Parent Thyself

I spend a vast proportion of my day guiding my children towards a Beautiful Center. I only now realize how much I should listen to my own admonishments.

Parent thyself, indeed.

1) "Be Bored": Being bored garners zero sympathy in this house. Instead, I crow, "Good! Boredom always comes before a good idea,"  an idea lifted from Sharifa Oppenheimer, a local Waldorf teacher. Nothing wrong with being bored. Neil Gaiman claims that allowing himself to be bored leads to imaginative story ideas. Am I good at following this wisdom? Not. At. All. During pausa, when Gabe is rolling around, thumb planted firmly in mouth, other hand clenching and releasing his fuzzy blanket, I'm deep into my computer. I dive in, and the deeper I go, the more twisted and murky I feel. My eyes cloud. My head goes numb from switching sites as fast as I switch thoughts. When I can muster the self-control to close my laptop, I feel a dawning sense of openness. And things get done. I pick up the book that was at a boring part, and slide into a captivating section that stimulates my brain, while relaxing my soul. Laundry gets folded. Clutter gets organized or tossed. My present feels more mellow, and I feel good. Then why is it so hard? Because passive entertainment is easy, and therefore effortless to fall blindly into.

2) "Take a Time-Out": I love time-out. If I can get any of my children to take a few minutes to reflect when they are being horrible, they invariably come back calmer, apologetic, ready to move on. The trick for me is knowing when I need a time-out. When my temper begins to flare, or my heart begins to feel wounded, I wish I had someone who would suggest pausing to find perspective. But ultimately, I know that would end with me biting off the head of the messenger. Which is why I need to do it for myself.

3) "Have a Taste": Of lamb lungs or life—just try it. Experience the possibilities. Lately, I have found this useful when my ego is bruised. I wonder to myself, "What would this situation feel like if I let it roll off me. If I didn't let it mean anything about who I am?" Just sampling this change of frame creates an automatic feeling of power. And a consequent Lightening.

4) "Hands to Yourself": This is a tricky line to navigate after a year in Italy. During that time, Gabe went from a child who hovered in corners to a child who pulled and tugged alongside Italian children. Italy is a handsy culture, and I think that was a good spiritual fit for our family, many of us who struggle with taking up space in the world. Living in a culture where privacy is laughable and everyone knows the results of your CAT scan before you do is refreshing. With neighbors eager to correct you, it's much harder to be sensitive. We are so polite here, so agreeable as a rule, that I wonder if it makes our skin a little thin. So my American self still veers into the overly sensitive, and my Italian self is forced to be mindful of balance. Which is what it comes down to, I expect. Balance. Keep those those hands to yourself—be careful not to bruise or injure—but be comfortable reaching hands to connect.

5) "Clean Up After Yourself": The older I get the more I value people who can clean up their own messes. Yes, putting away one's legos is valuable, but even more valuable? The ability to look around and see where one has messed up, take responsibility, and work to make it right. People who can't say they are sorry, whose defensiveness can't yield to being wrong, have become increasingly difficult for me to bear. When my children say they don't want to clean up all the clay they left on the counter, my question is, "Who do you expect to do it for you?"  It's the same as we get older. Only it's not clay, it's respect and care for others. When we let our insecurities or vulnerabilities mar a situation, it's understandable. We are imperfect creatures—hallelujah—but that doesn't excuse us from cleaning it up. And the older I get, the less interested I am in surrounding myself with people who create drama out of their inability to clean up their messes.

6)  "Stop Spinning": A word of advice—if you are in the market for barstools, avoid those that spin. Or you will have three children across from you spinning like tops. It's dizzying. And clearly mindlessly reinforcing. Once the spinning starts, it cannot be stopped. The only thing that works is a card at each place that says " no spinning". Stopping before they start helps them catch themselves. I need that "no spin" card all around me. How often do I take one event and spin it out of control in my mind? Until it the spin takes on a life of its own? Answer: Too often. Stop spinning. Stop before I start.

7) "Brush Your Teeth and Make Your Bed": Sometimes in the onslaught of our modern American lives, I can forget to take care of myself. This two-fold message of the importance of self-care and that these tasks need to happen before moving on to other activities is critical. I admit there are days when my day gets away with me, and I forget to brush my teeth. For which I apologize, and feel grateful that I have a screen between the two of us.

8) "Use your Words": Don't just stew and marinate in your thoughts. Say your truth. This one is hard for me, but getting easier the less I'm worried about being wrong.

9) "Listen to Your Body": It began with potty training, but then generalized to stopping to pay attention to hunger, thirst, tiredness. An intention that sometimes gets shoved aside for me in favor of zipping to one more errand, or fulfilling an extra expectation. But that pause—it allows time to reflect, and notice my leading. Where is it taking me? What do I need? Where am I stuck? My body tells me where my soul is, and what I need. If only I can listen to it. Which brings me to...

10) "Be Quiet": Three children can sometimes make for a noisy household. Especially when my youngests wriggle into a pattern of pushing each other's buttons to gleeful hysteria. I hear that high pitched cackle, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I know something is about to break. Nothing as easy as a vase, more likely a shattered feeling. "Be quiet!" I yell, unobservant of the hypocrisy of the message. Quiet. Blessed quiet. This is why I resonate with Quaker Meeting. In the quiet, I can let my fledgling thoughts come to fruition. I can make sense of the scatter and static of my day. I can feel my Light and hear my leading. I've also noticed that a year in Italy has made me a quieter person. I had to think about everything I said, formulate it in my mind. Often in the internal translation, I'd realize my burgeoning words were irrelevant. They were more about proving something or hearing myself contribute that they were about furthering conversation. As someone who can trend towards the wordy (as I'm sure you've never noticed, Patient Reader), it was a lesson well learned. And still in process. Yes, I need to listen to my body and use my words, but sometimes those words come from a place of trying to make myself feel better, and there are more effective ways to do that.

Perhaps I need to spend less time in lip service, and more time in genuine practice.

Okay, quiet now.