The art of negotiation

At about eighteen months, my son started to display his will. It all began one night when he wasn’t feeling well and I was trying to get him into the bath, an activity he usually ran to participate in. On this night, however, he simply refused, kicking up such a fuss that a stranger walking by might easily assume that he was being tarred and feathered.

My mother, visiting at the time, decided to soap him up outside of the tub. When I tried to dunk him in, I was met by an absolute refusal. At this point, desperate enough to resort to bribery, I said “I’ll give you a cookie if you get into the tub for one second”. And that was enough to start a chain of interactions that changed my viewpoint forever.

“Cookie? No candy.” This, from the child who had only ever eaten candy once before, made me realize that I was dealing with a great negotiator. “Ok, candy.” “No, two candy.” Flabbergasted, I agreed, “OK, two candies”, thinking that for effort alone I should reward him with what he demanded. In response, I was told “Blue candy and green candy.” “OK”. And with that, negotiations were complete and for the first, but not last, I was bested by my son.

Years later I still reflect on this incident, thinking about how much my son has taught me about the art of getting to yes. And about how he much he has taught me about the irrelevance of absolutes in this world.

When I was younger, I saw the world in terms of black and white. Although I knew that shades of grey existed, I had a hard time recognizing them. Things were either wrong or right and there was generally only one way of doing things. As I grew older, I slowly and painfully through much trial and error learned the art of perspective and the ability to step into another’s shoes.

Now, as a parent, I try to remember that things aren’t always as they appear and that there is validity in another vantage point, even if it comes from someone who is a fraction of my size. And so, our daily interactions are routinely marked by a series of negotiations around how things will unfold and the events that will take place. Throughout it all, I try to remember to give in when it doesn’t make a difference, even if it’s not the way that I would choose, and to stand strong on the important issues that actually matter in the long run.

Looking forward, I hope that if I can teach my son to be flexible while helping him to hone his innate negotiating skills, he’ll be ahead of the game, able to adjust and adapt to change while staying true to his own goals and harness the power around him to bring to life an environment in which everyone feels fulfilled and empowered.

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.

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.

Time vs. money

As a single mom solely responsible for my son, it seems as if the demands are constant. The bills for food, clothing, activities, and basic living expenses are unrelenting, creating an unending pressure that requires me to be innovative, flexible, and not too picky in terms of what I am willing to do to make ends meet.

As a result of this tangible and ever-present requirement imposed on me from the outside, I find myself constantly in conflict with my desire for the good life and the desire to simply pack up, retrench our lifestyle, and devote myself full-time to spending time with and raising my son. It is in these moments that a childhood memory comes to mind.

In grade school, I had a close friend named Christy. She lived in the best part of town, in a fantastic house that was always immaculate and stocked with the coolest goodies around. She was also always kitted out in the latest fashions, in possession of the hottest new items, and in the ‘best’ school.

What slowly became apparent throughout our high school years, however, was that she was missing one crucial thing: her parents’ love and attention. Both high-earning lawyers, they were away most of the week from dawn to midnight, leaving her in the care of the housekeeper who came in daily but left in the evening to take care of her own family.

Throughout the years, Christy became embroiled in many escapades. These ranged from being kicked out of both grade school and high school for sexual misconduct, kicked out of university for unsatisfactory grades, and a series of failed relationships and careers.

Over the course of our friendship, I reflected on the differences in our upbringing. Unlike her, my brother and I were rarely given ‘the best’. Instead, we were taught how to enjoy hitting a garage sale, delight in finding a bargain, revel in being different by possessing the unique, and to be creative in figuring out how to get and work towards obtaining the items that we really wanted. Most importantly, though, we had our parents by our side: guiding us towards our goals, cheering us on when we felt like we lacked the ability or strength to accomplish what we had set out to do, providing us with the scaffolding that we needed in a hundred invisible ways while consistently showering us with love and a belief that we could do whatever it was that we set out to.

And so, as I scrub my floor for what feels like the thousandth time this month and feel the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses, I remind myself that more important than providing my son with the ‘right’ material goods is the importance of giving him a strong and unyielding current of love composed of my presence and the values that I inculcate in him as it is these that will weave for him an invisible tapestry that he can don at will, providing him with the strength and resources required to believe in himself and accomplish whatever he dares to envision.