Posts in Fill Your Own Cup
Being Worthy of Imitation
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“Being Worthy of Imitation”

As a new teacher, I remember being told that the children would imitate everything I did, so everything I did had to be worthy of imitation. I was 20, and didn’t know how to do this—I was so shaky in my sense of self already, was I going to have to change who I was to be a good model for them? Who am I to show them how to be in this world? As the years have gone on, I am eternally grateful to that initial advice and the unrelenting pressure of the children who never let me fake anything and who’s trust imbues me with the confidence to be worthy of it.

Start with Self Work

Do what you need to do to truly embody what you’re bringing them. Unpack your programming, do the yoga, meditate…

Young children learn through imitating the actions of others, adults especially. They will imitate your speech patterns, your mannerisms, the way you answer the phone, the way you sweep the floor. But they will also see subtler things, like the way you communicate with your partner or the way you respond to disappointment. As they imitate, they internalize the behaviors and take them as their own. They are so eager to learn how to be in this world, and they trust us to show them the way. As the adults who spend time around them, that leaves a lot of pressure on us to be worthy of their imitation, to embody the values we want them to hold. This is why the answer to many questions I am asked is to start with self work. 

An example

I am terrible at being the “nap teacher.” I worked in an aftercare program for a year, where the children were expected to nap or rest quietly for a good hour and I could barely get my group to sit quietly for a half that time. Even later, when my kindergarten class would have a 10 minute rest time, they would be so squirmy and chatty and restless and I couldn’t figure out what it was! What I realized (with the help of more experienced teachers) was that I was not embodying restfulness. I was so anxious, my mind was racing, thinking of what was coming next and what I needed to do. I wasn’t resting on the inside, and they were imitating that! So, I tried to feel restful during rest time, I tried to deepen my breath and feel sleepy on the inside. And still, nothing really happened.

Interestingly, the same thing would happen to me at home when I tried to go to sleep. My experience of going to sleep was one fraught with struggle and anxiety—no wonder they picked up on that. It was only a year later when I started meditating and learning to drop into that restful, quiet state when putting myself to sleep that I was able to model true restfulness for the children in my class and get them to rest.

In this situation, I needed to change my entire experience of rest in order to understand how to embody it fully. My own childhood experiences of rest and bedtime certainly informed what I was bringing to the children in this time, and having never learned how to put myself to sleep I had to start there. Meditation was a tool for that, as was understanding that falling asleep is a skill that can be learned.

Start by asking yourself: what am I modeling for them in this situation? What is preventing me from fully embodying the gesture I want them to imitate? Then you can see where your actions are misaligned with your inner life and intentions, and you’ll know where to direct your work. This isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but thankfully the children don’t need us to be perfect. They need to see models of human beings who are striving for goodness—and by starting with self work you’re doing just that, and being worthy of imitation on that deepest level.

until I can truly trust myself in that situation—

Authenticity

If you don’t feel, on a deep level, like your authenticity is worthy of imitation, then it won’t matter how you speak or sweep the floor.

All of that work can feel like an opportunity to change yourself, to contort yourself to be what you think an ideal caregiver would look like. That won’t work. You already are an ideal caregiver, the children are with you for a reason. Yes, we all have unconsidered habits, unexplored beliefs, things that we need to work out, but all of that should be in pursuit of being your most authentic self, not an attempt to mold yourself into some angel goddess in a pink skirt who likes singing in the pentatonic scale all the time (unless that’s your jam, then more power to you).

In fact the highest, most valuable thing we can model is authenticity, being secure with ourselves on a deep level. If you fake it, they’ll learn that inauthenticity is the way to success—they’ll learn to bury themselves and be whomever the world pressures them to be. Let this be your permission to be yourself, and the kick in the ass you need to figure out who that is and love it deeply. If you don’t feel, on a deep level, like your authenticity is worthy of imitation, then it won’t matter how you speak or sweep the floor. That is really the key to this, and where some of the hardest work lies. Once you trust yourself to be imitated, the rest will flow.

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Caregiver essentials for Cold Times
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In the rhythm of the year, cold seasons are a time to turn inward: to think, to tend to our inner lives, to stoke our inner fires and remind ourselves of our creative capacity. They’re really a beautiful time of year, but can tend to grate on us as the mornings get dark and our toes get cold. One of the things I love about being a Waldorf early childhood teacher is that these rhythms of the year form so much of the basis of our curriculum, giving me the opportunity to work with them really intentionally. At first, I was shocked by the amount of time I was expected to spend out in the cold, and would get miserable after a few weeks because I felt like I was constantly covered in 7 layers of wool, still cold to my bones. After a few years of practice I feel like I’ve developed some pretty effective strategies for staying warm, happy, and available to get in touch with that inner creativity that has so much potential this time of year.

Practices

Movement. My yoga studio is a warm, cozy, wonderful place in the cold weather. My body doesn’t like anything too intense, but taking the time to slowly and carefully flow through my vinyasa practice, followed by restorative yoga under lots of cozy blankets, warms me up from the inside and helps me re-set. Find a movement practice that feels good to you to keep your energy from getting too stagnant.

Breathing fresh air and getting some sun on my face. This means getting outside, for as long as possible, every day, especially during the limited daylight hours. I do this every day as part of my work, but try to find some time outside just for myself, as well. Getting out in the cold makes me enjoy it more and feel happier and warmer. Try hiking, or skiing, or just taking long walks around the neighborhood. Bundle yourself up and go sit in the park on your break.

Lighting candles. I buy tea-lights and tapers in bulk this time of year, and light up the house by candlelight in the morning and evening. It’s so beautiful and cozy and feels like a way of embracing the long dark days. I always use beeswax candles, since paraffin wax is petroleum-based.

Potions

Lanolin is the best lip balm, face balm, chapped cheeks treatment, hand cream, everything. Sheep produce it to help insulate themselves when wet, and I swear it does the same thing for me. It smells a little… barn-y, but its magical abilities to keep my skin soft and warm more than make up for it.

A hot drink to carry with you everywhere. I love my insulated Kleen Kanteen because it keeps my coffee hot for so much longer, whether I’m outside in the freezing cold or just drinking it really slowly because children keep needing me. A hot drink will warm you from the inside out and do wonders for the spirit. I switch over to Earl Grey or adaptogenic coffee in the afternoon to keep myself awake past the 4pm sunset without getting too wired.

Elderberry syrup of some sort for keeping sniffles at bay. Mythic Medicinals makes arguably the best around, but it can be hard to get your hands on (she sells out fast!). Here’s a recipe to make your own, and some elderberries to get you started.

Woolies

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I know I sound like such a Waldorf teacher, but trust me: you need long underwear. You know how you’ll be outside on a cold day and your legs will be freezing even though you’re wearing your coat and boots? That’s because denim isn’t warm—you need something to insulate your legs! (This took me longer than I’d care to admit to figure out.) I wear these silk long underwear on all but the coldest days, when I switch over to a merino pair. They’re warm but thin enough to wear under skinny jeans, don’t itch or really feel like anything at all, and won’t leave you sweating when you go inside.

My feet are always cold from about October on, so wool socks are non negotiable. Darn Tough makes the best around—they’re super warm and guaranteed for life. Don’t try to make it through a New York Winter wearing cotton socks, that’s just mean to your toes.

My number one Waldorf teacher hack is wearing a playsilk as a scarf. They’re super soft and light as air and just a little scrap around your neck will warm you up a lot.

A good hat, and a good way to prevent hat hair. You lose a lot of heat from the top of your head, and a hat will keep you warmer than a sweater (so says my mother, who is generally correct about such things.) I love the hats my friends at Lynn and Lawrence make—they’re the perfect, simple beanies, hand knit from super warm alpaca by women’s knitting cooperatives in England and Peru. As for hat hair, I like to throw my long straight-ish hair into a low braid before going outside. Solana has very curly hair and will wear braids or twists, then curl them into a low bun before she puts a hat on. Braids, etc. will also protect long hair from the harsh cold and wind, preventing breakage and helping with the midwinter frizz.

Care for Caregivers

How I support myself through the emotional and energetically draining work of caring for young children.

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Now that we’re getting into the flow of the school year, I’m once again finding my way through the self care practices I work with to support my work as a teacher. While summer self care looked like a lot of time spent on the beach, eating a lot of fresh vegetables, letting go of an obsession with linear time to instead flow on my intuition, with Autumn comes a real shift towards routine and nourishment, and taking the wisdom I found in the freedom of summer deep into my inner life. Each Autumn I reinvent these practices to serve my ever evolving ways of being, and this year especially—with the potentially hustle-inducing process of launching a new project—I am finding lots of small ways throughout my days to find peace, center, and flow.

While I think self care is a deeply important part of being a person no matter what you do, working with children (whether you get paid for it or not) is so particularly intense that I see a real need for caregivers to devote extra time to it. Children are high drama and energetically and physically draining. They don’t have the same energetic or emotional boundaries that adults do, so they lean on and borrow from our energy to move through the world. Caregivers need to be SO strong and SO centered to manage that without breaking down and we don’t get that way by accident: it takes work.

Practices

Telling people to do yoga and meditate isn’t exactly groundbreaking—but trust me, DOING IT is. I’m sharing what I do in the hopes that it will offer the inspiration or information needed to spur you into action in some new way.

Yoga

I’ve practiced yoga since childhood, and have maintained a practice (in different forms) for over a decade now. I take classes, but last year began giving myself the time to maintain a home practice as well which has been a real game changer. I take this as an opportunity to connect with my intuition and really tap into what my body needs on a given day. If you want to let someone else plan the class for you, Yogis Anonymous and Gaia both offer subscriptions to access online classes that people I trust love. Beyond it’s importance as a part of a self care practice, yoga supports my work with children by reminding me to find my breath in challenging situations. It also supports my physical body, which is worked really hard in the classroom. I’ve learned how to move in a way that keeps me flexible and avoids injury, and have used yoga to work through whatever overuse injuries I sustain.

Meditation

Usually I sit to meditate after I’ve come into my physical body through yoga in the mornings. I started out using Headspace, which has awesome guided mindfulness meditations that I recommend to anyone looking to get into a daily practice. Giving myself just 10 minutes a day for a few months to meditate was a relatively small shift, but it measurably improved the way I worked with the children and my overall mental heath. If you’re looking for more guidance or support, Michelle Mankins is offering a 6 week mindfulness series on Wednesdays, just upstairs from Brooklyn Morning Garden!

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being in water

Last year I had the blessing of an incredible outdoor shower that I used through November. I also had access to the beach every day after work (and even went some mornings before work). This year, back in the city, no such luck—but I do have a bathtub! Being with water is so powerful and profound when done intentionally, so I’ve made a point to do it every day, even if just in my tiny Brooklyn bathroom. In the morning I take a cold shower, slowly turning the knob from lukewarm to freezing over the course of a few minutes. It wakes me up and is a huge exercise in patience and mindfulness. In the evenings, I often take a very hot bath as well, to re-center myself after a long day.

Earthing

This one is also harder to implement in the city, where we don’t all have beautiful lush meadows just steps away. But, especially when I’m feeling nervous or out of myself, it’s always worth it to bike to the park and take off my shoes and just breathe. Urban life can be literally so ungrounded, with lots of us spending our lives floating in steel towers, that the simple act of feeling the soft earth beneath our feet can be a big deal. (And yes, I do this even in the Winter.) I return from these outings with a renewed sense of perspective and calm, and often with inspiration on how to solve some problem or another. This is also something that’s easy to fit into your day with children, and good for them too! Obviously in the city you want to check the ground for broken glass, etc., but on the whole I’ve found both Prospect and Fort Greene Parks fields to be much cleaner than I was anticipating.

Play

Not to counter everything I just said or anything, but all this self care stuff can get really heavy and exhausting. We can spend so much time taking care of ourselves, trying to fix ourselves, that we forget who we are and why we’re worth caring about. So I’ve also been giving myself permission to do the fun, silly stuff that’s maybe not so on brand. Lately I’ve been binge reading Harry Potter, taking a lot of spontaneous CitiBike rides, and listening to Santigold really loudly in my car. My partner is also really into games and we’ve been playing Fairy Tale Fluxx (a weird card game that comes in all sorts of different themes, like Star Trek and Anatomy and Pirates) and Gin at night rather than watching TV or both getting sucked into email.

Potions

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One recent change I’ve made is to switch my afternoon coffee over to this mushroom coffee. It is definitely coffee, and is caffeinated, but is chiller and strings me out less than my traditional protocol of undiluted cold brew concentrate. This switch has helped me stay productive through the afternoon, rather than burning out and having to take a nap/stare blankly at the wall. Like the millennial I am, I doctor it up with collagen peptides and oat milk.

I’m also in love with infusions, nettle in particular. I am anemic, and I find that when I am drinking nettle infusions regularly I feel much stronger and have more energy. Much like a tea, but stronger, infusions are the best way to extract the medicinal value out of herbs like nettle, oatsraw, or raspberry leaf. I make mine in a french press: one ounce dried plant to every quart boiling water (eyeballed), let sit overnight or for at least 4 hours, then plunge. Nettle is best chilled with a pinch of salt, IMO.

Basically everything Moon Juice does is magic, and I’m there daily when I go to LA. Their dusts are fun, but I’m personally really bothered by even the tiniest bit of stevia, so I don’t take them anymore. BUT they just released SuperYou, which is super (lol) supportive of people living with daily stress—aka anyone who works with young children. It’s made out of a blend of researched adaptogenic mushrooms and herbs and helps normalize cortisol levels, which can get out of whack in the face of all the stimulation our nervous system faces in modern life.

Monk Oil is made by a Brooklyn-based Waldorf kindergarten teacher, who formulated it to help those of us in cities develop loving fortitude. It’s made out of cedar, lavender, and yarrow: all powerfully protective herbs. I cover my heart chakra with it before entering into a potentially overwhelming situation (like the subway) and have used it daily to support boundary work with children.

In closing

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With all of this guidance, I want to acknowledge that it can feel exhausting to have to take care of yourself on top of everyone else. I remember at one point in my career breaking down in tears because it felt like all I ever did was take care of things: the house, the classroom, the children, and then at the end of the day myself! I’ve made a lot of structural changes to my life since then and have been able to now shift my perspective on self care to be something I do out of love for myself, rather than something I feel obligated to. For me, this shift required some massive prioritizing of how I spend my energy, and for me to make the decision that I didn’t have to hustle to be happy and successful. This is a larger evolution that I am too close to to offer much advice on, but if you’re feeling that way please believe me—I understand.

If you’re reading this, know that my biggest wish for you is that you learn your own worth and find comfort in this life. No matter the pressure you feel to do things perfectly, one of the most important things you can model for the children around you in a deep love of and care for yourself. The core aim in my life of these practices and potions is to allow myself, especially on hard days, of my inherent worth goodness and to find moments of comfort in my skin.

Yoga with Michelle!
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On the top floor of the brownstone we are located in, Michelle Mankins has a beautiful, sunny, cozy yoga studio, with classes starting up for the season on September 17!

She offers drop in yoga classes ever Monday from 9-10:30, as well as two separate 6 week series on Tuesdays and Thursdays centered around the teachings of Aururveda; intended to help you navigate the transition to Vata season.

Additionally, she and her colleague Shoshana Perry will be teaching a meditation class on Wednesdays, and facilitating a Sangha on Fridays. From Michelle: 

Sangha is a circle of friends interested in studying mindfulness and sharing how it manifests in our daily lives. It is an opportunity to share experiences and learn how to listen deeply to each other's stories. Each meeting will begin with a short meditation. Those new to meditation and/or interested in exploring meditation and mindfulness are warmly welcome. Sangha is free. We are hoping to build a community of practitioners interested in and able to come to most of the sangha meetings.

For more information, check out Michelle's website or email her at mm@michellemankins.com