it will be OK, mom

November 23rd, 2015


Last week I walked into my 16-year-old daughter’s bedroom, an occasion equivalent in a teenager’s life to an armed invasion. There I sat down, wound myself up, and started in on it.

I had allowed — indeed, encouraged — her to join the brilliant cast of a marvelous play with two weeks of rehearsals and three weeks of performances, and now I was afraid. Yes, I want her to pursue her passion, realize her potential, follow her heart, live life, have fun, be herself, yes, yes, I want all that, but the sky was suddenly clouded by the ominous shadow of late nights, missed school, botched tests, tardy term papers and the pitch-black importance that is modern high school.

I questioned how everything was going to get done, doubting whether she could avert the threat of regret and failure. Maybe not, but it’s possible I was this paranoid when she was in kindergarten or third grade, when she was 6 or 8 or 12, and perhaps I was. Good grief, I think I was.

She sat there and let the storm subside, let my every qualm and warning wash over her and then she said a few words.

I think it will be OK, mom.

Sometimes I regret having written so much about parenthood for these many years, to have implied that I knew anything about doing it differently. The process has revealed itself as one step forward, two steps back, one step forward, ten steps back, one step forward, ten billion steps back, back, back, until it’s just you with your lonely fear and worry ’til the day you die. My first Zen teacher Maezumi Roshi said that worry was a mother’s occupation, and that occupation isn’t the kind that pays. It doesn’t bear fruit or fulfillment; no, it’s an occupation that consumes you day and night until you are just a stalking, zombie husk of a mother that scatters every living thing within her doomed reach to seek the wide shelter of an opposite shore.

Those few words of hers, so simple, comforting and kind, sounded like what I might have said once, and should say, and will say, and hope to say in some future moment of selfless grace and faith, when I get the chance, if I get the chance, to be her mother again, when it will all most definitely be OK.

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  1. Love to you and GG. I cherish the knowledge that you struggle too, that it’s hard and scary as well. I feel accompanied. Maybe we can walk each other on the way.

    Comment by Kathryn — November 23, 2015 @ 3:57 pm

  2. And where do you think she heard those words? It all comes around. The trick is not to let them think they learned anything from you. And it does get better. 🙂 And grandchildren are fabulous. Love to you.

    Comment by Gretchen Staebler — November 23, 2015 @ 4:08 pm

  3. “the threat of regret and failure.”
    Dear Karen, I have two children, their father is a scientist. Granted not a “hard-core” scientist, but still. If there is one thing science has taught me it is this: there is no failure. Sure there are ideas that don’t work out but that just means you found one way to NOT solve the question. And you need to come up with a new idea. But it’s never a failure. I love what Byron Katie says about when thoughts are wrong for us: “I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.”
    Georgia is right she will be OK, she needs to test some ideas she has about herself as a person in this world. It’s not really about her is my impression, it’s about you. (You know this ofcourse.)
    In the end we may have our own preferences for certain outcomes in life, but that might not be what is best for us and without “failing” we might never know that.
    Just breathe. Trust life. Trust Georgia. Trust yourself.

    Comment by Sim — November 23, 2015 @ 5:28 pm

  4. Of course, I know these things to be true, and to be confused by concepts of dark and light, success and failure, happy and sad is just to be chased by shadows. But my point is no matter what we think we know, we have to keep learning it, keep learning it by letting go. No practice for know-it-alls. Her dad is a scientist too, and even when his instrument going to Mars breaks in two, there is another chance to try.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 23, 2015 @ 6:04 pm

  5. Oh, my goodness. My heart. My heart. Always so piercingly true.

    Comment by Sarah Stanton — November 23, 2015 @ 5:36 pm

  6. I feel so much compassion, for me, for you, for mothers everywhere. Thank goodness the children know it will be OK.

    Comment by Aparna — November 24, 2015 @ 4:00 am

  7. Oh boy Maezen,we are in the same boat.
    This year it’s Gabby who is struggling.
    This year it’s still me trying to fix things,
    and probably making it worse.
    I’m so glad to not be alone on this ride.

    Comment by marcea — November 24, 2015 @ 4:43 am

  8. Thanks for sharing.
    Please don’t regret having “written so much about parenthood”. Your words, your dharma make me think and remind me of what is important – love & attention. Despite that, I try not to get to attached to your words anyway.
    I am reminded of many zen phrases such as “one mistake after another” when I read your piece. Life, motherhood, parenthood and so on….
    Thanks again.

    Comment by Paul Brennan — November 24, 2015 @ 6:06 am

  9. Thanks for the reminder that it was perfect all along. How easy it is to forget.

    Comment by Mark — November 24, 2015 @ 5:37 pm

  10. Oh Maezen. Parallels. My 16 year old daughter’s opening night is tomorrow. No school this week. Again. She also started rehearsals for a second musical three weeks ago and has an audition in 10 days. My goal is to keep my mouth shut each day while she lives her passion. It is really hard work. and I still open it far too often. Thank you so much.

    Comment by Kirsten — November 24, 2015 @ 6:11 pm

  11. Good for you Karen .. That is beautiful. I always, well maybe not always… But as I began to get what was really going on…. Knew that the boys, my children were my greatest teachers. That love and worry you speak of took me to places I never could have imagined. And now from this vantage point of seeing them as grownup lovely men … The project becomes to let it all go…..”to take the love I have/had for those children and turn it on the world!!!!” And to be certain to ask of myself what I have always asked of them.

    Comment by Nancy — November 25, 2015 @ 3:58 am

  12. Maezen, I have left a few comments that don’t seem to get printed. Not sure why, but I thought you should know. Anyway, again, thank you for all that you do and say, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. XOClare

    Comment by Clare — November 25, 2015 @ 7:58 am

  13. Wise Momma; Wise child.

    Comment by Debbie — November 30, 2015 @ 9:30 am

  14. We are so privileged.

    And what do we do when it isn’t okay?

    When the 16 year old dies in a car crash, the 19 year old commits suicide, the 17 year old is pregnant, the 14 year old is using drugs? This is real life too.

    That is not okay, what then? We make space for what is? What practice is there for when it isn’t okay?

    Comment by MJ — December 2, 2015 @ 10:38 am

  15. All practice is for when it isn’t okay.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — December 3, 2015 @ 1:54 pm

  16. I am one of many who are so grateful you have been willing to share your motherhood story, along the way and not in the hazy perfection of hindsight or nostalgia.

    When you share your fear, I recognize myself immediately, and yet the company dispels the fear too.

    Comment by Deirdre — December 10, 2015 @ 1:24 pm

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