Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

One true sentence

December 17th, 2007    -    13 Comments

I’m half Jewish, half Buddhist and half Christian – Georgia Miller

Only the sublime logic of a child can sort through messes like the one I have. “I wish our street was called Miller Street so our whole family would live here!” she offered up one day, seeing through ideological distance with the wide eyes of a sage. Everything she says is so wholly true, it breaks open my heart, and much later, it might even lift my eyelids.

Lately I’ve been overcome by the oneness of it all: called by name, caught and dragged out onto the street to see how completely alike we are. The woman last week trapped in the deep recess of depression calling for a way out: I know that place. The friend who recently confided the tawdry abasement of a romance gone wrong: that was me too. And then this morning the email from a self-described gay curmudgeon who recovered in my memoir the stunning certainty of his own mother’s unfailing love. We are children, all. We are mothers and fathers, too. We are the mothers and fathers of our own true lives. Can we see it?

If you read nothing else today, I want you to read what this remarkable man wrote on his own blog, because he writes so perfectly to and for us all. This fellow said something else to me many years ago that he won’t remember but that I’ll never forget. He said, “You have written one true sentence.” What writer wouldn’t be gratified by that, but he gave me the only encouragement I’d yet been given to keep writing, and to keep making it true.

And now I’m called to live it true too.

My husband is Jewish. I am what I am. My daughter insists that she can be everything. And she can! Can I?

The problem, I tell myself, is not me. It is my husband’s family, more precisely, his brother, who has elected to live a most extraordinary Orthodox Jewish life in Israel. Of course, he objected to our wedding. He ultimately came but did not enter the ecumenical sanctuary for the Reform Jewish service. He cannot, by his law, touch me to shake my hand. He says next to nothing to me. I feel awkward and excluded in the midst of this family, and I imagine they feel it too.

That’s what imagination does: create boundaries that we then project out onto the street, the street that is not named Miller Street. Onto the family that does not love us nearly enough.

Recently my cousin recounted some family lore of my own. She said that my aunt, my mother’s sister, surmised that my mom must have been outraged when I became a Buddhist. But she wasn’t. What my mother said to me at the time was, “Now I don’t have to worry about you anymore.” She was a true Christian.

Can I be as true? As transcendent? By what calculus do I define my limits, my parameters? My share, my heart, my home?

Last week my Zen teacher, who knows too well my tired saga of religious persecution, called me by name. “Maezen,” he said, which always gets my attention. “When are you going to Israel?”

“It will be good for you,” he said. With a mother’s love. A father’s love. True love.

I told my husband and daughter that we will go to Israel next summer for sure. Everyone is thrilled. Like Georgia, I want to be half of everything. Like my friends everywhere, I want to be whole.

I want this one sentence to be true.

“God bless us, every one!”

Goes well with martyrdom

December 13th, 2007    -    17 Comments


Feel her forehead, take temperature, stay home, make soup, make tea, try lemon, try honey, try every old wives’ tale, call doctor, call school, cancel babysitter, stay home while hubby goes to awards dinner, take temperature, start medicine, cancel another day, drag her to the post office, and so forth, no change in sight, rub her back, be patient, be tender, ask how long can this go on, cancel four days of everything, make that five days, make muffins while she curls up on the kitchen floor, call the doctor again, clinch jaw, husband says I’ll take her this time, I’ll cancel my meeting, I say no I’ll go again I just don’t know how to get her better in time for your trip to see your folks this weekend, wrap presents for hubby’s family, lose temper, lose faith, lose the whole week, shout at daughter while she signs gift cards, tremble, call teacher, she says be sure she stays home until she’s well, accomplish not one lick of work or anything I want, go to doctor again, get the tests, get the shrug, get the look that says, it’s just a virus.

Feel the familiar tickle in the back of your throat.

A good night to see the moon

November 26th, 2007    -    14 Comments

A comment over the weekend had me remembering that my father died two years ago this Thanksgiving. Or rather, he died the day after Thanksgiving, but only because we delayed him on this side of the door until the dinner dishes could be cleared. His death was swift but a long time coming, unexpected but unsurprising, inconvenient but flawlessly executed.

I hope you understand when I say my father’s death was his finest hour. I was proud of him, something I never genuinely felt before.

My mother ran interference for Dad in our lives. Despite her frequent assurances that “Your Daddy really loves you,” my father did not love easily nor was he easy to love. Although no child could be expected to know or compensate for it, my father showed us what a lifelong submersion in pain could look like, and how insidiously it could spread. As soon as I could steady myself on two feet, I kept my distance. For the rest of his life, nearby or not, I cultivated ways to buffer myself. I owe my strength, resilience, independence, intelligence, humor and oddly enough, peace of mind, to him.

My sisters and I would sometimes imagine my father’s decline into illness and incapacitation. We would stew in the cynical certainty that the burden would befall us to be kind to an unkind man and generous to a self-centered scrooge. We weren’t at all sure we could do it.

Suffice it to say that isn’t what happened.

About a year before he died, my father began to do some strange things. He imagined a new life, or death, in a new place, far away. And he set about, with the intention and resolve he had lacked in nearly every other year of his life, to accomplish this. He gave away or sold all the stuff we were so sure we would be saddled with sorting out. He sold his home, the albatross we’d already hung around our necks. He loaded up his dog and his truck and moved to a mountain home where six months later he could no longer breathe.

When I arrived at his bedside, he was not breathing on his own. I sat for two days to the rhythm of the respirator while we waited for a pathology report delayed by the holiday hiatus. There was no hope, nor was there need for any. We saw so clearly the perfect plan and timing, the wisdom, the care, the great responsibility he had stepped forward to shoulder for his life, finally, and his death, and weren’t they one and the same?

The last night, I felt his life rush out like the tide, and I lost my footing. I could not stand. I could not walk. The nurses wondered if I had the flu and if I should go to the ER.

“No,” I said, “it is my father dying.” They could only assume that it was an emotional response. But it wasn’t emotional. It was physical. I clung to my chair like a raft lest I flow out in the undertow. And then I felt, as never before, that my father was me.

When all was said and done, we turned off the machine and death came. It was simple and effortless. It was easy and on time. I spoke prayers, verses and encouragement, and I found out I could. I owe my compassion, faith and fearlessness to him.

I owe him my life, and my dog.

Good night, Daddy.

Don’t tell Daddy

November 9th, 2007    -    9 Comments

Mommy, promise me you won’t tell Daddy.

She had been a little squirmy on the way home from school. Preoccupied.

What is it?

Well, Mandy, she . . . promise me you won’t get mad?

Tell me, honey.

Mandy said not to tell you. She gave me this to keep and bring to school so we can play with it and she told me not to tell you. Promise me you won’t tell Daddy?

She was petrified, tormented as she reached inside her backpack. I had never seen anything like it, not that there aren’t plenty of things like it, a little toy, one piece of a two-way text messaging set that must be the walkie-talkie of these degenerate times. It was harmless, really, but Georgia had heard enough about how cell phones and iPods and mp3 players and every handheld electronic thingy orbiting her world was not a toy and not for her and Mandy had encrypted it all in a secret and Georgia was now trembling, crumbling with the weight of this second-grade conspiracy.

We didn’t tell Daddy. I told Georgia to give the toy back to Mandy the next day. I said I could see that having it made her scared and uncomfortable so she couldn’t keep it. I didn’t tell her how good she was or how bad she was. I didn’t scold her, and thereby add insult to her self-inflicted injury. And I didn’t tell her how happy she made me. Happy not because she trusted me. Not because she couldn’t keep a secret. Not because she couldn’t tell a lie. But because she couldn’t tell a lie to herself.

She’ll be OK, this little one. And Daddy (right, Daddy?) will be OK too.

I’ve about had it with the Truth. We’re off for a long weekend in Seattle to meet the mysteries that turned up one day in the mailbox.

Nice haircut

November 8th, 2007    -    18 Comments

I guess the last post was too much to swallow in one gulp, when all we’re really talking about is how to know for sure that we’re teaching our kids to do the right thing.

Buddha left us a nifty eight-step program for that called The Eightfold Path that tells us how to live an enlightened life. It tells us eight ways to do the right thing: eight ways that cover just about the entire scope of human activity. It goes: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

That’s a lot of right. But this right doesn’t mean from wrong. This right means without a perception of a self.

Whaaaat?

Specifically, when it comes to speaking, it means that honesty is not always the best policy if someone has just gotten a bad haircut.

It means that in my interaction with my child, if I am motivated by: my shame, my anger, my fear, my worry, my desire to have my way, my pride, my fervent hope that I can teach her to be smarter, more charming, more clever, more grown up, more successful, more like me, less like me or more or less of anything or any way that constitutes my personal agenda, that’s not right. And I will inevitably cause her harm.

It means that in my interaction with anyone else, if I am motivated by: my shame, my anger, my fear, my worry, my pride, my desire to have my way, my need to be understood, my need for you to hear me out, my need for you to validate, concur, accept or agree to my point of view or do anything else that accords solely with my personal agenda, that’s not right. And I will inevitably cause you harm.

How can we put this into practice? Each time you get ready to speak, take a look at what you’re carrying. If you’ve got a pair of scissors in your hand, ready to cut, snip, shape or otherwise improve someone else’s head to your liking, set the scissors down!

Turns out not very much needs to be said. And in the event that you slip, hair grows back in no time at all. That’s the truth!

Chopping away at the truth

November 7th, 2007    -    5 Comments


All well and good, you say. Who wouldn’t agree that children tell a charming version of the truth? But what about when a lie is really a lie? What about right from wrong? How do I teach my children to know that? Isn’t that the task before us? To raise good children to do good things?

Yes, it is our task and it is deceptively difficult. Not because of them, but because of us.

It is not as easy as counting to 10. Not just about hewing closely to a list of things to do, or a list of things to not do. Don’t hit your brother! Don’t cheat! Don’t lie! There is a place for those kinds of lists, they appear in all religious traditions, and they can be useful, especially as a starting point. But they do not really get to the pit of the cherry, so to speak, because human beings are quite clever with themselves. We nibble around the edges. We lie all the time, especially when we say we don’t. Rare are the offenders who can’t completely convince themselves of innocence. Or at least of extenuating circumstances!

In Buddhism, we have what we call the precepts. Formalizing your commitment to a Buddhist practice involves “taking the precepts,” which is a public promise to do what you say you will. The precepts sound like this: “Refrain from killing. Refrain from stealing. Refrain from lying.” They sound deceptively like another list of prohibitions with which most of us are familiar. And in that way, sometimes Buddhists seem to be replacing one set of ethical prohibitions with another. That’s as far as some folks get: still mired in a moralistic view of good and bad, right and wrong, believing sincerely that they are on the righter side of right, and on the gooder side of good. I’ve written before about how anytime we are judging either/or, right/wrong, good/bad, using our egocentric picking and choosing mind, we are hanging ourselves from a very strong and enduring tree, but hanging ourselves nonetheless.

(With lip-smacking self- satisfaction, I assure you that I’m better than those other half-baked Buddhists!)

No, just thinking you are doing the right thing isn’t doing the right thing at all. To get it really right, you have to chop down the tree. You have to chop away at self-satisfaction, self-righteousness, self-interest, self-absorption and self-service. You have to chop down your precious self – all its menacing branches and creeping vines. You have to forget yourself altogether. Then you really cannot tell a lie. But you can still eat the cherries or make a heckuva pie.

I’m off to destroy the incriminating evidence. Less of everything but truth tomorrow. (Or something that tastes a lot like it.)

Truth, as told by

November 5th, 2007    -    15 Comments



The following post is based on the truth.

Things my daughter has said when I’ve been attentive enough to hear:

At the amusement park:
Sometimes the noisiest places are the most peaceful.
Looking at the sky:
The moon follows us wherever we go.
After a nightmare:
My brain is mixed up.
Asked to subtract 2 from 32:
I’ll know that in high school.
On setting the alarm:
My eyes have timers in them so I know when to wake up.
On her religious persuasion:
I’m half Jewish, half Buddhist and half Christian.
Hearing that what she wants costs $139.
I’ll ask Santa and it won’t cost anything.

I could take exception to any or all of these statements. I could see these as teachable moments. I could subtly nudge, correct, expand, or explain. I could interject scientific, biological, psychological or theological concepts of my choosing. I might note, for example, that the moon is not following her, per se, but that through Einstein’s Theory of Relativity we know that the interplay between mass and curvature causes the gravitational and centripetal forces that hold the moon in its position relative to Earth. Would that be more true?

Children’s views on the life around them are at once literal, lyrical and magical. They are simultaneously very small and simplistic, and very large and profound. They are always true; we just may not judge them to be right.

When my daughter speaks, I listen for a teachable moment. That is, a moment that teaches me. And I stifle the impulse to limit the possibilities of her universe. Her life will do that for her. She will inevitably acquire knowledge, cultivate reason and encounter her own doubts and dark nights. She will ask me difficult questions and I will respond as best as I can. I save her nothing by shortcutting her journey to what I believe to be right or rational, provable or true. I play along, because these are the days for play.

Right now and for the briefest flicker of time, she stands before a wide open window, inviting me to come see. It is a breathtaking view, and I want it to last far longer than I know it will.

When it ends, I’ll still be standing by her.

The giveaway that keeps giving away

November 2nd, 2007    -    64 Comments


All week long I’ve been teasing you with the claim that this was Grab Bag week at the Cheerio Road, promising that at the end of my interminable rambling there would be a goodie at the bottom of the bag.

This morning I reached into the bag and came up with a prize . . . for me.

The Original Perfect Post Awards - Oct

Shawn awarded me A Perfect Post Award for that little list of trust I posted last week. Only Shawn knows how perfect this turn of events really is; how the universe delivers what you need courtesy of a sensitive, soulful mom working hard and long in the wee hours of Somewhere, Pennsylvania. This is one gift that really gives, since it corralled a herd of unsuspecting readers to this dinky one-lane road yesterday. I’m so grateful I could blog on that for 30 days, but I won’t, I’ll get back to the subject at hand.

At the verrrry bottom of the bag is the giveaway I have in mind to give away, and it’s not nearly so generous, since I bet I’ve already given something very much like it to nearly all of you. The brand new paperback edition of Momma Zen has arrived and honestly it makes me and my mother and her mother and my daughter and her daughter proud all over again. It’s right pretty. I will send this gleaming white prize, inscribed by the famous author of same, to one of you who wants it and tells me so in the comments section of this post by 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, Nov. 4. Now here’s the deal. If you get it and already have a copy of the book, promise me pretty please that you will give away the other copy to someone else who least expects it, because that’s how the Cheerio rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls back to you like it does to me. All the time.

An upstanding girl of 8 will choose the winner from all entries. She is trustworthy and honest and, unlike her mother, has never told a lie. But more about that next week when we talk about Truth with a capital T.

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Self-deceptively delicious

November 1st, 2007    -    19 Comments

Mom, what’s your favorite holiday?

Crinkle. Chomp. Swallow.

New Year’s.

And hey! Speaking of lying to yourself, what’s the deal with this mega-deception anyway? 1.2 million copies in print? And who needs help hiding squash in macaroni and cheese? Burying chickpeas in chocolate? What kind of help is that? We need help getting the squash out into the open as it is! Chickpeas, rise up and reveal your true (lack of) colors! Good food tastes good by itself. But let’s be honest. You can do all that without a book, and your children just might begin to trust you more if you stop trying to pull one over on them at dinner, no matter how adept you are at fooling some of the people some of the time.

Oh look at that, my buddhism went all to hell with this post. I’ll try to patch up my self-image next time. Maybe I should get a little counsel from a world-class expert in the art of fooling no one. Turns out that, as of today, Karen P. Hughes, trusted counselor to the President, is available for another tricky assignment with truth, and I only hope she doesn’t write a cookbook.

the parent’s little list of trust*

October 25th, 2007    -    17 Comments

*Not so little. Not just parents.

Trust accidents and coincidences; trust imperfection and the unforeseen.
Trust the milk to spill.
Trust confusion as the child of clarity; trust doubt as the mother of confidence.
Trust fevers, trust coughs, trust tummy aches.
Trust the body at all times.
Do not trust children’s cold medications.
Trust family. Trust friends. Trust strangers to become friends.
Trust old wives. Trust whatever you find when you find it.
Trust forgiveness. Trust forgetfulness. Trust remembrance to return when it serves you.
Trust the day and the night, like the sun and the moon, to appear right on schedule.
Trust time.
Trust change. And the change after that.
Trust not knowing.
Trust that when you can’t handle it for one more minute, you can handle it for one more minute.
Trust your strength. Trust your flexibility.
Trust in every outcome. To trust only in a certain kind of outcome is not trust, but fear.
Trust that children always say what they mean.
Trust that even when they don’t get what they want, children always get what they need.
Trust your life as it unfolds.
Trust your teacher, and that everything everywhere is your teacher.
Trust your child.
Trust yourself.
Trust.
And trust again.

Bathtub confessional

October 24th, 2007    -    8 Comments


I’d always wondered when the time would come. Then one night while Georgia soaked in the tub and I sat nearby, it came.

Mommy, were you alive in 1982?
Yes, I was.
Were you married?
Not to your Dad.
Were you married to someone else before Daddy?
Yes, I was.

Cool.

Trust accidents and coincidences; trust imperfection and the unforeseen.

spooked

October 16th, 2007    -    10 Comments

Dear Karen,
Lets get some
spookyer
Halloween
decorashons.
To get a
little spookyer.
Love,
Georgia

Last Monday my daughter brought home her regular weekly packet of homework. Half-way into the second month of the second grade, this packet is getting bigger, downright monstrous, and although she has four days to finish, it is enough to haunt my daily after-school agenda.

Have you done your homework?
Time to do your homework.
Sit down and do your homework.
Let’s do your homework.

Just three pages.

Just two pages.

Just one more page.

The homework isn’t massively hard. It’s avoiding homework that is monumental. After an hour or so of this banter, I snapped and shrieked, terrifying us both.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!!!!

She froze, then completed 12 pages, the full week’s assignment, in 19 minutes of shivering silence. Afterwards, she took a sheet of blank paper and wrote a page in secret, folded it and placed it in an envelope snuck from my stationery drawer. She excused herself to go outside where I knew she placed the letter in the mailbox. I expected the mail that day would carry a letter of reproach for a certain mommy, and I apologized repeatedly. We made a banana cake together and shared a treat before supper.

When the mail came, I opened my surprise letter.

Spookyer? That’s what she wants? As if one screaming meemie in this house isn’t enough.

Offered in proof that our children have come to save us, to redeem and reform us, and to forgive us no matter what. May we parents hasten our homework.

Oh, and we put up the decorashons this weekend. Are they ever!

Peace at last

October 11th, 2007    -    9 Comments

Jizo asked Hogen, “Where have you come from?” “I pilgrimage aimlessly,” replied Hogen. – Zen koan

You might have wondered where we were going to end up this week with this conversation of ours. Just so you know, I never have any idea. So much of the motion in my posts comes from you, from what you say here and what some of you say elsewhere. This aimlessness is a wonderful new practice for me; trust me when I say that it you are showing me amazing new worlds, opening a deeper level of trust and exhilaration in this life we share, because everything seems to come together in the end.

When I started posting on Sunday night about the question of whether parenthood, or motherhood in particular, was a job or a relationship, you might have noticed that I tagged every post “Mommy Wars.” That was intentional, even though I never seemed to touch on it in so many words. I certainly didn’t mean to imply there was a war between mothers or to incite one. We all know there is no such thing, the words being just another method the media use to pressure cook the news on an otherwise placid day.

I was referring to the other war: the war we have with ourselves anytime we divide our lives into opposing parcels, into either and or, this or that, which or what. We all, each of us, wages a ceaseless battle with ourselves, undermining our choices, ambushing our instincts, dreading that the wrong move made long ago has already set in motion our certain, future defeat. We are our own worst enemy; in most cases, we are our only enemy. And we’re all so tired of the fight.

Make peace. Be free. Call your life whatever you like. You own the world you occupy, and you’re doing a beautiful job. Remember, everything comes together in the end.

Tomorrow this week’s winner in the comment pool is revealed, along with a flurry of priceless consolations!

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