Simple, profound truths come in quiet moments. They descend gently in the warmth of a setting sun. For me, it’s an altered perception, a shift; when time stretches and slows, and epiphanies unfold in brilliant clarity. My daughter, Sydney lives in those moments.
Life moves fast and some say time itself is speeding up. The efficiency of our amazing technological advances allows for rapid, immediate digital interactions but rather than creating more space in our lives, it generates a frenetic, frenzied pace as we move faster and faster, trying to do more and more. As a mom I’ve certainly succumbed to the pressure of technostress. The conveniences intended to make my life easier actually increase the expectations I place on myself until I am perpetually, chronically, frantically busy. I’m weary of hearing my own response to the question “How are you?” “So busy. Crazy busy! But great!” And I mean it; I love my life, but too much doing, not enough being resulted in everything going out and not much coming back in. Before I knew what had happened the joy I felt in living was shrouded by the responsibilities that living demanded.
Family life in concert is a lovely chaos of movement, schedules and routines that somehow transpose into rich, unique harmony. Much of my sacred experience is in that ordinary. My own mother still quotes the Zen proverb, ‘Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” I get that, I really do. But when I wake up every day facing a whole forest with just a hatchet, it seems that no amount of hacking will ever be enough to reach a clearing.
So tonight, I’m pondering, as I put on the potatoes for soup and throw the laundry from the washer to the dryer, how I might slow down time, or at least add some to my day. But then my phone goes off—texts and calls are coming in and my mind returns to its constant litany, scrolling like the ticker at the bottom of the newscast; ”Is it an A day tomorrow? Make sure Sydney wears tennis shoes. Haley has library—don’t forget the books. Tomorrow: call the auto repair shop, reschedule the dentist appointment, pay the overdue hospital bill, buy the birthday present for Saturday. Oh, and refill the prescriptions, drop off Steven’s dry cleaning and get gas before you run out.“ I interrupt my thoughts to put the kibosh on a squabble and coach the girls’ on their homework from the kitchen. Retrieving milk from the fridge I think, “and stop at the store and write a check for the book order and take Sydney to choir practice before school, and return the call to the insurance company and prep for tomorrow’s classes and clients and when am I going to wash my hair!?” And, and, and. My mind reels.
I’m caught short when I look at Sydney eating dinner. She was extra tired this morning. The transition from elementary to middle school is rough for many reasons, not the least of which is the earlier start time by one full hour. We’re all adjusting, but it’s a daily struggle.
“I’m tired,” she says, dragging from her bed.
An easy-going child, she’s always slept well and awoken happy and ready for her day, but lately I wouldn’t exactly say she exudes effervescence upon rising. We’re running late from the start. She’s eating her breakfast slowly and I’m quizzing her, helping her finish her homework and comb her hair. All at once. It is not working. My stress mounts as I watch the clock, envisioning the bus driver pulling into our driveway, waiting, not so patiently.
“Honey, let’s go! Hurry. Come on. Chop-chop!” I karate chop twice, one hand into the palm of the other for emphasis.
This does nothing to light a fire under my girl. Sydney will not be rushed. Sydney does not multi-task. I should know this. She is immune to the influences placed on her to accelerate her own sense of urgency. Nothing is that pressing to her. And I don’t mean because she’s not smart or aware or that things don’t matter to her. She’s sensitive and compassionate and lives every day authentically, with dignity. She regards herself and everyone else without judgment. She simply is not dictated by external circumstances: if she needs to finish chewing her eggs before she gets her coat on, it doesn’t matter if the bus is in the driveway, honking.
Taking my lead from her, I’ve begun to meditate. Spending time in stillness, tapping into the calm at my center has changed my life. Behind my closed eyes a symphony plays in the silence as I drift away from the bounds of time and space. I’ve noticed my daughter’s natural propensity for eliminating stimulation, her brilliant, effortless way of re-connecting by spending time alone, in silence. When we’re home, it’s not uncommon to look around for Sydney and find that she’s slipped away into her room, closing the door softly behind her. She has given me permission to detach and step out of time. Lyrics from a song by Chicago, play in my head, “And I was walking down the street one day being pushed and shoved by people trying to beat the clock, I just don’t know. Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?“ What happens if time runs out and I don’t cross everything off my to-do list? Will the world as we know it come to a screeching halt? No.
So, I wait for her to finish eating, skip the homework and let Daddy comb her hair. He’s got a gentle touch with the beautiful thick hair that reaches the middle of her back. She doesn’t want to cut it and accepts that the price for this is the tugging and pulling on her tender head. Even with detangler, a wide tooth comb and Steven’s distracting wisecracks, most days there are tears. Daily she musters the determination to be brave but I see her eyes close and a moment later her little face bunches up. A soft sob escapes her lips as she says, “I just can’t help it, Dad.”
He says, “I’m sorry, sugar plum.”
“I know,” she says.
She lets go and her crying becomes louder until she abruptly stops and says, “I’m going to wake the neighborhood.” Taking off her glasses, she asks for a tissue, composes herself and we move on to the next task and by the time the bus pulls up, she’s bundled and loaded up—hat, gloves, coat and backpack. I watch as she walks out the door and into her day, 12 years old now. I can see her at 6 months when she was learning sign language. It seemed to take so long. We weren’t sure she was really getting it. Then suddenly, out of the blue, she signed “more,” and over 100 signs followed. I can see her when she was a year old and learning to crawl, two years old and learning to walk. It didn’t come easy. Motor patterns needed training, muscles needed strengthening. Physical therapy was not fun. She cried, when it was hard or sometimes she just sat down and refused to move. We wondered when she would break through the plateaus, if ever. We had to push and it broke my heart to do it. But over time Sydney always accomplished the feat. She was in no hurry and that was just as it should be; all in perfect time, in perfect rhythm.
My ‘disabled’ daughter teaches me to slow down. Beautifully, patiently impervious to assaults on her psyche, she shows me how to accept everyone as they are. To accept everything as it is. This simple, profound truth alights on me in the middle of the cacophony: What’s really important is right in front of you. Stop rushing past and see it. Stop running on adrenaline and feel it. Stop drowning it out and listen. She’s saying to me, “This is great, Mom.” Whatever we’re doing, it’s great to her. She’s fully present. She has already arrived.
After dinner, we wind down and with jammies on and teeth brushed it’s into bed. Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf is the choice tonight and I read, “All the other little bulls . . . would run and jump and butt their heads together, but not Ferdinand. He liked to sit just quietly and smell the flowers.”
Sydney looks at me and says, “that’s like me.”
“Yeah,” I say. “that’s like you.”