I’ve been writing about Elly a lot lately. I guess he’s been teaching me a lot lately…
He doesn’t live with me all the time, so when he’s with me I need to do what I can to let him be alive with me. This isn’t easy. It means that I need to balance us. When he’s with me I want to fit all my parenting into the time we have together. But I also need to make space for him to fit all his son-ing into that same time.
I want to feed him, to shelter him, to clothe him, to protect him, to heal him if he needs it, to teach him, to learn from him, to laugh with him, to play together, to listen to him, to reassure him, and if necessary, to correct his behavior.
Sometimes I only have an hour with him on a weekday afternoon.
Not going to fit all that in an hour.
Unless I’m really there with him. Unless I let go of all those goals. And give him some room.
If I step outside those expectations for a moment, and just be present with him for that moment, opportunities to do some, most, or all of those elements of parenting will present themselves. Usually all of them. Sometimes simultaneously. Because he has that space.
It’s not easy, but there are a couple of thing that have helped.
First, there are the Buddies movies. These are awful movies. They are about talking puppies. Filmed puppies that talk. The kind where they add a voiceover to the puppies. Horrible movies. And I like puppies. Elly loves these movies. He has for years. They make him laugh. Then I start to laugh.
And I thoroughly enjoy myself because I have stepped out of my expectations for a moment. It’s not always going to be about my ideas of what’s worthwhile. He doesn’t run things, but sometimes he gets a turn to make a choice for both of us. And I need to make room for him by clearing out some of my ideas.
Shedding my attachment to outcomes for that moment opens up all sorts of opportunities for deepening my relationship with my kid. For being a parent. Because I’m there.
Second is breathing with him. I sit with him and we just breathe together. “Inhale when I inhale, and exhale when I exhale.”
He used to hate this. It started when he would be throwing one of his (rare) tantrums as a toddler. I would grab him up into my arms, hold him close to me and then just breathe. He’d resist and squirm, but then he’d calm down.
Now we breathe before bedtime when he’s with me. And sometimes just to calm down after being goofy. To calm him, I suppose. I get to stay goofy because I’m a responsible adult.
How did it move from a technique for removing a tantrum to a bedtime ritual he expects? Probably because he hated it when he was a toddler. But even as a toddler he liked being calmed by it. He was calming himself with me present giving him space to do that work.
And he doesn’t know that I’m teaching him to be aware of his breath. Or to control his breath. Or the effect his breath can have on his physical being.
I guess I fooled him, didn’t I?
Finally, I just let him be with himself when we are together. I let him be aware of where he is at that time, within that moment. Without directing him. Sometimes that means waiting while he throws an osage orange against a tree to watch it explode. Sometimes it means just letting him sit by himself and be quiet for a while. Even when we only have an hour together.
This is the hardest one of all and, honestly, I have no idea how I learned to do it. He taught me, I suppose.
I can’t do these things without first being present within myself. Without knowing where I am. What I am thinking, what my emotional state is, how my body feels. So that’s the starting place. I need to be aware of myself in the moment so I can know whether I need to step aside and let go a little, or make a decision and be forceful.
I used to feel like I died every time I’d return him to his mom after spending time with him. I would grieve for the time we spent together and I constantly wanted more.
Then, somewhere along the way, I learned that I can be happy with what I have. I can be a complete parent whenever I am with him, even if it’s just an hour after school. All I have to do is make space for it. And the way to make that space is to start by being present for him.
And getting out of my own way.