I have told this story before, but it is something I’ve thought of a lot in the last few months.
When I was directing/teaching at Playmates Cooperative Preschool in San Francisco back when Liam was a year old and Piper was almost 5, I was part of the consortium of directors of Co-Op preschools. Once a month or so, we visited another school, and the directors showed each other around. I was 29, earnest and headstrong and so wrapped up in the minutiae of my life, not paying attention to the beauty around me because I was so do-do-do-go-go-go. I was all ambition and crossing tasks off of my internal to-do list. My marriage faltered, my health faltered. I remember trying to shave any time off of the AM routine in order to get to work that I set out every bit of breakfast to make for my kids down to the knife in the butter and the bread sitting on top of the toaster, ready to go. I was a massive stress case. I was not living wholeheartedly.
The school visits were lovely, and sometimes made me compare myself too much to what other, more talented and experienced director/teachers were doing.
I had been struggling hard at school, because in a Co-Op, the parents are your bosses, and you have to supervise them when they teach once a week. The board president and I did not see eye to eye, but I managed to communicate with him better than many of the staff. He was hugely intimidating, worked as a SWAT team trainer for SFPD, and he was about 6’3″. He wanted the school to do things his way and well, so did I. I can’t even remember what the issues were, but I remember the tension.
A school visit during this time caused me to open my eyes and ears more. The director of this school was such a grandmotherly matron type, with white hair wrapped around her head, colorful scarves, and a big lap for children to sit on. She drew me in immediately with her massive calm. We toured her school, watching the children play at the end of the day. She sat in her rocking chair, and they climbed all over her. Her serene nature pulled me so deeply in.
When we sat in a circle debriefing the visit, I asked her how she handles it when the parents want to do things at her school that she doesn’t agree with. She said something like this:
This school isn’t mine. It’s ours. If they want to do something, I just let them do it. If they fail, the failure is theirs. And if they win, the win is theirs. None of that is any of my business.
Thinking about this now makes my heart burst open. I don’t think I was anywhere capable of really understanding this then. But her words taught me, and continue to teach me. I am not caught up in the shame spiral of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, and in my career, that’s useless to me and to growth. But I do have a little glimmer of embarrassment and regret that I handled things so poorly before that moment.
What a huge gift she gave me. She reminded me that I’m not in control of others, and that it is my job to make space for others to learn in a school, not to make them do it the way I want them to do it.
It’s a grown up way to be, realizing that our life belongs only to ourselves, and that other people’s lives are theirs. It’s the same for our children, no matter how terrifying that is. Our children belong to life, and to themselves. I have shared this incredible poem before, but it is one of my favorite things, and it belongs here.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
I have managed to internalize this calm point of view into my life, finally. I’m still taking baby steps, but it is a living and real part of ME now. I’m a guide to my students and my adult children, not their “boss.” We are equals in learning.
The freedom of letting go of trying to control everything around you is as intoxicating as drugs. It changes your entire outlook on life. It makes me want to wake up and join the world every day, to see what kinds of things I might get to experience.
Hard things happen to me every.single.day, just like they happen to you. But those are just moments, just like the moment of holding your baby’s hand, one of your favorite songs coming on your shuffle at the exact right moment, making all green lights on the commute to work, seeing a flock of birds swarm over a field in that magic communication they have. We experience it all and it all helps make us who we are. I’m deeply grateful for the gift of being so low and torn apart that I could barely breathe. Looking back on the last few years of my life, I am more whole and proud of myself than ever, and I’m ready to do all the life, with all the tragedy and drama and comedy and love. I am fucking grateful for all of it. We were put here on this earth for a reason. I can guarantee you that our purpose is not to be in pain all the time. Let the pain transform you into a new version of you. Grow. UP.