Dharma gates are countless. Sometimes they are little, redheaded 5-year-old boys. Reading that, you likely have an idea of what I mean, of what he is like: silly, smiley, at times even a bit wild. This one, though, wasn’t always like that.
He was 16 months old when we met, before we ever knew that I’d come to be a mother to him. What I will never forget about him then is the vast, expansiveness of his gaze. When he looked at me, I felt enveloped. Truly there’s no other word. His Buddha-gaze held me in deep, intimate connection. He didn’t hardly speak at all then, but with a gaze like that, who would need words?
I’ve now been a mother to him for about three and a half years, since he was just over 2 years old. I have seen how, over time, he has become ever more rascally, impish, and even at times, downright difficult. I go on mothering him, knowing that the being with that profound gaze is still in there, even if I don’t see him very often. Really, though, that’s a leap of faith that I have to take and retake every day, day after day after day, especially when he kicks the peacefully-resting dog, or he takes a spray bottle and starts squirting the paper lantern on the lamp in the living room, or when he whines and cries like a banesidhe when told that, yes, he needs to eat the two slices of cooked carrots in his stir-fry.
Then, sometimes, he reminds me.
On Thursday, I kept him home from kindergarten, since he had come down with a touch of the stomach flu, the fever from which lasted on into Friday morning. Thursday was typical kindergartener sick-day stuff: play with this or that, and keep the requests for screen time (a rare indulgence in our tv-free household) on a continuous loop.
It was completely different on Friday morning. He had slept in until about 8:30, at which point he came out and sleepily pointed back toward what I thought was his room, saying what I heard as, “I want to ride one of those.” I told him that I didn’t understand what he meant, and he got up and walked toward the bedrooms, stopping in the hallway, which is where we have our home zendo, pointed at the scroll above the altar, and said, very clearly, “I want to paint one of those.”
Thinking that sounded like a nice way for him to spend the morning, I said, “Oh! Sure!” and got out my calligraphy supplies, and a few sheets of paper. I thought to myself, “This is kinda cute. I better take a video to show Pappa later.” So, I pulled my smartphone from my pocket and started shooting video. The first few papers he painted, you can imagine what they looked like, darling child-conceived forms recognizable only to their creator. So, I stopped the camera. I then started it again on a lucky whim, and then…oh my, and then.
Then, Blake looked down at his empty paper, looked up, got up out of his seat, and said “Yeah, and I’m gonna go check for one I know, that I can write.” He starts walking to the hallway zendo, saying, “They’re all important.” Once he was in front of the scroll he said, “Oh, oh, yeah. The big one there,” as he looked at the character Gyo up at the top. His gaze then drifted down, focusing on a character at eye level for him in the center column. He carefully considered it, pointed at it, and waved his hand in the air as if he were writing it. “I think I can draw that one,” he said as he ran back to the table. “I know exactly how to draw this one. Exactly,” he went on as he climbed back into his seat, took up the brush, paused thoughtfully and considered his actions a moment, and proceeded to gracefully and fluidly write it. “There, I did it.” Indeed, he did, plain as plain.
As a mother, I do find again and again, that I tend to mentally put my children into boxes. “Wild little boy” takes less of my head and heart to process than “this child, presenting whatever behavior, posture, expression, or words they may be in this moment.” Intimacy is about being present, here and now, dealing with what is, and not the fictions that we spin for ourselves about it. Here, with this moment he busted so far out of his usual persona of late that it just shattered it in my mind, at least for now. I hope I can hold onto this, not just with him, and not just with all my children, but with everyone.
I hope not to interact with my mental dossiers, assessments, and judgments. Those are all fundamentally flawed and obsolete almost from their making. Right here, right now. This person, this breath, this moment. All of it. Always.
Thanks, Baby. Mammina needed to walk through that dharma gate.