This past weekend I attended a reception at the home of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in celebration of the First Annual New Orleans Book Festival. I mingled with various event partners and sponsors and reveled in the excitement and anticipation of the festival the following day. One of the most enjoyable conversations I had was with Kaye Harris, owner of Molly the Pony and founder of Molly's Foundation. Molly is a three-legged pony with a prosthetic fourth leg. Kaye's retelling of the events surrounding Molly's injury is what I want to highlight in today's blog.
Kaye lives in St. Rose Parish, a rural community outside of New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina hit, she and her husband Glenn evacuated nearly twenty horses and ponies from their farm. Post –Katrina, Kaye rescued Molly and several other animals, including a pit bull. In the months after Katrina, Molly was attacked by the traumatized pit bull and Kaye risked her own life by pulling the dog off of Molly. Kaye stayed with her pony, holding her leg that was now torn to shreds and Molly's leg came off in Kaye's hands while she was laying and consoling her mare. Kaye took one look in Molly's eyes and asked her "What do you want to do?" Then she grew quiet and listened to Molly's response. She quickly googled equine prosthetics found a company and started raising money for Molly's leg. Despite the advice Kaye received from veterinarians, she knew that there was "something about that mare". It was Molly's wish to live and share her spirit of resilience. Now Kaye and Molly the Pony travel around Louisiana telling their story and sharing the importance of listening to nonverbal and physiological responses.
Molly the Pony's story connects beautifully to the principles of mindful parenting. In the book Parenting from the Inside Out, the authors elucidate the importance of taking what is on the inside and putting it on the outside, or making the implicit more explicit. I could regal you with an overview of brain function, memory and mental patterns, but instead, I will just put this in simple terms. When parenting your child, have you ever had a moment when you felt a sensation or a reaction in your body that felt strange, out of place, or inappropriate for the situation? Have you ever reacted in a certain way to your child and thought, "that didn't feel good" or "that's what my parents used to say to me and I don't want to repeat that with my kids." I will give you a personal example. Whenever my daughter and I are shopping in Target, checking things off on our shopping list, she catches a glimpse of the toy aisle. She runs over, enamored with all the things to see and touch and she starts making her own shopping list and asking for one toy after another. I feel a marked physiological change in my body. I start to get irritated and impatient, hustling her along and telling her that we are not at Target to buy toys. Somewhere in my litany of responses is the phrase, "you should be grateful for the toys you have at home already." Now, it is perfectly normal for a young child to want toys, to be fascinated by the toy aisle, and to share the excitement of everything that beeps and talks. However, telling my child to be grateful for what she has is an undesirable response and I want it to change! If I explore a little more and dig a little deeper, I know that the change in my sensations is about implicit memories of not having much as a child, rarely being able to buy anything at the story, and hearing the same words repeated to me, "you should be grateful for what you have". Mindful parenting is about listening to your ticker tape or inner dialogue. Unless I listen, take the time to get in touch with that implicit memory and find its source, my explicit response, or reaction, will always be the same. The tricky thing about implicit memory is that it is activated unconsciously and therefore, affects your reactions even when you don't know why you are feeling a certain way. If you find yourself responding or reacting to your child in an undesirable way, take time to pause, tune into your ticker tape and journal about some possible deeper causes for your undesired response. Most importantly, listen to your inner dialogue and pay attention to your mind-body connection. Listening alters mental patterns and creates a new script for you as a parent. You can hobble around on three legs, longing for a change in your parenting patterns, or you can listen to your inner dialogue, pay attention to sensations, make connections with earlier experiences and ultimately change the way you walk through life as a parent.