I’m writing this post on the morning of New Year’s Eve, at my mother’s house in the Yorkshire town where I grew up. We come here at least twice a year and it has become a home from home for my children. As British/Argentinians born in Spain, their sense of belonging in the world is complex and intimately tied to this little town by the sea where I lived until I was 18.
I always get reflective when I’m here. I’m sure anyone who returns to their childhood town once or twice a year can relate. To me, it feels like I’ve been granted a little pause in life and a chance to sit back and observe what I have created elsewhere. It’s quite a gift really. Back here in the place where all my big ideas and dreams were hatched, I can’t help but look over my life with a child or teenager’s critical eye. Am I having fun? Is it adventurous? What happened to travelling the world?
It’s not surprising then, that whenever we’re here on New Year’s Eve, my mind goes into overdrive. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of new beginnings and the notion that we can accomplish change if we put our minds to it. I find challenges and new ideas energising and, from this vantage point, I can see so many things to tweak and do. I know that most New Year’s resolutions fail within two weeks, but that doesn’t put me off.
So, New Year typically sees me making a list of benign and healthy things I want to get stuck into in January. A few things from this year’s list include making more effort with the vegetable patch, reducing our plastic consumption, sticking with my morning yoga, building the long-awaited chicken coop, getting more creative with family dinners, and pushing forward on a couple of new professional projects. All good, healthy stuff.
Sometimes, though, from this place far away, I can fall into less benign patterns and start analysing life in too much detail. And, away from the soothing routines and habits of daily life, all the things that work or don’t work come into clear focus. This is particularly true where the children are involved. Does C have enough interesting stuff going on in her life? How can I help D with his social anxieties? And those questions, just two of many that are always present and which help us navigate everyday life, risk making it onto my New Year’s resolutions list as ‘things to be solved!’. How lovely and tempting it is to imagine those easy solutions. More things to do for the child who sometimes seems bored! More play dates for the shy child! Sorted.
Luckily, I catch myself in time. I know that their needs are real but so are my insecurities. There’s nothing wrong with paying more attention to the things I find playing on my mind, but they are not things to be fixed. I’m sure there’s plenty of room for adding more playdates to life and doing more activities, but these are the ingredients of everyday life.
Having said that, I do have a little mental list of things to do in January for or with the children. They too have a tendency to think about what they’d like to add to their lives when we’re here (my influence there perhaps), and so we do have friends we’d like to get together with, and activities they’d like to try. The difference is that the impetus is coming from them not me, and they are not ‘solutions’.
And so, I realise that my resolutions can really only be about me. How do I live my life? Is it fulfilling to me? What example am I giving? This morning, E showed me that I do have some things to mull over. He wants to plan an epic family journey and today we started to think about where we would go. It ended up being a trip through South America, starting in the north, visiting relatives in Buenos Aires on the way down, and ending with the penguins in Patagonia. As we were talking, I was struck by how real this plan is to E, and how theoretical and dream-like it is to me. For him it is something we will certainly do, but while talking about it all I could hear were the obstacles in my mind – work, house, responsibilities, money etc. My mind immediately went to all the reasons this trip was not feasible.
In Zen Buddhism, there is a concept or state known as Shoshin, or Beginner’s Mind, that state of openness where everything is possible. A beginner has no limits, real or imaginary, and nothing to prove or defend. When you have Beginner’s Mind you approach things without preconceptions. I think our children naturally have Beginner’s Mind. And it occurred to me that here in this little Yorkshire town, I come into contact every year with my own Beginner’s Mind. The child that assumed everything would always be possible, and who, every year, tells me to shake things up a little. She’s not telling me to impose solutions, she’s telling me to loosen up, to enjoy the ride as much as I can.
So how would it feel if I applied more Beginner’s Mind to everyday life? It’s true that a long trip to South America does have some serious practical challenges, but what if it were possible? In fact, letting go of fears and self-imposed limitations is very much part of any parent’s deschooling experience. Usually, when our children have an idea (big or small) and we feel that inner resistance taking over, there’s some fear there. Sometimes the idea really is impossible for whatever reason. But, other times, we automatically shut down an idea out of fear, of failure, of disappointment, of mess, of not getting something else done, or of countless other things.
And, so, besides the yoga, the garden, the chickens and the healthy eating, I have two more resolutions. The first is to not to make resolutions for my children, and the second is to cultivate more Beginner’s Mind, and to keep letting go, of fears, of self-imposed limits, of anything that doesn’t really serve me, my children, or anyone else. Who knows, maybe it will even get us to South America…