Book Excerpt: Parents, are you ready for unconditional love?

 

Illustration by Kate Whitley www.littlethingsstudio.com
Illustration by Kate Whitley
http://www.littlethingsstudio.com

There are two reasons I’m finally posting an excerpt from my hopefully soon-to-be published book with the same title as this blog.

a) I haven’t been writing about parenting much lately, even though it was one of the main intentions behind starting this blog. When I asked myself why, I realized I put most of my best writing about my son and my own parenting experiences in said book. I decided it’s time to move the veil and share some of it.

2) People are naturally curious and asking me about it. A lot. I understand. In this era of instant gratification through technology, reader patience is short.

I’ve been talking about it for a bit now, and was working on it for quite a bit before that. The publishing process is slow and, truth be told, the manuscript hasn’t found a forever home just yet. So, in an effort to appease, tease and keep the energy around the book moving along that magical path to full maturity, I’ve chosen most of a later chapter to share with you below.

It tells a portion of our adoption story, but more importantly it describes the universal parental struggle to figure out what kind of parent you want to be and what unconditional love truly means. I hope you enjoy it.

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Larry sat across from me in an identical soft chair, his one-click video recorder in his hand. The bustle of businesspeople and tourists starting their sunny spring morning in Tainan City in southern Taiwan swirled around us, but we were plastered to our seats, terrified of moving too fast or too soon toward the cab ride to the nursery where our son had been waiting for us for more than ten months. If we are too eager to touch him to prove he’s real, does he blow away?

“What do you want to say?” Larry asked, holding up the camera to begin his detailed video memorializing the day.

So much, I thought. I wanted to tell him how excited I was, how long we’d waited, how many things he’d already taught us. I wanted him to know how I adored his home country and looked forward to introducing it to him. In only four days we’d seen so much of this strange yet familiar place, we began to feel at home. We navigated Taipei’s crowded Shilin Night Market holding a map hand-drawn by the young woman at the National Palace Museum jewelry counter and a list of items to buy at her favorite fried food stall, all written out in Chinese characters so anyone along our path could help if we needed it. We hung on for dear life as the rickety public bus took us to aboriginal Wulai for a hot spring soak and a trip up the mountain in the tiniest train in Asia. Only the day before, we’d spent a sunny morning at the original Confucius Temple across the street from soupy, sweet dumplings both Taiwanese and Western bloggers claim are the best in the country. We wandered into a Tainan tea shop looking to buy a proper set and were invited to an afternoon tea service by a group of elderly regulars who spoke only Taiwanese, rendering our English to Mandarin phrase book useless but reminding us kindness is a universal language. I felt so comfortable in his culture; I had to have spent some time here in another life.

Instead of all of these stories that surely would be told when he was old enough to ask, I said what I’d been saying to myself for months. “I just want to meet him.” I’d only uttered it out loud once before.

The past few months had been both the most excruciating and the most beautiful time of my life and our marriage. Waiting in a bubble of absolute lack of control, feeling a bond with a child on the other side of the world, gaining legal custody even, but not seeing or hearing anything of him for weeks. If I could have given up reality for a constant meditative state, I would have. It was the one place I knew I always could find refuge from all my expectations. My higher self, now a constant conversation companion even when I’m not in the mood for her company, reminded me many times that we don’t live to meditate with the divine. We meditate to help us live in the divine. “Thank you, higher self,” I said, giving her a sarcastic smirk…

…Larry and I were slowly realizing that we wanted to parent largely differently from how we previously believed we should. We wanted to allow our son the freedom to learn and explore his own truth in his own way and in his own time. I still didn’t know exactly what that meant, what we as parents would look like, or what choices we would make when the time came. Would we fold like a lawn chair when the shit hit the fan? I only knew our child and our family would be so different from those we understood that we would be required to throw out most of what we thought we knew.

Our trip to Henry neared and the nesting process was full of all the expected fear and excitement, but mostly curiosity. My mantra held true. Who was he? What were his preferences and quirks? How would he change the dynamic of our home? Would he get along with our beloved Pepperjack, who by all accounts was resistant to the mere suggestion of competition?

We were already in love with him. The stories and photos provided a small sense of his personality. We knew he was easily amused, easily frustrated, a showman, requiring a lot of human interaction and not afraid to speak out to get it, a good eater, small but freakishly strong. And more than once we practiced our new skills by checking in on him during meditation and sleep.

There already was a recognition of his energy, that we knew each other previously, that we were becoming a family in this lifetime to accomplish significant things. We are coming together to help keep each other in check and open up to what is to come.

“Your child is special,” I heard over and over.

“I know,” I responded.

“No, really.”

“Okay,” I said. Deep breath. “What do I do?”

Silence. For now.

When you are truly open to a new idea, a new way, but don’t yet have any vision or certainty about how to live in it, the universe eventually shows you what you crave. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. With impatience and a haunting sense of responsibility, I sat back and waited for my new teachers to appear.

My friend Sally’s daughter is a very sensitive, very gifted, very connected healer and human being. I don’t know her well; I believe I insulted her the first time we met. We were the only two energy healers participating in a promotional open house for her mother’s new company offering chair massages, healings and other kinds of group energy sessions to companies and organizations. Sally asked her daughter to lead an opening meditation for the practitioners. She was a teenager at the time and I was in my late thirties and, I’m ashamed to admit, my ego set my jaw in a familiar clench as she explained how she didn’t do what “other healers” did and mixed and matched techniques and such. Rather than seeing her youth and pure intentions, I saw a whippersnapper trying to set herself apart from the only other energy healer for the day, and doing so inaccurately. When the chair massage therapist I was sitting next to asked me what I do, I said, perhaps a little too loudly, “I don’t rely upon only one technique either.” She avoided me the rest of the day, but as I caught glimpses of her work in the area next to mine, I knew she was a bright light to be reckoned with. I knew Sally understood what it’s like to be responsible for such a human being.

After a healing trade beside her warm suburban pool, Sally gave me the simplest and truest parenting advice I’ve ever received. I was bemoaning my self awareness that I truly have no idea what I’m doing, especially since we have no idea what kind of development issues Henry might have or how he might be behind when it comes to walking and talking, and neither the parenting classes we took at the adoption agency nor the books we’ve been reading really address that too well. Plus, there’s the whole bonding thing that we hoped wouldn’t be too difficult.

When I stopped, she said, “The only thing you really have to do is love him unconditionally. The rest will come in time.”

Unconditional love? That’s all? Then what were all these parenting classes for? I got this, I thought, and relaxed into my post-session glass of water and glints of sunshine reflecting off the pool.

By the weekend, I was already questioning myself and checking this new information against all I’d learned. Quantum parenting. Clairvoyant motherhood. Nature Mama. These are fantastic aspirations, but what do these grand designs mean when your child takes his first steps or vomits into his fruit bowl? If the universe we’ve created is a meticulous illusion created by us to allow for growth, then the small moments have to mean as much as the broad philosophies. If our reality is just a reflection of our own energy and beliefs, then with every interaction we potentially impose our version of reality onto our children about everything from food to sexuality. Our beliefs about others, but also our beliefs about ourselves. How we treat others, but also how we treat ourselves. Ultimately, how we love ourselves. These things determine how we treat our children. Somewhere at the end of this internal tirade I recognized the bare truth: I am only able to love my child as well as I love myself.

“Do you love yourself unconditionally?” I heard.

I considered it, but I already knew the answer. “I have happiness, peace, love and gratitude,” I said. “I’ve healed so much, forgiven so much. I know my intentions are good. Does that count?”

“Sure,” she said. “But it doesn’t answer the question.”

Unconditional love. I’ve felt it. I feel it every day from my husband. I knew it was possible. I’d had glimpses of it, moments of perfection and absolute knowingness. I’ve walked on the clouds, crawled in the dirt, swam through the seas and sped to the stars. I’ve felt as small as a molecule and as large as the universe at the same time. I’ve sat in meditation and suddenly lost all feeling and sense of the chair beneath my body or the walls and ceilings around me. I’ve experienced both the bright light of all and the peace of endless space. I know beings who exist in a realm beyond my human comprehension but are with me the moment I need them. I am part of a collective consciousness that emanates from a source of love that knows no bounds. I have felt the reasons why, and they have nothing to do with who I am or how I live and everything to do with the fact that I am. You are. And therefore we both are worthy of love.

These are lovely words and magnificent experiences. But when my higher self asked if I loved even my big butt, tendency to come across as a know-it-all and non-producing ovaries, I couldn’t say yes.

I know unconditional love. Yet, I still believed this universal truth, creator, source energy, Spirit, whatever God is and whatever love these things may offer comes only from without. I sadly confessed that I believed there were times when I deserved more of its love than others.

The tears came then as oceans of memories and regrets. Reasons I remained unworthy. False humility masking internal self-flagellation as I held lifetimes of misdeeds in my heart like Scarlet As, reviewing flashes of them like a horror movie, refusing to take them off for fear of repeating.

The greatest knowing can arrive in less than a moment, and not less than a moment before you’re ready to receive it. In a flicker, the tirade ended, the movie stopped, my brain was quiet, and I knew the only karma we keep or feel the desire to resolve is the karma we believe still exists. At the point it no longer serves you, you must let it go. I knew as well as I knew anything that those I’d wronged have long since forgiven me and now are too busy spending lifetimes resolving their own misdeeds to worry about mine. Even if they haven’t, it wasn’t their forgiveness that was the key to my salvation. It was time for me to forgive myself.

And so it was. Just like that. Well, first there were multiple lifetimes of growth and recent mountains of self-discovery and healing. Then there was forgiveness. And then unconditional love.

I could see straight through to the answer to my questions. I saw that it’s not a matter of whether I love myself. I am love. It’s not a matter of finding God or even determining whether God exists. I am whatever I believe God to be or not be. I don’t need to go somewhere to find the light. The light shines from within. How do I know? Because I am. How do I know Henry, no matter how he comes to us, is a piece of perfection right here on Earth? Because he is.

Larry and I clutched hands the entire cab ride to the nursery, and not only because driving in Tainan is like navigating a congested demolition derby track. I still had no idea what I was doing or what kind of mother I would be, but I felt more comfortable with the uncertainty of so much as long as I had the certainty of what mattered. Somehow I knew that Henry would tell me how to be his mother, if I only loved him.

We sat in the receiving room for two hours before Henry arrived. He was sick with bronchitis, drowsy from medicine and thoroughly confused about who these two nervous, smiling white people were. When the nurse put him in my arms a wave of pure love and compassion washed over us all. Nothing else mattered. He was my son, and he was absolutely perfect. I was glad to finally meet him. I wondered what he would teach me first.

om

 

Comments and conversation are always welcome below. To sign up for updates on the availability of Laugh at the Sky, Kid, go to www.laughattheskykid.com. Thanks for reading!

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Why losing your work is the best thing that could possibly happen

oh-noThe world is crashing. First United Airlines, now the New York Stock Exchange. My mind fills with conspiracy theories, but I truly have empathy for anyone feeling the pinch of these hacks…er, system glitches. In honor of the day’s excitement, I’m re-posting an earlier blog proclaiming the virtues of a clean slate and a fresh start. Whether it be created by an evil virus or simply a symptom of poor planning, it’s an opportunity to (re)create something great.

Seize it! And happy writing.

————–

My friend Rita recently posted a social media rant. It was peaceful and polite, but still a rant. She’d just spent hours on a beautiful short story, her computer did something-or-other and all of her work disappeared into the virtual equivalent of that place where all lost socks go.

She was understandably devastated, angry, frustrated and cursing her faulty auto-save feature and back-up gods. It was the first story in a collection she’s working on after being away from writing for some time focusing on her photography business (click here to go to Knots and Tots Photography) and other pursuits. She was proud of what I’m sure was a connected, creative and beautifully written piece. She was proud she’d finished it at all. Now she has nothing concrete to show for that time.

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, head to rebeccagifford.com or send her a note at giffordrebecca@gmail.com.

It’s terrible. Heartbreaking. I’m sorry it happened to her. It’s happened to many of us at some point, and to me several times, including to an entire chapter of my most recent book. It is a loss and I have empathy.

But losing her work was probably the best thing that could have happened to Rita in that moment. It’s a lesson I share with my writing coaching clients, but often it doesn’t sink in until something like this happens.

All art, even very personal art, is only temporary. Writing is just energy. It’s frequency, intention, ideas and emotion made manifest into conscious form through words. It can and will be reimagined, reformed, recreated and reborn infinitely. It will be absorbed, perceived and reacted to (or not) differently by everyone who experiences it – often not just a little differently, but vastly differently. Once the reader absorbs it, it becomes something else. This lovely, thoughtful, creative, edited, downloaded, uploaded and intimate labor of love…it shifts, melds with the reader’s energy and essentially disappears the moment it’s been shared.

Not to worry, what you create is yours for a time. It’s connected to you, even a part of you. Most of the time it’s extremely personal. That’s why it’s so hard to watch it go earlier than you intended because you forgot to set up your iCloud backup. Once it’s released out into the world, it’s no longer yours anyway. It becomes something universal and collective. It’s a wisp, a wave, a series of codes.

There are three important lessons the universe reminds me of every time I lose my writing:

  1. There are no coincidences. If you lose a piece, even a brilliant one, there is a reason. It wasn’t meant to exist in this form. Perhaps it was a sacrifice so you could learn the universal truth that everything is always changing. Perhaps your ego or identity was too connected to it. Perhaps expectations about publication, reaction or success were too present in its creation. Whatever the reason, somehow the universe knew that it would have a greater impact if it went away and your perception was forced to shift. So it did.
  2. If you can let it go, what you create next will be even better. Every time – I mean every time – the next version of the work I lost was better than the first. And often not just a little better. Usually it’s a lot better. With time and space to germinate and reimagine its creation, you have an opportunity to tell a better story. With no ties to the previous structure or word choices, you have the freedom to explore a different path. With a sense of urgency to make up for the lost time, you are more inclined to write economically and make more thoughtful choices. As you revisit the same content again, your comfort level with it is greater. In its second draft, as with all second drafts, it becomes something more. Only this time you have the opportunity to work from a clean slate, and the result is always much better than the first.
  3. Writing well requires unconditional love. You need to love and embrace what you’re doing, every part of it, including the blocks, the doubt, the fear, the rejection. Even what Anne Lamott refers to as “shitty first drafts,” the computer glitches, the time you’re stuck in a meeting or in traffic while the fantastic idea or story you just wrote in your head floats away. These are all critical parts of the process and, as #1 clarifies, it’s all meant to happen on the path to the work you can’t wait to share with the world.  More importantly, writers need to have unconditional love for themselves as they experience all of this. Great writing is truly a labor of love and more. In this day and age there isn’t a lot of material or professional gratification to be found at the end of the Road of Persistence. The path is absolutely worth it – for the promise of great work, storytelling, connection, growth, self-expression, fun, contribution to the greater good, reaching the people who need to hear what you have to say, and the potential of at least enough abundance to continue your work. But it isn’t easy, you will make “mistakes,” and you won’t always handle them well. It’s okay. All the more reason to love yourself, forgive yourself, believe in what you’re doing and move forward.

So, Rita, please keep writing. Make sure you save early and often and have a computer back-up plan in place, but keep doing it. Because of this temporary setback, you will be a better, stronger writer and ultimately more people will benefit from your stories and perspective. I promise. Whatever you wrote once the fury subsided likely was fantastic. I can’t wait to read it.

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, head to rebeccagifford.com. For more info on her upcoming memoir Laugh at the Sky, Kid, go to laughattheskykid.com.