At the end of October last year I started a course on mindful parenting. In the months before I had grown aware of the fact that I really wasn’t living the present moment a lot of the time. At work behind my computer I’d be thinking about my kids, I’d be thinking about work while playing with wooden trains on the floor, in the supermarket I’d be thinking about the play date I should organise and the friend I want to catch up with, while making coffee for that friend I’d be planning my weekly menu. Of course there were moments where the emotion and energy of it would take me whole (Have you been hugged by a 2 year old? Told by a 5 year old that she loves you more than anything in the world? Deafened by the noise they both make at the same time?) but I felt that more of the moments in my day deserved my full attention and awareness. So when a friend told me about this course (I had a vague idea of the mindfulness concept) and asked if I’d be interested I thought this definitely sounded worth spending a few evenings doing. Not doing, it turns out mindfulness is about being. But I digress.
All the courses and workshops I had done before were aimed at acquiring a new skill, learning as it were (except for the hypnobirthing course, although I guess this is also about learning skills to bring a mini-human into the world without traumatising yourself or anyone else involved too much). So off I went, very curious and a bit apprehensive, partially because I expected that we’d be talking about feelings and stuff in Dutch (third in line for me). But the instructors were very pleasant and welcoming, the atmosphere calm and yoga-like and the other participants seemed as frazzled as I was so I switched into the relaxed mode. After the short introduction into the mindfulness concept the instructors asked each of us to tell our two objectives for the course, what we would like to achieve or at least get more insight into. For must of us the first objective seemed to come easily, whether because we came prepared as a good student would do, or it was the thing most present in our minds. But the second objective had us scrambling through a myriad of issues in which we could do better as parents. So for me, the first one was easy – learning to live more in the now. The instructor wrote it down on the board, nodding approvingly. Then she turned around and looked at me waiting for the second objective. Put on the spot I forgot what I came up with while waiting for my turn and blurted out: “I want to feel like a good enough mother to my children”. And as soon as I heard myself I immediately thought “Huh, where did this come from?” She asked me to elaborate on what that really meant for me and I was all like: “Well, I am not really sure… Uhmmm… I sort of have a feeling that my kids would be better off if I were more, I don’t know, patient, relaxed, crafty, organised, put together?… Especially my daughter, my son is still small and just loving him is still enough”. I can’t even remember what all I threw out there but the fact that I said that I wasn’t always feeling like a good enough mother stayed with me.
A week later, instead of attending the next session where I would diligently and mindfully work on my objectives, I was 1800km away, burying my father. Mark took over most of everyday parenting duties that week while trying to comfort me any way he could, knowing all too well that there is no such way. And in that week my daughter saw me stripped of all of my preconceptions of what I should be more of, unable to feed any of them, doing the only thing I could do. The most basic and most difficult. Grieving. And later on, when we came back home and I had to realise that life, in fact, was still going on, it dawned on me that in that week of overwhelming sorrow my daughter was fine. Of course she was processing the sadness in her own way and asking questions and wanting different answers. But she was fine with me being what I was at that moment, not a better or different version, just me.
When I reported this revelation in class later on, the instructor told me that I should see it is a gift from my father. And that it is not going to be the last one.
Today would have been my father’s 65th birthday. I can’t give him a gift today but I can cherish the one I got from him. Today and all tomorrows.