This morning I got up early to work so I could carve out an hour for something special before I took the boys to camp for the day. You know the drill if you work outside your home: I powered through emails as the sun came up, responded to some other requests in the inboxes, packed bags for camp with lunches, reminded kids to wear shoes (!), applied sunscreen and we hauled out the door. By 8:00am we’d arrived at the park with donuts and I’d arranged for my mom to meet us in time. I really wanted my 8 year-old to have the opportunity to behold this kind of day from the top with music. A magical little program, Pianos In The Park, made it possible to spin a daydream into reality. There are pianos beautifully planted in parks around Seattle and I knew playing a duet with Grandma would be something special for me to see.
I don’t think my son has any idea that playing a duet with his grandmother, on a cloudless, shimmering new day, in front of Mount Rainer alongside Lake Washington is anything all that special. I really don’t think he knows it’s unusual, which ultimately is a privilege. And as we make experiences for our families we’ll never know what sticks. For me this one will. As his regular day unfolds today I’ve shelved the memory of this morning into longterm storage.
Thing is, we all work so hard to perfect how we execute parenthood. And we all beat ourselves up at times along the way. Often we may not feel good enough. In parenting, the blend of worry, thrill anxiety, guilt, joy, intrigue, and the pure unconditionality of this all generates something very high-stakes. We sometimes don’t even feel the seemingly herculean strikes (piano in the park before camp) are ever enough entrenched with all the demands stemming from work, from our heart and from our hopes. And while I loved the space carved out today for my family and the memory we spun, the minute I dropped them off at camp I started to feel a little behind. Just late to getting to the inboxes again and maybe 10 minutes frame-shifted to the left. Thing is, I mess up all the time with the boys just like every other parent in the universe. We all spend times fretting about competing demands and how we falter; we all worry. I heard an interview on NPR yesterday afternoon where a soon-to-be dad said he just doesn’t worry about anything anymore to which the host wisely responded something like, “Get back to me after you have your baby!” We do just want to raise steady children and the potency of our dreams is immense.
This ubiquitous worry is why an article I stumbled upon yesterday (read: my mom sent it to me) provided such profound relief: The Gift of The Good Enough Mother. When I shared it on Facebook last night it was crystal clear it resonated with nearly everyone else, too. In it, Dr. Naumburg writes,
Children need their mother (or primary caretaker) to fail them in tolerable ways on a regular basis so they can learn to live in an imperfect world.
Yes, in many ways, I agree….now to believe it enough to ease the tension of the everyday critic.
The piece by Dr Naumburg brought me back this morning to something else I’ve been reading. It’s a book by poet David Whyte entitled, The Heart Aroused. It was written in 1994 so although I’m a bit late to the party, the book has been speaking to me with wild penetrance. It’s about invoking your soul at work amid the corporate and business pressures of doing … anything. Often the things Whyte teaches translates into how I think about parenting. Whyte writes,
Where there is little sense of belonging there is little sense of soul. The soulful qualities of life depend on these qualities of belonging. It seems to me that human beings are always desperate to belong to something larger than themselves. When they do not feel this belonging they not only feel as if they are running in place, they quite often feel as if they are dying in place. Without belonging no attempt to coerce enthusiasm or imagination from us can be sustained for long
And that’s it — belonging. What if we distill the social-emotional task of raising a child to that? We all must help our children earnestly feel and unequivocally know that they belong. Among our family, this community, their school, and the greater forces on Planet Earth. In reality all these little mess-ups may teach them to thrive amid the imperfections of life like Dr Naumburg asserts, yes, but their knowing they really belong will surpass any other lesson or strength we help build.
Today, now away from my boys as they roam around camp, all I can think about is the whisper I want to plant in their ears each day forward — through my words and my actions. When the sun rises, over lunch, at bedtime, and long after they fall asleep this is what I’ll say:
Yes, you belong little boy, you belong. You were meant to be here and oh my goodness we will love you unconditionally forever and ever and ever.