Sometimes we are like these pregnant bellies. With both children, around 20 weeks I felt skin-stretched to my limit in the most physical sense. How could I possibly get any bigger? I was sure my tummy would tear open, that my skin was already too thin. Somehow I made it though, to 40 weeks + 2 days with both babies and not only did my skin stay intact but it somehow, miraculously went back to normal. Well, a new normal. We get stretched to our limit in moments or months but there is a grace and more room than we thought possible. Sometimes we are like this.
But sometimes we are like those big black suitcases you take on an airplane ride across the ocean, or from Vancouver to Philly. 23 kg/50 pounds. That's the limit and nobody cares why you're trying to take more stuff with you. Our suitcase in Vancouver weighed in at 25 kg and the man at the counter said "Do you want to try and repack or just pay the $75 overweight fee?" Hm. We took a winter coat out and moved a book or too to the other suitcase which was slightly underweight. There. All better. I was impressed with how close we were to the allotted amount without even weighing our two bags; my husband said those suitcases are made to hold 50 pounds if you stuff them full of normal things. There are limits in life, real ones, and if you cram too much into one of those suitcases you will either:
1. be unable to shut the suitcase and/or destroy the zipper or
2. be forced to pay $75 in overweight charges for stuff you probably don't even really need to bring.
We do have limits too. Sometimes we need to re-negotiate our boundaries and move things to another time or place or person. Other times we are just plain full and our zipper, and sanity, is at stake. Have you ever replaced a big zipper like that? I have not.
I have traveled with textbooks in my pillow case and sterile gloves in my guitar case and way too many kilograms in my carry-on and I would not recommend it unless you enjoy getting on a plane soaked in sweat.
I'm the firstborn of five children, a pastor's kid, a teacher's pet; I like to please people, to perform well, I like everyone to be happy and visibly expressing it on their faces at all times. I like to read and learn and apply it to my life. I want the best for my children, I want to parent them perfectly, I want to always treat them with the utmost respect and kindness and responsiveness every single moment of their lives. But I am exploring the idea that I have limits, some that will grow and stretch and surprise me, but some that need to be honoured and listened to for us all to be healthy.
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"Parenting for a Peaceful World" by Robin Grille, the first book I would recommend for just about anyone who is a parent or has ever had a parent, opened my eyes newly to the idea of capacity. In terms of parenting, we all have a certain capacity in caring for our children. It is based on how we were parented, what our surrounding culture says is acceptable in the treatment of children, how we have processed how we've been parented and how much support we have to meet our parenting goals. Realizing this releases us from judging others and just as importantly, from judging ourselves. Is it right to traffic your child for money? Is it right to participate in honour killings if your daughter has disgraced you with her actions? Is it right to shame or manipulate your child into acting a certain way? Absolutely not. But Grille's insight has given me freedom from judgement. Discernment is still needed and we must work towards justice in the lives of precious children, for their own sake and for the sake of the world. But these people are not monsters. They likely have been abused themselves, their surrounding culture dictates what is acceptable and it's possible they have very little support to change. And I'm not a monster either, even though I have daily instincts to push my children away from me rather than drawing them close, even though I have instincts to hit or shame. It's not permission to act in this way but I can face my anger and frustration with a new sense of compassion and understanding and that is the way to change in myself and my children, more than any shame or self-punishment will ever bring.
Last week we spent a few hours with a precious friend and mentor. She was the first person to introduce me to the importance of attachment in parenting and non-violent discipline. She was the first person I knew who tandem nursed her children and nursed children well into toddlerhood. There is so much beauty and justice in her and in the way that she parents. Chris and I both vented to her a bit about how things were going, our frustrations with our strong-willed toddler and having two children who need us so much. I shared about nursing my almost 2 1/2 year old, that I have moments of feeling resentful, certain times when I can't really handle it anymore. My friend wisely and kindly told me that I need to listen to whatever that is in me, whatever is feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.
I'll write about it more later but we're setting some new boundaries with our little guy and I'm hoping to be done nursing him by the end of the year, maybe sooner. I'd like to be down to once a day by his third birthday. Feeling like there's an end in sight brings relief already. To some people this will sound like extreme hippie-mama craziness. Trust me, I am not an extreme hippie mama. To some people this will sound like I'm doing a dis-service to my child in not allowing him to wean in his own time. I don't think that is true either.
This year I want to increasingly honour my capacity to parent, to give, to write, to serve, to teach, to neighbour and to love. Sometimes my capacity will stretch and grow with new life and sometimes my capacity will demand that limits be recognized and kept. As I honour my own capacity I want to honour the capacity of those around me. My husband especially, the capacity of my children, friends in my neighbourhood and around the world. We are all in this together, we need each other: ubuntu. Judgement brings death on so many levels. Supporting each other as we pursue our parenting goals, whatever they are, will bring us life.
Capacity. It's my word for this year and for all the new things that will grow and be born in our lives, and for all that we bring in our bags on big airplane rides.
Do you have a word for the year? Or are there ways you need to re-consider your own capacity and the demands you place on yourself? I'd love to hear what you think.