A few weeks ago, my partner was away on a business trip for a few days. This made the typical chaotic mornings more chaotic. Still, I managed to feed and dress both myself and my daughter, and I even did a 15 minute yoga-ish practice (which mostly involved squirming around on my daughter’s nursery floor and then fighting her off my head as I did down-dog). With a few minutes to go before our caregiver arrived, I was feeling pretty successful. A-1 mom material. Everyone’s teeth were brushed. I was ready for work, fancy dress shoes on. I sat down on the couch with the last of my coffee and played with my daughter as she ran in and out of the room. And then three things happened in quick succession. First, I received a text, so I looked down at my phone. Second, I reached for my cup of coffee and held it to my mouth, taking a sip. Lastly, my daughter picked up a large purple ball and threw it at my head.
The good news is that I did not get burned by hot coffee. As every mother everywhere knows, there is no such thing as hot coffee anymore. I felt the coffee slosh over me, and I shut my eyes, feeling various emotions arrive in slow motion: frustration, exasperation, exhaustion, humor. And then I did something that the pre-mama me would not have done: I took a deep, deep breath and calmly said, “come on, kiddo, let’s go find mama some new clothes.”
My daughter should probably not be throwing balls at people’s heads, but in my household we have rather foolishly invented a game that involves bouncing a huge, lightweight ball off each other’s heads. Making up this game is not what you’d call “playing the long game” when it comes to parenting. Still, her ball-tossing, coffee-throttling move was of my own making, and I know her intention was to play that game. I had no right to be upset with her. But even more surprising (given my usual temper-ridden self) is that I didn’t feel that mad. Or I did for a moment, but it passed quickly. It came, I saw it, I let it go.
In yoga, we talk a lot about letting go in moments like this. We talk a lot about letting go in genral. Instructors encourage their students to let go of the pre-yoga day at the start of the practice. The phrase “let go of the things that no longer serve you” (whatever that means) is ubiquitous in classes. Savasana is all about the big letting go: it provides an immediate experience of relief and mimics the ultimate letting go that we all face at the end of life.
But no where do we practice letting go more often or with such intensity than in our experience of dealing with our children. My daughter can go from kissing and hugging me to whacking me in the face with lightening speed, and I have to keep up–responding with appropriate love and discipline as the moment dictates. And while I certainly lose my temper sometimes, much of parenting without guilt is trying to avoid just that. (None of us want to feel badly about our tempers, however inevitable that is sometimes.)
I often try to untangle which has made me more patient and present: being a parent? Or being a yogi before and while becoming a parent? Both of these things play a role: having a regular-enough yoga practice, a place to come and be present with myself allows me to be present and patient (more often, anyway) with my daughter. But being a parent to a growing and changing being–seeing my daughter grow and change daily—is a visceral reminder that everything changes, always. I draw on all of it in the moment I’m able to truly let go—like letting go of coffee-soaked clothes on an otherwise pretty good morning.
Still, yoga is the constant reminder, and the chance to practice this. Our mats are a microcosm of what happens off the mat. When I feel frustrated with my body, my balance, my practice on the mat, I get to practice deep breathing, patience, and letting go. Every time I experience that on the mat, I’m more prepared for a flying ball to ruin my morning–and to handle it with grace and equanimity. I did have to take off every single article of clothing I was wearing, by the way, including my shoes and underwear, which were both soaked with coffee. I let go, alright—right down to my bare skin.