November 4, 2010 § 2 Comments
This morning, both boys started crying before eight o’clock. Gus, who has a cold,wanted to nurse, but since he had been nursing for over half an hour already, I called it quits. Oliver didn’t want to go to school. “I won’t get dressed!” he yelled at me, “I won’t do it!” Like I always do when I feel overwhelmed or without an answer, I panicked a bit on the inside. That what do I do now?? question always gives me a bit of a stomachache. I thought about trying to talk to Oliver, but I could tell he needed a moment to sulk – if I went in now he would just yell more loudly. There was nothing I could do about twenty-two month old Gus, who lately, has been making his opinions very loudly known. So I waited until he (mostly) stopped crying and hopped into the shower. Gus entertained himself by throwing shampoo bottles into the bathtub and Oliver came in a few minutes later wearing a tee shirt and underwear. “Mommy,” he said, “Can you help me get my pants? I can’t reach them.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. It had passed, those childhood storms that threaten to last forever. Today, it only took eight minutes. But it made me realize how upset I get about every minor disaster and how minor disasters are the very thread of early childhood. How else can children develop a moral compass other than immersing themselves in what is forbidden? How can they be sure of their limits unless they test them?
For me it goes even deeper than that. For the past three weeks, I let myself get caught up in deadlines and people visiting, parties and new classes I am taking. I found myself spun up in stress that left me sleepless and tired, and tied up in duties that I was fulfilling instead of enjoying. This morning I felt as if I had arrived back home. My face in the mirror looked normal, my eyes no longer puffy. I am back to cups of tea at night instead of wine and I started cutting back on the caffeine a bit. Last night I vowed not to get so caught up again. I knew that part of that key is to stay present, to live with my heart forward and open and my core strong and engaged. I think I need to learn how to be steady, how to be in the world and not of it. I need to learn how to listen to my soul instead of my endless to-do list.
I used to be worse. I used to always dwell in the place of deadlines and chaos. I worked in investor relations, where one wrong move could get me fired. Back then, I existed on adrenaline and fear, chardonnay and chocolate. For me, children were the door out of that crazy, crazy world. My first son, Oliver, cracked my tailbone when he was born, and has been steadily cracking open my heart ever since. He is not easy, that one. He pushes every button I have, but has also taught me everything I know about being a mother. He, more than anyone else ever, brings me to my knees, and has shown me that kneeling, that reverence and surrender and grace and humility are the way into the present moment. Gus, the baby, is like dessert. His love is easy and freely given. He reminds me of what is good in myself and in the world. But his challenges will come too, I am certain.
This morning, when the boys were eating cereal, I opened up my copy of “Meditations From the Mat,” written by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison. (For those of you who haven’t read it, that book is like going to a concert where your favorite band opens for your other favorite band.) I was looking for something on Brahmacarya, or moderation and found this quote: “It is always 3 a.m., raining, and you are at the intersection of two maps, when your country needs you the most.” It is a U.S. military officers’ joke, but it summed up everything I know about motherhood.
For some reason, I think there will be a time in my life without trouble, hard work, or chaos. I have a parallel universe where I imagine I will live someday, in a house that will never need to be cleaned, with children who will never challenge me, and with deadlines that are always easy. Today, as I read this quote, I realized that the way it is now is the way it will always be. I will never have all the answers. There will always be a bit of loneliness and fear. There will always be things left undone. And then, as if on cue, Gus kicked a soccer ball into my full cup of tea, sending Nutcracker Sweet all over the counter, the cabinets, the cookbooks.
Someone up there was looking out for me, making sure I got the lesson.
I had asked for wisdom and for moderation and for peace. My answer was a tea-splattered kitchen. Practice, practice, practice, said Sri Pattabhi Jois, and all is coming. As I cleaned up the mess, as Oliver took the soccer ball into the other room and said, “Mommy, I told you this would happen,” I thought of the night Gus was born. In the hospital, as he was making his way, I told the nurse I couldn’t do it. I said I had changed my mind about natural childbirth and wanted the drugs after all. She laughed at me.”The hard part’s over,” she said in her soothing Irish accent. “You’re doing it. You’ve already done it.” It was enough, what she told me. She steadied me. She gave me enough to keep going.
Really, what other choice do we have but to keep going? Karen Maezen Miller writes on her blog that when she is at the end of the rope, what she needs is more rope. “Change your perspective, and the most ordinary things take on inexpressible beauty.”
I wish I could say that my steadiness lasted all day, that nothing fazed me and that I approached everything with a sense of calm equanimity. Instead, I made my usual pile of mistakes and at the library, paid my customary fine of seven dollars (big sigh). But Gus said his first sentence (“Need a new diaper”) and Oliver put together his new LEGO kit without (much) help from me. The rain fell all day, but even that was steady, another answer to my prayers.
My work is cut out for me this fall. As we head into the darkness, my goal is not to complete every class assignment I have or to be the most accomplished mother at my son’s preschool, or to lose those fifteen pounds. My goal is to be steady, to stand in the rain at the intersection of two maps and not freak out. Practice, practice, practice, and all is coming.