Unexplained and unexplainable

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.

Nuggets

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.

Great love

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.

She, perhaps more than most, knows great love.

An offering

In my first post a couple of weeks ago I began to tell a story about our Buddha statue, one of the catalysts for starting this blog. I’m loath to leave a storyline open-ended or keep the six or seven followers I’ve gained since then (shout out!) dangling, so I guess that’s a good place to go this week…

From all windows in the back of our home we can see our new Buddha statue. It sits humbly amongst the herbs and lavender in a small bed in the back yard near where Henry plays toddler basketball, practices jumping and sets up his race car track on sunny days. We purchased the statue from a free trade store in our Seattle neighborhood of Queen Anne a month and a half ago. Larry and I looked at hundreds of sculptures of all kinds over the last few years, searching for the one that spoke to us, that had the right energy and simplicity. We knew in a moment this – calm, beautiful and still in its shipping crate from the owner’s recent trip to Bali – was the one.

For the first week I found myself seeking him out whenever I was in prime viewing rooms: the kitchen, the office/guest room and Henry’s room. We all did. At bedtime before I closed his blinds, Henry would cock his head sideways, look out at Buddha, wave and say goodnight, which these days sounds mostly like “beebee.” In the morning when we hatched our way down to the kitchen with Henry in our arms, he made sure to say a special good morning to our guardian friend. That week was chilly and wet, so we didn’t much venture out to Buddha, but his presence was felt.

The following weekend the spring sunshine favored us and the yard became the preferred play area. We always said hello to Buddha when entering his realm of the garden, but Larry and I had no regular ritual nor had ever demonstrated one in front of Henry. Then, one afternoon, in the middle of testing which car sped the fastest around the hairpin curve, Henry stopped, picked up his favorite yellow utility truck and placed it gently in Buddha’s open hand. Then he took his brand new drag racer with blue flames on its hood and offered that too. Then he turned around and continued playing.

Over that weekend he offered pebbles, rocks, flowers and more cars. He tried to balance his water bottle in the crook of the statue’s arm, but couldn’t figure it out. He pulled up his Henry-sized monkey folding chair in front of Buddha and sat for several seconds looking at him before getting up and sitting between Mama and Daddy who were watching him in wonder from the garden steps.

Even the strangest concepts seem obvious when you see them unfold so naturally before your eyes. Especially in the last several years, I’ve experienced countless things many may consider extraordinary, even impossible – all part of the package when you start to explore seeing your world more clearly — and as so many of you fellow parents can understand, parenthood has only increased the regularity and normalcy of the “bizarre.” It is so easy to take for granted what many call everyday miracles when you’re negotiating the sippy vs. big person cup conundrum or walking your child to go poopy in the potty. However, this one got our attention.

Here’s what I believe Henry was reminding us that weekend. Children We all have an innate sense, a gut instinct, a strong intuition, a clairvoyance, a memory, a higher self, a wisdom, a voice, whatever you want to call it, that allows us to just know…whatever we need to know. And most of what we know to our core is love.

Henry loves and shows respect for Buddha without even thinking about how he knows to do it. Thoughts, expectations, obligations, beliefs, right and wrong. They don’t have anything to do with it. It is unconditional and without logic. It is simply love and connection. He wants to make an offering in that moment, so he does.

That’s what he came out of the womb understanding…being. We all did. We all are born at peace, connected to both the center of the universe and the center of the earth. It’s allowing ourselves to remain there that’s the tricky part. And, as Buddha teaches, sitting in that is where we learn whatever it is we are here to learn.

I believe it’s that simple. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy, but our children often make it look that way. Okay, they know it is. Henry will help me remember that.

Greater than the sum of its parts

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 a typical parent, 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? 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. And isn’t that beautiful?

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 my child 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.