Today is my son’s first birthday. One year ago today, I first snuggled with him warm against my chest and basked in the expansiveness of birth and complete and total love.
I try to remember that feeling daily, but caring for a baby and a five-year-old often leaves me more negative than I would like. The past year is a blur, even more than the first year of my daughter’s life was. I feel utterly disoriented in time. I feel frightened at how quickly time has passed. Will it continue to speed up? Will I turn my head to notice something else and when I turn back, my children will be grown?
I know I can’t hold onto them as children, nor would I want to, really. But I would like to hold them in this moment and notice them for who they are now instead of wishing them on to a less challenging stage (which I’m fairly certain doesn’t exist. Everyone I talk to assures me that as some things get easier, other things get more difficult).
I found a message about compassion and happiness by the Dalai Lama that has given me much to consider. One of the points I’m pondering on the anniversary of my son’s birth is this:
I must emphasize again that merely thinking that compassion and reason and patience are good will not be enough to develop them. We must wait for difficulties to arise and then attempt to practice them…For a person who cherishes compassion and love, the practice of tolerance is essential, and for that, an enemy is indispensable. So we should feel grateful to our enemies, for it is they who can best help us develop a tranquil mind!
Now to be clear, I don’t consider my children my enemies. But too often, I do find myself viewing them as my adversaries. “Why are they doing this to me?” I think. “Why can’t they give me a break?”
Of course, they’re not doing anything “to” me. They’re simply trying to meet their emotional and physical needs in the only way they know how. They can’t give me a break because we are in a relationship. They need my love, and I need their love. They need to give me their love, and I need to give them my love. But they do offer many, many (many) opportunities for me to practice compassion and reason and patience. I would love to feel grateful to my children for such opportunities. That seems like it might be the advanced level of this process, though. If I can just remain calm in the face of situations to which I would otherwise respond with anger and harsh words, perhaps I can assume positive intent, be my best self, and strengthen our relationship rather than simply trying to get them into the car or out of the tub or home from the park. But the first step is just awareness. Just breathing and being and noticing.
The biggest challenge for me in this endeavor will, I think, be letting myself practice and not viewing it as a test that I’ll either pass or fail. It’s not about being Good Mom or Awful Mom. It’s about growing with my children and making my best effort to be there for them and to let them be there for me.
It’s always so much easier to write this stuff when everyone’s asleep and the house is quiet than it is to remember it and actually practice it when my daughter screams, “Never!” to me in response to a request not to pet her brother’s face with her feet or when she perches him on top of a chair and then walks away.
Baby steps. The only thing I need to do this month is increase my awareness. I don’t need to actively change anything.
Have others had success feeling grateful about situations that challenge you? What challenges in your life have you found to be the best opportunities for growth?