Letting go

How do we learn to give our children up to the care of the Great Spirit? When they’re born, we know we have to let them go eventually, but we might not realize we have to start doing it sooner than we expected. The first day of preschool, a babysitter/daycare situation, and later, sleepovers that result in a midnight call to pick them up.

How do we relinquish our hopes and expectations for them? What I wanted when I was in high school was a school like the one portrayed in the TV show “Fame”.  When we started discussing where my 14 year old would go for high school, I wanted him to go to the local arts and leadership school.  Much to my dismay, he wanted to do sports, which that school didn’t offer, so my dreams of living vicariously through him were dashed, and I had to let go, again.

As time goes on they grow further and further from the Island of Mom.  Pushing off from the shoreline for a trip to a neighboring island and graduating to day trips, then out for days at a time. My teenager just got back from a five-day river trip.  I had gotten used to texting him during the day, and just the loss of that small bit of connection made me weep, I’m not sorry to say, more than once. Even the days that he spends with his Dad, every other weekend, are opportunities for me to let go. ( I wrote more about that here)

My children rise, I imagine, of their own accord, up toward their own fate, their own path – the one we can’t walk with them. We aren’t privy to where that path will take them.  We can provide access to tools and strategies, as far as our own capacities will allow, but the path itself, is a matter between them and their God.

How do we let them go with grace? Most of us were never taught these skills, although there have been other generations that valued that connection with their children and ultimate letting go enough to learn to do it well.

Where is the best place to learn this letting go, now in this day and age? Who do we even talk to about it?  I know I’ve shed more than one tear over drinks with other moms, but that is commiserating, not learning so much. I don’t know the “best” place to learn these skills, but many people turn to their religion/belief systems, counseling, parenting books, etc. I have engaged with a number of those way, and find that I look to the universal, cosmic even, ways of letting go.  Breathing, noticing how the light moves or doesn’t move in my sons’ eyes, and listening – ever listening.

First, we have to let go of how we were let go.  How we moved into the world, transitioning from youth to adult became our programming. I for one, have had to do a hell of a lot of unlearning to make room for these questions.  And, I’m still unlearning, returning to a Beginners Mind, over and over again. Being reminded of returning to Beginner’s Mind is one of the gifts of Householding.

How do we give our children up to the care of the Great Spirit?  We listen.  Our children are the experts of their own lives, and it is our job to listen to what they say, not only with words, but with their bodies, with their silences.

What I have heard, like a rainstorm I thought would be a virga, but it indeed reached the parched ground of my listening ears, is my sons telling me, sometimes cryptically, sometimes point blank, how to let them go. This teacher becomes the student, over and over again.


Painting by A.N. Schuller, 1994

Beginner’s Mind, A.N. Schuller, 1994


One of the Last Taboos

In reading Edward Marriott’s article When a Bough Breaks – Volcanic feelings of love and hate are part of being a parent: it’s dangerous to pretend otherwise, I finally found a word for the frustration I’ve been experiencing –  Ambivalence.

“What is distinctive of our times is how few parents — still, even in our post-Freudian age — will openly admit to feelings of ambivalence towards their children. In an age where very little — from sex to money — is left a mystery, parental ambivalence remains one of the last taboos.”

When the bough breaks

It is the unfamiliarity with ambivalence in relation to my kids that has surprised me more than anything.  I really didn’t know that the feelings of conflict inside of me were normal, common, and have always been so.

As Marriott contends in the article, ambivalence is more than just mixed feelings.  It’s the end-all-be-all of mixed feelings – nothing short of love AND hate. Loving is the easy part – it is the word “hate” that has caused the most distress for me. Actually more than distress.  Shame.  The “s” word.  

I am ashamed of the number of days that I have completely resented making dinner for my family.  If I am stuck in the negative sway of ambivalence I no longer want to be involved with people, much less care for them domestically. No laundry, dishes, cooking – I just want to quit.

I am ashamed of my thoughts of violence or abandonment of others – specifically my children. Left-brained rational thought says my feelings are dangerous and should be eradicated.  Right-brained emotional thought wants to rage and scream and get recognition for the depth of my feelings.

The shame compounds itself because I feel powerless, completely immobilized sometimes, to do anything but sit in negativity, for the simple fact that I don’t feel I should be having these horrible feelings in the first place! I hold onto a common human/parent lie (that we must love without interruption), so each incidence of anger and the resulting shame grows into a mountain.

I have felt this ambivalence when someone will say “What a cute little guy!” about one of my sons.  “Sure”, I say, “cute as the devil’s spawn!” Then I reply with something like “Yeah, but he’s cute so I keep feeding him!” I watch myself say these things knowing that I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I could say something cute and cuddly, and deny the negativity, or I can make a negative comment that could get me into hot water. This culture seems unready for  wholly honest responses that are less than loving and attentive.  Responding to a stranger’s passing remark is probably not the best time to let the honest rage and anger out – best to keep the loving facade up – but finding ways to embody and acknowledge all of me is important.

Bradley Olson, Ph.D., also talks about ambivalence and its tendency to make us “supremely uncomfortable”. Many of us then turn that uncomfortable feeling into a soap box to lecture others what they’re doing wrong, or passive-aggressive games with family, or, blog posts about our kids that start out honest and raw and end up in a heap of hugs and love – but never giving full attention to the deep, inner feelings, other than socially acceptable positive ones. 

Our culture has created a command that we always look like we love our children. The heresy, to use Olson’s term, of not buying into that command is supremely uncomfortable, but also exhilarating. Exhilarating because as I see it, heresy is essential to growth. We must step outside of convention if we wish to grow.

As Marriott talks about, the repression of the ambivalence can be “risky to others”.  I agree, and I would point out that heresy of thought is not the same as heresy of action.  I can have thoughts about my children that are not loving, but the moment I act it out, I have crossed the line. And, as Marriott also mentions, no one wants to be put in the same group as the abusive parents that we read about in the headlines. If I repress the darker parts of our myself, I am much more likely to try to repress the darker parts of my children, others, and myself. We in effect transfer our own negativity outward, committing heresy of action. 

I have found myself transferring that negativity outside of myself more often than I like to admit. I have put my children, husband, and most often myself at risk, more than anyone else, when I haven’t acknowledge all of the feelings caught up in my ambivalence. I rage not only about the feelings I have today, but all of the ones from yesterday that I suppressed.

Now that I can recognize that I have ambivalence, the full spectrum of feelings, toward something or someone, I have a stopping place for my emotions and breathing room to figure out how my actions can be appropriate and my thinking and feeling might come from a deeper place than before. The idea of a stopping place reminds me of Using Mindfulness Practice to Deal with Negative Urges by Shinzen Young. In a quick nutshell, we are to divide the components of the negative urge up into manageable pieces. Uncomfortable body sensations, memories, plans, judgments, beliefs are all bound up in us, getting stuck if we let them. I find that loud music and dancing, or taking a walk are two physical things that I can do to dissipate the negativity.

A friend of mine wondered if we would have less ambivalence if we raised our kids in line with the “it takes a village” concept. I don’t know that we would have less ambivalence, but I know I sure could use more loving support when the pendulum swings toward the negative end of ambivalence, and that might soften my reactions. The strength of having a village support us while we stumble through parenting could be found in the ancestral knowledge, experience, and stories of ambivalence. We would come to understand that ambivalence exists inside all of us. We might just create a moral fabric for our village that includes the depths of our being, thereby negating the need to commit heresy against the old repressed ways, for the old repressed ways would leave us. 

Crashing at the finish line of Birth

English: Lisa J. Patton and her newborn LaVerg...

Very Lucky Momma:  Lisa J. Patton and her newborn LaVergerray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A woman faces everyone else’s denial when she attempts to say how a traumatic birth has affected her.  An uncomfortable sense of isolation and a fear of being crazy results, as loved ones, friends, and co-workers do not acknowledge her pain or how her world has changed.  This separation from others in viewpoint and experience is often more difficult to heal than the physical wounds of birth.”  Lynn Madsen, Rebounding From Childbirth

Sometimes I think I value the first time a woman holds her newborn more than I value all the other times she gets to hold them. Let me rephrase.  Sometimes, I disgust myself  for not being able to hold my newborns, more than I appreciate all the other times I’ve held them.

I was steeped in, and steeped myself in, a warm fuzzy cup-o-delusion about that moment when I would finally get to hold their tiny bodies, on the outside of my belly.  You’d  think, that with all I’d been through, that I would have known better – that there are always curve balls and unforeseen circumstances and that I might have entertained the idea, especially during my second birth, that I might not get to experience that moment. You know, that glowing moment that so many happy mammas post all over the internet of them holding their 2-seconds-old baby.

Why is the loss of that moment so deeply devastating to me? Because I put it on a pedestal.  A gilt covered and tall pedestal that was initially constructed when my mother talked of having her 4 children naturally.  She indoctrimnated me into the idea of natural childbirth from 6 years old, onward.  The alternatives to natural childbirth became repugnant to me.  Non-natural childbirth was only for weak women, or women with physical abnormalities, I surmised. After my first son was born, I realized my wrongdoing  – that I hadn’t tried hard enough.  I had given into the c-section because I was weak.  That’s what I internalized. When I became pregnant again, 10 years later, I resolved to not be weak this time. So, when the c-section happened, I was only somewhat relieved to hear the surgeon say that my pelvis was deep and narrow.  So, I wasn’t weak, just physically abnormal. But that didn’t help me feel better about it either because I had also been steeped in the stories of doctors telling their csection patients that they were narrow, or whatever, but that midwives don’t really believe all that.  Midwives have seen all kinds of babies born from all kinds of women. That’s how I filtered what midwives say. I had a midwife for both pregnancies and deliveries.  And still, I failed.

The pain I endured and the hope that I had, didn’t make one bit of difference in getting me that moment that I longed for. My attachment to that imagined moment has stolen many moments since then, from my experience. Just because I crashed at the finish line of the marathon of birth doesn’t mean I didn’t run the WHOLE DAMN THING.

Mourning must commence.  I have been letting it slip slowly out of my eyes for years. I think I’d like to be done with it, at least the bulk of it, so I can finally move on.
Move on to seeing the two amazing humans that have been in my care for years now, with only my one eye on them, and the other looking back to a moment that never happened.

Losing Time – Open Hear post #5

“When the heart weeps for what it has lost,
the spirit laughs for what it has found.”

      Sufi proverb

I’ve lost hours with my son.  When he is with his father, my ex-husband, I lose hours.  I’ll never get them back.  This is not a unique phenomenon.  Fathers and Mothers alike experience it. It is through this thick coating of a sense of lost time, that I heard my son say tonight, “I don’t want to go on vacation with you guys this year”.  We had just finished telling him that we started to look at cool things to do in the places we’re going to visit.

He had been grumpy for a little while and when this finally came out I was overcome with emotion. I didn’t know what to say.  Tears welled up in his eyes and I could tell that it was hard for him to tell us this. I tried to be compassionate.  I told him it was ok, and hugged him.  But as he started to talk some more, he expressed feelings of wanting to be with his dad and not us. I could sense the conflict inside of him.  Having to choose between two people you love can be very difficult.

The loss for me came when I realized he simply didn’t want to be with me, his step-dad, and his brother on vacation.  That I would lose more time with him.  He starts middle school in the Fall. He wants a cell phone and we won’t get him one yet.  He’s growing up and trying to differentiate himself.  Yeah, well, it still makes me feel like I failed. No amusement park, no cool place can hold a candle to spending time with someone you love and want to be around.  I can’t deny him that.  So. There you go.

So, if I follow the quote at the beginning of this post out to the end, I have to dig a little to see what the hell spirit might be laughing at.  Come to find out, there are positives to be found.  No one will endlessly ask “how much farther” on vacation (because the 15 month old can’t talk yet).  I won’t have to hear how bored someone is (same reason). Airfare fares for three people are cheaper than for four.

And, so I guess spirit has found a space. Maybe a space for me to differentiate a few parts of my own self. A space between me and son, whom I have tried to help cleave from me, in a healthy and natural way. I weep for the loss of time, but laugh for the space I find, after helping a part of my self push off from shore.

Create our own reality…or unnecessary pressure?

“A survivor is someone who hasn’t committed suicide yet” – author unknown

Mother's Day

This, or three hours alone? I choose the three hours!!!

When I hear people say we create our own reality, I feel like what they’re really saying is that I had better live up to my own expectations, otherwise, I’m falling short.  I fell like I’m always falling short.  I apparently have very little capacity to create my reality in the way that makes a huge fabulous balanced life. I think of leaving this earthly plane because I can’t get it right, over and over and over….

But maybe I’m looking at it wrong. If I reframe it through a householder yogi’s eyes, through a spiritual warriors heart, I can see that it’s not the reality but the creating, in each moment, my “take”, my perception, of said reality that is the clincher.

Today I read two great Mother’s Day wrap up posts – From Patience Delgado: “We hate it because somewhere along the way, we told mamas that life must be the show: amazing, astounding, and we are responsible for it all.”  We tell ourselves we must be the only one who can’t quite hack it, can’t find the balance. We try so very hard at keeping it all together. The secret truth is, there is a place for every woman — a place where there is no balance, no right way, no thoughtful response, no barrier, no fear, no perfection, no layer left. It is this place where the real beauty resides, where truth reigns, where courage begins, where our children can really see life, where we find love, where we can rest.”

Does this mean that falling down is our moment of creation? Our moment of finding our strength and resilience? Yes, I’m beginning to see it that way.

I can’t possibly begin to be responsible for it all, and I certainly can’t make it amazing or astounding for anyone else, especially if I can’t do it for myself very often. As Valarie indicated we have to be specific about what we ask for. Even from ourselves, I find, because I’m so overwhelmed so much of the time that I can’t form a pure intention to save my life. Thank you for this reminder that, as I hear it, we must be realistic and sweet to ourselves, that we must keep going, that each moment is new, and a chance for new creation.

Thanks to The Happiest Mom…

My post Motherhood is as Motherhood Does, is on the pegboard of Meagan Francis, the author of “The Happiest Mom” and, “One Year to an Organized Life with Baby”.

I shared my thoughts as part of her post “Are Tiger Moms Happy Moms?”, and she graced me with a link on her pegboard to my post.  Thanks Meagan – Moms everywhere thank you!

Open Hear Post #4 – A lesson in Fearlessness

Opening Hear

Inspirations that come from anywhere that cause us to listen with our hearts… unlocking them in the process.

“Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness.
It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart.
You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world.
You are willing to share your heart with others.”

Chogyam Trungpa Tibetan Buddhist, Scholar and Artist

In a moment our relationship changed.
I chose to be real with him. I told him why I was crying and his big, beautiful, sensitive heart opened right up to me.

My usual MO is to get angry. To take it out on them, my loved ones. This time, rather than try to hide my tears or make him wrong for wanting me to watch a video about dirtbikes, while Ben was making SO MUCH noise and it had been such a long day of trying to keep it all together, much like any day, and I JUST WANTED TO FINISH THIS ONE….DAMN…..PARAGRAPH that I was reading,  I owned it.

I found the source of my discomfort and I spilled it out. I gave him an honest picture of what was happening with me, right then, rather than covering it in all the ways that I’m so good at.  And I broke down.  I wept and kept weeping for a couple of minutes and he asked what was wrong at least twice.  As I finally caught my breath I said,”Sometimes I would like to work on some artwork, or reading or just be creative – and there are so many demands and distractions that I hardly every allow myself to do it”

He really heard me.

Later that night I went to veg out in front of the TV with him.  He grabbed two pieces of blank paper, two pencils,  and two big sturdy books and sat down by me on the couch.  He invited me to draw with him. He drew, I started writing this.  We talked about how sometimes watching TV helped drown out the mental background noise and helped him draw better. I told him I used music for this. We talked about how girls at school were being “all dramatic about boys and love and stuff”.  I suggested he ignore the drama as best he could.

I also thanked him to being so kind to me, for understanding about how my heart needs art and expression.  He must know this because He has it inside of himself too. I am so blessed.