A few days ago, seemingly out of nowhere, my 10-year-old son, Clark, declared, “Mom, I believe you’re gonna change the world.” Pause. Come again? “Yeah, you have the biggest brain of anyone I know and you like to help people.” Well. Hmm.
How did Clark know just how much I have been struggling with feeling like a dud, that all I’ve been doing these last few years has made no difference to anyone anywhere? How is it that my youngest child could see in me something I cannot even begin to think is true of myself? I mean, come on—he’s only 10.
Then, my 15-year-old son, Lysander, announced at dinner, “Mom, you are the best chef ever. No one is as good at cheffing than you.” So, I only heated up fish sticks and tater tots. Ok. They are not to be believed.
It is true: parenting is an invaluable job. Still, when others have suggested in response to my occasional malaise that it is the most important job and not to worry about my effectiveness elsewhere, it does not sit well. Parenting is not one person’s job. And when two helm it, the task of raising a child is still in need of support by a community. At present, only women are able to breastfeed an infant. Yet, apart from this singular undertaking there is no question that parenting is not a job best, or even more suitable for women. And while much of my work is done at home, a fair amount impinges on my family by my being away from home. Or, by making my children accompany us such that some days they are asked to be away from very early until well after bedtime. And when I am at home, I am often unavailable to them while I concentrate on writing, researching, planning, and, well, whatever else needs to be done around here.
Lysander is teaching himself how to code. He searches YouTubes and web pages, finding references and resources that can assist him in his quest to develop a 4-D game. Good luck to him! But, he also wants to code software for robots. After spending a great deal of time researching kits and components with which he might apply a heuristic approach to his understanding of robotics, we ordered a kit—that took “foreverrrr” to arrive. Upon opening every single pouch and baggie, and after several hours of experimenting, soldering, and developing his breadboard and Arduino board—yes, I had to google it, too (he truly thought I’d know how to help him program an Arduino board! what was he thinking?!)—I walked into the dining room to see Lysander teaching his younger brother what each component is and actually letting him try out different configurations of wires! When I might expect that he be possessive of his new toy (they were electronic and highly sensitive circuitry, after all), Lysander patiently shared the experience with his younger brother.
It dawned on me that while it is unquestionably important to guide and direct, teach and encourage our children, it is when we bring our life and action on the world it becomes more meaningful. My vocation is the heuristic for my children. While the larger issue by which my guilt is fueled concerns the decided lack of financial contribution my work offers our family, my malaise festers when my soul is starved of grace. And grace is crusted over by the ideas of who I think I should be or what others think I should be or think they know of me. And when I can return to the truth that it is not all about me (or what it is that I should be doing—recall, parenting is a community effort), I can be free of the “optical delusion” Einstein warns against. I remember that just as others contribute to my children’s formation (and to mine!) so, too, do I contribute to the formation of my neighbors’ children.
Here is what Albert Einstein’s quote in context:
“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
By widening my circle of compassion, I am free from the prison of my optical delusion that restricts my perception of what I do to the few people nearest to me. And by living my life in such a way, my children begin to order their lives in a manner that cultivates openness to a wider community—with compassion. My range of influence may seem very small, but it is not isolated. And the more open I am to widening that circle, the more that circle opens still wider and to more spheres. It is in this way that my son’s words—“I believe you’re gonna change the world”—are true. Because it is not just me: it is Clark, and my family, and my neighbors, and my Instagram followers . . . . And, their children and their family and their Twitter followers . . . .
But, Lysander’s assertion that no one is better at cheffing than I? Yeah, there’s no way I can spin that one.