Thoughts on Parenting

Preschool Blues
Two weeks ago, Emma started preschool. We thought it would be good for her to mingle with other children, get outside stimulation in a learning environment, and to learn to be away from me, even if its only 3 half-days a week.

I was a little nervous, I admit, about seeing my 2-year-old baby march off to school. But, I also felt it would be good for us both. I began to forumulate plans on the new nine hours of free time I was going to be blessed with.

First, it would give me quiet time to focus on my work; maybe I would finally get my house in order; and hey, I might write that write great American novel. I could also watch a television program all the way through. Better yet, I could read a book. I may have a little time to just sit and stare off into space–a very important step in the writing process.

Little did I know that I would spend at least half of Emmas first day at the kitchen table, bawling like a big baby. The best laid plans….

Okay, so I know it will take a little adjustment for us both. I was prepared for that. But nobody can prepare you for the utter emptiness, fear, and confusion. And then, there was this: she just walked in and made herself comfortable, began gluing paper hearts together, without even taking her coat off or looking up at me to say goodbye. She was doing much better than me. And I did not know how to feel about that. What am I chopped liver?

Emma has always been very secure in her skin. She walks into the library at Mother Goose Story Time and has been known to hug and kiss all of the other children there and then do a little dance for all of them. She waves and talks to total strangers in the grocery store. And she rarely fusses when I have to leave her with her Dad or other family member. We often joke that we wondered if she felt any differently about us, than, say the librarian, or her Aunts.

But, on the third day, something clicked in her. It was as if she became a completely different child. Emmas Dad and I took her to school and she fussed, I mean really fussed. I thought it was because he was with us a new variable in the routine.

The fourth day, and the next week, the same thing happened. She clung to me like never before. I stayed as long as I could. I had scheduled a meeting at 10:30. I watched the clock ticking toward ten and finally she seemed to be occupied enough for me to slip out. I felt bad about that, of course, because we did not kiss god-bye.

But as the days progress, it seems to be the only way. Get her occupied and sneak out as quickly as I can. The thing is, she is never really fooled. She soon realizes that I am gone and I can hear her cry for me as I walk out the door. It takes everything in me to keep walking.

After talking to several other parents, and Emma’s doctor, I know that this is a normal stage for her. The fact that she feels attached to me is a good thing. But it feels so wierd. How do I know that I am not doing permanent damage to her as I walk away while she is screaming for me? How do I know that she will not grow to resent me for this? How do I know that she is ready for this and that I am not putting my own needs ahead of hers?

I try to take solace in the fact that the others I’ve spoken to all say that she just needs time and that she will grow to love it like the other children who attend the Montessori School of Waynesboro. I keep repeating it over and over in my head, She will be fine, just like the other kids. This is a good thing. Intellectually, I am convinced. But my heart, well, that is another matter.

I was listening to a woman I know speak about her 14-year-old son going on his first double datehis girlfriend’s sister and boyfriend were taking them and driving them. “I know my heart is going to be in my mouth the whole time they are gone.” It struck me then, as it does from time to time, that this parenting thing ain’t for sissies. Letting go of our children, whether for preschool, dating, or college, never is easy. Much depends on the grace with which we handle it.

While I am waiting for that grace to descend on me, you can find me at the kitchen table.

Reprinted with permission from the Daily News Leader.

Zen Mama

I am a spiritual wanderer. I read voraciously about spirituality, religion, mythology. I tend to pick and choose from different systems and, well, I have created something that works for me. I have to admit that is was much easier, in some ways, to be spiritual person when I was not a mother. I had the time to mediate, practice yoga, read when I wanted to, and attend various rituals and lectures.

Recently, while attending a lecture on Zen Buddhism, a thought occurred to meI wondered if Buddha ever had to deal with a 2-year old. Sure, its easy to meditate, have clarity of mind, and be in the moment when you don’t have a little one jumping up and down in front of you wanting you to read to them, or wanting a piece of cheese for the fifth time that day, while at the same time, you realize you have not changed her diaper in, well, too long of a time, and her baby sister begins to cry wanting a bottle.

And then I began to wonder about some of the other religious icons. Take Jesus for example. We know he loved all the little children, but did he have to deal with them on a daily basis? (Sure its easy to love them when you are not the one getting up and down with them all night long.) And while Muhammad could move mountains, I wonder if he could get Emma to, say, take a nap?

Seriously though, of all the spiritual systems Ive studied and practiced, the Zen approach has helped me in my mothering the most. For me, the Zen concept of being in the moment is the only way to go. I find that if I concentrate on being in the moment, rather than focusing on everything I need to or want to be doing other than what I am doing (changing a diaper, fixing a bottle), I am a much happier person. Sometimes I even repeat to myself, Im changing a diaper, I’m changing a diaper… It becomes a mantra. It does help get my mind off of all of the other tasks piling up. I dont know about anybody else but it can just drive me crazy to have to sit in a chair and feed a baby if all I can think about is that the dishes need done, I have article due, and the laundry needs to be put away.

This practice is in direct opposition to my Presbyterian roots. We were taught that if you work pray hard enough and work hard enough which includes planning as much in advance as possible, you could change anything. When living in the moment, you can not plan or even worry about the future.

I have also tried the Zen practice of attempting to look at a situation in a different or backwards way in order to make sense of it. For example, while parenting can keep you from performing all of those sexy spiritual tasks of meditating and philosophizing about the complexities of modern life, if you look at it another way, you realize it can be also be your most spiritual undertaking. You can learn about yourself while interacting with a child.

I also think that there is something sacred about the mundane tasks I perform every day in taking care of my children. Sometimes, I am a given the gift of awareness and it soothes and inspires me. Most times I struggle and pray to make it through one more day or night. And the fact that I do may just be a coincidence, but I chose not not believe that.

I am humbled by my role in the act of parenting my children. What an awesome thing it is to be entrusted with two lives. It is holy ground we parents walk, though its difficult while in the midst of it to remember how important we are and if we dwell on that we are likely to be paralyzed by fear. (How easy it is to mess up,)

All we can do is stay focused, do the best we can, be in the moment. Zen.

Reprinted with permission from the Daily News Leader.

The Dark Side of Mothering

Andrea Yates is on the mind in the hearts of many mothers across the nation. For a mother to methodically kill each one of her five children is hard to fathom. But when I think of the suffering that must have led up to it, I must admit that my feelings of anger become muddled with pity and fear. Most of us can relate to the fear.

I think that all mothers have been to the edge–not the edge of killing our children, but perhaps of wanting to hurt them, or of being afraid of hurting them. Afraid of losing it.

My own mother tells me about the time she had to lock us in the bedroom and call my grandmother to come and stay with us because she could not take it anymore. She was afraid she would hurt us. And by now, we have all heard of Marie Osmonds drive away from her home and children because she was suffering so from postpartum depression that she was afraid for them.

Many women I know have gotten to that point. Many mothers won’t admit it , but there is a dark side to mothering. It can be grueling and isolating, and it is easy to lose yourself to it.

It is a real disconnect for me, sometimes, when I hear somebody going on and on about the joys of motherhood. I think that cliched, Hallmark-vision of mothering is one of the reasons many women get depressed. They wonder why don’t they feel that joy, They are in the thick of it–the diapers, the bottles, the messes, the screaming, whining, the fighting, the puke-in-your-hair, the pushing all your buttons, the lack of sleep, the constant waiting on them hand and foot. It certainly does not feel like a Hallmark card. Though it does have its moments. The truth is the experience of mothering lies somewhere between that cliched attitude and the hellishness that Andrea Yates must have gone through.

Some days, I have to admit, I just want to curl up in a ball and pull the covers over my head and say get your own damn juice. But I usually don’t. And if I get to the point that I am afraid I will hurt my babies, I hope and pray that I will do like my mom and call somebody. Or like Marie Osmond and get out of the house.

Andrea Yates was well past the point of being able to save her children from herself. We can only speculate as to what final darkness she gave into during those last moments of her childrens lives. From what I have read about her, though, it was clear to neighbors, friends, and family that something was wrong and had been for years.

This was her second bout with not just postpartum depression, but something even worse–postpartum psychosis. When you first suffer with PPD, doctors usually warn you against having another child, and if you decide to have one, preventative measures are usually taken. I don’t know why the Yates decided to continue to have children, after her first battle with it that led her to a suicide attempt. Reproductive issues are intensely personal and I would usually never suggest that a woman have (or not have) a baby. But if I was in her shoes, my husband would never have participated in a pregnancy, knowing the risks for me and for his children.

Maybe Andrea’s husband was too close to the situation. Maybe he refused to see the truth about his wife. Maybe he could not see it because he loved her so much. Maybe. I think its more likely that he was a part of her illness. Perhaps, he is struggling with depression also.

It’s clear to me that the mental heath system, social services, neighbors, friends, and family failed Andrea Yates. More importantly, they failed her children. Though she certainly bears the responsibility of killing her children, I hope that as she faces the judicial system we do not fail her again. This case proves that it does take a village to raise a child. It can begin with one phone call, one hand stretched across the hedges, one whisper in an ear.

Reprinted with permission from the Daily News Leader.

One thought on “Thoughts on Parenting

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