Mornings used to be my time. Quiet, uninterrupted, space for me to enter the stillness of the world at my own pace. I'd wake at a reasonable hour, say 7 or 8 am, work out, stretch, listen to music, shower, eat breakfast, and walk into work feeling ready for my day.
Enter: parenthood. Somewhere during my pregnancy over 4 years ago, I surrendered quiet mornings for chaos and hurried mental lists to complete, while trying to get all humans and animals awake, fed, and ready for their day. I have set my alarm earlier and earlier, craving some alone time and peace before my morning meditation is interrupted by the simultaneous patter of furry paws, and my daughter, Gwendolyn's, body crawling ontop of my cushion. Sigh.
This morning was no different, except that today is my daughter's last day of preschool. So, while making Gwen's ponytails, I was envelopped in emotions of grief, sadness, worry, and excitment for the ending of this chapter of her life, and the beginning of a new one. I rushed through making her breakfast, forgetting to make mine, so that I could finish writing her teacher's thank-you card. When Gwen came in to hurry me along, excited that both daddy and mommy were going to escort her to preschool for her special last day, I snapped at her in frustration. "Stop rushing me! Go put your shoes on and let me finish this!" I didn't even look at her when I threw these biting words. Rather than recoiling, Gwen took one step towards me, put her hand gently on my arm and said, "Mommy, remember you love me." In an instant, my frustration melted. I looked at Gwen, who stood with her head leaning to one side, looking intently into my eyes.
She was quite unaware, I'm sure, of how she stepped into the role of being my Teacher in that moment. Of how quickly those words pulled me from my whirlwind of stressful thoughts. She was only remembering what her dad and I always tell her: "No matter what, Gwen, even when we are angry, or frustrated, we love you." She checks this fact often, testing its accuracy. I'll be running her bath, exhausted, my back screaming at me to go and lie down. It will be late, past Gwen's bedtime, and I'll be too tired to smile. I'll look mad, or sound irritable. And while drying her off, Gwen will say, "Mommy, you love me." Not a question. A statement. A reminder. A teaching moment for me, as much as for her. And I confirm, mirroring back the truth of this, "Yes, Gwen, I love you. Mommy is tired and grumpy right now, and Mommy loves you. I always, always love you."
Gwen has always been a pulsating ball of love. And love's a good reminder for me. It's a good mindfulness tool, snapping me back to this present moment. Pulling me from my ever-rushing and noisy "thinking mind", reminding me of my priorities, and of what is real. Is it important for me to be on time for work? Yes. Is it important for me to get this thank-you card written? Yes. Is my relationship with my child, her emotional health, more important than both of those things? Yes. My answer to that question will always be, yes. Yes, Gwen, in this moment, Mommy loves you.
John Kabat-Zinn likens children to live-in Zen Masters, and raising them mindfully can be like engaging in an 18 year meditation retreat. That is, if we let our children teach us. If we let these moments in. The moments when our children, in their innocence, move toward our frustrations and feelings of anger, touch us gently with their presence, and remind us of what is truly important.