School Year Reflections

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High freaking five, mama.

We’ve made it! The minions are back to school and we are feeling a bit “back” to business as usual with each passing week.

Was it stressful? Oh yes.

Were there tears? Most definitely.

Did it require copious amounts of wine? You betcha.

Never in my wildest dreams would I think I’d overhear my young boys having conversations about the “pandemic” and “quarantine” on a regular basis. But alas, here we are.

It goes without saying this last year was vastly different from the previous year. We went from the fast-paced weekly routine of school, sports practices, birthday parties, play dates, and date nights to an abrupt screeching halt. The first week of quarantine felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone. Streets were bare, parks were abandoned, and stores were bracing for what their futures held. It was downright scary.

And yet, we found a way to experience some joy.

We live in such a multi-tasking, fast-paced world. We don’t take much time to slow down these days, especially when it comes to motherhood. We are forces of nature, yet self-less by nature. Our children, partners, and jobs often come before ourselves. It’s not because we prefer it this way. We are natural people pleasers. Their happiness likely fuels our own happiness.

But, when the nation shuts down, and the usual routine gets scratched from the calendar, we are left with a choice.

What the heck am I going to do now?

Once the initial shock wore off, I began to settle into a slower, calmer routine. In fact, my entire household slowed down. Bedtimes became more relaxed, dinners become more creative with what we had on hand, and expectations were lowered. It was as if the entire world took a deep breath and said, ok, now what’s really important here? What do I really need right now?

It turns out we didn’t need to multi-task as much, or buy as much, or even work as much. Many companies learned they didn’t need to keep corporate office space because their employees were able to work just as, if not more, productive from home. Parents learned just how savvy their children were online. While e-learning brought on a slew of emotions, it also brought on creative ways to connect with classmates and teachers. Lunch breaks became a family affair. Recess was a welcomed opportunity to play away from screens and run in the backyard. And above all else, we realized just how much our loved ones meant to us, both near and far.

I believe it will take my children several years to look back at 2020 and feel a sense of comfort and nostalgia. I don’t expect them to appreciate the unregistered gifts we were given anytime soon. But they will remember chalking the sidewalks with positive messages, surprise donut deliveries on a Sunday morning, and family hikes in local forest preserves.

They’ll remember the extra measures we took to ensure Grammy and Grandpa stayed safe while we visited, that first sports practice with all of their friends, and me yelling “Don’t forget your mask!” each time we ventured out the door. Above all else, they’ll remember how far we’ve come, and appreciate where we are today.

 

Gracemarie Boland is a Naperville mom to two boys, Nicholas and Jonathan. She is a real estate investor, property manager, yoga teacher and health coach. You can reach her on FB or IG @gracemarieboland.

Meditation in the Midst of Motherhood

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I haven’t had a meditation practice in years. With all the changes and uncertainty this pandemic has bloomed, it felt really necessary to bring it back.

So, in the wee hours of the morning, when my little dude marched down to the basement and asked me why I was sitting on a block with my eyes closed, I told him. Then I showed him.

A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have had the time, or honestly the patience, to explain what conscious breathing is to a three-year-old. I would have called my meditation quits after it was interrupted. A few weeks ago, I had places to go.

Now, not so much.

So, there I sat, with this big-eyed ball of wonder, teaching him how to find his heartbeat. Then, in unison, we practiced smooth, lifted inhales, followed by long, loyal exhales. It was the most special part of my day.

Those few moments with my son changed the course of how I choose to spend my days in this pandemic. We can’t control much right now, but we can control our breath and our attitude. If we choose to practice the best of both, we may even find a few precious moments along the way.

Meditation can be practiced at any age, in any space, and during any stage of life. Contrary to your brain’s go-to image of a tranquil yoga retreat in the Bahamas, meditation was created to find peace within the chaos. Yes, that’s right. Your very loud, crowded home with the sink overflowing with dishes and the toddler asking for his third snack since breakfast (but seriously, why do they need to eat so much?) and your frustrated elementary-aged student complaining he is bored is the PERFECT setting to practice meditation. And chances are, once you have a routine in place, you may find your housemates want in on the mystery of meditation too.

Speaking of mystery, I hate to burst your bubble, but you aren’t going to levitate on your first go. Or your second, or your 1000th. But, here’s what will happen: Your heart rate will settle into a calm, steady rhythm. Your brain will have more clarity and focus. And your body will feel less tense. Now, this all happens within the first few minutes of your very first meditation session! If you have a regular continued practice, the real magic begins. Research shows the more we meditate, the more benefits we’ll receive. Your practice is similar to a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it will become. Long term benefits include reduced inflammation, fewer cravings, and decreased levels of anxiety. In other words, we can heal on a mental and physical level by simply observing our breath.

Now, I know what you are thinking. What’s the catch?

Well, there are two. You have to be willing to start and patient enough to figure out which style suits you best. Do you prefer a guided meditation (apps such as Calm and Headspace are free and great starting points) or do you prefer to practice mindful meditation, where you concentrate on the present moment? There are many forms of meditations. Do you prefer to practice in the evening or upon waking? Or do you like a few minutes of each? You’ll find one that resonates with you with (again) time and patience.

You don’t need fancy bolsters or pillows. You need a comfortable place to sit and a timer with an alarm (you will find many meditation apps have these built-in for your convenience). If you are new to meditation, I recommend starting with 5-minute increments. This amount of time feels both realistic and rewarding.
Initially, you’ll be tempted to fuss and fidget around. You’ll feel itchy and uncomfortable. You’ll also wonder how much time has passed. It’s completely normal and will fade with practice. Try your best to feel your natural inhale, followed by your slow, deep exhales. If the mind wanders (and it surely will), find your breath again. And again, and again.

Please don’t judge yourself if it feels hard (it will) or silly (also true). Just be patient with yourself and this practice. The benefits will come sooner than you’d expect.

 

By Grace Boland

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