My son, Chris, and his wife, Wendy, like to speak to groups about the idea of being open to children. They have a large family, 16 children. I notice that people tend to react to them even if they have never really heard what they have to say. I haven’t actually heard them speak, but I have read what they have written and heard what they have to say face to face. I don’t think they are suggesting that people should have bunches of kids. I think they are suggesting that people should perceive children as a blessing. They are absolutely correct that people will refrain from having children because of all the negative messages about bringing kids into the world. They are often portrayed as burdens, a bother, an interruption in one’s “real” life, as problems to be solved, as people in the making but not people yet.
I read this morning a beautiful chapter on love by Zen master, Mel Ash. Like my son and his wife, Ash’s love light bulb went on as he experienced the love of his two sons. He shared a message he received from his own Zen master after his first child was born:
“Congratulations on your Dharma baby. Your Dharma baby is your Dharma Master. Always taking care of your baby, you must learn from your baby. So your baby is a great Zen Master. Everything is teaching, moment to moment. If you attain that, you also become great man and woman.”
Ash then went on to share his experience one day when his five-year-old son asked him to stop and play at the park after shopping. Ash hesitated. He started, as any adult might, to remind his son that there were more duties awaiting them at home that were more important than playing. But he stopped and, instead, yielded to his little Zen master. They went on to play for an hour stopping twice to suck popsicles. Ash, under the tutor-age of his son, learned more what it means to live in the moment. He shares how his own childhood had been stripped away by the violence in his home and his son was teaching him that he can capture the childhood once lost even now.
“Jesus said that we must become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven,” Ash writes. “In Zen terms, this is none other than dropping our years of conditioned thinking and entering the present moment, unencumbered by expectations and the burden of past suffering. The kingdom is everywhere. Only our ignorance, denial and disease prevent our entrance.”
When I was raising my children, I used to think of them as little clumps of clay to mold and shape. Later, I came see children as flowers that we need only water, fertilize and expose to sunshine. This was an improvement for it helped me to let go and let them grow to be their own unique persons. Ash is offering another image. He is suggesting we open ourselves to the idea that our children are our teachers as much as we are theirs. They shape and mold us, water and shine upon us. They teach us what is important in life. They teach us to live in the moment. They teach us to be honest. They teach us to find joy in the smallest places. They teach us to ask questions and to be open to learning. Even in their demands upon us, they are prodding us to grow.
No matter how many children one is given, I pray that parents will not miss the blessings in each.