My body tenses. Teeth clench. Heart hardens.
I don’t hurt him. I don’t yell. Yet, my heart hardens with frustration.
My agenda to clothe my two-year-old collides with his interest in remaining naked. He wants to play with his trucks on the bedroom floor; I have a morning adventure planned. After several attempts to wrestle him into some clothes, he runs out of the room crying “No!”
My son says “Stop!” and “No!” frequently these days. He even asserts his will while mimicking favored construction trucks.
“Beep, beep, beep!” he says. Usually he does this while putting his hands on my legs and pushing me backward.
This morning I miss his “Beep, beep, beep!” which always makes me smile. I imagine it would translate to something like: “Back up Mom. Give me some space. Who needs clothes? Can’t you see I’m really enjoying this moment of being naked? I have no interest in your morning agenda. Let’s play trucks!”
This morning, instead of construction sounds, he shouts and cries. I feel my body tense. I feel my frustration. I remember to breathe. I remember my intention to soften into empathy.
I walk into the front room where my little naked boy cries in anger. My heart’s hardness melts as soon as I kneel down to connect at eye level. His face is blotchy, his eyes red, his nose runny. He is bawling. He is angry. Yet, I stay present. I sit on the floor.
“You are mad at mommy right now. That’s OK. I love you. I’ll be here when you want a hug.”
He yells again and runs into the kitchen.
“Take a deep breath,” I tell myself as tears filled my eyes.
Grief resides in the dark waters of the hardened heart. As I make room for my sadness, a gentle space of compassion opens. This space is wide enough to include all of the feelings swirling around, and through, both of us.
I sit on the floor and patiently remain present for him. I watch strong emotions move through his two-year-old self.
Yes, he will feel angry. He will feel sad. This is part of life’s flow. How do I respond to the energy of his anger and sadness? Will I try to make him laugh and distract him? Will I respond with my own anger? Do I take it personally? Can I breathe and gently hold space for his pain?
I can choose to soften around these hard edges. I can choose to breathe in gentleness. In this choice, I feel the freedom that comes from releasing the patterns of generations.
For certainly, the hard heart is passed on, inherited. Years before I decided to become a mother, I was committed to transform the negative aspects of my childhood. It took a great deal of therapy, meditation, dance, yoga, and travel to soften the scared and angry parts of my heart. Motherhood takes this process to entirely new levels. May I be grateful for this extraordinary opportunity to put into practice all that I’ve worked hard to uncover about the truth of love.
A minute or two pass. My son comes back to me. He reaches for me. I hold him. I feel the tension within -- and between -- both of us release. He looks at me and I wipe tears from his face.
“Outside?” He points to the door. Can we go outside?
I smile. “Yes, we can go outside. Let’s get dressed and go for a walk.” He nods and hugs me again.
I release my morning agenda as he welcomes my help in getting dressed. I take a deep breath. A few minutes later, we walk hand in hand into the sunlight.
It's a tepid summer Friday night, late evening, about the time those enjoying the beginning of their weekend might hop in their cars slightly (or immensely) intoxicated and hit the streets of my mildly large suburb (of which my husband is a police officer, making me privy to the actual risks of being on the road at this time of the weekend).
As my two young sons sleep in their car seats, I approach a red traffic light. While I’m waiting for the green gleam so I can hurry us home and into bed, a large pick-up truck drives out of its lane and into oncoming traffic. My heart stops as he bounces from one side of the road to the other attempting to correct this horrible mistake, other vehicles screeching to a halt or swerving to avoid.
Luckily, no other cars were involved in the crash, and the truck only went into a road rail several hundred feet from his first sudden jolt off track. Had all of this happened even the slightest bit differently, I and my children could have been the victims of this driver’s behavior behind the wheel.
Driving home with my whole life in my back seat is something I do daily - many times daily, actually. I load the boys in and start the engine at least once a day, usually more like ten times. I then join hundreds of other vehicles with any and all kinds of drivers on our streets. We all do, don’t we? We all run to stores, take our kids to school or the sitter's, and run around town with 50 million things to check off our to-do list, all with our whole lives sitting behind us--100% at risk, a risk that is out of our control. You have to. You have to check that list off and take them to school. You have to get to the park so they can enjoy the dirt and make friends. You do. You have to pack your whole life up into a car that could make up a part of one of the top causes of death.
So we do what we must. We take classes, practice diligently, and pass tests to obtain a license. We drive defensively and obey rules. We pay attention. For the love of all that is good, WE DON’T TEXT and drive. If we enjoyed one too many pours of wine at that play date with our commiserating mom-friend, we ask for some goldfish and water and let the kids have an extra 20-30 minutes of playtime until we are certain we can drive without influence. We use caution every moment we are behind the wheel with our whole world sitting behind us--because they matter to us, and conversely, we, their whole world, matter to them.
But it’s more than that. They are dependent on us.
You see, we matter, and we love our children to the point of self sacrifice. But we matter. Mothers matter. Any mom who has come down with the flu can attest to how much we matter. Even when mom is ill the kids still need to nurse or eat breakfast, have diapers changed to avoid rashes and spills, tell you stories (or they will go into what I call “child-short-circuiting” where any word or sentence will be repeated at louder and louder levels until you acknowledge that you have heard them and do in fact understand their message). Hugs must be given if “owies” are made. A sick mother is still 100% her child’s world.
If, then, children are so important to us, and we are so important and necessary for our children's survival, why do we treat mothers, especially in their childbearing years, as though they don’t matter? Why do we allow women to be taught that they must not speak up when decisions are made about their bodies? Why do we stifle a life process that can make or break a woman’s ability to physically, emotionally, or mentally connect to, take care of, and raise the precious baby for which she is told she must be grateful?
Please, anyone, can you tell me why we tell a woman that she is capable enough to drive a piece of machinery among hundreds of other pieces of machinery with her whole world sitting behind her, but that her body (I’m sorry, let me emphasize: THE BODY THAT ACTUALLY BELONGS TO HER 100%), her intuition, her preferences, her research and education, her CHOICES to protect herself and her whole world that will be entering earthside after being grown, protected, and nourished MIRACULOUSLY by her body, won’t work, doesn’t work, doesn’t matter??
You see the comparison is shaky at best. Why? Because driving is a much higher risk with many more variables than childbirth, especially for a healthy woman experiencing a healthy pregnancy. It’s almost laughable. Car driving compared to childbirth--HA! Not even close to the same risk. The vagina and uterus have existed for as long as humanity. Conception, pregnancy and birth happen (most of the time) using a woman’s vagina, cervix and uterus.
Proof positive? Humans are still living. Cars can be mis-manufactured, break down from the elements, and be driven by potentially dumb, influenced, or distracted humans. Our bodies house, grow, and birth through a hormonal process unparalleled and unchanging from the beginning of time, and this process cannot be mimicked in any other thing or process on earth.
History has proven quite unmistakably that having babies happens and happens well or there wouldn't be so many people on earth. The good news here is that you, woman, have a body that MATTERS. And you know what else? IT WORKS! Even in extenuating circumstances that require intervention, you and your body still matter and still work. You matter, you work, you are your baby’s whole world as he snuggles in your womb, and you will continue to be his whole world after you bring him through.
So, just as you put down the phone to drive, pay attention to the road, and secure your children safely into seats manufactured for their protection, I encourage you to take even greater care and pay even more attention to your body during your childbearing years. And just as if someone told you “I only had 5 beers, I can drive the kids home” to which you would obviously argue, “No way are you taking my whole world anywhere!”, I urge you to stand up for your body and your knowledge to anyone who insists, offers, or tries to persuade you to pay less attention to it than you inherently know you should. Do not consent if consenting doesn't give you peace. Do not “take it” if they do not give you an opportunity to consent, not just because that is illegal, but because you demand more respect for yourself and for your body. You don’t deserve to have to suffer years of mental, physical, and emotional trauma at the excuse of a medical brush off of your rights, nor does your child need that. Do not put yourself last because you are afraid you don’t matter as much as your child, or possibly because you believe the hype that is our modern obstetric climate: that your body can’t work without cascades of intervention and the guidance of a surgeon even when you have no complications.
Motherhood is a balance of mother and child - both of you must be healthy, considered, and respected…because your child will be your whole world and will need you to be his.
Last month, Jill Reiter from the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA) interviewed author, doula, chaplain, and mother Amy Wright Glenn.
In this 35 minute reflection, Amy reads from her book, "Birth, Breath, and Death" and reflects upon the role of a doula in supporting a mother's "hero journey" through birth. Amy also shares her insights regarding the significance of breastfeeding through the toddler years and how mothers can find "harmony" with the many demands on their time.
Treat yourself to a wonderful, inspiring, and heart-warming interview with Amy Wright Glenn.
I taught my first meditation class when I was 19-years-old. Having recently returned from living abroad in Jerusalem and India, I was on fire with the transformative power of meditation. Soon, I added teaching asana to the mix. These are the physical postures for which yoga is famous. In my twenties, I became certified as a Kripalu Yoga teacher. Once I became a birth doula, I added prenatal yoga to my repertoire.
For twenty years, I’ve held sacred space for people as they dive into their bodies, their joy, their pain, and the healing wonders of cultivating inner peace. Today, I continue to teach. Only now, I have a 19-month-old co-instructor.
I begin a sun salutation as my son pushes his yellow, pick-up truck around my feet.
"Zoom! Zoom!" he shouts.
"Om! Om!" I respond.
I match his tone and playfulness. I look into his eyes and marvel at his wondrous life energy. He pushes the truck to the side and begins to imitate me. He places his head on the carpet and pushes his hips into the air. “You do downward dog pose!” I exclaim. I put my sun salutation plan to the side and move my body so I can see his upside down face. We laugh at each other between our legs.
I want my son to remember his mother as a woman who truly enjoyed being alive in her body. Yoga keeps my light strong and steady. Ancient healing movements remind me to be present to each holy, powerful, challenging, and gorgeous moment of mothering. Of life.
My son and I offer Mommy and Me Yoga classes to our southern Florida community. He’s a wonderful assistant. When he’s not wandering the room or nursing, he demonstrates the poses at hand very well.
“What does the snake say?” I ask him as we rest on our bellies preparing to practice cobra pose.
“Ssssss…” he answers.
Together, we all make this sound on the exhale.
Clearly, Mommy and Me Yoga is not a regular yoga class. Babies are held, carried through the standing sequence, and enjoy moments of belly time. Toddlers wander in and out of focusing on the flow. Mothers who nurse take breaks when little ones seek the breast. At times, I lead the flow while holding my nursing toddler. For thirty minutes, we make room for this mothering-yoga mix.
At times, Mommy and Me Yoga involves being present to a good quantity of chaos. How do we as mothers keep our hearts open to our child's explorative energy? How do we keep our attention calm and mindful of breath in the midst of playful or fussy noise?
Then, magic unfolds. The voices of mothers join in song. Children are quiet. They sense the shift in energy. A peaceful and calm stillness descends. Yes, this is the heart of Mommy and Me Yoga. We bond with our children. We "yoke" together our breath, hearts, motherhood, and practice.
On the drive home, my son watches trucks zoom by. Suddenly, he pauses and puts his hands together to “Om”. Yoga with a 19-month-old keeps my heart brilliantly happy.
With gratitude, I bow to the sun.
At 27 weeks into my pregnancy, I started my letter to him.
I didn’t yet know I was carrying a boy. My husband and I had picked out names, but we decided to wait until the birth to know the sex of our baby. So, I addressed my letter to “Dearest Baby Glenn” and the words poured forth.
I’ve always loved to write. I love the romance between pen and paper, dreams and words. Ideas and letters mingle and merge in me. At my Mormon baptismal celebration, my beloved Aunt Kris presented me with a journal and encouraged my eight-year-old self to write. I’ve filled over fifty books since. I find writing a deeply spiritual path.
Writing to my son added a profound dimension to this practice. I try to imagine how time will bend on an unbeknownst future day when he will read my words. What will it be like for him to see into his early years and into his mother’s heart?
I’ll always remember where I was when I began writing his letter.
Before I knew I was pregnant, I had accepted a teaching job at a private, bilingual school in Bogota, Colombia. My husband and I decided to stay the course of the adventure even as our first child grew inside of me.
I remember the sunlight pouring through my floor-to-ceiling classroom windows. I gazed at the Andes Mountains. My round belly inspired me. I placed my hands on my body and imagined the growing being within. The call to begin writing to this child came from a fiercely impatient muse. My heart was expanding with a love that my mind could not fathom. I closed my work inbox, opened up a blank Word document, and I began to type.
“Dearest Baby Glenn,
Soon I will know if I should address these reflections to Maline or to Taber. However, on the most fundamental level it doesn´t matter. You matter. My love for you matters. Your development, health, strength, inner spirit, beauty, and wonder matter.
I can´t express how much I love you. You are now a permanent part of my heart. I think of you each day and night. I feel you kick and dance and move with joy. I love you dear baby. You are my child and I promise to always give you my best efforts and energy as I move into motherhood….”
I continue to add to this growing 85-page letter.
I detail milestones, magical moments, and the struggles and hopes of our little family. I share with my son Taber my vision for the world. I explain why we choose to spend time outside rather than in front of a television. I write about the day he drew a circle with a crayon proudly saying “Moon!”
Composing this letter helps me mother with a deeper sense of wonder, grace, and gratitude. Putting into words the prayers and hopes I have for this child, reminds me of what matters most in life. I want Taber to love this world and her people. I want him to grow up to be courageous, kind, and strong. Most importantly, I want him to know he is loved. Deeply. Truly. Fiercely. Freely.
In Roman mythology, Theseus volunteers to kill the evil Minotaur responsible for the deaths of many brave Athenian youth. The hero enters a dangerous labyrinth to accomplish this task. His beloved Ariadne gives him a sacred thread so he can find his way out of the confusing maze. May our words as parents be revivifying and inspiring to our children. May they carry sacred power and become like Ariadne’s thread offering guidance when our children navigate life’s challenging labyrinths.
Theseus emerges victorious. May our children do the same.
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