The Cult of Andy

The last time I tried meditating, I gave up after the cat tried to swing trapeze-style from a chandelier above my head. I assume that’s what happened anyway because I heard a loud clatter and opened my eyes in time to find the chandelier swinging wildly and the cat on the floor beside me, licking one paw. 

I didn’t feel very good at meditating, and thought perhaps it was not for someone who has nosy cats and is already pinched for alone time. Besides, lots of things can be meditative, like running or walking and reading and definitely writing. Being outdoors with nothing to do besides take in the sights, sounds and smells reliably takes me to a peaceful place.

Eventually the call to meditation came again, this time for my nine-year old daughter, Audrey. We’d come back from a week at the beach and too-close sleeping quarters, and being the youngest and no doubt a bit spoiled, she had a hard time being alone in her own room and bed. One night we heard her crying and went in to her room to find her near inconsolable. Her fears were vague but horrifying, like losing her favorite people to illness, accidents, etc. These thoughts were sudden, unwelcome visitors that snuck in and grew so big and scary they took up her mind. 

At first we tried practical things, like reading something fun before bed or remembering positive things from the day. We tried a sleep mask and then a night light and then the sleep mask and night light combined. Some nights we’d hear her crying and go in to soothe and other times find tissues tucked under her pillow the next morning and know she’d quietly cried herself to sleep. One morning I woke to the idea that meditating before bedtime might help.

Not being an expert in meditation, I downloaded an app with a free 10-day program narrated by a man with a perfectly placid British accent. He introduced himself as Andy and I pictured him round and doughy with downy hair and wire-rimmed glasses. The app doesn’t show what he looks like, though does feature blissful looking cartoon monsters wearing headphones. One blue monster looked especially engaging so we decided that was Andy. A week or so later, Audrey and I googled Andy to find he’s quite buff, completely bald and a former monk turned multi-millionaire. Oh, and he’s human.

Now, in full disclosure, Audrey and I meditate a bit differently than you’re supposed to. We don’t sit upright in a chair or on the floor, but lay down on my bed with pillows under our heads and, sometimes, Audrey prefers to be under her favorite fleece blanket. I know what you’re thinking, but I have only fallen asleep twice. Usually I follow Andy’s instructions to breathe slowly through the nose, filling the chest, and then exhaling gently through the mouth. Andy tells us to count each inhale and exhale until we reach ten and then start over, and this turns out to be the most helpfully concrete instruction I’ve heard on how to meditate. Andy makes meditation not only easier but something we both start looking forward to.

One evening I’m on the couch with Joe watching Season 3 of Bloodlines, which is the antithesis of meditation, but I digress, when Audrey appears and tells me she wants to meditate. I look at the TV and the clock and wrinkle my nose and say “How about tomorrow night?” She leans her face in real close, a little wild-eyed, and says “I need Andy tonight” and it sends a chill up my spine. We go upstairs to meditate and chandelier-swinging cat watches through narrowed eyes from the foot of the bed.

Soon we go on vacation again, this time sleeping in more rooms, though Audrey shares one with her older sister and so is not alone at night. Between that and sun-soaked days of swimming for so long Joe jokes we should wring her out like a washcloth before coming home, she sleeps like a baby every night. We all do. But like all good stories, this vacation too must come to an end.

Once home, Audrey asks to meditate to Andy again and we do. This time our timing is poor and we start around the same time Joe gets home from work. He enters the bedroom to change and finds us laying flat atop the bedcovers, my arms folded across my chest like someone laid out in a casket and Audrey’s loose at her side, our eyes closed tight like children pretending to sleep. The cat watches judgmentally from the floor this time. There’s an awkward moment between when I stop counting breaths and start explaining what we’re doing. Joe nods in understanding and I close my eyes and try not to wait for the jingle of his belt being hung up in the closet and then the soft clop-clunk of the door closing.

Andy tells us it’s okay to notice sounds going on around us. Sometimes he gives us permission to let our minds think about whatever it wants to think about, but in these moments I can’t think of anything and feel disappointed at my lack of imagination.

One night I ask Audrey if she wants to meditate and she says she does not. She says the bedtime worries are just as bad as before and she doesn’t think meditation is working. I ask her if she wants to talk instead and she does, but her face kind of crumbles and she needs a hug more than anything.

We talk about readjusting to spacious sleeping quarters and how the double-grandpa bed from Willy Wonka might seem cozy but probably none of them were sideways sleepers or blanket hogs like in our family. We talk about how when we try to not think about something, that’s pretty much the only thing we seem to be able to think about. We talk about habits and phases and how it feels like something bad will keep happening forever, but that rarely proves to be the case.

I remember Andy pointedly telling us that meditation isn’t about controlling our thoughts but learning to simply notice them and then going back to the breath. I tell Audrey she won’t still be having these thoughts every night by the time she graduates college because anything beyond is probably too far off to imagine. It’s a phase, triggered somehow by the fun closeness of a family trip and sleeping on a lumpy, unsupportive mattress I wouldn’t wish on anyone past 40.

She doesn’t know yet that all but the most supportive mattresses will turn on you one day and that the people you love most will die, but somehow it’s all okay, even when it’s not. She may have thoughts she doesn’t have much control over but that won’t make them come true and they don’t even necessarily mean anything except that she has an active imagination. Worry is the yin to imagination’s yang.

She can still remind herself where she is and that she’s safe. She can focus on the soft weight of her heels against cool summer sheets and count her breath by tens and maybe come to believe that.

***

Audrey asks me if I can start putting notes in her lunch bag for camp. I used to do it during the school year, eventually creating a series of illustrated notes we were both proud of, including one about a rotten pumpkin who entered a beauty contest (I want to write children’s books so bad). It’s collaborative because Audrey gives me ideas of things to write about or draw when we both get bored with the “hey, hope you’re having a great day” notes. This time I ask for ideas and she suggests creating a series around blue monster Andy (as opposed to buff human one).

I sit at the kitchen island and crank out a couple, losing myself in an almost meditative state. I’m no artist but it still feels good to channel frustration and pain into something I can share with her. I’m including one below, meant to be read in a gentle british accent.

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28 thoughts on “The Cult of Andy

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  1. You are such a cool mom. I remember having a couple recurring dreams as a child-they must have been terrifying at the time since I still remember every detail of them-and being afraid to go to sleep because the dreams would come. But, I would never have told my mom about them because she would have become more neurotic about them than I was. She never would have thought of Andy.

    Hey, maybe you should create a line of illustrated lunch bags-why hasn’t anyone thought of that?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! Or lunch bags with a plastic window thingie to insert a fresh note (or observe the contents of your lunch). Normally our notes are private inside jokes. I did share this one with the internet but only for illustrative purposes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love Andy. I started meditating with the headspace app. I think it really helps.
    Nighttime anxiety it tough, I had a kids book called the worry dragon that helped my daughter some.
    Cleo listens to meditation music as she falls asleep…it helps block out the strange noises of the room.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Headspace is such a lovely app. We practiced Buddhist meditation for years and all Andy really does is echo Buddhist teachings. I wonder if meditation should be taught to all of us as children.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It could be easily taught in school and maybe it is to some degree, i.e. Breathing exercises. I wasn’t sure the guided meditations would be right for a kid, though believe headspace also has meditations for kids in their paid version.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Perhaps you should send this to Andy – I think he’d love your drawings! My 9 year old daughter is going through the exact same thing right now too and I will pass on to her your wisdom about ‘Worry is the yin to imagination’s yang’ 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this! It’s so hard to watch you kids being unhappy and you’ve tried so many constructive ideas. This line really spoke to me: She doesn’t know yet that all but the most supportive mattresses will turn on you one day and that the people you love most will die, but somehow it’s all okay, even when it’s not.
    Thanks for the smile at the end. Andy sounds like someone who would be soothing much of the time and a bit annoying when you were in a bad mood. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s beautiful you are a super mom you’re giving her all the right tools she will use them in her own time but at least she has them. And a very wise Mom.
    I can’t wait to read any book that you write x

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Just terrific. Beautifully paced, structured, framed. Loved it, even though I’m a D- grade meditator.
    And “Worry is the yin to imagination’s yang” is the kind of phrase some people manage to make a million bucks out of. Or at least a best-selling series of children’s books.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I started meditating a few months ago out of a desire to sleep better and be more calm. Ironically I found an app called CALM and the “Andy” is a woman named Tamara. Much of what you say about Andy is the same with Tamara. Breathing, not trying to do it perfectly, etc. I wish I knew meditation when my kids were young. My son had bad nightmares after watching Jurassic Park, which I never should have let him do! Anyway, I love your notes and why don’t you go for it and write a children’s book!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Movies will definitely do it…Jumangi freaked one of my kids out. Possibly both. Sounds like meditation is going great for you. Like what you say about not trying to do it perfectly.

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  9. I was a worrying, non-sleeping, we’re all probably going to die type 9 year old as well and would have benefited very much from meditation. Love this!! I got my child (an anxious 18 yo) an essential oil diffuser for her room, which doubles as a cool nightlight (still won’t sleep in the dark). That might be nice combo, Andy and some very calming lavender.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You are an amazing and insightful mama – Audrey is so lucky to have you.
    I’ve had problems sleeping (and meditating), too.
    I’ve discovered Michael Sealy on YouTube- it’s his soft, Australian voice that woos me to sleep.
    You mentioned above how you wouldn’t wish early adulthood anyone – I wouldn’t wish any type of adulthood…I’m all about the pillow forts these days.

    Like

  11. I love this post, K. I adore it and the notes you send. You are so cool. And what a gift to give your child. It’s a wonderful thing to do and practice. They do mindfulness at our boys’ school and they really enjoy it. I love your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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