Pick One

My teacher explained to us that when we are trying to make a decision between two choices, we must realize that there is always another option.  It’s taken me thirty-one years to realize something so simple and when he put it into words it hit me:  I am teaching my three-year-old son that he usually only has two choices.  “Do you want to shut the TV off or do you want me to do it?”  And that’s how I usually get him to shut the TV off, for example.  He wants to do it and he does it with the threat that I would be the one to “press the button,” but I know he didn’t want the fun to end.  He must decide between one of the choices that I give him, and if he picks a third choice I didn’t offer which doesn’t accomplish my goal, I was taught that this is the moment where I am supposed to get frustrated.

I am passing onto him an understanding of limited choices, choices that originate from authority figures.  This is a technique to get little ones to comply, as in the TV example.  It works often and I have used it in desperate measures, like getting him to stop throwing a tantrum that he doesn’t want to hold my hand while we’re crossing the street, and not so desperate ones, like deterring Spiderman cartoons meant for 7-year-olds.  This is also a sales technique as my teacher pointed out, one that I’m sure I’ve used.  His example:  “Would you like to meet at 1 p.m. tomorrow or 5:30 this evening?”  Only two choices – pick one.  And when it happens, ring the bell, we just made a sale!

I didn’t come from a free-spirited home where we were encouraged to be wildly imaginative.  We learned, like most people, rules.  When we abided by the rules we got positive reinforcement.  That’s why I washed the dishes and pushed a massive vacuum twice the size of me at four-years-old.  Not because I wanted to clean.  It was the reward after cleaning; the pat on the back, the “thank you” for helping, the labeling of me as a “helper” and the “clean one” in the family.  After recently reading “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, I felt this enormous sense of confusion:  How am I going to raise a human being to not follow these rigid rules, or accept the “agreements” that I’ve followed all these years?  How am I going to teach him that he doesn’t need anyone’s acceptance but his own and there are always creative solutions to problems,  when here I am relying on giving limited choices and leaning on positive reinforcement to get the behavior want as a mother.  How selfish of me to feel the need to control his behavior to my liking so I can accomplish daily chores and get some “me time” in during his nap.  But then again, how else will I teach him to eat healthy or socialize him to go to school if I weren’t controlling his behavior?   It’s a dilemma I haven’t solved.  But next on my reading list is the topic of mindful parenting.  I’m sure to find answers there.

Life Lesson #8:  If there is a world of choices, there are other alternatives to raising an obedient and rigid child.  When my son takes choice number three that I didn’t offer to begin with, I should celebrate his creative problem solving (I think) and realize he’s giving me the opportunity to rethink the limitations I place on myself and those around me.

Life Lesson #9:  One Choice, Two Choices, Three Choiceseses.  If I choose to see my child as my teacher, possibilities become infinite.

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I’ve always felt a pull towards creating stuff.  And I’m learning that creativity isn’t necessarily a reflection of the deepest darkest pits of our imagination.  Yah, pits.  Each thing I make, even the gluten-free vegan vanilla brownies or the silly flower pens, gives me a feeling of connection to myself and to the potential for human creativity.  So, for Amado’s birthday this year, I wanted to go further than my homemade Thomas train cake from last year’s second birthday.  This year’s theme was Cars the movie.  He had two birthday celebrations.

First we celebrated with his dad’s side and my mom and stepdad.  We mad a chocolate and yellow cake with buttercream frosting  in the shape of a car modeled after Chick Hicks, the antagonist in the movie.  Amado likes antagonists.

Although this car looks nothing like Chick Hicks, Amado made the connection and that’s the most important thing, right?

The following week, I made a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting for my dad’s side of the family.  The aunts thought it looked cute but they really loved the taste.  It wasn’t sweet like other chocolate cakes.  I forgot to tell them it was an organic box cake and not homemade 🙂  I still feel guilty.   A simple free-hand drawing took much less effort than engineering a cake in the shape of a car.  Amado requested Doc Hudson, and so it was.

And though I’m gluten-free, I did have to take a taste for good measure.

"A little statue of Buddha."

Image via Wikipedia

In the time of the Buddha, a woman named Kisagotami suffered the death of her only child.  Unable to accept it, she ran from person to person, seeking a medicine to restore her child to life.  The Buddha was said to have such a medicine.

Kisagotami went to the Buddha, paid homage, and asked, “Can you make a medicine that will restore my child?”

“I know of such a medicine,” the Buddha replied.  “But in order to make it, I must have certain ingredients.”

Relieved, the woman asked, “What ingredients do you require?”

“Bring me a handful of mustard seed,” said the Buddha.

The woman promised to procure it for him, but as she was leaving, he added, “I require the mustard seed be taken from a household where no child, spouse, parent, or servant has died.”

The woman agreed and began going from house to house in search of the mustard seed.  At each house the people agreed to give her the seed, but when she asked them if anyone had died in that household, she could find no home where death had not visited-in one house a daughter, in another a servant, in others a husband or parent had died.  Kisagotami was not able to find a home free from the suffering of death.  Seeing she was not alone in her grief, the mother let go of her child’s lifeless body and returned to the Buddha, who said with great compassion, “You thought that you alone had lost a son, the law of death is that among all living creatures there is no permanence.”

(Excerpt from The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler)

Our 9-day-0ld son passed away just less than 2 months ago.  Hoping to understanding how my Rh Disease would affect a possible future pregnancy, I convinced my husband to meet with the high risk doctors whom I saw during this most recent pregnancy.  So today we spent a couple hours at the hospital and for the first time a Doctor took time to ask us, in depth, how we were doing emotionally.

“I never expected a Doctor would care about that, but obviously that was a misconception, so thank you,”  I said to him, feeling like I insulted and complimented him at the same time.

Later, a social worker who helps grieving parents came to the room and spoke to us about the different support systems we might think about.  What bothered me most wasn’t thinking about our loss, it was her description of others who have also lost a child and some of the physical reminders that they construct of their loss.  For example,  tattooing the infant’s footprint to the parents’ lower legs so as to always be able to say “My child walks with me.”  I teared up at the thought, because it gave me a feeling of being stuck, of not understanding that pain and death is part of life.  I imagined it would feel like wearing a tether.

I still cry but I make more effort in managing my tears.  For weeks now, I have not looked at any of his pictures other than the one next to our wedding picture.  Am I hiding pain?  Am I trying to forget?  I don’t think so.   

I am learning from my son about the awesomeness of life and the impermanence of nature.