Over Mother’s Day weekend I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to spend the weekend with my mom. She picked me up from the airport and our first stop was my favorite donut shop, Resch’s Bakery on Livingston Ave. Their donut holes and stick donuts just melt in my mouth and I have never found a better donut. From there we drove past the home where I first lived after I was born, just a couple of blocks away, before we moved to Gahanna- a suburb- when I was three. (We drove by that house too!). I spent the rest of my years growing up there– walking to both my elementary school and high school– but taking the bus to middle school. That evening, my mom and I attended Gahanna Lincoln’s High School Musical, Mama Mia. Such fun! I remember performing on that stage myself when I was in high school. This Mother’s Day morning as I write this, my mom is on her deck working on her bonsai trees– snip, snip– shaping them as needed. She has been involved in bonsai for decades. It gives her joy and comfort. Later this afternoon we are meeting my uncle in Zanesville for lunch at Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl, a perennial favorite from growing up. Actually, what I love most about Tom’s are their chocolates– particularly the pink covered square chocolate truffles that are mint chocolate. All of these things are anchors for me. They remind me of moments from my childhood that were simple. They are shared memories with my family. They are simple, sweet (clearly!), and they ground me when life is busy and often complicated.
On the flight to Columbus, I listened to On Being, Krista Tippet’s weekly radio show/ podcast. This week’s interview, re-broadcast from 2011 in honor of Mother’s Day was with Sylvia Boorstein, a “Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist.” It is a beautiful and thoughtful piece that reminds us of the power of rituals in our lives and that these rituals can help to anchor us during times that are busy, confusing, or just plain hard. In the interview, Ms. Boorstein references her own family and the influence of her grandmother on her life. She grew up with her two parents and grandmother in post-Depression America. Her parents worked. She was an only child, so she spent a lot of time with her grandmother who helped her in all kinds of ways, but she was clear with Sylvia that it’s normal to have times when you are unhappy. Sylvia would say to her grandmother, “But I’m not happy.” And she’d say — “Where is it written that you’re supposed to be happy all the time?” And I actually think it was the beginning of my spiritual practice that life is difficult. And then 40 years later, I learned that the Buddhists said the same thing, that life is inevitably challenging, and how are we going to do it in a way that’s wise and doesn’t complicate it more than it is just by itself?”
We do our children a disservice if we raise them to believe that things should always be easy or that they should always be happy. Naturally, we want to shield our children from pain and the often ugly things that happen in our world. We can help them to become more resilient in the face of the inevitable difficulties that they will encounter if they have opportunities to experience the challenges, and learn and grow from them. We can help them further by encouraging them to find anchors that they can count on, routines that support them, mentors that guide them, and opportunities to connect with themselves and others, whether it be family, school friends, outside clubs or athletics, or a spiritual community. Each of us has our tried and true ways that we re-charge, that we re-connect with ourselves–those things that anchor us in times of stress or anxiety. Last week at Lisa Damour’s FAN talk, she too spoke of the need for these anchors for our children. She also spoke of the importance of stress and anxiety from a clinical standpoint, that without them there is no growth. Only when stress and anxiety is chronic is it something to be concerned about. Rather stress and anxiety is essential to building our brain muscles, and when we are right on the edge of too much, that is when we grow the most. We must be ready to know what rituals are most beneficial to help us rebound before we get to that breaking point, and we can model that for our children and help them build their own toolkit to give them comfort in knowing they will always have their anchor.