My Son Reminded Me To See The Good, Even When It’s Hard

 

These days I sometimes forget to see the good, with my eyes full of terrifying news images, and my head full of worry for our country. In uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to notice kindness, to be kind, and to see the good – even when it’s hard.

I’m so grateful to be the mother of two curious, loving, kind kids who remind me daily how beautiful we are all capable of being to each other.

Love Trumps Hate; it just does.

 

With the lazy days of summer winding down, my almost-5th-grader and I went away overnight, checking off his last “Summer Bucket List” item: alone time with Mom.

During our 24-hours free from wi-fi, little brothers, and distractions, we covered some territory; and I don’t mean our long walks on the beach.

He asks a lot of questions. Some inspired by the world we live in, some inspired by being ten.

What happens when we die?

Will we go to war?

What are nuclear weapons?

Do you think animals speak different languages?

How fast does a rocket go?

Sometimes I have answers; sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I can offer reassurance; sometimes I can’t.

These days, more often than I want to be, I’m distracted and worried about the world in which he’s growing up. Like him, I’m full of questions. Some triggered by current events, some triggered by raising another human being into adulthood without a crystal ball or promise that it will all shake out OK.

What happens when I die?

Will we go to war?

What about nuclear weapons?

Will my kids be safe? With their bodies, their choices, other people’s feelings?

How fast will this next chapter of life go?

In our time together, I realized we’re both searching. For answers. Reassurance. And the next sure footing to place our weight on, and step forward.

He in his 10-year-old way. And me in my mother-wife-almost-middle-aged-woman way. Nevertheless, we’re both searching.

I took him to the beach. Because we both like open space, starry skies, and s’mores.

I drove us down streets where I learned to drive, playing songs I came of age to, drinking familiar coffee that sustained me. We entered neighborhoods I hadn’t driven through in years. Still, I knew where to go. Without cell phones, or Google Maps, or even conscious thought.

It’s muscle memory.

I took him to the coffee shop I used to frequent, in the days I had to scrape together coins to buy a coffee. Unlike so much else from then to now, it was exactly the same.

We walked in and noticed an old man sitting at an even older piano, playing choppy, drawn out notes, fumbling to find keys. Pencil marks overflowed from the margins of his sheet music. The song he played took every last bit of concentration he had. After three years of piano lessons, my son understood the effort being made to get through this one song. He looked at me and held my gaze to tell me so; eyes filled with kindness, not judgment.

We got our drinks and sat across from the piano, where I used to sit; when I was young and unsure about pretty much everything, except who I was inside.

Panning the room, I noticed that while the barista’s personal attention was top-notch, and the deep wooden benches begged for conversations to take place, hands to clasp under tables, and secrets to be whispered; every single person was staring at a screen.

No one was talking to each other.

I started to go down the rabbit hole of worrying about a future where we trade human connection for anxiety, insomnia, and depression. While my head was filling with dystopian imagery, the last shaky notes from the keys rang through the room, and my son started applauding. He hadn’t been looking around the room assessing the screen time of others. Or staring out the window wondering why I’d brought him to this old, rundown coffee shop. He’d been watching as an old man, hunched over keys, found the notes to a song, and played them for a room full of people, who weren’t even listening.

Except my son was.

The man turned around, surprised, and they shared a look. Filled with recognition, appreciation, and human connection.

He turned back to the keys in front of him and placed his sheet music on top of the piano, in a pile of other song books stacked next to his tip jar.

He closed his eyes as his fingers began to play the notes of the next song. It was like watching him find a memory he knew to be sure and true. The kind you don’t have to question, you just feel.

Complex and beautiful music filled the room as his weathered fingers danced across the keys – effortlessly.

Sitting with the ghost of a younger me, I watched my someday-grown-up-man embody the belief that everyone deserves to be acknowledged and seen. I watched him clap when no one else did, and lock eyes with a surprised old man who then found his way to a song he’d forgotten he knew.

Like muscle memory.

And for a minute, he reminded me of myself, sitting in the same place, not much older than he is now. Before time propelled me forward. Before people stared at screens instead of talking to each other. Before our country had a leader, who stomped on everything I believed in and made me doubt the greater good.

Some days it’s easy to see the worst in us all. Some days the ugliest of humanity is on full display all over the news.

Some days It feels like hate is winning.

So we must shine our light on the good. When my son applauded for the man at the piano, every person in the room looked up from their screens and joined in. In one simple act, smiles and clapping hands united us. Strangers.

An amazing thing happens when we close our eyes, toss out the sheet music, and embrace all that connects us. It’s not something you question; it’s something you feel.

As Nelson Mandela said, and President Obama reminded us of recently, “Love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

What if, like my 10-year-old, we followed our hearts and did what comes naturally?

I Never Knew About The Worry

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There are a million things I didn’t know about motherhood; probably more. Above all else, looming atop the pile of all things parent I did not expect: worry.

For me it started before I technically even became a mother. During my first pregnancy there was cause for concern. At 20 weeks, our scan revealed some rare, never-heard-of condition– which may or may not be a big deal.

We’d have to wait and see.  

And that is what we did, every four weeks, between ultrasounds. Other mothers in my Birth-Prep class eagerly awaited any opportunity for ultrasounds; comparing experiences, euphoric and giddy. Sharing 3-D images they actually paid out of pocket to get.

My heart began to race just listening to them. Our monthly trips to the hospital were anxiety provoking and tense. Every time we arrived, we’d be greeted by our doctor and several more trailing in behind– who tried, but really couldn’t contain their excitement to marvel at our rare condition. Delighted with my defunct umbilical cord, they watched closely as a technician measured limbs and inspected organs.

Meanwhile, we waited in a state of panic to hear the words we found comfort in time and time again, until at last my son was born without incident or impairment 20 weeks later.

Everything is OK.

And it was, Ok. Elated, we brought our new baby home. My husband began the life lessons immediately, pointing out the “dos and don’ts” of future decisions on the drive home. Do go to Stanford (it was on the way, might as well plug it early). Do get coffee at Starbucks instead of Peet’s (this one was to bug me since I hardily feel the opposite). Don’t get a job waving a sign* not for real estate (like the guy waving an arrow on the corner to our left) or pizza (like the eight foot tall foam guy in ancient roman garb to the right). *Referring to the aforementioned Do go to Stanford will prevent this as a necessary career choice. 

We drove home worry-free, even laughing—until the middle of the night…that night…a mere 7 hours later.

Our baby made noises.

Noises we had not heard before. No one, no book, no DVD had told us about these noises. Really? Do all babies sound like this? We lie awake, wondering if something was wrong as we likened our new, precious infant to a Gremlin; who during daylight hours had been Gizmo, the fluffy, cute Mogwai. Now grunting and snarling in his co-sleeper, we feared the worst: would he stop breathing? We looked at each other and realized we had no idea what we were doing.

It was at that very moment that our timeline split in two: the us before children, and the us after.

Along with the noises that no one warned us about, the worry and the unknown became a present and familiar part of our day to day. As much as we love the family we’ve built, we both remember a time more carefree, more spontaneous, with much less responsibility.

Isn’t that really what sets apart now from then?  Now, we are indelibly on duty. We have taken on the insurmountable task of caring for something that by definition is impermanent.

Just when we have one thing down: swaddling, diapers, folding up the stroller in 27 steps or less…the dreaded car-seat install, just when we have it down, it changes again. 

Determined, we persist, with no instruction manual and no prior experience. Enter:worry. Are we doing this right? Are we providing our child with all we are supposed to? Nutrition, social skills, art, language, music, academics, the list goes on and on.

We are all at once teachers, students and parents. Meanwhile, the parts of us that existed prior to parenthood: careers, interests, hobbies, are feebly hanging on by a limb-trying to survive.

It is no wonder that everywhere we go, there are parents in all modes of themselves at once. They can be heard quizzing kids for beginning sounds of words in the back seat of Danny the Dragon at Happy Hollow-when all their kid wants to do is admire the simulated castle with Rapunzel and Snow White smiling at them from the window. One dreaming of Princeton, one dreaming of princesses; the juxtaposition of parent and child has begun. 

Others point out the dangers of the climbing structure and shout out warnings at every turn. Some are finding historical and mathematical significance in all the sandbox has to offer; gently explaining the physics behind every falling grain of sand before their child gleefully stomps down the castle. 

I have been all of the above. We are always multi-tasking. And it comes from a place of love. We worry about what we are teaching our children and what we are not; how to protect them, and how to prepare them. At the crux of our duplicity might be that we have lost something we were not prepared to lose: the ability to make decisions free of fear. 

In parenthood, nothing is black and white. We read everything we can get our hands on and concur with scientific reason, only to turn our back on it in a whim of emotion. Because as parents, we are often overcome with the weight of our love for our children. In trying to do the best for our kids, we often live in the grey area wondering if we are doing it right.

As parents, we are always waiting for the green light, the thumbs up. Then it sneaks up on us— a small body wrapped around our leg, a no-occasion handcrafted card, a proud Look-At-Me! glance from atop the climbing structure, a tiny, perfect hand in ours…telling us Everything is OK.