Category: Big Thoughts
Thoughts come to me while I’m hanging laundry. Do yours strike during particular activities?
On an evening out with friends, recently, we came around to talking about chores (we’re all moms or moms-to-be), and one friend mentioned that she genuinely enjoys hanging laundry on the clothesline–she didn’t mean that she finds it a chore she can tolerate, or doesn’t mind doing, but that she genuinely takes pleasure from it. She described hanging the napkins together so they flapped in the wind like a prayer flag. And those of us who regularly hang laundry realized we often do something similar: making patterns, following interior rules about what goes where; in essence, creating something that pleases us aesthetically. Do you have rituals you follow, or patterns you make; or does another chore bring you a similar kind of aesthetic pleasure? I think it points toward the artistic impulse.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about a particular philosophical dilemma, which is related both to parenting styles and parenthood generally: I think all parents are occupied, whether consciously or otherwise, with finding a balance between individual pursuits and collective responsibility. (This is a societal question, too, and where you land on the scale is probably indicative of your political beliefs).
This balance comes into play in virtually everything I do. Do I push my son to practice piano, or do I hope he will come to develop his own talents? Probably a bit of both, right?
Maybe I need to explain this idea in more concrete terms. I’m thinking about how families work. How very much I would like my children to walk to school together, and to take responsibility not only for themselves, but for each other. However, my eldest wants to walk with his friends: they have made a thoughtful plan for meeting and walking together. I am proud of his initiative, and glad that he has strong connections with friends. But I want him to be a helpful big brother, and I’d planned to have the three kids walk to school together next year. What’s the balance? This one is easy, because we’ve already worked it out. Albus will walk with friends. We have other options for getting his two sisters to school. In this case, we went with the individual, because it did not harm the collective.
I don’t think the balance between individual and collective is ever perfected. It’s an ongoing challenge. For example, I’ve also been thinking a great deal about how spiritual and artistic practice requires uninterrupted time. There’s no short-cut for this. In order to go deep, you need to enter into yourself while letting yourself go. This isn’t necessarily selfish, but it might appear to be, and certainly can feel selfish, when one is a mother (or father) to small children. Children are notoriously good at pulling you out of wherever you’ve gone–if they need you. And mine seem to need me a lot.
But there’s another issue: If I’ve arranged childcare and freed up time to work, what guilt I feel if the work that ends up getting done is invisible, even to me. If it makes next to nothing. If I sit and stare out the window. Writing a story sometimes appears to be a quick process, but I believe there is a great deal of invisible unknown work going on beneath the surface that makes the story possible.
One final thought from my laundry-hanging philosophy session. Practice, and consistently doing something, makes that thing easy to do, so that that what appeared impossible or even merely inconvenient proves otherwise. I am thinking of the snack-making. Nothing in the cupboards to pull out, so I whip together cheese and apple slices and raisins, in individual containers, and the kids love it. Nothing in the cupboards, so I pull out the popcorn popper and everyone watches the process, and devours the results.
Yes, it takes more time and effort, but not that much more. The difference is actually inside my own head. Does it feel difficult and hard, or possible and simple?
(I did not get up early most of this week, and I missed it a great deal. So, this morning, I did again, and went to yoga, and appreciated both the effort and the ease).
I have so many things on my mind, and intentions to blog about each, but with little time to spare, today I just want to write about that–about time. I’m heading somewhere in my thinking. It’s taking time to unfold. I love the evolution of our family’s life, and how slowly but surely we’ve moved toward living differently, toward eating differently, thinking differently, opening our minds to possibilities. I love how our house itself has evolved over these years, accommodating the changes–more children, children growing, more space for food storage, more garden beds, more elaborate elements to the play structure. I love imagining what new changes will come.
Time itself is on my mind. The time that I have, and what I choose to do with it. It comes to me that the gift I have right now is time, and time is precious, it’s all we’ve got. It is a gift not to need to work to earn money (and it may not always be so). My time is spent doing things that I value regardless of what external rewards they bring. I don’t even mind doing the dishes, when I think of it as a small but important chore in the midst of this larger picture of family that I’m part of. The multiple tasks that make up my every day express so many things, but mostly they are an expression of commitment. This is what I’m doing right now.
I’d edging us toward many small changes: cloth wipes, bicycling, finding alternatives to packaged snacks (ideas, anyone???), and continuing to commit to choices we’ve already made.
I’m making different use of my time, too, and am amazed that it is possible to fit new things in: for example, getting up early several days a week to exercise. Who knew? Learning to play guitar while putting the kids to bed. Who knew?
The jump! This is how I’m feeling today. I haven’t even had a cup of coffee, but it’s 10 o’clock in the morning, and the house is emptied of its usual noise. The oven is on, baking up two pans of sticky buns, and I’ve just jumped on my bed, and recorded it for posterity. Looking at that image, I think, not grown woman with four children and major life responsibilities, but girl. Sometimes it seems to me that I’m too in touch with my inner child: silly, goofy, self-involved, jumping on the bed.
Last night, I walked out of our family meeting. I was appalled afterward to think of the poor conflict resolution skills that action demonstrated. Fight or flight? I’m flight.
Oddly, the results of me saying, “That’s it, I’m done with this meeting, and I’m going to do the dishes,” turned out to have a positive effect on what had degenerated into an argument over the Talking Stick and its underling, the Second Talking Stick: which had more power? (CJ had been monopolizing the original talking stick for his own purposes, so Albus had introduced a second). No one could hear anyone talking over the talking stick debate, so when I walked off to do the dishes, everyone else cleared off too, and the kids went to play in the living room. They played together for the next HOUR. All of them. Huh? So, let’s summarize. Family meeting = children arguing so loudly that no one can hear each other. Mama walking out on family meeting = children playing happily together.
A couple of positives that I took from the family meeting: 1. Albus explained to Fooey what family meetings are supposed to be about: “It’s not about the ice cream! It’s about us being together and talking as a family!” 2. We actually did discuss one important topic, though found no resolution. Topic? Extra-curricular activities.
This week, Albus has been particularly unhappy, crying, sad, angry, refusing to get out of the car, etc., at both piano lessons and swim lessons. I just sit quietly and gently and wait for him to change his mind and come with us. But it sort of depresses me, wears me down, makes me sad, too; that I can’t find a way to make him happier in the situation.
Music isn’t an option; to me, it’s a skill as important to learn as reading, but it doesn’t matter what instrument is involved. Albus has expressed interest in guitar, so why not? But he still has to finish this year’s piano lessons. And both AppleApple and Albus were upset about taking the same swim class over and over again (they are on their fourth or fifth round of Swim Kids Five; perhaps a rec centre record?). I get it. It sucks. But only with practice will they get better and better till they pass. They are both close to passing in terms of the skills they’ve acquired. But I watched them yesterday and suspect they have another round of swim kids five before them this summer. (Though CJ did a whole lesson on his own, while I stood at the edge of the pool in my swimsuit prepared to leap in and rescue him, lest he step off into the abyss whilst his sweet swim teacher was otherwise occupied with another toddler in her care. Yikes. I’m not sure I’ll be able to relax in the stands after all, even if he makes the transition to solo lessons.)
Buzzer just went. Sticky buns done! I cannot help myself. I must take a photo and post it right now. They smell THAT GOOD.
Back to the family meeting. How did we resolve the anger and frustration over children not wanting to learn skills that we parents consider to be important? Short answer: we didn’t. But at least we tried to talk about it. We can try again next week. Till I storm off. Joking. That was a joke.
This week’s yoga revelation: sometimes 100% effort yields less than, say, 80% effort. Sometimes the best things are created when we’re not trying quite so hard, when we’re loose, when we let go. You measure what you’ve got, and you give just a little bit less. (This, as a concept, is almost impossible for me to put into action; honestly, I have to grate against my instincts; it’s painful). It’s partly about setting priorities, saving something of yourself for everything that needs doing. And it’s also about letting go of the idea of perfection. Maybe my inner child gets it better than I do. Maybe I should let her jump on the bed more often.
Thought of the day: everything that we do is what we are choosing (consciously or otherwise) to practice. Today I practiced conversation and empathy. I practiced internet surfing and self-distraction. I practiced cooking (hey–all the practice is paying off; I’m getting pretty good at it). I practiced meditation while hanging laundry. I practiced patience and kindness. I practiced sitting in a hallway outside my kids’ music lessons and enjoying time with my two-year-old (also getting pretty good at that). I practiced yoga, and breathing.
How powerful it is to commit to something and to practice it. Think of the depth that is possible within long-term practice. The idea of practice is often boring, repetitive; but in reality, each time is different, and interesting for its own unique set of circumstances. Each practice is a moment, and deliberate practice has the potential to be so satisfying, knowing that you’re digging yourself deeper into an experience and a process. Knowing that even if you’re at a plateau or slipped a bit backwards, it’s okay. It’s just where you’re at in the practice, and practice itself will take you somewhere else. Long-term practice of anything brings greater freedom. You know yourself within the practice so very well, and you know where you can push harder, or bend, or take a risk, or jump, or laugh, or cry; or you know to hold back just for now and not be so hard on yourself.
Tomorrow, I commit to practicing writing. Oh, and the cooking some more. Dish washing. Laundry. Can’t get enough of that laundry practice. (Though, in truth, I’m not much good at laundry, just at practicing it. Sometimes that’s okay too.)
In today’s yoga class, which seemed to catch me feeling more tired than usual, I kept thinking: this sucks and it’s hard. Fortunately, the instructor seemed to catch the vibe (which might have been everyone else’s too, who knows), and asked us to take our thoughts elsewhere if something negative was coming up. So, I changed it to: this is challenging, and it might be rewarding. Not quite thoroughly positive, but all I could muster. And it helped.
This week’s classes have brought out a few Big Thoughts. One, that I always have a little more to give. I always do. I don’t think that I do, I can’t imagine it could be possible, but if asked to give a little more, reach a little further, hold a pose a little longer … it’s there. I can. This is a strengthening metaphor for the whole of my life. The only thing holding me from giving more is my own belief that I’m spent, and that I can’t.
That said, my other Big Thought was that pushing toward my potential is a delicate balance of being compassionate while asking more of myself. Compassion isn’t about letting someone off the hook, it’s about recognizing the frailty and vulnerability and strength in another person. Even if that person is oneself. The more I practice yoga, the more open I become to accepting my weaknesses, and the difference in my practice from session to session. It’s humbling. Some days I feel strong and energetic. Other days it is more of a struggle. And pushing through on the days of struggle leave me with a greater sense of accomplishment afterward, while on my strong days the sense of accomplishment is accessible within the practice itself.
In other news … CJ has been peeing on his potty with more consistency–and a lot of pride. The other evening, he timed it with dinner and got a hearty standing ovation from his family. I am almost considering hunting in the attic for some toddler-sized underpants, but I’m not sure how quickly to move with that next step, especially since he gets cared for out of the house and by other people more often than the other children did at the same potty-training point. At this point in the training, once the body awareness is there, it’s a pretty big leap to being consistent all day long. It requires an adult with spidey-senses on the alert. Full-time. For at least a week or two. And when training this early, it also requires spare pants in the diaper bag. If he’s ready, I’m ready. No pushing.
Finally, can I just say … I was pretty disappointed in myself for not enjoying March break more. More precisely, for not enjoying being with my children non-stop during March break more. However, it did make clear that last summer’s writing holiday will not be happening this summer, not unless I crave a nervous breakdown. I’ve become accustomed to having time to pursue my own work. I need it now. Even when it sucks and it’s hard. Because, yes, it is also challenging and potentially rewarding.