By Amy Callan Miller
I always knew that I wanted to be a mother. My sister and I would often play “pretend” which meant that I, the naturally bossy, big sister, was the mother and she was the child. She usually went along with my plan, but she has never stopped mentioning my bossiness. As it turns out, she became a mother first, and I remember being awestruck by her first-born son. He thought I had my own train since I lived right next to, practically under, a railroad trestle. It was an event every time the train came by. I loved the wonderment in his young eyes. It was several years later before I found my husband. Soon after, our first child was on the way and we specifically chose not to find out whether it was a boy or a girl. My husband said it this way, “There are so few ‘good’ surprises in the world, can we let this be one of them?”
When our son showed up I was elated but also overwhelmed. Although I had waited my whole life for this moment, I somehow felt completely alone, even depressed at times. I was empty, which may have been compounded by the fact that my son and I shared a physical residence for nine months. My husband is a supportive and fun partner but his life quickly returned to normal, other than the interrupted sleep sessions at night. My son and I meanwhile, spent our days eating and pooping and walking and napping. I thought, “This is it?” Yes, he was cute, adorable and genuinely happy, but I still felt a sense of loneliness wrapped in despair. We didn’t have many friends since we had just moved to town, but we had each other. I remember accidentally bumping his forehead into our coffee table one afternoon and though it was not a significant injury, he didn’t even cry, I sobbed. It was in that moment that I realized I knew nothing. I had grown up, gone to college, even lived overseas for a period of time. I had loved my career and had taken a new job and moved across country, on my own. All of that seemed so important at the time, but then in an instant, none of it mattered. I knew nothing. I sat looking at my infant son and wondered how in the world I had gotten the job of being his guardian and his protector. How did I earn the privilege of being his mother? Was I even qualified for this assignment? I felt like my physical being melted away, into a puddle of humility, but at the same time I felt an immense sense of relief.
Eventually I came to see that in that moment I accepted my son as my teacher. It took the pressure off. Two and a half years later our daughter arrived and together the two of them immediately joined forces to show me the way. They have tested every corner of my brain and heart. In their natural delight they taught me how to be present. They taught me how to stop listening to the inner-dialogue that did not serve us. They gave me permission to explore the wonders of childhood all over again. I realized I had missed some things along the way. Now I had a chance to dive in, head first. I started witnessing their reflections as a part of me. Even the ugly ones, where I was driven to act out a less than a desirable behavior…raising my voice when unnecessary, coming from a place of fear, not being the grown up. I learned to forgive myself. The biggest lesson has been about unconditional love. The kids have taught me how to not only love them fully and wholly, but also to love myself, with compassion, unconditionally.
The early days of my kids’ lives did not include the specific and direct language of the virtues, but now I realize that is exactly the example they were setting. Curiosity, Intellectual Humility, Intellectual Autonomy, Attentiveness, Intellectual Carefulness, Intellectual Thoroughness, Open-mindedness, Intellectual Courage, Intellectual Tenacity…literal examples come to mind to do with these virtues. Watching the caterpillar cross the sidewalk, trying to walk and falling down, saying “no”, placing a soggy cheerio in my hand, figuring out which shoe goes on which foot, starting over to get dressed when you forget underwear and socks, loving every person they see, attempting to speak and read while fumbling with the words, and trying to climb the tree, the steps, the hill, again and again.
Of course they have not mastered the virtues yet, but they freely explore their depths, continually. They authentically work towards having a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset because they are committed to learning. Now that we are experiencing IVA, through our 7th grade daughter’s vantage point, we can see how simply she connects the dots. We are acquiring the language to support a deeper learning about ourselves and each other and the world around us. It is challenging but it is so rewarding. I shared with her one day after a virtues ceremony how when I was a kid I was afraid to raise my hand and ask a question in class unless I was pretty sure that I was correct. She immediately replied by saying, “You were not practicing Intellectual Autonomy, Mom. That is sad.” Of course, as I revisited the sadness I was also able to relish and appreciate the fact that my twelve year old daughter understands what autonomy is, and values it. May she always honor and respect her ability to think and reason for herself.