So I’m sitting down to write something euphoric about how I love being a mother more than anything (which is true) and how I always wanted to be Mrs. Darling from Peter Pan growing up (also true) when in the kitchen where Jonathan is with Edmond I hear a glass breaking because Edmond is into everything these days, and so he grabbed a mason jar and it fell and broke into a gazillion pieces and chaos ensues as we try to clean it while Edmond cries to be picked up again, and really, that is what parenting is these days: euphoria and chaos and bliss and madness.
This week was rough. Edmond was going through a growth spurt, not napping well, wanting to be right in my arms constantly, and with all that going on I was not on my a-game and did lots of smart things including dumping a whole pint of yogurt on the floor.
Which is to say our lives aren’t perfect. Parenting isn’t easy. Edmond isn’t always in a great mood. I’m not always in a good mood.
Parenting is hard for perfectionists, because there just isn’t a way to do it perfectly. You read everything you can, sort through all of the varying opinions, stake out your position, give something a go, and then – woops – a few weeks later decide you need to make a 180 and start over.
And parenting might be especially hard on goal-oriented perfectionists (me) who feel they need to be constantly at work towards achieving a goal. I am a multi-tasker, and often have dozens of projects in progress at the same time. There’s my poetry and prose and my writerly ambitions, there’s this house and all the improvements we’re still hoping to make, there’s Forest Mountain Hymnal, and then there’s this new role of homemaker I’ve taken on where I’m trying to make homemade dough at least once a week, cook at least 5 family meals a week, economize in whatever way I can, and support my husband at his 50-hour-a-week job.
All this is aside from the fact that I have OCD which often gives me all sorts of little hang ups about these projects as I go along. (Fortunately, my struggles with OCD have significantly lessened the older I’ve gotten, which is an amazing blessing).
Recently, though, I read a wonderful book which has helped to reground me: Sharifa Oppenheimer’s Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children. The book is spiritual though not religious or Christian, and is an overview of how to raise children in a Waldorf-inspired home. Even if you never go the Waldorf route though, there is a plethora of useful advice within the book, including how to talk to your children about difficult topics like death, how to foster imagination, how to deal with nightmares, how to create a peaceful bedtime routine, etc.
What is most special about this work though is the emphasis it places on peace and calm. Oppenheimer’s main message is that as parents we need to slow down and create a rhythm for our family that focuses on the beauty and magic of the everyday. In life, I think that has long been of upmost importance to me, and this book served as a refresher course on what that looks like in a family with young children.
“Looking inward, I find that when I give myself wholeheartedly, opening into the moment with curiosity and wonder, time elongates and I am surrounded by the deliciousness of Now. Those moments that I can approach with true gratitude and wonder live somehow in the realm of timelessness. Perhaps gratitude is one of the doorways into Eternity. Our young children still have one foot in the Eternal, in Heaven. We can join them there, if we give ourselves enough time.” Sharifa Oppenheimer
I am not perfect at this. Not near. But I feel so blessed to be able to give it a go. To try and learn peace and model it for Edmond.
Because there’s this other way that my son makes me mindful of Eternity: he is the part of Jonathan and I most likely to carry us on into the future. He is likely to be our most lasting achievement. Perhaps I’ve written the next American novel and I’ll be famous for it for centuries; perhaps Forest Mountain Hymnal will take off and Jonathan will be the next Pete Seeger. That would be amazing.
But it would be entirely possible to focus so much on achievement that one forgot to live and to take proper notice of life. To enjoy the pleasure every morning of a slow cup of coffee. To take a walk around the yard and note the progress of trees. To feel the coming of the night and the autumn, to rejoice even at the frost, the wrinkle, because to do so is to be mindful of our mortality and to live moments well.
What novel could I write that would ever compare to the complexity and magic of a baby? What song has ever been written that reaches the perfection of the muscles, cells, framework bones of any human living? What could I ever create that would be better than an entire life – a new being on this planet? a new soul unto itself unique?
I can never quite wrap my head around the existence of us all; we are the result of years of love and families formed. The chance that we are here at all is so minuscule and yet when I look into the face of my child I have no other choice but to think there could never be another world than one with him in it.
And so every day I muster all my strength. I try to model what it is to be patient even when I don’t feel it. I slow down and play with Edmond, sing to him, cuddle and kiss him even when I have a thousand other things I need to do. Because for me, that is what mamahood is all about. And it is a role I cherish with all my heart.
I’ll close with a poem by Kahlil Gibran, that serves as part of the introduction to Oppenheimer’s book:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.