Hineni. Here I am.
I sat in temple on Rosh Hashana, six feet and an extra row away from the few congregants who chose to come in person, mask on and heart open, I listened to these words recited.
I’ve heard them every year…I was struck by them in a new way.
Here I am.
The expression used throughout the Torah during moments of profound change or crisis. An expression conveying millions of years of our individual and collective quest to “show up” in the presence of a force bigger than ourselves, for ourselves, and for our communities.
If ever there was a year demanding us to “show up” this has been one. From COVID to floods and fires and refugee crises…our consciousness has had a lot to hold.
It can be all too easy to shut down. To throw up our hands. And to say “what can I do?”
That question “what can I do?” is one I asked myself during the crisis that unfolded in Palestine and Israel In May 2021.
For days, watching the horrifying headlines, I felt powerless. Then these words came to me and I shared them in a post:
“Swirling in a sea of uncertainty
My voice, tenuously found over the last few years, silent again
I don’t know enough, I tell myself
But deep down, feel this to be untrue
In the quiet of my late-night scrolling, searching for answers I never find, instead I reveal some truths within.
We are all deeply connected
The harm to one mother and her child is harm to every mother and every child, regardless of our differences
A history of oppression and casting out can never justify more of the same
Extremism in any form becomes a cancer
Silence and doing nothing is a choice. A choice I cannot make.
So I will remember I am not alone
There are guides all around me
And ways to make an impact that will reveal themselves
If I just take a first step.”
The very next day, in a conversation with my mother, I learned about the Parents Circle, an organization of Palestinian and Israelis who have lost children or family members in the conflict and come together to work toward peace and reconciliation.
Soon after, I found myself recording a conversation with a Palestinian and Israeli mother from the Parents Circle for the Mother’s Quest Podcast.
And a week after that, I began to raise money for a $10,000 fund for bereaved Palestinian and Israeli mothers of the Parents Circle’s Women’s Group.
Since then, the path, for me, from recording to release, has been a slow but thoughtful one.
As I carefully edit the episode and prepare it for release next week, I’ve made a commitment to raise $5,000 of the $10,000 goal upfront before the episode comes out.
I’ve been moved by so many, like Jena Schwartz, the first to donate, who have already contributed in amounts of all sizes.
And we have more to go.
Though the height of the crisis in May has receded from the headlines, the path for peace and reconciliation is needed more than ever.
So I show up again now through this strangely spiritual medium for me… a screen on Facebook.
Just a day before Yom Kippur, I look within, and imperfectly grasp for words to invite you, whatever your faith, to be part of this cause.
I ask you to help me amplify the voices of mothers closest to this conflict. They are, I am certain, a key to any path forward.
Hineni. Here I am.
Where are you?
Will you join me?
As the parent of a varsity high school athlete who has also struggled with mental health issues, I was struck by Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from the Olympic competition and the issues it highlights. I decided to reach out to my friend, Mother’s Quest member, and mental performance consultant Lisa Bonta Sumii LCSW, CSW, for her thoughts. Even though our children may not all be “elite athletes,” there are lessons we can take away from these seven points Lisa offers, inspired by Simone Bile’s decision to prioritize her well-being.
Parenting a teen is an experience that is different than parenting at any other time in a child’s life – identities are emerging, peer relationships become a priority, teens push against the authority of the parent(s), brains aren’t fully developed yet, while teens are making meaningful decisions on a daily basis. If that teenager happens to be an elite athlete, it adds an additional dimension to the parenting experience. With Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles in the news for prioritizing her mental health, we’re reminded that elite athletes are humans. Athletes at this level sacrifice so much for the love of their sport, the opportunity to compete, and in Simone’s case, the chance to represent her country on the world’s biggest stage. Her journey is an inspiring one that highlights some very important points that every parent could benefit from.
- Mental health is just as important as physical health– there continues to be a lack of accurate information to differentiate mental health and mental illness. We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. To stay mentally healthy, we must prevent, assess, and treat, just like we do to stay physically healthy. Mental health falls on a continuum and can be impacted by various forms of stress and pressures.
- The impact on mental health does not discriminate– you can be the GOAT in your sport (just like Simone Biles,) have all the gold medals in the world, have the most coveted sponsors, have popularity, be “rich and famous” and still endure the effect that pressure, sexual abuse, racial injustice, and the pandemic have on your mental health.
- Excellence vs. Perfection– supporting our kids to strive for excellence in their sport, not perfection, can keep the enjoyment and feelings of success high. If Simone continued to push, even though she didn’t feel completely herself, she could have seriously injured herself which could have led to long-lasting negative effects beyond the Olympic Games. On this day, her pursuit of excellence included protecting her mental health. Let’s commit to this every day!
- Pressures come in many forms– from our coaches, from the public, from the media, from within, and in this day and age- from social media. Today’s elite athletes deal with a world where their whole life can be captured, at any time, for public consumption. Not just in everyday life, but in every moment of competition. Their reactions and responses to their own performance are made available, analyzed, dissected, and judged. They experience immense pressure to be “liked,” and seen as successful. Implementing tools and practicing skills to manage all kinds of pressure is essential for optimal mental health.
- Making an impact can come in a supportive role- the elite athlete doesn’t have to be front and center to contribute to their team, all the time. Simone Biles used her voice to speak up for her own mental health. She feared her current mind space would put her at risk for physical injury. She chose to contribute to her team by giving moral support, by cheering for them, and by using her voice to encourage and uplift.
- Simone Biles, like any elite athlete, has value beyond their sport – teen athletes should not be defined by how they perform or the “score” that they get. Competing in their sport is one way to express who they are, it is NOT all of who they are.
Our children, who happen to be athletes, are human first!!
Lisa Bonta Sumii, LCSW, CSW is a sports social worker and mental performance consultant to elite athletes. In her private practice, she provides clinical support and performance consultation to collegiate, Olympic, and professional athletes. Lisa is also the Mental Health and Sports Performance Specialist at the Oakland Roots Sports Club, a professional men’s soccer team and purpose-driven club. Her 14-year-old daughter, Malaya, is a high-level softball player AND an awesome human being!!
Some of My Favorite Gift Ideas: For the holidays this year, I created my first ever Mother’s Quest Holiday Guide. This guide celebrates people whose stories and journeys I want to shed a light on along with gifts that will help light your way. I highlight a member of the Mother’s Quest Community, my conversation with them on the podcast, and an item you can purchase from them as a gift to yourself or other people in your life.
To Download the Holiday Guide, click here
Distance Learning Ready:
Suggestions From an Occupational Therapist on Helping Your Child Stay Engaged
When I reached out to my son Jacob’s Occupational Therapist, Danielle Cesarz, for her recommendations on what might support Jacob with distance learning, I was blown away by her insight and suggestions. I realized this was information that could help all parents, not just those whose children are differently-wired. So, I asked if I could share her perspective on the Mother’s Quest Blog and she said yes! Hope these ideas support your children as you begin this school year. Have some ideas of your own to share? Leave them in the comments or come on over to the Mother’s Quest Facebook Group and share with us there!
The COVID- 19 pandemic has impacted all facets of life: how we go about our daily activities, the way we work, our ability to parent, and our children’s development. Soon, our homes will become classrooms again. Our dining room table will transform back into our child’s desk. Our outdoor space will equate to the playground. As an OT, I have many parents asking me, “How do I set my child up for success with distance learning at home?” “What kinds of OT tools will help my child stay regulated, focused and engaged?
Learning is a social phenomenon. Kids benefit most from in-person learning because of the social emotional and sensory motor affordances it provides. There are silver linings, however, to learning at home. And right now it serves us well to engage in positive thinking.
A true silver lining to learning at home is the flexibility that it allows. Your children can write while standing up at a kitchen counter. They can listen to a ZOOM read aloud with their most favorite stuffie nestled in their lap. They can chew gum while completing their math worksheets. They can keep their most comfortable pajama bottoms that have holes in them on all day. They can squeeze playdough or a squishy ball fidget without distracting their peers. They can crunch on ice while working. They can blast the Hamilton sidetrack to get their creative “writing” ideas flowing.
Taking breaks throughout the day may no longer require special permission. They can take as long as they need to complete their written work without the pressure or comparison to their faster paced peers. They can school outside in the fresh air if they desire. And let the sound of the birds and the feel of the breeze calm their nervous systems. They can lower the lights in their room to calm their minds. They can pet their dog or cat to lower their heart rate while listening to a lecture. They can crunch on chips or sink their teeth into fresh fruit at a moment’s notice. They can re-apply roll-on essential oil to their wrist before a test. Schooling at home allows incredible flexibility to meet your child’s emotional regulation and sensory motor needs.
To my older daughter’s deep disappointment, I am not advocating that your child lie in bed to engage in school. Quite the contrary, as an OT, I am making some of the following recommendations to my families:
- Offer flexible seating to increase your child’s engagement and focus. Invest, if possible, in a swivel desk chair, wobble stool, inflatable ball, wedge seat cushion, or a portable lap desk. Show your child pictures online. Ask them what their preferences may be.
- Allow your child to change body positions throughout the day
- Use oral sensory input such a ice water, chewing gum, crunchy and chewy snacks to optimize arousal level
- Play preferred music while working.
- Per the recommendation of my younger daughter I stress the importance of maintaining a calm arousal level yourself. Co-regulation is KEY! As parents we need to provide empathy during stress, try to maintain a stable and safe environment with structured routines and logical consequences and model what it looks like to be calm and regulated.
- Take breaks as needed
- Kids need to move to learn. Build in a variety of movement breaks throughout the day. Kids need frequent exercise and movement to support their ability to attend and self-regulate. Ideas include:
- Do jumping jacks
- Log Roll
- Animal Walks
- Run outside
- Go for a walk
- Take a bike or scooter ride
- Ball play
- Spin (in both directions)
- Hippety Hop
- Go for a hike
- Hula hoop
- Roll over a therapy ball
- Spend time in nature
- Use structured work-outs or apps like Go Noodle, Cosmic Yoga for Kids, ALO GIVES or Swork- it Kids
In all honesty, am I eager to support my child’s learning at home? No!?! Am I freaking out about how I am going to manage work and parenting? ABSOLUTELY. Do I want my children to go back to school? YES!! There’s no denying that we can’t replace the impact in-person learning has on the development of our children however there is no harm in keeping a positive outlook that we are all in this together, keeping our communities safe and supporting our children with tools to thrive.
Danielle Cesarz, MS, OTR/L
OT 4 Kids
Distance Learning Wish List
Kick Balance Board
Swivel Chair for Back Pain, Black
Junior Wobble Chair
Latex Stretch Chair
Kids’ Swivel & Office Chairs
Mobile Task Chair
Highlighted Line Writing Paper
Have you listented to this?
Back to School Milestone Hike: My Secret to Starting The School Year Well ✨
In this “Bite-Sized Reflection from Living my E.P.I.C. Life” Minisode I Talk About:
- How/when I learned about the importance of ending well to begin well at the youth development organization Alternatives in Action
- The transformative Milestone Hike Experience I had on my 40th birthday
- How I’ve used the same components of that hike to acknowledge milestones with my son Ryan (we even recorded a podcast episode about one on his 13th birthday!) including Back to School Milestone Hikes
- The ways I have taken that experience to create signature Mother’s Quest opportunities for reflection
- The Back to School Milestone Hike and Reflection Circle I’m offering if you’d like support packing up your lessons from the last chapter before starting a new school year
Hope this supports you or a mother preparing for Back to School in your life!
✨ Back to School Virtual Milestone Hike and Reflection Circle ✨
If you’d like to go on a reflective milestone hike (virtually!) with me by your side, I have three spaces left for this Back to School Circle and one-on-one coaching experience. You can sign up here: www.mothersquest.com/backtoschool
This Mother’s Day: Choose Yourself and Reclaim Your E.P.I.C. Life
As this message reaches your inbox, it’s Mother’s Day… in the midst of a global pandemic. And if you’re anything like the vast majority of the mothers I’ve been talking with, you’ve been feeling disoriented and like you’ve lost yourself, during these last few months. You may even be wondering “how am I ever going to come back home to myself?”
I had been feeling this way too…overwhelmed with fear, moving through all the stages of grief, and juggling demands at home that now included supporting my children’s distance learning, on top of all the other things.
For the first time in the three years since I launched the podcast, I had stopped recording and releasing episodes. And I honestly wondered whether my work even mattered. All around me, life as I knew it was literally shut down while we physically sheltered in place. And inside, I also felt shut down.
This is not the first time I felt this way or found my way out.
About a decade into motherhood, after navigating developmental delays with my oldest and five years of infertility to get pregnant with my youngest, I realized that in focusing so much on my own children and what they needed, I had lost parts of myself and sidelined my dreams. An experience I had one day, opening the door for two birds that got trapped in my home, and were crashing into the glass to get out, helped me realize that I felt trapped too and needed a door opened for me.
But I also realized that no one else could help me, unless I opened the door for myself and took the first tentative steps toward what I now call my E.P.I.C. life. That day, in addition to motherhood, I also chose myself. And living my E.P.I.C. life became a manifesto, a simple but enduring framework.
In this special Mother’s Day episode, I share clips from my introductory episode with reflections on the E.P.I.C. Life framework itself and clips from episodes with past guests, whose words of wisdom have been lighting my way right now. I hope these stories and messages may spark a return to yourself if you need it.
Listen in for special clips lighting my way from episodes I’ll be re-releasing this week as part of a special series to light the way in the midst of challenge:
Along with listening to these episodes, it was actually my son Ryan who really helped me. Telling him one night, while putting dishes in the dishwasher for what felt like the tenth time that day, that I was feeling depressed, he asked me “when was the last time you felt connected to your purpose, Mom? I notice you haven’t talked about Mother’s Quest in weeks.”
That question really sat with me. And then I remembered Graeme’s words from our interview again. Our stories matter. Our manifestos matter. And we need each other.
With that, and a few other sparks along the way, I got back to recording, I released an episode about the families seeking asylum at the border, a minisode about the creation of a “Pandemic Promise” to myself, and this Mother’s Day special episode that you’re listening to right now.
I also set in motion some epic plans for our third annual Mother’s Quest Manifesto Challenge, the one Graeme and I had created together. Taking place in the free Mother’s Quest Facebook Group, it’s a 7-day journey, beginning tomorrow, May 11th, to reclaiming ourselves, a chance to reflect together, along a new process I’m naming “CHOOSE,” and to create or refine our own manifestos for living our lives the way that matters, yes even in the midst of a pandemic.
As for me, I’ve learned on Mother’s Day, that in addition to spending time with my children, I need some time to myself. So, today I’ll be going on my favorite milestone hike, and when I reach the summit, I’ll sit down and listen to my favorite meditation, one called “Teshuvah” or “Return” in Hebrew, that brings new meaning to the idea of setting out on a journey and returning home. Of losing our center and finding it again.
So, this Mother’s Day, I invite you to do something that may help you find your center again, in whatever way could be possible given the real constraints in your life. And to consider exploring some questions: In what ways have you been feeling trapped? When was the last time you felt connected to your purpose? And how might you open a door for yourself…to choose yourself…and to take even just one tentative step closer to your version of an E.P.I.C. life?
Give Yourself a Gift this Mother’s Day!
Join us for the Mother’s Quest Manifesto Challenge
The Mother’s Quest Manifesto Challenge is a 7-day experience that will move you through a series of reflective prompts to support you in creating or refining a “manifesto” of your own to become an anchor in your life in these years that you are raising your children.
In addition to reflective prompts that I’ll share live in the group each morning, I’ve invited a different mother to also go live, to share their journey and manifestos and also to offer a tool or practice that would support the prompt we’re reflecting on.
This year, I’ll be exploring a new acronym mnemonic and framework “CHOOSE” that captures the process I went through when I claimed my manifesto…a process I realized has been with me in all the other times of my life when I shifted a perspective and moved myself forward in a powerful way.
Here is what’s in store for you in the next 7 days.
5/10 Mother’s Day with Graeme Seabrook – Both Graeme and I will be live in the group at some point to wish everyone a Happy Mother’s Day, welcome new members, share about why we co-created the challenge two years ago, and set the frame for the week.
5/11 Day 1: C with Lindsay Pera – “Claim” the experience or opportunity in front of you that calls you to something different; sometimes these are even painful moments you would not choose for yourself. Sometimes these feel like a “sign” that calls to you in mysterious ways. What is the “spark” for you?
5/12 Day 2: H with Jadah Sellner – “Hold space for reflection” give yourself an opportunity to pause and make meaning of what is happening so you can learn from it and consciously move forward in a different way
5/13 Day 3: O with Nic Strack – “Own the perspective” that is NOT serving you. What story are you telling yourself that feels outdated? Or what way of looking at something is feeling out of alignment or holding you back? Before you can move forward, it’s important to really look at where you are now.
5/14 Day 4: O with Jamie Greenwood – “Own a more empowering perspective” explore a new way of looking at something that resonates for you and that returns a sense of power to you
5/15 Day 5: S with Amy Walsh and Elsie Escobar – “Stake in the ground” put your stake in the ground and claim this new perspective by expressing it clearly (and sharing when/if you feel comfortable). This is the day when the manifesto itself comes into form. I’ve invited several key guests this day who will each offer a different creation method that you can utilize to help express yourself.
5/16 Day 6: E with Jessica Stong – “Explore one next step” begin to close the gap between where you are now and where you want to be by taking setting intention for one action.
5/17 Day 7: Reflection and Celebration Circle An opportunity to come together via zoom after the challenge is over to reflect on the process, lessons learned and to share our manifestos with one another.
Sign up here to get daily reminders and to download the FREE Mother’s Quest Manifesto Challenge Reflection Journal.
If you’d rather listen than read, you can also go straight to the episode post here.
A Pandemic Promise
After a podcast pause, I’m back with a bite-sized reflection from living my own E.P.I.C. life, that I hope may support you right where you are right now.
If in the midst of this global pandemic, you’re someone who has the privilege of sheltering in place like I do, and find yourself swinging from gratitude and inspiration to exasperation…I want you to know you are not alone.
By night, I’ll find myself writing a poem
And the next morning I’m tearing my hair out at Google Classroom and yelling at my children.
Many afternoons, when I’ve given up on any hope of providing “education” or “enrichment” to my 7-year-old, I’ll pass him the Ipad, and sink into reading posts and essays and listening to live videos or past episodes from my own podcast, that are slowly helping me to make meaning of this time.
I thought I’d offer some of these things I’ve been absorbing, with links so you can check them out for yourself. And then, I wanted to share with you a promise I wrote to myself, and invite you to make a promise of your own, if that feels right to you.
The first thing I want to encourage you to go and read is an essay by an Indian author Arundhati Roy in which she writes about how the coronavirus is an epic tragedy for her country and the world. But she also suggests that we not rush to a return to normalcy. In a powerful closing that had me catch my breath, she suggests that the virus is a “portal,” a gateway between one world and the next, and an opportunity to “break free from our current world and imagine it anew.”
Shortly after reading the essay, I watched a live video from my coach and mentor Lindsay Pera, herself trying to recover as she and her family have been sick with COVID-19 for over a month now. Lindsay referenced the idea that in this time of pause, for many of us, we are transforming, much like a caterpillar transforms inside its cocoon. She cautions against trying to break free from the cocoon too soon, before we have reformed, and invites us to create stillness and reflection in our pause.
And I read something from an anonymous writer who crafted a powerful metaphor about the virus as the storm we all find ourselves in, but the important reminder that we are not all in the same boat. We have very different circumstances, based on whether we are healthy, our profession, our family make-up, and our economic circumstances, among so many other factors, that make our experience of this storm unique.
I’ve also found comfort in past podcast episodes.
From Avanti Kumar Singh’s episode, I’m reminded of the power of ancient traditions, like Ayurveda, that remind us to create daily rituals, and that we have so much power to heal within. My conversation with Avanti a year ago inspired me to start pausing in the middle of the day, to lay on my back, and look up at the sky from my bedroom deck. And so, several afternoons, when things feel like they are spinning, II find myself there, grounding myself literally.
My conversation with Jonathan Fields of the Good Life Project has had me thinking about my “sparktype,” that unique blueprint that can help me root into and reconnect to my purpose. Jonathan also asked me to slow down in our conversation, giving me a challenge to spend some time when I first wake up, with my hand on my heart, to ask myself “what do I most want today?”
And when I feel a sense of despair and fear amid the uncertainty for our future, I think about my conversation with Nikka Smith, about the power of connecting to the wisdom of our ancestors, and how they are always with us. I think particularly about my grandmothers on both sides, and the stories I’ve heard about their challenges and their resilience. And I commit to make time with my children to talk with my parents about their own stories.
And my episode with mindfulness expert Michelle Gale, reminded me of her powerful three breath practice, and how we can try to find our own calm amid the storm.
When I sat down to write, I found the threads of meaning and reflection from all these sources weaving together into something I’m calling a “Pandemic Promise.” Here it is:
//A Pandemic Promise//
If the Pandemic is a Portal
Then I commit to breathe more deeply while I wait inside this pause
When I wake, hand on my heart, I’ll ask myself the questions that matter.
I’ll find moments to lay flat on my back and look to the sky.
I’ll consciously create routines that will feed me and my family, all the while reaching for equanimity, a grounded calm to anchor me from the storm.
And I’ll remember I have a unique blueprint,
to spark and express my purpose in service of others.
When I feel most afraid, I’ll gather stories of resilience from my parents, mentors and guides.
This time in-between time is fleeting faster than I realize.
And though we cannot pretend that we are all in the same boat, *a storm of the same name rages around each of us and calls us to something bigger than ourselves.
So my wish is not to hurry it along so I can come through the other side of the portal unchanged.
But, instead to slow myself down within it and emerge transformed, even a little…
Less attached to material items and attuned to consume and more committed to equity
And to seeing the humanity in each of us.
This moment in time won’t come again this way I tell myself.
And contribute to a better day.
What about you? What’s been grounding you during these times? What might you write in your own “Pandemic Promise?” Comment here or in our Mother’s Quest Facebook Group. I’d love to hear.
If you’d rather listen than read, you can also go straight to the podcast episode here.
Mark your calendar for the 3rd Annual Mother’s Quest Manifesto Challenge, starting on May 11th in the Facebook Group. Join here.
Follow all the conversations at www.mothersquest.com/podcast
P.S. Know someone who would love this conversation? Pay this forward to a friend who may be interested.