Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Little Buddha

I agonized over what the divorce would do to Jack. It was heart-wrenching to even consider, and I spent many nights in hysterics over the whole thing. I didn’t want to disappoint my child. I didn’t want him to hate me. And I didn’t want him to feel guilt that for some reason he might be the cause of it all. (My therapist, and my husband’s therapist and all the Divorce for Dummies-type books on the shelves at Books-A-Million warned of this.) Children internalize the world around them, or, rather, they think that they make the world go ‘round, and that may be because their parents give them the impression that the sun does rise and set by their will. Perhaps it’s a testament that Drew and I did a few things right in raising our son because he did not react that way at all upon telling him the news of our impending break-up. Drew and I discussed, even rehearsed, together what we would say, and what we would not disclose to Jack. We were terribly nervous. The thought of delivering the news that Mommy and Daddy won’t be living together anymore was enough to reduce me to tears. But as it turned out, I had underestimated my child. The three of us sat together on the sun porch, too warm on a September Saturday, and had the talk. Upon listening to our carefully chosen words and taking them in, Jack squirmed at bit, but was non-plussed. When I explained that I would be moving out of the house and into an apartment right down the street, I cringed, waiting for the wailing to begin. But after a moment, Jack smiled. "Okay," he said shyly. "So Mom, when are you going to have a house warming party? Can we have donuts and Doritos? Can we invite Dad?"

Since you weren’t there, let me assure you that the sense I got from this child was that he was not just putting on for my sake. He was sincerely happy for me. From his eight-year-old perspective, my move was the first step of an adventure—an adventure that would include him, and, in a way, his father. It was not a horrible rocking of his world. And I admit, I was surprised, but pleasantly so. And since that day, Jack has remained quite sane and normal and hasn’t skipped a beat in his optimistic viewpoint of the world.

Drew and I have been vigilant, perhaps overly so, looking for signs that might indicate some deep-seated anxiety, but to-date, there have been none. Yes, he is a remarkable child! I wish I could take all the credit for his disposition but of course, I cannot. But I do believe that because Drew and I have remained pleasant with each other—at least in Jack’s presence, even in the beginning of the end when it was not always easy to do so—this helped ease any fears he might have had. And we promised Jack that his life would not change. We would both still be there for him, even if we weren’t both there for him at the same time, in the same house.

And I have realized, especially with the holiday season approaching, the reason for Jack’s continued state of grace is that he possesses a perspective that so many of us do not innately have: You are responsible for your own happiness in this life. No one, not even Santa, can deliver happiness to you. Jack makes his own happiness from the world around him, just as he fashions tree branches into swords. It is not fantasy. His pure delight in the world around him is tangible. I cannot make Jack happy. Drew cannot make Jack happy. We can create circumstances that are pleasant and delightful, but we cannot command his joy to come forth. And that’s not to say that he is always happy, but when he does turn sullen or tearful, it is because he has determined to be so, not because the world has heaped great sorrows upon him. Granted, thank God, my dear child has not known any major source of trauma, although for some children, having their parents split up would be reason to mourn. Rather, I believe he sees the world as a place where all things are possible, and where he decides to be happy. And I hope he always will. I have learned from him this ability, and that’s a gift that children offer their parents: the ability to see the world through their hopeful eyes again.

So it turns out that without hours of meditation, or going to Buddhist temple or reading copious books on the topic of Buddhism, my son is a bodhisattva! (Translation: a person who has developed the spontaneous altruistic intention.) He has the amazing ability to see the good. Was I ever that happy as I child? Yes, I believe I was, and I although I may still have a long way to go, I am striving to return to that pure, undulated state where all things are possible and I am the author of my own happiness.

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