Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life

The Preschool Meeting and the Path


LeoLegsI often find bussokuseki’s blog posts gorgeous, but I wanted in particular to reblog this one, “The Spiral and The Path.” A man and his kids make a spiral in the snow, only to discover its impermanence. It’s a lovely testament to non-attachment and it was one of the few things I sat down and read fully, without distraction, on the day I saw it. I hope you check it out.

I loved the post also because in a metaphorical and oblique way it’s about the difficulty of being Buddhist with kids. I sometimes think if I didn’t have a kid, what a great Buddhist I’d be. I’d be so patient, so mindful, so calm. Of course that’s absurd: having a kid is part of what sent me down this path, and part of what sustains this practice, and so in that way, without Lex there would be no Becoming Buddhist. No great need for patience and mindfulness.

I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago, when things felt particularly dire on the home front. As with everything, that day passed, and another one arrived, then another. Then it came time for an all-school meeting at Lex’s school. The topic: ask a teacher all your burning questions about child-rearing. We were invited to submit questions anonymously; the teachers would each choose one to answer. I submitted one. It went along the lines of:

Do you have any strategies for dealing with kids who are argumentative, uncooperative, and unhelpful, rewarding “good” behaviors and discouraging “bad” ones?

I kind of cringe when I read it now.

The meeting solidified my feeling that—if I may brag for just a second—Lex goes to the best preschool in the entire world. Maybe down the line I will become jaded, but at the moment I’m astounded by how fully this school allows my son to be himself. It encourages his emotional, intellectual, and physical growth, and allows his parents to be involved in his education. For me, it’s like walking into a room every morning and knowing that despite economic diversity, different personalities, and probably philosophical disagreements, every parent in the room wants the same thing for their kid and wants to try harder to be the best parent they can be (I know, it’s so bourgeois, so Berkeley). So at this meeting, I found solutions to parenting problems that ranged from spiritual (“practice non-attachment and objectivity,” said one) to pragmatic (“there are two kinds of tantrums,” said another. “Here’s how you deal with type A…”). The last teacher to speak was Alyssa, Lex’s classroom teacher, and, wouldn’t you know it, she picked my question. Her answer was helpful, somewhere in the middle of spiritual and pragmatic, and I got some good ideas from her. But mostly I had this nagging at my heart the entire time she was talking. A voice came into my head, and here’s what the voice said:

You are not dealing well with Lex’s anger.

And I realized the voice was right. I have been scared of his anger, inconvenienced by his anger, annoyed by his anger. I have found it misplaced and confusing, so I have shut it down. In not so many words I have told him that his anger is inappropriate and has no place in our house. Because I have not always dealt well with my own anger, this realization scared me and made me want to do better.

When I got home, I shared my experience of the meeting with Marc. The surprising part was that I didn’t get more than two minutes into explaining about the anger before I started to sob. The tears felt like they came from someplace else, like they were moving through me; I sobbed and sobbed. I let go of all the difficulty of the past couple of months, with Lex, with the ectopic pregnancy. I realized how hard it has been to be a patient, mindful parent to a child who has tested my mindfulness and my patience at every turn.

I cried and cried and cried and cried.

The California equivalent of snow

The California equivalent of snow

And then you know what? I swallowed, and realized that the incredibly painful sore throat I’d had for a month was gone. GONE.

And I woke up the next morning remarkably refreshed and optimistic. And happy.

Parenting mindfully may be the most difficult thing I have done. At the end of the day, exhausted, practicing non-attachment feels like arduous work. Some days, reacting calmly to anger or rudeness takes every ounce of strength I have. Some days I really suck at it.

Lately, I am happy to report, Lex’s challenges to my Buddhism have been a little more pedestrian. Since the meeting and the cathartic cry, we have been better with one another again. I have been better.

Nowadays the great difficulty is getting up early enough to do ten sun salutations and sit for ten minutes before I hear the Thump! Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-shakow-Boom! that is Lex hopping out of his bed, bounding across the room, and throwing open the door to come find one of his parents. Often, I’m still on the zafu.

“Come here, Honey,” I might say as I pull him onto my lap and wrap him in a wool blanket. “We’re sitting quietly.”

The other morning the stillness was palpable. Lex’s warm body was the loveliest of meditations. Silence. Then there was a “pfffffttt!” as he let out this enormous morning fart on me and the zafu. We both paused, surprised; then he started to giggle uncontrollably.

Then I did, too.


Author: becomingbuddhist

I am a writer, teacher, and mother living in Northern California. Recently I decided to try an experiment in living more mindfully. This blog is my testimonial.

4 thoughts on “The Preschool Meeting and the Path

  1. LOVE, love, love this post. I can so relate with every fiber of my being. My son and I have this struggle as well. His temperament kind of thwarted my plans for being a totally laid back, spiritual, and accepting mom. We are still looking for ways to quell his rage, but in between the tantrums are trying to relate lovingly and closely with him. Ugh. It is such a balancing act, and I can agree that it is at times annoying and inconvenient, like you wrote. It is also hard because my toddler is sooooooo easy going and delightful to be around, so we really struggle with making sure everyone gets enough attention in the house. That said, I give you major credit for even attempting to meditate! I try to say that when I walk with my daughter in the stroller, I am doing walking meditation, or when I change a diaper, I am doing so mindfully, but who am I fooling. I’m just way too lazy and sleep deprived. Yeah, parenting mindfully is exhausting! But at least we are thinking about it and not putting soda in our kids sippy cups, right? Seriously, though, I love everything about this post. It says it just right. Momaste to you!

    • And to you! I was actually thinking about you when I wrote, since I had just read your post about Jack and Kindergarten and wanted to kind of push some white light your way for happier, easier days (since mine have been feeling easier all of a sudden). For me the cool thing about mindfully parenting is accepting that idea that this too shall pass. It has helped me in some of the tougher times. And you know, I don’t even think my kid is THAT difficult, it’s just that the whole experience is inherently difficult, you know? Oh yeah, you do know…………….

  2. First, thank you so much for the lovely comments on my story. It sat as a draft for quite a while before I was able to give full life to it.

    More importantly, your post…the image of sitting early in the morning and welcoming a young one into that practice, rather than feeling that he is interrupting it, is incredibly touching and inspiring. To me, that’s what being a Buddhist with kids is all about. It can be such a struggle, and yet at times I also wonder how I could have possibly engaged fully in this practice without them…I suppose I’ll never know…

    I was so glad to see your post and hope that you are doing well. Blessings~

    • I always thought of it as an interruption until a friend who’s been practicing for years told me she does her morning chanting with her new puppy, so the puppy will get used to the fact that “Mama” does this every morning. She encouraged me to just let Lex onto the mat and if the session only lasted for two minutes, so be it. It was kind of a revelation!

      I do love your writing and am always happy to read your work. Blessings to you, too…

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