Saturday, August 14, 2010

Chocolate Sauce

We are standing on a hill, Sam and me, under a crescent moon. We've grown bold and brought a flashlight with us so we could dawdle along and not worry about hurrying home before darkness falls and obscures the way while scorpions scamper beneath our feet. Our first star twinkles on and we make our wishes and Sam aske me what I wished for. 'Grace, strength, and courage,' I say. And he says, 'That's not a real wish. You already have those things inside you, you're supposed to wish for something you don't have.'

And this makes my heart soar and sets me free and, like a kid again, not always dutifully determined to save the world first, I close my eyes and wish again for the first real thing that comes to mind--vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wishing On A Star

The sky is darkening purple and Sam and I are sitting on a hump of dirt watching a red streaked swath of clouds glow over the trailers in the distance. We're waiting for our wishing star to appear so we can make a wish--his, I imagine, will be for chocolate. Mine, as it so often is, will be for grace--the grace to live peacably in each moment as it comes, regardless of what it brings.

We are growing up, Sam and me. We are navigating the uncertain territory of what I believe they call separation individuation. For about the first three years of his life, it came naturally to me to notice and attend to his every need. It did not come nearly as naturally or as easily to either one of us to notice and attend to the fact that our needs and wants are becoming seperate and distinct--even sometimes contrary. The more we individuate, the less I automatically know what he needs and the more he has to articulate what he wants, or more to the point what he doesn't want.

This has been hard for us both. It feels sometimes like the breaking up of a romance. I wondered one day if it could be possible that I was no longer in love with my child--but it is not that, of course. Every day he lives there is some new development in his personality that charms me and wins my heart all over again. But in some painful and unexpected way, the motherhood honeymoon seems to have come to an end. It is as though the extraordinary hormonal high that carried me through pregnancy, the most amazing birth and the first three years on very little sleep, suddenly wore off. And there I am again, that old me, the one I thought I finally got rid of when Sam was born.

I am introverted in the extreme, I often just want to be left alone. Some days it is physically painful to remain present, to try to focus on my kid, to interact in an authentic way. As we grow up together, we are learning each others boundaries, we are learning how to have them with each other. Setting his own boundaries is no challenge for Sam, but discovering that I had somehow become dense and no longer automatically know what he wants at all times has seemed as shocking to him as it did to me at first. Because of the isolated way we have lived our lives, it has been hard for him to adjust to this new stage. I have always been everything to him, and the time has come that I had to recognize that I could no longer be that Mama, and even that it no longer served as at this stage in our lives.

I am often tired these days. Where I used to play with him all day long, from waking to sleeping, I now maybe play only a few hours a day. In between I rest, work on my shop, we read, watch movies, clean house, he plays with his dad or by himself. This is good for us both, but it was painful to make the transition--in large part because of my own guilt about it. It took me a while to understand that I wasn't just having an off day, that my needs were changing and that I first had to identify what they were and then communicate them clearly to my son.

I need rest, and this can be frustrating for him but I am no longer able to simply override the tiredness and go play. I will turn into a screeching harridan if I don't get my rest so I am clear about that. And the clearer I am about what I need, the more readily Sam accepts these changes in our relationship. These days, for instance, he happily changes his diaper whenever it begins to smell and is again considering using the toilet. After months or struggle, I had a dramatic shift in clarity and stated simply to him what my needs were in the situation, and talked about being a family together and how we learn to work with each other to achieve the most harmonious home life possible. And my own vision shifted so that I was truly able to look straight at my son and see him so clearly that the rest of it seemed to fade away. I stopped nagging and, magically, we have not had a single struggle over diapers, hair, baths or teeth in maybe a couple of months now. It just happens naturally and not at my constant, white knuckled direction.

As soon as I let go of the guilt, as soon as I felt my own vision clearly and communicated it to him, as soon as I took the focus off the external and refocused on the love, we were good to go. Amazing. Amazing grace.

In the evenings now when we go for our walk in the desert, or just pop out to wish on our wishing star, or when I say a spontaneous prayer it is this that I ask for--the grace of confidence and clarity, the grace that brings peace regardless of circumstance, the grace that loves without reason, without limit, that goes forward without fear, beyond the obvious, beyond the circumstance, to the place where only love lives.

Under that twinkling star in the pale night sky, Sam goes first, making his little wish with his eyes closed tight. And then I make mine, and then we tell each other what they are. I have some chocolate kisses squirreled away as a surprise so that tonight his wish will come true, but the surprise is mine when he says 'I wished I won't get so mad at you, Mama.'

A thousand little thoughts jam into my brain at once in reaction to this--guilt, worry, joy, appreciation. I open my mouth to say something about how he needn't worry about that, and then I shut it again. It is his wish, and in our new roles as separate individuals, it is not my job to control, or to grant his wishes.

I gather him in a fierce hug and he giggles and says an exasperated 'Mama!' and I tell him we have chocolate kisses waiting for us at home. And so we run hand in hand across the desert, racing for sweet delicious chocolate that is no longer the fulfilment of a wish, but simply something wonderful all in its own right.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Peeling an apple for Sam's lunch--fresh, sweet, lovely to hold and to smell--and the knife slides easily under the skin. And I notice that the blade only ever meets resistance at the point where the apple has begun to rot. Rot and resistance, yes, yes, it only makes sense. That is always the place where I meet my own resistance, where something has been left to rot, something unfelt, unheeded, unintegrated. Yes, yes, keep peeling that apple...

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Hair Cut

Sam's entirey and completely fabulous Aunti Mia gave him a haircut and so, for now, we have a lovely reprieve from the issue of hair combing and washing. Such an easy way out it seems and yet what's wrong with easy? The challenge, of course, is to make real peace with this in the time between now and when it grows out again.

His head has begun to itch again a bit and he even said he'd be needing to have his hair washed. I was so excited! And I said I can do that for you, just like Auntie did, just the same. And he said, No, I'll wait for her, her is the one to do it. And since we don't expect to see her again for another three or four months, I give him a kiss on his temporarily sweet smelling head, turn back to our Pippi Longstocking and go on reading. The future, the hair, the neurosis, will all take care of itself...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My Going Out Shoes

I’m sitting in the comfy chair in our living room, my feet slung over the side, my back resting against the big puffy arm. I am watching Sam and his dad play Candyland and I am growing more and more anxious. I am becoming painfully aware of the pretty skirt I’m wearing, the barrettes in my hair, the going out shoes on my feet. Because I woke up this morning with the full, confident, joyful intention of going out alone. Unlike other days when I felt the need but let it marinate in guilt so that I was unable to present it as a fresh and true thing, this day I simply felt the joy of it, the anticipation. I might go out to lunch alone at that fancy restaurant I love. Or I might make it to the church yard sale before they close up for the day, or I might spend an hour in the Salvation Army looking at every piece of clothing hanging on the rack. Or I might sit in the library and read. It all felt delicious and wonderful, all the possibilities and the feeling of certainty that it would be OK, that it was perfectly right and fine for me to have this day.

And when I approached Sam from this place of confidence, with the expression of a true and authentic desire, we quickly came to an agreement. He began to cry, but I felt no guilt, no anger, no frustration, only the rightness of my request and the surety that he would feel this, too. I hugged him and held him close to me and it seemed he did feel my confidence, or I felt his lack of need, I am not exactly sure what passed between us, except that it contained nothing extraneous, no guilt or remorse and no real sorrow. And he said simply ‘I think I can do that’. And I knew that he could.

And then the clock passed by the appointed hour of noon, when Jim would arrive and I would depart. And it ticked and tocked and dragged the minutes along until one o’clock came and went and still no Jim. And I experience that familiar feeling of foolishness, that stupid hopefulness of getting ready for a much desired treat that I will not be allowed to have. I begin to feel sorry for myself, ashamed and stupid, until I realize I’ve fallen into the swamp and swim back up to the surface. I call the fire chief and find out Jim missed their meeting this morning, I gather Sam up and we head over to Jim’s small trailer, where there is no telephone to connect him to the outside world, and I reject the possibility that there will be anything too very wrong. I let go of my day out, the heaviness of disappointment dissipates, at least for now.

Jim has had one of his blinding, three day headaches and his face is scrunched tight in reaction to the daylight that slashes through the doorway when he opens it in response to the honking of our horn. He steps out into the day, unshaven, scruffy, and yet I see him begin to lighten as soon as Sam comes around the corner. Within an hour the headache has left him and we sit in the heat in his little yard and talk while Sam pours water on our feet to cool us down. It is a pleasant afternoon.

In the evening husband says tomorrow we will try again, but in the morning I do not awake with the same feeling of confidence and I do not even suggest a day out for myself. Inside I still long for it, attempt to hearken back to that feeling of joyfulness, but it has left me for the time being. And I wonder what it is I need from this, why it is that I seem incapable of creating this day out for myself. Sometimes I feel so trapped by this and yet I see that it is a trap all of my own making. I remember the simple truth of the exchange between Sam and me, and that if all our communication were this clean, we would both always have whatever we need.

But today I am cranky, all inspiration has left me. I am so often still just a pool of muddy water, and find myself thrashing about in the murkiness, wishing for something different, ashamed of my own wishes, stuck in the quagmire. Feeling my way toward clarity, feeling the full weight of what it means to be alive, to interact in present time with the people I love, is sometimes so extraordinarily painful that I actually wish for death.

And yet, inside that wish is the seedling growing into the tree of my life. For it is the continual death of the ego, the end of a series of lifelong emotional dances, the death of various aspects of my will. These deaths are painful in the extreme, and yet liberating. I do not surrender easily—that is I have given the outward appearance of surrender all of my life. But inside I dwelt in a fortress that was impenetrable, largely because I was not even aware of its existence. I lived behind walls of clear glass, looking out upon the world and yet afraid to touch it or have it touch me.

And there’s my kid, who shattered the glass long ago, who touches me, rolls around on me, kicks me, yells at me, kisses me, loves me and lives right here in my heart, right here where even I never dared live before. I now have wishes and desires and needs. Inside the fortress I felt them, but lived as if it were my lot to long for but never achieve them. I had the luxury to live this way, a martyr to deprivation, stuck there forever. I did no harm, stuck in that place—or what harm I did seemed of little importance.

But now it matters. For it is the weight of unfelt feelings, the pain of unmet needs that makes interaction with the outside world so painful, and this means that I as grow and become real, as I learn to live on the outside, I experience, identify, feel and act on those feelings. I go out alone unless I truly and clearly feel glad to stay home. Because the alternative is resentment, disappointment and despair, and out here it harms us all.

Outside the fortress I see that all I wish for is within my grasp if only I will allow the true feeling, if only I will make space for the joy. It is painful, this transition, but it is alive, it lives like a weed, growing, spreading, reaching ever upward. Reaching for light, reaching for life, reaching for the real experience of this day—reaching for my going out shoes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Clean Badge of Motherhood

It's late, time for sleeping and lately Sam has been unwilling to end his days, to fall asleep as he used to, snuggled up close until we drift off peacefully. I don't know what has changed for him--nightmares, growing up, not wanting to be parted from his Thomas trains, it's hard to say. So now, I read, sometimes for hours, until he falls asleep.

But tonight we are fuming at one another, feeling huffy and annoyed. For he has a smelly load in his diaper and I want him to change it but he refuses. These moments are often the worst of my career as a mother, the times when I am indecisive, angry, unsure what the hell to do. Because all my prior conditioning tells me this--that you can NOT let your kid go around with a dirty diaper, let alone the fact that he is even still wearing diapers at this age. It's not right, it's not healthy, I am a Bad Mother, it's just not OK.

And yet, here we are. So much of my life is lived to the soundtrack of that tape playing in my head--it's just not OK, it's just not OK, you're not OK, your life is not OK, your choices are not OK, you are not OK, and your mothering is really not OK.

And yet, here we are.

What I have learned from unwilling experience is that, in fact, it doesn't seem to harm him in any way to carry around this foul smelling business in his diaper for hours on end. He doesn't get a rash, he is not unhealthy, nothing about his life has changed except that now I have become a nag, the thing I was quite sure I would never do. This poopy business pushes me up to the very wall of my ability to expand, to love without condition, to mother with my heart instead of my head.

Because here is this child who smells terrible and who fiercely lays claim to his right as sovereign leige over his own body, his own poopy and his own smell. And I have pledged myself to the service of this sovereign. I have said that I believe a child should have dominion over his own body but I had no idea how hard it would be to truly live this ideal. I want my son to remember his own innate wisdom about how the body works, I want him to remain connected to the vessel that will carry him throughout his life. I don't want to teach him to abhor anything about himself, his body, the way the natural world works.

And yet, here I am. Angry and annoyed that he won't agree to change his diaper, that he is so offended by even the suggestion. Sometimes I see him standing there saying 'Love me, no matter what I smell like, can you do that? Love me no matter what I look like, can you do that? You, who have always preached such pretty words about unconditional love and yet, when you look at me, you see only my ratty hair and dirty diaper. You do not see ME, you do not see me standing here, you see only how the world will gauge your failure as a mother by the tangles in my hair and the poop in my pants.'

And there he is and I find that it takes absolutely everything I have to SEE HIM, to look past all the little failures that make me cringe, his dirty fingernails, his dirty feet, his dirty, tangled hair, and his dirty diaper, beyond which lie the sparkling pure truth, the clean soul, the real boy.

Because this is how the world has always judged our mothering. If we keep our children clean, their hair combed, their feet washed, their little bodies neatly dressed, if we teach them to use the toilet early so as not to offend, not to remind anyone unneccessarily of the animalistic humanness of our own bodily functions, if we see to it that all of these things are done, then we are Good Mothers.

And yet sometimes, the doing of these things requires that we hold our children down, that we ignore their protests, that we tell them they are wrong, that we establish dominance over their bodies, that we model for them that might makes right, and that what they believe about their bodies, what they intuit, what they feel, is invalid and untrue because it does not jive with our own conditioning, our own beliefs that cleanliness is next to godliness and that, therefore, we as mothers and the children we so love will fall from grace if we do not scrub behind their ears.

In my heart, I know this to be untrue. In my heart I know that what matters most truly is the ability to love this child unconditionally, even when he smells that bad, even when his choices result in what looks like Very Bad Mothering.

And yet, here we are.

Sometimes I nag and become self righteous. Sometimes I don't. Some days the smell is mild and I am really, totally fine with it. Sometimes I feel a rare confidence and I say simply that we all share this home together and the smell is too strong and he must do something about it, at which times he shrugs and says sure.

Of all my failures in mothering, I suppose I lament my inconsistency the most. I comfort myself with the thought that there is in me a core belief in the truth of the adage that love is all that really matters. But when I am caught in the quagmire of old thinking I wander far from this home truth, sometimes into a deep dark wood from which is is difficult to find my way out again. And my son, being my son, must wander there with me, poopy diaper and all.

I see that if I still believed in the idea of cleanliness somehow equating godliness, or if I still believed in the idea of rules, that I could simply make a rule and stick to it and all of this might, in fact, be a little easier for my son. But I no longer believe those things and so instead I wander these new paths, hacking my way through the underbrush, hoping to find a clearing with the sun shining down on it and daisies growing all around.

And yet, here we are. I manage to refocus my attention on the really great book we are reading and Sam's little body, stretched out long on the edge of the bed, finally relaxes. Within a few minutes, he's asleep. While he sleeps peacefully, I change his diaper, wash his little butt, dress him in clean pajamas and put him up on the pillow looking like the child of a Good Mother. The next time I see him, when he wakes me up in the morning, the pajamas will be gone and the diaper will be dirty again. And here we'll be, in a new day, a new chance to find the clearing in the woods.

I will be glad to get there, and I'm sure it will smell heavenly.