Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Out of fear

A million years ago, in March, I wrote about my fear that my time with my children will be cut short. True, this fear is in some ways particular to belonging to a minority with a tendency, over the ages, of being intermittently hunted down and killed. But it is also the general and natural fear that arises with intense love—fear of losing what I have.

This apprehension serves me when it increases my vigilance about my children’s safety. My instinctive parenting is style is, shall we say . . . relaxed. I believe in letting my children learn about the universe and society by experiencing them firsthand.

When my baby daughters were first learning how to climb, we lived in a townhouse with carpeted stairs. And so I let them climb up and fall down the stairs, over and over, until they learned how to climb well and cautiously. Their first birthday photographs show them cheerfully inhaling cake, their foreheads marked with purple bruises.

My husband is quite the opposite—he didn’t like the stair-climbing, and he didn’t think we should let our one-year-olds eat cake. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who talks about “helicopter parenting” as a neutral first-person pastime, as in, “Well, we stopped by the playground on the way home, so I did a lot of helicopter parenting while the kids ran around.” We balance each other. The kids experience the world freely, but the scissors are kept on a high shelf.

But that’s just when my husband is around. He is a working father. I am a homemaker. The precious children are left to the mercies of my laissez-faire care much of the time.

And that’s where the fear comes in. Because, despite the fact that I am headmistress of the Early Childhood Learning Center of Hard Knocks, I love these little people desperately. I can’t stand the thought of anything happening to them. I have no natural caution about choking hazards, sharp objects or tasty cleaning fluids. I always assume everything will be okay, and they’ll learn as they go. It’s only my fear of losing them that reminds me to stay alert.

So, that’s good. The fear serves a purpose. Except that it also drives me crazy, like when I’m sitting on the couch letting B.A. roll his toy cars over my stomach while he shrieks with laughter, and I’m thinking, “How many more sweet moments will I have with this boy?”

Until recently, I had only one solution: be very present and try to take in every moment. In the Ghosts post, I wrote:

“I can’t really enjoy my children, enjoy my life, unless I recognize at every moment what a privilege it all is. I don’t know how many evenings of tickling a toddler’s tummy and entertaining a preschooler’s grievances I have ahead of me. I have to take in each opportunity fully. I don’t have the luxury of complaining or coasting through mothering with a glazed expression. I don’t want to take anything for granted.”

Which is fine, I guess. Except that I can’t enjoy it when I try to be hyper-present, either. It’s still fear-based, and it just makes me feel guilty when I have an off day with my kids, a day when I just wish they would leave me alone and be quiet. And also, how can I ever know that I’m being AS present as I could be? Maybe I could be more focused, more grateful, more tuned in, more . . . it’s a crazy spiral, no?

Recently a friend introduced me to The Work of Byron Katie, and practicing this work has changed my perspective on enjoying my time with my children. I ask myself, “How many more sweet moments will I have with this boy?” And the answer comes: no more. This is the only one. However much I enjoy it or don’t, it’s the only reality there is. This moment. The future is just a projection.

This is the truth I’ve always been afraid of, but now I accept it without fear.

My grandfather died last week. When my mother told me of his death, I thought, “Oh no! Why didn’t I call him on Father’s Day, like I do every year? Why didn’t I call him another day that week, like I meant to? Why couldn't I have had one more conversation with him?”

But would that conversation have satisfied me? Would that have been the definitive exchange of updates and I-love-yous that would last me for all time, and then I could hear of his death and be sanguine? Certainly not. I would have longed for another conversation as soon as I hung up the phone. That’s the way it is with love.

And so another thought occurred to me: it’s perfect the way it is. We spoke the number of times we needed to speak, and shared all the words we needed to share. He took the number of breaths in his life he needed to take. And the way I know that is that it’s the reality of what happened.

Returning to my children and my home. Today was a D- day for my parenting, seriously. I was so glad when they were all in bed and I could go out for some fresh air by my own sweet self. But it was perfect and complete like every other day, just because it existed. I’m not worried that I failed and I have to make it up. I will examine my actions before I go to sleep and make plans for tomorrow to grow and be better.

But I know that tomorrow it just a story I’m telling to myself. All I have is this moment. The quiet house and the company of the laptop. The cars passing outside. The hum of the refrigerator. A table spilling over with fruits and vegetables from the shuk. Sticky floors. Perfect.


temima said...

This one made me cry. Did Miri tell you - I'm a big fan. I love reading your stuff.

Edith Rothschild said...

Really really great post.Thanks for sharing. said...

perfect. thank you, chaya. please, please, please keep writing! I'm addicted.

Sina said...

This is exactly how I feel all. the. time! Everyday.
Thank you for articulating this feeling so eloquently and please continue with your posts!

Sheva said...

Thank you for putting words to what so many of us are scared to say. I don't know if your solution is my solution or even if there is one to settle this fear. I just put it to Hashem

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