When a house is filled with young children it vibrates with movement. Even when they are absent their clothes swirl in the dryer, their dog snores on the couch, their toys wait patiently on every available surface. I have found that it is easy to get caught up in the movement, particularly if both parents are working. There is always something to do: a meeting to attend, a room that needs picking up, an appointment that needs scheduling, cupcakes that need to be made…..The days seem to gain speed until all of a sudden they are years. I remember holding Benny once when he was small, it was two in the morning and he was on an elaborate sleep strike. It felt personal, as if his 8 or 9 week old self was deeply committed to disrupting my sleep, potentially forever. I was giving an internal finger to all those well meaning people who had looked at my newborn and said “enjoy it, it goes so fast…” Not at 2 in the morning it doesn’t…..
Of course, now I look at his long arms and legs, his eleven-year-old self, and it does seem to have gone by in a flash. Those two a.m. meetings of ours feel like yesterday, and another life all at the same time. A very wise friend said to me once after we had finished talking about how exhausted we were by our toddlers, “But this is the good stuff, when we put our children in bed at least we know where they are…” I hear that phrase so often in my head, “this is the good stuff.” she was right, this busy-ness, this intensity, this constant change, this is what a life is. The catch is, that we have learn to pay attention to it, we have to learn to slow down within the movement and the busy-ness to be able to really appreciate it.
In Buddhism it is an accepted principle that there are two realities or two truths. There is relative truth, which is what we think we see, the whirlwind of the every day, and there is absolute truth which is what exists underneath all of that. it is the reality that we and everyone we love are just temporary, existing for a short time in the same place. For me parenting was the first time I really thought about absolute truth. My own mortality and that of my children weighed on me. The thought of something bad happening to them makes me close my eyes and hold up my hands, just the thought of it inspires deep physical reactions. As the mother of a child who will probably never be able to live independently, my own mortality became even more of an obstacle. On more than one occasion I have thought to myself, I have to figure out how to live as long as she does so I can take care of her, she is 8 and I am 40….it’s unlikely I will live to 120.
The relative truth of parenting, the small successes and failures, “he sleeps through the night, and eats green vegetables,” give way to “he reads, and has friends.” He complains mercilessly about homework, doesn’t make a team, has his heart broken, each moment feels enormous and real, and defining while it’s happening. They should. This is the good stuff. The absolute truth as I experience it is within the relative truth: it is allowing each of those moments to really sink in. It is not trying either to hold on to them or to ignore them, but to be fully present with them. The absolute truth of my life exists in all of the relative details, in the way I make my bed, or the dinners we eat. The amount of attention and care that we bring to the ordinary is what makes it come alive.