In the last year, my sweet-faced, kind-hearted eldest daughter has hit a preteen skid. She is suddenly self-conscious, unpredictable, and complicated. It seems that I am forever unintentionally, and often unforgivably, squashing her fragile sense of identity and fledgling independence. My parenting failures and missteps make me feel frustrated, disappointed, and defensive. It is the age-old mother/daughter cycle that has been around since the dawn of time. Neanderthal preteens probably rolled their eyes at their mothers when told they weren’t old enough to wear the latest trend in animal-pelt fashion, but still, it is hard.
In an effort to find some relief from the growing pains, I consult with friends who have been in the trenches with their own daughters. I find many of their suggestions and strategies to be helpful: It is important to pick your battles, ease up on control in safe situations, and stay calm within the tornado of preteen hormones. But as no two days (or I should say moods) are alike, often I am flying by the seat of my pants into the unknown.
Children are sometimes compared to Buddhist Zen masters, daily offering their parents koans to challenge and teach them. Koans are described as “paradoxical riddles used to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.” Emma is presenting me with a preteen koan, and although there are no easy answers for how to move through the next eight years peacefully and successfully, my daughter does continue to teach me the lessons I need to learn.
As a student of Buddhist philosophy, I have read many times, but never quite understood, the central tenet that attachment to anything causes suffering. According to the writings of Buddha, everything is transient, and suffering happens when we either crave or cling to that which is impermanent. For example, when I crave the past–the easier relationship Emma and I once had–I am eaten up by longing and disappointment. On the other hand, when I cling to the recent hard moments between us, unable to let go of resentment and frustration, I fuel an atmosphere of tension and anger. Buddha teaches that all we have is the now. There is no past, and no future, just this moment.
Over holiday break, my daughters, husband, and I took a family hike. As we drove to the trailhead, I reveled in the ease between us all, especially between Emma and me. And suddenly I got it. This was all there was, this one moment of ease. I finally understood that there was nothing I could do to hold on to it or even prolong it. I knew it would surely pass when we hit the trailhead, when my daughters started arguing about who got to walk in front, but that was the future, which was unpredictable at best. This was a moment to be cherished as it was, and in doing so, it would be easier to let it go and accept the next moment, whatever that may be, knowing that it too would be fleeting and impermanent.
When we returned from our hike, I received this well-timed email from my mother. It simply said, “Don’t you love being a mother? I do.” It was a lovely compliment, and a good reminder. Yes, I do love being a mother: the unbelievable joy, the heart-rending disappointments, the turmoil, the angst, and the shining victories. All those little moments that add up to form the relationships between my daughters and me. Yes, some of those moments are more challenging than others, and probably will be for years and years to come. But perhaps if I can learn how to accept, embrace, and let go of each moment–letting it be what it is, no more and no less–then my oldest daughter and I might be able to get through these next few years with our mother/daughter relationship intact.
And when we do, I will bow to my Zen master with the deepest gratitude, and say, “Thank you, Emma, for all the moments, exactly as they were.”