I tried being Buddhist once, you know, just to understand how it is to live a life free of expectations, devoid of wanting things to be a certain way. Well, here I am, still very much a struggling Catholic, one from whom you'll rarely see glimpses of the Buddha.
This is one of those things I find extremely difficult to practice. Buddhists believe in the four noble truths. To put it simply, they say that (1) life is full of pain and suffering; (2) that suffering has a cause and that is wanting, expecting; (3) that we can put an end to suffering and that is by letting go of our attachment to our expectations, our attachment to results and our desires of how things should be; and (4) that there is a path to ending suffering and essentially, meditation or mindfulness is key; this promotes living in the moment and acceptance among other things.
Doesn't it make so much sense?? I know it, my heart recognizes the truth in it, my spirit desires nothing but to live it, but my mind is proving to be more stubborn as I had expected. Old, established brain synapses do die hard...for better or worse, I'm afraid.
I know that was quite a long introduction for my simple admission that I had a crappy early afternoon, after I picked my son up from pre-school. I drove to the school with a heart full of love and joy, with imaginary birds singing around me while petals magically fell from the sky. I had just left another doctor's appointment and everything was looking great on my ultrasound and when I left that office, they had to have me sign my release form so that they can transition me now to my regular OB. It was bittersweet as I have nothing but praise for this medical office and the receptionist who has known me since my first IVF cycle in 2006 even gave me a hug and I told her I will miss them all. Like I said, I was full of positivity and felt so blessed to the bone.
And then I stepped in my son's school building and waited in the reception area until the teacher summoned us, parents, to approach the classroom door for a quick 'parent-teacher talk' and to pick up our kids. As I stood there waiting, my mind, my stubborn, psychotic, most-definitely-non-Buddhist mind, began to race...
Do some of the parents already know each other? Am I getting left out as a parent as I don't really interact with them or bother to chit-chat? More importantly, is my son getting left out? Is he making friends at all? How does he compare to his peers? Is he doing fairly well? Do his teachers think he's smart or not? Do his teachers like him? Does my son have good manners? Is he likeable? Oh I hope he's not socially inept. I hope he makes friends. I hope he's not invisible to his teachers. I hope he's not seen as 'challenging' in class. I hope he shines in school. He needs to shine in school. He needs to do well. He has to excel.
I know I can go on and on but I know you get the picture. From innocent questions of a parent wondering, I swung to the other extreme end of the pendulum into the universe of frustration. As soon as I walked out of the school building with Noah, I found my exasperation mounting. I was badgering Noah for answers, totally forgetting that I was talking to a 3-year old who can't really tell 'yesterday' from 'last night', let alone enumerate to me in detail what transpired in school a few hours ago, complete with a full account of a who-did-or-said-what-to-whom type. Just like that, I went from being a big pile of love to feeling like a pile of crap, trying to understand why it appeared as if I was taking something out on my own son. Poor little thing. He was probably wondering why Mommy was feeling so angry and frustrated with him. First I kept asking him about what happened today in school, in full detail, and then I shifted to asking him if he practices good manners in school and getting mad at him for being so shy.
I reached home in a really bad mood, one because of my frustrations with my son, and two, because of my frustration with my self. I knew I was being irrational. I knew I was being unfair. After I took a few breaths and stepped back (mentally), it was clear I was doing what every parent should NOT do and something I even vowed never to do...make one's child feel less than he really is, less loved, less embraced.
I was getting eaten up by my expectations of how my child should turn out...sociable, likeable, intelligent, academically inclined, well-mannered and all those things that make parents proud. But at this age, at least at this time, I see that my son has a tendency to be painfully shy. We teach him how to respond to strangers and practice good manners but he doesn't always succeed. Even when other kids wave and greet him, sometimes he just stares back or worse, looks away. At times he responds properly to other people but I get frustrated with the inconsistency.
I think he's a smart kid. When we talk to him at home and we do activities, we see intelligence. But will he eventually perform well academically? I don't know. I get nervous about this a lot of times. And what if he doesn't? I know I will find this difficult to deal with as I grew up busting my a** in school for approximately 20 years! And then when I start thinking and feeling this way, I get consumed with guilt...guilt for not being open to whatever my child will become and fearing that I may not love him the way I should, that is, unconditionally.
If only I can be very Buddhist about this whole thing. If only I can practice mindfulness and just be in the moment with my son, seeing him for who he is, loving him however he turns out, respecting and embracing fully his flawed essence. If only I can detach myself from expectations I have unconsciously and inadvertently set for my child, and just release him to orbit however and wherever life takes him.
I'm pretty sure the Buddhists are not advocating a life devoid of any direction or goal. I believe it's not the expectations themselves that cause suffering but the conditions those expectations impose upon others. It's the attachment to ideas of how things should be, attachment to specific results that causes not only heartaches but scars relationships.
Every parent wants only the best for their children. That is only natural. But it needs to be recognized that wanting the best for someone is different from controlling them or living their lives for them. When our children came to our lives, they did not ask to be brought to this earth. They came as gifts to us and there is an unspoken contract that no matter what we end up with, no matter what we are given, they need only one thing and that is to be loved...with as much purity as we are each capable of, no strings, no conditions...just real unadulterated LOVE.
Noah may grow up even more painfully shy than me. Or he may blossom to be more like his father capable of facing anyone and everyone. He may excel in school...or not. He may pursue a career that is not as conventional as my personal preferences. He may just pursue a trajectory so unexpected that my aged mind may find it impossible to understand. But what I need to always remind myself is that understanding is not a prerequisite for loving. And loving always produces beautiful results, sometimes for both parties, and sometimes for one party alone. Either way, love is never futile. I hope we can all find peace in that truth.