Do One Thing Well

A year from now, what will I wish I had done today?” – unknown

Deep into the section on expectations in Brené Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart, I had a huge a-ha moment. She was talking about a conversation with her husband in which they both confessed to each other that they had an easier time parenting on the weekends they did it solo. Because they set aside their expectations to be able to do anything other than parent for that weekend.

This put a shape to the experience I have had as a single parent. Because I never expect that someone else will take the night shift or be there on the weekend, I have had to set really clear boundaries on the work and hobbies that I do because I know I won’t be able to duck out for a couple of hours.

That means that nights and weekends, I pretty much focus on hanging out with my kids. I do get a few chores around the house done with their “help.” The tradeoff for giving up Saturday morning hiking with my friends has been the gift of not believing I can try to do both things.

I know many of my parenting friends do an incredibly great job of splitting up the parental labor. One person will do the 9am-noon shift on Saturdays so that the other can go swimming and then they switch and the other gets “time off.” I have a pretty good inkling that if I was doing parenting with a partner that I would try for that approach and be a lot more confused about what I could handle.

I don’t know who said “Do one thing at a time and do it well.” My mom? Winnie-the-Pooh? Or maybe it’s not ascribed to a particular person because everyone who has learned the wisdom repeats it. When I wrote the post a couple of weeks ago about being invited to climb a mountain this summer, so many of my dear and wise blogging friends reminded me that parenting goes fast and there will likely be time to return to my hobbies later.

I believe that at some point I will have a partner again and more personal freedom. However, there isn’t anything I would trade for this uncomplicated time where I learned to really spend time with my children and enjoy it. Sometimes not having help forces us to distinctly draw boundaries we wouldn’t know to set otherwise.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Fantasy Climbs

One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art in conducting oneself in lower regions by memory of what one has seen higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” – Rene Daumal

I felt my phone ping with a message while I was trying to get dinner on the table the other night. At that moment, one little person wanted raw carrots instead of the perfectly grilled carrots and needed more hummus. The other little person was tired and having a moment of personal crisis and didn’t want to eat at all. As I was shuttling between kitchen and table, I snuck a glance at the message. It was my friend inviting me on a mountain climb of Mt. Adams with him and his son this summer.

Oh, it was so easy to envision myself away from that disastrous dinner and instead picture eating instant noodles from a tin cup on the side of a mountain at our base camp at 9,750 feet. I felt like it would be a complete luxury to say “yes” to climbing and trade in the work of parenting for a couple of days of slogging up a mountain with only the sound of our breathing and our footsteps crunching in the snow.

Even though I could rationalize how safe a climb Mt. Adams is with no crevasses or avalanche danger and rest in the reassurance of climbing with a friend that I’ve summitted that mountain twice with, I knew I’d have to say “no.”

Because even a safe mountain climb means being on the side of a 12,281 foot mountain for a couple of days, exposed to weather and human frailty. And in the very slight case that anything happened and I got hurt or dead, I’d be so angry at myself for leaving behind two young kids. Even if I was dead – I’d be dead and angry!

It highlighted for me the wide chasm between who I am now and who I used to be before kids. First of all, I’m entirely flattered that my friend thinks I could make it up Mt. Adams.

Secondly, it was a moment of realization of how completely my priorities have changed thinking about how I use my time, not only for the climb but also the commitment it would take me to get in shape to climb again.

But most of all, it made me feel yet again the wonderful work of our friends as they hold space for us when we are otherwise occupied, off on our quests to find meaning or just not feeling ourselves. Those friends that we can journey through all the phases of life and still find something to talk about with are a sacred gift.

So I told my friend, with a huge heaping of gratitude, that I’d have to take a rain check until I get my kids in shape and we can all climb together. In lieu of me going, his son is going to borrow my backpack and ice axe so a little bit of me is going by proxy instead. Maybe I’ll get to send my tin cup also so it can have dinner on the mountain too!

(photo is mine – of sunset from base camp on Mt. Adams)

Today

When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.” – Buddha

Potty training is really getting my goat. A month in and we mostly have successes but the failures are memorable! It’s unpredictable, impossible for me to control (which seems to be most of the battle) and creates a lot of laundry.

I catch myself thinking, “Pretty soon we are going to be through this and then life will be great.”

Which I think will be true. Especially if I remember how to savor today.

Because I think is how we wish our lives away and as a parent, how I could wish my kids’ childhood away. Waiting for the thing we don’t like to stop and THEN we’ll be good. Or waiting to lose 10 pounds, reach a milestone or be better at meditating – anything I reflexively put between myself and my experience.

Returning to today – we still laugh and learn every day, and I still love my kids to pieces every day. Yep, every time I leave, I just need to come back from my visit to the future and love today. And also I need to buy more laundry detergent.

Not Love Actually

Don’t be afraid of the solitude that comes from raising your standards.” – Ebonee Davis

Driving in the car the other day with Miss O, I checked in with her on her playground crush. This was the young man, Will, that I wrote about in the COVID crush post, who lines up on an adjacent heart, 6-feet-apart on the playground to go into a different 1st grade classroom.

When he initially told her that he had a crush on her back in October, Miss O said she had one on him too. But when I checked back in the other day, she told me,  “the interest had gone away.”

I asked what happened. She explained he started hanging around another kid, a kid she thinks is a bully because he yells “SORRY” when he apologizes. And she changed her attitude because the playground supervisor, Mr. C, is handing out awards for being good in line and Will is always messing around.

She stopped finding him attractive because she doesn’t like his friends and he wasn’t a good influence?? My job as a parent is done…. 😊

(featured photo from Pexels)

Why Wine?

Longer-term consistency trumps short-term intensity.” – Bruce Lee

I can still remember being at an 8th grade party when a boy from school, Corey, came up to me and told me he had a crush on me. He had been drinking and was acting all goofy. Because none of the rest of us were drinking (or ever had), it was my friend that took me aside to explain that alcohol made people reveal their true feelings.

Which is something that I hadn’t updated until I recently heard a Super Soul Sunday with Oprah and Malcom Gladwell. In the podcast, there were discussing his book Talking to Strangers and revealed “Many of those who study alcohol no longer consider it an agent of disinhibition. Instead they think of it as an agent of myopia.”

According to this Psychology Today article, myopia in the context of alcohol means short-sightedness. It means we lose perspective, our ability to place our actions in the context of anything other than the current moment and consider the long-term consequences.

Which explains my recent response when a friend came over to dinner and asked if I wanted a glass of red wine. I said, “No, it makes me a crappy parent.” It makes me feel tired. This is surprising because I love red wine and used to drink copious amounts of it. But now, it not only means I will not sleep well but it also creates an impatience in me that feels uncomfortable.

Putting this feeling together with the research, I think I rely a great deal on perspective to be an understanding and supportive parent. I need the long view to energize me. When I see my kids’ actions in the context of learning the overall lessons in life, I feel an expansiveness to give them room to grow. When I’m feeling myopic, I am feel hemmed in by the mess and chaos of now.

Corey and I never talked about his crush once he sobered up. While I felt that giddy attention for the night he said it, the light of day squashed it. It’s a little like how I feel about wine now – I like the idea of it far more than I like the actual experience of it. It seems that perspective, in love and in parenting, is a very good thing.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Seeds of Faith

Believing is all a child does for a living.” – Kurtis Lamkin

The other day my 6-year-old daughter called for me. When I came into the room, she was holding her little brother because he’d tripped and fallen. When I took him from her and started checking for injuries, she huffed off.

When all was calm, I checked in with my daughter. She said that I loved her brother more than her. I told her how much I appreciated how independent and helpful she was. Then I listed all the ways we show our love and the privileges she gets because she is older. She nodded and said, “ At his age, you can see the love he gets better.”

Something more than the obvious sibling rivalry and jealousy struck me about that statement. After I sat with it some time, I’ve found such a precious seed of faith in that statement. Like if we could all trace back the roots of what we believe to the essential moments where we start to believe in what we can’t see we’d find seeds from moments like my daughter expressed. Faith in others, faith in love, faith in the Divine,

It’s as if I’ve been privy to watch her operate from within her God spot for all the years until now. She’s been operating from the natural trust that came with being so fresh from the Source. And now I’m witnessing her growth and awareness start to cover that over so that instead of operating without thought from her Seat of Unconscious, as I believe Jung would call it, my daughter is feeling out the ground on the other side.

While this leaves me with a sense of loss, I recognize it as a natural moving forward. Most of us cannot stay in a life free of ambition and embarrassment, fear and worry. We move away from that spot of grace that can bring so much peace and then have to work our way back, again and again.

But it strikes me that as she moves in and out of that unencumbered spot, the awareness is a gift of its own. It makes me conscious of my own God spot as well as hers and allows me to recognize when I need to help water and nurture her seed of faith — and my own.

The analogy of a tree that grows deep roots resonates with me. For my kids to stretch tall in their beliefs, their roots need to grow deep down. And I need to have faith that they will have faith.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Going All-In

To lose balance, sometimes, for love, is part of living a balanced life.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I dated a guy when I was in my mid-20’s that told me early on in the relationship, like before we’d even been on a dozen dates, that he would never take me to or pick me up from the airport. That way, he reasoned, it would never look like he loved me less when he stopped picking me up.

Around the same time I had a work colleague who was celebrating his one-year wedding anniversary. He said that the key was to go really small so that he wouldn’t set a precedent that couldn’t be maintained.

What I’ve found interesting is that with taking care of babies, there is no choice but to go all-in. You start out taking care of their every need and then with time have to negotiate new roles, responsibilities and boundaries.

I recently implemented the practice that once I sat down to dinner, I wouldn’t get up until I was done eating. If the kids are excused and they need help getting a toy, I tell them that I’ll get it when I’m finished. If they want something to eat or drink that was included in dinner, I give them choices they can get themselves or that are reachable. If they want me to watch them, I remind them to do it where I can see from the table.

This practice was incredibly hard work for me for about three weeks. I had to resist the temptation to just get up and do it. Or, if they spilled something, I had to let go of muttering under my breath because doing it would be easier than cleaning up when they do it. Setting the boundary meant creating the consistency in me as much as the expectation in them.

But it is the work of maturity – in our relationship as well as ourselves. It made me think about that boyfriend from my 20’s.  It’s no surprise that I broke up with him. Among many things, his practicality limited his openness. There’s a fine line between defining boundaries and not wanting people to breech our walls.

And my colleague – unfortunately the marriage ended in divorce. Life has taught me that hedging our bets almost always limits the full range of feeling. It’s hard to walk the service back, draw better boundaries as relationships mature. But parenthood has taught me that sometimes it’s necessary to start by going all in.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Meet Tenderness with Tenderness

My hands never feel empty because you hold them with care and love.” – unknown

Yesterday, my two-and-a-half year old son and I were sitting in the car goofing around while parked outside Starbucks before I dropped him at school. It was an early Monday morning after a really fun weekend as a family together and he said a couple of times that he didn’t want to go to school. Then he said, “I miss you, Mama.” And I started to protest that I was right there and talk him out of it. But before I could put the words together he followed up, “I miss you Mama atta school.”

My heart was gulping like a fish out of water and tears sprang to my eyes. Before I left the moment to justify that I can’t be do everything or to troubleshoot how we could spend more time together, my thoughts snagged on an idea from poet and author Mark Nepo that tenderness is best met with tenderness.

Frequently, this reflex to solve, rescue and fix removes us from the tenderness at hand. For often, intimacy arises not from any attempt to take the pain away, but from a living through together; not from a work out, but from a being with. Trust and closeness deepen from holding and being held, both emotionally and physically.

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

So I gave him a big hug and said, “I miss you too, Buddy.” Then we went on our way.

I found out from his teacher that when the kids at school miss their families, she gets out a picture of their people for them so they can look at it. It’s the daycare version of the pictures I keep on my desk that give me a little zing whenever they catch my eye.

I felt my son’s statement all through the day as I went about my business. When it sparked a feeling of guilt or responsibility I kept practicing the return to the beauty of having a relationship worth missing.

Selective Hearing

The years teach much which the days never knew.” – unknown

Have you heard the advice that Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave to Jennifer Lopez about relationships? It was something like, “It’s good to be a little deaf sometimes.”

I’ve been working on practicing that lately. My daughter snapped at me yesterday first thing in the morning for waking her first or not getting her brother up first, I can’t remember which. Whichever it was, I’m quite certain it needed no response.

Here is the list of times that are usually the best candidates for being deaf in my house:

  • First thing in the morning
  • When anyone is hungry, cold or tired
  • Anytime someone is sick
  • When excitement because a friend has arrived is at its fevered pitch
  • Last thing at night

I’m working on my own balance of when things need to be addressed. Maybe it’s 10 days of being together with no interruption but I’m finding less retort and more love is more effective. It’s not that I’m abdicating in my role as a parent, just that I’m saving my breath for our quieter moments.

My beloved dog, Biscuit, went selectively deaf as he got older. Somehow he couldn’t hear me calling him when he was sniffing something with great interest. But he never failed to hear the sound of the food hitting his metal bowl. I’m starting to think that deafness might not an infirmity that comes with age. Instead it seems it’s a sign of wisdom.

From Secret to Surprise

Knowledge increases by sharing, not saving.” – Lyrical

My 6-year-old daughter’s best friend, who is 8-years-old and lives next door, came over this past Sunday with a secret. Here’s how it played out:

Sunday mid-day: “Oh, we’re…. <groan> Never mind. Forget I said anything. It’s nothing bad but I can’t tell you for 3 days.”

Sunday 20 minutes later: I heard her telling my daughter that they are getting a new car and then adding “Well, my dad just said not to tell EVERYONE.”

Monday morning carpool to school: “So I haven’t told ALL the kids on the block.” Then my daughter piped in “Yeah, and my mom doesn’t know.”

Monday evening: My 2-year-old came into the kitchen after playing with his sister and her friend. He ran to me and exclaimed “We have secret!”

Tuesday morning carpool to school: “It’s not too big a deal whether people know or not.”

Wednesday morning carpool to school: “In the new car, we are going to put a towel under my little sister’s seat because you know how messy she is. It should be here today. Or maybe tomorrow.”

Thursday morning carpool to school: “The surprise is going to be here next week.” I asked why it was a surprise now instead of a secret and she replied, “Well, we know it’s coming but not everything about what it’s going to look like so it’s a surprise.”

This must be why we don’t burden our kids with secrets, especially the ones that are heavier to bear!