I am thrilled to be sharing a new interview series with you each and every week: #realmothersdiversevoices. In this series my intention is to reveal the endless ways our family values can inform our Daily Rhythm. The mothers I have interviewed lead diverse lives but they each have a huge sense of clarity about what their Family Values are (even if they change over time) and consciously and creatively strive to create a Daily Rhythm in alignment with those values.
It is my hope that through these stories more Mothers feel inspired to explore what their own family values are, to question them and bring them to life in their everyday experience. I know that seeing the world through another Mother’s lens will develop more empathy, understanding and compassion between us.
Today I am honoured to welcome Ashley May to the Whole Family Rhythms community. Ashley spends her days among the trees and in the kitchen with her two young sons by her side and her evenings working from home as an educational consultant inspired by the precious moments she shares with her children. You can follow Ashley on Instagram @chasingwildones where she documents the moments that make their hearts sing.
Who are you? Can you introduce yourself, your work and your family?
My name is Ashley and together with my husband, I am raising two darling little boys in Southern California, just moments from the ocean and near some of the best trees for climbing. The moments I share with my boys inform my work in educational research and evaluation and teacher development. So, after I’ve tucked my children into bed and taken a moment to connect with my husband, I’m most often found at my childhood desk turning a moment from my day into a demonstration lesson to be presented to student teachers, brainstorming ideas for a parent education workshop, or perusing the latest research in social emotional development.
What is one of the greatest joys you experience as a Mother?
The art of mothering fills my heart with so much joy. What’s really been warming my heart these days? The moments I share in the kitchen with my children. It’s a time during which I see so much of myself in them. When I am in the kitchen with my children, memories flow through my head and heart of my childhood standing at the hip of my grandmother stirring batter, working with the same vintage stand mixer that is now in my kitchen. I’m often taken back to moments with my grandfather eating berries plucked from his garden. Lately, my oldest son tells a story of how he learned the recipe from his grandfather as he adds a pinch of spice and stirs the pot. He’s such an old soul–using a story as a way to connect just like his mama would. It makes me smile when my youngest kneads dough and wipes his brow just like I do. I guess it’s moments like these that show me the weight of our daily interactions and push me to be the most patient and present mother I can be.
What is one of the biggest challenges you face daily as a Mother?
What has challenged me most on a daily basis with my children is how very different our energies are. My children, especially my oldest, have a strong need to connect with everyone they encounter. I am more selective with my interactions–as often they take a lot of energy out of me. While we all love to be outside in nature, I would much rather use nature as an opportunity to retreat, reflect, draw inward; my sons on the other hand see it as an opportunity to take it all in, leave no tree unclimbed, no leaf unturned, and seize every opportunity to establish a connection with other humans, big and small. So, I guess this is their work–to push mama outside of her comfort zone and I accept the challenge each day with an open mind and heart.
What does having “Rhythm in your Home” mean to you?
Rhythm brings our family culture to life. It pushes me to be intentional and encourages a habit of reflection. Each day possesses its own energy and provides the answer to my son’s favorite early morning questions “What is today, mama? What does that mean?”–without thinking I can tell him “today is Monday, my love. That means we’ll do some work in the kitchen, wash the lentils, make a batch of ghee and prepare the soup we use to break our fast in Ramadan.”
Can you give an example of some of your most cherished ‘Family Values’?
Upholding our cultural and familial traditions, perfecting and beautifying our actions, and God consciousness–these are the values we cherish the most.
How do you hope to pass these values on to your children? Or in other words, how do you manifest these family values into your daily rhythm?
We spend many a day in the company of our elders so that my children may experience the rich oral traditions that weave through the moments spent with grandparents–whether in the garden with grandpa or just a precious moment on grandma’s lap. Our weekly rhythm is one that allows for this–should we wish to walk to grandma’s house there is work to be done there as well. When we are in the kitchen, we most often cook traditional food. It’s so important to me that my children connect with their family culture through the tradition of food.
I constantly strive to perfect and beautify my actions towards others and the environment so that I might be a model to my children for the way they interact with the world around them. Another way that I weave this into our daily rhythm is through storytelling. Storytelling plays a big role in our daily rhythm–and it has a rich cultural history for us as an effective means for positively guiding young hearts.
God consciousness and mindfulness find their way into our weekly and daily rhythms most often through our time in nature. One of the best ways to connect with the Divine is through the beauty of nature–and so I constantly build these moments for reflection into our days together.
Can you outline a typical ‘Weekday Rhythm’ for you and your child(ren). Specifically when/where/how do you and your little ones eat, sleep/rest, play inside/outside, work/learn and make time for selfcare?
In this moment, we are deep into the holy month of Ramadan and our life rhythms reflect this change which is both challenging and filled with beauty.
330 AM – 430 AM | I wake to prepare the predawn meal and then wake my husband to join me for the last meal we eat until sundown. Then when the time enters we pray the dawn prayers together and return to sleep afterward.
6 AM | I always try to wake before sunrise or no later than 6 AM. I utilise the science of ayurveda as a healing modality and find that I am most balanced when I follow this practice. During this time, I try to do some reading or possibly take a short walk on the cool ground and then return home to have something warm to drink, such as black tea with spices and simmered milk. A little moment I carve out for myself.
7 AM – 9 AM | At some point during this hour my little ones wake. The late nights of Ramadan have made it so they are rising later and later, but I still try to make it a point to have breakfast ready during this time because when they do emerge, it’s with a voracious appetite. Also, it’s very important to me to feed myself at regular intervals–an early breakfast does me well. Most often during this season, it’s homemade flat bread cooked on the cast iron and slathered with butter and raw honey or when it’s really hectic our kind of fast food–a fried egg or yogurt with raw honey and nuts.
9 AM – 11 AM | The children engage in free play while I clear the table, clean the dishes and prepare lunch. Sometimes I may go sit by the window in my bedroom and drink a second cup of tea while they work. Do a little reading or put away laundry I may have held off on until the morning. I usually start getting them dressed around 1030 AM.
11 AM – 12 PM | We grab a snack that travels well such as dried nuts and fruit, pull a blanket out of the cabinet and head outside. Most often they head to the mud pie kitchen or get lost in imaginative play among the trees.
12 PM – 1 PM | We transition back inside. This is literally the hardest part of my day, but they have to eat lunch. Lunch is our largest meal of the day. I find eating this way makes sure my children have the most nutrient dense meal when their digestive fire is the strongest–as their appetites tend to taper off as the day goes on. Also, it makes dinner prep much easier. It’s a lighter meal and if my husband is very hungry he will also eat the leftovers from lunch.
1 PM – 215 PM | This is our rest time. My toddler is napping less and less, so it most often means we lay in mama’s bed and read a few books and just have a little refresh. The children also pray the noon time prayer with me if they wish.
215 PM – 330 PM | We spend this time creating. Whether it be baking, painting, or drawing. Then we end the activity with an afternoon snack.
330 PM – 4 PM | A nature walk in the golden time of day helps ground us.
4 PM – 6 PM | Free play while I prep dinner. At this time, it’s a traditional meal to break the fast–soup, dates, fruit, a salad with yogurt, and savoury pastries filled with whatever inspires us on that day. The boys will usually help me make the yogurt sauce or prepare the spices. But they wait for my husband to fill the pastries. It’s their special time together. We also pray the afternoon prayer at around this time–once again my children are at an age where they are welcomed to join me or leave as they wish.
6 PM | Light dinner for the boys–a bite or two from lunch or possible soup and crusty bread.
645 PM – 745 PM | Spend time with Baba, then it’s bath time and pajamas on.
8 PM | At around this time, it’s sundown and we have the fast breaking meal. The children eat dates and fruit and drink a traditional soup before we complete the sundown prayer and then we usher them off to begin the bed time rituals.
845 PM | Off to brush teeth and we all snuggle up in bed and listen to a recitation of the Quran–a special tradition during Ramadan that takes the place of story time. They are usually fast asleep by 9 PM.
How important are higher belief systems, stories, literature, art, family history and creative expression to your family? How do you weave these into your family life?
Our faith is central to all that we do–the food we eat, how we interact with neighbors, the stories I choose to tell my children. The five daily prayers we as Muslims pray provide the anchor for our daily rhythm and our children come to understand the importance of the prayers as they see them weaved into our moments together.
Strong family traditions weave throughout our family life–especially during the month of Ramadan. Our entire weekly rhythm takes on a new look as we incorporate so many rich traditions during this month.
When does your family rhythm get thrown off kilter?
When I take on a project requiring my time outside of the home, I find it upsets our rhythm. During my most recent project, my children spent two days per week in my mother’s care. It was a slow and steady shift out of balance–rooted in impromptu sleepovers and lunch dates that eventually built up. From this experience, I’ve learned that I need to provide a little more structure to their days with Nana if it will be a long term situation. So I’ve been slowly brainstorming ways to facilitate this; I think it will also help her to anchor her days with the boys and make things just a little easier on her. When their rhythm travels with them, they feel more secure in what to expect and as a result the day runs quite smooth.
Do you consciously re-evaluate and change your family rhythm with the seasons and ages and stages of your kids?
Rhythms are living foundations to our days, weeks, months and so on. I find that if one remains present and in constant reflection, the need for a shift reveals itself. Often a change in rhythm reveals itself organically and I try to listen to those moments when they arise.
Then there are times where I actively adjust the rhythm due to a change in season. I had to shift our rhythm to welcome the month long observance of Ramadan–to make it work for us and to not completely disrupt the comfort of our daily rhythms. So this means we designate one night per week, Fridays, for communal meals at sundown at our masjid (mosque). This way my children still have the opportunity to feel the spirit of Ramadan with others, but are not overwhelmed by several late nights per week.
At the end of Ramadan, I will be adjust our rhythm again. I will be taking on some new projects and my older son’s schedule will change. I am currently playing with some ideas to smooth the transition.
When you’re feeling stuck, tired, frustrated with your role as Mother, what do you need most to shift your energy and perception?
When I feel stuck, overwhelmed, or exhausted that’s when I hold on tighter to our rhythm. The natural response is to flee, but I find it most comforting to surrender to how the moments arrive within your rhythm. They may not go as planned, but that’s what rhythm is. Think of a drum circle, for example, the leader may adjust the beats and it’s up to us to listen and find our way back to the flow. It also helps that I am close to my support system. My mother and grandmother are walking distance from me. If it gets really rough, I seek their wisdom and assistance.
If you could recommend one book to all Mothers out there what would it be?
Every mother stands in her own truth and so it’s challenging to speak to ALL mothers with one book. But, I will say that a mother should have a book that feeds her soul and informs her art. For me that book has been The Continuum Concept. It’s not for everyone but it has reinforced the decisions I make with regard to how I raise my children and has validated the way in which I was raised–nurtured in the arms of elders and extended family, mothered by wisdom and tradition, and allowed the freedom to explore.