Mindful Autumn

Not very long ago, I lamented our lackluster summer. Well, with recent trips to the zoo and our luck at attempting a beach adventure (on a day when 90 degree weather called for a summer activity rather than the previously planned harvest festival), I can officially say…Mission Summer: Complete and I’M TIRED.

I’ll translate that. Our busiest time of year, like many families, fears up during the entire month of September (or whenever your school year begins), then kind of ebbs and flows until the next high tide at the holiday season. So, when I say that I (and we) are tired? That’s fall, baby.

While the weather is only just beginning to loosen its grip on the thermometer, I am actually more than ready to pull out my leggings, puffy vest, scarf, and boots, and snuggle up with some almond milk cocoa, a roaring fire, a good book, and a cat or two. Yup, I’m a walking cliche.

To paraphrase Captain Kirk, “Hygge me up, Scotty.” It helps counterbalance those nights that are heavy on the activities.

So, just as we made the best of the summer (and didn’t stress stretching our plans a bit in one direction or another – or scrapping them altogether), we don’t have to over-plan or try very hard to make the autumn a special season.

We have things that we’d like to achieve, like our recent comic book convention and visiting with friends who came into town for it, and fall festivals and family nights sponsored at our local school and library, but it’s more about the simple experiences that we undertake during autumn that matter the most. I’m hoping that we can be present and enjoy those moments and activities in a more mindful matter.

One of the ways that we can encourage mindfulness is by using our senses more and actually thinking about how we experience the world. So, here are just some of the ways I’m looking forward to “sense” the new season with our family…

SEE

What’s your favorite sight to view when the weather turns? If you’re like me (a total walking cliche…), it’s the changing colors. Bright rusty reds, mustardy yellows, cheerful oranges…it’s our favorite season for this very reason.

Our favorite way to celebrate our locale is with a road trip to Cooperstown. The rolling hills show off like crazy and it brings me back to my childhood.

Walking our neighborhood will hopefully bring about the same effect, as well, and giving the kids a simple sensory nature walk scavenger hunt (find an orange leaf, a red cardinal, etc) will help them notice more of the world around them. And even shouting out different fall-themed things to look for – a scarecrow, corn stalks, a happy jack o’lantern, a ghost decoration, and so forth – adds to the fun.

SMELL

My absolute favorite sense is smell. I’m one of those people who gets easily transported to another place and time with the whiff of a simple scent. So, this is SUPER important to me for making memories. 

That said, lighting an apple candle, baking some pumpkin muffins, lighting one last chilly night fire in the backyard, and savoring the crisp, sweet smell of decaying leaves will hopefully achieve this goal.

Oh, and popcorn. That’s a must in every season, but only when it’s lovingly prepared by my husband.

TASTE

This is a slightly more challenging sense with the dietary restrictions in our family, but I’m more than up to the challenge.

I can’t have apples (what baby is allergic, I ask you?!), but a dairy-free pumpkin treat like muffins will work in a pinch. Non-dairy buttery popcorn, again, is a must, along with almond milk hot chocolate. Spiced teas and flavored coffees help warm us up, too.

And don’t forget the comfort meals! Chili, stews, and a good roast will fill our bellies (and help the husband feel less deprived, too).

FEEL

This may be a tough one, as well, but I’d like to pose this challenge to the kids. On cooler days, we can feel the chill on our faces and fingers. We can feel the warmth and coziness of a fluffy blanket. We can feel the cold, gooey insides of a perfectly-picked pumpkin or the crunchy leaves after a perfectly timed jump.

And, oftentimes, this word has a dual meaning (especially for kids), so asking how they feel when we’re doing different activities (like walking through a corn maze or riding on a hay wagon) will inevitably help them become more emotionally aware, and attach to the moments they appreciate.

HEAR

Ahh, sound. It’s a great way to calm and quiet your mind by closing your eyes to focus on the world around you. Whether it’s listening to the gentle tapping of a fall rain storm, a fun spooky old radio show (we go between this and old ‘40s music, which somehow seems more appropriate on those dark, dreary days), the pop-pop-pop of popcorn shooting out of the maker, or the crunching leaves as you take a walk on a cool evening, there are plenty of ways to enjoy autumn sounds.

Of course, our absolute favorite sound is the boisterous laughter of our kids enjoying the moment, no matter through what sense.

I’d love to hear what you’re looking forward to most about autumn, and which sense is your favorite for experiencing life! Drop me a line below or stop by my Instagram account (@megactsout) to join in the conversation!

Shedding That End-of-Summer Guilt

As a person who is aaaaaall about feeling life changes pretty deeply, the end of summertime is higher on my list of anxiety triggers than, say, the holidays. It’s pretty much tops. While I *generally* enjoy the change of the four actual seasons, the fact that there aren’t huge shifts in schedules, routines, moods, and overall stressors ties into those spring to summer to fall to winter changes is probably one of the biggest appeals. (That and the sensory stuff that accompany new seasons are delightful.)

The fact that I’m an educator is equal parts the joy and guilt of being able to be home with my kids during the summer, and still more joy, guilt, and, yes, anxiety about going back in the fall. Not only do we have the list of things to get in order for the start of school as far as my own work and the kids’ routines, but there’s a looming shadow that will take a mindset shift to slowly emerge from.

What is that unnecessarily stressful shadow?

That list of all the undone summer things.

Those promises that went unfulfilled (whether to oneself or a loved one). Those priorities that weren’t quite high enough on the priority list. Those projects that were unachievable. An overall admission that some (most) days, survival was simply good enough and it wasn’t a very eventful, memorable, or terribly special summer.

And it’s okay. It’s ALL okay. Every summer – and, for that matter, every holiday, birthday, special occasion, and…well, even those less-than-special occasions – doesn’t need to be tops.

I repeat: EVERY LITTLE THING DOES NOT NEED TO BE THE BEST THING EVER.

We are all held to insane standards today. In turn, this is one of the reasons, I feel, that kids’ complex problem solving skills and “think for yourselfness” have turned to mush. And, to an extent, as parents so have we. We’re all blobs walking around, not truly engaging in life, putting on airs and armors while making choices without fully knowing why or for whom we’re making them.

Sorry. I know that’s a lot to say and think about. And it TOTALLY doesn’t relate to all of us. I know we’re all trying our best in our own ways. Just observations to add.

And I’m not saying to change what you do or how you are. God, no. There still needs to be an occasional, pulled-out-of-nowhere moment of pure magic – it’s one of our rights as parents (oh, and allowing the grandparents or others who adore your kids to make their own magic ONCE IN AWHILE is a must, as well). And, honestly, it’s fun.

But perhaps we shouldn’t set the bar so high that inflated expectations are the norm. Kids get spoiled and dependent. Stacks of toys take over and become less important in their sheer mass. We adults get more and more stressed. And a vicious cycle continues.

Instead, let’s breathe and do what we can and want to do; not what we feel we should. And when it doesn’t happen, don’t stress. (I’m telling myself as much as doling out the advice, by the way!)

So, while you’re taking pictures of that amazing birthday cake for Instagram, ask yourself why you made it. Was it for the glimmer in your child’s eyes? Or was it to maintain an unrealistic standard (whether because your child has come to expect it…or you’ve come to expect it…or to impress your friends/followers)? Or, still, was it because you truly enjoyed putting the work in to help celebrate your special little person?

The same goes when you plan your next vacation. Or shop for Christmas. Or decorate a bedroom. Or take your back-to-school pictures. Or even when you make your next to-do list of projects.

My motto right now is that summer’s technically not over until September 20th, and weekends still exist, so if we can fit in a project or a quick trip to a lake to satiate that nagging “we didn’t do enough” feeling, we’ll grab the chance.

And, if not, I’m learning to be okay with the fact that every summer just won’t be a perfect one. There’s no such thing as perfection, and that’s a great thing to remember. Plus, the end of one time is the start of another.

Oh, and I’ll bet that if you ask your child what their favorite part (or parts) of the summer were, they’ll come up with something unexpected and totally sweet. Kids don’t look to criticize. And their memories are very much their own – usually seeing their parents as absolutely amazing despite our own worries that we’re not doing enough.

Do you ever suffer from the disappointment that you didn’t do enough (whether from self-criticism or feeling less than worthy by comparison)? Did you do all you had hoped to do this summer?