Parenting and Plant Pots (written 2015)
It's that season again when I return to an annual, simple practice related to acknowledging impermanence. Each morning I visit the potted plants on my deck (there are many) and as I pluck away withered blossoms and shrunken leaves, I chant “All things are impermanent/ They arise and pass away/ To be in harmony with this truth/ Brings peace.” Every time I do this I find that I am working not just with the short and brilliant lives of these plants, of course, but with something in my life that is more pressing, something else I am watching fall away.
This year seems to be the year for yet another transition in parenting for me. Like all transitions in parenting have been, it came on suddenly, like the flash floods I've read about in New Mexico. You know it's part of the landscape, a possibility, an inevitability even. But when it materializes, you're not always in the best place for dealing with it.
I've had the blessing, to me it seems like a blessing, of having my youngest at home for a few years beyond highschool because of work and school arrangements that made this a good choice. But all things are impermanent. And now suddenly he's preparing to move out. And not just in the neighborhood but to the far end of the province. Ironically to the very city I grew up in and left in my youth. The writer in me likes this symmetry. The mother in me isn't so crazy about it. So ok, a kid's gotta do what a kid's gotta do. And this is a natural and necessary adjustment. It's just that my heart wants to hang on.
When he's down the hall it's easier for me to retain the delusion that he's safe. I remember a kind of panic the first time I took both my boys on a city outing after the arrival of the youngest. Suddenly I realized how impossible it was to keep full attention on both of them at once...the baby in the stroller and the curious pre-schooler beside me. We had some difficult moments. Parents of more than two children have shared that once you know you have more kids than arms to grab for them, you have to relax a little with this. Having never had more than two, I continued to believe somewhere in my heart of hearts that so long as they were in the vicinity it was in my power to get there in time. I retained this belief even when ordinary childhood accidents proved otherwise. Such is the state of the ordinary human mind. All evidence to the contrary, we hold on to what we wish were the case.
Practice over the years has given me an awareness of these strange mental gymnastics, and gradually it has allowed me to develop the tools to loosen the grip I have on the beliefs that don't serve me, and lessen the grasping after the rainbows I paint in the sky. So this time is no different.
What I'm doing with this transition is trying to be with it. Acknowledging the pain. Letting the tears come during morning meditation. Sending metta to this suffering self, and letting it spread wide to other mothers, other parents everywhere in this time and in times previous and to come, who have likewise had to experience this. Their children may have gone to sea at nine, as in pre-Industrial England; married at 12, as still happens in some cultures; left in their teens to travel overseas to work or explore, as youth have always been inclined to do. Whatever the circumstances, each being has his or her own journey. He is not mine to hold onto. And I can protect him only so far. My job description changes as the years pass; what is constant is only to love.
I am reminded too of the “selfing” that goes on here. Looking inward in practice we begin to see how the self is constructed. Something we claim and define, but no more solid than the air we breathe. What we claim as ours, even the people we love, we seek to protect, to control, to keep. So much of my work right now is to see this desire arising. To notice that if I see each fearful thought for what it is, it arises and passes away, with a life much briefer than the blossoms of my summer flowers. This watching and breathing and allowing of the natural process is what brings peace.