My Greatest Teacher
February 24, 2016
Nine years ago today I became a mama. I did it like I do a lot of things. I jumped right in, I trusted myself, with a confidence that comes out of nowhere. Her birth hit me like a truck.
I thought I was so ready (“Ha, ha, ha!” laugh all the experienced mothers out there).
Her birth was similar to her early childhood: I wasn’t prepared. I had read things, yes. But I hadn’t practiced the physical act of relaxing my body. So when the intense pains came, I tensed up in fear and resistance.
Like parenting in her early years, I didn’t think I needed help or practice with childbirth. What a fool I was!
Instead, I got scared and I muscled through my natural birth, of course, tearing. It was fast, furious, and intense. And in the end, I had a miracle. A world-busting, life-shattering, awe-inspiring miracle.
I had done it. Now, it would be smooth sailing all the way through because I knew that I was going to be a great parent right away (yes, go ahead, let out that knowing snort of experience my friend).
I sought out all the right things:
Stylish sling – check.
Organic, gender-neutral baby clothes – check.
Wooden teething toys – check.
I had this covered.
And in fact, we did okay for those first months. I had some support. I took care of myself. I got to know my intense baby. I took my “sensitive” baby for lots (and lots and lots) of soothing walks.
My world was turned upside-down but this was the most important change I’d experienced in my life. The job of mothering Maggie became my top priority.
She was a teacher of self-care. Why? Because I’d never done anything more important than nurture this new being. And to do that, I had to be at my best. Being physically, mentally, and emotionally fit for this job mandated that self-care become a critical priority.
She was an intense baby, but I was rising to meet her challenges.
But then she started walking and talking.
Her intensity that was “quirky” as a baby turned into screams and tantrums. I suddenly found myself thrust into a situation where I felt unable to handle her emotions and ferocity.
I couldn’t be there for her yelling and screaming. It triggered an anger and rage in me that was familiar. I remembered it from my father.
This is when Maggie truly became my greatest teacher.
Because I could have tried to bury this or look away, but the truth was this: I was a “sensitive” person stuck with a sensitive, intense child.
And for a while neither of us could handle our shit. We were losing it on a regular basis.
I tried to be calm and cool but it wasn’t working out so well. Many days I would drop her off at her toddler classroom and burst into tears out of simple relief to release the emotion that I was trying to hold in.
I was an emotional wreck going through the 1:2 punch of suffering.
First, I was suffering because this was So. Damned. Hard.
Then, I was suffering because I serve myself up an extra helping of guilt and shame for failing to be the mom I wanted to be.
During this time, I would burst into tears at odd moments, find solace in chocolate and a glass of wine when bedtime finally came, and wonder how others made it seem so easy (Which, of course, it wasn’t. Surfaces don’t tell the whole truth).
Thankfully, my Maggie wasn’t going away any time soon, so I had to either figure this out, or continue to repeat the patterns of my parents (Whom I love, by the way. I totally understand they were doing the best they could).
My father and I have talked about this – the rage and intensity that has been passed on through the family.
As a child, he was beaten with a strap. He shifted things by only spanking me. We saw that I was shifting things by not hitting my child.
But for me, that wasn’t enough. I could do better.
Maggie was my greatest teacher – the catalyst for me to do better.
Maybe it was because I saw her as an orchid.
(Ever heard of the orchid/dandelion theory? Okay, here it is in a nutshell: Most of us are dandelions, who sprout, bloom and blossom under all sorts of conditions. Dandelions brighten the world and spread joy. But sometimes we have an orchid – who can astound the world with a rare beauty/gift. However an orchid needs special conditions to grow and won’t bloom unless conditions are right.)
Or maybe I just couldn’t let myself down. I believed that I could do so much better for her.
So I studied, I learned, and practiced like it was nobody’s business.
I spent her early years like this:
First, I established a firm mindfulness meditation practice. I knew from years of study that meditation is the foundation for consciousness. Face the habits and thought-monkeys where they reside – in my head. Meditation allowed me to become more stable, calm, and have the neurological space to make changes.
Then, I studied communication techniques that would help and heal rather than the authoritarian ordering that was creating division between us. (A big shout out here to Lori Petro, Non-Violent Communication, How To Talk So Kids Can Listen, and Parent Effectiveness Training!)
I wouldn’t settle for just “not hitting” my child. Instead, I dove into parenting as a spiritual practice. Parenting became a path to liberate myself from the habit-energies that were holding myself and my relationship with my child back.
Parenting as a path of transformation. Pretty inspiring idea, right?
And why not?
Why not take this most important job in the world and use it as a catalyst for spiritual growth? Make parenting the crucible in which we burn off the unskillful habits that have accumulated – the layers gunking up the works.
Now I see parenting as the ultimate path of transformation (so much better than a solitary mountain top, my friends). It’s not only transformation for you. It’s transformation for your child and generations afterwards.
What if we can shift the harmful generational patterns – like the rage in my family – so that they aren’t passed down anymore? And choose to pass on healing patterns instead?
What would you pass on?
What wouldn’t you pass on?
Mindfulness practice gives us the space to make these changes. It’s the foundational practice putting us in control of this powerful tool of awareness in our heads – instead of vice versa.
I see now that change is possible.
For me, it’s still in progress (as it ever will be, I’m sure). But in these nine years I’ve been blessed with a teacher who’s given me a passion for growth and change that’s life-changing.
So I send a hearty thanks and gratitude for my daughter. I also send gratitude (now) to the suffering and difficulty of that time.
Now it’s your turn.
What would you like to pass on? What patterns would you like to shift? Start the conversation in the comments below!
I thank you, dear reader – thank you from my heart.
Just the fact that you are reading these words means that you are already on the path of transformation. I send you thanks and gratitude for that fact, because you are helping raise us all up as you rise.
With warmth & lovingkindness,
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