Parenting is a full-on American Gladiatorial course in humility.
When I say humility, I have something fairly particular in mind. Humility, to me, is not about self-abasement or the abnegation of one's self, but about placing the self in the greater context. It is about the freedom, love and gratitude that can blossom from within when one does so. Stemming from the Latin humus for grounded, it is the opposite of a pride that closes oneself off from others, from deeper truths and from the self. Pride stops one from surrendering a pleasant story about oneself when it no longer applies. Pride devours curiosity and spits out empty presumptions. Pride assumes that the set of circumstances and biases that lead into our opinions and beliefs is somehow superior to others. And in doing so, pride denies itself growth and connection.
Humility may be about recognizing one's limitations. It may be seeking to continue improving oneself and diving deeper into the ocean of human experience. It is about being free of the desperate gymnastics we take to leave our pride unbruised and our self-stories gilded and silver-plated. It is about being open to ideas from any source and embracing those that challenge previously held beliefs. Humility is about letting go of the anxiety that we may discover we are not as "good" or "smart" or valued as we think we are. It's about seeking out cognitive dissonance. It's about fostering one's whole self, and not burying the parts we do not care for. It's about embracing failure as avidly as success. It's about recognizing the privileges and fortunes that allowed us to thrive and cultivate our talents and abilities. And about honoring those by giving back without desire for recognition.
It's almost trite to mention that we are constantly reminded of these things with a child. We think we have something figured out and it changes. One baby benefits from one act of parenting. The next is an entirely novel sphinx. One moment our child beams like the sunlight to see us coming home and the next this same creature screams to be held by us in preference to some other person in the room. And we carry on through high and low, hoping and trying to even ourselves out, remain open, and marvel in the miracles of discovery they continue to share with us. We trudge through so many moments and forgive ourselves so many parental pecadillos, hopefully without losing hope. Sometimes when Chaya is inconsolable, I have to tell her that she is deeply damaging my narrative of excellent parenting to cut the internal tension and allow there to be space for her experience of emotion.
And then there's our children themselves, little receptacles of germs and contumely. Pride can arise through and in our children in so many ways. A facile aspect would be the pleasure we take in seeing ourselves (occasionally) "succeeding" in our role as parents. Or our desire to see ourselves in our children. I admit, I get a little twinge when Chaya starts dancing to a good bout of music (musical like her mommy, she digs blues and the Eurythmics in particular). I dote on her beautiful blue eyes (so sharp and blue and sensitive like her mommy's). And I want to believe that her apparently acute sensitivity to social moods and observation of the world around her connects with my empathic HSP self. I want her to love words and have facility with language. I want her to see all of my most favored qualities embodied in her. And I fear for how my worst qualities may endure and provide stumbling blocks for her.
But it runs more deeply than that. How can I not look at the miracle that I have created and stumble upon the temptation to think more highly of myself for having created it. Is it possible not to edify myself for experiencing all that parenthood brings.
Watching Miss Chaya evolve and develop every single day is both the most humbling and prideful thing conceivable. Who am I to have had such a profound experience as birthing her? What have I done to merit the plunging depths of unimaginable love in every minor glance. I simultaneously want to drop to my knees and affirm God is in all things, and to parallel the experience of parenting to becoming a god in my own right (the demiurge if ever there were one). And perhaps sometimes I forget that though she is a receptacle of infinite miracle, so is every other baby and human life. Sometimes I may forget that the deep love and profundity of parenting her is no more edifying than any other parenting experience. When I sit back and realize that every parent (who has earned the name of parent) has some experience equally intense, it brings me awe. I'm astounded when I recall that parenting is not even necessary to plunge the depths of human existence: we are all embodiments of that miracle.
Our children are our own hearts, souls and blood. To see them succeed is beyond self-gratification, but it certainly is an extension of it. As we often mistake what constitutes success for ourselves, we all too often fall back to meaningless measures and metrics for our children. Do we ever truly accept that some things are out of our control or understanding? Isn't that one of the more terrifying thoughts when you have a child? That this thing whose happiness is the driving factor of your own well-being is successively less and less subject to our influence each and every day. And this is a good thing, but it is a terrifying thing. And there is a massive mote of pride lingering in our foolish idea that we could possibly know what "happiness" is for another living being.
Andrew and I have both pledged that we won't be those parents (read "every upper middle class parent ever") who constantly hover and push and strive to meld our child into some version of "success" that we've hobbled together from our own directed paths. I imagine this will be easier said than done, but we want her to be happy and satisfied with her chosen course. We don't want to start pushing big-S Success on her with endless reams of enrichment programs and early testing. We want her to do her own homework, have her own space, make her own choices knowing she will take her own consequences, and to be comfortable with her own failures.
But I suspect it won't be super easy to step back and ignore the occasional moment of foolishly prideful parenting.
And those developmental milestones provide a first few opportunities.
|(Eight month pin-up baby)|
At eight months, Chaya began walking with help. At thirteen, she shows no immediate signs of taking off on her own. At least to me. I've grown tired of the choruses of "she is so close." She has been assymptotic to walking in spits and spurts for months now. Many times standing on her own without realizing it or walking with a hand barely touching hers. She had a major revelation last week that having one hand free (and thus able to waive large objects around wildly) is preferable, which vaulted her skills astronomically. She nearly did just take off last Thursday and Friday, and was even trying to stand up on her own. But since then she's gotten more comfortable with one hand holding her up. More trusting and willing to throw herself around with the faith that this hand will keep her up. And more comfortably reckless - it's terrifying to think of the damage she might do to herself when she does actually take the (dare I say) walking plunge. At the playground, she'll just walk straight off the top structure, tantrumming when I pull her back. And she's less balanced on her own. In new spaces, or where the terrain is particularly uneven, she tends to be far closer to balanced. But for the most part, my fears of missing Chaya's "first steps" while in the bathroom remain unfounded.
She similarly mastered crawling and climbing up onto the mantle about a month and a half ago, tried briefly to do the same for the couch, and has now stopped attempting to do so. Currently, she'd rather just kind of limp-arm herself pulled up the stairs in a "walk."
I care and I don't. I didn't walk until I was fourteen months. My hubba-hubba walked at ten months. My current state may not reflect this, but I've always been a natural athlete and dancer; I have always been very well coordinated and exceedingly kinetic. Andrew, by contrast, is an athlete (and a formidable one at that) on sheer force of will. He has middling hand-eye coordination, funny joints, bow-legs; yet, he's a beast on the bike and swan on the slopes... So either way, an ambitiously prideful parent needn't worry yet. Maybe Chaya has some natural coordination and when she starts walking she'll never stop moving. She is a little dancer already with kicking legs and thoroughly fabulous rhythm. And her dynamic balance is astoundingly good - she has been able to stand while pushing the rocking chair loudly into the wall or with one hand on a jittery bouncer without a blink for months now.
|Narcissus at 10 months|
Or she'll have her father's grit and kinetically kick-ass because deliberate practice is far more important than innate talent.
Or she'll have neither, won't be particularly athletic/physically-talented, but she'll find passion in something fulfilling and we'll love her regardless.
And, as I'm apt to tell people these days, it's a relief to be part of the little Chayanado careening through the house. I keep her out of harm's way several times an hour. And it keeps me nice and fit, all that walking. Which makes up nicely for the fact that I eat roughly 80% of her food these days.
Nonetheless, I can't help but bristle an eensy bit when the mama whose precocious child has been toddling since she was seven months asks about Chaya's "progress in walking" and instructs her daughter to "help her friend figure it out." I feel like other babies are "beating" Chaya when they start up with their first steps. And I'm a little relieved without knowing why when I meet an older baby who took a while to walk, or still isn't walking.
It's not a huge thing. We're well within the range of normal, and I see that she's continuing to make progress, so I feel like all is healthy and well. We don't play walking games. I don't sit behind Chaya with Andrew in front trying coax her into walking towards him. We both assume she'll walk in her own time.
Though sometimes I think that she transitioned to her current one-handed dervishment because I got tired of never having a hand free and began withholding the second hand more pointedly. And I'm sure that babies with siblings walk sooner in part because their parents have less time to help them walk. And then I wonder if I'm helping too much. Isn't my role as mother to help my child become more and more independent? Am I interfering with her growth as a person? Am I somehow secretly savoring the dependence and fostering it beyond the expiration date? But then I remember that parenting is a form of clinical insanity and holy crap, just relax already, before Andrew gets that tone in his voice while telling me to chillax, and then gladly goes about doting on how happy his daughter is to see him after a purported long day of grumps for mommy.
And maybe it isn't just pride. There's some of that, but there's a silly bit of impatience that crops up when you feel sooooooooo close to something for so long. The breakthroughs are so exciting that you start to feel odd in the minor regressions or the populous plateaus. Having a baby is a lot like watching baseball or cycling... a lot of nothing much and then - when you least expect it - massive bursts of excitement. But you have to pay attention the entire time. Don't even turn away to use the bathroom, or you could miss it. And babies aren't on DVR.
It's the same with talking. About a month ago, Chaya started to make some major connections. She started pointing at things. Birds. Dogs. Trees. Pictures. Her babble became increasingly complex to the point that my brain tries to process it as English and becomes thoroughly confused. Sometimes she'll respond to "where's your bunny?" by finding her bunny and offering it to me. Or pointing at the fan when I ask where the fan is. If I ask where her foot is, she'll laugh and lift her foot (I then tickle it). And I swear last weekend, I said "would you like to give the lamb to dada?" And she picked up a stuffed lamb and went into the bedroom where her father was. But some days, all she says is mumamamamamama with no particular connection to anything to do with me. Some days, she ignores my questions entirely. Or points idly at the light when I ask where the fan is. Sometimes I swear she's saying "bird" or "book." But other times I can't quite tell. And it makes me wonder if she was just coincidentally responding at other times.
And teething! Ok, now she has five teeth and one just on the precipice of popping.
And ... everything else.
But back to pride and humility (let's shelve the prejudice and zombies for a while longer). I've no right to anything with Chaya, except a basic constitutional right to raise her as my own right up until I'm legally unfit to parent. I don't have a right to her gratitude or love. I am gifted with her and - if anything - I owe her the world for bringing her into it. And yet, some small part of me foolishly feels like I've "earned" the "right" to witness Chaya's big firsts. As if I would be sorely slighted to miss her first steps or first words. Which is quite silly.
I remember saying that it wasn't really the wedding that mattered, but every single day after the wedding. And, despite a pretty awesome wedding, I still totally believe this. And it's the same with Chaya. The first step will be great. But will they be better than the one millionth? The billionth? Don't I have a lifetime of steps and words that will just get better and better as she walks and talks further and further from me. Perhaps it's so special because I know just how many steps I'll miss in the future. Or perhaps it's simply that artificiality that metrics always provide.
And as for first steps, I somehow suspect her technical "first steps" (staggers) will be taken at 80 miles an hour when her hand finally slips out of mine. And they will probably involve one of several crash landings. Because boy is she close to taking off when she starts sprinting. Whoever coined the term "baby steps" didn't necessarily see my little gremlin stomping around the house carrying a spray bottle and a toy snake while shrieking "buhbiihbuuuuhbuhhbuhhhh"... but the greater sentiment about things being gradual and coming in stops and starts perhaps applies.
And somewhere in there, I hope that I can foster patience and humility. Because somebody needs to ground the both of us in this crazy flighty time. Baby steps.