Sparkle

When my son was born, like most parents, I was presented with the most perfect gift – a healthy, peaceful, miniature bundle of happiness that filled me with a warmth and satisfaction that I could not have hitherto imagined existed on this planet. In my son’s first few months, people would often comment to me on his beauty and his easy-going nature – quickly followed up with a comment of ‘but it will change’.

Put on notice by the general public, I waited for the fussiness and orneriness commonly associated with babies and toddlers to kick in. But, aside from the odd display of defiant willfulness, it didn’t. My son radiated happiness, contentment, and a joy in being present and in the world.

From the moment that he learned to do the royal wave at the age of nine months, within moments of meeting a stranger’s eyes he was able to captivate their attention and capture their heart. He was safe and secure in his world. In other words, he was a kid who didn’t yet know that the world isn’t going to love him.

As my son grew, his talent for commanding a room swelled. With a simple display of his irresistible smile, he would easily become the central focus, generating good will and inspiring feelings of love and generosity. Upon reflecting on this phenomenon that seemed to me nothing less than miraculous, I realized that, quite simply, my son sparkles.

When I tentatively asked my cousin if she had ever noticed how some people sparkle more than others, she told me a story about how her mother, a social worker who worked with kids that had behavioral problems, used to bring her to work with her when she was a child. One time, observing the kids that her mom was working with, she noticed that while most of the kids were obviously damaged in some way, she could never figure out what was ‘wrong’ with Anna. When she asked her mother, her mother explained that there was nothing actually wrong with Anna, it was just that she had such a life force that her family, so unimaginative and staid, couldn’t relate to her and so had sent her in to social services to be ‘fixed’.

As a parent, this story resonated with me since I find myself constantly on guard against the inner voice that occasionally tries to tame my son’s spirit, threatening to teach him that you could be great, if only you were different: less than, more of, other than whom you are. Instead of this lesson, I want my son, as he grows and develops, to incorporate the fact that he is entitled to love, just the way he is, warts and all, into the very fabric of his being.

Often, I find that my greatest challenge is to prolong the illusion that he is perfect just being who he is while creating the conditions that will clear the obstacles impeding him from becoming the person that I know he can be without dimming the light that makes him shine. And so, between the battles of what to eat, how much to eat, when he has to go to bed, and what activities and behavior are acceptable, I am constantly reminded that my greatest role as a parent is not to dictate and micromanage, but to stand back and create the conditions that will allow my son to evolve into the person that he is meant to be without diminishing the light that attracts the world to him.

Freedom from labels

Sitting on my patio, drinking a glass of wine while listening to the rain fall like soft silver bullets of mercury against my protective nylon shell, I smell the scent of freshness and imagine that I can hear the greenery of my grass, flowers and fresh herbs pushing against the solid earth, trying to become the form that they are destined to be. And then I think of how humans, unlike other non-sentient beings, are mutable and unpredictable in countless ways.

As my mind drifts through time, through my past, present and future, my body reminds me that I have not done yoga in a week and I notice that not only my body but my mind misses the calming experience of engaging in a multitude of poses and postures that mimic the range of human complexity and emotions.

As I delve into this thought, I reflect on some of the various yogic poses. From child’s pose requiring a relaxed vulnerability and utter trust in the world not to harm, to warrior pose that requires a strength, alertness and all-consuming intention from which no one can take you unawares, through powerful pose which, if done right, allows you to be a pillar of strength from which others can draw support if needed, to eagle pose that creates a sense of freedom from gravity, as if one could soar forever above the clouds, defying the conventional laws of gravity with wonderment, and goddess pose in which you salute the simple beauty of life and the universe acknowledges and salutes your strength and inner beauty back, in an unspoken dialogue, to side plank that requires you to be rigid enough to  build on your strengths in order to achieve an unthinkable balance between a shimmering lightness and earth’s grounding pull, and happy baby pose in which there is overwhelming relief in just letting go and being in the moment without thought of before and after, simply releasing into the pleasure of the here and now. The ability to experience such emotional and physical intricacy within the simple time span of an hour seems remarkable.

As I think about my son, I realize that it is only remarkable for me, an adult who has internalized many of the oftentimes conflicting labels assigned by society and those who love me. My son, who is exploring the world, his place in it, his abilities, talents, interests, and everything that is new, wonderful, and undiscovered in the world, is free and accustomed to being who he is, whoever that may be in any given moment, while trying on and exercising different parts of himself.

It hits me then that the thing that marks me as different from my son is that he has not yet realized that labels pigeonholing and limiting him can be assigned and unwittingly integrated into his perception of self, narrowing who he can envision himself as and circumscribing the world in which he operates. And I suddenly realize that, as a parent, one of the biggest gifts I can give my son is the ever-present awareness that the most remarkable aspect of being human is the ability to choose: that who we are at any given moment is not defining and that we always have the ability to use what we know of ourselves, our strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, desires, and talents, to become the god or goddess of life that we know lies at our core.

Humor

I come from a family of talkers. As a close friend of mine often reminds me, it’s no wonder that my son is so verbal – he has to be in order to get a word in edgewise. We talk about what we’re doing, what we’ve done, what’s happening in the world at large, our dreams and secret fantasies. For us, it’s our primary means of connection.

As a kid, we did the usual things a family does – picnics, camping, exploring the city, playing at home, and taking road trips into the unknown. Although these events blur into one another in my memories, creating a canvass of a seemingly ordinary life, what stands out in my mind are the running jokes we used to create.

From the silent Mr. Strange who was our ever-present and unpredictable companion on our long road trips across the country to the delightfully erratic and fickle characters my father would introduce into our bedtime stories, humor was the currency that united us. And so, now, although we don’t always see eye to eye on all matters, sometimes disagreeing on the way in which we want to live while having to renegotiate the boundaries and roles that we will play in each others lives, I know that no matter how serious the atmosphere gets or how hurt someone feels, a perfectly aimed humorous comment can remind us all of the deeper connections that we share, reuniting us into the loving entity that we are.

For myself, I’ve also found that this ability to notice the lighter side in life has helped me to see the humor in the direst of circumstance, even if hidden under a dark and dreary rock, ultimately enabling me to cope with situations that initially make me feel like curling up in bed and covering myself up with blankets until the year is done. And, it’s these stories, carefully woven of joy and pain, that have created the landscape of my existence, allowing me to see blessings that are initially disguised, fostering forgiveness for perceived transgressions, and helping me to create closer bonds with those I love.

As a parent, I take my cue from my father who, accompanying me on an early expedition in my parenting career in which my six week old son developed an acute case of road rage anytime the car fell below twenty kilometers an hour causing me to near a level of nuclear exasperation, decided to write a verbal letter of complaint to the mayor from the future pint size citizen sitting in the back seat about the decidedly unnecessary extensive roadway construction. As he infused the monologue with humor, my mood lifted and I was once again able to view my son’s unhappiness with compassion and tenderness for the pain he was feeling but incapable of articulating.

And so, as our days drift by in a haze of similarity, I try not to engage in battles over the little things, using humor to get my son and I to the end point that I think we need. And, in the telling of ridiculous stories that I make up to get my son to see the reason in my requests and the in-jokes that I try to make, my hope is that as he grows up, not only will he be able to see the humor in most situations while dealing, gracefully or not, with the obstacles he encounters, but that humor will become an intrinsic component of his internal topography, weaving a magical spell that he can speak at will, lightening his load while enriching his daily experiences.

Self-esteem

This week I watched a documentary about the history of a certain institution in BC that took care of developmentally disabled people. Although watching this type of video is quite routine in my line of work, this one was particularly poignant, striking my heart and staying with me ever since. The story followed a young man who was severely disabled. At the time of his birth in the 1960s, his parents were told that he would never walk, never talk, never be able to do basic human functions beyond that of a baby and that, in fact, he would die before the age of five.

By the time he was a teenager, his parents were ecstatic that he had survived beyond their expectations but they still treated him like a baby – feeding him, carrying him, toileting him as if he were an infant. And then, one day, as his mother carried him back to the institution one of the nurses stopped her saying “you can’t carry him, he’s just too heavy for you” and showed her how to help him walk by placing him behind her so that he could hold on and mimic her steps.

Although it was a slow and painful process, the moment was a defining one: her expectations of what her son was capable of exploded to encompass the unimaginable. She then set out to teach him the “impossible”.

By the time he was a young adult, not only was he able to feed and toilet himself, he was living on his own with a reduced level of care. He never did learn to walk on his own, though, since his mind, if not his body, was already imprisoned by the earlier often articulated expectations.

Reflecting on this, I think about how expectations have shaped my own life and perceptions of who I am and what I’m capable of. Since as far back as I can remember, I always believed that I could do whatever I set out to do, and accomplish any goal that I dared to dream. From the beginning, this was the message that I was given by my parents and everyone else who loved me, and it has fundamentally shaped the way in which my life has unfolded, helping me to take risks and achieve successes that many along the way told me were impossible.

Equally true, however, is the fact that as a child I was often given the message that I was difficult to love, requiring extra effort on the part of those who did love me. As an adult entering relationships, this expectation had already entrenched itself into my unconsciousness, making me desirous of finding love but partially disbelieving of the possibility of it for myself. And so, when I met my ex-husband, I fell into his arms, not so much because I loved him but because he appeared to love and want me as I was. In the end, although the relationship broke, what had healed in me was the deep-rooted belief that I should accept anyone who was willing to love me but was less than I needed and deserved. In essence, I had finally developed a sense of self-
esteem that allowed me to value myself as I am.

As I try to untangle how all of this fits together, I realize that as a parent, one of the greatest gifts that I can give my son is a strong sense of self-confidence so that he can dare to dream big, take chances, and go against the odds, with the expectation that he can achieve whatever he sets his sights on without fearing the risk of failure. And, on the flip side, to set the expectation in him that he is someone of worth, who deserves to be treated well and loved for the less than perfect person that he is, so that he surrounds himself with people who will bring out the best in him, reinforcing his best qualities while allowing him to accept his weaknesses with grace, flair, and affection. For, ultimately, it is these intertwined parts of self-perception that will create the foundation by which he sets his own expectations of who his is, what he is capable of and worth, and the measure of happiness and success that he will achieve throughout his life.

Growing up

Sometimes it’s nice to be an adult, but often it’s hard. As an adult, there’s no one to set the boundaries, tell you what the right choice is, or warn you of the consequences of the actions you’ve yet to take. And with bills to pay, clients to answer to, a household to run, and people who depend on you to take care of, the responsibilities seem endless.

Thinking about it, I remember a conversation that I had with a close friend of mine back when we were nineteen. At the time, I mentioned to her that although I felt quite competent and responsible, able to meet life’s challenges head on, I still didn’t quite feel like a woman. Instead, I felt as if I was womaning, in the midst of or almost reaching the end of a process for which I couldn’t yet see the finish line.

As we talked, I realized that I was torn between wanting to stay within the safe confines of childhood and the illusion of protection that it afforded me and the desire to reach out and climb onto the riskier path of adulthood in which more was at stake but the rewards unpredictable and immeasurable.

Watching my son as he plays innocently with his train tracks, gathering his stuffed animals around as if an audience for the great race that will soon take place, I realize something. As a parent, my job is to believe in childhood, prolonging its illusions and sanitized wrapping while gradually preparing my son for the demands that he will face as an adult.

When I think about how I can accomplish this goal that, at first glance, seems to operate at cross-purposes, it suddenly dawns on me that the answer is there. Although no small challenge, I need to create the conditions that will allow my son to revel in and explore the simple joys of childhood, embodied in the cheerfulness of dandelions not yet stained by the label of undesired weed, the ability to go nudies in public without anyone batting an eyelash, the common occurrence of becoming hard and fast friends with someone as a result of making a simple request, and the ability to enjoy the pure and unadulterated beauty in this world.

For it is clear to me that by allowing him to enjoy each moment without unduly imposing on him the burdens of adult concerns all the while helping him to climb to his next level of ability, as if providing him an invisible scaffold on which he can climb the stairwells of life, he will be able to successfully move through life’s various twists and turns without getting stuck for too long in any single passageway. And more than anything, for myself as a parent, my greatest challenge is to remember that parenting doesn’t have a time stamp on it: no matter the size of my son’s outer form and his appearance at having arrived at his final destination, at various points in his life he will need guidance, support, and unsolicited input to help redirect him towards the goals and destination that he ultimately sets out for himself.