As I write this, I am sitting at the instructor's station in a university classroom while 32 undergraduates earnestly labor over an exam I made up last night. These three hours may be the end of my experience as a professor; for the next while, anyway, I will be a full-time stay at home mom. (I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about that later on. (I don't yet know, for example, how I'm going to feel about my response to the question "What do you do?")) For the moment I am here in this classroom with kids that I find interesting and sometimes insightful and charming either way, and my child is elsewhere with someone who is not me, and there is a space between, a kind of zone in which the air moves freely.
Something I've noticed lately when I've been with Frances: when we go out—to the grocery, for a walk in the stroller, wherever—I approach her with the apprehension that she might be fussy or difficult. I arm myself with snacks, milk, kid music in the car, books for her to look at. But maybe this apprehension alone causes the difficultness I fear. Certainly she can sense my emotional state. And why do I fear this from her? If she's unhappy, I usually come up with something that will distract/satisfy her. My newest approach is to assume that she's going to be fine, and what I've found is that she is; my anxiety, in the end, accomplishes nothing except to make me anxious, which is a terrible way to live.
Sometimes when Mitch watches Frances she says she wants to go for a hike or to the museum, but when it comes time to get in the car (or the kid-carrier), she throws a fit. She doesn't want to. So Mitch simply changes plans: they play in the yard or go to the park instead, where Frances has a very nice time. Perhaps my problem is MY inflexibility. It doesn't occur to me to change plans... I feel that I must convince her to do whatever it is she doesn't want to, for the sake of the task at hand. Of course, there are going to be times when this is necessary. But there are many many more when I can be flexible and simply respond to what happens in that moment.
This is the real issue, I believe: being in the moment. (In fact, nearly every issue I have in my life comes down to this. It's like I keep learning this lesson over and over. (Isn't that the definition of insanity?)) To BE in this very moment, to simply notice it for what it is, to experience it fully, feel the feelings, smell the smells, hear the sounds. If I can just be, and assume that Frances will just be, then going to the grocery store takes on a whole new flavor. If this very moment produces a disgruntled child, then I deal with that when it comes. In the meantime, the child isn't disgruntled, so it's crazy for me to brace myself against that (so far, fictional) possibility.
(This morning Mitch said that he believes that I get nervous not only about what might happen, but that I won't be able to handle that thing when it comes, that it will put me over the edge. He suggested I change my perspective and believe that whatever comes I can handle. The question then becomes not "Oh no, what if something happens?" but "Hm, I wonder how I'll solve this...")
This Buddhist present moment stuff is also the key to being a stay at home mom, I suspect. (Well, it's really the key to understanding the entire Universe, but there's not enough space for all of that here.) In order to not go a little nutty when staying home with kids, you have to fully experience what it is you're experiencing. They'll only be small for just a moment, and spending that moment wishing for a bit more space in which to move (or nap or shower quietly or pee alone) is antithetical to the choice to stay home and experience their childhood in the first place.
So this is where I am. My new approach is to make friends with this moment: to focus on it, to feel the air around me, to assume Frances is here and fine in this moment as well. It's funny—when I can do this, she seems calmer. She seems to indeed be along for the ride rather than quietly simmering before a blow. Perhaps she was calm all along and I didn't notice because I was looking for signs of irritation, or perhaps she is indeed calmer because she senses that Mom is more relaxed in the world. She's terribly perceptive; of course she picks up on what I'm feeling. I want to provide a world of calm for her, want her to assume that the world is a safe place. In order to do this I have to be vigilant: it's my nature to slide back into anxious preparedness, always expecting something to struggle against, some impediment, some blow. I could do a whole analysis here about where that came from, but I won't. I'll save that for my counselor's office.