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.