"Are you OK, Mommy?" Zoe's face is flushed from her bath and glistens with drops of water. Her eyes follow mine while she waits for me to answer. While wrapping the towel behind her, I pull her face to mine, our noses touch and I steal a kiss. She is still watching me, waiting, and yet when I look again, I am stuck in time. I see her lips with her little girl pout from long ago and her hair in gentle waves, when it barely used to brush her shoulders, before the trendy middle school style of straight and long (how she wears it now), before she began to look... so grown up.
"Are you mad, maybe?" she asks, lifting her concerned face. Quickly, I assess. I haven't raised my voice; I haven't rushed her. I go down my checklist of rules I have especially made for this child of mine. Rule #1, no rushing... because after all, how do you rush your child that uses a walker and wheelchair? This girl of mine, who taught me how to slow down and savor life, still waits for her answer. So I gather her into me, my cheek brushing her soft skin as I breathe in the comfort of her strawberry scent, and the answer to her question comes swiftly with my sigh, I am very tired.
It is my quietness that concerns her. I have just done too much today. My body aches and in the final hours of my night, I am too tired to think or to talk. The Fitbit on my wrist buzzed and blinked before dinner, telling me I walked 16,000+ steps, that I met my goal... but did I really meet my goal?
Because if I were to die today, what would my eulogy say?
Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post, creates a passionate quest to re-examine our lives and perception of success in her new book, Thrive: The Third Metric To Redefining Success And Creating A Life Of Well Being, Wisdom and Wonder.
"We are all responsible for writing our own eulogies," she reminds us. So, what would my eulogy say? Would it celebrate the four-mile walk, the phone calls and errands crossed off my to-do list, clutter-free kitchen counters, clean floors, the work I completed or the professional goals I met? What would my family remember most? If I died today, would my teen remember the time we have spent talking at breakfast, the way I have tried to really listen and encourage her, the time I have spent helping her with her hair? Will my husband think about our easy kisses and conversations, and Zoe... will she smile about the games we have played, books we read or the way I have climbed into her bed to snuggle?
Being the mother of a special needs child has given me a unique perspective. I have learned to celebrate the simple moments of parenting, but my reality has also made fluid my own definition of what I perceive successful parenting to be. Huffington encourages us to "integrate the Third Metric approach with one goal: to reconnect with ourselves, our loved ones and our community -- in a word, to thrive."
In Thrive, Huffington, one of the most powerful women in the world, reveals her own experiences with vulnerability and motherhood. "Having children was the best possible antidote to my workaholic 'always on' tendencies. It gave me perspective... "
Huffington illustrates that the "architecture of how we live our lives is badly in need of renovation and repair," and all of her examples are common offenders in every day parenting life. First, there is the stress -- the stress we self impose, the unnecessary stress we accept and the stress that unknowingly impacts our own children. Sleep deprivation is the stalker that steals our brain power, memory, mood reasoning and physical energy. Finally, there is burnout. To truly thrive, Huffington's passion plea encourages adopting a lifestyle featuring four elements of the "Third Metric: well being, wisdom, wonder and giving."
"Mindfulness and meditation," Huffington explains, "have the ability to change our brain and are the first steps to living a life of well-being." Being mindful is about being completely present in the moment. One of the first challenges I experienced as a new mom was slowing down. Feeding my newborn was a challenge; I had to sit still for extended periods of time and learn to be present in the moment. This meant closing my eyes to the clutter, relaxing into the comfort of the couch and surrendering to the process that, over time, became meditative and soothing -- holding my daughter close and listening to the sounds of her sucking and breathing.
When my daughter Zoe was 3, we discovered she was missing a large portion of her cerebellum, and she received her first walker to give her the balance she needed to walk. From the very first moment it was put in front of her, she grabbed the handles, started to hum and began slowly shakily making her way, walking across a room for the very first time. It wasn't just the song she hummed that stayed with me, but also her smile -- her pure joy as she very slowly took step after step. It was that look I remembered as I had to reach for patience and learn to be mindful in the moment as our world slowed down and she began to use her walker, smiling everywhere she went.
In Thrive, Arianna shares the beauty of seeing the wonder in the world, from the eyes of a child, as she recalls watching the stars in the California sky with her daughters, Christina and Isabella. When Zoe was 5, we were told she would most likely lose her vision by the age of 12. Hearing this changed the way I see the world. What if you couldn't see the blue shades of the sky or flowers in bloom? Often, I take Zoe out onto our patio for dessert at night. From there we can watch the birds and the changing color of the sky at sunset, the roses in bloom and the natural backdrop of the Arizona desert. We just sit and try to be present in the wonder of the world.
Slowing down still isn't automatic for me. Last Fall, one day after school, I was helping Zoe out of her wheelchair into the car when her foot purposefully stepped in a nearby puddle. She was almost in the car when I heard her say softly, "that was fun." So then, I helped her back out of the car to splash in the rain. I will always remember that moment, how my hands steadied her shoulders and the way Zoe stood, unsteadily, splashing up and down in the puddles and how in the end we were wet and muddy. I am grateful that we took the time... because she could. In Thrive, Huffington examines the health benefits to living in the moment and encourages taking the time to make a gratitude list.
In the chapter of Thrive beginning with "Life as a Classroom" explains, "When we reexamine what we really want, we realize that everything that happens in our lives -every misfortune, every slight, every loss and also every joy, every surprise, every happy accident - is a teacher, and life is a giant classroom." Another revelation is that we aren't able to guarantee our children only happy moments, that just by living their life as it is revealed will lead to wisdom. Embracing silence, listening to our inner voice, and appreciating our "mother's intuition" are all authentic keys to wisdom.
The fourth element of the Third Metric is giving. "Giving, loving, caring, empathy and compassion, going beyond ourselves and stepping out of our comfort zones to help serve others." Huffington cites this call to action as the "only viable answer to the multitude of problems the world is facing." There are health benefits, too, and Thrive details studies that prove giving improves health and happiness. On a recent winter morning, I experienced this too. We were getting ready for school drop-off when I stopped and made a hot cup of coffee and poured it into a disposable travel cup. "Who is that for?" Both of my girls wanted to know. After dropping off my oldest daughter, I drove through to the end of the line, where the smiling, red-faced traffic volunteer stands each day -- this morning with an extra scarf and hat. Reaching out of my window, I handed him the hot cup of coffee. "What's this?" He asked, smiling and happily waving, as he always does, to Zoe in the back seat. "Something to keep you warm," I called out with a wave as I drove away. I explained to Zoe my thoughts behind this gesture, and I was surprised to see how happy and excited she was to experience the process of giving.
Teaching our children compassion and empathy is something many parents may not think enough about. I can tell you first hand how truly important it is. Zoe and I have had many conversations about the kids who don't really see her when she is sitting in her wheelchair, kids who don't understand that the simple kindness of "hello" can be a gift. "Why do kids stare at me?" Zoe asks me, again and again -- a heartbreaking question to which there is no perfect answer.
Mary Gordon's 2010 San Diego State University study, featured in Thrive, says it best. "It's not enough to tell our children about empathy; we have to show them-which means, of course, that we have to demonstrate it ourselves. Parents teach empathy the same way they help their children learn to talk."
From Thrive, 10 Tips To Happier, Healthier Living:
1) Sleep More
2) Move Your Body
3) 5 Minute Meditations
4) Listen To Your Inner Wisdom.
5) When Your Inner Voice Speaks, Shut Up And Listen
6) Live In The Moment
7) Disconnect Digital Distractions
8) Break Bad Habits
9) Keep a Gratitude List
10) Live A Giving Life
This post originally appeared on Special Needs Mom