Zen in Piping Hot Coffee

Finding zen in the morning coffee.

Morning coffee. There was a time I used to drink my morning coffee hot. I ran to different courthouses in a single morning, accruing miles and stressing the clock. I argued before judges and with other professional arguers. I guided my scared clients, drunk clients, angry clients, belligerent clients. I faced down jail time, financial ruin, demise of reputation (of my clients, not my own). I fended off deadlines. All while wearing heels and a skirt and a made up face. All while drinking a hot cup of coffee each day.

Fast forward to the arrival of little munchkins. Four years knee deep in diapers, sippy cups, obnoxious cartoons, laundry, dishes, dancing, playing, nagging. I juggled a case load of legal fights with hot coffee but somehow I failed to find the time in the harried pace of motherhood.

Here I am. Four years of cold coffee. I don’t mean the fashionable iced coffee or the hipster cold-brewed coffee. I mean the old fashioned coffee straight out of the pot coffee of our forefathers. I no longer juggle make up, unpredictable clients, and dry cleaned suits. I still wake up early but without the demand to be articulate and composed. Yet I can’t manage a hot drink in the monotonous but hectic mornings of motherhood. Each day I carefully pick my timing. The kid are calm or sleeping. Yet, somehow in the five minute window of brewing, fights break out, Matchbox cars crash, diapers need changing, and snot needs removing. When a moment of calm trikes again and I realize my craving for a little self-indulgence and morning pick-me-up, I turn and see my sad, lonely cup of Joe.

I miss my hot coffee. But I embraced my new reality and switched to ice coffee. Only to discover it too becomes sad with neglect, lukewarm and diluted with melted ice. And it got me wondering, what my hang up is about coffee? Parenting has required many changes to my routine and (hopefully) temporary sacrifice of my personal desires. Coffee seems so miniscule in the scheme of parental sacrifices. But it is symbolic of our need for a breath in our day. A moment to collect our thoughts and reconnect with our inner self. A moment to pray or just be silent. A moment to rest and regroup for another day’s demands and adventures. No matter how busy life gets, we must take the time to restore our spirits. Even if its just a minute with our coffee, hot, iced, or lukewarm.

Parenting Dilemma: Jam Packed Action or More Family Time

The alarm clock rattles his nine-year-old body. He rubs his eyes and peers out at the clock. A blurry 6:30 a.m. stares back at him. He falls back under the covers in a sleepy stupor. Suddenly he hears his true wake up call, his mom shouting that breakfast is ready. Hurry up!

He shuffles downstairs. His eyes struggle to greet the day. He shovels down rice and sausage and chugs his milk. The daily routine winds into motion and he gets dressed into his uniform. It is time to trek to school.

Eight hours later, the school bell rings, but the day is far from done. He heads off to after-school tutoring, hungry and tired. Two hours of multiplication, Japanese characters, and English grammar
drills ensues. When it is all over, it is time for swim practice for another two hours.

Finally, it is 8:00 p.m. and time to head home. There is a homemade meal and thirty minutes to talk with his family. Then, he heads off to do homework and more drills for his extracurricular tutoring. He crashes around 11:00 p.m. to rest for another marathon day.

This is a snapshot day of many Japanese children who aim for good test scores and top universities. I even left out music lessons, weekends packed with tournaments and other sports, and various school events. The result is academic rigor, athletic advancement, and about one to two hours a day of family time.

American children often leave out the agter school academic programming, but the trend is to get kids as busy as possible. Sports, music, drama, clubs, fundraisers, youth groups, volunteer projects, and anything else to pad a resume and keep kids busy while parents work outside the home. There are definite benefits in academic achievement. There are also inherent consequences of less time with the family and less energy for the limited time together.

My children are young enough to advert this busy whirl of school and extracurriculars, but I contemplate what the future brings. What is best for my children? To fill their days with studies and practice to excel in academia, sports, and music? To ensure there is ample family time to bond with each other and teach them our personal values and customs? To rely on others to teach them in a standardized system or to make time for quality teaching by their family members? Is it possible to strike a balance and protect family time without compromising their overall achievement? For the U.S. to remain strong and competitive, should we imitate the rigorous schedule and study pattern of Japan? Or should we focus on fostering individuality and creativity, two traits that formed our nation into its present state? How about a fusion of the two approaches to optimize the benefits of each?

From my limited perspective, there is value in both approaches. I am currently developing a fusion-style parenting with my kids. For example, I already use flash cards and workbooks with my three-year-old to learn spelling and basic addition (more Japanese style).  I also have scheduled free play time throughout the day where they can do whatever they want.(American style). I personally hold family time as a top priority. I fear having to navigate the pressures when my children are older to fill the schedules so that family time is virtually squeezed out.  What do you think? What experiences have you had as a child or a parent that shaped your view on this dilemma? Do children thrive best through formal development in organized groups or through personal interaction with their parents and extended family?

Getting my Zen On Part II

Living in a house with five boys under fourteen has zen written all over it. There is a constant battle for independence and alpha male power. There are wrestling matches, screaming matches, and a scarcity of sock matches.  Pubescent attitude rears it’s head, while the baby cries to be fed, the three-year-old throws eggs on the floor, and  the other two physically fight over Pokemon. Are you feeling meditative yet? The boys constant banter, sometimes playful and sometimes rough, is ever present. Now add in the noise from the various televisions and electronic devices all playing at once, lights flashing on and off as a fight ensues over which lights to turn on, a scuffle with a parent, the laundry is running, and the dishes are clanking. Feeling relaxed and focused now?

Living with five young boys teaches me that life does not create the quiet time for self-reflection and spiritual growth. I often put off time to think, regroup, pray and call a friend for the magic moment of calm. The problem is the calm never comes. I have to make the space to grow and rejuvenate. Lesson learned and now I have to implement the conclusion. Making the space, oh where, oh where.

My first step is to save my energy for positivity. As the kids act up, break the same rule for the hundredth time, or when they hurt one another, it is easy and instinctive to lash out. Yet if I respond in dramatic anger a power struggle ensues and the kids and I both use up all our energy in draining negativity. Now, I try to consciously step back and center myself before addressing them (once any immediate safety concerns are addressed). Despite the yelling and debating, I literally step back, close my eyes, and count to twenty in my head. Then I take a deep breath , consciously calm my tone before speaking, and release the tension in my shoulders. Once the intensity has mellowed, I speak. When I succeed, the kids follow my lead and calm down. We are no longer competing for loudest or most assertive and they see I am receptive but in control. This approach works equally for talking to adults in conflict as well as children.

by preventing an escalation of conflict, we have energy after the conflict to regroup and spend time together. It also results in more time in the day to other things. Like carving out personal quiet time.