Before writing this, I did what every dutiful “elder millennial” would; I journaled all of my thoughts, made lists and went to my bookshelf to seek the wisdom of those who have lived before me. Books on Eastern philosophy, Virginia Woolf, Sarah Vowell, The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms us as Catholics, and The Symbolism of the Stupa all made it to the desk.
And finally (*sigh*), my ever present stack of well-intentioned, sometimes terrifying, sometimes comforting, parenting books. Thankfully, this day was a comforting day. The first line, on the first page of the top book on the pile read, “I was a wonderful parent before I had children. I was an expert on why everyone else was having problems with theirs. Then I had three of my own. Living with real children can be humbling.” (How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.)
My husband and I have two children, not three. They are beyond amazing and we are humbled every day. That line is as far as we have gotten in that book because for us, successful parenting requires all of our energy, almost all of the time. With the help of two moms, two grandmothers, and a cousin, I was able to make time to write this. That is our reality of parenting right now. We are compelled to make the most of every moment and resource.
My husband and I plan to make the most of this Saturday by bringing our children to Pride in PVD. My two moms, the Grandbians, will accompany us. Our son, 5, and daughter, 2, will undoubtedly remember very little of the event as they get older. Yet as parents, we are hopeful that small acts of celebration each day, combined with community celebrations like Pride, will build a foundation of confidence and strength of character upon which they can build a positive future.
Both my husband and I were raised Catholic. I don’t mean “run sports stats in your head while the priest drones on for an hour a week” Catholic. I mean “alter serving, peer ministering, Thomas Aquinas reading, Vatican visiting” Catholic. We were blessed with Catholic educations and inspiring teachers through college thanks to hard-working, middle-class parents.
In our short lives, we have also been fortunate to hear the Dalai Lama speak, a truly life changing experience. We practice family yoga, meditate with regularity, read voraciously, study history, cosmology and philosophy, and center ourselves before meals with a deep breath and the tone of a Tibetan singing bowl. Or at least we try to.
We garden, compost, make art and spend as much time outside as we can. We’re practicing mindfulness, trying to be good citizens and friends. And like so many of our peers, we’re searching for something. While we seek to honor our religious background, we are also wrestling in a struggle between organized religion and individual spirituality.
Perhaps our lives would be simpler if we chose one single path; a clearly defined narrative would be much easier to teach our children. Using a narrower lens to define our lives would keep things clean, but it doesn’t feel right for us. Life isn’t clean or simple or easy. As parents, our job isn’t to make life easy for our children. It’s to support them and give them tools to deal with all the complicated coming their way.
Pride month represents so many of the values we wish to instill in our children. The joyous celebration of each miraculous individual, a sincere desire to stretch our understanding and empathy for those around us, a high premium on creative self-expression and communication, the importance of a joyous community. Each is a valuable and positive opportunity for a developing mind to grow.
We also place a premium on learning through experience. Any artist will tell you the best way to learn about something is to immerse yourself in it. Scientists explore what they do not understand by pulling the mystery apart one deliberate and studious step at a time. Spiritual leaders sit with life’s mysteries for hours at a time in meditation, prayer or reflection.
Each of us starts in life with whatever small bits of knowledge our parents share, from whatever experiences stay with us as we grow, and through an environment that leaves an imprint on our bodies and souls. As parents we have the opportunity to shape the next generation of thinkers with little moments and lessons each day. The responsibility can be overwhelming and the weight of the task unparalleled. But what a gift!?!
Sometimes, it’s difficult not to freeze. It’s difficult not to imagine each parent has shared the thought, “Out of fear of ruining these beautiful souls that have been entrusted to our care, if we don’t move, maybe, just maybe, they will stop changing and we can avoid making a mistake.” But that is a false illusion of control. The imagined bubble of perfection is burst almost as quickly as it is noticed because children change moment to moment and they never stop moving or learning.
Children were built to explore the world. Every young creature on our planet is designed to taste, feel, smell, watch, listen and explore the world. As parents, we may lose all sense of reason at times, going to extremes to control our children’s environment, but to what end? The reality of life is outside of our control, and teaching our children anything less is unhelpful and futile.
There is a Cherokee Parable we lean on quite heavily in our house, especially when tempers are flaring, sleep is elusive or stress is high.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Our role as parents is one of guide and teacher, to keep our children safe, strong, wise and above all loved. We strive to instill empathy, compassion and a desire to learn. Beyond that all we can do is sit with them and their questions, acknowledge each humbling lesson and share in not knowing so many of the answers.
To not celebrate the efforts and triumphs of my mothers this Saturday would be to perpetuate a cycle of shame and self-loathing that, quite simply, does not interest me. That particular baggage stops here and now with my husband and me; we refuse to pass it on to our children. Instead, we will teach them to feed their better wolf, be proud of their inheritance and celebrate each victory, large and small alike.
For more information on the best ways to celebrate Pride Month in PVD, go to prideri.org/pridefest. Pride RI takes place Sat, Jun 15, noon – 7pm in PVD.