Friday, June 24, 2011

Learning is fun...?

I'm in a “fresh start” mood. This has been brought on by some combination of coming home from a trip (this often puts me in this mood) and the book that I'm reading. It's The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball about the author's journey from life as a free lance journalist living in Manhattan to a wildly new existence on a run-down farm in northern New York state with a zealous, passionate farmer. She initially meets him for an interview but, within about a year, winds up engaged to him and working harder than she ever has to breathe life into this old farm with him. It's invigorating to read. I know myself well enough to not trust the little romantic voice in my head that says, as it probably does to most who read this type of book, “Yes! Become a farmer! Forget all these other trivial, unimportant things! Live on the land, of the land, with the land! Woo hoo!” (At this point, the theme song from Green Acres should be playing in your head.)

Farming is incredibly hard. Her description is not glamorous or rose-tinted. The first year seemed truly grueling. Still, this book inspires in me a feeling of courage, daring. I may not become a farmer, but I want to live a brave life! To do the things that most resonate with me but also terrify me. This feeling, as everyone who has ever made-then broken-an exciting New Year's resolution knows, is fleeting. Real change is slow-going and requires steady effort, though the effort may not be uniform. I do believe in sudden, inspired break-throughs, like deciding to leave everything behind and become a farmer. But, the real work is shifting your outlook and energy slowly, daily, actually doing the daily work of farming.

This is all a very long way to say that real change is dull and hard, which many have observed before me...and, yet, feels so true that each time I re-realize it, it does not even seem hackneyed. Perhaps I just love short cuts, which is to say I'm human. Or, I like the feeling of imagining sweeping, awe-inspiring changes to my life, which is also to say that I'm human...or at least one type of human. Still, maybe I can do it. Make whatever changes really matter, that is. There is a new pressure I feel in all this because I have a child. I would like to live, as I've said before, in a manner that is contented, confident and well-grounded. I would like to model equanimity, peace, and a deep connection to my life for Ila. I don't need to be happy all the time or certain of everything...I just don't want to surround her with restless, anxious energy.

So, now, I might think to myself, “What will I do today? What can I do today? What do I want to do today?” Think on the small scale. Not this: What am I doing with my time? I should be applying for grad school or maybe...should I write today? Will I write something today or just not do it as usual? Why don't I write more? I am so lazy. But that's negative. I should be positive. I will write. Soon. In fact, I should write every day for a block of time – during Ila's naps! Yes, during Ila's nap, I will write every single day. That is my plan. Whew! Now I feel direction. Maybe I will sit down and my a schedule for myself. Block out the writing time. Get ready to write. But not today. Today I don't have time to write. I need to make a year plan; no, a five year plan...

This morning, I was thinking this to myself, “What will I do today?” Then, some challenging energy in me upped the ante: I thought, maybe I will just do this each moment I notice myself planning, worrying, wondering, feeling pulled in different directions. I can say, “What will I do in this moment?” This is, for me, the extreme micro level. It seems insane and ridiculous on the one hand. An almost irresponsible letting go of planning, idea making. And, on the other hand, it is deeply freeing and appealing. If you spend your life as you spend each day...well, I guess this approach makes sense. It just runs counter to every habit in me.

One advantage I've found in having a child is that I am actually pulled back into the present moment pretty consistently. Last night, in the relative cool and dark of our bedroom, Ila lay next to me with her cheek on my breast, her legs sprawled over my thigh, her little body snuggled close. It was so sweet and lovely. I had been thinking the moment before, “God, I'm tired, but I need to get some things done tonight. When is she going to fall asleep?! Fall asleep already!” Fortunately, just as I felt an ugly resistance and anger rising in me, some wisdom in me that surprises me each time it surfaces, said, “But what about right now? Right now is so deeply pleasant. It won't always be like this. Enjoy it.” I relaxed and noticed how sweet and close she was.

While this is very touching and grounding, the flip side is that you really do have to cede much control over your time and life. (Or maybe just the illusion of control?) Anyway, the other advantage that goes along with being pulled into the present by a child is harder to appreciate. You also have ample opportunities to recognize how futile planning, organizing, analyzing, sense-making, pattern making can be. You have the opportunity to see this, embrace this truth, let go of trying to control, live in a more accepting, present manner. Or you can get angry about how little control you have and resist it. I volley back and forth between these two responses.

For instance, I did have a number of things I wanted to do last night, things I cannot do when Ila is awake. But, she was it took a while for her to fall asleep. By that time, I was pretty tired myself (9 PM; pretty pathetic, I know) and decided to just go to sleep. It was sweet to lie with her and enjoy her little being...but I also did have to give up getting anything else done. Does that matter much? Probably not, but in the moment choices like that are pretty difficult.

I just saw a couple friends in LA who have a brand new little baby. The exhaustion and bewilderment that go along with a newborn were palpable in their house. I immediately remembered vividly Ila's first couple months. Woah. That whole having a new baby thing was intense. What I found myself thinking about as I talked with these friends was how the first year, for me, was a series of realizations that I needed to let go and accept whatever was going on, however unpleasant it was. Most of the exercises in acceptance were around lack of sleep, particularly around accepting that Ila was not sleeping, not going to sleep, not even sleepy in the least although Kiyomi and I were both exhausted and it was 3 AM. But, there are other lessons too. The Lesson of Having Only Two Hands, two hands full of a baby and a thousand other things to do with your hands, like folding laundry or washing dishes or checking email. The Lesson of a Constantly Needy Baby that does not want to be put down even for a second, even for you to run to the toilet or make yourself a snack. Each of these is fun in its own way.

What was particularly upsetting about all of this for me was that I had to do it over and over. I want it to work this way: face something challenging - say, long periods of wakefulness at night - recognize the reality of the situation, relax into, accept it, see my resistance, give up resistance as much as I can. And be done with it. I shouldn't have to do that over and over, right? I already accepted that I'm not getting the sleep that I want. Why do I have to learn this lesson over and over? Why do I have to find a new level of resistance in myself every time, a new way that I have to let go! Sheesh. Who knew I had such a plodding, linear view of life – do something, check it off the list? This is, apparently, not at all what life is actually like.

Anyway, I will try to lap up the fun, tender, hilarious moments...or at least notice them as they are happening! Ila is in a particularly cute phase. She has begun to walk in earnest, as a means of transportation rather than an occasional recreational past time. It started about two weeks ago. She would let go of whatever furniture she was hanging on to and toddle a few feet, looking pretty exhilarated and puffing little excited breaths. Now, she is truly a walker. She gets more steady every day; she's looking less and less like a little shuffling Frankenstein baby, short arms out in front T-Rex style. It's almost unspeakably adorable to watch her teetering forward as fast as she can go, then pivoting recklessly around to come back to you, smiling and wrinkling up her nose. She also makes all kinds of wild vocalizations, everything from “wowwowwaaahwow” to “bababababa” to strange breathy sounds. What cute creatures one-year-olds are. That being said, she is also much more irritated when I take something away from her or when she wants something she is not supposed to have...she likes to employ a cry that varies in its authenticity to protest anything she doesn't like. All of this is extremely fascinating to watch. I'm curious to see her personality as it unfolds and develops.

One of the sweetest and always surprising treats are those times when she just cracks up. There's really no way to know why certain things are hilarious to her, and she's a very sophisticated audience – something will only make her laugh once. So, it's hard to replicate these moments or make her laugh this hard. Another little lesson in just enjoying these lovely moments without clinging to them? So, I guess it's best to simply observe and enjoy those times when she laughs and laughs.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Growing Up

"Mother's body is baby's natural habitat." I read that in a book on breastfeeding when I was pregnant, and I've thought of it a lot in the last year. When she was a tiny new baby it seemed very obviously true that I was the mother ship, and Ila was the dependent little satellite. Strangely, this phrase popped into my head even more as she got older. I'm more conscious of her connection to me as she navigates the world a teeny bit more on her own. This is sort of contradictory, but she seems even more connected to me now, though she was completely dependent on me before. Perhaps it is that she now chooses to check in with me, look at me, snuggle with me. I feel so physically connected to her, even now as she wants to explore more. According to Chinese medicine, a mother and child are energetically connected for the first three years. So, traditionally, if you needed to treat the child, you would look at the mother. This idea also feels sort of accurate to me. Ila is still nursing quite a lot, so, in many ways, we still are still literally physically connected. I don't know why this is surprising to me because it is pretty obvious, but I feel more and more connected with her. What I'm wondering is, will I feel this when she's an adult?

Seriously, I've been thinking about how odd it must be to have all these memories of your little baby - some of which are probably pretty vivid - when you are interacting with your adult child. It seems very uncanny. Sort of related to this, on Ila's birthday last week, I really was thinking about laboring with her. I wonder if I will often think of this on her birthday in years to come. It seems sort of cliche, doesn't it? Your birthday, mother regaling you with how hard her labor was, etc. etc. Well, maybe this is only because it was just a year ago, but it was pretty connected to all my thoughts around celebrating Ila's birthday.

So, Ila's birthday. Wow. She is now a one year old. It is hard to believe it has been a year - it has felt both longer and shorter than that. I guess mostly longer probably because I was actually awake for more of the last year than prior years. So it was actually longer. I found, though, that I've had a much stronger connection to the present moment this last year. It is nice to be reminded to stay in the present and focus on what is happening with Ila right in front of me...even if some of the time is exhausting and difficult! Most of the time I just marvel at how curious, adorable, and fascinating she is. These are the moments that time seems to go very quickly.

Lately, she is babbling constantly, including this morning at 4:30 AM. She's still not talking, but she is intent on communication. She uses her signs (check out "more" in the video below!), sometimes a little wildly, and clearly wants to be understood. Oh, and she does moo like a cow when she sees a pictures of them. She mimics sounds, gestures, faces. And clearly understands a great deal of what we say to her. I can't wait for her to use actual will be so wild. It's hard to imagine what her first real word will actually be. Cat? No? Cow? Maybe even mama?

Now that she is getting to be a real, live kid, I was perusing the "discipline" section of some of our parenting books. One comment struck me about modeling behavior for your child. This is obvious and not anything new for me, but I realized that the strongest way I communicate my expectations for Ila is, of course, how I behave. Duh, right? Well, it really struck me at that moment. I started thinking about how...sometimes I'm so impatient or I kind of throw a fit if I'm frustrated. I get fixated on small things. It's hard for me to let them go at times...and I want to blame someone else in my frustration...for whatever is wrong. In Buddhist terms, I'm all about aversion. I don't want to accept that things aren't the way I want them to be - whether that is getting a cold for the seventh time in seven months or finding a wet towel on the bed. Really, I don't even want to accept when I'm deeply irritated. I don't want to just notice the emotion, feel it, give it space without clinging to it, let go of it, without the expectation of feeling immediately better. I like to push it away. Blaming someone else is a great way to do this!

See? I'm all about aversion.

Anyway, it occurred to me that self-discipline is an important place to start when when disciplining anyone else. ("Discipline" sounds so negative to me, yet "self-discipline" sounds so positive. Interesting.) I definitely realized this as a teacher too...but my tendencies toward impatience, aversion, anger...well, they're pretty strong. So, for the last few weeks, I've been thinking about how I really should both accept who I am...and subtly change it. What a tricky balance, no? (This reminds me of yet another fabulous Lydia Davis short story, New Year's Resolution . Very short and hilarious. Read it!)

I guess what I realized is that I'd like to be a very true, conscious version of myself for Ila - and my - sake; that there are ways that I create extra suffering for myself (and those around me, I'm sure)...and that it would be good to work on this since, as a parent and a model for my child, I will have a lot more credibility if I am not simply avoiding difficult emotions, blaming other people, erupting in anger. We'll see how this goes.

Here's to not throwing tantrums, at least!