Fear and Loathing on Family Vacations and How Mindfulness Can Help

This summer, I had the odd experience of having two family vacations. I went to Disney World and Universal with my family for our typical family trip, and then my husband and kids tagged along for a trip to Colorado Springs for a conference with the FDCC where I taught a mindfulness mini course for my fellow lawyers.

Spiritual teacher/standup comedian, Ram Dass, once famously said “If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” Applying this wisdom to my own life, my ventures this summer gave me not one, but two, chances to prove something I already know: after a decade of meditation practice and lots of training, I still am not enlightened.

Traveling in the summer with your family means traffic, long lines, intense heat, whiny and ungrateful kids, and bad moods all around. On the flip side, though, it also presents the opportunity to explore new things, have some fun, and reconnect with your loved ones. How do those of us who remain unenlightened avoid option number 1 in pursuit of option number 2?

Even though it can’t make family vacations easy, mindfulness sure can help. Here are the five ways that mindfulness helped me this summer while traveling with my family.

We all have these idyllic images in our head of a life-changing and mind-expanding family trip that we can remember fondly for years to come. The cold, harsh reality, however, is that traveling with family is hard. First, traveling is a lot of work. It involves planning and effort and many activities that involve deferred gratification.

For instance, we spent a day at the Magic Kingdom on my first family trip this summer. Kids love amusement parks and Disney is an expert at contriving whimsy and fun. My weather app, however, told me the experience would be brutal because the temperature would be in the mid-90’s.

My plan? I had no plan. I just accepted that the day would be miserable and exhausting. As I walked into the park with the overtures from Disney staff to have a “magical day!”, I internally set the goal of survival and trying to make the best of it. My priority was basic needs: keeping us as cool as possible, managing hydration and blood sugar levels, and monitoring sun screen applications.

Was this magical? Probably not in the traditional sense. But we got out of there with any major meltdowns, we rode some rides, and joked around while waiting in line. Given the circumstances, I’ll call that miraculous.

Did I mention that heat? It was super hot on both trips. Sometimes we were standing around in full sun just waiting. In a word, it sucked. This is where my mindfulness and yoga training really came in handy. Two practices in particular really helped. The first is sheetali breath (a pranayama practice), which my kids love because we call it “taco tongue.”

Sheetali is a cooling breath. To do it, you curl your tongue lengthwise to form the shape of a taco and stick it out through your lips. Then you breathe in through your tongue, pull your tongue in your mouth, and exhale. Essentially what this does is turn your tongue into a fresh air collecting device and it produces a cooling sensation in your mouth.

I also stole a trick from yoga nidra practice. Yoga nidra is a practice intended for deep relaxation and sleep. It’s dynamic and includes several different strategies in one practice. One helps in challenging times: exploring the opposites. As I stood waiting in line for the Haunted Mansion in full sun, I avoided diving deeper into the fiery hell that was my current experience. Instead, I tried to focus on anything cool. If a breeze came, I savored it. If I took a drink, I leaned into the feeling of the cold water. If I got a few minutes in the shade, I absorbed it like a sponge.

Do these practices really and truly cool down the body in intense heat? I’m not sure if my body temperature changed, but the cool sensations were pleasant. In addition, breathing deeply and monitoring my attention helped me stay calm. I’ll call that a win.

I’ve written before about my youngest daughter. She comes by her stubbornness honestly, but daresay I think she may be more stubborn than me. When she doesn’t get her way, watch out. Though she is very good-natured and loves to have fun, her mood will shift drastically toward defiance, obstinance, and even recklessness when she’s mad.

On our trips, this happened a few times in front of large crowds of people. The bad thing about this is that I had the added pressure of looking like I was a “good mom” in addition to being a human trying to deal with an angry kid. So, what’s the move here?

The thing that helped me was common humanity. When your kid is throwing a fit in front of others, it’s easy to assume everyone is looking at and judging you. Maybe some are, but most people have had to deal with kids being kids before. If we are being honest, most of us have been that kid before.

When I remember that a kid throwing a tantrum in public is something all parents have experienced at some point, my little one’s leverage disappears. I no longer have the time pressure to stop the tantrum at all costs because I’m not worried about my status as a good mom. Instead, I can let my stubborn girl know where she got her stubbornness, not with anger, but instead by taking my time. This lets me help her understand the consequences, make the choice to calm down, and get to the bottom of what her problem is, so we can all move on.

By remembering that all of us parents are trying to do the best we can, I dodged the harsh sting of perceived judgment, focused on the issue, and got back to having fun more quickly.

I may have made these two trips sound like all work and no play, but that’s not how it was. There were a lot of great things about the trips and many memories were made. How are memories made? Memories are made from experience and attention.

Given all the work I was doing as a parent to plan the trip and help my kids cope, I made a point of savoring the good things that happened. A few days after our visit to Magic Kingdom, we spent a day at Universal Studios. I really don’t enjoy theme parks that much, but my oldest daughter is a Harry Potter fan so we couldn’t avoid it.

And you know what? The weather was not so hot, Butterbeer was so much tastier than I expected, and I was surprised to find myself having a magical moment when we first stumbled upon Diagon Alley. Did this completely offset the heat or my kids fighting while standing in line or the motion sickness I sometimes experienced on the rides? No. But it sure helped, and it allowed me to watch my daughter’s reaction to the experience, which was the whole point.

Likewise, in Colorado Springs, the scenery offered a built-in stress management tool. Half of my family, including me, experienced physical side effects from the altitude. Even so, it was easy to understand the effort while taking a tour in Garden of the Gods (a place so beautiful that even it’s divine name doesn’t do it justice). Perhaps my kids were fighting while driving from place to place, but I just had to look up and see the mountains across the horizon to change my mood.

Noticing these good things didn’t take the bad aspects away. It wasn’t a practice of avoiding the work and the frustration and fatigue of travel. Instead, savoring the good helped me remember why I had decided to travel at all.

The last test for my mindfulness skills was the return trip home from Colorado Springs. My husband had joined us on the trip but flew elsewhere for another event the day before. This means that I was left to travel alone with two girls. We had to get up early, drive an hour to Denver, drop of the car, get through security, and onto our flight home.

The first few steps went well and we ended up in the line for security a little less than two hours before our flight. I thought we were golden and was already imagining the breakfast and coffee I’d be ordering while waiting at our gate. Then I saw the security line. And when I say “saw,” I mean that we kept walking and walking to try to find the point where the line started. I had never seen a security line so long and I felt panic creep up on me.

In fact, the man behind me started to verbally panic, saying things like “I should have gotten here at 5 AM” and “there’s no way we are going to make it.” If I was by myself, I admit that I might have succumbed to this too, but I had my daughters with me. If I freaked out, they certainly would. So what did I do?

I did the only thing I could do: wait and see. I told the girls (and myself) let’s get in line and watch how it moves. To my astonishment, it moved quickly. Within 15 minutes, we were in the actual line. We celebrated with a big “yay” when we got there. Within 30 minutes, I could see the TSA staff herding people along. I celebrated by feeling grateful for their efforts.

We arrived at our gate with only a few minutes to spare but we had time to get some protein and a cool drink on the way to make the flight more comfortable. The best news is that we all ended up on the flight in a reasonably good mood. As I’ve said before, seeing the good didn’t take the bad away, but it offered me (and by extension my kids) balance so we could stay steady.

I’m not sure anything can make traveling with family a breeze. There are emotions and history and challenges in store for anyone who travels long distances with their loved ones. Mindfulness practices and strategies, however, go right to the heart of your experience as a human. By helping you manage your body, heart, and mind, mindfulness may take some of the fear and loathing out of family vacations.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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The Story Behind My First Children’s Book

When you start to indulge your creative tendencies, you become a connoisseur of ideas. Just like food or wine, you notice the variations in intensity. You instinctively understand that some ideas, like an avocado, have to be used immediately upon peak ripeness. But some, like dried mushrooms or good vinegar, can be stashed away to be used in small doses when the time is right. My first children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute (available for preorder now), was like the good vinegar that sat on the shelf of my mind until I had the right ingredients to turn it into something fantastic.

I had thought for a long time about writing a children’s book. I have several lawyer friends who have done so, including Becki Lee and Michelle Browning Coughlin who wrote the foreword for my book. The idea started to coalesce in 2021 when I wrote a post about the struggle of finding a quiet space to meditate in a house full of kids. At the time, I could see that this was fertile ground for a children’s story, but the idea was not quite ready to germinate.

The following year, I was distracted by transition to a new law firm and writing my first book. Clearly, I would not add another project to that situation, right? As it turns out, this is not how my brain saw it. The very week I gave notice at my old firm and as I was about to begin writing my book in earnest, I found myself with a spare 20 minutes before my daughters’ bedtime.

Perhaps it was that the book writing plans had primed the pump of creativity and churned old ideas up first. Perhaps I wanted a fun distraction at a stressful and emotional time. Or perhaps my brain just got on a roll making rhymes and couldn’t stop. Whatever the cause, I found myself opening a Word document and typing out a funny poem about a mom negotiating with her kids for a few quiet minutes so she could meditate.

I read it back to myself and saw instantly that, despite a few problems with meter and awkward rhymes, it wasn’t bad. Before doubt had time to set in, I sent it to a few of my adventurous and creative friends, including two that proved quite fortuitous. The first was my friend, Naomi L. Hudson, whose brain comes up with pictures like mine comes up with words. Naomi’s daughters had attended daycare with mine and we had been friends ever since. She had experience illustrating children’s books, so she gave me a green light and agreed to illustrate.

My other friend was J.W. Judge from Scarlet Oak Press. He had helped Becki Lee publish her books. I met him through LinkedIn and lawyer groups. His brain comes up with even more words than mine but his publishing company helps other lawyers easily self-publish books. He, too, gave me a thumbs up as well as much needed advice on rhyme, meter, length, and much more after Naomi finished the illustrations.

In the months that followed, I let Naomi work her magic. I gave her some general ideas about what I envisioned and suggested a few silly ideas, like adding my dog Lyra into the book because she has a funny habit of sitting on my lap when I meditate. Overall, though, I trusted Naomi to follow her instincts. This decision was a good one because it was fun to see how the pictures helped transform the poem into a story.

I’ve written before about how creativity doesn’t always require lengthy and uninterrupted blocks of time. Sometimes a few minutes here and there, as you juggle other life demands and projects, is all you need. As Naomi and I suggest in Mommy Needs a Minute, this is true of mindfulness and self-care practices but it can also be true of our creative efforts.

Ideas can sometimes take time to germinate in our minds until they are strong enough to take root. This is why making mental space through practices like meditation or exercise or journaling can make such a difference. We need space so we can clearly see when an idea is emerging and trust ourselves enough to let it come out.

And when that happens, it certainly helps to have some creative and adventurous friends around to help you turn your little seed of an idea into something fantastic. I’m lucky that I had both and that Mommy Needs a Minute will be out in the world very soon.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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Joy Is Remembering Heaven Is a Place on Earth

I got to my mother’s house late to pick up my daughters. I was exhausted and had just finished a too long evening meeting. I had an early meeting the next day and felt overburdened by life. As always, it took too long and too much frustration for my daughters, one 8 and one 4, to get on their shoes, gather up their belongings, and trundle out to the car. After I buckled them in and sat in the drivers’ seat, I started to pull out of the driveway in a rush to get home and into pajamas as quickly as possible.

Before I got to the end of the drive, the four-year-old chirps “Mommy, can we listen to ‘Heaven Is a Place on Earth’?” Sometimes, I admit, I brush her off and tell her “Not now, baby; it’s only a short ride.” But that night, I needed her to ask me this question. I needed the reminder that life is what we make it and what we see in it. So instead, I stopped, looked back to smile at her, and said “Good idea, Ellie. Yes we can!”

I don’t remember exactly how this song came to be a special one for us. Most likely the genesis is some 80’s playlist on Amazon Music, but I can see why the girls loved it even though it came out when I was Elinor’s age. It’s catchy, easy to sing, and has this uncanny sound – like a new beginning and happy ending all in one. I started playing it and as I sang “when the night falls down, I wait for you and you come around” I was already in a better mood than when I had pulled into the driveway.

As I started to drive towards home, the song blared on reminding me that I’m still “just beginning to understand the miracle of living.” The girls were singing and smiling in the backseat and I found myself smiling too. At a light, my little one yelled “mommy!” at me to get me to hold her hand and bounce it as we sang “I reach for you and you bring me home.” And suddenly I wasn’t just an overburdened, overwhelmed lawyer mom anymore. Instead, for a moment, I was a little girl sitting in the back of my mom’s minivan singing that song with my sister as it played on the radio.

There are lots of warnings for us parents to be “present” for our children. When you live as a lawyer, that can be hard to do. Our cases can fill up our calendars as well as our minds. They can leave little room for things like fun and memories and random adventures that lead to joy and connection. So that’s why we need other people to call us back to real life every now and then, even if sometimes we have to make ourselves listen. When we give them the chance, they remind us that there is no need to constantly worry and plan because the past and future are in each moment if we only choose to see it.

This memory was only a small moment, and many would argue an insignificant one. After all, I am telling you a story about a time when I played an old (and some might say silly) song in the car with my kids. But you know what? I don’t necessarily just remember the big, momentous occasions with my parents. I remember the small ones. I remember riding around to soccer practice and piano lessons in my mom’s minivan. I remember listening to the news on public radio in my dad’s Ford. I remember making up silly games with my sister in the backseat. For this reason, I know a truth that is easy to overlook: joy doesn’t require hours to emerge and it doesn’t require life-changing events. Instead, joy can be made in moments, and it is those moments that actually change our lives.

The key to living a joyful life is to be open to these moments so we can appreciate as many of them as possible. Of course, we won’t catch every one. Of course, there will be times when we will be too tired, or too distracted or too busy. But this only makes the moments we appreciate, fully take in, and share with others more precious. This memory with my daughters was one of those times. In a few moments, it transformed an exhausting and frustrating day into a good memory. It turned a silly song into a meeting place for my four-year-old self and the four-year-old now riding in the backseat of my car. That night when I went to pick up my girls, I was lost at sea, but I heard that four-year-old’s voice and it carried me. It reminded me that joy, fleeting as it may be, is powerful. It can forge a connection in moments that lasts well after the emotion that sparked it has passed. Indeed, when we let ourselves remember it, heaven is a place on earth.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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How to Teach Your Kids about Meditation

Over the last year, we’ve had to figure out how to do many things with our kids around, including our jobs. I’ve already covered ways to find quiet so you can meditate on your own. But another way to address the issue is to bring the kids into your meditation practice. The question inevitably arises, though, as to how one might actually do that.

Kids aren’t exactly known for sitting still and being quiet. I mean, when I wrote the post about “finding” quiet, I had my own noisy and fidgety kids in mind the whole time. For my own part, though, I know that I wish I had learned to meditate sooner since it has offered me so many benefits and helped make my life happier and richer. So, even though it may be a challenge to share mindfulness with our kids, it may be worth it. With that in mind, here are my tips if you want to start sharing mediation with your kids.

1. Be What You Want to See.

I don’t want to brag but my kids actually eat vegetables. It’s not because I have forced them to eat them (though I am not necessarily always immune from dinnertime battles) or have extolled their nutritional benefits. The reason my kids eat vegetables is because I really enjoy food. By that, I mean I love to cook. I get a lot of joy from making different things and experimenting and playing in the kitchen. When I do that, the girls automatically come in and want to help or steal veggies from the counter as I work. Meditation can be the same way. If you enjoy it and have fun with it, your kids are more likely to want to do the same. Let them see you meditate. Let them know you meditate and how it helps you. When they show interest, answer their questions and let them try it. If you push or demand or lecture, this will never happen. Meditation usually works best when someone chooses it for themselves so give your kids the same gift. In other words, just doing what is best for you is a great way to offer the best to your kids.

2. Meditate with them.

When your kids show interest, another great way to encourage them to pick up meditation is to try it with them. You can make this a routine by meditating for a few minutes before bed. Many meditation apps have meditations made just for kids and you can just play one after the bedtime stories or goodnight hugs. That may actually be a good way to help them get ready to sleep. You could also try a meditation break with them in times of stress. When my youngest was small, she refused to take a breath if I told her to do it because she thought it meant she was in trouble. But, if I did the breath with her, I got a totally different response. While you may not think of a few deep breaths as meditation, these building blocks for little kids can grow over time and serve as the foundation for a practice later on, not to mention that they are just good coping strategies to have.

3. Make it fun.

Play is essential to any good meditation practice and that is doubly true for kids. If your kids show an interest in meditation, try to make it fun. Explore guided meditations with imaginative visualizations. Keep your approach light and energized as you talk to them about their experience. For little kids, it may even help them to have them sit in your lap while you practice together. Meditation doesn’t have to be intense to be powerful. Helping them have fun as they explore their inner life bit by bit will serve as a good foundation for a healthy practice later.

4. Keep it simple and short.

It is no surprise that kids can’t sit very long. Don’t make the practice complex and don’t make it too long. It is unlikely that most kids younger than 10 can sit for more than five minutes straight and young kids may struggle to be silent. Start where you kids are. This may mean starting with one or two breaths. Later on you may advance to having your child name her experience. Though this may not seem like mindfulness to you, it is powerful for kids to begin to understand their inner lives. And, as always, their abilities and practice can grow over time.

5. Talking might actually help.

Some kids may not like the feeling of being alone when they meditate. Little kids may lack the ability to avoid talking. That’s just life. You can make meditation a bit easier for these kiddos by talking them through the process. For example, if a guided meditation tells you to envision yourself on a cozy cloud, you might watch your child and see how they react. If they fidget or make a funny face, you could say “what kind of cloud are you seeing?” or “how does the cloud make you feel?” With these questions, you are asking the child to focus on their direct experience so it is mindfulness but it may be easier for them since they have your support in the process. You may also enjoy this since the answers can range from insightful to hilarious and you may learn some surprising things about your kids.

If you want to try meditating with your kids, give this one a try. It’s a simple body scan but I was inspired by the many times I have found my daughters covered in paint or marker or crayon or whatever. Apparently, kids enjoy coloring on or painting themselves. With this meditation, they can do that and make a mess in their minds but there’s no mess at the end for you to clean up. If only craft time was so simple . . .

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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