Immediately after being jettisoned from the womb, in a language babies can understand, we ought to be able to impress upon them that what they see is an illusion. They would buy what we’re selling. Having just been squeezed through a mouse hole and into the blinding light of day, they’re quite impressionable, and totally freaked out. Within a matter of hours, time meaning absolutely nothing to them and all that matters to the one in labor, they transition from bliss to birth canal to I’m just going to lie still and hope this all goes away…
From the peace of white noise (one part vacuum cleaner and two parts base drum) to the emotional upheaval of a birthing suite…from being caressed by amniotic fluid to having a turkey baster crammed down their throat…then, held by hands attached to the being that sounds so familiar. For 40 weeks life is an absolute piece of cake.
And then they’re born.
In between breathing air and hearing their own voice for the first time is the perfect opportunity to let them know that everything they see with their eyes and feel with their physical bodies is one wand’s pass shy of abracadabra. It’s at that moment, with eyes that are so softly gazing about, that a child is built to see beyond the 3D, as if their eyes are perfect at birth and then degrade each second as they lose sight of the subtleties, the feeling of being alive, and focus in on the hardscape of life.
The secret to be whispered in that soft, fur covered little ear at that time would be this:
Give more weight to what you don’t see than to that which you do. Look for the magic.
We have such good intentions…
When the tall dude was still in utero I began to create my Parento Manifesto – cue orchestra, check out me in all my Maestro-ness. In the first beats I committed to avoid baby talk and answer every Why?, What is…?, And How…? with great detail. As a result, when the Tall Dude explains something an intermission is sometimes necessary. I wonder if we both would have benefitted from less minutia and more meandering. Instead of querying Wiki for an explanation of the Tectonic Plates, we could have made up our own story for how the Earth bumps and grinds out mountains and valleys and rearranges continents as it plays decorator to the planet.
Instead of relying on definitions we could have relied on intuition.
At age 8 he is now trained to be literal, logical and precise. The silver lining may be that he naturally develops integrity in personal will as he expects candor and straightforwardness in daily communication. But, have I trained out the wizard in him? By paying more attention to the details – the color of something, whether or not it’s pretty or dangerous or tastes good or bad, or IS good or bad – have I actually dulled his senses, confined his spirit, corralled him?
Have I taught him that accuracy is more important than imagination?
I’m grateful that my former spouse pulled me back from the edge of literalness when I expressed my concern with lying to our children about Santa Claus. While it still bothers me to lie to them (No matter how you slice it, if you are saying a fat man in red comes down your chimney, you are lying.), I am so happy that they embrace the spirit of Santa Claus. They have concluded, however, that the Tooth Fairy is questionable, the Easter Bunny is probably not real (A sleigh is one thing, Mom. Nobody can hop over the whole world in one night.) and other fairies absolutely do not exist. Neither do Unicorns.
I would have thought with my elaborate notes and origami-ish folded cash that the Tooth Fairy had a shot at legitimacy.
As for Unicorns…when they see one they’ll change their mind.
Perhaps the Tall Dude knows Santa isn’t real but doesn’t want to streamline the gift-giving process at the risk of shrinking the number of wrapped confections under the tree on Christmas morning. But I’m hopeful that he might still be open to believing in magic. Despite the sadness of watching his parents ripped apart for reasons he doesn’t know, (Hopefully, he doesn’t on any level feel responsible.) having two homes to call home, two different styles of parenting to adjust to, and the overall complexities of life in this day and age, a glimmer of hope exists that he can embrace magic in this life.
(The Little Dude still thinks farts are magic. He’s been subjected to less ‘this is how it is’ and more enchantment, except when the Tall Dude is explaining to him exactly how a fart comes into existance.)
Infants come from a liquid world where everything is stable to a concrete world that is constantly in flux. As parents we attach names to everything, unknowingly teaching our children to label and judge rather than experience and be. We remove the idea of illusion in a world that is nothing but an illusion. Our intention is to teach them that anything is possible and then we set about controlling the outcome – to keep them safe, to make them perfect, to make us look good as reflections of their behavior, their successes. We do everything we can to help them not fail.
We take this big, open-hearted, non-judgmental spirit that wants to expand and expand and expand and experiment and we pound it down into a human form, wanting it to fit in, be liked, be successful, be smart, be attractive, be quiet, be a super star at everything, fail at nothing.
But we don’t let them just BE.
No wonder parenting can be exhausting. For us and for children.
I had two months alone with The Dudes post-Pocket Call. Greatest gift ever at the most perfect time. I was twisted up in knots, so stressed my jaw felt like it was wired to my pelvis. If you recall, in addition to a broken heart, a blown mind and a sick stomach, I was so uptight I got hemorrhoids. Had I been able to feel, I bet even my fingernails hurt. I was shredded and exhausted. I couldn’t parent like before. Managing their every move was out of the question. I was barely able to move myself. So we slowed down. We cuddled. We connected. I didn’t sweat the small stuff. And I wasn’t walking on eggshells like I would have been if my former spouse was home and all was normal.
We let each other just BE.
As many of you have experienced, when crises hit our survival instincts kick in and all the extraneous nonsense in life is wiped away. We focus on only that which is essential in that very moment. The day after the Pocket Call the only thing that mattered to me was that The Dudes not suffer because of the poor choice of my former spouse and my reaction to that choice. That was the first gift of his infidelity; his choice to cheat made me more playful in order to survive.
The Dudes deserve to be free to be kids, and I needed to temper the intensity of my adult life with a little childlike wonder. I became fully present as a parent, a better Mom. That evolution has not stopped as I continue to excavate myself and discover the power of daily magic. And now I am being urged by The Dudes to help them through the same evolution. They have expressed in a myriad of ways recently that they need to chill out and be kids. And I need to be even more playful.
I believe that children pick their parents for very specific reasons. My guess (hopefully to be a refined hypothesis in a few months) is that my evolution over the last two years is a key piece of their life puzzle. I can look back and clearly see my transition from Type A to Plan B. No longer do I care that something is done in a particular way or that my apple is the right degree of crispness or The Dudes aren’t creating chaos. I welcome their chaos. Mostly. And I’ll even eat a mealy apple. It’s still food.
From here I can see how strict and conventional my life was back then. Filled with musts, not magic. Instead of glitter I dripped intensity. I was on a path to raise children that would have been even more Type A than me. Which also means more stressed, less happy, more exhausted, less optimistic. Exhausted by life. Which, of course, makes it impossible to see magic.
The other night the Tall Dude worked diligently on creating a bracelet out of little rubber bands – this year’s version of Silly Bandz. (Dear Santa, Please infuse me with the creativity necessary to start a trend.) He used a YouTube video to guide him and painstakingly looped band after band for twenty minutes. At the point when he should have been able to feel the rush of having completed a task he was emptied by the realization that he put the black rubber bands in the wrong place. He stared at the computer screen and then at his loom. Back to the screen. His cheeks got red. He didn’t move. And then big tears fell out of his big blue eyes and he said,
I ruined the whole thing.
Pre-Pocket Call I would have jumped right in with,
It’s alright, honey. There’s no reason to cry. You can redo it. It’s not as if you can’t start over. Let’s keep it in perspective. Besides, it’s still a bracelet. You can still wear it.
Maybe, just maybe, I would have stopped short of saying,
At least you have a toy to play with while children the world over make do with balls made of mud. If they aren’t in the midst of a life-threatening drought! In which case they have NOTHING!
All said with the best intentions, but dismissive and disconnected. He would have tuned me out at no reason.
Instead I said nothing. I sat down and he fell forward onto my lap, his face buried in my legs and cried. When he was done he lifted his head and looked into my eyes with relief. He needed a good cry. The rubber band fiasco was by design. So that he could emote.
Thank goodness I paused and tried something new. For the past few weeks I could feel how uptight he was inside but couldn’t figure out a way to get in there and untie him.
The next morning he came into the bathroom while I was brushing my teeth and began to ball. This time there was no reason. He just felt sad.
He FELT sad.
And needed to cry. I put down my toothbrush and held him. Within a few minutes he was done and had a small, but genuinely content, smile on his face.
Later that day he spoke to me with such honesty and openness about his feelings and emotions. He presented to me the perfect opportunity to talk to him about how he is not made up of his emotions but given the chance as a human to experience emotions. We talked about looking at them and learning from them. That they often point to something that needs to be explored or understood. In the case of the rubber bands, he created a moment to shed some tears that needed to be released.
Doing so makes room for magic.
Like the magical feeling of connecting with another person on a deep level. A level where children and adults speak the same language. Where the events of a day are transformed into magical opportunities to take a soul journey without leaving the planet. Where judgments and hierarchies don’t exist. The eyes softened by tears, the heart opened by the release of emotions, the spirit made vulnerable by acknowledging how it FEELS to be human.
(I wonder if the people in Starbucks notice me sobbing. Pipe down, Ego!)
His ruined bracelet was a blinking neon sign that read: Less Parenting, More BEing = More Magic, Mommy!
The timing for this new lesson is perfect. As Christmas approaches it’s easy to get stressed, to get caught up in consumerism at a time when those divorcing may be strapped for cash, or overwhelmed by the first year alone without the children. Trying to clutch on to memories and traditions and feeling like there is just no way to avoid sadness as intact families toss trees on top of their cars and drive off to their festive homes.
The Tall Dude, with the wisdom that a child does have, grabbed my hand and said,
Mom, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
Don’t let it snowball.
The Dudes will be spending Christmas with my former spouse. Which probably means that he’ll have company and the Tall Dude will get after-shave to go with his cologne, courtesy of my former spouse’s lover. It’s the most magical time of the year, or so they say. But the Tall Dude and I were taking a less magical route. He had the presence of heart to reorient us. Now I can see my new calling. I’ll always be a parent, a Mom. But now I get to be a Magician and The Dudes my apprentices. This next level of evolution for me is about peeling away the hardscape of life so The Dudes can see the magic I’ve been discovering for the last two years.
The experiment begins right now.