“Shh, mama, it’s sleepin’,” she’d whisper with her eyes closed and a finger pressed to her lips. I never understood why she thought the moss was sleeping, but I do know that her wonder unlocked my own.
We’d carry her treasures home and she would reverently place them around the house. As her sisters were born, the piles of treasure multiplied. When she started kindergarten we walked to school past those same trees and still she’d say, “Shh, mama, shh, it’s asleep.”
Five years have passed and she’s a sixth grader in a district with school buses. We still take walks and reminisce about the creatures who live in the trees, but our walks are peppered with heavy questions about ISIS, political debates and suicides in our community.
It isn’t just the bus, it’s having the news on at school and having access to the Internet, none of which I’m against. Oblivion isn’t something I wish for my kids, but I do want to allow space for joy. Over the past year we have had frank conversations about racism, global warming and lock down drills. I try to put things in context while letting her form opinions of her own. I can see when she and her sisters begin to get tired, the enormity of the topics exhausting them. These are the times when tapping into something restorative becomes critical to emotional balance.
There isn’t a parent among us who can plan for every eventuality or protect their child from sadness, but there are things we can do. There are pep talks for parents with anger issues, tips and tricks for people to use on a diet and 12 steps for addiction. Can the worship of little things survive? Is there such a thing as parenting for optimism? I want to operate like there is.
They say to get perspective you need a little distance; in my experience the best way to do that is to move. Get up and change your view, which I used to let my kids lead, but now it’s my turn.
On a small scale, it means weaving every day responsibilities with positivity. Rather than hating the chore of cleaning up after a meal, we can look forward to setting bread crusts in the bird feeder and laughing as the squirrels hold it in their little claws like corn on the cob. On a larger scale, it’s the idea of finding ways to offset the stress of outside influences so that we can draw a deep breath and be aware of something else.
How else can we facilitate joy?
Create a makeshift obstacle course, and if you have pets, get them in on the game — call the dog, trail a ribbon behind you to entice the cat. Even better, do it in socks and laugh.
Take a walk without a destination, and move with enough effort that you begin to pant or go so slowly that you don’t make a sound. Feel how your shoulders drop without effort.
Write a note to one another or draw a picture in soap on the mirror.
Stack wood for the fire. It’ll clear your mind and make kids feel a part of the “grown up” work.
Sprint up and down the driveway. You can race or match one another step for step, instead of running you can walk with high knees or tiptoe. The trick is to move in a way you wouldn’t normally. Doing this even once is a surprising reset.
The idea is to practice these seemingly inconsequential activities simply to feel happier. Because the bad stuff isn’t going away, but neither is the good. We just have to let it in. Think back to the thing that gave you hope and breathe it in deep.
On my darkest day, I can still spot a patch of fluffy, green moss and remember the balm of my daughter’s voice whispering, shh, it’s sleeping.
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