I went to a self-help workshop in which part of the work (for me) was dealing with old sadnesses from childhood. I’d spent some time talking about my mother, mourning how I have always longed for more of a connection to her. She was a very young mother, with very little support and even fewer role models, and she did an outstanding job of figuring it out on her own. But I’m afraid it left her exhausted and with very little room for pillow fights and the kind of fairy tale mother-daughter thing I’d invented in my mind as an ideal. So that was on my mind when I fell asleep that night at the retreat center – sadness and longing and forgiveness.
And then I dreamed that I was standing at a window, and they were passing babies one at a time through the window to me. It was my job to sort them. I was sorting babies. I would hold a baby in my hands, look into its eyes, breathe a few breaths, maybe gently rock it up and down a little, and then declare something like “Oh, this one is going to need a quiet family, he is so so sensitive.” or “This one has a very old soul and should go to someone who has no guidance of her own.” or “Look how hearty she is, it won’t matter where she goes, she’ll be just fine.”
When I woke up, I noticed how familiar that dream was, so I asked myself “what is that like?” And it was instantly clear! It connected directly to a memory of my mother. On the week that I came home from the hospital with my first born, Mom stayed with us for a few nights to help out around the house. That first night, the baby woke up fussy, and I carried him into the living room; which woke up my mom. She asked permission for a turn, speaking gently all the while to each of us, “Oh, let’s see what this baby wants… is he a rocker? Does he want to bounce? Maybe he needs it a little quieter.” She experimented with different holds and was incredibly receptive to him. She wasn’t exhausted, or put out, or shut down – She was present.
And it had taken me almost two decades to notice. I don’t have memory of watching my mother parent us as young children, but I recognized in this most honest and humble exchange, that what she did that night for me and my son was extremely familiar to HER. She’d done it for probably a thousand nights in her life… quietly observing, asking, responding. Not forcing her idea of parenting onto us as children, but inviting us (even non-verbal us) to tell her what we needed. And I KNOW she had no one teach her this.
So in spite of my story of whatever longing I had felt before, I came to realize that in the quiet of her very lonely parenting nights (and days), she saw us. And in her quiet way now, she still sees us, though she is incredibly non-interuptive about it, I can feel it now. And in that instance, the longing evaporated, and the gratitude flowed in effortlessly to take its place.