“To keep alive that enthusiasm is the secret of real guidance, and it will not prove a difficult task, provided that the attitude towards the child’s acts be that of respect, calm, and waiting, and provided that he be left free in his movements and experiences.”
– Maria Montessori
Recently a friend of mine had a pregnancy that was filled with worry. The details are not really important, but I watched her navigate that pregnancy, those unpredictable ultrasound appointments, with the kind of grace and strength that only a mother really has. The baby, her new son, is fine. Perfect in every way.
This got me thinking about how we, as parents, begin to worry from the very start. My mom once had a colleague who after having one child decided she simply could not have more because she could not worry that much about another human being ever again. One was plenty.
I was holding newborn William on my maternity leave on September 11, 2001. In fact, I was home with two babies then. Lizzie was only fourteen months old. That morning I walked Luke to school and I was pushing the double stroller back home when another mother asked me if I had seen the news yet. She explained to me about the plane hitting the tower and I remember running with the stroller, all the way home, wanting to call my dad to see if he had yet heard from my brother, who just the week before, had shot a photo assignment for Morgan Stanley on top of the World Trade Center.
When my dad picked up the phone he immediately said that Chris was okay, but then the second plane hit and my dad said, “Oh, no. Nick. Oh, Nick, Nick, Nick.” His nephew, my cousin, had just enlisted in the marines a few months earlier. When it was clear that the airplanes were no accident, but an act of terrorism, we knew that Nick would be leaving for war.
This brings me back to worry. We worried for Chris, for Nick. Nick’s momma stopped sleeping for more than a year. I worried about my babies and about what kind of world I had brought them into and the guilt I felt for their existence was measurable. As it turns out, Nick, thankfully, came home. Our other cousin, David, not even a decade later, did not. He died suddenly, in a car crash, and each time I really think about that and I think about his mom, my aunt, I am filled with two things: hot, heavy, throat lump tears and an incredible amount of admiration for the way his momma has received his passing. It has been with the grace and strength that only a parent knows.
As a mom, I have to continually remind myself that I cannot control or manipulate or operate in somebody else’s soul space. Even if it is my child, I cannot control their choices, their fate, their path. If there was an ultrasound that could tell me my child’s destiny, I would opt out of knowing. I don’t even know if I believe in destiny or if I am convinced that we are all capable of breaking the glass ceiling of destiny or if what I believe about these things even matters at all. I do know that I like that Montessori quote above. It reminds me that to give my children the space to live their own lives, to make choices that I might not want them to make (please, please do not enlist. please, please do not do drugs. please, please do not marry an asshole. please, please do not become a politician), I have to do what Montessori says and leave them to be free in their experiences and respond to their choices patiently, calmly, and with the utmost respect.
There is not a day that goes by when I don’t feel empathetic or worried about something my child did or said or experienced. Today, Luke, who has been so looking forward to trying out for the school musical, who was so prepared and confidant, blew his audition tonight. He got in the car, his whole body knew it, knew he didn’t meet the bar . . . he didn’t want to talk about it and did not want questions. It was really hard to be calm and patient. It was really hard not to want to fix it. Last week, Lizzie lost her volleyball position. William skateboarded down a giant hill without wearing a helmet. Quinn can now unlock the front door and escape. There is something every minute of every day. They don’t tell you that at your ultrasounds.
My mom has a mentor, her painting MFA teacher Timothy App, who taught her that there are really only four things that are necessary for success. I hang these four rules in my classroom: Show up, work hard, pay attention, and tell the truth. Recently, my curriculum boss added, “and do no harm.” I think that after everything I have been thinking about today, I will have to add my own four: Don’t worry, Be Patient, Keep Calm, and Take Risks.” Nick, my marine cousin, he did all of these things. He still does. David, my cousin who died tragically, he too, did all of these things. I think that is a sign of really good parenting.
Luke’s Facebook post tonight said, “feeling low, bad audition.” I commented, “No such thing as coincidence, Luke. The universe is bigger than you are. Trust that there is a reason behind all decisions and of it does not go your way, it just means something bigger and more wonderful is out there. You show up, you pay attention, you work hard, you tell the truth, you do no harm, and the universe follows. No decision defines us. Use any decision as fuel. Showing up = greatness and bravery and all things fantastic.”
The thing is that Montessori wrote that doing and saying these things “would not prove a difficult task.” Rarely do I disagree with Maria, but I will tell you this. Guiding a child, loving a child . . . it is all risk. And none of it is easy.