Like coal miners, parents plunge deep into dark and untrammeled spaces, searching for nuggets of goodness and truth along the way. And sometimes, like coalminers, we get lost. We hit a dead end. And the canary chirping happily in it’s swinging cage, goes silent.
This summer, I lost my way as a parent. Between moving and leading a top-to-bottom renovation of our new apartment, between writing grant applications and taking care of legal issues related to my nonprofit, I took a few wrong turns, caught up in the To Do’s and Didn’t Do’s scratched onto my notepad. Thankfully I have not one, but two canaries on my shoulders. When they stopped tweeting, I knew it was time to pause and reevaluate.
The first canary is this blog. When I write, I nourish a small patch of my soul. I often dismiss it as insignificant; I say, “So what if I didn’t jot down a few paragraphs this week?” But reflecting on and writing about my life enables me to keep one of my canaries alive and singing. It seems a like a small thing, but I know better than to dismiss the “little things;” a quiet cup of coffee in the morning or a late evening stroll can mean the difference between a contented person and a frustrated one. Blogging matters to me. I need to do it every week. My last post preceded our move in early July, an absence which I felt in my bones, on the surface of my skin, and in the joints that hold me together.
The second canary is my relationship with Ayla. When we’re in a good place, I feel that I can surmount any obstacle that hurtles down our path. But in recent weeks, we’ve strayed into strange territory. Instead of hugs and kisses, I’ve been getting whacked on the head by my child. Ayla’s been thunking me with toys, books and sippy cups. She’s also bitten my shoulder, my knee and my thigh on more than one occasion. I tried to pass it off as her “hitting and biting” phase but it was fiction, not fact. The truth was that Ayla was reacting to the distance between us, the distance that made it possible for me to spend the summer multi-tasking instead of parenting. As I efficiently checked things off my To Do list, I was killing off my second canary.
Then it all came to a head earlier this week. On Sunday, Ayla led a poop-and-smear fiasco in our beautiful new apartment (I’ll spare you the details on this one). When I looked at what she had done, I flew into a rage. I took hold of Ayla by the shoulders and yelled. All the while, I knew it had nothing to do with her—I was unleashing my personal frustration about the never-ending renovation and the overbearing weight of my workload on my innocent child. Ayla looked at me with a mixture of shock, fear, and… disappointment. Even still, I finished my angry rant. Then Ayla burst into tears. [If the day ever comes when Ayla’s eyes harden in response to my anger, I’ll know I’ve lost her.] After that, I stormed around cleaning up the poop and then I too burst into tears. That when I knew my second canary had asphyxiated. My relationship with Ayla had taken a turn for the worse.
Last night I was able to bring much-needed oxygen into our relationship. Ayla and I attended a swim party and BBQ with friends and neighbors. I shook off my list of incomplete tasks and focused my attention on Ayla. In the pool, Ayla immediately responded to my shift in energy. She laughed and kicked and splashed joyfully; and then, without notice, she let go of my hands and began to explore the pool on her own, buoyed only by a pair of shark-shaped floaties. It was astounding to see Ayla take this developmental leap so effortlessly, so quickly after I re-entered our relationship.
After playing with our friends and eating a succulent meal right off the grill, Ayla and I retired on a lounge chair set upon a small patch of grass. I held her in my arms and she nursed quietly, as a handful of stars appeared in the sky and peered down at us. She fell asleep in my arms, both of us bathed in starlight.
I felt like a coalminer again, as though I had raced through the miles of dirt and rock and finally reached the center of it all—the place where the energy of all life throbs and pulses through the walls. In that place, I reconnected to Ayla. Even though I was afraid, I took a giant leap towards her, allowing myself to touch the raging current of love that connects us as parent and child. When we got home, I couldn’t bear to let either of us sleep alone, so she curled up beside me and we cuddled and nursed through the night. In the morning, Ayla woke me up, not with her usual cries for milk but with kisses, planted on my face, my shoulders and on the tip of my nose.
Now comes the hard part. Figuring out how to move forward while keeping my two canaries alive and singing. Maybe I need to take a leave of absence from work—the maternity leave I couldn’t, or didn’t, take after Ayla’s birth. Maybe there are other projects that can survive a delay, or rescheduling so that I can spend more time with Ayla. She’ll be starting preschool next year; this fall may be our last chance to savor long days and nights of play and exploration together.
I’ve already forgiven myself for getting lost. I know it won’t be the last time this happens to me as a parent. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I must heed the ebb and flow of the canary’s song. When it falls silent, it’s time to step back and gain some perspective; when it sings, I know that I’m moving in time to the rhythm of life.
If you would like to read more from Taz, visit her Labor of Love site.
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