1. Observe your child. Find yourself directly in the moment with them and experience them more clearly now. Look deeply into their eyes and experience the color fully. Now stay there a while allowing yourself to dive deeply down into their soul through the window of their eyes. Notice their expression when they look more deeply back at you discovering your depth as well. Don’t say a word.
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.
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?