They say children are our greatest teachers. In that case, I’d like to nominate my nine-year-old for Teacher of the Year.
Eli is one of those tortured souls. Her heart is too big for her birth order, her tears never more than a sarcastic, sneaky or sassy sister away (she has one of each) and her perfectionism? Let’s just say it rivals her mother’s, and I’m only just now learning to temper my own at age thirty-five.
The simplest way I know to explain it is that my girl very often feels stuck. She can no more change her position within the family than she can her position within the world (which is exactly one country too far south for her liking) and both realities pain her to no end.
A few weekends ago, she flipped out. (Okay, so that’s nothing new, but this time she really lost it.) She didn’t want to go to the beach (sound familiar?) and we were SO MEAN for making her. By the time we’d arrived she was downright desperate to escape what, to her, felt like tropical torture.
“I HATE this place! I HATE this day!! I hate MEXICO, I hate the SUN, I hate my SISTERS, I HATE MY LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Keep in mind, we were here when this happened:
The irony of her agony against the serenity of the sea made her mood that much more maddening. After consoling, cajoling and busting out both my finest and flimsiest parenting tools I pleaded,
“Eli, HONEY! Look around you! Look how many gifts you’re refusing right now. WHY? Why can’t you just receive what this moment is trying to offer you?”
You know how sometimes the lessons seep in slowly through the cracks and other times they knock you down, suck you under and remind you how partial you are to air?
Yeah, I’m still picking sand from my teeth.
Eli’s beach tantrum was meant to be my lesson, not necessarily hers. You see, I often struggle, myself, to feel content despite my circumstances:
Like the fact that someone always seems to need me and their needs are usually dire, disgusting or demanding.
Like the fact that my work never feels done and my accomplishments are often undone within minutes.
Like the fact that the vast majority of return on my investments won’t manifest for years, or decades, if ever.
Like the fact that no matter how much balance I attempt to maintain both within and all around me, there is usually a minor emergency in the making that requires me to shift my priorities and focus. Again. And again. And again.
Thing is, it wasn’t just the speaking aloud of the very perspective I’d been needing myself that hit me with such impact, but the certainty I felt and the urgency with which I wanted her to hear it.
So, curious, I turned it around. I begged of myself with the same fervor,
“Beth, HONEY! Look around you! Look how many gifts you’re refusing right now. WHY? Why can’t you just receive what this moment is trying to offer you?”
Wow. Um, well…I’d have to think about it.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve done just that. I’ve been hyper-aware of my mood, in-tuned with my joy (or lack thereof) and taking notes, searching for patterns and consistencies. What I’ve found are a remarkably small number of “thieves” robbing me right out from under my awareness:
Unmet Basic Needs
No big surprise. Same repeat offenders as usual.
So if I’ve been onto these guys for a while now and already knew they were trouble, what made that moment feel so big?
What I suddenly realized was just how much control I really do have, not over fear as an abstract, widespread, love-countering concept, but over its ability to steal my joy in this moment.
How consistent and abundant the gifts really are, and how the only real variable is my receptiveness.
That as much as I’ve craved joy and sought peace and lusted after fulfillment, just like the beach and the sand and the waves that day, they have always been here, waiting for me to quit freaking out and notice.
Alright, so I can’t promise I’m over all my childish ways, but the following process has proven pretty powerful over the past couple of weeks.
4 Steps for Making the Most of This Moment:
It seems each step might present challenges as unique as every individual, and that our ease with one vs. another will change as we grow. Until recently, the heart-opening part has been a real challenge for me, though it now seems to be the place where the magic happens: the difference between reasoning my way to joy and feeling my way.
And when I get there?
When instead of wallowing in my fear of inadequacy after two days of fruitless writing, I hop on my bike, let the thoughts come and go as they will and “accomplish” more in an hour than two days combined?
When instead of judging the mama feeding her baby Coca-Cola in a bottle, I make eye contact, offer a smile, and share an unspoken understanding of just how beautiful-difficult it all is?
When I slow down enough to realize my kid is dawdling because she can’t help but notice the gifts, whether a broken-legged beetle or a flock of yellow-bellied birds or a tune in the hum of a diesel engine?
When, just as soon as I catch myself devaluing the moment, “I don’t like priming, I like real painting” I realize I don’t have to give away my joy for the next four hours?
When my world is falling apart, I’m certain I’m dying and I’ve failed in my every endeavor, and then I do yoga and shower and remember to eat all is well again?
When I quit hiding behind my introversion and make a new friend in Spanish, because I now can?
Or when I realize that the whole reason I expect Hunter to put the suitcases away once I’ve emptied them is because he’s done it for me so many times before, because he is awesome?
That’s where the magic happens, for me. It’s not in the grandiose acquisition of esoteric enlightenment, it’s in the smell of rotting possum and acknowledgment of rich soil in the making. It’s not in the saving of the seas from the evildoers who invented plastic, it’s in the saving of this second from the pollution of judgement, fear and anger. It’s not in the becoming of the perfect mother, but in the ability to make room for the meltdowns and accept them as really loud gifts (okay, sometimes).
It’s hurricane season here, meaning rain floods the streets nearly every day. Yesterday I observed something no less ironic than Eli’s refusal to see beauty that day on the beach:
A young woman, dressed head-to-toe in starched whites and clearly on her way to work someplace fancy stood waiting at her bus stop. No more than three seconds after a thoughtless cabbie hit a foot-deep car-sized puddle, soaking her with street sludge, she began laughing. And I mean really laughing. She shook various body parts, unphazed as a soggy street dog, looked at me with a childish sparkle in her eye and burned that moment in my memory. Her expression made words unnecessary…“Sigh…you just never know what the day might hand you, now do you? Don’t you just love the rain?” And she turned and walked away, still smiling.
I want that. I want her superpower.
If the gifts really are everywhere and available anytime we clear the clutter that prevents their presentation, then it matters not whether I’m on the prettiest beach in the world or covered in Mexican street slime.
And if it really is possible that every moment offers beauty for the taking, then I don’t have to want it, I just have to choose it.
Can it be that simple? Well, are there gifts being handed to you right now?
How about now?
Yeah, me too.