Mommy's Mindfulness Magnets

By Melody Schalm

This past Fall our family, quite by accident, stumbled across one of the most effective ‘calm down’ tools we had ever encountered. The backdrop to this story is that my seven year old daughter had recently returned from a neighbourhood birthday party with a loot bag full of dollar store fridge magnets.  They said things like: “BFF,” “Yeah!” “Cool!” and “You Rock!” She positioned them all over our microwave oven, the only magnetic surface in our home.

During the pre-dinner rush one late September day I found myself alone in the kitchen, peering into the cupboard and fretting over the prospect of feeding my three young kids pre-packaged noodles and mini carrots-from-a-bag for the fourth time that week.  I had a million-and-one things to do before bedtime, the phone was ringing, the cat was meowing, the kids were fighting in the other room and the thought of preparing dinner was somewhat overwhelming. 

As I stood in the corner of my kitchen, the ball of stress in my stomach tripling in size with each passing moment, my five year old son all of a sudden appeared out of nowhere.  He positioned himself one inch in front of me, stood high on his tippy toes, reached his arm way up and held a small white magnetic object smack in front of my eyes.  It read:  “Chill.”

Wow.  Double wow.  (I’ll add triple wow as my son couldn’t read at the time.)

I looked down at him, incredulous.  And then I started to laugh.  I laughed harder and harder, scooping him up and carrying him over to the couch in the adjoining room where we fell in a heap, still laughing uproariously.  After composing myself I exclaimed:  “Yes, yes, mommy needed to chill, didn’t I?  Thank you, thank you, thank you, for helping me notice that I needed to chill!”  (He was pretty pleased to have evoked this reaction in me.) 

From that moment on, the “Chill” magnet was used with abandon in our home.  Anytime the heart rate of any child or adult so much as increased one beat from stress, agitation or anger, a human would come running from some end of the house, “Chill” magnet in hand, and hold it smack in front of the stressed-out family member’s eyes.  It worked every time, cutting the anger or angst by at least 50%.  It often evoked a laugh as well. 

The Chill magnet went missing for awhile, but no matter:  family members quickly learned that they could speed to the agitated family member’s side and simply form the shape of the now well-known rectangular magnet with their fingers, and that worked just as well.

At first, I was a bit sheepish about telling friends about our new-found self-regulation miracle cure in the home.  I teach social and emotional learning to kids in school and after-school programs and everything I teach must, well, be evidence-based.  Fridge magnets? I had not read about them in the professional literature.  And yet there it was, clear success in our home. What to make of it, I wondered?

On further reflection, I came to realize our new-found miracle tool for what it was:  Pure mindfulness in action.  In mindfulness, we first and foremost learn to notice.  Bringing our attention squarely on what is happening in the present moment – “Oh, I’m stressed out” – is the first step in regaining our equilibrium and, usually, feeling better.  Simply noticing how we are feeling – without judging it – allows us some space, enabling us to respond to the situation at hand rather than reacting out of emotion.   

By the time my son arrived in the kitchen with fridge magnet in hand that day, I was very quickly spiralling into a not-so-pretty emotional pit fuelled by everyday stressors of life and my own parenting baggage.  (Fighting Kids: Why don’t they act better? Have I done something wrong? Troubles with dinner:  Why, oh why, can I not yet cook like every other mom on the planet? Surely the other school moms have organic vegetable stews coming out of their crock pots right about now.) Had my son not arrived and prompted me to take notice, I might have found myself screaming at my kids out of stress and anger within seconds – and regretting it later. 

My objective situation of course had not changed one iota after my awakening by fridge magnet that afternoon.  I still had 3 young kids who sometimes fight.  But by simply noticing what was happening, halting the barrage of judgements and adopting some kindness towards myself, I was able to get a little closer to experiencing the true reality of my situation: I have three fighting kids! What a gift!  I still had only two types of food in the home at dinner time:  We have food! Even a vegetable! I was still a mediocre cook who struggles, day in, day out, with feeding my family inspiring, nutritious meals: On the mark, no denying.  But I have other qualities and competencies that my kids benefit from.  And, besides, my lack of culinary prowess will give my kids fodder for conversation at their own shared Thanksgiving dinners long after I’m gone(Child number 1: “Mom never was too much of a cook, was she?” Child Number 2: “No, we had to go to friends’ houses to get a proper meal.” Child Number 3:  “But she did some other things well.”  All three: “Yah.”)

That night, we all savoured our noodles as never before.  The flavour was perfect.   We topped them up with an exquisite dessert of cookies and gummy bear vitamins.  Life was good.

If any researcher wants to turn our family’s success story into an evidence-based practice, I’d be happy to participate in any rigorous, double-blind, kitchen-approved university study deemed advisable.  In the meantime I’ll just be here, in my fridge magnet spattered kitchen, trying my best to notice and count my blessings in the storm.

Melody Schalm is the principal of Kind Kids.  She teaches kindness, mindfulness and related social and emotional learning to kids in school and after-school programs in greater Vancouver.  She is the parent of three elementary school-aged kids, who teach her as much about mindfulness and living life to the full as she teaches them.   

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