I hoover my house almost daily. If I don’t, after just one day, it looks like I never have.
A few days ago, I was cleaning out the bagless hoover, and amid a cloud of dust, I began to giggle to myself as I realised that the contents of my hoover are a direct insight into my life.
Once upon a time there was a man and a woman. They both worked full time, and were hardly ever home. They hoovered every few weeks and cleaned out the hoover every couple of months. Their hoover was full of hair and dust balls. Fast forward four years and that hoover is full of… well… everything else.
There’s glitter from the morning crafts, play rice from the afternoon sensory play. There’s broken up bits of water beads that were brought in from the water table and stomped on, and there are thousands of bits and pieces of paper, string, confetti, crayon wrappers and a million other remnants of creative projects. There’s bits of food from a two year old insistant on feeding herself and from a four year old who tips her plate over to show us there’s only crumbs left on it.
There are bits of LEGO Friends that have to be meticulously picked out, and a pebble – the most specialist pebble in the world, mind you – from a recent trip to the sea, or a leaf from the nature hunt or the now dried and crumbled remains of a nature art activity.
I look through my hoover and I see the signs of a life lived with children, in full colour, full exhuberance, full enjoyment. This is the life I see now. My life.
And one day the hoover will be used every week or so again. There will be no muddy footprints going through the house. There will be no glitter, confetti, sparkles that cling stubbornly to the floor. That day I will look at the hairballs and dust bunnies gathered in my hoover, and I will remember today and I will miss it.
If there was a soundtrack to my life, the last week or so would have a ghostly echo pounding through a driving bass line. The ghostly echo would say one word, over and over again: “Mindful, Mindful, Mindful”
My mother will tell you I’ve always believed that we have the ability in ourselves to change our thoughts, and from there, to change our actions. When I was a child she went through a phase of calling herself stupid a lot. I believe in the power of words, so whenever she called herself stupid, or said she’d done something stupid, I’d hit her really hard with my fist on her shoulder. It became Pavlovian. She’d say stupid, I’d hit her. She soon stopped calling herself stupid, at least in my presence.
While I don’t advocate for violence, and would choose a different approach tthan physical assault these days, I still believe that our thoughts control our actions and with it the outcomes in our lives, and our minds can be trained to control our thoughts. I’m sure there’s a whole movement behind this, but I’m not familiar with it. I simply think that we can train our minds by conscious, mindful, choice.
If Ameli is acting up, the soundtrack in my head says, ‘Be mindful’. My husband and I aren’t communicating well? ‘Be mindful’. My diet is entirely desire led and not at all healthy? ‘Be mindful’. And so the ghostly echo in my head repeats, repeats, repeats.
But what does it mean, in my day to day reality?
Why do I feel like I’m drowning in things to do, yet when I have a spare moment and want to tackle one of those things, I can’t seem to figure out where to start? Why does it seem that my interactions with the people in my life are stressed out, highly strung, and impatient?
Because I am not being mindful. I am not making conscious choices. I’m being led by pregnancy induced insomnia. I’m being led by financial stress. I’m being led by the sadness I’m desperately trying to avoid: we’re coming up for Christmas and I have none of my family to share it with. I’m like a bull with a ring in its nose, being pulled from side to side by all these ‘things’ in my life.
I have lost sight of my mindful, conscious self.
I know what to do when my child is seemingly being ‘disobedient’. I need to focus in on her, rather than shout for control I give away by shouting. I know what to do when my husband is being husbandish. I need to focus in on his needs to see where he is being unfulfilled. I know that when my house looks like a hurricane passed through, it’s time to focus in on short bursts of major action.
I know these things, but while my head is screaming ‘what’s going on?!’, I’m unable to be useful to myself or my family, and over a period of days and weeks, I wake up more tired than I went to sleep and find myself in a rut. A dangerous, frustrated, unhappy place.
You may say, yes, but your child is being a ‘terrible two’, your husband is being ‘husbandish’, and you’re carrying all the responsibility of running a home while being pregnant you need to be selfish and think of YOU, shut the door and leave them to self-destruct.
But that is counter productive, isn’t it, because an hour later, when I open the door, the problems are still there.
Yes. Perhaps the best course of action is to find yourself a corner for’quiet time’. For some this will be reading your Bible. For some, time in prayer. For others, meditation, introspection, yoga. Whatever it is, but finding your ‘peaceful place’ gives you – or at least gives me – the power to then confront in a peaceful way, my family and my home. And you can find that peaceful place in the two minutes it takes to walk to the car, screaming toddler in tow. Your peace doesn’t depend on circumstances, or other people. It is yours. It is mine. I just have to claim it.
I am then able to implement ‘time-in’ instead of ‘time-out’. I’m able to connect with my husband. I’m able to focus on my to do list and find it less overwhelming. I am able to enjoy Christmas lights and hear carols and see men in red suits and feel the tinge of pain and of longing, without letting it own me and decide my emotions, and with it my interactions with the people I do have in my life.
My mother always used to say a tidy head loves a tidy home. I hated that saying, because my room was never tidy and in retrospect, neither was my head, but now I see it in a greater sense.
Being mindful of our own human condition helps us ‘make it through’ with much more peace and calm. When I am calm, I exude calm. When I am calm, I create calm. When I am at peace within myself, I have more patience to deal with my family.
When I am conscious of my own self, I am able to be conscious for those around me without being a martyr to their needs.
Mindful… Mindful… Mindful…
This doesn’t mean it will all always go well, or always be easy, but it means that you – that I – will have a better grasp on life, and with it, a better experience of that life.
(This post first appeared on Diary of a First Child on December 13, 2011)
One of the things I really like about baby led weaning is the theory that a baby will only eat what isn’t bad for them. According to this theory, when a baby won’t eat something, they will generally later be found to have an intolerance or allergy to it.