A few weeks ago I found myself sitting in the audience of my son Ezra’s Winter Assembly, a beautiful all-school event held in a big, festively decorated auditorium. Every class, 1st through 8th grades, had prepared an adorable and/or poignant presentation~ a dance, a song, or a poem.
When it was time for the 3rd grade, I watched Ezra (9) march onto stage with his classmates, sweetly self-conscious as he found his spot in line. As the class began to recite their Winter poem, I noticed the subtle social engagement happening between Ezra and his smiling friends, even while obviously trying hard to behave in the spotlight. I could not help but notice the consistent attention my son seems to effortlessly inspire from his surrounding peers.
Perhaps I was particularly focused on the social dimension of Ezra’s moment, because our move to Ashland 6 months ago was an unexpectedly difficult social transition for Ezra. Our sole family extrovert, Ezra has always seemed to derive an especially important sense of belonging from his friendships. Since our move in early July I have needed to hold space many times for my son’s sorrowful disappointment and blaming rants, furious at me for moving him away from his precious network of young friendships in Sonoma County. Of course we all know that moving is hard, and it can take time to transition into a new community. But I really hadn’t planned for the move being so painfully difficult for Ezra’s social sense of himself, and how upsetting it would be in moments to presence his distress.
Recently, thankfully, the tides have seemed to be finally shifting. School has become a much sweeter topic of conversation, and more and more often when I pick him up at the end of the day, he has some freshly joyous story of recess fun, of deepening friendship with peers and strengthening kinship with teachers. What a relief to sense his social spirits have been wonderfully and finally looking up.
Ezra’s growing edge of emotional maturity at age 9 to my perception is all about taking responsibility for his own experience. When triggered and challenged, he has had a tendency of defaulting to a victim stance, while angrily blaming, pointing the finger outside himself, and comparing his present misery with a nostalgic fixation on the seemingly perfect glory of the past. Supporting his evolving peace has often found me attempting to skillfully navigate the delicate edge between compassionately empathizing and affirming his feelings, while reminding him that he is fully responsible for his own experience~ powerfully capable of creating both joy and suffering for himself depending on what story he is telling himself. (We sure do have our work cut out for us as stewards of the next generation of leaders, don’t we?!)
Back to the Winter Assembly night.
After it was all over, I went and found Ezra where he stood, beaming happily shoulder to shoulder with several young friends. My heart leapt for him, taking in this refreshing sight of budding friendship. I gushed: “Wow~ you guys were amazing tonight!” He smiled at me, nodding, glancing towards his friends on either side, clearly feeling proud to be connected to a larger whole. I asked, “Are you ready to go now my Love?” He tossed a cheery “Bye!” to his friends, placed his warm hand in my own, and we joined the crowds walking slowly up the aisles towards the building’s exit. As we walked outside and scurried in the cold back to our car, Ezra’s exuberant heart overflowed, bubbling: “That was so much fun, Mom! I love that my school does big community events like that! The kids all said I looked like a BUTLER in my vest and tie, Mom.” He was smiling and laughing as he recalled the brightest moments of his evening.
As soon as we got into the car, before we had even put our seat belts on, Ezra’s mood spontaneously and unexpectedly changed! His tone of voice suddenly turned bitter, and he said with a heavy heart: “I sure do miss my old friends and teachers at my old school.” Instantly I felt my own heart get tight inside my chest, knowing the emotional contraction for Ezra that was sure to follow these sentiments. This sudden shift in him really felt like such a self-sabotaging expression to me~ almost as though by allowing himself to feel his authentic joy from the evening he was threatening his loyalty to his old life? And so I said: “I know you miss your old friends and teachers, Love. But what a beautiful night with your new friends and new teachers? You are allowed to love your new life, Ezra, right alongside loving your old one.” But the mood had changed, and Ezra had decided to align with misery. He slumped angrily down in his chair, then hissed bitterly in my direction (for maybe the hundredth time since July): “Why did you even decide to move us here, Mom?! California was FINE. I LOVED it there.”
Annoyed and saddened that such a sweet and celebratory night with my son was turning in this sour direction, I said firmly: “Ezra, I’m sorry but I just can’t have this conversation again with you right now.” And then, (somewhat brilliantly) I had the insight to try and let music take care of this challenging moment for us.
Without saying another word, I put on Ben Harper’s song “With My Own Two Hands.” Starting the 20 minute drive home, I put the song on repeat, playing it pretty loud over the speakers in our car. I prayed the powerful voice and message of this man would reach my young son’s hurting heart, as he sang: “I can change the world, with my own two hands, make a better place with my own two hands, make a kinder place.. with my own two hands! I can make peace on earth, with my own, with my own, with my own two hands! I’m gonna make it a brighter place, a safer place; I’m gonna help the human race, with my own two hands…”
After a few minutes of driving along, I glanced over and saw tears streaming down Ezra’s face. He looked sweetly and sacredly humbled. Slowly, gently, without saying a word, I placed my hand near his lap, which he quickly picked up in his own hand, squeezing tight, letting me know he was getting the message.
When we got home and pulled in the driveway, I turned off the car, right as the song synchronistically came to a close again, and for a moment we sat quietly together in the dark quiet of the car. With deep sincerity, Ezra offered up: “I’m so sorry I changed the energy Mom. I really did have a good time at the assembly tonight, and I’m really sorry I started to make suffering for us.” Tears rushing to my eyes, I pulled him close to me, and whispered: “Thank you so much for seeing that and taking responsibility for that, Ezra. You are so beautiful in your learning. I’m very proud of you.”
A couple days later, as I was cooking dinner, Ezra came bounding into the room, with a kind of urgency about him, and said: “Hey Mom~ can we please put on that song again? You know that Ben Harper song, ‘With my Own Two Hands’ ??” I turned to him in response, saying: “Sure Baby. You mean right now?” Ezra answered: “Yeah~ I was just downstairs in my room, and I was starting to feel sorry for myself. Like I was starting to tell myself a sad story about my life, and missing California. And I was remembering how the last time I was feeling sorry for myself about that, you put on that song for me, and it was just, like, amazing. How it changed everything.” 🙂
My heart bursting, I asked him: “What do you hear when you listen to this song?” And Ezra said simply: “I hear that anyone can change the world, just by being ourselves. Just by deciding to bring peace to the world, we can. Like right now, with our own hands, our own bodies and own hearts.” He shrugged adorably, smiling at me, adding: “I guess. Or something like that…??”
I found my phone, connected it to the speaker, and put the song on LOUD. The words bounced off the living room walls, filling our home with truth, reminding us of our extraordinary power, inside the daily choices we make~ to share our hearts, to communicate peace, to shift the energy, to invite a vital change in perspective; indeed: “to change the world, with our own two hands.”
Parenting is so challenging; the most ruthlessly challenging path I know~ in how it humbles us to our knees, bringing us to the hardest edges of patience and compassion within us; painfully mirroring our limitations, our vulnerable attachments and preferences, while stretching our raw hearts open in unforeseeable ways. How grateful I am for all my precious allies in parenting~ from the grounding presence of surrounding mountains, to my children’s many soul aunties and uncles, teachers and mentors; from the comforting silence of shimmering candlelight on my altar, to the musicians who so powerfully speak to my children’s hearts in moments when I’ve reached the edge of my own skillfulness, and truly have nothing more I can say.
What could be more important for the next generations of leaders to realize than how we must take responsibility for our own experience, for our own suffering and joy, and for the role we each play today in bringing peace and truth and beauty to our world??
With my own two hands, I bow a deep bow of gratitude to the gracious gift of music, to the brave artists who keep making art, to all the miraculous songs and people and moments that freely remind us~ who it is we truly are and what’s possible for us to live in these precious, tenuous times.