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“The soul is healed by being with children.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

When I awoke this morning my back was throbbing and my heart was heavy. I shuffled about washing each of the many dishes that hadn’t come clean in our dysfunctional dishwasher. My husband read to our children and I welcomed a bit of time to experience myself and dive down into what was causing me pain. It was both physical and emotional. I washed a mountain of silverware. I fed my sweet kitty, wishing there were still two. I took a shower. And then I discovered that my baby Adrian – oh so quickly transforming into a little boy –was ready to nurse and possibly return to sleep having been awake since the first glimpse of sunlight. I picked him up marveling at his new ability to communicate. He has recently named nursing, “deet-deet” and his blanket is called “night-night.” When I asked him if he wanted to sleep he shook his head up and down a resounding, “yes.” We climbed the stairs. I nestled my face into his soft cheek and neck. He fought me as I changed his diaper and kept telling me, “deet-deet.” I felt my heart softening when I looked into his eyes. Who could be unhappy looking into those deep, hazel eyes? When I finished I turned on his air-filter and closed his shade. A sliver of light shone through on us, the side of the shade propelled forward by an air-conditioning unit in its path. I sunk into the rocking chair, Adrian delighted to be nursing. I found his still-plump baby hands with mine and admired the dimples at each of his knuckles. Children are so beautiful, I thought. I traced my hand along the silken skin of his arm coming into the brilliance of this moment, thinking too about the power of my children to ease my troubles. I don’t mean this in the unhealthy, they-alone-need-to-make-me-happy kind of way. I mean it in the, “how can I be in the midst of such beauty and not feel the presence of God, of something so much bigger than me?”

I found myself thinking also of the scene I’d witnessed the day before. Visiting friends at their cabin on the water I swam alone out to a giant rock about fifty feet from the shore. My friend aptly described it as, “not far but still a world away.” I’d felt so alive swimming out to that rock through crisp water. I found my footing on a slippery surface then made my way to the top of the rock and finally stood, taking in the scene surrounding me. I was technically standing on a rock in a pond but it felt more like I was in the center of a very large lake or even a river, the water passing me by like a current. I was also surrounded by tall Pines and stood for a moment mimicking their reach, arms raised upward toward the giant, bulbous clouds above me. I relaxed into the moment and finally stretched out on my back on the rock soaking in the sun’s powerful rays now poking out from behind the clouds. I gazed over at the shoreline, at my family, at my friend’s family. It was such a lovely site – each child in their own unique place of development. One decked out with snorkel gear and a life jacket knee deep in water, another sitting in a kayak popping her head in and out each time lighting up the shore with her smile. I experienced such joy thinking back to this scene. I found myself lifting from the fog that I had awakened with. Slowly, gradually I found a shift occurring inside of me. I didn’t want to miss any of this – not even one moment of these beautiful children and their brightness. The thoughts that were making me feel low suddenly began to seem less significant, surmountable. Adrian was asleep in my arms now. I rose carefully, nestling him over my shoulder. I walked to his crib and put him down, quietly giving thanks for this beautiful creature.

 

“It takes a very long time to become young.” ― Pablo Picasso

One of the best ways in which we may lift our children up in this life is to show them that the world is beautiful. We may show them shells and sunflowers, lazy days and wild adventures, delightful foods and sounds and sights to see. We may show them love and respect for self and others too. If we hope for them to go out into the world and do something profound (whether that means living a simple and happy life or making a grand discovery), they must first see the world as a safe place. And the world is a very good and beautiful place. If our children have this opportunity early in life then one day when they witness the things that may not be so good, they will know what is out of place and this will be powerful knowledge in their grasp. This is not an original thought but one that I have come to use as a valuable guide  for deciding how to present the world to my children. And for me, oh what peace I have found in the hours of digging my own fingers into sand and dangling seaweed on sticks, the endless driveway chalk drawing, dough mixing and long bedtime gratitudes. I think I may benefit most of all.

 

Imprinting Our Children with Love

One evening this past winter a dear and lifelong friend was traveling for work to the place where I live and we were able to get together for an impromptu gathering and enjoy a meal with my two sons. It was exciting for my son Jonah to leave the house at dusk and travel in the car at an hour when we would normally be settling into our dinner, bath and bedtime routines. It was a little risky, me taking him and his baby brother out at this hour. Dusk can be a fine time for emotional breakdowns and leaving our listening ears behind. It’s also regularly a time when my (then) infant son isn’t just ready for bed but insists on going to sleep right now!  Thankfully, the gathering unfolded very sweetly and we had a peaceful visit. The boys and I drove through a sparkly downtown all lit up for Christmas, admiring the lights along the way, and picked up my friend at her company’s headquarters. Jonah chatted generously, seeming much older than his almost three years. We made our way to a restaurant where the four of us enjoyed a very lovely meal together. It was extremely grounding for me to be with my friend and remember a part of myself that I knew she remembered in me. Living away, she doesn’t know all-that-well the part of me that is in an almost constant state of mothering. She knows me to be a confident and secure woman – a description of myself that I would argue does not always define me as a mother. Present? Yes. Clear on the direction I have in mind for my children? Absolutely. Certain whether I am always making the right decisions? Disciplining correctly? Weighing the important issues at the appropriate times? Of these things, I am only confident and secure a small fraction of the time.

It was tempting to elevate myself up a rung on the Motherhood Ladder when my friend complimented me the next day for the enjoyable time she had with my family and how it was a reflection of my parenting skills (on Facebook no less). I knew, however, that if I did this, I would only be knocking myself down a rung or two on that same ladder within a few hours, maybe within minutes. As soon as naptime went awry or my son suddenly lost control of his young body and accidentally hit someone (or, gasp, maybe even hit someone on purpose), I would no longer be eligible for Mother of the Year. Of the spiritual lessons that have most easily transferred from my life as a mother of none to mother of two, the spiritual principle that has proven to be the most relevant is the one having to do with staying steady in the face of the highest compliments and the harshest criticisms. In parenting, it isn’t so much compliments and criticisms as much as highs and lows but still the spiritual message is the same. We are not meant to define who we are by what we experience.

So many of the days I have experienced with my children have embodied pure, divine, joyous moments. I remember kisses and testaments of love. I remember laughing hysterically running around, playing chase, building amazing towers with wooden blocks and consuming healthy foods while hearing sweet stories told from the heart wild with imaginations. I remember cuddly nursing and bountiful baby legs bouncing up and down on my legs. I remember both of my boys experiencing success as they grow and develop. I remember quietly listening to music while doing a puzzle. I experience memories of my heart singing with a love so profound, so deep, that it can hardly be put into words. And on those same days, those very same joyous days, I can think of moments of deep disappointment and sadness. These moments are fewer – far, far fewer for certain. But they do exist. The moment when my child injures another child or me – maybe even on purpose. The moment when I cannot muster a sing-songy response to my child not wanting to go to bed for the 300th night in a row. And the moment when I feel that I have failed. With these memories, my heart aches in a way that is also difficult to put into words. I just know that in those heart-wrenching moments I am acutely aware of the impact my role has in the way my children will experience the world and I so desperately want to only make an imprint on them that is good, and healthy and pure.

I remember traveling on an airplane with Jonah when he was just under a year old. He was very active and crawling all over my lap, trying to get down and bumping into a man who was sitting next to me. I apologized to the man and he brushed my words aside saying that he had three children of his own and that he had been, “kicked, hit, bitten and everything in between,” and there was nothing Jonah could do to bother him. He was very sweet and put me at ease and I remember not being able to imagine Jonah ever doing those things.  He doesn’t do much of it. But he is a three year old and occasionally exhibits these behaviors. It is so tempting to take them personally and define myself by them. What have I done to inspire him to behave this way? I am also inclined to define myself by his deep, amazing professions of love! I must be demonstrating so much love in my life for him to be so very loving! I do believe that our children to a large degree emulate our behaviors but to define ourselves based on their mercurial natures would be a mistake. As I learned in life as a professional, prior to having children, there will be moments when people experience me as shining and creative and fabulous and there will be times when I am seen as dusty and in need of a good polish. There may even be a bit of truth in what people see, however, I am neither of these images. What they see is one thing. And then there is me. I am steady. I am a part of the Oneness. I am a part of something that once defined no longer exists. And it is this energy, this pure place that I must stay in touch with in order to truly shine. My children probably enjoy this part of me best of all. It is where I can be constant for them no matter their ups and downs and it is the place I would most like to cultivate in them. A place where they can learn to be true to who they are despite the praise that will come and go in their lives depending on who they are making happy at any given moment.

 

Slow Down With Your Children and They Will Show You the World

I like to joke that when the time comes for my son Jonah to choose a partner in life, I will know the right person for him because they will not be rushing him down the aisle. Jonah, like most children, lives very much in the moment and takes his time, soaking in every experience for all that it has to offer. He luxuriates in life. His baths are long and when he builds a train track we always grant time for cities to be created at every stop. Allowing these moments to unfold organically with my children and living according to their rhythm has exposed me to a wonder and amazement at the world and an attention to detail that our society often does not have time for. It is in these precious pauses that my children and I have experienced surprises and truly seen each other. With this in mind, I almost never utter phrases like, “we need to hurry.” Or, “we’re running out of time.” I might use the gentler, “please put on your Super Fast Superman Shoes so we can finish this task really, really quickly!” But only if there is a plane to catch or we are about to miss an event altogether. So my formerly, highly punctual self has had to acclimate to a fair amount of tardiness. Slowing my pace and committing to truly being present with my children is among the greatest gifts I have offered myself as a mother.

In the late winter Jonah and I were getting ready to go to his school where we attend a parent and toddler class one morning each week. We were running “late.” Our babysitter, Sarah, who was coming to take care of my younger son Adrian, entered our home just about the same time we needed to leave. She had accidentally taken Jonah’s winter hat (with a monkey face on it) home in her coat pocket the day before. She pulled the hat out of her pocket and proceeded to tell us how surprised she had been to find it there when she was out for a walk with her Mom the evening before. An adult might have chuckled at this story and then kept moving – especially if in a hurry. In his response to Sarah’s story, Jonah taught us something that morning and thankfully we had the presence to allow for the moment to unfold and recognize all that it was worth.

First Jonah enjoyed hearing Sarah tell the story, eyes wide with attention. He giggled and laughed when she pulled the hat out of her pocket in surprise. Then he paused, clearly reliving the story in his own mind and then he shared, “that’s funny!” Then he retold the story, complete with putting his own hand in his pocket and pulling an imaginary hat out in surprise. Next he asked Sarah some questions about the story, wondering if she was really surprised when she found the hat and again commenting on how it was a funny thing to have happened. We were standing in the doorway from our house to our garage as this moment unfolded and even after hearing the story, retelling the story and making some comments, Jonah still lingered. Then Sarah and I talked for a few minutes and we headed out to our car. I knew all the while that we would not be arriving at our class exactly when we were supposed to but I also knew the value of listening to Jonah and sharing in his interpretation of the story. I believe taking our time offered him a sense of importance for what his thoughts and feelings contribute to our family and his relationship with others. In my experience I have found that an unhurried approach to the world offers children a sense of peace and comfort. And I know that in particular, not rushing Jonah as much as possible fosters a sense of imagination and the space to develop his own thoughts – thoughts he expresses more and more each day. He has begun to share insightful observations recently, some prompting my husband and I to ask, “who taught you that?” In actuality we have discovered that they are his very own ideas.

We left for school in peace that day instead of in a frenzy. These opportunities present themselves many, many times each day as I interact with both of my children. I was recently nursing my son Adrian and at the same time he raised his arm up in the air, his tiny fingers finding my mouth over and over again. He would touch my mouth with his hand and look up at me with a twinkle in his eye. I saw that he thought it was a bit comical so the next time his fingers met my lips I surprised him by nibbling on them in jest. He began laughing hysterically and then went back to nursing. A minute later he lifted his arm up to my lips, now giggling with his eyes in anticipation. I nibbled, he laughed hysterically. We did this over and over again until he decided he was ready to move on. This is not what a lactation consultant might call a productive feeding! However, these are the moments that I cherish and (excuse the pun) milk, for all that they are worth.

Last night our family went out for a Japanese dinner. On our way out of the restaurant Jonah stopped to admire a very large Maneki Neko, which is a traditional Japanese sculpture of a cat, beckoning with an upright paw. He sat down next to it and I observed him as he petted the cat, gave it a kiss and stroked its’ whiskers. I had never been up close to a sculpture like this one and probably from a distance wouldn’t have noticed that it actually had clear but distinct whiskers. When he was clearly finished exploring the cat I picked Jonah up and chatted with him about our meal as we headed to the car. Some strands of my hair fell across my face and Jonah took them holding them up over my lip and said, “look Mama, you have whiskers too!” I took note yet again of the gems that I am continually presented with when I simply allow the space for them to appear.

What has your child introduced you to recently that you might never have noticed operating at your usual pace?

How a Single Leaf Took Me to a New Level of Letting Go

No matter how hard I try, there is so much that I cannot control. Strike that. I cannot control anything no matter how hard I try. A few months ago I came home from a doctor’s appointment in the mid-afternoon and my almost three-year-old son Jonah was cuddled up on the couch with my father who was visiting from away. My father draped his arm around my son and declared that they were two “Fat Cats.” I observed more closely that they were eating buttered (white) toast and watching Some Like it Hot, on the television, Marilyn Monroe, all steamy and kissing on Tony Curtis. Or was it Jack Lemmon? Jonah could tell you and he did in fact tell someone a few days later that he very much enjoyed watching Marilyn Bunroe with his Grandad when he had visited. All of this was potentially concerning to me because we are an almost no TV household, generally geared toward whole grains and fairly observant of naptimes. After the months I’d experienced leading up to this incident though, the kind of letting go and relinquishing control that I needed to exercise in this moment was a piece of cake. I very quickly got to the idea that my son was connecting with my father, making sweet memories, no matter how greasy my couch was getting or what ideas about kissing might be forming in my young child’s impressionable brain.

Relinquishing control when your infant son is suddenly very ill and in need of emergency surgery is another story. Normally, a 101 degree temperature and short breast-feeding hiatus would not have sent my husband Josh and me to the emergency room at 1:00 am. I was blessed with a strong intuition though, and it was this inner-knowing, more than any outward symptoms, that kept us driving south to the nearest major medical center in Portland, Maine, even as our seven month old son Adrian cooed in the back seat playing happily with his stuffed “guitar dog.” A random jingle from the toy announced his presence in the darkness every few minutes. I knew in my heart that something wasn’t right and I trusted that feeling to guide us. It took many hours and a blood test (that my husband insisted upon) announcing a white blood cell count of 30,000 for the investigation of what was going on with our sweet baby to kick into high gear. Around this time a red circle began forming around my son’s belly button. It seemed highly suspect to me and I was certain it wasn’t there previously. More than one doctor attempted to explain it away as so much poking and prodding on sensitive skin. A highly attuned nurse and a bright intern took our growing concerns about this new symptom seriously and began noting the circle’s expansion by drawing a circle around the original redness. A CT-Scan soon revealed that our son had an infected abscess in his abdomen in danger of rupture and would require immediate surgery.

Within an hour of this discovery our son was out of our arms, under general anesthetic, and in the hands of a surgeon. He was in the hands of his own little – yet powerful – life force, a force, again, that I had faith in. Even up to this point I remained very calm. When my husband talked to his parents after the surgery, I heard them ask how I was handling all of this. He replied, “cool as can be.” My sister later said to me, “I’ve been crying so much, worried about Adrian. You must have been a mess!” But I wasn’t. And it wasn’t denial or shock or stoicism. I felt fully connected to the gravity of the situation. I just didn’t feel panicked or paralyzed or distraught. I was able to release on a level I was comfortable with. I felt trusting of my instincts, of the surgeon, of my son even. I drew on my many years of spiritual study and experience. I knew release. I knew surrender. I had exercised this spiritual muscle in so many ways over many years. This is an important point. It was this level of unexpected events that I was comfortable with and that I could make my way through with seeming ease.

In the weeks that followed we found out that Adrian would need a second surgery to remove the remnant from the Urachal cyst that had wreaked such havoc on his little body. In the meantime more fluid had collected in the cyst and it was a very uncomfortable time with little sleep and much anticipation for the second surgery. We plodded along and gave thanks for each moment with our cherubic baby. His smile continued to shine despite the long nights and tummy troubles. We made it through a second surgery, second hospital stay and second separation from our older son Jonah. I exhibited further comfort with the lack of control I had in all of this. People kept telling me how strong I was. What a great attitude I had. I prayed a lot. I stared at both of my children constantly, taking in their brilliance, the way they radiated with new life. I would pick Adrian up from his crib for the hundredth time in the middle of the black night and smell his neck, kiss his cheeks over and over, giving thanks for this spirit who was limiting my sleep so much. I very clearly recognized him as a being whom I would give my life for. I talked with Jonah, this other precious child in my life, attempting to glean from him how all of this made him feel and spent as much time as I could playing with him, dancing freely and giving voice to the endless line of stuffed animals who he wanted to talk.

It wasn’t until after the dust had settled from this tumultuous time that I experienced the real pain of surrender. It turns out there was a point where I would no longer stay calm and trust. Thankfully, it happened in an almost comical way. It was a very beautiful fall day in Southern Maine. The water glistened with a warm Indian Summer sunlight. The leaves painted the landscape in gold and burgundy. There were no further surgeries scheduled and a dear friend had come to our home for a visit with her daughter. We decided to go for a walk to “Jonah’s tree” – a tree we had discovered a few years back on a neighbor’s property. It was a favorite destination and we had through the years marked Jonah’s growth with photos under this tree. Its’ draping branches created a cozy nook perfect for learning about roots and branches and such. At first Adrian was content with watching us from his stroller as we explored under the tree but soon he wanted to be included. Who could blame him? I picked him up and ducked under a large branch to bring him closer to Jonah and our friends. I was talking and enjoying the moment when all of a sudden Adrian reached up and pulled a leaf off of the tree and quickly put it in his mouth, biting off a piece with his two small teeth – all in one motion! I took the remaining leaf from his hand and rushed out from under the tree so that I might see better and hopefully remove the gnawed-off leaf from his little mouth. I was panicked at the idea of him either choking on the tiny leaf or being poisoned. Out from under the tree, in the light, I could see the bright green leaf under his darting tongue and then it was gone. I felt my body grow cold and my stomach turn upside down. I looked at my friend wide eyed and we began discussing whether or not I knew what kind of tree this was. I did not. I had often wondered and even asked a few people but had never found out. We quickly gathered the other children together and headed back to the house, my friend asking if I had a number for poison control. I don’t know whether or not I revealed this outwardly, but I fell apart inside for a moment. I could not bare the idea of my son going through anything else. What if he needed his stomach pumped? What if I had to call an ambulance? My husband was going to kill me! Just about then Adrian coughed a little. My heart stopped briefly. We picked up our pace.

Once back home, Adrian was happy as a clam but I was scouring the internet trying to discover the name of the tree. My wise friend had the wherewithal to bring a branch home with us. I sheepishly called my pediatrician, embarrassed at such lack of care for my infant who had recently undergone not one, but two, major surgeries! They referred me to poison control who assured me that Adrian was going to be fine. It turns out that there are very few poisonous plants indigenous to Maine and even if the tree were toxic, in such a small amount, it would be nearly harmless. The real risk had been choking and we had already passed that potentiality. My friend and I let out a deep sigh and managed to laugh a little at the irony that that my breaking point turned out to be a leaf. I imagined a lone leaf drifting through the air, making its’ way down and settling gracefully onto the ground.

I have reflected greatly on this experience and my eyes have truly been opened to the profound way in which we cannot control how life’s lessons will be presented to us or how our enlightenment will occur. This is not to stay that we are powerless by any means or that we do not have the opportunity to create our own realities. I believe wholeheartedly that we do. It’s just that I’ve come to know deeply that the world will speak to us according to its own wisdom. If we are lucky it will do so with humor or irony. May we ride the wave? Yes. Steer? We can try. I’ve learned that I could take my son to the best hospital and trust in the best surgeon and know that machines would be monitoring him and pray and give thanks and trust and trust and trust but I could not control his reaching spontaneously for a leaf and quickly putting it in his mouth. I will continue to try to protect my children in the very best way that I know how for as long as I can all the while knowing that they have a journey of their own to live out and I am just along for the ride.

** This is a walking meditation. Find a quiet place in nature where you can walk. Be conscious of your footsteps and observe your surrounding as if for the first time. With each step imagine your grip loosening on areas of your life that you may have been trying to control.

** Find a handful of pebbles and along your path allow these pebbles to represent ways in which you try to control what cannot be controlled. Release the fear of losing, release all of the talking and release the judgment of yourself and others.

** Commit to an afternoon of play with your little ones where you allow them to be exactly who they are. Allow them to get too dirty. Allow them to talk too loud. Witness where they take you if you let them.