From The Children Shall Lead Us by Lynne Twist.

     Eventually, instead of going to an office, I was going to New York and then to Ethiopia, India and Botswana. 

     Of course, at the same time I was trying to feed the world, my own children were growing up rapidly. And even though I hired a nanny and my husband Bill was a very stable influence and an emotionally-involved dad, it was still a challenge for me to be away from them. Bill had a full-time career too. By the end of the first year of the Hunger Project, I was riddled with guilt. I had missed the Spring Sing, I wasn’t at the soccer championships, and I didn’t make the Halloween costumes and Christmas cookies anymore. I was in Ethiopia during the parent-teacher conference. My life was exciting, full and rich, but I was over-stretched, over-committed and overcome with the fear that I was somehow abandoning my own children in my work to save the children of the world. 

      My work exposed our children to people and cultures that were amazing. Since the Hunger Project’s main office was in San Francisco, we had guests coming to the city for trainings, and they would stay at our house. It was normal to have some Ethiopian folks staying on the third floor and some people from India in the guest room.  My kids got to sit at the dinner table with all of these people every night. Nevertheless, I was gone a lot and was a wreck over it. I loved my work and I loved my children and I couldn’t reconcile the two.

     I would come back from a trip to Ethiopia, Ghana or Bangladesh and sit down with my kids. I would hear about all the good things and the bad things going on in their lives. I would hear about the things I had missed: the drama performances, the orthodontist, a slumber party or the Girls Scout badge ceremony. I would hear about missing Summer getting a ribbon for the best-written essay or poetry contest. I would hear that I had missed Billy’s audition for the school play. I had not been there to help with Zack’s science experiment. Not being there for important things flooded me with guilt and regret. I realized in one of these moments that I had to confront these feelings and share them with Bill and the children. So I asked for a family meeting. By now, Billy was eleven, Summer was nine and Zack was seven. We all sat down on the carpet in the family room. I looked at their beautiful faces. Bill, as always, was handsome, strong, loving and centered. Billy was tall and lanky and looked at me with blue eyes beneath dark hair with boyish bangs. Beautiful Summer had radiant angelic long blond hair and big baby blue eyes. Little Zack had tussled blond hair, blue eyes and an innocent, round face. They all looked back at me expectantly. We held hands in our circle for a moment or two, then my eyes filled with tears.

     “I love you all so much,” I began. “I don’t really mean to be gone so often. I hate missing so many school events and I am so sorry I haven’t been here….”

     I started sobbing. Then I heard myself say, “I am so committed to ending world hunger and I know this is something I am supposed to do with my life. But you are also my life, so I need to join the two somehow.”

     I paused to blow my nose and I took a deep breath. “And so,” I continued, “I want to ask for your permission to keep going.” 

     There was such stillness. The room was so quiet that I could hear my own heartbeat. I could see the rays of evening fall light outside the windows. Then my daughter Summer said something incredible.

     “Mom, mom it’s okay. Don’t cry,” she said as she put her arms around me.  “If you can end world hunger then we don’t want you driving us to the orthodontist because someone else can do that!” The way she exaggerated the word orthoooodonnntist made us all start laughing. 

     “We’re so proud of you,¨ she continued, “and none of the other moms are as exciting as you are. No other families have the friends we do from all over the world. When we have vacations, we don’t go to Disneyland like the other kids. We go to Micronesia or the Philippians or Indonesia or Hong Kong.”

    My eleven-year-old son Billy said, “Yeah mom, we have the greatest life!”

    Then the little one, Zack, who I really felt guilty about because he had been so small when I started the project, said, “Mom,I’m so proud of you. We love you so keep doing it. That way we get to do it too!”

     I realized then that they had been part of the Hunger Project all along. They used to come to my office after school and do their homework under my desk and answer the phone and help us with mailings. I realized that it wasn’t just my cause but it was theirs too. I had become so guilt-ridden because I had not been mothering them in the traditional way that I was mothered. When they were born, I hadn’t even imagined that I would ever have a career. I had a picture in my mind of what it meant to be a “good mother” and that picture had made me blind.

From It’s All A Form of Grace by Shana Stanberry Parker.

     We moved to San Miguel de Allende and stayed there for only four months. One night, she didn’t come home. She showed up at 10 a.m. the next morning, having gone to an out-of-town party with no phone or transportation back. Then there was the time at 2 a.m. I had to call the aunt and uncle of a new friend of Bodhi’s to ask them to drive me into the hills to find her at a concert. My body was riddled with anxiety. I discovered that there is no drinking age in Mexico and she had begun “flapping out of the nest” before I trusted her to fly. I made plane reservations for us to come back home. I had anticipated that this facet of our love would look like an adventure. Now I realized that it was more important to turn to the facet of love that was loyal to her safety and my sanity.

     I had hoped that being back home would be more like it used to be, but there was no stopping this burgeoning adolescent tidal wave from crashing full force. I had no frame of reference for the anger that came at me when I tried to set limits on the amount of phone time or computer time.  I had no frame of reference for being a loving disciplinarian against such a force of will. A mother bird would never have this dilemma! She knows in her minuscule marrow when the day arrives for flying lessons. The flapping, the taking off and landing in place, the branch walk and the solemn warnings about four-leggeds. She has these lessons in the reflexive nature of her being. She knows when a sharp beak to the baby is simply serving. But in this human nest, I had to get through layers of fear to see how to teach her to fly safely without dying in the process. At fifteen, she seemed on the brink of self-destruction. The combination of constant marijuana use, isolating herself in her room and disrespectful interaction set off the alarms again. Terrified, I turned to the possibility that a new facet of love was being called for. One that was as fierce as that of caretaking Dove. I knew that we had to send Bodhi somewhere else to get the support none of us could give her and to keep her safe. And so, after much exploration, I found a wilderness program and then a therapeutic boarding school to send her to. I trembled as I watched them drive her away. My fear of loss was rekindled but my love in the form of loyalty to her safety was steadfast. She did well and was able to finish the tenth grade, but her anger was not resolved.

      By the next week, she was home and enrolled in her old high school. But all too soon she dropped out and demanded to have control of her own life. I hired a parent coach and a teen mentor to support me in my quest to let go of my fear again, which showed up as a need for control.  How does flying 201 go? I was determined to see if giving her the freedom she wanted would allow her to create her own path. We all hoped that taking the power struggle out of our relationship would leave her with a void that she could fill with her own passions, her own goals and her own capacities for self discipline and transformation. But it did not. By the winter I could see she was treading water. I had grown through many layers of my own fear. I was finally sleeping again at night. We often went out for sushi and laughed and shared and felt close. I adored her! But sweet times of connection did not change the fact that she was still drowning.

     Bodhi began to spend her nights out more and more frequently. There were reports of more raves on the glamorous teenage horizon. A landscape filled with eye candy and street psychedelics. It became apparent that my deep well of mother’s magic had to be tapped once again. I had to find something that would create more glamour in her mind than her new boyfriend, more inspiration than her new found freedom, more intrigue than the endless parade of Pearl Street mall rats that quickly became her friends, piling up on the contact list on her cell phone. It took approximately five days to come up with an option. Carpe diem Education seemed like a perfect name. She agreed to go to India for three months.

      Finally, after three weeks of a whirlwind of preparation, packing and planning for any emergency, we were at the airport and she was leaving for her adventure.  I watched her boarding the top step of the escalator, her eyes still teary from our heartfelt goodbye. Her face lit up when she saw me. In one swift motion, she straightened her fingers and put them to her lips, blowing a kiss my way. True to our tradition, I quickly caught it in mid- air, closed my hand around it and slapped it on my ass! Then I returned the gesture for her to catch the kiss and plant it firmly on her own. The kiss exchange, two clicks of the camera on my cell phone, several heart palpitations and then she disappeared from view.

From Terrors in the Night By Barbara Dash.

Dawn. January 15th. High alert. Black winged shadows swept across the skies as the Israeli air force patrol went on guard to prevent Iraqi aircraft from infiltrating Israeli borders. Richard had been called to reserve duty.

     The streets were emptied by late afternoon. The usual sounds of giggling children disappeared, sucked up by a vacuum of fear. A numbing quiet settled over the town center. We knew the Israeli government had made the excruciating decision to cooperate with the United States, forcing its population to absorb the first strike. We felt like sitting ducks, waiting for the first attack.

     It was late evening on January 16th, the day after Richard left for the army. While scrubbing red plastic dishes clean from our dinner of flaky sesame seeded crusted barakas, I heard the crunching of footsteps outside our kitchen window. The aged and battered white wooden front door opened. There stood Richard, exhaustion etched in his face as he swept me up in his strong arms. My fingers grasped his musty army jacket reeking with jeep oil fumes, clinging to his reassuring presence in a desperate wish never to let go. Buried in his soft neck, I breathed in the faint sweetness of his duty-free Paco Rabanne aftershave. “Daddy! Daddy!” shrieked Emanuel and Talya, as they slid around the corner from their bedrooms, jumping at full speed for a spin. The children clutched their dad's neck and cried unashamed. This really hit hard for me. I knew how grueling it was for all of us to watch him go off to war. The four of us burrowed together on our tattered brown couch while time stood still. Richard’s short army reprieve would be over soon. He had to return to the base by dawn.

     At three o'clock in the morning on January 17th, we were awakened by the piercing ring of the telephone. Richard's hand quickly grabbed the receiver as I leaned over. I realized that the voice at the other end was relaying hard information. It was a close friend telling us that he just received a call from the States. Israel was under attack. CNN was monitoring the missile launch from Baghdad.

     Suddenly, sirens screamed blood-curdling, ear-splitting sounds that cleaved through the night, immediately joined by a loud, pulsating attack alert signal delivered from the television that we had left on in the living room. Everything in my awareness was pushed aside. My muscles came to immediate attention, tensed to alertness. Millions of possibilities flew through my head, but only one counted. Richard and I gathered our sleeping children. They were thrashing about in our tired arms, not yet fully aware of the danger. “Wake up, sweethearts, wake up now.” He and I deftly functioned as one, stretching the large thick polyethylene plastic barrier over the inside doorway of Emanuel's room, ripping tape along its edges, checking for any air holes, completing the sealed enclosure with a wet towel to keep the gas from wafting under the door.

     We ran around making last minute adjustments with incredible alacrity. Adrenaline pumped in our veins, sweat drenched every fiber of clothing, and we struggled to gasp for air from all the tension. As we put on our masks and sealed our plastic tomb, an eerie whizzing roared above our heads, sending chills down my neck. My heart skipped a beat as my throat constricted with fear. My world seemed to shatter into thousands of thin, fragile crystals, fragmented as the high-pitched whine seeped inwards. A missile. Somewhere deep in my psyche, I surrendered to an impending death.

     Nine-year-old Talya began to panic. Her arms thrashed about wildly, little fingers tugging at her gas mask, frantically trying to escape its smothering grasp. A frenzy of uncoordinated movements exploded from her body. Sensing her terror, I immediately held her and began to rock her, caressing her shoulders, speaking calmly, keeping her hands from yanking the mask off. But fear spread over her, ripping away any semblance of coherent presence. Richard joined me at once and together we calmed the tornado of energy that whirled turbulently through her.

     “I remember how much we relied on you and Dad…you were symbols of strength and protection in our lives,” said Emanuel. “Yet, that night changed everything for me. I realized that you were powerless to protect us if a bomb struck. In a strange way, it was very humanizing. I realized that my parents weren’t Gods…It forced me to grow up in a new way. Feeling the comfort of your stability made that transition easier.”

     Those heavy odorous rubber and plastic masks swallowed our faces, sucking on our skin for what seemed endless hours that first evening, allowing only flat, lifeless air into our aching lungs. No one was allowed to sleep, since it could have dislodged the gas mask. Sometime around four in the morning, government announcements over our portable radio released us from the sealed rooms. Richard fitfully closed his eyes for no more than an hour before reluctantly departing for the Air Force barracks.

From Taming the Dragon by Shea Adelson

God, grant me the serenity …

The Dragon Lady snorts, takes a deep breath in and tries to let it out slowly. Again, in and out, but this time the fire gate opens and a puff of smoke presses out, dark gray and ominous like a threatening sky, turning the air sickly green. I see this in my mind and I sense it like a smoke signal: danger is coming.

     Ironically, to me at least, the Dragon Lady is not exactly the voice of my mother. The words are hers, more or less. She was my main parent and disciplinarian and just said more to me in general over the years. In times of stress, when I yell, I find myself saying word-for-word the same quick, desperate pleas and mean phrases that I sometimes heard when she was desperate. “You are driving me crazy!” she’d snarl.

     But, in its essence, the Dragon Lady is actually my dad. My brother and I named him Rhinoceros Face, recognizing his temper as young children. My dad was playful and quiet most of the time, but at the moment his line was crossed, he would draw his face into bunched-up creases of eyes, mouth and nose right into the center of his face, so that it would seem like a horn had grown straight from that spot. We got scared when we saw this transformation, and we would run. I remember emerging from my room and seeing a hole in the door from a Rhino episode. His rage of temper and quick loss of control is mine now. I feel it under the surface, the way a shadow in the ocean might warn of a looming, potential threat.

     This threat seems to grow larger if I have not had enough sleep. I have fewer internal resources with which to notice the alarming shape and steer clear of it. Therefore, what turned out to be hardest for me as a parent is anything to do with sleep. Basically, I am afraid of not getting enough of it. I transfer my worry to my daughter, Maxine, not getting enough of it. Thus, this angry beast I inherited will often come out around naptime. At naptime, I am most dangerous. I am alone, really alone. All my supportive mom friends are home doing their own rest-time ritual, and Jon, my husband, is slaving away at work. I have no back up. There is no village. I am stuck with my child, and it’s getting later and later each minute she delays, has to poop, needs a snack, must tell me again that she “will see me later.” It’s always the same. I feel the sensation of panic. I ruminate and anticipate. I think to myself: She will not go down. She will not get the rest she needs for us to have a happy afternoon. She will not go down so I can get away from her and rest my own body and mind, get the work done I promised, make the call I scheduled, get the chore complete so I stop tripping on the farm animals in the living room and walking around with dog hair in my mouth and on my skirt. She will not go down…

     And so, I go down. I watch, feeling helpless, as this monster I know so well emerges from a charred hole in my heart and makes her wretched entrance with a storm of anger, fear and loud words. This hole is my cave of sorrow, an emotional center linked to the past and imprinted with all my undone frustration and grief. I feel as if I’ve slipped away from my daughter, and I fear I will never return. But there is a twist.

From Feeling Full by Jane Falla

     Oh look, here it is—dinnertime—and June Cleaver and Martha Stewart are nowhere to be found. Instead, there’s me alone in the kitchen. The clock is ticking, the kids are starving, and I’m dangerously close to inhaling a brownie.

     Instead, I check the contents of my emotional refrigerator. Oh, beautiful. Here’s what I find: my staples of fear, frustration, fatigue, and a generous sprinkling of resentment. I’ve spent the week working, and the weekend cleaning, doing laundry and grocery shopping. I’m wearing ratty jeans and a t-shirt, my hair hangs limp, and my makeup consists of lip balm. And despite all of my proselytizing about food, my own waist is bulging from twenty extra pounds.

      I scamper around the kitchen like a lunatic, a frenzied squirrel gathering nuts for the winter that’s coming too soon.

     What happened to all those pictures we’ve seen of women who are beautifully poised, placing platters on a checkered fabric tablecloth surrounded by beaming faces?

What is it that I’m serving my kids for dinner? Indecision? Confusion and doubt? Insecurity? Stress? The desire to get one more thing from my day done and over with?

     I’m doing the math and something doesn’t compute: responsibility, X; two kids, X; tightening budget, X; time constraints, X; feeling alone and afraid, X. Did I really sign up for this?  It only takes one second of seeing my kids to know the clearest thing I’ve ever known. Yep, I did sign up for this. And it’s all that matters.

     I mean, just look at them. At nine, Liam is a rubber bandall legs, dirty blonde hair and soulful hazel eyes. Aidan’s sweet face at five is a full moon, his head topped with red curls that you can’t help buy run your fingers through. Nothing else sparkles likes these ingredients. Nothing else could be so pure.

     I taste life’s bittersweetness: my precious kids, the lack of time to savor them and the days melting away like ice cubes.

     Buddy Hackett used to say that his mother had two items on the menu—“take it or leave it.” I want to take my time with my kids. I want to leave behind every stupid little thing that doesn’t matter.  I want to eliminate the rush, the bad habits, the busyness and the pressure to do it all right.  Underneath it all, I know I’m seeking true nourishment for us and, ultimately, for the entire world. I want to figure out the right chemistrya magical blend of intuition and intellect. How I’m here, how I feel, is as much a part of the plates I put out as the selection of food. Love has got to be the main ingredient. What do I want my kids to rememberme or the meatloaf?

From Embracing the Bad Mother By Charlotte Z. Rotterdam

     Before I was ever pregnant I had, of course, that romantic notion that children who play with toy guns have been brought up in environments that condone their use. My child, brought up on a Buddhist retreat center surrounded by 700 acres of wilderness, receiving an early childhood Waldorf education, should not, by my thinking at the time, be prone to the enticements of physical violence and its large spectrum of accouterments. I was wrong. Mateo started liking toy guns when he was less than three. At four-and-a-half, his admiration for warfare showed no signs of abating; with age and greater awareness his imaginary arsenal has grown to include grenades, bombs, fighter jets, missiles, submarines and land mines. When he was small, I would try to redirect his imagination, transforming guns into ”love guns” that shot bullets of sweet compassion into their fortunate victims. For a while, Mateo obliged me, but just me, because he knew that “Mama doesn't like guns.”

     Despite my early attempts at redirecting Mateo's interest, I had to give up at some point and simply admit that he liked guns and I did not. And I did not like the fact that he liked guns. I would be busy making dinner in the kitchen, hearing him shooting imaginary guns at imaginary people, blowing up buildings, crashing fighter jetsand my heart would sink. I tried to remind myself of the inherent perfection of all things, even fighter jets, but I had to admit that I just didn't like it. Sometimes, I would grant Mateo's requests to tell him about war; there are plenty of stories gleaned from my family's experience of two world wars in Europe and Mateo's father's years as a conscripted South African officer in the Angolan War. But there were times I just had to tell him I could not talk about it anymore; I didn't want to talk about people killing each other, about war planes and bombs and destruction. A strange silence would ensue.

     How do I deal with the fact that I don't like my son at these times? How can I uncover the “mirror-like wisdom” of my aversion? For one thing, my critical response to Mateo's behavior forced me to look at my own preconceptions of what is “good” and “bad.” As open as I like to think I am, I have certainly created a line between what I consider positive and negative, and war, guns, fighter jets and all their cousins lie well beyond the line of what is acceptable.

     As I became more accustomed to the plays of war and bristled less, Mateo began inviting me in. One day he invited me to take one of his airplanes and play fighter jets with him. “Okay,” I said, and with full gusto, I entered the war zone. Zhooom, the planes flew, dropping bombs on each other, crashing into one another, their helpless pilots escaping via parachute from the burning cockpits. Then we would quickly “fix” the planes and resume our attacks on each other. I went for it and gave it all I had. And it wasn't really so bad. I enjoyed the connection with my son, and, to some degree, the energy of disliking war games finally found an outlet and release in the very enactment I had been avoiding. And then, long before I had tired of our game, Mateo said, “Okay, now they're sick of fighting. They want to be friends.” And that was it. We “fixed” our planes one last time and moved on to helping each other find food and bandage our wounds. The war was over. And somehow, in diving in, the inner fight was over too.

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