I am home with my daughter today, because she’s got the sickies. We’ve had just one week of health since our last go round with dastardly organisms. She is playing quietly and I am sitting here waiting for the french press to finish making its goodness, planning how we will rest today.
These early years are not restful. They are exhausting. Someone is awake too early, or crying out in the dark, or crawling up with elbows and knees, onto my ribcage, about 1/3 of the time, for the last 8 1/2 years.
And really, I’ve never rested well. Instead, like most of us, I give what I don’t have to give, and I hold what I don’t have space to hold. I disregard the size of my cup, and I let it spill over while I’m distracted, hoarding bits of approval.
Approval has always felt like the sun, and so I’ve scurried like mad in those little beams. This too, has been exhausting. Happily, I have hit the wall, and standing there a little dazed, I am starting to know the difference between real sun and canned sun.
And now, my two children and I have all reached new developmental lands, and all at once. It’s mayhem, as our routines have shifted to make space for more tiny, mighty, unskilled independence. The terrain has shifted.
And life keeps rolling. Leaves keep dropping. Bills keep coming. Morbidity and mortality keep pushing. Gravity remains greater than levity; levity is hard to make; and on it goes.
With greater acceptance of these truths, here are some new ones pushing through:
1 – There is only one person my work needs approval from, and that is me.
2 – I need to stop letting the cup spill over.
3 – I need to rest, when my body says so.
4 – And I need to teach my children about this, right now.
Often, my daughter comes to me with things she wants to try. But they are not just things-they cost time, and money. They are commitments, on top of things she has already shown endurance and enjoyment for.
It is overwhelming. She is a vibrant little person, and wants to take it all in. All of it.
And we are supposed to limit her-that’s what the books and blogs and others say. So, we’ve tried limiting her. It didn’t feel right. It felt like listening to myself more than her-to my need for approval from those that might judge me as too “something or another,” in my parenting.
So, we have phased out rigid, one-size-fits-all constructs. In the end, this is her life, and it is up to her to be whomever and however she is driven to be, even if that is exuberant and sometimes a lot for her to wear.
Rather than ruling her, with rules, I am making friends, even more, with closing my mouth and putting my hands into my pockets. I am working hard to fill all the cells, of both my children, with so much love, while I still can. I am learning when to step in and when to stay out of the way.
And really, this means I am learning how to make myself obsolete in the trajectory of my children-the earliest work of secure parenting. I’ve had the first painful thoughts that I have a place and value, of my own, even after my children have moved into lives of their own. This means I am starting the work of letting go, right now, even while I’m hugging their small bodies tightly.
Can I retract my need to shape my children, so they can more easily shape themselves? Yes. Can I still teach them about constraints like reality, time, and finances-and how to work with those? Sure. They will hear it, and then go learn it for themselves, later on. Can I set hard limits? Yes, and I do. Can I be just available enough? Yes. Can I do all of these things at once? Yes, and that is another part of why I am exhausted.
Like most other parenting quandaries, I’ve sat on my daughter’s emerging bucket list like a broody hen, sure the right way to honor her will manifest. I’ve not responded to her additions, other than to say, “ok, we’ll look at that and see how it all lines up.”
When she approaches me, about flute, or archery, or any number of things, I say, “cool.” I add it to her list. The things that matter to her most, right now, get scheduled. The things we have money, and time for, we do. The other things wait.
What if she gets mired up in an activity, fearful or overachieving, or distracted by something, or bored with it? What if she wants to quit? What if she misses an opportunity?
First, I have to handle my fear, because that is mine. I have to understand I am afraid she will suffer, when she is having fear/avoidance/perfectionism/boredom/distractibility, or that she is missing out, and I have to let that rest.
I have to let what is really happening, for her, underneath my fears, be all her own. I can not control it, I should not try to label it, and I may not be able to understand it. I have to remind her, gently, that quitting is ok, and so is returning to something after she’s worked out her discomfort around it.
So is kissing something goodbye, and working with all the entanglements of breaking with something you love/hate. I tell her our activities are little doors we go into, and out of, as we need to-depending on how they are serving us, and they do not, in any way, define us.
And thankfully, from under all the brooding, the ache of growing up, and the managing of misguided worries, something is hatching. If my time with their smallness is short, which I believe it to be, I must plant carefully. This week, I added an activity to her list, and that is Rest.
Now, when one activity ends, and it’s time to look at the list, and her wheels seem to be spinning a little too fast, I will step in, and encourage her to pick Rest. And when she tries to shake it off, like a wet dog, I will hold out a towel, and demand she Rest.
Yes, she’s the one in charge, but before she leaves me, she must master this one thing. And she is learning; if she isn’t chewing her food, isn’t pausing to consider, isn’t taking even one breath, then she’ll be invited to Rest. Because she has a strong will, she is quickly rising to the challenge and making this her own. I rest assured my indomitable son will, as well.
My hope for her, and for my son, and eventually, for myself, is that we can all come to know the absolute necessity of rest-even longer periods of rest. And yes, while we turn inward, and power down, the world will keep going. We will miss some good things, and that is a bummer, but when the right ones arise, at the right time, we might just be standing there with an empty cup. And Dad, well, he has spent time in Mexico, and Spain.