I’ve been struggling a bit lately. Running a house for seven people and still holding a place for the eighth feels a bit overwhelming sometimes. Usually, I feel pretty balanced, but one of my teenagers is pushing pretty hard and it’s wearing me down, making me vulnerable. And when you are far outnumbered, it is unwise to stay down for long.
But the hard, cold truth is that I signed up for this. My signature is right in front of me, running around, tearing up the house, fighting in the backyard and staring into the fridge proclaiming that there is never anything to eat around here.
I created it all.
Everywhere I turn, there’s the life I made for myself. There is no turning back. My six children are not going anywhere…ever. Even when they have moved out, they will be with me. They own a piece of my soul and that is a forever thing.
But how to handle the everyday deluge? If I don’t shift my perceived woes into something beautiful, my life will be everything but. There is only one solution: appreciation.
I have to make a conscious choice every single day: I have to bask in gratitude. I have to stop looking at my parenting role as a job and remind myself that it is a privilege. That’s truly what it is, even when (to the untrained eye) all the evidence points to the contrary.
When I got married, my husband’s grandmother gave us a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”. I remember thumbing through it and reading the piece on children:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
I remember my 26-year-old brain thinking, “Well, this guy’s whacked. Whatever, dude…”
Then, at 29, I had my first child and she gave us another copy. I read that passage again and knew old Kahlil was nuts. Of course my baby belonged to me! I grew him and birthed him and I was feeding him from my body- damn straight he’s mine.
But now that same boy is moving to New York City and I know Kahlil was right. Now my 17-year-old is pushing me away with all of his strength and I know he was right. I looked for the book(s!) on my shelves the other day, and to my horror, I realize that my young, know-it-all self had gotten rid of them. I probably sold them in a garage sale to a 40-something mom who realized she actually didn’t have all the answers and was seeking some wise words. She probably picked the book up and couldn’t believe her luck; then she glanced at me (with a baby on my hip) and she knew. She probably paid me a with a quarter and a sly smile that said, “just you wait, honey.” I now have to get another copy. I will ask a young mother, one that knows her child belongs to her, if she has one to lend.
No, these creatures do not belong to me. They have been given to me for safe-keeping and I am fortunate to have the gift of them-even when they are doing their best to knock me off my feet. When I’m in a place to take a step back, I see the full picture. It is completely in focus: my life is rich. When I’m in the eye of the storm, the treasure is a blur- all I can make out is work and filth and need.
That’s why I sit and write this blog. It helps me step back. It allows me to focus on what is truly there, not just what I see at the moment.
So yes, I believe that parenting is a privilege. We get the honor of molding and shaping and influencing. We get to be the bow. The responsibility of it is intense, but in return we get a baby’s first smile, a bouquet from little boy or an unexpected hug from a teenager. It may seem like an uneven trade, but if you are a parent you understand. You learn that this love is ferocious, unreasonable, beyond imagination…and rarely fair.
But buried beneath the burden are the riches-treasure so dazzling there are times you have to look away. It’s a phenomenon that cannot be explained; only experience can bring understanding. But even then, the force of the love defies logic, so we give up making sense of it and just accept that we are under a spell-one that will never be broken. Our children do not belong to us, but we surely belong to them.
So I mine for the gems that are easily lost in the chaos. When I uncover them, I savor their richness. I acknowledge their grace.
My children make me laugh,
they fill me up,
and they make me proud.
I want to sit in that place of awe, even on the hardest days, at least for a minute or two.
So, I will rise early,before the chatter starts, and I will care for my body and my mind. The silence grounds me and the appreciation comes easily. It sustains me. I will write my stories because they help me see, and this makes me strong.
Gratitude strengthens the bow. My arrows depend on this stability, even when they are aflame and threaten to destroy.
I will bend, but I will not break.
And I will watch all of my arrows soar.
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
~ Frederick Buechner