Friday, November 8, 2013

Learning as I go ...

"Gardens, like children, are forgiving; gardens grow. Love, even clumsy and unrefined, cultivates. Time, unhurried, is never wasted."

I often tell my yoga students that the best way to understand a posture, especially the balancing poses, is through the struggle to attain them.  Attempting to balance on one leg, the act of falling out of balance teaches us what is missing and the process of returning again and again to the pose reinforces where our center is and what constitutes balance in our own body.  

So after the struggles of the previous few weeks, I am reminded once again that parenting isn't so much about getting it right, avoiding struggles or conflicts, but climbing back into the  arena with an open heart, fully present, open to new possibilities, and willing to risk falling down in order to learn how to stand up.

I find it curious I received several emails and private messages in response to my post on my mothering struggles.  I think so many of us hold this unexamined belief that others have a handle on this gig called parenting, whereas we somehow missed the class and are woefully ill equipped and in over our heads. But examined in the light of day and the light of reality and reasonableness, I recognize the absurdity of those assumptions.  Still, I know I am driven by irrational fear of exposure as a sham, as incompetent, a bad parent and that fear can silence me. Bravery is speaking my truth and listening yours; sharing our truths (the nitty gritty and the triumphant) is the means of liberation, hope and inspiration.

I am grateful for writers like Anne Lamott and Karen Maezen Miller who share with their readers their crooked journeys, missteps and misadventures if only to remind us we all are learning as we go.  And that's okay.  Maybe it is the best way, for then I am eternally responding to what is before me, rather than reacting to how I believe things ought to be, or how they were yesterday, last week, last year.  Because if there is one magically frustrating and inspiring thing I've experienced parenting my daughter, it is that she is always growing, changing, shifting, becoming.

Days after our family meltdown, I read this post which bumped me back on track.  As much as I want to make the journey easy for my girl, clearing out obstacles, bubble-wrapping the sharp edges, imparting to her the insights I've gain through heartache and suffering, that is not my role.  

"In hindsight, it seems to me that she has been waiting for me to stop imparting to her. To stop imposing on her, to stop judging, coercing, undermining, and second-guessing her, as if she were the proof of my able foresight and good intentions." (Karen Maezen Miller) 

This past week I've been subbing as a teacher's aide in the preschool class at Cowgirl's school.  I am learning so much from the teacher and the other aides who clearly love what they do and care deeply for each child and work hard to coax out his or her potential.  It has been reassuring for me to know Cowgirl is in this environment. (I know, not all teachers are equal, but we have been blessed by some truly saint-like in patience and enthusiasm teachers and I want to give a shout out for all those teachers - especially the ones in public schools - who do show up passionate and caring.  Because, my goddess, after a couple of days I am emptied and drained!)  Watching these teachers respond to the meltdowns was instructive.  They never coddled, never brushed away the incident.  What they did do was support the child to understand their accomplishments that day, to guide them to stretch a bit further in order to expand their abilities.  Taking small hands and redirecting them ... holding the scissors so they smile at you, guide the paper with the other hand  ... keep going ... look!  Look at what you just did!

Rushing in from my lunch break, I passed through the lunch room just as Cowgirl's lunch period begins.  She was sitting at the table, head down, face hidden.  My heart sank as a recognized the body language of "something's wrong."  I rushed over to her and sat down. Leaning my head in, I tried to coax from her what had happened.  Big, hot tears rolled down her cheeks.  She wouldn't answer me and she wouldn't take my comfort.  Finally, one of the lunchroom teachers noticed the distress and came over.  I reminded Cowgirl that in order for her to find a solution, she had to tell us what was wrong.  The teacher then stepped in and I realize this was my cue to step away.  For what mattered here was not my smoothing things out, but for her to know support is out there and waiting for her.  She just has to speak up and ask and by doing so, will discover she is the agent of her own solutions.

It is the most difficult Zen practice to leave people to their destiny, even though it's painful - just loving them, and breathing with them, and distracting them in a sweet way, and laughing with them . . . if something was not my problem, I probably did not have the solution.” (Anne Lamott, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son)

I was witness to several situation where the teacher had supported the child in finding his or her strength, sense of power and possibility after a meltdown only to have the parent swoop in and undo that lesson.  It was a good reminder for me that as hard as it is to watch my girl suffer, fixing things for her is no solution.  She must find and craft her own tools, her own way and the most I can do is to hold the space for her to make her way. As my wise to-go mama friend recently counseled, perhaps we need to let them experience failing. Then she can discover her way back to her center, to her place of balance and strength. My role is not to stop the falling, but to cheer her on from the sidelines, reminding her that I believe in her ability to find her way.  And that I am finding my own way, learning by her side.

"I think the single best line of advice I ever heard on being a parent, a writer, a seeker, an anything, is something the great E. L. Doctorow said years and years ago, that writing is like driving at night with the headlights on: you can only see a little ways in front of you but you can make the whole journey this way. This may not be verbatim, but for me it has rung true in every area of my life." Anne Lamott


  1. wow
    beautiful post
    so much truth in this
    and it is hard to let go
    but we must
    there is no other way
    in a society based on fear
    it is a tall order
    but one we must do for our children....

    you have given me mush to think about Lisa
    and implement into my own parenting....
    I have managed to stumble through raising one child...I am now left with one
    and still learning : )

    love and light

  2. This is a great post. I realize it may not apply here, but perhaps it will later. I do not have children, but have many friends who are mothering little ones. I see that challenges and I see the joys. However, one thing that seems clear is that many women worry too much about how they are doing...some are concerned that the blow-ups and melt-downs where mom didn't handle it perfectly are going to be remembered. They may be, but it doesn't matter. I do not know any adults who do not think their moms are a little nuts. There is nothing you can do. You can be the most perfect mother in the world and someday your daughter will confide in a friend that she always thought her mom was a bit of a nut. I love my mom, my mom did good things and not so good things, but she sure dropped the mother ball on some things that mattered to me. My best friend remembers her mother truly acting crazy out of frustration over new messes in a just cleaned room. She and her sister believed their mom was, in her words, "on the crazy train" and feared her early school morning rages. Yet, as an adult she gets it...and the most important part...her mother doesn't deny it or make light of their, "oh so traumatic childhood" the way some parents do when their adult children remember aloud at the Thanksgiving table and the parents act like the kids are exaggerating. The trick is to be honest and let your kids see the real you. Never act like you can't fail, because even if you will one day stare down the face of your teenager and realize that you just handed over more money than you can afford to because you feel disconnected and the idea that "THE" prom dress of all prom dresses might make her happy for a few hours and you'll be in her good favor matters. It doesn't..the next week she'll think she hates you and when she's 24 she'll mention that she's not going to do it the way YOU did and that's that. Yet, all that matters is that you pour in the love, you are honest about the frustration, you never pretend to have all the answers and you do your best. This is how you raise a girl who later, reflects on the life of her mother and remembers her as real. I hope this makes sense.

  3. Love this post, love the quotes from some of my own favourite writers. Parenting is such a course in miracles!