Monday’s Aspiration: Kind yet unflinching parenting

My mom used to say that having kids is like having your heart walk around outside your body.  There are many versions of this adage, and though perhaps cliche, I think it’s a powerful feeling that resonates with many parents.  Mine, yes, they are my hearts.  And the flip side of that is the gaping hole they leave, making me so indescribably vulnerable.  I went through a time when I could hardly sleep at night because each sleep was accelerating the sands in the hour glass.  I wasn’t trying to be dark.  I didn’t talk to a soul about my legitimate yet silly feeling of impending doom.  And this was before my kids.  I got through my Boogey Man of Mortality phase, but still, now it’s a little more complicated.  Because while now when I think about dying, and it’s a topic that is either on the horizon or forefront of my thoughts kind of a lot, I can’t soothe myself with a reminder of my expendability.  Because I don’t feel expendable any more.  And even to the extent I can let go of the delusion that my kids need me – because I do know it’s a delusion, but it doesn’t feel like a delusion – the desire to bear witness to their growth is powerful and red hot.  But also, I know I would hurt others to protect them.  Not to any degree nor for any small matter.  But still. Though I have had to pick up my baby and leave playgrounds when a wild playing older kid come inches from knocking my small ones to the ground, and I have a flash of almost psychic rage where I can see five-minutes-from-now-me throttling a ten year old.  And I don’t want to meet that me, so I go away from her.

This isn’t a totally new existence for me.  I’ve always been a raw nerve.  Telling me that there were starving children in Africa didn’t make me eat my dinner.  It made me weep over the cruelty and over my impotence.  I don’t weep as much over my impotence these days, as I struggle with my willful ignorance.  My choice to live comfortably.  And trying to mindfully parent in a way that hopefully doesn’t emotionally overload my kids, but one that doesn’t shield them from what I know they see.  I want to respect them and give them real answers, because then, my hope anyways is, they will at least have some language and framework for the sinking feeling of sadness and injustice that will creep in whether it’s given a name or not.

I thought about this all because I had an urge to look up a favorite poem today.  A law school professor shared it with our class once.  And I love it so much.  Kind yet unflinching.  I think I will chew on that for a bit…

GOOD PEOPLE by W.S. Merwin

From the kindness of my parents

I suppose it was that I held
that belief about suffering

imagining that if only
it could come to the attention
of any person with normal
feelings certainly anyone
literate who might have gone

to college they would comprehend
pain when it went on before them
and would do something about it
whenever they saw it happen
in the time of pain the present
they would try to stop the bleeding
for example with their own hands

but it escapes their attention
or there may be reasons for it
the victims under the blankets
the meat counters the maimed children
the animals the animals
staring from the end of the world