to breathe and how to attend to his breathing. Two, help him experience the bliss of escaping from thinking patterns that sabotage healthy self-esteem and well-being. Three, like it well enough to want to do it again.

The good news. He not only liked it, he LOVED it! The equally good news. His sudden fascination with the art of quieting the mind promises to keep my imagination busy and my skills sharp for many weeks to come.

Tomorrow: three crucial tips for a successful meditation session with your child.

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Check out the post from which these photos were taken, featuring Goose with an abandoned, yellow balloon in the town of St. Remy, in Provence, France.

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Wind Flower

Image, Cicely Mary Barker, courtesy of flowerfairyprints.com

Some of you may wonder, Why Miss Lavender?  Why Miss Zinnia?  Why flower fairy names??

The practice grew out of a moment that occurred many years ago, when I was in a store one day and saw a framed print of one of Cicely Mary Barker’s flower fairies.  Enchanted by the image, I bought it and hung it on the wall in Miss Lavender’s room, certain that even though she was only a tiny thing, Miss Lavender was indeed a flower fairy.  Something about the faces of Barker’s fairies.  Study them!  You’ll spot the innocence right away, sure, but you’ll also notice flickers of other things:  cleverness, joy, even wisdom.  To me, flower fairies seem emblematic of the many kinds of Moments that comprise Being A Girl.

Sure, my older daughter looks like the Lavender Fairy.  I make a practice of choosing fairies who resemble the girls and women who bear their names.  And though my younger daughter has long outgrown the image of the Zinnia fairy (she looks more now like the Iris Fairy or maybe the Snowdrop), I swear the Zinnia fairy’s countenance still matches my daughter’s.

But it’s not just about resemblances.  Flowers themselves fascinate and inspire me.  Endlessly lovely and each with its own distinct energy and essence, flowers are considered by many to be a locus for all kinds of good things.  Lavender, for example, has tremendous healing properties.  Once, when my Miss Lavender was very small, her right arm and a few other patches of her little body were scalded by hot bathwater.  Terrible episode.  Beyond painful for her.  Beyond painful for me.  A wonderful sister-in-law told me about lavender oil and its uses for the skin, and we ordered the purest, best oil we could find and used it on Miss Lavender’s arm.  She and I both have a strong attachment to the smell of lavender as a result of experiencing the oil’s powerful effects.  It seemed to calm her even as it worked its dramatic flower magic on her burned skin, which (miraculously) never scarred.

I suppose it’s an unusual practice, giving every Eleven O’Clock Girl a flower fairy name.  But it works for me.  And those who have received their own name seem to have warmed both to the idea and to the fairy they are named for.  And as far as I’m concerned, Cicely Mary Barker was a peerless illustrator, don’t you agree?

(Which fairies do you warm to??)

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Cardboard roses_4333

What if a legendary fascination with roses grabbed an entire city? And, assuming such a thing were possible, what if every rose (both real and handmade) on the entire planet suddenly appeared on the streets of Barcelona? Flower sellers everywhere–on the street corners, at the metro stops, in the parks, on the ramblas. An effusion of roses!

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Likewise, let’s imagine that every bookseller (and for that matter every organization even remotely connected to books) went and set up its own portable store on the streets of the city, so that just for a day, there were more books than people. Wouldn’t that be beyond grand?

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Imagine it!–books and more books, everywhere you turned! Books in Spanish and Catalan. Books for adults and children. Books for your library, your bedside, your coffee table.

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So let’s give the idea a name–Dia de Sant Jordi–and ordain one day a year, April 23rd, during which a man may present the woman in his life with a rose, while the woman presents her gentleman with a book. (We’ll forget for a second that women receiving flowers while men receive books is at all problematic.) Isn’t the whole affair just delightful?

According to legend, on April 23rd, Sant Jordi slew the dragon who had been terrorizing Catalunya, and from the dragon’s blood sprang a rose, which Sant Jordi gave to La Princesa, who presented him with a book in return.

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Dia de Sant Jordi: possibly the most charming event I’ve ever witnessed. Roses for the women.

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And books for the men. Naturally you could shake things up, if you wanted–give a flower to your guy while you treated yourself to a good read.

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Wandering the ramblas felt like trying to thread your way along Colorado Boulevard the night before the Rose Parade. Seemed like everyone in the city was out!

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Goose makes a fine Sant Jordi, doesn’t he?

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All ready to slay dragons for the rose-loving/bookish girl in his life. (Wait–I think that’s me!)

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So the story is that we stopped in Pouzac, France, a town no one’s ever heard of but its inhabitants. In the distance, an old church beckoned. We feared its doors would be shut and locked. That often happens in small towns.

But we stopped anyway. And got out. And decided to explore a little.

I wandered through the church yard, spent a moment considering the dates on the tombstones in the graveyard.  Then, when I checked the door to the church, surprise:  the latch gave, and I pushed the door open. And stepped inside. Completely empty but for the two votives flickering in the sanctuary.

Miss Zinnia decided to perform a single verse from a church hymn.

Here is how that verse sounded.

(And to whoever left the door to that 16th century church open: Merci.)

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Four Sibs1852

So my oldest, affectionately nicknamed “El Surfeador,” will be twenty years old on Saturday.  20 on the 20th.  His golden birthday.  He’s at home, in the U.S., and we’re here, in Spain.  Here were a few things I did to help him start enjoying the epic Two-Oh, just two days away!  (Wow.)

One.  Maybe six weeks ago, I emailed all kinds of people who had been important to him, and I invited them to shoot him a card for his birthday.  A couple of weeks ago, I sent a reminder email.  My hope is that he’ll get somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty birthday cards.  A friend at home gave me the idea:  she invited friends to do the same thing when her daughter was turning eighteen last fall.  So exciting, that he’ll be receiving birthday wishes from all kinds of people who have meant the world to him!

Two.  My other three kids–Goose, Miss Zinnia, and Miss Lavender–sang him some birthday songs, and the Eleven O’Clock Dad filmed them.  The video went into an email attachment and then into the inbox of a new Acqaintance, Treat-maker, and Co-conspirator I happened to stumble across . . . who happens to live near my son.  (Funny, how those coincidences happen!)  When my son “happens” by her home on his birthday (there will be a pretext, of course), she and her husband will open the attachment for him so he can hear his siblings sing to him on His Day.  Surprise!

Three.  The package.  All this week, he is opening gifts we sent him in a birthday package–one a day:  things like antique peseta notes (Spanish bills), some dating to the 1920’s, that he can use for bookmarks; a #10 Lionel Messi wind-up action figure (with very sweet moves); two professional yo-yo’s, and other bits of utterly (un)Necessary Nonsense.

Four.  A couple of days ago, we all emailed him our own list of twenty things we love about him.  Goose’s was priceless.  Among his twenty to his older brother:  You’re awesome, You can kick a ball hard and far, You’re one energetic kid in a man’s body, and “I am happy you were born.”

I realized some of you may be far from children whose birthdays are coming up, and, being an inveterate Idea Thief myself, I thought you might want to steal a couple of these if they worked for you.  Or maybe you’ve sent your own Love to birthday kids who are far away?  I’d love to know!

(Photo:  The Kids, on the day El Surfeador reported to the missionary training center in Provo, Utah.  He began serving as a missionary for the Mormon church last August and will finish in August of 2014.)

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Miss Zinnia often sings in ancient basilicas.  However, in Sagunto, Spain, on a quiet afternoon in March, she sings in an ancient, Roman forum, a stone theater hewn into the hillside to which it has clung since the first century.

Partially restored, the forum has truly mindblowing acoustics, making it more like a church than an outdoor theater.  Those Romans, right?  Wish I could personally thank the handy set who designed the venue that made Miss Z’s voice reverberate so hauntingly.  Be cool, wouldn’t it?–if a Mom could say to the architects of such a place, “A girl’s voice endures because the thing you made endures.  Nicely done.”

(In the photograph on the link, the forum is in the lower left corner.)

 

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Impresario_0368

Traveling in Spain with our kids–two teenage girls and a nine-year-old boy–is an unusual proposition. The girls tend to gravitate toward things with color, or things with shine, or things with a certain architectural integrity. And the boys tend to like things on which they can climb (castles), or from which they can leap (stairs, which abound in Europe), or whose destruction they can witness (fallas!).  What happens once a year in Valencia appeals to both crowds.

Each one created by a different organization roughly equivalent to a neighborhood guild, the falla–which refers both to the creators and the creation–is a giant tableau, the result of months of painstaking construction and artistry on the part of the falleros and their engineers and artists.

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Those Disney folks?  They’ve got nothing on the falleros.

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The fallas are meant to satirize. Each falla–and they’re scattered all over the city, though more of them are clustered downtown–is a satire, its tone as critical as its colors are vivid. Whatever events have taken place in the country over the past year–political, economic, social–those events become the falleros’ inspiration and raw material.

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One around the block from our house_7869

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Heads of state–the king, for example, or the country’s former president–become the targets of many of the fallas.

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Crowds of thousands gather to see the fallas each year, wandering the city with maps that indicate which ones are where. Puzzling out the theme of each one was tricky for us, as the signs were mostly in Catalan, but the tone of each was unmistakable–like that of a political cartoon, except that the ‘cartoon’ is rendered in 3D! Below, a few of the enormous ones, some reaching up to five stories.

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As the night wears on, the pyrotechnics wind up. Everything you’re hurrying to see will eventually go up in smoke. Pretty soon, you’re running so you can catch all the fallas before the ‘bomberos’ (fire fighters) arrive to preside over the fireworks and the explosions at each site.

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Little one near our house_7893

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And then.

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The crowds begin to swell.  The lights captivate.  Foods of all kinds beckon to folks itching for a late-night snack.

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And while we settle in to wait just outside the fence of our favorite falla, an enormous tableau featuring a cluster of giant babies . . .

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the fire crews start arriving to prep the sites, including ours.  For forty-five long minutes, we stand.  And wait.

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And just like that, just after midnight, it all. Goes up. In smoke.

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All over the city, each elaborately beautiful falla combusts, one after another.

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Miss Zinnia, she doesn’t know what to think.

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Everywhere, the fallas burn!

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Goose, he’s ready to watch fallas blow up until the sun rises.  The girls? Not so sure. Regardless, they’ve never seen anything like this.

Kids react_0669

And they may not, ever again. Which is exactly why we wanted to be part of it!

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Girl with basket_3303

So you take 60 tons of sweets. And myriads of expectant children. And over 120 horses parading through the streets of the Old Gracia district in Barcelona, their riders reaching into saddlebags laden with candy. You throw it (literally) all together, and you have the Dolça Festa, every March 3rd–a colorful, tasty whirl of a festival that reminds everyone why being a child is so magical!  One thing I’ve learned about this city:  Barcelona loves a reason to celebrate.

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Don’t you love the festooned carts and lorries? The colorful hailstorm of candy? The petal-fresh little faces? The pink, patterned rainboots? (Do those come in a size 8?) And how about those aqua shades on El Rubio (Mr. Blondie)!? Apparently, candy-catching is a fashion-forward affair. Mmm–to all of it!

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Tess and Millay walking_6596

Thing Three. Whenever possible, view your daughter as a front page story. Then get the story.

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These photos of the Eleven O’Clock Girls in Bratislava, Slovakia, remind me just how much I remember about our trip through Europe last summer. Which is a lot. Which is a direct result of its having been documented. I remember the day in these pictures like it was yesterday. Because there are photos of it.  The companion story for this photo could be, “The petals fall under the spell of some interesting new acquaintances.”

The caption for the one below could read, “Miss Zinnia.  Silly girl.”

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Take photos.  And when you’ve got a minute, write down a place, a date, an impression or two. The story in the one below:  “Blue eyes. In Bratislava.”

Millie by door_6548

I want to be clear: when I say “get the story,” I don’t mean sit down and write War And Peace. Nor do I mean mortgage your home to get the appropriate scrapbooking supplies.  I love that some folks scrapbook!  I wish I did.  I kept trying.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get that gene. Once, I walked into a scrapbooking store in Arizona, looked around for a bit, and, when someone asked if they could help me, out of my mouth came the bizarre (and involuntary!) words, “Do people ever report wanting to slit their wrists when they come in here?”–at which point said woman (very helpful, bless her) gave me a brisk smile and hurried away. Fast.

The story for this photo of Miss Lavender could read, “Something’s going on behind those eyes.”

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Or this one. “Oh happy day!”

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Or, “Zinnie and Lavender doing something vaguely yogic.”

Millie and Tess get silly_6561

The Official Story of your daughter on any given day, at any given moment, gets written with the click of a shutter and a few thoughtful strokes on a keyboard (or in a journal, say). But we’ve gotta get them, these stories. Before our girls walk off into their own lives.

Millie and Tess in Bratislava_6585

Wish I’d started this in earnest.  Sooner.  I’d remember so many more days like they were yesterday!

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