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Psychology Today

Why Children Break Your Heart and What to Do About It

A Personal Perspective: Reflections on becoming a more powerful parent.

In my last life, I would have said no.

No time for this and no space for that.

No, I can’t play this game or pick those flowers.

Maybe tomorrow but today, the answer is no.

The hours of the day slipped from me like water through my hand. Was it bedtime already? Quickly again, I tuck growing children into shrinking beds. As I shut the door, I’m relieved to return to my deepest satisfaction: Professional achievement. I grab my computer and sit at the big window, where the willow watches.

Her gentle fingers caress the pond as she patiently awaits my attention. When I look up, she says, ‘If you’re not careful, you’ll miss the glory of your own life.’

“Now, wait a minute,” I start. Let me tell you about all my glory. Let me tell you about my successes, my degrees, and my accolades.

But the willow, she does not care.

She just weeps.

I’m not sure if it was her grief or mine. Either way, the pain pulls me into a deeper connection with power. And I reflect.

As a neuropsychologist, I’m acutely aware that my children’s brain’s most spectacular developmental performance, conducted between the holy period of early childhood, is nearing a close. In these most wondrous of years, more than a million neural connections are formed every second. Tonight, I wonder aloud to the Willow: Have I–in this tiniest sliver of time–been a good enough steward of those countless connections?

I reflect, too, on the majesty of motherhood, the very portal of human life. Research consistently shows that maternal labor is routinely undervalued, and yet the power of motherhood is astounding. Mothers pour the neurologic foundation of the adults they raise.

Most of all, I reflect on the utter power of life. The sheer impossibility of it all: the fact that several human beings climbed out of my vagina, that you can love and hate things at the same time, and that—as far as I can tell—this Willow might save my life.

Under the light of the pregnant moon and the soft midnight breeze, the willow starts to dance. Suddenly, I recall a memory.

Only it’s not from the past.

It’s from the future.

I see the image of that baby boy, the one who sleeps with a microscope and begs to catch fireflies, as a man. A real person who takes meetings and says things like, “Mom, I’m gonna have to call you back.”

As if his Adam’s apple suddenly caught in my own throat, I choke back my grief.

And that tiny girl–the one who still can’t say “y”‘s and asks if she can live with me forever–will one day be ready to go.

This memory from the future reminds me that our time is Now.

In this remembering, I surrender to the full glory of my one holy life. To the power of now.

On the banks of the pond underneath the branches of the willow, I pray for the greatest power of all: The power of surrender.

The sacred magic of yes.

And this time, when the children ask when we can pick flowers, the answer is, “Today, babies. Today.”


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