I was still in the parking lot when my distressed daughter called me. One of her costumes had not made the trip with her to the theater for the final dress rehearsal of her upcoming dance recital. We lived 30 miles away, and had just slogged our way through rush hour traffic to get there. I had plans to eat dinner with local friends and didn’t want to cancel for this.
Inventorying the choices, I couldn’t help but register the various parent voices and opinions that exist in the parent-sphere. I thought about the parenting paradigm of not helping, letting the child deal with the consequences as a learning experience.
What am I enabling if I go home and get her costume?
Why not let the child learn to remember by negative example?
Was I hovering and protecting too much if I got her costume for her?
Years ago, as a new mom holding my infant daughter, I had the realization that what I most wanted for her was to learn to trust herself. I knew that meant cultivating that trait or skill within myself first.
So, that’s what I did.
After some disappointment, heavy sighing, and hearing all the arguments in my head, I decided to follow my instinct. I told my friends I’d be late for dinner, and got back on the highway. (Thank you friends for waiting for me!)
Later that evening, in the car ride home, my daughter thanked me and said that it made her feel good that I had helped her. It made her want to reciprocate.
That’s when I understood what my instinct had meant. I had lived my values of kindness and compassion in the way I treated my distressed daughter. Listening to her, I knew that for who my daughter is at this moment, for who I am right now, I did what felt right. Hopefully, she will remember the event as a positive example of caring and kindness.
By now, you probably have an idea of what you would done in a similar scenario with your child.
Would you like an opportunity to reflect on your values, and how to align your parenting goals with them? Join us for our next webinar, or contact me for a complimentary coaching session.
When I was a young child, my dad took us to see Damn Yankees at the dinner theater just a few miles from our home. It was the first live show I ever saw, and one that launched a life of longing for the stage.
The show gave me a feeling of floating and soaring and I distinctly remember the private elated feeling I had humming to myself while walking along the wall of the lobby in my white knitted poncho with stripes at the bottom that my great Aunt Mary had made for me.
The songs still evoke vivid memories from seeing the show. Echoes of images from seeing the show then have lingered longer than any memory of seeing the 1994 revival on Broadway have.
More than any images, I have physical, visceral emotional memories of how certain songs, or energies made me feel.
Decades later, cast in a local production, I make sure to be back stage when Joe transforms from middle aged man to young baseball hero and rushes onto stage singing the end of “Goodbye Old Girl.” He has sold his soul to the devil for a chance to live his dream as a baseball hero and bring his team to victory against the legendary Yankees of the 1950’s. The rush of youthful energy full of anticipation and possibilities that young Joe brings on stage with him touches the 7 year old child in me whose heart opened wider that it ever had hearing that song for the first time.
Middle aged Joe Boyd as young Joe Hardy, gets to live his dream. He in facts finds a way to live his dream and reunite with his wife, safe from the devil’s domain. Listening backstage again to this song, I felt a kinship with the longing and the dream, and this time, a deep affinity with Joe Boyd and his commitment to his wife. My life has always been a tug of war between my visceral need to connect with people through the arts to express myself on stage in song, dance and theater, and my need to feel connected and close to family, friends, and communities.
In life, we feel tension between our desires, our sense of responsibility, our wants and all the “should’s” that we learn.
How many of us suppress our dreams and desires and do what we are supposed to do instead?
What would it look like if we could feel as free as Joe Hardy when he finishes that song to bring our energy, enthusiasm and desires into the way we live our lives?
A few days ago, I opened in a featured character role in the show, Damn Yankees. The premise of the show, a musical version of the book, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, is that an athlete who has devil granted powerful hitting, can change everything. A lackluster baseball team goes from being the lowest ranked baseball team to winning the pennant when a middle aged man sells his soul to the devil in exchange for being a baseball hero who can raise his team to the top. The team’s changeover uplifts a whole community of people thrilled to see their home team finally winning.
It’s a wonderful fantasy, but can one great ball player change a team that much? According to the song, “You’ve Gotta Have Heart,” the star baseball player Joe Hardy is a hero because he has “heart.” Can having “heart” really change one’s life so dramatically?
The more I coach, the clearer I see how the biggest obstacles we face in the way of getting what we most want in life are ourselves. When we can open and see possibilities beyond our limiting beliefs, we maximize our own potential. It’s the most beautiful moment when someone lights up with a new insight, a spark of creativity or small ideas that begins a chain of “Yes!”
Just before starting this piece, I was a little stuck with a bunch of starts and unfinished pieces. As the rehearsal process for Damn Yankees built towards performance, as the cast grew more connected working towards a common goals, as we saw improvements, exciting costume and scenery additions, the exchanges of smiles increased. Each smile and connection, boosted our spirits and spread the excitement around.
With a heart full of love for my cast mates and what we were creating together, the inspiration to finish this piece flowed and much of this piece wrote itself while I sat backstage opening night in between stage appearances. In the midst of enthusiastic show energy, I felt empowered and knew just what to write.
Now, I understand more viscerally, how moments of joy and other positive emotions can open us creatively and make striving for a goal feel effortless. The next time I am feeling stuck, I know to make time to smile with a friend, hug my children, do something kind, and do the activities that generally lift my positivity and open my heart.
We stood eye to eye in the slight breeze of a perfectly beautiful day. I felt held in her presence and held her in mine. The sounds of cars on the road and conversations floated in the spacious silence. As much as I could hear everything, my attention was entirely on her eyes as she looked at me intently. I broke the gaze, rounded my arms around her neck and gave her a hug.
Even though she can’t identify me by my name or our shared stories, I still feel seen, remembered and appreciated. So often we self consciously wonder if we have impressed someone with our story, if we have made sense, or been misunderstood. We joke with people, hope to make them laugh, and tell stories. Yet, I have learned that what really matters isn’t the social exchange that happens on the surface, but the level of presence containing the relationship itself.
Earlier in our relationship and in her disease, my friend wanted to grieve the life she was losing, to be sad about her predicament, what would happen to her husband and daughter. All she needed from me was to empathize and to keep her company in her sadness. In between talking, laughing and exercising together, we cried, we hugged, and we sat quietly with one another.
Every week I arrived open, ready to receive her, to live in her story with her, to keep her company in a world that was increasingly lonely. When she sensed that something was wrong in my life, she sat attentive, open and ready to listen. Her warm presence itself comforted me. I knew she likely didn’t understand or remember all I told her. But, she offered me her presence and often that was the perfect comfort. Parker Palmer says, “The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is.”
As my friend has progressed into the later stages of Alzheimer’s, fewer words pass between us, there is more touching, more eye contact, and more mirrored emotions. The other day when I visited, I played a song that I thought she would recognize and remember. I watched her face as she listened. A single tear formed at the corner of her eye and ran down her cheek. My eyes started to water. I have no idea why or how the song triggered the emotion, yet I could give her a hug offering empathy and support.
Krista Tippett writes about her time working as a chaplain in an Alzheimer’s ward, “They taught me the gravity of nonverbal presence- of eye contact and touch. I learned to accept silence, not to fill it with talk, to respect the immensity of what eyes and hands alone could express.”
I too have now learned this lesson about communication and intend to honor my friend, my teacher by practicing it in my life as fully as possible.