“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself."
William Martin, The Parent's Tao te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents
I started my 2016 journal with this quote from a Tao of Parenting book because it speaks to me. It speaks to me because I'm guilty of striving for the extraordinary. I am guilty of even thinking you can strive for the extraordinary.
And I am an idiot. Because everything about my experience of life so far has proven that this is not true--that embracing the ordinary and giving yourself space to discover what it is you want and need to do, is the only honest and meaningful way to live your life. And any moment of my life that may be labeled extraordinary was only stumbled upon.
I planned to write a letter to my children in at the start of 2016. I never did. But maybe that is what this is. I want to tell them that sometimes I get lost and scared in raising them, and that fear leads me to say stupid, even mean, things. That fear blinds me to what is really important in life.
I want to tell them how proud I am and how pleased I am and how lucky I am to be their mother. I want to tell them that sometimes I look into their eyes and am bowled over by the beauty and openness and kindness and wisdom I see there. I want to tell them that sometimes I cannot believe I am their mother. I cannot believe I grew them inside me and brought them into this world without really knowing, without truly grasping, what on earth I was doing. (Hello, stumbling upon the extraordinary.)
Anyone can imagine the concept of raising a child. But you can’t imagine the reality until you are living it.
And this is why I feel the need to explain to them, that no matter how proud and filled with gratitude I am for this chance to be their mother, sometimes the extras, the unimportant stuff, the extraneous, gets in and clouds my vision and I become a competing-sheep mom. And I turn my focus on what isn’t, rather than what is. The violin in the corner isn’t being played. The math problems aren’t being practiced enough. The soccer ball isn’t seeing enough touches. The art supplies are gathering dust, why don’t you use them anymore? What happened to my little artists? I fill their lives up with noise and busyness, then ask them why they are never still...?
I turn the "what isn't" goggles on myself frequently. Our house isn’t stylish or tidy enough. I’m not being a good enough friend. I’m not being a good enough mother. I’m not being a good enough daughter. I’m not being a good enough employee. There’s not enough money in our savings accounts. Why didn’t I bring Isla to that play audition? Why won’t Esther join the math club. And why did she opt out of that exclusive invitation to be one of the few 8th graders in her school to attend the Model UN? Doesn’t she realize, the way I realize, what an opportunity that is? I thought she loved ski racing. How could she so casually give it up now at such a crucial point in her life?
And all these things my daughter is opting out of, are the very things that have the potential to make our lives absolutely crazy overscheduled, to the point of insanity. And to what end? To prove my children are extraordinary? To prove my life is perfect?
And all those negative thoughts are driven by some pervasive source of fear. Something that is trying to eat my confidence and tell me I’m doing motherhood all wrong. Something that makes me forget to honor the children I have, rather than trying to shape those children into what I want, what I think they are supposed to be, maybe even the child I was?
And if ever I notice another mother doing this same thing with their own child, I see so clearly that she is missing the point. That she is so caught up in the trees she can’t see the beauty of the forest. Setting herself and that child up for a fall. Why isn’t she seeing all the good and unique in that child? Why is she only focusing on what that child is doing or not doing, rather than on who that child is, how that child is "being" in this world.
How can she forget the enormous empathy that child shows for every living creature on this planet. How can she not see how happy that child is when we are doing something so simple as taking a family walk. How can she ignore the bravery of that child sitting in front of the policy committee at her middle school and telling them how uncomfortable she is seeing students with confederate flags on their notebooks, iPhones and t-shirts. How can she not take pride in how well big sister takes care of little sister.
So much good. So much learned. So much progress towards becoming happy, kind, loving little humans. Is there anything more extraordinary than that?