Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

the particular sadness of yes

November 14th, 2010    -    10 Comments

It is time, and such a short time it is, to say yes.

Can I write the tooth fairy a note asking to keep this tooth?
Can I sleep with you?
Can I ride with you?
Can I walk with you?
Can I go with you?
Can I keep the bottle cap?
Can I save the ribbon?
Can I have the last piece of candy?
Can we go to Disneyland?
Can I get this doll?
Can you wash my jacket because at lunch I looked down and saw a bug on it.

Yes, I say, yes, yes. Because there is an end to these questions, and yes is what you say when you see them go.

Oh good, she says. Because I was afraid I was supposed to outgrow it.

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sitting quietly doing nothing

June 28th, 2010    -    14 Comments

Last week my daughter finished fourth grade.

At the beginning of the year her teacher asked the students to make a time capsule from a cardboard cylinder and fill it with artifacts. Inside went a self-portrait; a hand print; names of favorite foods, movies and books; and a list of goals for the year ahead. She opened it on the last day of school, and this was what it said:

What I would like to learn this year:
1. Pi
2.More long division
3.More multiplication
4.To type

What I would like to accomplish in school this year:
1. Math Field Day
2. Student Council

What I would like to accomplish at home this year:
1. Middle split
2. Back handspring

What I would like to do to become a better person:
1. Volunteer at the aquarium

I record these things here not for her, but for me. I had not one thing to do with anything on this list, and she did them all. I no longer know what pi is or does, and any handsprings I do are mere metaphors. I post it to remind myself that her life is her own, and to make space for it to grow in every direction. To trust her able hands, agile mind, limber legs and passionate heart. To delight in the scenery and to marvel at the change. To keep company with her – silent, loving, loyal company – and to leave her off my list.

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

For an up-close view of what I mean, see what my friend Pixie saw in my patch of paradise. The photo credit is hers.

the no-project project

March 31st, 2010    -    21 Comments

The other week I turned down the invitation to speak to a preschool. Politely, I hope. I said something like “my recent encounters with preschool groups have had unreliable outcomes.” There’s more (and less) to it, but I’ve applied the rule of three: when things don’t go quite the way you expect three times in a row, it’s a good time to turn in another direction.

I’ve suddenly realized I don’t have much to say about how to raise your kids.

You probably aren’t surprised, since I blew my own lid off about this topic a couple of months ago with a rant about the proliferation of cynical parenting advice and so-called scientific breakthroughs. The piece is reprinted in this month’s Get Born magazine, and that’s a good place for it. The rant is over now; my Tea Party moment has passed. My fury birthed a clarifying truth for me: parenting is not a project! At least, my parenting is not a project. Ten years into the blitzkrieg of late-life motherhood, I’ve recognized that kids do a pretty good job of growing up by themselves. Thank goodness, because parents like me can make a mess out of the simplest things.

This is not to say I don’t stand by Momma Zen. It is as sweet and disarming a book of no-parenting advice as any out there, and more popular than ever. I’m happy it turned out okay all by itself.

My daughter is 10. We are likely to be enemies any day now, then wary survivors, before our amity is once again restored. I can attest how wonderful 10-year-olds can be: how purely emotional, brutally honest, sincere, enthusiastic, coy, shrewd, and worldly wise. And I can tell you that my daughter at 10 years is exactly the same girl she showed herself to be at 10 months. She has never been anyone but wholly, recognizably herself, all the while I have been occupying myself with pushing a wooden bead along a circuitous route. (Hey, they said it was educational.) read more

where I’m at

February 2nd, 2010    -    No Comments

To be honest, my head is still spinning, but to find out why I’m going to make you friend me on Facebook. While you’re here let me tell you about the spots I’ll soon be seeing before my own eyes:

On Sat., April 17 I’ll be at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco for a 9 a.m.-noon workshop on “Parenting as a Spiritual Path,” an incredibly intimate, practical and inspiring program on the spiritual vocation of parenthood. This occasion has been a year in the planning, and at $5 per person in advance, it will fill up fast, so call Carren Shelden at 415.749.6369 to save spots for you, your spouse or partner and all your friends. Space is limited. It is the first event at which my new book, Hand Wash Cold, will be available, and I won’t let you forget it.

On Sun., May 2 I’ll be launching the Kitchen Table Tour, my homemade brand of book readings for groups of friends in private homes, with a kick-off event in my own home and garden. And everyone is invited! (Note to self: Tell husband.) If you want me to come to your house, to meet your friends and hog your table, reading from Hand Wash Cold and making a big scene, just leave me a comment and tell me where you’re at.

The merit of no merit

January 10th, 2010    -    12 Comments

The other day I sewed a half dozen new merit badges on a girl scout sash. Since my daughter graduated in the scouting ranks her new sash has been empty. The flag patch waves on her slim shoulder; the troop numbers march across her collar bone; but the merit was entirely missing. We studied the scouting book and decided that – lookee there! – several of her passionate pastimes already measured up for an award without doing anything more. We skipped the fine print in favor of a quick feather or two.

Honestly, how good does a good kid have to get?

The merit of a badge is equal to the merit of a mother sewing on the badge, which is to say, there is no merit. But I forget. I keep thinking there’s something for me to figure out, something to get, something to show. That there’s something that good mothers do, and some way that good daughters prove it. I’m always wrong about that.

She paraded off to school with six new badges to flash. They don’t mean a thing. But it’s a nice wide sash, this margin of error, this no-badge of honor, where good girls grow up by themselves and mothers simply stop keeping score.

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How to make a baby

November 15th, 2009    -    13 Comments

Add baby.
Dispose of birth plan.
Put all cashmere out of reach.
Abandon eurostyle.
Abandon style.
Piss on style.
Shop Wal-Mart in haste and desperation.
Beg for hand-me-downs.
Wear husband’s sweatpants.
Every day.
Leave room for baby weight, flat feet, worry lines and permanent scars.
Resemble your grandmother.
Forget bathing.
Luxuriate in a hot shower for 7 seconds one day.
Forget that day.
Chop off your hair.
Lose your head.
Soak all stains overnight in salty tears.
(The stains remain and the tears return.)
Simmer in fatigue.
Whisk in exhaustion.
Churn the night into the day.
Let surface harden until brittle.
Scrape the bottom.
Let time evaporate.
Give up completely.
Make nothing.
Except mac and cheese microwaved for 3.5 minutes on High.
Love without doubt.
Forever.

If you have a minute, stop by here and give Theresa an attagirl.

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Monkey love

October 27th, 2009    -    9 Comments

First, I want to thank all the commentators on my last post, even those who told me off. I will let you off the hook for not liking me. It’s easy enough to let us someone off the hook, since there is no hook except the one I invent with my judgment and expectations.

What I want to explore is where we get the sense that we are so inept at parenting. Where does that judgment come from? It’s a fascinating piece of self-inquiry.

Once I gave what I judged to be a good talk at my Zen Center about the extraordinary challenges of parenting. The parents in the room nodded in solidarity. Why, oh why, was it so hard to do it well, to do it right? Ours was the most difficult job in the world! The discussion wound on and on, going nowhere, until my teacher gave a harrumph.

“Even monkeys can raise their young!” he said.

“Raise them badly,” I thought at the time, taking his comment to be little more than the rude evidence of his unique insensitivity. “He might have been a father,” I reassured myself, “but he was never a mother!” Mothers, I knew firsthand, could be the unrivaled experts at doing difficult things. With an extra degree of difficulty, I might add.

Some of us take at face value the conventional wisdom that “parenting is not intuitive.” It sounds true, since we judge ourselves to be so bad at it. But that would mean that human beings are the only species on the planet without the intuitive capacity to raise their young. That sounds false.

There is something that inhibits us, but I don’t think it’s intuition. After all, we have a boundless store of intuitive wisdom that functions miraculously with no interference from us. That’s what I wrote about in a column that ran yesterday on Shambhala Sunspace. No, what sets us apart from monkeys and all other mothers in the animal kingdom is our intellect. Our higher-order thinking, wherein resides knowledge, comprehension, analysis and judgment. Intellect is useful, but it is limited. Intuition is mysterious, and it is boundless.

Knowledge is acquired, but wisdom is revealed. Each has its place, until we come to the matter of judgment, critical judgment of ourselves and others. This is where the hooks are – the shoulds, the bests, the rights and wrongs, the perfect and imperfect, the not good enoughs. We must be careful when we ensnare ourselves in judgment, because there is no love there, not even monkey love, and that’s the most irresistible kind.

***

Edited to add: This link to a redemptive story in today’s Times for all of us so preoccupied with “how things will turn out.”

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The Parent’s Little List of Letting Go*

October 13th, 2009    -    9 Comments



A seasonal refrain sung to the tune of a deep exhalation.

Baby is born.
Baby sleeps through the night.
Baby bites.
Baby crawls.
Baby turns 1.
Baby stops sleeping through the night.
Baby pees in potty.
Baby throws binkies in trash.
Baby starts kindergarten.
Baby stops sleeping through the night.
Baby’s first drop-off.
Baby’s first text.
Baby loses first tooth.
Baby’s first career plan.
Baby stops sleeping through the night.
Baby’s first true love.
Baby’s last Barbie.
Baby’s first head lice.
Baby’s second true love.
Baby’s first first-place.
Baby stops sleeping through the night.
Baby says, “Mom, I like your deodorant. Can you get me some?”

Baby is always right on schedule.

*Not so little. Never ever gone.

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When the last bluebird sings

September 28th, 2009    -    8 Comments


I’ve been watching it for some time now, anticipating the end and knowing what it would mean.

When I left my lonely life of accomplishment behind, when I first moved with my husband to this house, to my stark empty-handedness, I called my mother soon after. She had raised three independent daughters, three whiz kids, and I had never said the words that tumbled from my blubbering lips:

I need you.

She came to visit, but before then she sent me a houseplant. It was the kind of plant sold at grocery stores and florists, just a pot of common ivy and indistinguishable indoor greenery. For decoration, it had a slender spike stuck into it with a bluebird on the end of it. I’ve had it since then, all 12 years, in one spot and then rotated to another. I treated it like a talisman, and then a memorial, thinking to myself:

This is my mother.

About a year ago it started to fade. The ivy yellowed and dropped off. The other stalks shrunk. Little remains but the spike with the bird on top. It seems to have bugs now, or some kind of blight. I know it’s time, and so I moved it to the patio. As part of every morning service at the Zen Center we chant this line, and so I chant it now:

The four elements return to their nature as a child to its mother.

It’s time to let the old girl go, to let it all come to rest. My mother is telling me to go, to take flight, to sing my own song. A few weeks ago I heard myself say, as if reading my own heart, “I don’t want to write about parenting any more. Motherhood is about so much more than the kids.” Yes, it’s true the kids are part of it, I said, pounding my chest, but my life and work have moved to a larger purview now. Like what, you might ask, if I haven’t lost you in this pile already. And so I tell you:

The laundry.

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I hate you*

September 22nd, 2009    -    89 Comments


*and other ways to say I love you.

Today I had a: conversation/fight/tantrum/major meltdown.
The fact is, I’m having a tough time with the transition to: going back to work/daycare/no sleep/solids/no nap/the big bed/the twos/the threes/a new sibling/the layoff/the new job/kindergarten/fourth grade.
I’m just so frustrated with: naptime/potty training/bedtime/no time to myself.
I shouted/screamed/slammed the door/broke down/sobbed/made her cry.
I should have: seen it coming/stopped in my tracks/used my words/taken a break/left the room/given myself a timeout.
This is so much harder than: I thought/anyone told me/it was last year.
How can I: learn from my mistakes/do better/raise my child differently?

My friend Kris Laroche sent me a Feeleez game recently to give away on this blog. Because of all of the above, I feel happy to share it with you now.

Kris is one of the founders of Feeleez, which originated tools to teach kids what some folks call emotional intelligence.

Getting along peacefully is what we all want to do. A tool to help our children identify and talk about their feelings helps parents talk about their feelings too. Personally speaking, that has always been a more urgent need in our household, and that’s why I’m so glad to offer you this gift.

Kris was an early adopter of Momma Zen, for which I feel so grateful, and she checked in with me recently to find out how else I was feeling. Frankly, Kris, I’m feeling relieved now that I said all this, and empathize with all the moms who I know are having a rough go of it these days.

I’m giving away a beautifully crafted and packaged Feeleez Empathy Game with 25 matching pairs of Feeleez cards to help you and your children learn to recognize and express feelings in a non-confrontational way. It comes with a guide for several game ideas including memory games and charades. It’s a lovely addition to your home or classroom.

To enter, simply leave a comment telling me how you feel right now, including a way to contact you by blog or email if you win. Seriously, I feel sad when I choose a winner that I can’t contact! The giveaway ends next Monday, Sept. 28. Enter as often as you like whenever the feeling strikes.

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Every bit love

September 15th, 2009    -    12 Comments

The other night I stepped into the living room to deliver the announcement: Timetobrushyourteethwashyourfaceitsbedtime! My husband and daughter were watching an ancient baby video, one of the ones we haven’t watched in, oh, nine years or so, a dozen obsolete formats ago.

We were starstruck.

She was not yet two. We watched her waddle in circles around the lemon tree, and then repeat a circuit around the yard, climbing the steps over and over, little feet sailing, arms flailing, head tucked and hell-bent on a mission called growing up.

She stood in sunken, soggy diapers twirling her goldilocks curls and rubbing her bedtime eyes.

She danced in a loopy bounce to grandpa’s ragtime piano, bathed in a spotlight of self-immersion and propulsion.

She emptied her first Halloween bag piece by piece, cooing a drooling baby talk of approval, chirping a drunken birdsong of eees and opps and umms that we understood perfectly.

I said to my 10-year-old, “Now do you see why we love you so much?”

Everything seen and unseen. Heard and unheard. Known and unknown. The confusion, the fear, the fatigue, the worry, the doubt. The rage, the gulf, the hurt, the tears, lonely sleepless anxious terribleness, all of it, the ugly underside of it, and the unwrapped rosy red yummy of baby’s first bobbypop. It’s all love.

My sweet lord. Every bit love.

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From a tipi to a tribe

May 27th, 2009    -    2 Comments


Perhaps if this woman had ever been here, she would have had the fearless forethought to stay there. Maybe if more girls could find their own expression, they wouldn’t be lost in translation. It’s not farfetched to imagine the day we’ll have one of our own braves as chief. That would indeed be tribal justice.

My friend Wendy Cook has taken an impossible dream out of her laptop and into her lap with the launch of the Mighty Girl Art empowerment camp starting this summer. It’s for our tweens riding the raging waters between slippery rocks and hard places. (And those aren’t just the frontiers where calls get dropped.) I have a tween, and I hope in the months and years ahead she will learn to trust the voice of her native intelligence above the mindless cacophony of the crowd. But she needs wise mentors and guides beyond her mother’s fleet fingertips. All of our girls do.

What I really want is for Wendy to bring her tipi to my front lawn for a West Coast outpost. Saving that, I want you to look around the camp see how you can add your muscle to the magic. How can we grow this? Spiral it outward? I liken it to my own recent kids’ writing project, which has ricocheted to 70 places all over the world in just the last week. There’s no underestimating the power of getting ink all over your hands, and no one has to make a case for it.

It’s about time, girls, to put our faith in the tipi instead of the WiFi, connect to the sacred circle and not just a cell network, and flex something other than our thumbs.

We have a whole world to rescue and seven generations to serve, starting now.

Whoop!


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Getting around the peanut ban

March 12th, 2009    -    11 Comments


She rolls into the room with a salty grin.

Mom, here are two things I think would be fun.

First, I want a sister. A little sister. I just think it would be neat and fun. Is having a sister fun?

(Pause)

OK, then, how about a Wii Fit?

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