I’m in a time of my life filled with big changes. I sometimes find myself desperately trying to keep things status quo and keep my routines predictable while trying to hold back from making tough decisions and actions. I alternate between this and trying to redirect back to a place of embracing change, taking inspired action, and not resisting my life moving forward. There are a few areas in which I have a considerable amount of experience and knowledge. Two of these areas are connected in that I’m deciding that I am not going to use this knowledge anymore. I find myself struggling with letting go, as if I’m hoarding all that ever was because maybe one day I’d like to repeat passages of time.
It’s really difficult having a baby. Do you know what would make it more difficult?
I know how to take care of a newborn. This knowledge was hard won. Within a few days of bringing Ezra home I realized while I had been “well prepared,” I had no way of understanding what the lived experience was going to feel like. I was completely bowled over by postpartum activities. The identity shift, lack of sleep, round-the-clock demands on my body to feed my baby while simultaneously recovering from labor, not actually knowing what Ezra’s cries meant yet, and the drastically reduced bonding time with my husband completely depressed me.
I am proud to have gone through the newborn phase. Now that I’m on the other side of it I’m a different person and I am confident in my ability to take care of my baby. Through struggle, I have come to this place of understanding, competence, and joy. From talking to people with more than one child it seems that the second baby is easier because you know what you’re doing more than you did before becoming a parent and you see the newborn phase for what it is: a phase. Truly understanding the impermanence of that phase makes it easier to bear.
The whole time Alex and I have been talking about having kids (we’ve been together a decade) we’ve said we only want to have one baby. But lately I’ve been second guessing that plan. I think that my doubt is partly hesitation to make decisions with absolutes. It’s also partly how much I’ve loved having a baby- my life is so much better because of the constant love I feel. My connections are deeper and all work that I do has become more meaningful. But I think there’s also a part of me that says maybe one more because I have this hard-won knowledge of how to care for a newborn. It almost feels like I’m walking away from precious spoils of war by deciding to never use this knowledge again. Like I got some sort of certification that I will now never use.
The usefulness of useless knowledge
After this semester is over in a little less than three months, I’m quitting work for a few years to be at home with Ezra. I’m not hesitant about whether or not I should stay or go but it is bittersweet because once I leave, the million little pieces of information and particulars that I know about my students is not useful anymore. I have so much special intelligence about so many kids. Being the art teacher, I have every kindergartner through 5th grader in the school come through my classroom at least once a week. I know their names, families, and their quirks. I know when they’re about to do an undesirable behavior. I know which students should not sit next to each other. I know which kids are sensitive and what triggers them. Over the last four years, I have developed an amazing capacity to hold information on a particular group of more than 500 kids and while I know leaving this school is the right decision for me, it feels disappointing to walk away from a place where I hold so much knowledge about so many kids.
It always comes back to impermanence
This week I started teaching my third grade students about Mandalas. Mandalas are detailed, elaborate art pieces made of colorful sand. The word “mandala” loosely translates to “circle.” They’re used as an instrument of meditation and are a representation of life– the mandala appears in all aspects of life: earth, sun, and moon, as well as conceptual circles of friends, family, and community. I’ve been teaching this lesson for a few years and inevitably when I tell my students that at the end of the process, the Mandala is destroyed and the sand is given to spectators and the rest discarded into running water, they all freak out. The reason for destruction to be built into the process is because everything is impermanent. The mandala is made of sand, it’s actually designed to be destroyed. Since the mandala represents life, it demonstrates that nothing in life lasts forever.
I’ve taught this lesson for a few years now and this is the first year that I’ve felt the connection to my own life so deeply. I, too, am destroying and letting go of that which was labored over and created with care. And I realize, like my students, I am also freaking out over the destruction.
Like the mandala, our lives have intricate details that we painstakingly develop over years. In my case, the knowledge of how to take care of a newborn and all the information I have on my particular school that I’ve been teaching at for four years are the intricacies that I’m focusing on. But I’m thinking about these “losses” in a very fixed way when in fact even if I had another baby or stayed at my school, I would still be experiencing those same losses, just over a longer period of time. A second baby would not remain a baby forever and my student body would continue to shift and change until all the students that I am familiar with right now are no longer in elementary school. My mandala would still be destroyed over time.
Even if I didn’t make these big decisions, life would still be deconstructing and rebuilding at a constant rate. Willingly letting go creates room for the new. When I have fought big changes or put them off, my life is still changing and moving forward despite what I would have happen. I end up being battered around by the changes and dragged through them. I end up feeling like life is happening to me instead of feeling like I have any control of my life.
The flip side of scarcity
Mandalas are destroyed but they have been recreated over and over for thousands of years which is actually the very idea of abundance. The mandala is destroyed and recreated over and over.
The underlying message of the mandala ceremony is that nothing is permanent. The point is to let go of what once was. Monks sweep up the mandalas, give away the sand, and release it into water to bless the world. It is destroyed but the word destruction doesn’t seem to fit when it is framed as a blessing.