So often we walk through life, insulating ourselves from the strangers around us.
We keep to ourselves.
We mind our own business.
We go it alone.
The chance for connection is there, just below the surface.
But we let is float by, unacknowledged.
We don't bring it up into the light.
And then yesterday something incredible happened.
A stranger stopped me at Goodwill to tell me that I was "a wonderful mother."
I stumbled around, searching for grace, and tried to quiet the knee-jerk dismissal of her compliment that was bobbing to the surface.
Blushing, I thanked her and we walked away.
We ran into each other again and she repeated her praise.
This time I was ready. My acceptance came easy.
"I wish everyone spoke to their kids that way," she said.
"Yes," I said, "but we all have different personalities; different fears; different life experience."
"Different stresses," she added.
And before I knew it we were deep in a conversation about parenting, compassion, non-judgement and respect.
She talked about her own childhood.
And I don't even know her name.
Later that day in a moment of struggle, one of my kids told me that I was "the worst mom in the world".
I held the space for my child, allowing a full expression of big emotion.
And in that messy moment a stranger's words were in my head.
I am a wonderful mother.
And I thanked her again in my mind for having the courage to tell me so.
Somehow her words helped me do better in a difficult moment.
For that I am so thankful.
Each day we have the chance to connect instead of walk on by.
We have the opportunity to lift someone up.
We have the power to choose compassion instead of judgement.
Even someone you've never met before and will never see again.
Someone who is struggling to keep her head above water.
Or another who's brimming with grace.
What would change if you chose to reach out?
To reach into the space between strangers and create community, if only for a moment.
Because if you listen just so, the screaming baby at the grocery store isn't an irritation.
It's an invitation.
A chance to give of yourself.
Your empathy, your compassion, your arms.
I once offered to hold a crying baby at the coop. And that mama, three-fourths of the way through a day of wrong-turns and struggle, looked me in the eyes and began to cry.
And then she said yes.
Thank you - yes.
Because it was so hard that day.
And when you notice a parent being patient or kind or compassionate - pause and connect.
Let her see herself as you see her.
She might just need to hear it today.
My challenge for you is this:
look into the eyes of a stranger and lift them up.
Release judgement and find compassion.
Reach into that space between strangers and create community.
Because we need each other.
It's just that for a moment we had forgotten.
Your choice to connect could change someone forever.
It might just change you, too.
Originally published in 2013.
You have a superpower.
And every day you get a chance to use it.
It's the power to change the world.
By choosing play over pressure.
Peace over violence.
Kindness over power.
Compassion over neglect.
Forgiveness over blame.
Every. Single. Day.
As a parent you possess the power to change the world.
One day at a time,
one child at a time,
one interaction at a time.
And the world transforms.
But that does not mean you will be perfect.
You will falter.
You will yell.
You will curse.
You will break.
You will forget just for a moment how amazingly powerful you are and you will return to shame, anger, manipulation, and control.
To all of us.
In our own way we each create own reasons for regret.
And then you have the chance to choose forgiveness again. This time for you.
No one is perfect.
Not your partner, not your child, not your mother. And not you.
We're all stumbling along, learning as we go.
Doing our best.
We are all flawed.
It's part of the plan. It gives us good work to do with our time here on earth.
Allow yourself your imperfections.
Allow them to your child as well.
And yes, allow them even to that other mother you see on the street who's come undone and is yelling and pulling her little one roughly along.
She needs it most of all.
And then, remember your power.
To shape the world, for good.
It takes courage to forge a new path.
To reach for peace when you were taught reach for power.
To reach for compassion when last time you faltered.
To reach for understanding even in frustration. Or exhaustion. Or anger.
You have the power to change the world. And also to change yourself.
And the harder that is for you, the more deeply I honor your work.
Onward, mama. Onward.
You carry the world in your arms.
It's your superpower.
Originally published in 2014.
I am almost always with my kids. We are together. All. The. Time. Home business, homeschooling, homebody. We rarely go our separate ways. I like it like that.
But sometimes I crave a little time alone. Pete recently took them both on a trip for a few days, allowing me a deep silence in which to reflect on how my sense-of-self has been shaped my motherhood.
How motherhood has changed me.
I have been a mother for most of a decade.
Looking back over the past 9-plus years since I became pregnant with my first child I am stunned by what I have discovered and learned so far. I have grown and evolved on account of motherhood more than at any other time in my life.
Even more amazing though is the vast abyss of "what I do not yet know" that lies before me.
The foundation of motherhood, perhaps, (aside from unconditional love) is embracing that gap in knowledge while we find gratitude for what we've learned so far.
And trusting that we'll find our way.
Really, we know so little, don't we? We can read and research and look at statistics and talk to other parents, but really becoming a parent is one big question mark. We learn as we go, making it up along the way. We're all on this ride together with no telling what comes next or where we'll end up.
So we hold tight to trust, lest we get mired in worry and miss all the fun.
When I was first pregnant there was much that I did know. I knew (and had since childhood) that I wanted to be a mother. I knew that I would someday have a daughter but that this one was going to be a boy. (I thought that Pete, who grew up without a father, needed a son first to be the dad he never had so I decided long before we had kids that we'd have a boy first. We did.)
I knew that I would parent from the heart rather than from the advice of a physician, book, or well-meaning family or friends. (I did not know how hard that would be at times.) I knew that I trusted myself more than I trusted western medicine and I was going to be a relentless questioner when it came to my child's care.
I knew that I wanted to raise my own kids, full-time. Day care and pre-school weren't in our plan. (Neither was school as it turns out.) We'd tighten our belts and cut our income nearly in half. One of us would stay home to raise our baby.
I knew I wanted a homebirth. I knew that my boy would remain intact (un-circumcised). I knew that I would nurse and maybe for a long time and he would sleep in our bed. ("Six months," said Pete. So we borrowed a crib for when he was bigger. We didn't know that almost a decade later we'd still co-sleep with one or both kids most nights.)
Yes. I knew some things that turned out to be true.
And yet, there was so much more that I did not know. There still is.
I didn't know what it would be like to be a mama.
Not at all. I knew there would be tears and giggles, diapers and nursing, bedtimes and early mornings. I knew that eventually there would be first smiles, first signs, first words, and first steps.
But I didn't know how different "mama" would be from "papa" in our world. I thought they were interchangeable. Mom. Dad. Same difference.
"50/50," I said.
From my career mind I rationalized that we'd each have our job during the day - I would stay home to be with Sage and Pete would go to work. But the rest of the week we'd be 50/50. Evenings. Bedtime. Nights. Days off.
But it didn't shake out that way.
I didn't know just how much of the parenting would fall to me. Sage, in his baby-way demanded it. And my heart told me to give him what he needed. I remember feeling tired. Resentful. Overwhelmed.
And while I remember being frustrated at not being able to take a shower or finish a meal without a baby fussing his way into in my arms, I also remember surrendering. Releasing the resistance I had to it and embracing - eventually - what was my new life.
What a gift that was to learn to let go and be present in what is.
Sage arrived into our life, born in the front doorway of our house in the middle of a sunny August afternoon, a few feet from a four-way stop.
I let the screen door close behind me as I turned back into the house and yelled "F************K!" louder than I had ever yelled before. I was standing there in my bathrobe, my foot on the coffee table, my backside to the street with the midwives and Pete around me in a semi-circle. We were heading to the hospital as our homebirth plan started to unravel but Sage was determined to be born at home.
There we stood - all four of us - the midwife's car idling outside, dumbfounded, staring at this baby who decided not to wait. (I'm so glad.)
I remember his wrinkled forhead, his focused, watchful eyes, and his powerful cry. I can see him perfectly in my mind - born twice the size I expected him to be, red faced and wet, gazing deep into me. The words "old soul" echoed in my head as he held my stare, the two of us still joined still by his umbilical cord.
Sage, aware of every nuance around him. Sage, with his hair-trigger startle reflex. Sage, with his stunning ability to shake the hell our of everything we thought we knew. Amazing. World-turned-upside-down kind of amazing.
Sage reminded us immediately of how very little we really knew.
He cried. A lot. (And so did I.) I was worried about everything and he felt my discord and let me know that he was worried too.
It was hard. Really hard.
I remember when Sage was two weeks old Pete and I looked at each other wild eyed and one of us whispered, "No one told us it was going to be like this. No one said it would be this hard." And then I think I cried. Again.
But it was. It was really unbelievably hard. I didn't know it would be like that.
I told my midwife some months later that we would never have another baby. That I didn't know if we could survive. She said she was sad that I would never have "the pleasure of an easy baby" and I remember thinking - did she just use "pleasure" and "baby" in the same sentence?
I didn't know how amazing it was going to be once we hit our groove.
I didn't know I would indeed do it again (on purpose) and yes, it would be a pleasure to have an easy baby. And I didn't know that the lessons that I had learned through the teacher of my truly not easy and highly sensitive baby would carry me through motherhood with a clarity I could not have found without that trying time.
That hardest time of my life shaped me into a better mother than I every could have been without it.
That struggle would be a bigger blessing in many ways than ease would have been. I didn't know.
Someone bought us a stroller as a baby shower gift. I would push the empty stroller around town with one hand, holding Sage in my arms after just a few moments of riding (and protesting). He wanted to stay close. Finally I gave up on the stroller that I never wanted anyway and put him in the sling that a new mama friend brought me to use. (You know who you are. I still thank you for that.)
He settled. I settled. We found our groove.
I didn't know that he needed my arms. That he needed quiet. That he needed to nurse on a pillow so I didn't overwhelm him with touch. That he needed rhythm and routine and clothes without tags. I didn't know. But I learned. I listened and he taught me.
Sage's crib sat unoccupied, the world's largest laundry basket until we packed it up and gave it back. He never spent a night in it. I didn't know that we didn't need a nursery. Or a stroller. Or a pack-and-play. I didn't know that what I needed was someone to show up with a meal and help with the dishes and tell me to listen to my heart. Someone to tell me to trust my instincts. Someone to tell me that it was really unbelievably hard this mothering business but that actually I did know what I was doing and it would all be okay soon.
I didn't know.
I didn't know that every priority I thought I had would be shuffled and jumbled up and come out in a new amazing arrangement that would direct the rest of my life. And because of becoming a mother the pieces would begin to fall into place and I would find purpose and meaning in this life beyond anything I had imagined.
I didn't know that becoming a mother would take the identity that I had been working so hard to build for myself and turn it to dust in an instant. And then from that dust a brand new and far more meaningful sense-of-self would slowly emerge and define me for much of my life. Likely all of my life.
I am not only a mother, but being one has been the most powerful force in shaping the person I have become.
Most importantly, I did not know how deeply I could love. I had no idea.
Love was surely deep before motherhood, but I can not compare it to the love I felt for my newborn, nursing away in my arms, eyes darting beneath sleeping lids, counting on me to understand and deliver what he needed in each moment.
Looking back I celebrate all that I have discovered. There is more to learn each day as I strive to grow as a person and as a mother.
To find balance. To be patient. To connect. To play. To live fully in this now. To trust myself, my partner, my child, and the universe.
To be free of worry and fear and find joy in the magic of this day.
I didn't know that becoming a mother would simultaneously be the hardest thing I had ever done and the thing that I would hold closest to my heart. Motherhood would be my most important role ever.
I didn't know that motherhood would change everything.
Originally published in 2011.
I bumped into a mama in town last week who mentioned this post from last year and the impact it continues to have on her parenting.
And really, it's so simple. And can change so much.
I'm sharing it with you again today, in hopes that it might shape the time you share with your own children - this weekend and always..
I had sent the kids outside to burn off their copious energy in the snow.
I poured myself some tea and settled in to a little undisturbed knitting time. A rare treat.
A few rows in the door opened.
"Mama, will you come outside and play with me?"
I sat, silent, mulling over her request.
Because I was relishing my "me time". My selfish time. My tea and my yarn.
A small part of me wanted to be there. For her.
While she still wanted to play with her mama in the snow.
That part of me that was content to put down my needles and go out to play with her.
While she is still small, for one more day.
But then there was the selfish me that wanted to stay right where I was.
Cozy, inside, and alone.
I really wanted that.
And it was a dirty truth, like somehow taking care of me is less acceptable than caring for her.
The martyrdom of motherhood.
I was torn between two truths, two selfs.
The loving, giving, mother-self and the dark and greedy "me-first" self.
(The one who cooks their favorite meals and the one who hides the chocolate.)
But that's rubbish, I decided. Neither was bad; both were authentic.
Both were vital.
So first I would knit. Just a few more rows.
She could wait.
Then I'd give her fifteen minutes.
Because even if I wasn't feeling it I could play for fifteen minutes.
I would finish my tea and then go outside.
For just fifteen minutes.
After that I could come back in and knit.
If I wanted to. Which I was certain I would.
Just fifteen minutes. An easy commitment.
Surely I could muster that.
And so I savored my tea and when it was done I knitted up an extra row, stalling just a little.
The door opened.
"Are you coming, mama? Are you done with your tea?"
Her eyes were bright. She was waiting.
Just fifteen minutes. I could do this.
I was on my way.
Out, into the snow. The fresh air. The togetherness.
We cooked pine needles and bittersweet in her play kitchen.
I pushed her on the swing "all the way up to the sky".
We raced with the dog and then wandered down to the marsh and the creek.
We laughed. Held hands. Pushed each other down in the snow.
At first I was going through the motions, thinking about my knitting and all the work that awaited me back inside. But soon I had lost track of time and lost myself in this pink sky and these blue eyes.
As I found joy in our play I never wondered if the fifteen minutes had passed so that I could go back inside.
Immersed in the moment, I forgot completely about knitting, and tea, and time.
How long did we spend? An hour, maybe two. Even now I'm not sure.
We watched a coyote, an eagle pair, the sunset.
I watched her.
Growing taller before my eyes.
We crossed the creek at dusk, heading into the hills as the light faded.
And I marveled at how I had bought the best part of my day through a bargain with myself to give her fifteen minutes.
Do you have fifteen minutes to spare?
For a story, a walk, a game, a conversation - for connecting deeply with those you love.
What would you find in that sliver of time?
Just for choosing to be present, completely, with these precious ones we love.
Just fifteen minutes.
See where it takes you.
I'm certain you won't regret it.
And with that I'm off. I have a cup of tea and some knitting to attend to.
Because, yes. Caring for myself? That matters, too.
Originally posted in 2015.
You know the saying, "dance like nobody's watching"?
I have my own version.
Okay It's totally different.
But it's still worth remembering.
Mine conjurs an image that's a little less Woodstock and a little more Mr. Rogers.
It's one that I can lean on in my hardest days.
When things get real - like they so often do - just pretend you are not alone.
But more powerful than you might think.
Imagine that in the room with you is someone you respect.
Not anyone who would ever judge you, but someone who's attitude, opinion, and parenting is an inspiration.
Someone who helps you tap into your own patience and compassion.
Whether fictional or real, imagine them at the edge of the room.
Your sister. A friend. Or heck, Mr. Rogers himself.
Then parent like they're watching.
And watch as you find a hidden well of patience and kindness that you didn't even know was there.
Because here's the thing.
When I'm around like-minded friends or even strangers I can rock this.
I'm on my game.
I don't act like a bully or cave to constant distraction.
And when things go haywire I rise when I could dive.
Just knowing others are there gives me the strength I need to draw on.
I suppose that is community - in one form or another.
And yes, accountability.
To see ourselves more clearly through the eyes of another.
To feel like we are not alone.
The truth is, you are not alone.
We are all walking our own paths, but they are parallel.
We're each there doing our own work, just out of each other's line of sight.
And we have up days and down days.
Magical days and disasters.
We all struggle sometimes.
Today I was briefly a jerk to my kids.
They both needed compassion and I was shorter and less tender than I could have been.
And then I realized that I might have acted differently if someone was watching.
Not because anyone else matters more than my child, but because I would have been more self-aware.
It was awakening.
Because my kids are more important than that.
And yours are, too.
So today - wherever you are and whatever goes down - parent like someone is watching.
Someone you adore, respect, and love.
Someone who matters more than anything.
Parent like someone is watching.
Because someone is.
Yes. Of course.
Parent like your child is watching.
Because indeed. And of course.
Originally published in 2014.
Hello there! I am Rachel Wolf. Lover of wild places, blogger, homesteader-in-training, unschooling mama, & owner of LüSa Organics. At home in the hills of the Driftless. Welcome!