Posts Tagged ‘Childhood’

imparting wisdom to children

October 27th, 2013    -    9 Comments

I94_North_Dakota_March_2005__soul-ampWhat have you imparted to your daughter?

This question came near the end of our one-day retreat together, when our hearts were open and full. After we’d done zazen and chanting, walking and bowing. It’s the kind of question we find underneath it all, when we’ve emptied all the silly stuff out of the top of our heads in the weary stillness of practice. We might still be looking for evidence that we’re doing something worthwhile.

Nothing.

That was my answer. I have imparted nothing to my daughter. At least not successfully. In hindsight, it seems to me that she has been waiting for me to stop imparting to her. To stop imposing on her, to stop judging, coercing, undermining, and second-guessing her, as if she were the proof of my able foresight and good intentions.

“You’re not me.” She tells me this with the blunt force of her 14 years, and I am stunned that she can see so clearly through the dark cloud of my crazy fears. “You don’t know what my reality is like.” And since I can’t identify the point at which she gained this unassailable insight, I can only assume she has possessed it all along.

Yes, yes, that’s it: each of us possesses this illumination (although we might only catch a glimpse in the rear-view mirror). The certainty that we can only be ourselves, at the center of our own reality, encountering the unknown road, and doing the best we can. So we can be kind to one another, offer the space to rest and refresh, without hurry, without doubt. We can be generous. We can let things be. And although this insight belongs to me, it is sharpened in the shadowless cast of her shine.

What has your daughter imparted to you?

Everything.

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the last fall

March 5th, 2013    -    12 Comments

12778814-oranges-in-ground-who-fallen-from-tree

I want to tell you that the baby won’t fall
the tooth won’t break
the skin won’t scrape
no row of stitches at the hairline
you never saw it coming
I want to tell you that the teasing won’t hurt
the teacher won’t frown
the kids won’t laugh
her name won’t be the last one called
because I suck at kickball that’s why
I want to tell you that your heart won’t rip
your eyes won’t mist your breath won’t catch
when she disappears into her lonely self
beneath a sweatshirt two sizes too big
a widow
to her babyhood
I’m not that girl anymore
I want to tell you that the flowers won’t bloom
the leaves won’t bud
the fruit won’t dangle and drop
that nothing fades and nothing dies
nothing hurts and nothing leaves
you’ll never see it going
but it will go
it will go home
the way a period ends a sentence
the earth is our mother
she heals even the last fall.

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the wisdom of the one you love

February 10th, 2013    -    6 Comments

glitter-heart-painting-L-JLKW_sMommy,

It’s not always going to be easy for me.

I’m not you.

Why don’t you encourage me?

A “B” is a good grade too.

I’m too dumb for second grade.

When is it tomorrow?

I’ve been waiting for you all night.

I do lots of things you don’t know how to do.

It takes more time to practice.

You’re not me.

It seems like I have friends all over the world. 

I am thankful for my life.

Haven’t you ever heard the saying “Everybody makes mistakes?”

Everything happens when you don’t expect it.

Can I have your jewelry when you outgrow it?

Do you want a lucky penny?

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

I just forget.

Are you happy now?

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the turning season

November 11th, 2012    -    6 Comments

My head was heavy
when I laid me down to sleep
the wind still sweeping the sky
the leaves crumpling at their end
like the paper bags
we used to hold old newspapers
when there were newspapers
our brand being the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner,
a fealty as final as Pepsi or Coke
the afternoon paper on your porch said your dad’s collar was blue

when there were collars
and porches
and afternoons.
There will always be leaves.
They are piling up these days,
a mountain of yesterdays.
I don’t know how high the mountain will be
I only know it is deep.
We called it a newspaper drive back then,
giving them up was good.
I looked at you, the long stretch of you,
not looking at me
and said, for lack,
You used to be so little, I loved you so much.
Do you remember that?
and you said no.

For my sisters, on a November day, 2012.

raising a little one

November 5th, 2012    -    2 Comments

She seemed so tiny, about the size of a silver dollar, when we brought her home in the palm of our hands. We hadn’t prepared nearly enough, but we told ourselves that it couldn’t be that hard to raise a baby turtle.

Put it in the tank and watch it grow! Was there more to it than that?

Then we Googled it.  The experts said we needed to add a heater, use a special feeding bowl, and keep the habitat tidy. It was a lot of work, especially for Mom.

When she was little, she made little messes.

When she got bigger, she made bigger messes.

This made mom a lot madder than she would ever admit. Soon, she had to clean the tank nearly every other day! No one else ever seemed to notice all the work that Mom did, which made mom really, really mad.

Was she raising a lazy, ungrateful slob inside those four walls?

As the turtle kept eating, she seemed to get more and more fed up, too. Sometimes she tried to climb out of her special feeding bowl when Mom turned her head. She tried to claw her way out of her cozy tank even after Mom had spent the afternoon cleaning it just so. Sometimes even at dinnertime that turtle would turn her head, looking disgusted, and say “I’m not hungry right now,” or “Is this all there is to eat?” or “I’m going back to my room.”

One day Mom decided it was time to put turtle in the backyard pond. Dad was upset, saying “But she’s still my precious little baby!”

We put her in the pond and expected her to be starved, eaten or lost. For weeks, turtle seemed to disappear entirely. I wasn’t surprised. In my heart of hearts, I never really believed she could make it on her own.

And then one day we saw turtle sunning herself on a rock in the middle of the water, already twice the size she’d been on the day she left home. When we tried to get close enough to take a picture, she dove back into the deep, her natural element, her true home, where she keeps her own secrets and dreams her own dreams.

That’s all there was to it.

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prayer for a girl becoming

August 10th, 2012    -    33 Comments

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May she be happy
May she sing, and make up songs
May she be safe, and feel safe
See shadows only for playing
May she seek and find
May her smile always find reflection in my own
May I find in her name the measure I need
And give give give.

Amen.

Georgia Grace in the garden, springtime 2007.

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freedom

July 4th, 2012    -    5 Comments

Every now and then I talk to groups of nervous parents. All parents are nervous. Under the surface of relative calm and confidence, we worry ourselves sick. I try to take some of the doubt and turn it into trust.

Remember when you taught your child to eat, I ask. Some people nod. Yes, yes, I remember that ordeal.

Remember when you taught them to walk? Hands shoot up. Frankly, I wasn’t sure he’d ever get the hang of it!

How about when you taught your kid to talk: to move their jaw, lift the tongue, purse the lips and push the breath past the teeth? By now, some are beginning to get the drift.

We don’t teach our children any of this. We show them. They follow. Whether they follow our lead or the impulse of their own intrinsic genius is anyone’s guess. The grass grows by itself.

Those things we don’t teach are the greatest teachings of all. I hope your children have that kind of teacher; I hope mine does, too.

True freedom is freedom from fear.

A halfway spot

June 15th, 2012    -    37 Comments

There is a lull in these months of the year, a gentle sway between the tug and the rush, when my daughter is at her halfway spot, the sweet, round stillness of equilibrium. I’ve noticed this each year with the mid-season: her momentary certitude of being right in her own place, secure that she’s earned all of her years and a half. These extra six months after a birthday and we begin to beam in wonder again at how much she’s grown and how fast she runs, how well she reads and how clever and fun she is, how light and amazing her grace, how charming, how funny, how much of everything she is becoming and then she turns and buries her face in my waist and says,

Mommy, I don’t want to grow up.

And I know she’s heard the dim roar of the river, the whitewater rumble, the current of life beneath us that only flows one way.

The other night when her dad was gone she settled into my bed and took into her hands the photograph we keep on his bed stand like a shrine, the school photo of her at age three at the idyllic Pacific Oaks preschool. She had a kind of glamour then, a barefaced beauty and twinkle that foretold her marvelous future. She studied the photo for awhile and then says,

I really like this girl.

She gazed for a long time, disbelieving that the little tousle-haired blonde with the baby teeth grin was her from five years ago, five years being an unfathomable breach of time the way thirty years is to me, the me who isn’t brave enough to look at photos of the past after it has disappeared for good. I snuggled her to me that night, I swallowed her warm breath, her weightless slumber.

Lately since I’ve surpassed my own irretrievable threshold in age I wake most mornings to the feeling that there is no time. Ah yes, there really is no time and in that way there is infinite time but the feeling I have is that there is no time left. There is no time to wonder how much time or how little time, where to go or when, what to do after, how to end up, what it’s all about, what better or best or next great thing I should or could or why not do. There is no time to waste but only to appreciate the precious and, yes, parting gift my daughter brings when she steps out of the tub and into a towel, leans into my arms and says,

I want you to be my Mommy forever.

That I can do.

***


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how to raise a genius

June 4th, 2012    -    15 Comments

The only real valuable thing is intuition. — Einstein

Shortly after my baby was born someone gave me a piece of transcendently wise parenting advice. “Never withhold applause.”

I just remembered that a few minutes ago, so you know what I’ve been withholding.

This is the last week of my daughter’s sixth grade year. When you get to sixth grade and beyond, when the chase is on, the race is engaged, the hammer comes down and the fun runs out, it’s easy to become confused about what you’re dealing with. To forget who you are and what you already know how to do. To overlook how our children come to us: how mysteriously intelligent and immense with intuitive potential.

And so here’s what you do. Promise me you won’t read any more posts entitled How to Raise a Genius, and I promise that I won’t write any. Let’s turn our gaze instead on the one true light in our lives, see their fragile beauty, the slender remnant of shine, the untested greatness, and applaud, applaud, applaud.

Absolutely brilliant.

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my favorite book of all time

May 15th, 2012    -    17 Comments

Because it is utterly, totally true.

 

Yesterday someone sent me a gift that proves it: wildflowers grow in profusion where you least expect them. And that brought me back to this treasure book, one that is so intimately meaningful that if I could, I would plant it in everyone’s home with a carefree toss from my open hand.

A gift to my baby when she was barely born, from a faithful and nearly lifelong friend, this book delivered a set of emphatic instructions for my own life.

Miss Rumphius
Story and Pictures by Barbara Cooney

“When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places and come home to live by the sea.”
“That is all very well, little Alice,” says my aunt, “but there is a third thing you must do.”

“What is that?” I ask.

“You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

“All right,” I say.

But I do not know yet what that can be.

My goodness! All the passion and discovery, all the trial and error, all the heart and truth and promise in that simple “I do not know.” It is my wish and recommendation for you.

This post originally ran as part of a series on children’s books. Other recommendations are found here, here, and here.

what parents want

April 9th, 2012    -    8 Comments

Speaking only for myself, of course.

When our children are infants, we want them to be normal.

When they are toddlers, we want them to be competent.

When they are preschoolers, we want them to be geniuses.

When they are kindergarteners, we want them to have friends.

When they are first graders, we want them to be polite.

When they are third graders, we want them to be gifted.

When they are fifth graders, we want them to be talented.

When they are middle schoolers, we want them to be competitive.

When they are high schoolers, we want them to be ambitious.

When they are in college, we want them to be elite.

When they are adults, we want them to be normal.

If you’re near San Francisco, join me for “The Art of Non-Parenting,” a public presentation at  Central Elementary School in Belmont on Thurs., May 31.

optical illusion

March 22nd, 2012    -    7 Comments

“The moon follows us wherever we go.” My daughter said this when she was about three, gazing up out of a car window. And she was right. The moon has not yet and never will leave her sky. I’ve heard others tell of their little ones, usually no more than three or four, seeing the same intimate companionship in the sun and stars. Little children still experience themselves — correctly, I might add — as the axis in a spectacular universe, not apart from, but immersed in its shining seas. They haven’t been taught to know more, as we have; they haven’t been instructed to think less of what and where they are.

“That’s an optical illusion,” a well-meaning someone will soon insert into this teachable moment. “It only looks that way because the moon is so big, 3,476 kilometers across, and you are so small, 384,400 kilometers away.” The child sinks back inside the stiff straps of her car seat, which isn’t in the front seat, she notices, but in the safest, smallest notch in the back, where all the wonders are explained away.

they grow up soon enough

January 15th, 2012    -    18 Comments

We spent the day emptying drawers, sorting “keep” or “go,” hauling bags of trash and giveaways, swiping piles of dust. My husband and I have relented to buying my daughter a new bed, a bed entirely of her choosing, to match her self-image and sensibilities, a “teen” bed which will endure as the last blasted bed we buy her. It delivers tomorrow, and so today we cleaned out her room, meaning we cleaned out the most beloved 12 years of our lives. A day like this reminds me that all days are like this. I can’t say it any better than I did in Momma Zen:

“Form is emptiness,” Buddhism teaches. “And emptiness is form.” What could it possibly mean? It means this. It means I cried on the night of Georgia’s first birthday.

The bakery cake was ugly. She bawled in bewilderment at the crowd around the table. The presents didn’t interest her. She fled my arms to the cuddles of her babysitter. My shame was complete, but it was something else that brought me to tears. It was the finality. My baby was done with her first year. And despite my hurry, I was not. I had chosen this night to box up her baby clothes, refolding the tiny come-home things, sobbing at the poop and spit-up stains. They were already relics. How could it be over?

People will tell you so many things, passing on their hindsight and regrets. Love them when they are little. Cherish the early days. I would say it all again but I’m not sure you can hear it until you reach the other side, open your eyes and let the tears of recognition come. There is not one piece of life that you can grasp, contain or keep, not even the life you created and hold right now in your arms. I confess I never tried to slow it down, ever pushing forward to some imagined place of competence for me and independence for her. On this night, though, I could see how fast it all would go. How fast, how sad. Every happy day brimming with bittersweetness.

This is how it passes: no matter where we are we think of someplace else. The place before nighttime feedings, the place beyond twelve-a-day-diapers, the certain bliss that beckons from a distant shore.  This is how we spend our lives; this is how we spend their lives, motoring past milestones as if collecting so many merit badges.

We can be forgiven for this tendency, in part, because childhood is full of tests and measures, percentiles and comparisons. Bring your baby to the doctor’s office and they will plot her as a dot on a growth chart. I inscribed these glyphs dutifully on my calendar ­– how many pounds now, how many inches now – satisfied that we were safely on course to get somewhere. Where is that somewhere? Where is that place that I can relax the tension on the reins, ease off the accelerator?

Not one bit of life is a weight or a measure, a list or a date, a tick or a tock. It is never a result or an outcome. What it is, is a continual marvel, a wondrous flow without distance or gap, a perpetual stream in which we bob and float. We are buffered from nothing and yet never quite fully immersed because our thinking mind keeps eyeing the banks, gauging the current, scoping for landmarks and striving for some kind of perfect, elusive destination. There isn’t a destination. Life keeps going. It keeps going within us; when we’re not attentive, it keeps going without us. read more

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