I want to be everything for my girls. I want to be the love and the security, the stability and the inspiration. I want to create for them the space where they can find themselves. I want to be the compass and the wind. I want to be the farthest that they can fall and the celebration when they don’t. I want to help them soar.
I’m learning that fatherhood isn’t that simple.
For more than a year now I have been taking my daughters to a children’s yoga class. And for more than a year now they have been sitting idle and unbent in the back of the class with me while the other parents leave and the other kids joyfully bounce their Qi around the room. Surprisingly, both girls have looked forward to going every single week, but every single week they have both flatly refused to leave my side or participate in any way. I wouldn’t call their introduction to yoga a booming success.
Considering Bug’s apprehensive nature, none of this has been a great shock. As I’ve written about before, when faced with individual challenges she can be a serious bad ass, but put her in a group situation and her comfort level plummets. Lemon, being a future gorge jumper, would happily throw her Downward Facing Dog onto the mat, but if her big sister isn’t in then she isn’t either. Lemon takes her cues from her older sister, as most 2 year olds probably do, and if Bug sees something to be nervous about then Lemon is not one to question.
Holly and I had hoped when this grand bystanding began that yoga would be a great way for Bug to discover some of that inner mightiness that we knew she had. Knowing her, though, we knew it wouldn’t come easy. We weren’t dissuaded when the only pose she (and, therefore, her sister) would do at first involved her fingers packed firmly into her mouth – it will come, we thought. Give her time and she’ll warm up.
Months passed and little changed. At first, I tried to disappear into the background as much as possible, deferring to the instructor to pull the girls out of their sit-in. As nothing progressed, though (truly of no fault of the instructor), my frustration grew and I more actively tried to encourage them to participate. I persuaded, cajoled, coaxed and even bribed. I tried to show them it was a safe place, that these were kind people, that there was nothing to be scared of. Just try, I would say to them. Nothing worked. They sang the songs at home, talked about how nice the teacher was and asked to go back every week. Still, nothing. Despite my growing frustration with what seemed like a lack of progress, we kept going.
After a year or so, I was still trying to convince myself that it was all right. This was a beautiful environment, the teacher was angelic and they were at least being exposed to yoga, if not doing any. I felt like a failure, though. They clearly didn’t feel secure, they weren’t inspired and they certainly weren’t soaring, I thought. All of my hopes and intentions were in tatters. I wanted so badly to help them to move forward, to grow, to just be free and easy kids and, at least for that hour every week, they weren’t.
Then one day Bug had to go potty.
I leaned into Lemon to tell her that I was taking her sister to the bathroom and she just nodded. Okay. Okay? For a year my absence was strictly forbidden – when one left, we all left. Period. That day, for some reason, was different. Lemon happily stayed behind as Bug and I left the room.
Bug finished her business and we started back into class. Through the plate glass door to the classroom we saw something quite surprising. Lemon had dragged her mat from our traditional spot on the back wall up onto the teacher’s platform. She was standing up there, next to the teacher, doing yoga. Essentially, she was co-teaching the class.
I’m pretty sure my smile extended beyond my ears but I don’t really remember, considering the shock gave me a mild heart attack. We opened the door and Bug shouted through her enormous smile “Lemon, what are you doing?” We sat back down and a wave of realization overtook me. I now leaned into Bug and whispered “I’ll be right back”, stood back up and walked out of the room. By myself.
I couldn’t believe what had happened. I stood outside of the classroom, peering through the window, trying not to be noticed, and watched my daughters become fully engaged with the rest of the class. They were participating. They looked happy and comfortable and free.
When class ended I reentered the room to find two jubilant little girls. I was awash in the significance of the moment and squatted down to greet them. They raced over to me and threw themselves into my arms. We celebrated.
Parenthood is swollen fat with frustrations, victories and lessons. For more than a year my girls and I struggled in our own individual ways with some very uncomfortable moments associated with this yoga class. They battled with their own self-consciousness and fear while I fought to find a way to help them overcome their demons, whether real or perceived. At the same time, I was wrestling with my own expectations, trying to find the balance between their individuality and my role as their guide and protector.
This yoga class, and specifically that day, was a watershed moment for them. Since then they have been dedicated little yoginis, forever instructing their father to wait in the lobby. Moreover, that experience has provided them with a springboard to another level of comfort in many other social settings that would have previously left them hovering behind me and paralyzed.
Their watershed moment, though, pales in comparison to mine (which is a funny statement considering the lesson). It’s not about me. As I said, I want to be everything for my daughters. When I saw them struggle, I wanted to pick them up and carry them across to safety. I wanted to hold their hands and walk them toward their own self-assuredness. As ridiculous as that sounds, I didn’t get it until I left that classroom. It never occurred to me that I could be the one that was holding them back. It wasn’t until I saw it for myself that I understood that their journey forward did not necessarily depend on me.
Parenthood is the art of letting go. We cannot be everything for our children because that leaves them without the opportunity to be everything for themselves. Even at my daughters’ young age, they need to venture out on their own and carve their own way. I can, and should, set for them a solid foundation. That foundation, though, is just that – a foundation. It is up to them to build upon that which their mother and I have laid down. I now know that it is up to me to let them.
The education continues…..