Tomorrow will be Maya’s four month birthday. At the moment, I’m sitting at a cafe in Marin writing this. An hour prior to this I was at a friend’s home who offered to watch Maya. And I couldn’t quite seem to leave her house. I’ve been devoted over the past few months to solely be Maya’s mom— I know her the best (well, papa knows pretty her well, too); nevertheless, it can feel hard to step away even for an hour.
“How do I get up and go?” I asked Michelle, sitting there, affixed to her wooden floor, alongside Maya.
“Be a person and just walk out.” She responded with a chuckle in her light and loving way.
It’s small moments and nudges like this that seem to keep me afloat during times when it all feels so overwhelming.
As I drink tea and feel my fingers tap against these keys in the flow of writing, I remember a version of myself before Maya. I touch into that space. It’s lovely — it’s s-p-a-c-e. It’s expansive and focused. There’s no “Maya twitch” as my husband and I often joke; this neck muscle turning and constantly checking on her.
This inner space is mixed in with the one I’m getting to know, Maya’s mom. There is a quality of feeling internally stretched — both in a tired, physical bandwidth sorta’ way, and in all the ways I’ve stretched to become a better person over the months because of Maya. She has been an amazing teacher, waking me up to all the ways I can more fully show-up and the places where it’s time to let go.
Generosity Practice — Like a muscle that has been in training, being a mama has taught me about meeting this little being’s needs over and over. It has taught me how to grow in generosity as it’s a constant stream of meeting a need outside of myself— from feeding to napping to playing to burping and soothing. Maya cracked my heart open when she arrived, and the walls that were once there have been coming down. She has cultivated a loving field that makes it natural, on most days, to respond with generosity.
Self-Care Practice — Perhaps the biggest of all practices is learning how to meet myself with the same generosity and loving-kindness. It feels easy to keep giving and giving, an energy that’s becoming a trained habit; and, it’s actually harder to consciously make decisions to redirect this energy internally instead of going only in one direction — outward. This is an ongoing practice for me, and I often need reminders from loved ones.
Being here at the cafe has been one radical act of self-care. Getting back to yoga classes twice a week. Checking in with friends over the phone or via a quick text. Taking moments to pause. Eating a meal without my device. Washing the dishes and feeling the warmth of the water and sponge. Making a list of to-do’s at the beginning of the day, so that my mind doesn’t have to constantly rev on the fly throughout the day. Remembering to breathe a bit more fully into my belly when I’m stressed.
Stay Close— When Maya turned two months and I returned to work part-time, it was really hard. I was rushing to do a load of laundry in between calls, and ran into a friend.
“How’s it going?” Nancy said.
“I just went back to work, and things have been really full.” I said out of breath.
“Full. Hmmm — Is that code for it being hard?” she responded.
“I guess so. But so many parents are working full time and taking care of their kids. I don’t know how they all do it. Eli also just went back to work and seems to not be struggling like I am.”
“Don’t abandon yourself, Cat.” Nancy said with her caring eyes fully present with me — “Stay close.”
Just as it can be easier at times to keep giving and giving, instead of stopping to check in, it can be easy for me to shrug off the challenges I feel. It’s scary to feel incompetent as a parent; that I’m behind on the things I used to be able to keep up with (like, friends, the mail, the closet and emails); that my husband and I are stumbling into a little spat again; and, that the apartment is a total mess. And that this transition from only-self-wife to self-mama-wife, to self-mama-wife-work is hard. It can be easier to focus on other people instead of turning towards my own struggles.
I’m learning to acknowledge that becoming a parent and unifying as a family is one of the most enlivening, joyful and hardest things in the world. And that this is a huge transition. And that I can’t always be on top of things, and that sometimes I need to just cry and cry — and that is okay.
Creating Space — My Zen Teacher gave me some of the best advise in the first few weeks of giving birth to Maya. She said to let the external environment hold things — journaling the frustrations, thoughts, confusions. Anything that needed expression, to allow it to go into an external space and to not keep it stacked inside. As the more room I had internally, the room space there was for Maya.
Letting Go & Joy Practice — I’ve been learning that part of my self-care is to find activities that bring me joy while I’m with her. Instead of some “supposed” idea — like, I should be playing with her in this particular way or it should totally be dead-silent when I put her down for naps or I should be following the nap schedule in this militant way each and every day — dropping these ideas creates a lot more room for joy, spontaneity and being able to meet what is actually present.
Yesterday, as I was about to put her down for a nap, Maya starts babbling in this adorable drool-filled way. At the time, I did not think it was adorable. And more so that it was an indicator of prolonged wake time. My mind reactively went to the rushed place it habitually goes to — “Go to sleep, go to sleep, hurry up and go to sleep, so I can get to my to do list!’ Being able to clearly hear this anxious story reel in my mind, I noticed that I was not present. And decided to shift to be present for her. What I then noticed was that Maya clearly had something to say. And, when I listened and responded to her babbling drool talk with curiosity and a gentle tone, she softened and went to sleep (and rather quickly!).
Teacher Has Arrived — I was sitting a meditation retreat earlier this year, pregnant, and Jon Kabat-Zinn (a renowned mindfulness teacher) was facilitating.
He said to me, “Your greatest teacher is arriving. You do not need to live at the Zen Center anymore.”
I remember feeling confused — not really understanding what he meant. I’ve often heard this sentiment that our children are our best teachers, and conceptually had an idea.
Now, I’m getting it.
Thank you, Maya, for these incredible four months of life and becoming my greatest teacher. ❤