Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothering yourself

Yes, I know this is not exactly an appropriate picture for the season, but for some reason it's been begging to go on the blog for several days now, so I've decided to give in and see where it takes me.

I do remember taking our girls to the pumpkin patch when they were little: our favorite spot was Remlinger Farms, which not only had pumpkins but also a train, and ice cream, and really good burgers and lots of fun farm animals to visit with.

For Ali in particular choosing a pumpkin was like choosing a Christmas tree: very serious business. To her the trip was about finding the perfect pumpkin, and she had very strong feelings about what that might look like. Katherine, on the other hand, always seemed to look for the one that might be abandoned if we didn't take it. The good thing about that division of labor was they never got into battles over whose pumpkin was whose...

So this morning, perhaps in honor of Mothers' Day, my husband decided to go to church with me (!) so he got to hear a particularly amusing sermon about love, and the importance of loving your brothers and sisters as well as loving God. Driving to the coffee shop after church he asked if I thought he loved enough. "Oh, absolutely," I replied, "You're way better at loving than I am." Maybe not always about saying the WORDS, but he's MUCH better at seeing and appreciating the good in other people than I am. He even thinks Dick Cheney probably has redeeming features (I have trouble with that one) even if he's not quite certain what they might be. "He's probably very complicated," was his conclusion on that subject.

But then he pointed out that loving people doesn't mean you don't get angry with them. "Even God has to do that tough love thing sometimes," he said. And then for some reason I found myself thinking about a moment in my meditation this morning when I felt like my heart was a sort of playground populated with lots of kids, all versions of me, some of whom I like and some of whom I find it pretty hard to love, some of whom I get pretty angry with.

And I realized that I was always careful when I got angry with my kids to let them know I didn't like what they were DOING but I still loved THEM. And the sad fact is, I'm not as careful about that with the kids on my own inner playground. I enjoy the cute likeable ones and the smart ones and the creative ones but I get very annoyed with the selfish ones and the fearful ones. If my heart were a pumpkin patch instead of a playground, I'd be more like Ali, looking for the perfect one; I need to cultivate Katherine's way of looking for the sad or lonely or ugly pumpkin and choosing it to take home with me.

Something I read in Anam Cara this morning offered a lovely solution for that challenge: O'Donohue was actually quoting Nietzche, who apparently said "one of the best days in his life was the day when he rebaptized all his negative qualities as his best qualities. In this kind of baptism, rather than banishing what is at first glimpse unwelcome, you bring it home to unity with your life.

"This," O'Donohue continues, "is the slow and difficult work of self-retrieval. Every person has certain qualities or presences in their heart that are awkward, disturbing and negative. One of your sacred duties is to exercise kindness toward them. In a sense, you are called to be a loving parent to your delinquent qualities."

Maybe that's one of the challenges of the empty nest: now that you no longer have to expend as much energy parenting your children, it's time to pour some of that good loving energy into parenting yourself: not just in the disciplinary now-that-the-kids-are-gone-you-WILL-exercise-and-lose-weight kind of way, but also in the aw-sweetie-you-screwed-up-again-but-I-still-love-you kind of way.

So whether or not you've been a mother in your lifetime, maybe today, in honor of Mothers' Day, you should visit that inner pumpkin patch and look for one of the less appetizing pumpkins, take it in hand and re-baptize it; let it know you are grateful for all it has taught you over the years. Take a little time to love those parts of yourself you've always found it hard to even look at.

I suspect you won't regret it.

PS: if you liked this post, you should be sure to visit my poetry blog for the completion of this thought... and, as always, the John O'Donohue quotation is from Anam Cara (© John O’Donohue. All rights reserved). To learn more about John O'Donohue, be sure to visit his website:


Unknown said...

Happy Mother's Day to you! XO

altar ego said...

I love this post. The idea of the inner playground is fabulous! And the idea of baptizing the flawed parts of us and brining them into unity is nothing less than mind-blowing. So much here to contemplate as I wrestle with those particular children on my playground. Belated Happy MD to you!

ERose said...

Beautiful as usual!
I would recommend a book by Miriam Greenspa: "Healing through the Dark Emothions: The wisdom of grief, fear and Despair".
Her premise is that we need the wisdom of these dark emotions or as you might say, the "bad" kids on the playground. It is of course tricky to accept their wisdom without getting beat up.