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Try as we might as moms to please everyone, modern life has a way of leading us down a road of feeling like we’ve pleased no one, not even the easy-to-please family dog.  Maybe that’s why this month I was excited to be leaving our modern life for a week in the woods. Nature has always meant slow-down time to me.

The dancer Gabrielle Roth wrote, “Dancing, singing, storytelling, and silence are the four universal healing salves.” I see this all the time in my work when people practice yoga nidra, a sleep-based mindfulness meditation technique that silences the mind. A 58-year-old mom who had chronic pain for most of her life suddenly feels no pain. A new mom who had an unsatisfactory birth experience is freed from the bondage of post traumatic stress. A pregnant mom gives birth in less than 5 hours like she’s an Amazonian Goddess.

Me? I have had some of my deepest healing experiences in nature. But this time spending a week in nature was different: it would be me, my 13-year-old, and a big work deadline which meant that silence might be harder than I thought.

The thing is, I am launching a new company next month, and the hours to push out a baby like this seem to be way more than the hours I spent in labor with my son. But spring break happens, and so it was that this year spring break arrived at a time when I had no time. When does a mother really ever have time?

I said to myself as much as possible that I needed to focus on my son.  "He’s only thirteen once.  Work can wait."  So we headed to my mother’s cabin in the woods. "We’ll hike, we’ll bike, and we’ll make smores by the fire. I’ll be a good mother, one that listens and gets enthusiastic about everything my son says. We’ll talk. A lot."

I’d convinced myself that a week in the woods with my child and my work made sense.  Yes, I saw the emails building up in my inbox. Sure I took peeks. “Maybe it’s important” competed with “It can wait” about a dozen or so times. When “Maybe it’s important” won I retreated to the bathroom to look at email. After 5 minutes “it can wait” would kick in urging me to get up and return to my son.

I am skittish to even attempt to claim perfect mother status. By the end of toddlerhood at the advice of friends and a good therapist named Kali I had given up perfectionist parenting and came to a place of accepting good enough.

Good enough got tested on day three of our spring break. To compensate for days spent together I stayed up late every night working. On the morning of day three I had just less than 5 hours of sleep the night before. Plus, my mommy world was colliding: a new work deadline I had forgotten about appeared just as an email arrived from my graphic designer telling me she needed a completely different photo for my son’s bar mitzvah program in 2 weeks.

Even on a good day my son doesn’t want to take a photo. How was I going to get a dynamite photo of him in 5 minutes? And where was I going to get the patience on 5 hours of sleep?

I’d like to say I hit my good enough mark, but really, I was very cranky. My son didn’t smile and that made me angry. Within minutes he was saying “what am I doing wrong?” and I was begging him “just smile!” The photo session went downhill from there.

After two forced photos of him holding a basketball with a fake smile I decided to call the photo shoot a wrap before I started using words I’d regret. Actually, I had already said a few regrettable words, but I was still within good enough range.

We took a break from each other, he on a nearby rock, me near a tall towering tree. I massaged the tree in silence for at least 5 long minutes. I think I heard tears. And that’s when I walked over to him and said, "Let’s walk."

We walked the trail behind my mother’s cabin for nearly an hour, not speaking, simply in silence. First the silence was tense, like the room inside a hostage negotiation. Then, slowly as we made our way further on the trail helping each other over fallen logs and gushing streams, our silence turned friendlier. He skipped a little, I walked with more ease. Occasionally we glanced at each other. I even saw a half-smile on his face. My shoulders dropped. We walked some more. I began to noticed the speckled light of the day shining through the trees.

In silence we continued until we saw a snake. “Look!” Aden whispered. We watched the snake together, holding our breath, eventually holding hands, and then tiptoeing past the snake.

I remember, years ago when my kids were young, a good friend told me that in parenting there will be breakdown. The key is to always repair. I think a lot about this statement now, how in a modern busy life it’s so hard to find the silence that allows that transition from breakdown to repair.

Silence truly heals. We were deep in the woods and our silent walk gave me the healing space to be good to myself so that I could then be good to my son.

Breakdowns in parenting are inevitable, but it ‘s when we serve ourselves that we begin to feel up for the repair job.

“I’m sorry” I whispered on the trail, just past the snake.

“It’s okay, mom,” he said.

And with that we continued on our walk.


Karen Brody is the founder of Bold Tranquility, a yoga nidra meditation company helping people be good to themselves. She is also the playwright of the critically acclaimed play Birth and founder of the BOLD Method for Birth, called “a powerful and poetic union of women’s empowerment and childbirth education.”