Posts Tagged ‘Childhood’

the rules are broken

December 12th, 2016    -    6 Comments

Last night I saw my neighbor at the gas station in town. We didn’t recognize one another at first even though we’ve lived next door for 17 years. A sad sign of the times. We immediately fell into each other’s arms, saying what needn’t be said, that every day it gets unbelievably, horrifyingly worse and that our country is dead. I told her it feels like the flags should be flying at half-mast. She said she feels sorry for our teenage daughters, a year apart. There was a contract we thought we had, a contract with the future that depended on our effort, intelligence, honesty and decency. Did you ever feel that? It was fragile, to be sure, but it’s what we grew up believing.

The rules are broken, I said.

A night or two after the election my daughter came into my room as I was sitting. “Mom, if you let me get a tattoo . . . ” she launched into a proposition that she knew was absurd, “would you get one with me?” She explained that since she was under 18, she could only get a tattoo with a parent’s consent.

Every institution in our country is collapsing and what comes up in the middle of the fall is the tiny matter of a tattoo.

I did not straight away say no, because of the realization that has taken hold in me: the rules are broken. We’re going to have to depend on something else, you see, than what we thought was allowed. How we thought things worked.

I said yes.

I told her about a certain phrase in of one of my books that has inspired quite a few people, words that I wrote with only her in mind. I suggested that if we got identical tattoos based on that message, even though people all over the world have shared it on the internet, we would be the only two people in the world who shared it in real life and knew what it really meant.

And that dialogue has since caused piercing pain for me, but total amusement and pride for her, and considering the way the world is going, it has made us both very happy to have each other, two blossoms blooming on a branch that will never break.

why don’t you just be the mom

April 26th, 2016    -    32 Comments

If you ever wondered what you are supposed to teach your child, please read this and learn from me.

It was Thursday afternoon about four-thirty. Georgia was racing through her mound of homework before we left for gym practice at five. (Do math, do science, write a poem.) The minutes were ticking.

This is where it gets sticky.

She’s finishing gluing drawings into her “Silk Road Journal” (16 pages, front and back, history project due the next day) when she lets out a high shriek. The glue has exploded out the cap from a hard squeeze and blanketed two whole pages. The booklet is a soppy mess. Her artwork is doused. She sobs. I stiffen. She collapses. I look at the clock. And what I think I see is no more time.

I really think that time is up.

How is it that a girl and her mother can get stuck between two pages of the Silk Road Journal? Wedged between the pitiless hours of four and five on a Thursday? Strung between almost-done and starting over? Knotted, tangled and ripped in two?

I don’t want to tell you.

I don’t want to tell you what I told her. About what she didn’t do, didn’t plan, and didn’t finish soon enough. About how little and how late. The cause and the fault. How I couldn’t and wouldn’t and didn’t know how to help.  And what did she expect me to do?

Then she turned to me, through her sobs and streaked cheeks, and asked me the one thing that is still so hard for me to do.

Why don’t you just be the mom? Why don’t you encourage me?

Why can’t I just be the mom, and not the taskmaster, the lecturer, the appointments manager, the critic, the cynic, and the know-it-all? What is more important to show her than love? What is there always time for?

All great people, in their profound humility, remember their mothers most. They remember a mother who believed in them. And no matter how late, believed that there was still time. No matter how little, that there was enough. No matter how dismal the prospects, that it was possible. A mother who loved without measure, without schedule and without hurry. A mother who was just the mom.

So we blew off the timetable and moved to the dinner table. I gave her all the room she needed. She spread out and started over, using all the time it took. It went slow, but I encouraged her. She might have learned a lesson about glue, but I learned a lesson that I pray will stick.

When we realize that our child is not the child, then we begin to practice parenthood. It’s never too late to for me to grow up and be the mom. In fact, it’s time I did.

Originally published on Feb. 27, 2012, proving that it’s always time to just be the mom.

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the transfiguration of the bathrobe

January 22nd, 2016    -    5 Comments

1984+The+Robe+Following+Her

The robe my mother wore was blue, quilted, ankle-length, with three-quarter sleeves. She had other robes during my years at home, but this is the one I remember. I remember that she wore it when she got up every morning to make breakfast, and had it on when she opened my bedroom door in the dark and said, “Time to get up, Karen.” I remember her in the robe while we ate our breakfast at the kitchen table—scrambled eggs and toast or cereal and milk—and then we hurriedly got dressed and went to school and her, to work.

My mother did her very best at everything. I would have called her excellent. Our house was small and clean. Sometimes if you looked closely you could see that things were not always so nice. When she wore the blue robe everything seemed warm and safe and reliable. The days began in the same way. There was always breakfast. We were always on time. My mother wasn’t sentimental or silly about anything. She was at all times grown up and good.

None of this may have happened the way I tell it except for the blue bathrobe and the feeling of being loved.

***

There is a lull that opens up between a mother and a daughter. A trench, a sinkhole, a grave and terrible silence. Feelings are overwhelming. Conversation is impossible. Words are dangerous. The truth can seem unbearably close and yet a million miles away.

***

I saw a plush pink bathrobe hanging in the window of a store in town and I knew I would have to buy it. It was expensive but I didn’t care. I took it home and laid it on my daughter’s bed so she would see it the minute she got home.

She put on the robe that night. Then she put it on every night. She would say that she was about to take a long bath and if she washed her hair would I dry it? She would tell me that she was going to take a break and Facetime with a friend. Have some tea with honey. Toast before bed. And twice, seeing me, she would smile, come over and embrace me in a plush hug, suddenly so grown up and good, a mother to a child.

None of this may have happened the way I tell it except for the pink bathrobe and the most excellent, unforgettable feeling of being loved.

***

noun trans·fig·u·ra·tion :  a change in form or appearance :  metamorphosis :  an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change

Jim Dine, 1984: The Robe Following Her

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a mother’s unmanifesto

November 10th, 2015    -    25 Comments

window1Do not be me.
Do not act like me, look like me, talk like me, live like me or remember me.
If you should, in some late season, see me in yourself, realize that I am long gone and happy to live forever in the deep well of your forgetting.
Forget my voice.
Absolutely, I mean it this time.
Even this voice!
Allow yourself the quiet I disturbed.
Remember instead what you said and what you did.
The things I overlooked.
The things I tried to change.
Your silliness.
Your friends.
Your fascinations.
Your refusal to listen to my worry and fear.
I was trying to turn you into me!
Find your heart.
Free your mind.
Use your feet.
Love your life and hate it, sometimes, too.
Everything is permitted.
Give yourself totally to your world.
Overrule me.
Remove my hands.
Escape my grip.
Kick me out of the house.
I will fly in on the starlight
between the cracks
through the gaps
in the empty veil of time
and watch you.
Silently watch you.
It’s all I ever wanted to do.
Love, Mom.

For my daughter, in tribute to my mother, with apologies all around.

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8 ways to raise a mindful child

September 16th, 2015    -    13 Comments

Parents are rightfully concerned about the capacity their children have to pay attention, express empathy, and cope with the stresses that infiltrate their lives. Should we then coerce our children onto meditation cushions? Impose artificial silence, stillness or philosophical indoctrination? Before you do that, take a closer look.

Children are exemplars of the art of being. Wherever they are, they are completely immersed: in mud, in make believe, in laughter, in tears or in spaghetti sauce up to their eyeballs. Without a bit of self-consciousness, they lose themselves in what they are; they literally throw themselves away. This is the kind of losing in which mindfulness is found.

Without making a big deal about it, parents can gently encourage everyday actions that nourish and grow attention, empathy and self-care.

1. Read picture books – Illustrated children’s books have fallen out of favor as parents push children into early reading as a competitive outcome. Mindfulness is perception, and the rich visual content of picture books nourish the capacity to see, explore and relate to what appears in front of us.

 2. Listen – When your children speak to you, turn your face toward them, meet their gaze, and listen. Your own non-distracted attention is a wellspring for theirs. We cannot extract from our children what we fail to give.

 3. Sing  – Encourage singing: at home, at play, in the bath, anywhere. Singing is breathing and breathing is the body’s natural calming mechanism. Hearing your children sing to themselves will release your own deep sense of well-being, and you will smile.

 4. Smile – Smiling is a silent song. For heaven’s sake, greet your children with enough presence of mind to smile at them.

 5. Brush teeth – The ritual of brushing teeth imparts subtle disciplines.  It is rhythmic and therefore soothing; attentive and self-managing; and it stretches our capacity to tend to what we’d rather put off. Then add flossing. You’re developing concentration and fighting cavities in a single stroke.

 6. Walk to school – If that’s not feasible, walk the dog. Walk to the store. Walk to the post office. Or just walk around the block. Walking is meditative and mood-altering. Moreover, walking in your neighborhood overcomes the isolation and alienation we can unwittingly breed in our lives. You might meet or make a friend.

 7. Handwrite – The mysterious art and skill of writing by hand is being shunted aside by the keyboard. Writing with paper and pencil takes time, practice and mind-body focus. Researchers say it enhances learning, memory and ideation. Our children will all learn how to type, but will they learn how to write? Take time now.

 8. Start now – The list of things we want for our children – and expect from them – seems endless. Where will we ever find the time? Until you know what it is to live in the present moment, you will never be able to relax. So relax! It doesn’t take long to be mindful. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your small children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but in free play and casual company according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give. Amply supplied, your children will return their love to the world through mindfulness.

Mindful children grow up in mindful homes.

***

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what to tell the children

June 18th, 2015    -    11 Comments

She taught me everything by the time she was three. But I keep forgetting.

The tsunami hits the day before we fly to Hawaii for a holiday in paradise. The long trip and the time change are numbing enough without the odd narcotic of the disaster: a sky-falling, earth-swallowing event of incomparable horror. We traverse a few thousand miles across a now deeper and more ominous ocean. Our extended family from two states reunites, in one piece, in time to light candles beside a whispering night sea. We are all grateful.

There is no talk about what has happened elsewhere. My daughter is a preschooler and, at home, we have entered what will be a long stretch without a working television. We have disabled it: unplugging the non-stop signals that are still collected by the satellite dish on the roof and pulsed to that place in the living room where no one waits or watches. Like most solutions, this one is temporary, but it has provided all the relief we need right now. It has freed us from the need to police and intervene; it has released our child from a junkie’s craving and stupor; and it has liberated us from what the mass media seems to suggest is the most prevalent issue in modern parenting: What to Tell the Children.

This is what the media serves up to us over and over again, within hours of natural and unnatural disasters: 9/11, floods, fires, hurricanes, wars, beheadings, shootings, earthquakes, rampages, murders. Even contested presidential elections. “What to Tell the Children,” they intone, delivering their expertly articulated opinions. They are, indeed, quite expert at giving this advice. It’s the same advice dispatched after every catastrophic story — stories we believe, by virtue of the ever-widening screens in our homes, to have happened to us. We say that these events have entered our collective consciousness. But if we stopped long enough to consider how they got there, we might realize that “What to Tell the Children” is incidental to “What to Tell the Parents,” which is to turn off the TV.

The aim of all my years of Zen practice has been to get to this point: the point of seeing what really happens in my life. All that sitting still and staring out during meditation is for the sole purpose of glimpsing the difference between what occurs in front of me and what occurs in the inaccessible, inexhaustible reaches of my imagination. In this way, Zen practice is frequently misunderstood as disengaging from the life around us. Fully realized, Zen practice disengages only from the life of the ruminative mind; it is not for one moment disengaged from real life.

Attuned then, finally, to what is, a person might actually pick up a rather shocking bit of news. Despite all the talk about talk, contrary to the rarefied status of the spoken word, regardless of all the good press about interpersonal communication, there’s hardly ever very much that needs to be said.

We can learn this by spending years on a meditation cushion. Or we can learn this in three easy lessons from the children in our midst.
~
“What did you do at school today?” This is how Georgia and I always begin our drive home from preschool. I do the asking, studying my daughter’s face in the rear-view mirror to intercept the visual clues that I decode into conversation. There is a smear of paint on the curve of her jaw; she sucks a grimy thumb while she gazes out the window. She never answers this question to my satisfaction. No kid ever answers this question to a parent’s satisfaction.

“I don’t know,” she says.

She sounds like a troublesome teenager already. I dunno.

I hear it like a challenge. I take it as an affront. Is that sullenness? Is that concealment? What really went on today? Is she unhappy at school? Bored? Bullied? Ignored? Or worse? Silenced by unspeakable trauma? How can it be that nothing remarkable happened at school today to this most remarkable child?

I sound like a troublesome mother already. You never call. You never write.

The topic is communal around the school. It comes up at Parents’ Night when a father suggests that the teachers in our class of 22 four-year-olds might busy themselves composing a little narrative report about what each one of our kids do every day. Our children’s accounts are so insufficient, he reasons, so lacking. The teachers’ eyes widen and roll. I find myself responding on their behalf and answering my own question in the process.

“What we have here is a gap between what we need to hear and what our children need to tell us.” I say the words to the other parents, but I am soothing myself. As addicted as we might be to information and assessments, to texts and tweets, to executive summaries and PowerPoints, to journals and blogs, to news and gossip, our children are altogether blessedly free of all that. They don’t process their day as a set of events; they don’t bullet-point it for easy recitation. There are no highs or lows. They just live it: playing, singing, climbing, painting, kicking, digging, shoving, crying, and who knows what all, completely immersed in the flow. When it’s over, it’s over, with nothing left to talk about.

“I don’t know,” my daughter says again the next day, and I catch the drift, the wisdom of the ancients. Not knowing is most intimate.
~
Sometimes I engage Georgia in talk just for entertainment. Everyone does this. We ask the little ones what they want to be when they grow up. It’s funny to watch them wobble forward into this strange place, this neverland of the future, and concoct something out of the wisps of the unreal, something charmingly unimaginable and sometimes biologically impossible. “I want to be a giraffe!”

We don’t see the risk in this; we don’t see the lesson. We ask a child what she wants for her birthday next month and — whoops — dislodge an avalanche of desires. We murmur about the doctor visit next week and — gee whiz — ignite a fireball of anxiety. We think out loud about our vacation plans for next year and — never mind — stir up restlessness. We don’t realize how many times we aim to curry favor, tame tempers, or just distract ourselves by talking about what is going to happen tomorrow. It doesn’t seem strange to us to spend so much time talking about what isn’t. It’s where we adults live most of the time.

“What day is tomorrow?” my daughter asks. I’m pleased that she has learned the days of the week.

“Wednesday,” I say.

“No, what day is tomorrow?” she asks again.

“Today is Tuesday, so tomorrow is Wednesday.”

“But when is it tomorrow?”

I’m no longer sure what she is asking.

“It goes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” she ticks them off. “But when is it Tomorrow?”

When is that day called “Tomorrow,” that factors so eternally in our plans and schemes? I gape at her clear-eyed misperception, at her supremely intelligent confusion. How many times have I lost her in the mists of my ramblings about that never-to-come day? Her question reverberates and I hear anew the last word of the immortals. Just this.
~
Surely there’s more than just this to take care of, we might argue. Surely there’s more than just our own spilt milk to cry over. In the face of so much pain and suffering, calamity, bloodshed, hunger, and homelessness, surely there’s something more we can do somewhere else.

Driving home from a week’s meditation retreat, stopped at a traffic light in the steamy summer heat, I see a man, his face crumpled, holding an old McDonald’s cup. He’s weaving through the idling cars with a sign. I don’t think; after a week’s retreat, I don’t have to. I reach into my wallet, where I know I have no smaller than two untouched twenties, and I drop one into the cup. His eyes and mouth break open as he looks inside and blesses me.

I’ve talked about this kind of thing with my daughter. Explained, touted, preached. “When we come across people who need something, we give it to them,” I say as I hold up traffic, tossing a dollar bill to the guy who stands on the corner at Lake Avenue.

The first day back at home the phone keeps ringing.

The university calls. “We’re asking all alumni . . . ” the woman starts. I cut her off.

“I’m happy with what I’ve given so far.”

The next time I pick up a call, it’s from someplace called the Cancer Recovery Center. I end it quickly with a curt refusal.

“Who was that?” my daughter wonders at my swiftness.

“Someone who wanted money.” I bear down on the last scurrilous word to close the case.

“Maybe if they need it, we should give it to them,” she says, and I’m face-to-face with the profound. The great Way knows no difficulty.
~
Hawaii is now a memory. We holidayed by a crystal bay where sea turtles bobbed on a seamless gleam and baby waves broke at our feet.

One night, months later, I open up a favorite picture book for a bedtime story.

“‘Hello, ocean, my old best friend,'” I begin the rhyme. “‘Amber seaweed, speckled sand, bubbly waves that kiss the land.'”

Georgia interrupts. “And sometimes the ocean comes way up and covers everything,” she says, as sure as an eyewitness.

I freeze. She has seen it. She was there when we turned on the TV, in vain search of a forecast so we could sightsee on a sunny day. She was there when we clicked back and forth and back again to that mesmerizing footage of the ocean retreating, then towering, then tumbling forward into a bottomless, screaming blackness.

Now. What to Tell the Children?

“Sometimes it does.”
~

Originally published in 2006 at Literary Mama

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value the child

May 11th, 2015    -    6 Comments

My daughter went to a wonderful preschool that had a slogan on its brochure: Value the Child. I liked the sound of that, but it took me time to realize what it meant. It didn’t mean what I thought at the beginning. I’m not sure how many other parents ever got the gist of it. To them, the value might have represented the price of monthly tuition. We already valued our children so much that we wanted them to have the best, and the most, and the first, and the highest.

In other words, we didn’t value our children at all.

When I say that my daughter went to the preschool I really mean that I went to the preschool, because I did, for part of every day. Gradually, I learned what the devoted, loving and talented teachers were showing me: what it means to value someone else. It’s not a lesson to learn once.

It doesn’t mean to prize.
Not to elevate.
Not to demean.
Not to impose.
Not to judge.
Not to expect.
Not to push.
Not to accelerate.
Not to withdraw.
Not to label.
Not to conclude.
Not to give up.
Not to coddle.
Not to do things for them.
Not to do things to them.
Not to do.

To value a child is to value them as they are. To support them where they are.
To show them the immeasurable and eternal value of love. Yes, I know: a mother’s work is never done. But the next time you see your child, act as if it is, and smile.

half the parent, half the child

May 7th, 2015    -    16 Comments

Beautiful branch buds in spring HD wallpapers 1440x1280 (01)I had a bad morning the other day. Something unexpected happened, and in the span of five minutes, my future unraveled, my schemes died, and the only way forward seemed straight off a cliff. In other words, I had to change my plans. On the drive to school, I told my daughter what was going on and how it could affect her. I said this while I was driving in circles, making wrong turns and getting lost. She was quiet and let me be. At midday I got a text from her.

What are you going to do?

I don’t know, I replied.

Just do what you need to do. I will support you.

This is where I might congratulate myself for raising such a wise and compassionate child, with the emotional intelligence and resilience instilled by conscious parenting, who returns the unconditional love and acceptance I’ve given her.

Only she isn’t, because I don’t.

She doesn’t speak to me as I have spoken to her; she speaks to me as she wishes I would speak to her. She doesn’t mirror who I am, she shows me a person I can become. And if I am the slightest bit charitable in my recollections, I must concede that she has been doing this all along with clear-eyed consolations.

It’s not always going to be easy.

I am thankful for my life.

Everyone makes mistakes.

I never get mad when you don’t do your best.

It takes more practice.

Everything happens when you don’t expect it.

By fair assessment, I am only half the parent she is, and she is only half the child I perceive her to be. I can’t parcel the roles out one way or the other. I only know that in the midst of a dark and lonely trial, my pain is shattered by an innocent utterance, and life is born anew.

The life of a mother is the life of a child: you are two blossoms on a single branch. One more thing someone said to me once.

To my dear mother and all mothers before, to my daughter and all daughters to come, I leave this promise and conviction: Your babies will be okay. Together we find the way.

***

Just in time, there are copies of Momma Zen on giveaway here.

a tiny bit useful

November 9th, 2014    -    9 Comments

IMG_0728_2“I’m so over that cup!” my daughter said as I was about to pour a drink for her to take on the morning drive to school.

The cup was a spill-proof plastic cup with a hole in the lid for a straw. When she objected, I realized it was a child’s souvenir cup from an amusement park. The kind of park where you take your little ones for their first coin-operated horsey rides, first bumper cars, first roller coaster, and the first of dozens of cheap, ugly, oversized stuffed animals that will litter their rooms for years. It was still a perfectly usable cup, one you graduate to after you outgrow the sippy cup, but the drink I was pouring for her was coffee, and the commute was to high school.

My days are like this now.

This week I sold a good number of her once-very-special American Girl dolls, taking a baby step toward her urgent desire for a teenager’s room, Mom, a teenager’s room like everyone else. For a day and a half, my office was a doll salon, where I cleaned their faces, eyelashes and hair with baby wipes and coaxed the tangles from their ratty curls. I sorted a trunkload of doll clothing, hats, coats, socks, shoes and underwear. In short, I had a blast. Deep in the mound I found this teeny tiny duct tape purse. This craftwork dated from an age when my daughter was obsessed with enterprise. First came the dog training, dog washing, and dog walking schemes, then the yarn potholders and duct-tape wallets and purses. She was forever wondering how she could offer something people would want and use. Her ambition crested around age 12 with the YMCA babysitting classes and personal business cards, a campaign producing the pitiful yield of one actual babysitting job. Then she gave up childish things.

I kept the duct tape purse, because I remembered a little girl’s attempt to be a tiny bit useful in this big world. Usefulness gives us dignity. It gives us life. Everyone and everything wants to be useful, until their usefulness is used up.

I pitched the cup and a few more like it. I shipped the dolls. Now I pound this into my laptop waiting for the text that will tell me it’s time to pick up a girl who needs a ride home in the cold and dark from school. My tiny bit of usefulness is not yet used up, and for that I am completely grateful.

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goodbye mom

June 30th, 2014    -    6 Comments

montrose02I could not feed you.
But you did not starve.
I could not comfort you.
But you found your rest.
I could not carry you.
But you learned to walk.
I could not teach you.
But you taught yourself.
I could not keep you
shape you
mold you
trick you
tweak you
push or pull you.
After a while, I couldn’t dress you
or even comb your hair.
I couldn’t brush your teeth.
You wouldn’t change your shoes!
I could not understand you.
And I still don’t.
But I can love you
when I stop trying
to do everything else.
The longest goodbye is not the one we give our children.
It is the one we give ourselves.
Goodbye mom.
How long have I labored
when the labor was long done.

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Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
spring comes and the grass grows by itself.

I am that mom

April 8th, 2014    -    15 Comments

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I am that mom who failed at breastfeeding
or should I say, gave up too soon
listened all night for the cough
the cry the whimper
held you limp in a steamy bathroom
called the doctors the neighbors
the teachers
asked for prayers and gave them back, too.
I am the mom who cut the crusts off
sliced the grapes
packed the lunch as my body and blood
Cheez-Its
Nutella
Kellogg
Kraft
Campbell’s
GoGurt
Fruit Loops
a sorry sack of my sins
which you survived.
Yes, let me tell it. You survived.
I am the mom who read the note.
Signed the paper. Told the time.
Got you there. Picked you up.
Fifteen minutes early I am that mom.
On the curb at the door inching forward.
So you don’t wait or wonder.
Don’t wait or wonder.
I am the mom who sweats the small stuff.
Hand washes in cold.
Hangs your clothes up to dry.
Plugs in the twinkle lights.
Fluffs, straightens, tucks.
Combs the lice.
Boils the hairbrush.
Reminds, reminds, reminds.
The field trip, the mid-term, the final.
And then —
I am the mom who is not you.
Doesn’t know you. Cannot be you.
Lets you stand, and fall, and leave.
I am the mom and you are a world beyond your mom.
A life, a heart, a song.
A rainbow, a rosebud.
A bird on the wing, come to visit one day
outside my window, and then gone.
I am that mom.

the end of us

March 14th, 2014    -    4 Comments

The eighth-grade girls cried after last night’s spring musical. They are onto something.

I wrote the following on a notecard, on a plane, about eight years ago, flying east to my father’s deathbed. I’ve carried it with me ever since, suspecting I would one day put it somewhere. And so I’ll put it here, yesterday’s bouquet.

“This is the end of us,” Georgia says, pointing to the airport out the window. She means this is the end of our ride to the airport or this is the end of our time together before I get on the plane. Or what does she mean? It could be anything. It could be everything. It is so completely true. It is always the end of us.

“You be sure to go to the toy store and buy Georgia a Barbie today — a wedding Barbie!” I wag my finger in mock lecture to my husband. A wedding Barbie is proof of heaven to this six-year-old. Georgia brightens in the midst of the abyss. I need her to. She is onto something that I dare not face.

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bring your own cookies

February 25th, 2014    -    16 Comments

img_5702-1I’ve been a mother now for nearly 15 years. This is the sum total of my parenting advice: bring your own cookies.

When my daughter was in kindergarten she had a big, easy smile. She smiled all the time to everyone. Another mother asked what I had done to make my daughter like that. Her comment sent me over the moon with self-satisfaction.

I told her what Maya Angelou had said to Oprah. Angelou said always greet your child with a smile so they can see how much they are loved. A smile for a child is like handing them a cookie. Right out of the blue! This cookie is for you!

Whenever I stepped into the Kindergarten classroom at the end of the day I stood with the other parents at the back of the room and beamed. Smiling was pretty easy for me in those days. Kindergarteners are adorable. I had no expectations of performance or achievement. I wasn’t anxious about tests or grades or homework or arriving anywhere on time.

I just smiled, and the smile gave her everything and took nothing away.

Then things changed. Then I changed.

Things change all the time but they change in a big way come sixth grade, the beginning (in our school system) of letter grades, major homework and crowded, smelly classrooms of alarmingly overgrown kids who suffer daily insults that have nothing to do with their mother. There is no pack of parents at the back of the classroom, thank god, but emphatic instructions to stay far, far away and by all means stop embarrassing me!

A block up the street, she would get into my waiting car and I would ask how she was, and she would mumble something that didn’t tell me enough so I would ask again in rapid fire so that by the end of the four-minute ride home I would have pummeled her with all this and more:

How was lunch?
How was the test?
What was your grade?
What did the teacher say?
Was anyone nice to you?
Was anyone mean to you?
What’s the homework situation?
When will you start?
When will you finish?
How will you get it all done?

To my ear it was innocent enough: I was involved; I was attentive; I cared. But there was never going to be an answer that would make me feel secure with a reality that was out of my hands. I was giving her nothing but my own anxiety, as if her 25-lb. backpack weren’t enough.

It’s taken me awhile to realize what I’m really asking for as my daughter crumples into the car after a long school day. I’m asking for a cookie. Right out of the blue! Give me a cookie!

The thing is, she doesn’t carry the cookies. That’s not her job. If you want to share cookies with your kid, you’d better be the one to bring them.

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