Nothing makes me smile wider than when I hear a perspective or idea I once offered to someone — a friend, a family member, a reader, a client, a child — offered back to me with both confidence and no recognition of where or when they first considered it. The moment the pilot light ignited is a clear and happy memory for me. For them, the energy of it is so internalized that they only know it to be true. The moment they learned it or, perhaps more accurately, recognized it is long forgotten.
I hope those who first introduced certain truths to me, the many teachers whose offerings I don’t recall, also smile when they see things I now know in the space in the center of my head, in the movement of my cells, in the pulsing of my heart. The things I’d forgotten or rejected until I watched them lived with conviction or heard them said using the words I could hear in the right moment with the right amount of clarity.
They are mine now because they were once given freely and with love. They are yours because you are open to seeing and, like me, hungry for truth.
The cycle continues as long as one being is willing to share with another.
It’s in vogue these days to be critical of most people’s frequent use of and strong reliance on smart phones. Even in the broadest sense, it’s a hot topic. The careful balance of power between modern technology/science, human interaction and intention, and traditional (even ancient) beliefs in our modern society comes up more and more frequently in the media and among those in my circle.
The Huffington Post recently published a column by Hector L. Carral that went viral, called Stop Saying Technology Is Causing Social Isolation. I posted it on Facebook along with my story below and asked for comments. As expected, people had things to say. So, I’m posting the link to the article here, and after that you can read my little personal story below if you like. Please feel free to comment or send me your thoughts. Happy typing!
A few years ago, after just moving to Seattle, I took my then-two-year-old son to the beach for some fresh air and a break from the temporary housing. While there, I received an important and potentially volatile email from a client requiring an immediate response. I sat in the sand, typing on my device periodically while also responding to my son when he needed me, as I crafted my reply.
A fellow toddler, his mother and his grandmother wandered over and started playing with Henry. I politely said hello and returned to my task. They played with him for a while and I took little breaks to interact a bit and make sure my son was okay. But really I just wanted a minute to finish my email so I could focus on him. They stayed for a little, completely distracted by the fact that I was typing away, then walked away in a huff, judging me in full voice for finding “texting with my friends more important than playing with my son” and other ways my rudeness illustrated the technology-driven downfall of humanity. Once they left I was able to finish the email quickly and then focus entirely on H for another hour or two of peaceful midday beach play time.
Modern technology offered me the opportunity to diffuse a touchy professional situation (immediately) for a few minutes while sitting in the sand with my son on a lovely day. Once done, I was free to fully engage for as long as I wanted and needed to. It helped both my son and me have a more pleasant day and I accomplished two critical things at the same time. Without knowing the full context of what was going on (since I didn’t want to take the time to divulge it to strangers) the people around me assumed I was being a selfish slave to my phone.
It’s all about perspective and intention. We use the tools and technology we have to accomplish what is important to us–now much more quickly and conveniently than we used to. It’s up to us to decide what we do with that power.
Thoughts? And before you come to my defense saying these people were just judgmental thingamobobs, etc., know they are not alone in their attitude. Society is already judging me, you or anyone they deem too attached to their technology. It’s not about my little story. My son and I are fine. It’s about the larger themes it illustrates. Thanks for reading!
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.
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.
“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.
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!
Each father is as different as their own story and the children they’ve chosen to have in their life. I know some fantastic ones, including the one I share my life and parenting privileges with. In honor of Father’s Day, I’m offering the reasons these fathers are so great.
You are strong. You look your children and the world in the eyes whether you are standing in the center of your talents or on the edges of your vulnerabilities.
You are serious, but not for too long. Your natural silliness will not be contained. You’ve learned laughing with your children is not only loads of fun, but an elixir for you and for humanity.
You are boundlessly supportive. You sincerely wish your children a joyful life lived true to who they are, full of purpose and passion, even if it takes them on an unfamiliar path leading away from you.
You know love. You allow yourself to feel it, receive it and share it with your children in every moment of your time together, and even when you are apart.
You notice. You see when they are in pain. You help when you are needed. You smile when they’ve learned something new all on their own or they do something clever or kind when they don’t know you’re looking.
You play. You go all in, every time, even when you’re exhausted, even when you’ve been playing the same game for two hours and the minute you start to walk away your child asks yet again, “Daddy, will you play with me?” You show them how to commit to a storyline and stick with a Lego project even when it’s tougher than usual. You are a playing machine, because you know that’s how they learn and grow.
You share. When you were a boy, you probably fought your siblings or friends for food, toys, control of the TV and attention. You learned to give up the fight when it was futile and to share because kindness was easier and made everyone happy, including you. Therefore, it is perfectly okay when you make a snack for yourself and your child climbs onto your lap and asks, “What are we having?” It just makes sense that people are drawn to their magnificent light before they notice you. It feels natural to share your highest quality time with them. And when they love Peppa Pig but not Top Chef, you snort with Peppa together.
You refuse the recognition. It bothers you when people, society and the media celebrate you and other fathers for changing diapers, for doing half the cooking, for taking off work to go to parent-teacher conferences, for learning the dance routine, for knowing where the band-aids and the fabric softener are, for smiling and laughing and being present with your children…for being a parent. “That’s the job,” you say. “And it’s a pretty cool one. Hold your applause.”
You are sensitive. You cry with them. You hear what they’re saying even when they’re not talking. You empathize with their childhood dramas and angst. You listen without judgment and support without fixing. You empower them to find their own solutions and open your heart so they know you’re in this thing together as long as they need you to be.
You aren’t perfect, and that’s okay. You will do and say things as a father that you’ll regret. Take a deep breath. Give your child a hug and tell them you love and accept them exactly as they are. Then do the same for yourself.
It’s in your eccentricities, foibles and gifts that the father you’re meant to be, the one tailor-made for your child, is found. It is in your most challenging moments that your children will learn how to face them, learn from them, let go of the past, move forward and love themselves unconditionally. This is when they discover that manhood isn’t all about control, power or being stoic and sturdy no matter what. There are lessons and strengths found in allowing yourself to be vulnerable in front of them, in forgiving yourself for your imperfections, in showing your true self all the time and being gentle with yourself—and with them—through difficult growth periods. Please, never forget that.
Thank you and happy Father’s Day to all you magnificent fathers. Feel free to share this with the great fathers and father figures in your life.
Control. It’s a supremely human response perfectly suited to our seemingly chaotic world. I have compassion for the many souls, including myself, who feel a strong desire to clutch at it in times of change – those “growth periods” that tumble our realities until we don’t recognize them. We each deal with uncertainty in our own way. It’s not unusual to find me scrubbing the bathtub or mopping the kitchen while waiting for an important phone call.
On some days, my son could easily feel the scratches from my grasps. On some days, it takes a hundred deep breaths not to string him up like a puppet and force him to act and be exactly as I would like. Or, at minimum, shower him with loud NOs and ultimatums until he bends to my will when he displays behavior I don’t like or understand. I guess I could. It’s always in my power. I am his parent. But I don’t. And hopefully I never will.
This is a difficult parenting style for many to understand. Even me sometimes. There is a fast growing number of parents like my husband and me exploring this way of being as a family, as well as organizations and information that support it. (Clicking here or Google-ing ‘peaceful parenting’ and ‘unschooling’ will give you a taste.) I happen to know several parents who embrace these ideas even more fully than I do, and I’m inspired continuously by them. Despite my description of the tougher days above, our home is relatively peaceful and happy because we’ve chosen to parent peacefully. That said, I don’t deny it can be difficult. As a way of maintaining my own enthusiasm, I’m offering some reminders below. I thought you might want to peak over my shoulder.
Being calm and patient is not easy for most kids, especially young kids, and it’s not synonymous with “well-behaved.” Outside of the first and last 30 minutes of every day, my five-year-old son rarely sits quietly for longer than five minutes at a time unless he’s strapped in a car seat. That includes story time, family game time and meals, especially if we’re at a restaurant. How can he possibly ignore all the new stimuli and people to pay attention to him? And why would we want him to?
New stimuli, new people, new discoveries, adventures, experiences, lessons, play, challenge, failure, success, creative expression, broken hearts and the rare broken bone. That’s why he’s here. That’s how we learn. The fact that his curiosity and high-energy disposition don’t lend themselves to quietly coloring for hours is not his fault. As long as he’s not doing any harm to himself or anyone else, we support his exploration and wild expressions. Even when it’s inconvenient or messy. Even when it’s annoying as hell or downright embarrassing. Even when it pushes the boundaries of acceptable child behavior or makes guests uncomfortable.
Clearly, not everyone agrees with our choice, and it’s not just the lady glaring at us in the cheese aisle at Trader Joe’s. (Reminder to self: It doesn’t matter.)
A recent Psychology Today article (click here to read for yourself) about how France responds to ADHD asserted that fewer French children are diagnosed with and prescribed drugs for it partly because of greater awareness of environmental factors that affect behavior like nutrition and underlying emotional issues. My child does not have ADHD, but it’s an issue I follow with care. I involuntarily nodded my head while reading this until I got to the line that asserted the vastly divergent parenting philosophies between the U.S. and France could be why “French children are generally better-behaved than their American counterparts.” The author goes on to say that it is likely French children behave this way because of their parents’ strict structure, rigid limits, clear family hierarchy and low tolerance for emotional outbursts. In the last few lines she criticizes American families for too often allowing children to control their household, often by crying. Thank you, dear author, for a perfect segue into my next reminder…
Our child benefits by having choices and a reasonable amount of control over his own life. Control and authority are not powers I take lightly when it comes to parenting. They aren’t currency that is earned, given up or given away, and they aren’t worth fighting over continuously simply to appease any desire to quash challenges to said authority, my own ego or external expectations. My son is, above all things, a human being. He is an equal member of the family. He deserves to be just as empowered in his own life as any other human being. Lessons are more impactful when he learns the consequences of his behavior not just from those I impose on him, but also from his own experience. It may be difficult for those supporting a more traditional parenting style to see from the outside, but giving him a measure of freedom and a say in our household is not the same as handing over control. Listening and addressing the source of the behavior instead of imposing more rules or punishing him for every misstep is not giving him the keys to the kingdom.
My authority comes from feeling confident and comfortable enough to allow him some power over his body, time and choices. My empowerment comes from knowing he feels empowered and offers me the respect I’ve also offered him. Our home is more peaceful because we’ve chosen to parent peacefully.
We need to remind ourselves every once in a while why we do what we do. Parenting choices are as complicated and varied as humanity – much more complicated than the relatively simple declarations I’ve offered here. There’s always more to say. But for now I just needed to give myself a strong reminder and a good talking to. In those difficult moments, when my son won’t stop stabbing his fork into the dining room table, when he’s decided to scream everything he says for a day, when I feel my clawed hand begin grappling for relief through totalitarian control, I will read this again.
I will remind myself why we’ve made the choices we have and why we’re worthy of them. I will remember our children are shining lights full of eccentric beauty, wisdom and love. They deserve the freedom to soar.
Want to know when and where you can get Rebecca’s upcoming book? Sign up for updates at www.laughattheskykid.com. Thanks for reading!
In this first week of 2015, as we anticipate the next 12 months and all they may offer, I wish you a year filled with growth, joy and whatever it is you would like it to be filled with. But in case you prefer more specific blessings…
May you always have privacy in the bathroom. (Parent shout-out.)
May your children always be as sweet to you and others as they are right before they drift off and right after they wake up.
May you and your whole family sleep an uninterrupted 8-12 hours every night, including on Sunday nights, and not feel guilty or like you should be doing something else when you do.
May your meals taste rich and decadent but actually contain the exact amount of calories required to chew them.
May you learn to love exercising and find a physical activity that holds your interest enough that you do it frequently throughout the year.
May you have nights (or days) out with your most special someone often enough that you are comfortable going to a movie in yoga pants, hiking until you’re covered in desert dust, or eating buffalo wings and playing trivia.
May you have many wonderful, trustworthy caregivers who are always available so you know your children are happy and well cared for when you do.
May you find that thing you lost two years ago but could never figure out where it went, and it’s not damaged at all.
Beside it, may you find a $50 bill…that you don’t need because you already have all the abundance you require.
May you discover some thing, some place, some idea or someone that is entirely new and makes you see things differently.
May you be truly and delightfully surprised at least once.
May you find new energy and enthusiasm for what you do every day. If you don’t, may you easily and quickly find something that brings new energy and enthusiasm to your life and purpose to your soul.
May you feel the ocean-deep and cosmos-wide support of a strong universal community—affectionate friends filled with laughter, family filled with unconditional acceptance, cities filled with friendly neighbors, countries filled with helpful citizens, planets filled with open hearts and open minds, and everlasting love from all.
May you have at least one moment when you know to your core you are a vital part of an intricately intertwined and unfathomably beautiful matrix of souls and lives that offers a reason for everything and only has the greatest good of all at heart. May you therefore be filled with peace, awe, clarity and empowerment. May that carry you through your darkest days.
May you always feel heard.
May you always feel understood.
May you always feel safe.
May you always feel honored and respected.
May you always know you are deeply loved—by those nearby, but also by the power/source/being/God/universe/Spirit/light that exists within and all around you. May you know true love of self, and know you are worthy of it.
Above all, may you regularly lift your face to the sky and laugh with pleasure just to be alive.
Many blessings to you and yours. Bring it on, 2015.
Want to know when and where you can get Rebecca’s upcoming book? Sign up for updates at www.laughattheskykid.com. Thanks for reading!
Our family woke up this morning talking about death and taxes. It sounds depressing and stressful, and I’m not going to lie and tell you our exploration was all purple pansies and smiley faces. But it wasn’t sad.
My husband Larry and I had been up a few minutes talking about some financial planning we needed to do for next year. We both are self-employed and have to plan ahead a bit when it comes to reporting and paying taxes, and we were thinking ahead to adjustments we needed to make to prepare for 2015. Scintillating morning bed conversation, I know, but it was sweet and intimate in its own way—filled with hope and excitement for what’s to come and shared responsibilities for helping it happen in the most graceful and connected way possible. But as we continue this relatively new exploration into being completely self-employed, talking about money is never without some level of pressure.
Soon our sleepy-eyed five-year-old son Henry climbed onto our warm, messy bed and we happily suspended our discussion. As Henry gave us both morning “boops,” or bumped noses as the rest of the world would call it, Larry asked him how he slept and what he dreamt about.
“I died,” he said. “So did you and you. In water. Ahhhhh!” He mimicked the sounds of a person drowning, though I know he’s never seen that on television or in a movie.
Larry and I smiled to each other. I know this sounds extreme and scary, but this wasn’t the first time he’s told us of vivid dreams and memories of some sort of death. Often he remembers us, or at least a mother and father, being there too. He rarely feels afraid after experiencing them—more a neutral memory than a premonition—and he always describes them very matter-of-factly.
“What happened after you died?” Larry asked. “Did you go somewhere?”
Death has been more present for our family lately, as it has been for so many of us. Only a few weeks ago, Larry attended the funeral of a good friend who was diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier in the year. She was only a year older than us. The funeral was a meaningful celebration of her life, as well as an opportunity to check in on our priorities, experience the universal cycle of life in a profound way, and reconnect with some good friends who had drifted.
Henry contemplated Larry’s question quietly, like there was something he was considering saying but couldn’t find the words. “I don’t know. Don’t ‘member. I’m hungry.”
Henry ate his breakfast quietly at his favorite spot along the kitchen counter while Larry and I continued our financial planning conversation. We talked of tasks to be done before the end of the year and new and potential client work. We both admitted we were worrying about it all a little more than was helpful.
Twenty minutes later, I was still in get-it-done mode.
“Wash your face, please. Shoes. Jacket. Backpack. Time to go to school,” I said as we finished our 14th car race along the step to the dining room. I made a quick note to myself about starting the computer with our account records on it as soon as I got home, and we walked out into the wind and rain.
“Mommy’s car! Mommy’s car!” Henry said excitedly. It is the much older car of our two and we usually don’t drive it unless we have to, but there was no reason not to, so we got in.
“Mommy, Bubbles!” Permanently inserted into this car’s CD player is the first disk of the What Color is Your Bubble? series for kids. His friend Alison talks him through some simple energetic and meditative exercises. We hadn’t listened in weeks. I turned it on and Alison began the second exercise all about setting and changing your grounding cord.
We pulled up to the stop sign at the end of our street, lists of numbers dancing in my head, as Alison asked, “What does your grounding cord look like today?” I chose not to look, instead imagining the spreadsheet I had in mind. Then I heard a voice from the back seat.
“What’s your soul doing?”
I turned Alison down, not sure I’d heard correctly, and I looked at Henry in the mirror as he asked it again the exact same way. He looked directly at my reflection with clear, calm eyes.
“What do you mean, Sweetie? You want to know what my soul is doing?”
It was a simple question. A profound one. One I have an answer for. An answer I’ve heard over and over and know to my core and beyond. As I thought of what words to say, a calm came over me. In an instant I was in my body, connected, confident, clear. The top of my head tingled and suddenly the driver’s seat of the “old car” was the most comfortable place in the world. All thoughts of money were gone.
The answer that quickly and easily popped into my head and heart also was the simplest and most accurate. “Henry, I believe my soul is in this body right now so I can learn what I’m supposed to learn.”
He was silent at first, but his gaze never wavered and his ears and heart were wide open. Then he started to talk and explore the notion in his own way. As we continued the conversation over the next couple of minutes, concepts and energies flowed between us like an easy stream of water. Love, peace, growth, clairvoyance, healing, sharing, family. Most of it never made it into words, but we did talk about how we all chose to be together in this lifetime. He spoke quietly about how when he was a baby he wasn’t in our family yet, but then he was.
“How do you feel about that, Henry?”
And then it was done. Less than three minutes from start to finish.
It didn’t take an hour of meditation and energetic cleaning. It didn’t require any practice or body position and wasn’t specific to any belief system. It didn’t even take the whole second track on the CD.
With one question asked by my greatest teacher, together we refocused, shifted perspectives and got to where we needed to be for the day: What’s the big picture? What’s the “why” behind what you’re doing right now? Behind it all? Why are you worrying about these practical things when the greater good, the longer path, the lessons, the love is all that really matters?
Perhaps Henry had tried to get us there first thing in the morning as he remembered his dreams and previous lessons. Death and the afterlife are bigger than taxes, despite their mutual inevitability. But today the cycle-of-life, universal-plan reminders that came with our friend’s funeral weren’t enough to bring us home. Given a second chance, Henry intuitively knew what to do. It was so simple. So clean and perfect. And it worked.
By the way, Henry wanted me to ask you something.
What’s your soul doing?
To find out more about Rebecca’s writing and coaching services, go to rebeccagifford.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My world is filled with all kinds of parents. Not one of us is perfect, nor would claim to be. But all of us know great love.
I am lucky enough to have brilliant models — both fellow parents and trusted caregivers. Some have been in my life for always and some I’ve known less than a week. None is like another, but they all have wonderful qualities to watch and emulate: boundless loyalty to their children’s happiness and best interests, respect, trust, open-mindedness, creativity, presence, an easy and natural way of moving through the day with their children, love and laughter even in the face of adversity, endless energy for play and talking and storytelling and discovering, unconditional support for their children’s eccentricities and unique qualities, and lots and lots of patience.
Even the most even-tempered caregivers struggle daily to maintain at least some of these qualities, but the desire to keep struggling and growing is what makes them real and wonderful. I love all my teachers. They share such unique gifts with our family. But as I embrace all these remarkable souls, one in particular keeps showing up.
During National Adoption Month, I’d like to honor Henry’s birth mother.
Her time in Henry’s life was very brief. Depending on Henry’s choices later in life, she may or may not ever be in it again, but I always will consider her a strong example for me, Henry and us all — for her great compassion to create and nurture such an extraordinary being in her womb, great courage as she struggled with impossible choices, and great strength as she relinquished her parental rights to my husband and me.
Now four and a half years later, I continue to feel her love and supportive energy as it travels over the mountains of Taiwan, across the blue water and lands gently next to our family as we giggle at the dinner table, sing in the car or dance with the pelicans on Moonstone Beach. She makes sure we know she is happy for us and still loves her son. I smile and send love and gratitude back to her, over the oceans and mountains, to wherever she now calls home. I make sure she knows our families are bound forever.
She holds a special seat in my circle of trusted parents, caregivers and guides.
Our children are human barometers. They walk into a room and use their razor sharp intuition and sensitive natures to determine immediately the energy in a room. They quickly sense people or situations near and far that don’t match them in any given moment and don’t hesitate to remove themselves forcibly — and in Henry’s case, with a genuine but definite “Bye!” — if you aren’t doing it for them. They see and feel more clearly, having not collected the energetic baggage and programmed preconceptions most teenagers and adults enjoy.
As I describe in the below blog posted when my son was about two years younger, this is both a beautiful and infuriating role he is more than happy to play. Over the last two years, as vocabularies expanded and interpersonal relationships became more complicated, it has gotten more interesting.
As so many families and folks with children in their lives are in yet another individual and collective “growth period,” this blog seemed an apropos rerun. It’s a reminder that our greatest teachers are often sleeping in the room across the hall, riding a few feet in front of us on the bike trail, sitting next to us at the dinner table spouting silly jokes and observations ripe with wisdom and harsh truth. They are mirrors that immediately reflect what we bring to the moment, how we live in it, what we offer it and when we’re not quite there. Listen carefully.
Don’t forget to visit www.laughattheskykid.com to read an excerpt from my book and sign up for updates on its publication. Happy reading!
The cracks are showing a lot these days, often revealing themselves at inconvenient times. Many wise people in my life lightheartedly (but accurately) call such phases “growth periods,” so I have adopted the habit, as well. Symptoms of a significant growth period include disorientation, emotional vulnerability, sometimes unexplained frustration or impatience, fruitless grasping at control over things decidedly out of your control, loss of focus during business meetings, and bawling at the end of movies containing dogs and/or dolphins and/or kindly aliens. Luckily, they also include great clarity, love, compassion, strength and growth, even moments of extraordinary peace and knowingness – what I would call nirvana. A rollercoaster of evolution.
Basically, like the entire human race, I am experiencing some growing pains. And some times more than others, my cracks show. My son is very aware of this. In fact, he is quick to point them out.
The moment my voice changes and I start to get impatient with him for not putting on his shoes on my swift timeline so we can leave and not be late darn it, he squeezes his eyes shut, shakes his head and goes limp in my arms. If I decide to use my time in the car bringing him home from school to make a phone call and finish the work I was rushing to complete before I left, he decides he needs a drink, a snack and to ask what absolutely everything out his window is during the drive. When I am frustrated with someone, that person becomes his favorite person in the world for the day. When I’m frustrated with myself, he surprises me with a simple act of kindness.
They are such effective teachers, our children. As mine, Henry could be more patient at times, a little less infuriating, but he is only three.
Exactly when I need it, Henry shoves me back into the present. He forces me to let go of control. He shows me how to allow everyone their own cracks and appreciate them all the more for them. He pushes me to look at my own and be grateful for the ability to love myself as much as he loves me, despite them…because of them.
He knows just how far to stick his little fingers in to make that crack big enough to let the light come rushing in.
Below is a blog from the spring of 2012 I’m compelled to share with you again. Henry was about to turn three years old and going through his own older toddler renaissance, a very fruitful growth period after a year of awkwardly adjusting his eyes and energy to his new Seattle home and school that glowed with a very different light from his Taiwanese and Los Angeles environments. Lessons were coming at him at lightning speed and, despite a few understandable bumps, his arms and heart remained open to the challenges. The result was the beginning of new interests, a new vocabulary and new friendships he maintains today even though we’ve carried him away. His light was shining brightly in our lovely but soggy world. Eyes naturally fixed upon him like an afternoon sunbreak over the Puget Sound.
We are in another Henry renaissance. This time the catalyst came with a move in May to Central Coast California wine country and the start of kindergarten in August. The previous year was filled with uncomfortable shifts for us as people and as a family, resulting in behavioral challenges, energetic and developmental confusion, and weeks of doubt about whether we had any idea how to be parents. After an initial adjustment to the move — the strange and simultaneous expansion of living space and shrinking of our social climate — Henry is learning, interacting with and talking about his new world in exponentially more exciting ways than even two months ago. The rollercoaster ride known as parenting living is clicking quickly to the top of that second (or seventy-fifth) thrilling hill and we’re all smiling into the sunshine and beautiful view.
While I considered all of this, the below blog from a couple of years ago came to mind. As a new parent, which really wasn’t that long ago, I struggled with the shifting focus and dynamic in our family. Now, on most days, I’m the one holding the spotlight and asking what color gel he would like. That may change tomorrow, but today I share this post with gratitude for the growth we are all enjoying during this Kindergarten Renaissance. Thank you, Henry, for sharing your glow and raising us all up to new heights.
Greater than the sum of its parts
May 28, 2012
Anyone who’s been any sort of mother for even a day understands what I am about to say. Once these precious and adorable little beings become a part of our lives, we become less visible to the naked eye.
We are there, but somehow translucent — a way to get to the sparkly little creature we hold in our arms or who clasps our hand. It’s as if a Rachel Berry-esque bright white spotlight is constantly shining on our children and we are merely the nameless blondes in Cheerios uniforms swaying and ahh-ing in the background.
It’s not that people completely forget about us or intend to ignore us, and I know this oversight is not meant to hurt us in any way. In fact, most mothers have done it themselves. I know I have. We almost can’t help ourselves. We all are drawn to where the light shines the brightest.
This used to bother me. A lot. There are some, especially my husband Larry, who always are fascinated with my doings and beings. But socially this was is still the norm. I would pout or rant to my poor husband after conversations or dinners where well-intentioned folks would ask Larry about his work then ask me how Henry was doing, somehow never getting around to asking about me. It didn’t help that much of my professional focus is on supporting others in their creative, business and/or healing process. My days are usually spent toggling between meeting Henry’s needs – often involving loudly demanded sippy cups and making sure he knows “please don’t throw rocks at the kitchen window” actually means something – and meeting my clients’ needs and, oh yeah, my husband’s and my own needs whenever possible.
For the first few months after we adopted Henry, when we met with friends I’d enjoy everyone staring and playing and cooing over Henry for a while. As all typical parents, I firmly believe Henry is extraordinary, so how could you not stare and coo? Isn’t he sweet? Isn’t he smart? Isn’t he cute when he poops? Yes, yes he is. But after a while I’d stick in my energetic nose – or foot or hand or waving arms, whatever worked – usually answering their unrelated questions with some vague hint at an interesting anecdote from my non-Henry week. “Yes, we are going to Yo Gabba Gabba Live!, not that the tickets were easy to get. I had to go online at 9 a.m. sharp, during a conference call with a client, believe it or not…”
I did everything but strip naked and dance the Hokey Pokey. So much of my time is spent giving so much to Henry, so why does he get all the admiration? I thought. Women who spend a lot of time together adopt the same monthly cycle. Perhaps so much close proximity to Henry’s toddler maturity level was inducing mine to regress.
Over time I grew up a little and became used to it, expecting to be the mother-in-waiting and becoming genuinely surprised and grateful when someone showed interest in me. I started to understand that a big part of my job is supporting Henry (and my clients and my husband and my loved ones) no matter what, to hold him up, to help him be the center or the diagonal or the sideways or whatever he needed to be in that moment. I’ve gotten a lot of attention in my lifetime, and now it’s Henry’s turn. I accepted my role.
But until not long ago – too recent to not be a little embarrassing – did it all become crystal clear. After receiving a perfectly timed message from a beloved teacher and friend, I began to truly understand…
Being a conscious parent is exactly the same as being a conscious human being: It’s never about me. It’s not just about him. It’s always about “us.”
It’s more than not letting your ego drive the bus. It’s about knowing that when one of us shines, we all do. When we support and love each other unconditionally, it is a gift to the entire family, to humanity, to the universe.
This lovely teacher said a lot of things, but mostly she explained that we all know instinctively when someone makes us shine brighter or be “better” simply by being in our lives, by understanding intuitively what we need or by knowing exactly how to explain why we shouldn’t throw rocks at the kitchen window so we understand. Anyone who agrees to unconditionally love and nurture another is agreeing to a cycle of sharing and support that raises the level of everything we do. The result is much greater than the sum of its parts.
When Henry shines brightly, so do I. When I shine brightly, so does he. When anyone shines, it raises us all up. It heals us all. It honors us all. No one has a role to “accept.” We are a part of each other and therefore can never be made separate.
Now, I am joyful when I walk through the grocery or the halls of Henry’s school or a family event and people involuntarily look past me and down at Henry to return his infectious smile and offer an enthusiastic ‘hello.’ Now I know a part of me is in that smile, just as a part of him is in mine. We are extraordinary together.
My mother turns 75 years old today. Her father and his mother both lived to nearly 100, so my guess is she still has many years to enjoy this life. But 75 are certainly enough years to merit a long deep breath, a “wow” and a bit of a look at this wonderful woman. Perhaps also some chocolate cake (she dearly loves chocolate) to celebrate.
To honor her and this day, here are 12 things about her that I appreciate the most:
Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, our after school snacks frequently included French cheese and water crackers. She used to cook scallops as a side dish on a Tuesday night. Lamb filets were a staple dinner entrée.
She worked at a small school in a troubled neighborhood for most of her 35 years teaching kindergarten. While raising her own two daughters, she also helped raise a generation of children born into circumstances that many would consider a pathway to poverty, prison or worse. She collected lots of stories over the years, as all teachers do, but the saddest stories she kept to herself, holding them close to her heart next to the happy reunions with grown and grateful students as motivation to keep making each day in her classroom meaningful to each child.
She’s never been a huggy, kissy, touchy feely earth mama. She loves subtlely and respects covertly by being interested in your life and your ideas, asking lots of questions, endlessly discussing her and your opinions and observations of the world, testing your perceptions and forcing you to consider how and when you share what you have to offer. She challenges you to learn and grow, to figure out your place in the world and, for me, to figure out how to talk about it. And food. Lots of fantastic food.
She was the first “truth teller” in my life, and I’ve realized over the years she’s one of the main reasons I feel so comfortable—a little too comfortable, perhaps—being one myself. She’s been known to take virtual strangers to task for opinions she finds misguided or associations she doesn’t understand. The first conversation she had with my husband was at a Memorial Day picnic a few years before we dated. Once she discovered he was to start work in a few days as a reporter at the radio news station she listened to, she cornered him for a half an hour explaining why she didn’t like their recent programming changes. Luckily, he married me anyway.
She is smart, well educated and well read, and beautiful music, her grandson giving her noses and The Bridges of Madison County make her cry. She tries to hide her sensitivity beneath a veneer of intellect, frankness and tough love offered with a tinge of sarcasm. Those who know her see her true optimism and appreciate her enormous soft spot for the lovelier and sillier parts of humanity.
She has an uncanny intuition for the exact book I need to read at that exact point in my life, and she introduced me to some of the writers that are my most beloved and influential, including David Sedaris.
When she finds a new interest or project, she doesn’t stop until the whole hog is cooked. She loves children’s books and when Larry and I announced we were adopting she started collecting her contribution to Henry’s personal library. Easily more than a hundred books later, we still get surprise packages a few times a year. Once she began researching her family’s heritage, she didn’t stop before she traced it all the way back to 11th century Normandy, France.
When she experiences a healthy flow of tears, she loses all control of most of her facial muscles. Her eyes involuntarily squint up to mere slits and her mouth loses the ability to stay closed unless she purses her lips with all her might. I know because it’s exactly how my sister and I also cry. Oprah calls it the “ugly cry,” but I prefer to think of it as the contraction before the blessed release.
When I look in the mirror I see the uneven curve of her brow and her eyes, which were her mothers before. When I put on my shoes I see her pretty feet with strangely curved pinky toes. When I tap my fingernails on my lips while I read, I remember her sitting in her chair doing the same. When I listen to a recording of me talking, I hear her voice in my darkened childhood room telling me that the sirens at the nearby hospital were just the beautiful sound of people helping.
She’s never stopped learning and changing. In recent weeks she’s discovered a wonderful new openness to seeing the simplicity of the universe, humanity’s one-ness and the beauty and intricacy of our connections. She’s holding up a light of a slightly different color from the one she used the previous 75 years. And in ten years, she may use yet another color. I can’t wait to see what it is.
She is very sweet, but she is not easy. She never tried to be. She just does what she is here to do. She pokes. She asks. She challenges. She supports. She offers endless opportunities to learn and change. She pushes my buttons, but they are buttons only she can push. And she does it with lots and lots of love.
Over the years I’ve come to see the ways in which we are the same much more than the ways we are different. Like many mothers and daughters, the list is long, complicated and full of beauty and growth. It goes back generations and lifetimes and includes all the women who have taught us through life or genetics what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be connected to other women. It is a story that sits up in heaven in all its glory, imparting its wisdom bit by bit as we become ready for it. It’s a story we share, and I’m so glad we do.
Happy 75th birthday, Mom. I am grateful to you and for you. I love you.
My son has a book called Infinity and Me (by Kate Hosford). In the story, eight-year-old Uma seeks the meaning of things as she looks at the stars and feels small and cold within the vastness of the universe. She knows “infinity” has something to do with it, but she doesn’t quite get it so she goes on a quest. She asks her friends, her teachers and the school cook. They all offer fascinating takes on the concept. It isn’t until Uma recognizes the boundless love she has for her grandmother that she finds her own way of experiencing infinity and the universe.
The most charmingly human part of the story is Uma’s struggle with uncertainty. She doesn’t grasp what infinity is, but she wants to. She feels insignificant until she can. Her head hurts with all the questions and thoughts she’s having as she works so hard to understand and find meaning. It isn’t until she opens her heart and feels her grandmother’s unconditional love, and realizes she feels the same, that the endless stars in the sky begin to feel warm with effortless wonder.
Like Uma, I find myself looking at the universe differently day to day. Some days the stars are shrouded in suspicion and the lonely oxygen-less air of outer space. These are the days where the uncertainty of life and humankind become manifest in the questionable future of projects, unreturned emails, frustrations about not knowing whether my son will be in the morning or afternoon kindergarten class until three days before he starts, not to mention general bewilderment about world events.
Thank ever-loving goodness there are the other kind of days too—when infinity becomes the peaceful “resting eight,” perfect for ice skating and endless bike rides. On those days I see the stars in the heavens are filled with mystery and discovery, and the demands of the mind become the curiosity of the heart. On those days, projects with uncertain futures become new tree-lined paths to wander down and societal frustration becomes an opportunity to offer compassion. The love my son and I share becomes more important than whether he’ll be in the kindergarten class that best complements my schedule, and that fills me with infinite warmth.
In this eight month, I wish you many days of resting eights, when you know the path of the universe will come back around to meet you where you are and show you where you can go. May the infinite possibilities fill you with joy and gratitude. May the vastness of the stars always cover you in a blanket of love and effortless wonder.
My five-year-old son has a peculiar but wonderful sense of color. When he draws, skies are orange and squirrels are purple. Clouds are triangular and pink. Trees have legs that stretch off the page in neon green. Who am I to correct his perception of the world? Works for him, so it works for me.
What I love most is that no matter what color he sees in the sky that day, he smiles at it. When we leave in the morning we could be looking at cobalt blue dotted with hawks hunting for their breakfast, wispy fog, or gray and overcast. He could be seeing the orange of his drawings or the blue and white I usually see. Whatever it is, no matter what the day offers, he always takes a moment to look, and therefore so do I.
It’s the blessed breath before the day. He may not be happy about where we’re going. I may still be annoyed about how long it took for him to get his shoes on. No matter what color we see or want to see, when we stop in those few moments to notice the beauty of what rises above us, we are grateful to be beneath it together.
A beautiful blue and green Seattle day requires a long trip to the park. With a four-year-old, that translates into some time at the playground, and with Henry that means somewhere with a sidewalk suitable for speedy and spirited tricycle laps. There are always lessons to be learned at the playground. Not long ago, a big one — green, with hypocritical eyes — looked me square in the face. Here’s how I got there.
During a recent visit, my husband Larry and I were enjoying the sun on a bench and getting dizzy watching our son go round and round when we realized a meeting was starting on the grass behind us. We turned around and about eight little girls and their camera-toting mothers sat in a circle. It was the kind of meeting where you wear vests with badges. Ooh, entertainment, we thought as we adjusted our heads to the best eavesdropping angle.
The troop leader welcomed everyone to their final meeting and started discussing that meeting’s topic and an opportunity to earn their final badge. What are we earning our badges in today? asked the troop leader. Respect authority, they all said. The kind troop leader reviewed what they discussed the previous meeting, the authority figures in our lives who we should respect – parents, police officers, teachers, troop leaders, coaches, etc. Red flags began to go up in my head, but nothing was really that bad yet. I kept listening.
Why should we respect them? she asked the troop of girls who appeared to be about six years old. With the mothers hovering and the troop leader waiting, the girls began responding as they’d been taught the week before:
Because they protect us.
They take care of us.
Because they know best.
Because they make the rules.
It’s what we’re supposed to do.
The kind troop leader’s response: That’s great, ladies.
I hoped no one in their little blanket circle could see the goose bumps on my arms.
We continued to listen as the girls one by one presented the pictures they’d drawn of an authority figure in their life. Most of them were pretty typical: Mom, Dad, school principal. When talking about their parents, “love” was mentioned a lot, but there was just as much talk about making and following rules. One little girl quietly explained that she’d drawn a picture of President Obama because “he knows what’s best for us and has a lot of power.”
Yes, I know they do amazing things too.
I never participated in any troop-like activities when I was a girl, but I have a generally positive impression of any organization that empowers young women and men. For the girls, a couple of Google searches showed me all the great lessons and badges in addition to “respect authority” – all about community, compassion, self respect, honesty, individual responsibility, supporting other girls, doing good in the world and more. I don’t mean to diminish their work nor the positive influence they have had over countless girls and women.
Shouldn’t ignore the boys either. Despite their homosexuality-challenged policies and other issues, they continue to offer positive opportunities and adventures to those seeking this kind of guidance. (However, they have a similar law about “obedience” and even the right way to go about changing rules…as long as you never disobey them.)
With all of my genuine “they do a lot of great things” disclaimers said, this meeting had the misfortune that day to represent the perfect example of exactly the kind of authority programming we shouldn’t be teaching our children. In fact, we should be teaching them the opposite.
They’re powerful and they know it.
Corporations, governments, politicians, large religious organizations, educational systems, healthcare providers, banks and more. They market their own special brand of authority and quid pro quo. Most of them have a lot of power, and most of them aren’t afraid to use it to get what they need to thrive – your compliance.
If you adhere to my laws, I will protect you and your family.
If you buy my goods and services and don’t question how we do business too much, I will make your life more comfortable and improve the economy.
If you do what I say and take your medicine, I can make you feel better.
If you sit quietly and work hard, you will be successful.
If you pray the right way or believe what I believe, you will go to heaven. Or, better yet, you won’t burn in hell.
This is the messaging we allow to manipulate us, consciously or not. We have become accustomed to giving up a measure of (sometimes imperceptible) control to someone or an institution in exchange for whatever we believe they offer us or, in many cases, out of fear of what will happen if we don’t.
In our current world, questioning authority is critical.
Throughout history, questioning authority has always been necessary for any kind of meaningful change. America was founded on a group of citizens questioning those in power, after all. Our time is no different.
Currently Edward Snowden is somewhere running from the U.S. government after revealing that its anti-terror electronic surveillance techniques are much broader than any ordinary citizens previously knew. Whether you believe he’s a hero or a traitor or something in between, Snowden questioned his authority figures, breaking the rules of his government and his contractor employer, to reveal what he believes to be an unjust overreach. Without Mr. Snowden, would we have ever had anything other than lots of conspiracy theories and Person of Interest to provoke an exploration into this issue?
More importantly, when we don’t question it, there are consequences: Dependence. Willful ignorance. A resistance to change. A willingness to conform or even deny our own beliefs out of apathy or fear. An agreement – spoken or unspoken – to give up our own power to those who would have us believe they are our authorities because that’s what we’re expected to do.
And this belief and resulting behavior is what we often unconsciously, and usually motivated by great love, pass along to our children.
The mirror doesn’t lie.
As I listened to the troop leader, I ran through all my long-held beliefs and societal frustrations detailed above and began writing this blog in my head and heart. I wanted to be sure to make note of the organizational line she was leading from and all the ways it is different from my own intentions etc. etc. etc.
If I’m to look at the whole truth, I also have to point my eye squarely back on myself. It didn’t take long to spot a programmer no farther away than my own nose.
At four years old, Henry is all about his independence. Often it manifests as saying a strong ‘no’ just so he’s refusing to do what I want or at least refusing to do it my way or on my timeline. I’ve built up a strong tolerance for this, and often quietly cheer him on out of respect. I was similarly strong-willed as a young person, much to my parents’ dismay.
Reminder to self: Our son isn’t a horse that needs to be broken.
As a family we’ve developed strategies to give Henry back some choice or control in any given situation. Or at minimum an explanation he can understand as to why we’re asking him to flush the toilet. Our intention is to support his independent spirit and nurture a belief in his own power. That’s our intention.
But some days, I just need him to put his ever-loving shoes on so we can get to preschool or give up the bag of cookies he found in the back of the cupboard and now has a vice grip on or stop chucking rocks at the kitchen window or for god’s sake for the last time hold my hand while crossing the street.
In these situations, more often than I’m comfortable with I’ve offered some version of this response to my child when he questioned me as his authority figure:
Why do I have to listen to you?
Because I’m your mother.
Why should I comply with that rule?
Because I love you and I’m protecting you from danger.
Why shouldn’t I throw rocks at the window?
Because that’s the rule.
Why do I have to go to school today?
Because it’s what’s best for you.
That’s how it starts, right? Follow me because I have power over you. Why, Mommy? Because it’s easier for both of us, but really only for me.
Authority is given and can be taken away.
I want my child to believe that authority is earned through trust and given only by choice. That it should always be questioned. That authority can be taken away when it is abused or even if he decides he doesn’t want or need that authority figure any more. There’s always a careful balance to strike, but I want him to be empowered and strong in his convictions, enough so that he doesn’t hesitate to follow his own heart even when it doesn’t comply with anyone else’s rules.
I want Henry to respect me because I am true to myself and my beliefs and because I likewise offer him the respect he deserves, not because I have any measure of power over him. But first I have to admit that though I so easily talk about these convictions I don’t always walk them. I’m grateful to the group of sweet little girls, their loving mothers and their well-intentioned troop leader for reminding me so pointedly how important this lesson is, and that I’m still learning it.
I haven’t talked a lot about adoption. Mostly, it’s just not what I typically think of when I think of my son. Because he was adopted, there are things to consider and keep in mind as a parent. But as parents we also have to keep a thousand other things constantly in mind, so it just depends which “thing” is most present at the time as to whether the fact that Henry was adopted from Taiwan at 11 months old is material.
The first few months weren’t so natural, however. The parent-child bond is a complex and transcendent thing. It often defies logic. It rarely follows common sense. It cannot be completely understood by the mind, by normal emotional standards or even by time. It exists at a higher, deeper level — a mysterious blend of heart, spirit and the soul’s journey. Before I ever met Henry in this lifetime, before his name was Henry, I knew he was my son. The bond on my end was set. My husband Larry describes the same experience. The meeting and getting to know each other part was just the next necessary phase in the relationship.
But for Henry, we were the next two in a thankfully short line, but nevertheless a line, of caregivers. Immediately after he met us, we took him away on a train and then a plane to a place where everything looked, smelled, tasted and sounded different, including every word spoken. We spent the first few weeks staring at him like deer in headlights, immeasurably grateful for every consent to sleep, eat, hug or play. Understandably, at times he seemed to wonder who the heck these crazy people were and when he was going back to the nursery.
After not long, he seemed happy to be with us. He trusted we would meet his needs, come back when we said we would and catch him when we playfully swung him up in the air. He enjoyed our company and his new home, even warming up to the dog on occasion. He knew we were his primary caregivers, but this Mama and Dada thing we kept talking about… Even after several months we sensed he wasn’t there yet.
Of course he wasn’t. He was thrown into a new situation without warning. He was understandably confused. Every parent of children adopted older than newborns, every book, every adoption class all said this was to be expected. It’s normal for the bonding process to take months or even years, especially for the child. But what we often felt like were parents of a child who thought we were his favorite babysitters. As if he couldn’t or was fearful of understanding what family, Dada or Mama meant. He loved us, but we were still merely characters in his own play and he wasn’t ready to accept it as real.
More than once I wept tears of frustration and sadness about this unrequited bond. At particularly difficult moments I even railed at the universe. Hadn’t we been through enough paperwork and heartbreak and waiting just to get the little guy home? Why does this part have to be hard, too? You know where you can put your lessons…?!
With love the patience came.
Deep breaths brought me back to each moment. Each moment brought me Henry and Larry and our evolving family, and therefore joy. Joy brought me into gratitude, for however they chose to be in my life in that moment. And once I learned to live there, the unconditional love flowed as freely as the days passed. We were perfect exactly as we were, challenging days and all.
One warm spring day only a few months before moving to Seattle, Henry and I went to the Long Beach Aquarium. He was now about 20 months old and home with us for nine months. He asked to get out of his stroller so he could get a closer look at the sea lions. He stood with his face next to the glass for several minutes, a long time by toddler standards. The sea lions played with him, swimming belly forward right in front of his face, flipping their tails as they retreated, making him laugh and widen his eyes in wonder. I watched from behind, took a photo and smiled at this being I so adored who was so filled with curiosity and fearlessness. I took a breath and knew everything was going to be okay. Right then Henry turned, said “Mama” and beckoned me next to him at the glass. I crouched beside him for a minute or two, then he grabbed my hand so we could walk together back to the stroller.
That few minutes, the whole day, was so natural and easy for us both, I almost didn’t recognize the significance of it until he was asleep in the back on our drive home. It was like the last piece of the puzzle had just satisfyingly thumped into place. This may not have been the exact moment, or even the day or month it happened. But it was when I knew he knew I was his mother.
Our bond now resides, unexplained and unexplainable, in our hearts, in our souls and somewhere up in the heavens. It will never be logical. It will always be exactly what it is — what it came to be in its own time. And it can never be broken.
My son Henry has started screaming. Sometimes at the dog. Sometimes at me or my husband. Sometimes at no one. Often for no obvious reason at all. But almost always with a hint of a smile.
Of course at times he’s frustrated. Toddlers are, after all, easily aggravated, since they firmly believe the world is theirs and when anyone gets in the way of what’s theirs they must be punished. But mostly he seems to take great joy in it. As if he’s finally found his unique voice, a way to express exactly what he needs to, and right now it needs to be very, very loud.
It makes sense, actually. He’s part of this world, this humanity in the process of breaking open, breaking apart, releasing the pressure that’s been building for millennia. The entire planet is filled with souls quickly building to, in the process of, or in desperate need of a magnificent release. The earth itself is enjoying a much-needed good scream via extreme weather, earthquakes, natural disasters and massive change. Henry’s just following its lead.
If you ask me, and apparently Henry, we’re all not screaming enough.
This past election season is a perfect example. Many of us, including me, experienced much of the “rhetoric” of the day via social interaction and social media. Except, like me, most of the concerned citizens, political junkies and reasoned voters I know were conspicuously quiet. When we discussed such things, often instead of discussing the issues at hand, we all instead agreed that expressing even balanced political opinions or relatively benign jokes caused enough conflict with our vocal friends on the other side of the aisle or issue that it just wasn’t worth the hassle and frustration.
“No one’s mind has ever been changed by a Facebook post,” I heard more than once as I nodded in agreement. “It’s not worth creating conflict and contributing to the noise. I don’t need to be reminded that half the country thinks I’m an idiot.”
So, political opinions were left mostly to talking heads on the cable news channels and those on either end of the political spectrum who were just angry enough, and often more than judgmental enough, to continuously express their rage against those who dared to disagree with their beliefs to some degree and the organizations connected to such issues. The extremes, the angriest and most self-righteous of us all, were being heard loud and clear.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of us sat quietly in our ideas and explorations, safe in the knowledge that at least we weren’t contributing to the divisive language of the day, hoping against hope that once the election was over the screaming would soften to a simmering roar and we’d all accept and contribute to the tasks at hand – that we’d put down our pitchforks and work together toward the greater good.
Naïve? Perhaps. It’s wouldn’t be the first time someone’s optimism has been labeled as such. Naïve or not, so far this is not what has happened and if we stay on our current path, it doesn’t look good.
The angry are angrier. The self-righteous are even moreso. Everyone knows they are right and few with a loud enough voice want to compromise for the sake of progress.
Okay, universe, I hear you. Lesson learned…again.
When we don’t allow the release, the healing light can’t get in.
When we don’t allow some space for everyone to scream when they need to scream, then we all suffer.
My son gets it. He screams when he needs to. He lets it go. He laughs and plays and eats with joy the rest of the time, and he sleeps like a baby.
Here’s a radical idea: Let’s all speak our truth.
Be “brutally” honest. Say what you feel, even when it’s not politically correct. Express that emotion that’s been building in your throat for weeks. Stop apologizing for having unconventional ideas. Tell someone about them. Stop feeling ashamed for buying in to stereotypes or hanging on to old programmed beliefs. Instead, release them. Post that provocative political meme if it’s truly what you want to say. Be yourself, even if that self is exceedingly angry or sad or frightened or confused. Let everything just be what it is. Express it. Release it. Scream. Let it go.
In exchange, we agree to allow everyone else to do the same. We will support everyone’s vulnerability and release equally. We will allow everyone a voice, even those we desperately disagree with. We will openly accept and cheer on everyone who says anything that self-censorship previously kept them from expressing. We will hear everything they have to say. We will welcome disagreement, even angry (but not violent) disagreement, with love and enthusiasm. When people or organizations use negativity or power with the intention of quashing an honest opinion or manipulating a heartfelt belief, we will defend ourselves and others by laughing and enjoying that they are releasing that fear and anger – that soon it won’t be there at all. We will understand that even when you feel it’s being directed at you, it’s not about you at all. It’s personal only to those expressing it.
We’ll all let it flow out as long as it needs to. We’ll all keep screaming and cracking open and listening and cheering until enough of it has vaporized into light and love. We will wait. We’re all in this together – the country, the world, the universe. We’re not going anywhere. It’s okay. Just scream.
Then, when we’re ready, when enough has released and the cracks are big enough for the light to get in…
I’m finally willing to acknowledge it. Publicly, in fact. Words are an inherently flawed form of communication. As a writer, you may think this is a strange thing for me to say — in a piece of writing, no less. (The irony, it burns!) But I find it liberating. In fact, I’m guessing most writers are well aware of this. Who hasn’t struggled to find a word or phrase that can satisfactorily convey an emotion, a thing of beauty, a horrifying experience, a grand concept or an intuition, only to resign to the “next best” description?
You’re not a bad writer. It’s the words, I tell you. They just aren’t equipped for the job.
As a couple of you may have noticed, I haven’t offered a blog in more than a month. The sheer amount and scope of energetic changes going on in my/the world is boggling. There are stories to tell. But the words simply don’t match up yet. They may never. Heck, I’m having trouble writing an anniversary card to my husband. Words aren’t enough. And truly they’re not meant to be.
By their nature, words are a limited reflection of one person’s perspective and they will be received the same way — through a filter of the other person’s experience and perspective. With words we try to boil down even the greatest things into a few marks on a page. That’s why writing is an art. It’s a beautiful and powerful art, but it’s a terrible way to communicate if you’re trying to do so clearly. So, I’ve given up trying.
My three-year-old son Henry doesn’t talk a lot, and when he does in the conventional sense he tends to speak in a mix of the English he’s been surrounded by since we brought him home from Taiwan at 11 months old, toddler sign language and his own uniquely organized collection of sounds.
He is the most effective communicator I know.
He always is heard when he wants to be. He almost always is able to tell me what he wants and needs or what he’s afraid of. He can share a lesson with a look. He can tell an entire story, what happened and where, complete with how he felt or how he reacted, acted out with exaggerated facial expressions. And some days he may use only ten clearly understood words.
He talks to me all the time. His intention, his energy, his heart and where he is in that moment are always honest and usually crystal clear. He doesn’t need words to communicate them. Even when I don’t hear him quickly enough, he doesn’t try that hard to say it differently. He may get frustrated, but I think he knows he’s saying it as clearly as necessary, he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be and I will hear him if I open up my heart to a different way of listening. And then he waits until I do.
I love words, but I’m freeing myself from any expectations for them. I’m giving in to their undeniable nature — to the limitations, to the lack of clarity, to their frequent un-necessity. When there are no words, then don’t say any. When the intention is unclear the words probably are too, so choose the quiet. When I rely upon them too much to understand or see or hear, take a breath, open my heart and use different eyes and ears.
Many of the most influential and moving books I’ve found on parenting, especially conscious parenting, I have found by chance. Most aren’t best-sellers. They are little nuggets of gold in a sea of stones.
I’m sure there are others I will love and discover over time, and I’m sure you have your own list. (Feel free to share your own online or print nuggets in a comment.) But as I found yet another gem by chance only a week or so ago, I decided to share my short list of the most significant to me in this blog in the hopes that you might find a resource you didn’t already know about that speaks to you and/or helps with your own conscious parenting. There are a myriad of Web sites, too, but since those are more easily found via Google I’m focusing on books.
Note that the links I’m including are only one place where these books are currently available. I use a Kindle, so I included the Amazon links to some, but if you have a Nook you can probably find them there too. Happy reading!
Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative by Ken Robinson — Best known for his famous TED talks about creativity and the imperative evolution of education, Sir Robinson last year released a full updated edition of this book originally published in 2001. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the AERO Conference in Portland earlier this month and I was truly inspired by his wisdom, clarity and wit. So, of course I bought his book and have found it similarly inspiring, funny and full of great perspective on development in general, how to nurture creativity and happy people.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a beautiful teacher and writer, has several books intended for children or for parents. A Pebble for Your Pocket is a simple book that breaks down basic Buddhist teachings and practices — mindfulness, walking meditation, staying present, diffusing anger — into short stories so they are easy for children (and adults) to understand and make part of their lives. Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children is more for me and Larry than it is for my three-year-old son Henry, but once he is old enough there is a CD with great songs and some more advanced mindfulness practices we can do together.
Muddling Through: Perspectives on Parenting by Bil Lepp — Bil is an award-winning storyteller, a great dad and one of my childhood friends. He tells what he admits are slightly tall tales about his own experiences as a parent and child, then offers advice separately to parents and kids — e.g., parents relax the rules and the need to keep the kitchen tidy and you’ll have more fun, kids try to understand why your parents get uptight about things sometimes. His book is hilarious, honest and, despite its brevity (almost 80 pages on my Kindle), chock full of great stories and parenting wisdom.
Free the Children by Bruce Scott — I met Bruce at a conscious parenting/education conference in LA a few years ago and was inspired to buy his book that was available there. It is a beautiful fable about his journey of discovery as a parent: learning to see our children as whole people and our role as merely allowing and supporting their personal and spiritual journey; accepting we have as much, if not more, to learn from them as they do from us. It’s poetic at times, rich with provoking lessons and a wonderful read.
The Happy Child: Changing the Heart of Education by Steven Harrison — I bought this book at the AERO Conference based on a recommendation from the woman standing next to me at the sale table. It simply and easily makes the case for holistic, democratic, heart-centered education and child raising. If you’re new to these ideas, this is a great book to start with.
Free to Be…You and Me by Marlo Thomas & Friends — It’s a book, a CD and a DVD and Henry adores them all. I was raised on the book and record back in the ’70s when it came out and I’m thrilled it’s still available, and being updated every few years. It focuses primarily on gender identity, emotional expression and freedom of choice — very progressive topics back in the day. But with Mel Brooks and a great cast to voice the stories and songs, it’s also a lot of fun to watch, listen to and spark conversation.
Update… As expected, I’ve found more golden nuggets!
Waiting for Weston: A Mother’s Story About Raising A Multidimensional Child is a beautifully written and honest memoir by Marilu Schmier. Her son Weston does not speak verbally, but gives seminars, teaches and sends messages to thousands of followers all over the world. He speaks telepathically and through noted healers and clairvoyants and has touched hundreds of thousands of lives and spirits. Marilu’s experiences as Weston’s mother are astounding, hilarious and inspirational. She models extraordinary patience, openness (to literally anything) and unconditional love. Her book is a must read.
Meg Blackburn Losey has worked with Weston for many years and refers to him in a couple of her books from her Children of Now series. My favorite from the series I’m finishing now, Parenting the Children of Now: Practicing Health, Spirit, and Awareness to Trascend Generations. As many books on conscious parenting do, it focuses on us as parents much of the time, understanding that if we change our energy, perceptions and actions, we will interact with our children more openly and with greater awareness. However, it also gives some fabulous practical advice for dealing with the extraordinary gifts all of our children are born with — but that may make interactions with those outside the safety of the family nucleus more challenging.
My world is filled with all kinds of parents. Not one of us is perfect, nor would claim to be. But all of us know great love.
I am lucky enough to have brilliant models in my life – some who have been in my life for always and some I’ve known less than a week. None is like another, but they all have wonderful qualities to watch and emulate – boundless loyalty to their children’s happiness and best interests, respect, trust, open-mindedness, creativity, presence, an easy and natural way of moving through the day with their children, love and laughter even in the face of adversity, endless energy for play and creativity and talking and storytelling and learning, unconditional support for their children’s eccentricities and unique qualities, and lots and lots of patience.
I love all the parents and caregivers in my life. They all share such unique gifts with our family. I’d planned to write about that today, and may still in the coming weeks. But as I thought about all the remarkable parents in my life, one kept returning to me.
Today I am thinking of Henry’s birth mother. Her time in Henry’s life was very brief. Depending on Henry’s choices later in life, she may or may not ever be in his life again. But I will always consider her a strong example for me, for Henry and for all parents. Look at what she has modeled for me — her compassion for having created and nurtured such an extraordinary being in her womb, her courage as she struggled with impossible choices, her strength as she was able to relinquish her parental rights to us, the continued love and supportive energy I feel constantly from her and send back to her with gratitude.
These are things that bind our family to her forever.
For these strengths I respect her greatly. I happily place her in my circle of trusted parents and guides.
This morning I wiped out while taking a walk. Slid on a decline in the concrete, tore my hands open and scraped off much of the skin on my right knee. After the expletives stopped involuntarily exploding from my mouth, I laughed. It’s been at least 30 years since I last skinned my knee, I thought. Unfortunately, there was no one to see the fall, watch me laugh at my clumsiness or make the video. If they had I’d post it here. But alas, no one. Well, at least not in a living body.
I was walking quickly through a lovely cemetery at the top of Queen Anne hill and reading the names on the gravestones near the road. One right next to it popped out at me – Vane V. Vance. Really? Who was this guy? And who were his eccentric parents who thought that up? What could the middle initial possibly be? Did all of his luggage sport a triple V monogram? Maybe he designed his own logo. Maybe it looked like a mess of Vs like Volkswagen’s. As I giggled to myself and looked back to confirm I saw what I saw, a rock “popped out” from the pavement in just the right spot for me to step directly on it.
If I’d only listened more carefully. Truth is I’ve been getting messages to slow down for at least a week. My body, my mind, my energy. Even Henry has slowed his pace. Choosing to spend his time with us in the mornings and evenings, usually filled with exuberant play, instead calmly being read to or watching a few minutes of a movie. Rebelling against any activity done with any sense of urgency, especially getting ready to go somewhere by a certain time. They’re really good at that, aren’t they? Reminding us that being somewhere at a certain time only means something if we give it meaning. That time isn’t really linear. Children are really good at quantum physics.
In response to this universal and repeated appeal to slow down, I’ve gone inward. I’m working hard, but one of the benefits of being a writer and a person in need of the quiet is the solitary nature of my day. Introspection, meditation, time where it’s just me and the computer or me and the notepad or me and the pavement. There’s plenty of that. While I sometimes create activities where I must be amongst the people, I have not done so in the last week or so outside of my happy little nucleus of Henry and Larry.
I’m not the only one hearing this call…in a big way in recent days — to slow down, to look inwardly, to breathe fully, to take a break from the routine. Fellow writers are talking about it more eloquently than I, including fellow bloggers and like-minded souls. Facebook friends are posting more and more about the merits and pleasures of simply standing still and being. Folks in my life are having minor accidents, travel troubles, project delays at work, unexpected or even forced time off or time away. For the astrologers in the crowd, Mercury is in retrograde, which seems to help this kind of thing along. But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it so consistently pronounced during such a short period of time.
As for me, I choose to heed the call. When I’m literally halted in my tracks and pushed to the ground while walking and thinking too quickly, it’s time to listen more carefully. To be more present. To be more aware. To see more clearly. To get off the treadmill. To evolve from the inside out. To be more quiet.
It is as though we all live in a giant movie theater with the same movie playing over and over again. Same dialogue. Same roles. Same actors, complaints and beliefs. And each morning we wake up, unaware that we are entering into the same theater, to once again watch and participate in the same film with the same ending. And together, six billion of us agree that this is the only film playing.
What if we suspect there is a different movie playing somewhere else…and we seek it out on our own?
Would you go to school? Would you ask your children to be compliant? To follow the rules? Get a job? Prepare for the future? Would you get up every morning to go to work? Would you have a religion?
Would you see women and men as wondrous beings without gender separation? Would you have need to marginalize people by making them wrong or right? Normal or abnormal? Crazy or sane? Hallucinating or having amazing visions?
Or might you go exploring into the wisdom of your heart and soul, and be with people from that place, living differently, quietly inside, softer with others, sweet with innocence, kind to the children, recognizing they, the little ones, will bring you home to yourself, deep inside, gently, with a giggle.
Thank goodness for the giggles, the falls and the quiet.