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.


Sick Mama

I almost can’t believe what I am about to write. Warning: it’s graphic, and maybe a little shocking. And quite sad.

But let me step back. I loved bussokuseki’s evening comment on my last post, “Sick Kid”:

My Zen teacher said something to me on Sunday that I have been sitting with since, and of which I am reminded reading this post: “Could it be that this moment, this very moment, is the moment I have been longing for?”

Not just accepting…but longing for…? Even if you aren’t sure of the answer, what incredible space this question opens up.

I thought of this twenty minutes later, when Lex was vomiting so hard he had puke in his eyes, his nose, his ears and his hair. We took him into the bathroom and gave him a bath, and then my sweet boy lay pale and red-lipped in his daddy’s arms while I put his bed back together. I decided to sleep in his room that night in case he needed me, but the sickness had passed and he didn’t throw up again. I asked myself whether I could have been longing for that moment, and decided I was: one of the beautiful, fundamental things about being a parent is being needed. And I was not unhappy to be going to bed that night knowing I’d be needed the next day, and maybe even that night. I was ruminating a lot on parenting, and how it throws your life into tumult, and how you must long for that tumult. I thanked bussokuseki in my head for helping me see that.

I was seven weeks pregnant, you see.

At four a.m. I woke up feeling like I, too, had the stomach flu. I started to vomit and have diarrhea and I was so uncomfortably…uncomfortable I couldn’t quite sit with myself. On the way to the bathroom to throw up, I passed out on the floor. I made it into bed, and spent the day in agony. Calls to the advice nurse yielded little since we kept insisting that my son had stomach flu and I must, too. They agreed. I was not bleeding; I was not miscarrying, I kept thinking, because I was not bleeding. But I was in so much pain and agony that I kept passing out. I’d huff too much air in an effort to get over a wave of nausea–though I’d stopped throwing up much, much earlier–and black out. Eventually around 7:30 p.m. I told Marc we needed to call 911. He was skeptical, I think we both were; the cost, the extravagance. But I knew I was dying of dehydration if nothing else, and I suspected something else might be really wrong. And I knew I could not get myself into the car and over to the emergency room without help.

Marc called my friend Steph, then 911. Steph took three minutes to get here. 911 took six. When they arrived–six uniformed men straight off the cover of a firemen porn magazine, and me sweaty, my teeth unbrushed, unable to breathe, dying–I felt enormous relief that someone else could take over. Being carried into the back of an ambulance, given oxygen, asked questions, prodded, poked, none of it was as I’d have expected. I kept thinking how I could not long for any moment that had happened all day, not one of them, save perhaps being in the back of an ambulance and not having to deal with the agony anymore.

At the hospital, it was more of the same: they gave me fluids, they gave me oxygen, they did blood tests. They were still treating me for extreme flu. I started to worry that I would leave the hospital feeling no different than I had, just slightly more hydrated. The doctor mentioned an ultrasound. Yes, I thought. Could the baby live through this flu?

Around midnight, the news all came together: my hemoglobin count was at 7, the pregnancy hormone was 9,000, I was anemic. The ultrasound happened and the doctor put it this way: “I think we have a bit of a tubal going on here.”

I don’t remember when everything registered, but all of a sudden I got it: I was anemic because I had an ectopic pregnancy and my fallopian tube had ruptured. I was bleeding internally, hence the horrible stomach pains. I needed emergency surgery and the fetus, unviable, was floating around somewhere and needed to be removed. There was so much blood they couldn’t see for sure which tube was ruptured. Just the week before I’d found myself thinking how much surgery terrified me and that I hoped I’d never have to do it. In the hospital I realized I had no choice: I would likely die if they didn’t operate.

The story has, I guess, a happy ending: an hour or so later I came out of that operating theater alive. I lost a liter of blood and one fallopian tube and, obviously, the fetus. Marc was with me the whole time, minus while I was being operated on. I have an active imagination for the “what if?” and he and I have needed to go over it a hundred times: what might have happened if we’d waited any longer? The good news is that we did not. The good news is modern medicine. The good news is those EMTs. The good news is Steph so gracefully arriving to sleep on the couch until we called my father in law, who came from the city in the middle of the night to relieve her and get Lex to school the next morning. The good news is the friends who have brought food and taken Lex for playdates. The good news is my husband, who has been an incredible nurse, even with his Ratchett-like moments (forcing me to drink the last of a raw kale smoothie, insisting on a walk down the block). It is good to be nurtured and encouraged to heal. The good news is my parents flying out this afternoon.

The sadness is there, but it’s secondary, floating, strange. Since telling my family and a few friends what happened so many women have volunteered their own losses: multiple miscarriages, absorption of twins, other stories of ectopic pregnancies. I was even in the very hospital ward where my friend C had to spend five weeks because one of two identical twins was stillborn and she needed to be on bed rest until they could safely deliver the other. These stories all put mine in context. What feels different is that the loss of the pregnancy is almost a separate issue, because it turns out we could very easily have lost me.

I hesitate to ask if this is all TMI–too much information–for a blog post. But I don’t know how I would go on in this blog if I didn’t come clean. I wonder how the Buddhist practice supports one through a trauma like this. I think I will be figuring that out.


Sick Kid

I feel sometimes when I visit Becoming Buddhist that I live a secret life. I log out of my other blog, and into this one, where I see all the posts from people I’m following in my life as a Buddhist–my secret life as a Buddhist–and I enter this space where I read about boredom on A Year of Meditating or enjoy one of bussokuseki’s gorgeous poems or appreciate the wisdom of Amanda Green, and I feel a little like I am not even at my own house anymore, where we have a sick kid and no one got up to meditate this morning because we were sleeping off two middle-of-the-night puking sessions.


This is something I think about a lot, this idea of trying on different costumes, different roles. It’s actually something I have felt my whole life. I was a pudgy kid, and when in my twenties I started dropping pounds upon pounds without really trying, until I became the objectively thin woman I am today, I felt for the first several years that I was faking thin. When I traveled around the world with Marc, it felt for a while like someone else was taking that trip. Someone bold, intrepid: not anxious, scared me.


Me in Hawaii, 2012

Being Buddhist feels a little like that, like something I’m trying on. Maybe that’s why I feel the need for this secrecy.

But man this Buddhist stuff gets in your bones. I’ll admit: my practice has been crap lately. I’m tired, and getting up before Lex doesn’t always happen. A few mornings my “meditation” has looked like this: a sleepy me on the zafu, shushing the wiggly toddler in my lap, both of us ensconced in blankies since it’s so damn cold in Berkeley lately. I grab a nanosecond of mindful intention before the wiggles shake us towards breakfast and the start of the frantic day.

Nonetheless, I feel myself different than I was a year ago, slightly more able to pause in the moment as I just…exist. And, of course, struggling to practice mindfulness as I…exist.

Today I had a sick kid. I also had a boatload of work I wanted to do. The two were mutually exclusive. I stayed home with Lex and got no writing or professional development done; we watched a leopard documentary, read some books, went for a short walk, and later, miraculously, he let me do some sewing. He wouldn’t eat more than a couple pieces of toast all day, but his spirits were high. I felt sure he’d be back at school tomorrow and me, off to do the work I’d not done today. But at dinnertime he still hadn’t eaten more than that toast. And he had a fever. And was totally listless and couldn’t climb out of my lap. And I am seeing my work for tomorrow slipping away, too.

I long–or perhaps I should say, I strive, since that’s what this project is all about–to be someone who thinks, “Today I am home with my sick kid,” instead of “I will never finish my book at this rate!”

That will be my mantra for tomorrow:

I am home with my sick kid. I am home with my sick kid. I am home with my sick kid.

I am lucky to be able to spend the time with him, after all.

Maybe we’ll watch the polar bear documentary.