“Will it be Fusilli or Linguine?”
“Will it be Fusilli or Linguine?”
“Nana, this is overwhelming,” she said in a wobbly voice while being paraded around a bustling New York deli smorgasbord. Japanese sushi, hot Italian soups and fresh pasta (rigatoni, penne, fusilli, linguine, or ramen?) We had been ducking around business suits and high heels while being offered samples of organic green tea and hot chocolate chip cookies by the hospitable owners. I rolled my eyes and smiled while squeezing her hand. “I feel the same way too, my dear,” I whispered.
My week with my “almost nine-year old” granddaughter has been rich and exhausting, enervating and thought provoking. Those final moments of milling on Manhattan’s sidewalks on a sultry Friday noontime rush hour as I shepherded her into the caring hands of a veteran NewYork ‘tante’ gave voice to something I had been feeling all week. Overwhelmed.
It is a Sisyphean task to be a parent in this culture. Despite having done a good-enough job of being a parent to my three now-adult children, I am even more aware of the powerful interplay of so many more inner and outer demands that arise for the responsible and loving parent. So many issues come to mind, but two stand out as paramount.
Without doubt, the most complicated issue I faced all week was the sense of my space, my time and desires as a self-actualized adult. Being primary care-giver for a delightful little-one with boundless energy to live to the fullest is in itself no easy task for the faint hearted, but what is hardest is to constantly set all that hard-won ‘self-differentiated ego’ aside, and truly attend to the present moment of a child’s life. I must say that it took much grace and advanced psychic energy to move beyond the feeling that “I” was being crammed back down inside the abandoned well of motherhood where it made no difference what I needed or wanted – my job was solely to be food and drink for the rest of the needy world!
No wonder so many parents opt out of the struggle and let the electronic world or other ‘entertainment teachers’ parent their children’s lives. No wonder parents rule their children by iron hand or give up and let them run roughshod over every essential private boundary of solitude. No wonder so many young adults do not wish to have the responsibility of raising and staying in a family, when work demands such a psychic toll. I give praise to my own children who struggle daily with a deep awareness of their own inner soul growth and still pour out their love in so many creative ways to my grandchildren and this young generation.
At the age of eight, I could never have expressed as Skylar did, that “I am feeling overwhelmed.” Could you have said that to your grandmother?! I’m glad I was still listening and not reacting. I knew it was a cry for help to please hurry up and choose the linguine.
The other gift of learning this week — the one that I relish every time I have an opportunity to be with the grandkids — is the joyful wonder of being immersed in the natural world. Once we get beyond the discomfort of biting insects, the inconvenience of bad weather, or the uncomfortable way that nature smells, we always uncover mystery that waits for us. This week it was slimy slugs and a fat chipmunk that provided hours of amusement and affection!
I am more aware after this week that the “wildness” that is so comfortable to my African-born-self feels quite foreign to much of our urban culture. The magic wand of instant technology sterilizes both ends of pleasure and discomfort, and so easily shrivels children’s capacity for endless adventure in dirt around the rough and wild edge of the world. I am saddened that we have become a culture anxious to protect children from being alone outdoors. I noticed my own fear level rise. Curiously though, it was on the streets of Philadelphia and New York that I was most aware of the angst of being a parent. I’d rather dare my grandchildren to head out into the woods alone and learn from their resilient capacity to forge into new frontiers from the danger hiding in the woods, than let them loose in the streets.
It was a tender moment when Skylar hugged me and we cried together as she clung to me saying, “Please don’t go, Nana, please don’t go.” I trust that like a slug, she can look back and find comfort in the sticky residue of her little self in a messy world, and as she makes her circuitous trail of coming of age, she will learn from the chipmunks: how to store food for winter, the hard work it takes to live, and the funny fat cheeks of a well nourished life. May her life and the lives of all our grandchildren to the seventh generation be blessed with the bounty of nature’s entire web. May each of us adults grow up into full human stature and do everything we can to fiercely protect and love all the precious beings of this globe.