Being a parent has its ups and downs, just like everything. Sometimes, I feel amazed by the brilliance of my son. I sit in awe of his exuberance, his strength, or his ability to name his emotions, as I secretly allow myself to a little bit of credit. Other times, I find my son's rowdy energy to be annoying and disrespectful, triggering the hurt little girl inside who felt disrespected and attacked by the group of boys (including my brother, my cousin, and family friends) I spent time with as a child. I recognize that, with parenting, just like everything else, the areas we struggle with the most are opportunities for healing, growth and transformation. In other words, parenting kicks my ass and Emilio is my greatest teacher.
This thought occurred to me yesterday, during a particularly trying day. My husband and I have designated two days a week to be "Mommy Days": days that I stay at home to take care of the house, and spend time with Emilio. These days are also often the days where I am in the flow of my inner life--I am often deeply called to write, to draw or play music. On those days I feel pulled in three directions: between house work, time with Emilio and time spent with my rich inner life. My hope is that blogging will be a way to tie all of them together. But it isn't easy.
Yesterday I found myself giving up on the overwhelming pile of house work and just pulled just in two directions. What I just noticed is that every single thing that I love to do is just exactly the thing that Emilio has no tolerance for. I am in the house with Emilio, he is deep in imaginative play with a guitar capo that he has turned into a character with a funny voice, and I suddenly have a brilliant thought that I must write down immediately before I forget. Just as I sit down at my computer, Emilio appears before me struggling to climb into my lap, trying to block my keyboard by pressing random buttons. Or Emilio is outside banging a broken piece of cement with a shovel, and then I grab the ukelele and practice my new song, and after a few strums, he is suddenly inside the house, glaring at me with his angry face, saying: "no!" Or later on, when we do a project together involving fun things like blowing out the insides of eggs and decorating them, I get inspired to do a blog post, and start taking rapid fire photos of the process. He blocks the object I am trying to take a photo of, and I get angry and storm off like a little child. We make up, but I realize that he doesn't want to let me do anything that fills me, only what fills him. On some days I have an easier time accepting this reality of parenting, that we are to prioritize the needs of ours child over ours. Not always, but often. But on this day, I feel more resistant to this idea. I am tired and I have ideas that need to be expressed. I want to create. I want to daydream. We are at a standstill. Later, I come up with a compromise. I want to read for 20 minutes, while he plays. After that, I promise I will play with him. I set a timer, and get back into reading Not That Kind of Girl (for the second time). He plays by himself, but very near to me. We are both lying on what we call "the couch" (which is really a narrow cushion from an old camper we no longer own that we keep on the floor.) It's barely big enough for the both of us. When the timer goes off, Emilio is outside playing and he doesn't hear it. I don't say anything and keep reading. Eventually he comes in and I bring up that it's time to play. I don't remember how exactly it happens, but suddenly we are in a live game show and I am speaking in a loud, showy voice with a very bad English accent, and I am announcing Emilio as the contestant that will be sharing his experiments with the live audience. I respond to everything he says or does with an over the top reflection of how amazing he is, repeating his full name and imploring "the audience" to give a rowdy round of applause. It turns out to be a sort of interview--about his work in his laboratory in Elias Calles, and how he is going to share his experiments with world. This process draws him out. He is beaming. He plays along. He starts to take on the same bad English accent. The next trick of the show is him sharing his best Kung Fu moves. "The audience" and I gasp in amazement. This acted out play goes on for a half hour or so, and after a while I start to lose steam. I tell him I need to pee and take a break. He wants it to continue. "Mommy, do that voice." "I need to rest. I'll do some more later."
That voice--that's the actress me. The trained improvisor. The performer. The kid who loves to play. It's also fed by the wounded healer. The part of me that instinctively knows what the soul needs to heal. This isn't his healing, it's mine. My healing needs co-mingling with his immediate needs for play and attention. I am giving my child the very reflection that I so deeply needed as a child. I wanted desperately to be drawn out. This is my gift for others. So it turns out there are some art forms and desires that Emilio will allow me to do, but the trick is not going off into a corner and doing them by myself. The trick is to draw him into the arena with me. To reflect not just him and his shiny self, but to include my own. And in this way, we build relationship. And this is the lesson I am re-learning, ever deepening into. Parenthood is about relationship. Self and Other. This is the model we want to give our children: compromise--by acknowledging both self and others needs. Modeling is one important way that kids learn. The other is play.