Every year, either the day before or the day of my son's birthday, he walks the labyrinth just west of the library in downtown Boulder. It's a ritual we began several years ago as a way to commemorate his passage from one year to the next. In a culture sadly devoid of rituals, we've attempted to create some of our own so that our sons can anchor themselves in time through the concrete marking of milestones. And as most rituals focus on a death and rebirth process, we intentionally help our kids focus on what they want to let go of and what they're hoping to grow inside themselves in the upcoming year.
Today's pre-birthday conversation went like this:
"What do you want to let go of this year as you're walking the labyrinth? What do you want to plant in the garden of your ninth year? "
"I want to let go of my fear of loss, being controlling with Asher [his little brother], and worrying about Tashi [our cat] when she goes outside. And I want to grow my connection to God."
As his mother, his birthday is also my own, as it was nine years ago that I was birthed as a new mother. Consciously reflecting on my transition and allowing myself to feel the grief that time is passing in the days before his actual birthday allows the sadness to pass through so that I can wholly share in his joy when his birthday arrives. For it's our work as parents to grieve our own losses surrounding our children's passages so that the unshed grief doesn't interfere with their growth and their celebration. It's similar to the work I've done surrounding the wedding transition as I help the parents of the bride and groom acknowledge their grief about "losing" their son or daughter so that it doesn't funnel into control about the planning or distance them from their child.
Today I feel that bittersweet mixture of grief and joy that characterizes parenthood.
I grieve the passage of time as I remember where I was nine years ago, pregnant and excited, scared and impatient, my belly as large as the moon, full of the innocent anticipation of a not-yet mother, waiting to meet my firstborn son. How is it that nine years have passed?
I delight in the boy he has become, his generosity, his kindness of heart, his peaceful spirit. I marvel at the moment today when we were walking through the grocery store and he said, "Mommy, wait! Go back to that aisle." I thought he saw a fruit rope or a chocolate treat, but I should have known better. "Do you remember that I put four dollars in my tzedakah box this week? (Every Friday evening, as part of our Shabbat ritual, we give to the charity of our choice. As Everest has been babysitting lately, he's been earning real money and contributing at least 25% of it to his charity box.) I want to buy a box of granola bars so I can give them to the homeless people we see." And as if that wasn't enough he said, "And I don't want anything with peanuts in it because I know a lot of people have peanut allergies." My thoughtful, generous boy.
I relish that he still lies across me when he hurts himself and feels safe to cry in my arms, but for how much longer?
I think about his challenges, but trust with the perspective that can only come with nine years of parenting, that we/he will work them out.
At nine, I can see easily to thirteen and then to eighteen. My awareness of how quickly the times passes inspires me to soak in every moment: the sweet ones when we're in symbiotic communion, not so different from when he was in my womb; and the challenging ones when his edge scrapes against mine and we're called either to erect walls around our hearts or to grow.
Nine feels significant, a doorway into adolescence, still a young child but with the foreshadowing of a young man surrounding him like a prescient aura. In the world of Waldorf they refer to the passage into nine as "the nine year change" where boys and girls exhibit some adolescent-like behavior as they separate from their parents to a new level. I can definitely see this separation.
Tonight, as he was falling asleep, I watched his face and could see the man I saw in the dream I had when I was pregnant: tall, carefree, smiling, the joy in his heart emanating out like the summer sun of his astrological sign, the son of my heart, the cord of love that connects him to my husband and me still intact but long enough to extend around the globe. While he's still profoundly attached to us, I can see that his dreams of piloting himself around the world aren't very far away.
May you soar, my boy. May this year fly you into the beginning of your next transition into pre-adulthood. May we help you find ways to tether yourself to this world so that you always know your place and purpose. And no matter how far away you fly, may I always be a safe place for you to land.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide via her private practice, her bestselling books, and her website, http://conscious-transitions.com. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Her home study course for pregnant women and new mothers, Birthing a New Mother: A Roadmap from Preconception Through the First Year to Calm Your Anxiety, Prepare Your Marriage, and Become the Mother you Want to Be, can be found at http://birthinganewmother.com. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and two sons.