Months ago, the boys sat outside playing in the sandbox in the back yard. Our neighbor, who is several years older, played right along with them. All three boys dug through tiny grains in search of buried matchbox cars. Then they poured piles of sand into the back of dump trucks, only to unload the sand seconds later in a new pile. After a bit, our neighbor looked up and noticed a walnut lying on the gravel nearby. He walked over and picked it up. From where I stood, it looked quite ordinary. The shell was dark brown with ridges and valleys that crossed up and over the exterior. But when he flipped it over in his hand, we were all surprised by what was hiding on the other side. The walnut had been cut in half, and on the back side there were three small hearts nestled one inside the other, like nesting dolls. It was remarkably beautiful. We admired nature’s artistic ability, and then he asked us if we’d like to keep it. We accepted his beautiful gift, this extraordinary walnut.
It’s funny what stays with us sometimes. I think about that walnut a lot. I think about how our vision within this world, though impressive, is still quite limited. I wonder how many times things look one way at first glance, but we miss the truth that is folded into other dimensions, other vantage points. There’s so much we see and miss all at once. How often do we not even realize that we just can’t see an important part of the bigger picture?
The walnut always reminds me of one morning in particular where I missed the truth and made quite a few mistakes. My demise started with a seemingly inconsequential decision. I set the bar high for myself that day and was hoping to join the world of real adults who get a shower and wash their hair and brush their teeth. Even as I type this, I recognize that I was asking for WAY too much. I know I can be overzealous at times. It seems to me that kids have developed a sixth sense that tunes into the exact moment that you are least available. That is when they become the neediest. Mine are no exception. In fact, they seem to excel in this area.
Over the roaring water, I heard Jackson come up the stairs and shortly thereafter, I heard the sound of angst and tears coming from the boys’ bedroom. I hollered at both of them to stop whatever they were doing that was causing a problem. I yelled over the cascading water. It was no use. No one was listening to me. No one. All I heard was more wailing, more sobbing. I took a deep breath. I tried to let it go. I tried to slowly breathe in and slowly breathe out. Next, I thought about joining them for CryFest2015. I felt patience leaving my body in a mass exodus. You know that moment when you just can’t take one more loud obnoxious behavior? I realized I was far beyond that point. It was my turn to be loud and obnoxious.
I tore the shower curtain open and in my Maniac Mommy voice screamed out, “JAAAAAAAACKSOOOOOON! Get in here right now or I’m going to spank your tail when I get out of the shower!” It felt oh so good to yell.
Shortly thereafter, Jackson wandered out of the bedroom with fearful eyes leading the way. I launched into my tirade, “WHAT DID YOU DO TO PARKER? WHY IS HE CRYING?” I just knew that he was tormenting him again. Everything was fine until he came up the stairs and started stirring up trouble. Now, I get to be the crazy, half-showered mother with soap in her hair screaming at everyone when all I really want to do is take one shower. One simple shower. IS THAT ASKING TOO MUCH?
Jackson inched closer to me and quietly explained, “Parker’s crying because Lightning is too big for the track and his car keeps falling off of it. Then he got mad and broke the track. That’s why he’s crying, Mommy.”
Hmmmm. I considered his testimony. It was plausible. Highly possible, in fact. I was starting to feel like a jerk. A big fat horrible jerk. “I’m sorry, Jackie. You’re not in trouble. I shouldn’t have blamed you. Can you go see if you can help fix the track for brother?” I asked. I closed the shower curtain and stood in the falling hot water and thought about how much mamas get wrong. How often we miss the truth. How quickly we get pushed to edge of insanity. How hard this parenting gig is. I felt an overwhelming sense of failure wash over me. Four years of being a mother, and I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing most days. I’d always envisioned that I would grow supremely wiser with the passing of time, and yet motherhood has infinitely dulled my mental capabilities. I second guess myself constantly. I wonder if I’m setting appropriate expectations. Am I too hard on the boys? Am I too easy going? And to top it all off, each day it seems that both of my kids are changing and growing, developing their understanding of themselves and others and this world, just as I am learning too. Each new day is uncharted territory for all of us. It’s a wicked, amazing sort of dance we are all wrapped up in. If anything, motherhood has asked me to rethink everything I ever thought to be true. I stumble through the minutes and hours and days, making most of the rules up as I go along. I hope that despite all my failings as a parent, my kids will turn out to be kind, compassionate, and grateful adults.
When I first became a mother, I wanted to be able to draw clean lines in the sand and explain the world to Jackson with crystal clear limits. I often spoke in absolutes. Always. Never. Yes. No. Do. Don’t. I spoke with precision. It’s no wonder that as I watch Jackson these days, I notice that he is a child ruled by routines, he’s quite literal, and he sees the world in black and white. I think grays are hard for him because they were hard for me. The grays scared me. I didn’t know how to navigate an area where there could be many truths. Where “sometimes” reigned. Where opinions, beliefs and perspectives shaped the truths we experience and the world that we see. I didn’t want to risk getting it “wrong” so I bypassed the grays completely. But as time passes, I notice the world is more gray than ever. There is no one right way to raise a child, to live a life, to bake a cake, to draw, to dream, to love, to be. We each choose the way that speaks to our hearts. That speaks our truths. And really, that’s the beauty of celebrating perspective.
Sometimes I wonder how many extraordinary walnuts I have passed by without a second glance. I own only two of the more than fourteen billion eyes that grace this earth. There is much I will never see or know or comprehend. But it won’t stop me from trying. It won’t stop me from appreciating another viewpoint or at least stopping to see if I can catch a glimpse from another perspective. I often wonder how much do I miss as a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend? What stories are left unspoken? How much can I just not clearly see? I suspect it’s quite a lot. So I’m working hard to remember that my vision is limited, that sometimes things look crystal clear from where I’m standing; however, there may be different truths tucked away and only seen from another vantage point. I try to remember that my perspective is limited before I make a judgment. Before I blame. Before I draw conclusions. Before I find myself making sweeping statements. Before I scream at my children from the shower.
I started carrying our lovely walnut around with me everywhere I go as just a little reminder that perspective matters. It travels along inside a zippered pocket of my purse. Now and then I’ll pull it out and tuck it inside the palm of my hand. I ponder how an artifact so light in weight can paradoxically feel so heavy in its significance. I run my fingers over the inset hearts and notice that the interior heart is the softest. It reminds me to soften. To feel. To be open. To pay attention. Then I laugh out loud when I realize that I’ve discovered a bit of perspective, quite literally, in a nutshell.
“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.” Dead Poets Society