I live a very quiet life. My home is in the suburbs. I no longer “work” except as a Zen Priest and a Reiki Master. I don’t have to commute in traffic. And I spend virtually all my time around adults.
So when “Auntie Sandy” got pressed into service on a weekend trip helping to watch two 10-year-old nephews and a 2-year-old niece, it was a real test of my practice.
I love all three of these kids. They’re each terrific. None of them are bratty or particularly challenging on their own. But I have (1) no experience as a parent, and (2) not much maternal instinct. So I felt like I was flying blind.
Combine that with the fact that the whole thing just kind of grew organically – without the parents communicating their expectations to me or their kids – and we were all a little unclear on the limits of my authority. Luckily, as I said, these are great kids, and none of them back-talked me or refused to obey. (Though I sensed the boys were considering their options!)
One thing I found very effective when dealing with all three of them was saying “Please” and “Thank you.” When Nephew #1 (we’ll call him N1) refused to get out of his swim trunks to go hiking with the family, I said, “N1, please don’t be difficult. We’d like to do this as a family, and we want you along.” And I got cooperation, albeit a bit grudgingly. Once he was dressed and ready to go, I thanked him; and I was rewarded with a bright smile.
What does this have to do with meditation or Buddhism? Everything.
My meditation practice has taught me to pause before I react. And my Buddhist training has allowed me to remember I love these kids and want them to be happy. I’m not trying to force them into submission, I’m trying to express my compassion and understanding. I got that N1 didn’t want to go on this hike. But family trips mean we all give a little so we can enjoy each other’s company. Once I understood his point of view, I could help him see ours. And what could have been a contest of wills was peaceably resolved.
Nephew #2 made the critical error of making fun of the baby when she spilled some popcorn on the carpet. After his third or fourth snarky remark, my niece’s mom, N2’s other aunt, made him go clean it up while she was cleaning up after lunch. I stayed out of the fray for a while, then went to help him. There was a lot of “It’s not fair!” and “I’ve done more than anyone else!” He tried to leave once, claiming he was done, but I calmly told him that we weren’t done while there was still a mess. He and I worked together a little longer, he settled down, and I let him out of the rest.
Here’s where the Middle Way comes in: backing up N2’s other aunt while not making N2 work so hard that he became resentful of his little cousin. He was nice to her the rest of the trip, so I think we struck the right balance.
I’m coming away from this trip with a whole new respect for parents!
And a renewed gratitude to this practice that allowed me to remain calm and sane in the midst of life’s chaos.
In the words of Somerset Maugham, “It’s easy to be a holy man on top of a mountain.”
~ Rev. Dr. Jabo Prajna