The evening began as it usually does. After Asher, my three year old, goes to sleep, Everest and I spend some much needed alone time together. When I was young, my parents instituted a family ritual called “Time Alone” where we would each spend time alone with one of our parents after dinner: playing catch in the street, playing cards on the floor of my bedroom, going for a bike ride, cuddling on the bed talking about our day. They recognized the importance of kids connecting to parents privately and made efforts to ensure that this occurred each evening. The ritual continues in my own family.
Everest and I have spend our time alone in different ways. Most evenings, we read. We read during the day with Asher, too, but reading together in the evening has a special quality to it. During the summer months, we often sit outside on the wicker chaise and look at the stars. I hold him in my arms and we talk about the magic of the nighttime sky, ponder where the jets are going, count how many times the crickets chirp in a minute. Since we’ve begun to study mindfulness, we often use our private time to practice together. Sometimes we just talk, much as I did with my mom when I was young: he tells me his favorite parts of the day, we talk about what made him sad that day, we laugh about Asher’s funny antics (whose mission in life is to make Everest laugh). This month we’ve been reading through a set of daily spiritual tools that my dear friend has created to prepare for the Jewish High Holidays that will begin next week. It’s rich, sacred, meaningful time: time to be and connect to our hearts, to each other, and to Spirit.
So tonight began as it usually does: Everest came upstairs after spending time with my husband and climbed onto the bed to cuddle in my arms. He was fidgety, though, and I could feel irritation rise in my body. I said, “Everest, are you going to be calm or hyper because I don’t have a lot of space for hyper right now.” I could hear the tension in my voice even as I said it, like I was trying to control the course of a river instead of finding a way to flow with the current. Always trying to please me he said, “I’m going to be calm.” But five seconds later he was fidgeting again, pushing my arm away because he was too hot but then trying to move my other arm under his head. The irritation rose five notches in my body. He then got up and started running around the room. Calm? Not exactly. I couldn’t contain my irritation any longer.
“Everest, we only have a little time together and this is how you want to spend it? I thought you said you were going to be calm with me.”
“I know, Mommy, I want to be calm, but I just have so much energy in my body. Let’s make our time together nice, okay?”
“I want that, too,” but I could feel my heart close and so could he.
Then, in a stroke of intuitive, emotional genius he said, “Let’s listen to that music that you wanted to hear earlier but you couldn’t really hear because I was complaining the whole time.”
I smiled, and my heart opened just a crack. Earlier in the day I had purchased Alanis Morissette’s latest album, “Havoc and Bright Lights.” One of my favorite things to do is to sit with a new CD and listen while reading the liner notes. I haven’t done it years – probably since I was pregnant with Asher – and when I returned home from yoga earlier in the day I was excited to sit down on my bed and take in the album. But within ten minutes, my boys burst through the day, ran upstairs, and broke my sacred silence. Their raucous energy was fun, and we did end up lying on the bed together listening to a few of the songs, but it wasn’t exactly what I had had in mind for the afternoon.
One of my other favorite things to do is dance. I’ve danced my entire life, starting with ballet lessons at age three, then jazz, tap, and modern. I choreographed in college and fell in love with African dance in my mid-twenties. But it wasn’t until I took a Gabrielle Roth 5-rhythms class that dance became a form of self-expression and a primary way that I allow the feelings of life to move through me. I danced through the heartbreak and anger of a breakup. I danced through the joy at our wedding. I danced through the fear and excitement of appearing on national television, both the night before the show and moments before it aired. I danced through both of my pregnancies, allowing my body to move with the moon and music through the morning sickness, the gratitude, the ambivalence, the joy. I danced during labor, headphones in my ears, my body rocking to the ancient rhythms and melodies of my heritage and carrying me to other times where women held each other on the bricks in red tents. I’ve danced through streams of sweat and tears co-mingling down my skin and howls of anger rising up into the ceiling of the great room where a hundred people were also dancing their own unfolding, shaking with despair and opening our arms, heads upturned like children to rain, to allow something else to enter. And in that broken-open, flushed out space where feelings wash through unencumbered without getting snagged on judgement or shame, I’ve danced through the ecstatic place of knowing God or Goddess or Spirit or Life or YES.
Yes, my Everest, let’s listen to the music. And let’s dance.
So I pressed play. We both jumped off the bed and started to dance. And within seconds, my heart opened as wide as a lotus.
As Alanis sang, “I’ll be your keeper for life as your guardian, I’ll be your warrior of care your first warden; I”ll be your angel on call, I’ll be on demand. The greatest honor of all, as your guardian,” Everest waved his arms in a gesture reminiscent of Egyptians, ran around the room making airplane sounds, and danced his eight-year-old-boy dance. I delighted at the sight, made ever more sweet by the fact that Everest refused to dance for years and I thought I would have to bury my long-held fantasy of dancing with my kids.
As Alanis sang, “Here I am in my shame spiral, I’m sucked into it again. I reach out for your benevolent opinion, and you bring the light back in,” Everest jumped up onto the bed and said, “I feel like I’m flying!” For a boy who has been passionate about airplanes from the time he was one, this was a true expression of joy. I said, “Yes, dancing is flying!” Then he said, “That song makes me feel happy and sad at the same time.” And I said, “Yes, that’s how life is.”
In this space of free expression, I watched my boy who has never had to conform and saw the embodiment of freedom. No self-judgement, no critical voice, no template of “good dancing” or “bad dancing”: just an eight year old boy moving his body in space to his own rhythm and the rhythm of the music. And a forty-year old mother-woman-sister-daughter dancing in my own space right alongside him, together yet separate, like two planets who will follow their own silver spiral trail but will always remain bonded in the same orbit, in the same sky, and marveling at how quickly a heart can close, and how quickly it can open back up again.