Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Elementary Days Are Over (Almost)

I’m almost finished my last year as a parent of an elementary school student. There was a time when I thought it would never end – back when I was knee deep in book reports and dioramas. My days of remembering to sign the planner, pack the lunch, or locate the library book are nearly over. Sigh.

I’ve longed for this day, but now that it is upon me, I am misty. Somehow the six years of elementary school crawl by, but the six years of middle and high school are gone in a flash. I’m not sure what the science is that makes time work this way, but I’ve heard it from other parents so I know it is real.

I don’t have much say anymore in what they wear or what they eat or even what they do. Mostly my job is to drive them where they want to go. My words of encouragement or reminders are met with eye rolls and groans. I’ve learned that these actions are rote responses and don’t carry the meaning I supposed upon them initially when the teen years began. Now I know they simply mean, “Got it, Mom.” I don’t take offense at their insensitivity. Much.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Difference Between Plum Trees and Children

The keys to pruning are patience and timing. Good pruning can be the difference between a healthy, happy tree that produces abundant fruit and a tree that struggles to survive. I’ve read lots of articles and books on the subject in an effort to coax fruit from our little orchard of 13 trees. Alas, because I am more of a lackadaisical orchardist, than a rule-following orchardist, we have yet to have any significant yield from our little grove. Each year, about this time, I prune all of our now-not-so-little-anymore trees with the greatest of hopes. It takes me longer every year. I’m not sure if it’s because the trees have grown so much, or because I debate longer with myself about each cut.

This past Sunday as I tromped through the snow to take care of the annual pruning, I once again resolved to be better at caring for these trees. That pretty much involves fertilizing them and nagging my husband to spray them. And pruning them well.

I set to work pruning the dead and unnecessary branches. It’s not always easy to tell which ones should go. You want to train your trees to grow in a way that they can optimize the sunlight. So you remove branches that crowd or cover others. When a branch begins to grow upward instead of outward, you study the branch and seek out a “notch” (where a new branch will most likely grow) that is headed in the direction you would like to see the tree grow. You cut the branch just above the notch so that the tree will send the branch out in the right direction. Then you clear out all the “suckers” which are branches that grow strait up the center of the tree. They are useless freeloaders that only sap the trees resources. It can take hours to make so many important decisions. Some years I’m cautious and others I think just cut where it feels right and hope for the best.

As I worked, I began to think about how parenting is very much like pruning. When the trees are little you have to work hard to start them out right so that they will grow straight and strong. Sunlight, water, and fertilizer are a much bigger deal than pruning, but the little pruning you do is critical.

Monday, February 3, 2014

My Drishti is Grace

I’m trying to find a drishti for my life this year. I’d like more balance. Most of the time I feel like my life is very much skewed towards the being-the-mom part of my life. So I’ve been pondering the idea of choosing a drishti to focus on this year.

If you’ve never taken yoga (or even if you have since I’d hadn’t encountered this term in my very limited yoga experience), drishti is a point of focus where your gaze rests during meditation and during yoga poses. You look with “soft” eyes (not straining) at a particular spot. Not only does it keep your mind from being distracted by other visual stimuli, it helps you balance. I remember staring intently at an electrical socket in the aerobics room at the Y during my early morning yoga there. I suppose my gaze was a too intent because my tree pose almost always swayed and eventually fell over.

My memories of yoga are fuzzy. It was seven years ago and my youngest son was newly diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition. Those yoga sessions brought all the emotions I had tried to keep on a leash raging to the surface. As soon as the lights went down and the instructor began her soothing instructions, my tears would flow. The quiet and the peace overwhelmed me. I don’t remember the term drishti, but I do remember trying to balance my heart and my body.

My life feels askew. My body is changing in mid-life, surprising me with its unpredictability and its complaints. My children ask less of my time, but more of my soul these days. My writing is more contemplative, less certain. My garden fascinates me and my animals have become my most receptive audience. Even my husband looks different to me.

Here is an explanation of drishti I found on the web that captivated me:

Drishti is a technique for looking for the Divine everywhere—and thus for seeing correctly the world around us. Used in this way, drishti becomes a technique for removing the ignorance that obscures this true vision, a technique that allows us to see God in everything.

I think my drishti this year is grace. I want to find grace in my interactions with others. I want to seek it in the world, find the tiny pockets that you don’t see unless you’re looking for them. I want to live looking through a lens of grace – accepting more, silencing my constant need to improve everything, understand behaviors, explain the mysteries. I want to let the life around me just be. I want to focus on grace as I speak to my children, my friends, even my animals. I want more grace in my life and less judgment.

 In Sanskrit, drishti can mean a vision, a point of view, intelligence, or wisdom. With grace as my drishti, perhaps I will find the soft edges in my world.  If I can sift through my reactions from the point of view of grace, will I find more kindness, more forgiveness inside me? Mostly I hope that by claiming grace as my drishti, I will witness more good in the world and in my life.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Driving Nightmares....and Possibilities

Tomorrow my oldest child will get his driver’s license. Can I possibly be that old? I’m excited for him, but terrified also. He’s already begun riding in cars with other teen drivers and that is some scary stuff for this mom. The entire time he is gone I watch the clock, calculating. My mind follows the time. Now they’re driving up 83. Now they should be there. If they’d had an accident the police would have called by now. I guess they got there safely. Then there’s a brief interim period of peace before it starts back up again. Now they’re driving back down 83. They should be here any minute. Where are they? Should I text him? Oh my God has something happened? And then – headlights. My heart is calm again.

I can’t imagine living like this for the next six years while all three of my children embrace this rite of passage. I want them to have this experience; I do. I have so many happy memories of traveling around town with my friends, heady with the possibilities of my own freedom and happy to be going places without a parent driving me. There was new-found power in deciding where and when I would go places. I loved it. And I know my teens will too.

As a parent we constantly worry about things we cannot control. It is frustrating and painful. We’ve protected them for so many years, sheltered them, defended them, and hopefully we’ve taught them something too. I believe my kids know enough to make smart decisions. We’ve instilled in them some degree of caution, yet I’m painfully aware it’s a teenage privilege not to worry- to be invincible.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

O Christmas Tree

Last Saturday morning I was busy rearranging bins and boxes in our basement (supposedly cleaning out, but mostly moving around) when I realized that we didn’t have a Christmas tree yet. Christmas was just two weeks away and the Christmas decorations were still snug in their boxes. How had Christmas slipped up on me like that? And more to the point, why hadn’t one of my three kids said anything?

For the very first time, no one wondered where the advent calendar was, never mind the brawl that normally followed in the debate over who got to hang the first ornament. The tiny, ugly fake tree that was the “pet’s tree” was still where I’d tossed it last January on top of the furnace. The wooden crèche scene I had managed to bring upstairs earlier that week sat on the side board in the kitchen, all the wooden shepherds and kings and lambs still in a pile in the back of the stable. No one had bothered to assemble the scene (or rearranged it because their sibling had gotten to it first). The nesting dolls and nutcrackers and Countdown to Christmas chalkboard had yet to be unpacked from the box I’d lugged upstairs a week ago.

For a very long moment, I wondered if decorating this year was even necessary. I mean, after all, I’d just be taking it all down again in two weeks. Sighing, I shoved the boxes back from whence they came, grabbed one of the big bins of ornaments and hot-footed it upstairs yelling, “Hey, it’s time to go get a tree!”

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Me on the Shelf

“I feel like I put myself in a box on a shelf for 16 years and now I’ve just taken it down and opened it again.” I may be the writer but my husband said it perfectly. I’d been having this odd feeling similar to when I went away to college or moved in to my own apartment the first time. This feeling of expansiveness, as if anything is possible.

Lately many mornings when I run, I’m conscious of an overwhelming feeling of transition. I thought it wouldn’t happen until my last kid left for college. This year my youngest entered sixth grade. He doesn’t need my assistance getting ready for school so my mornings are no longer consumed by finding shoes, tying laces, packing lunches or buttering anyone’s toast but my own.

Other than chauffeuring, laundry, and a few meal services, my kids operate very much in their own worlds now. My oldest is on the brink of getting his driver’s license, so I will be out of one of those jobs very soon. I try to pull together dinner a few times a week, but with practice, rehearsals, meetings, and games, my kids can’t always make it. They are busy. I’ve become more of a spectator than a player in their lives. Sure, they still need to be reminded to do their chores (now much more than when they were younger and more compliant), but they rarely need my help with homework, hobbies, or their social lives. They got it, Mom. Thanks for the offer. It is usually best if I just stay quiet.

Friday, November 1, 2013

I Hate Crazy Hair Day

I hate Crazy Hair Day. Can I just say that? Every school year we sail along smoothly and then sometime in October, Crazy Hair Day rocks the boat. For most kids Crazy Hair Day is a fun day. They turn their locks into masterpieces – spikes, colors, decorations, gel-engineered creations that look painful. My older two children were full participants, dreaming up hairdo’s that could only be perfected in their imaginations and crushed when their mother couldn’t fulfill their dreams with her curling iron and hair spray. Still, the day was one of laughs and squeals and smiles.

Crazy Hair Day seemed completely harmless until I had a kid with no hair. My youngest child has Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes his white blood cells to attack his hair follicles. At age 4 he became completely bald and has been ever since. He doesn’t remember having hair so early elementary years he was relatively unaffected. It was just the way he was. Some kids have big noses or green eyes; Ian has no hair.