I worked with Lama Yeshe for several years, and I kept trying to get direction from Lama on what I should do with my life. I was hungry for directions, but only twice in the six years did he suggest something: “You make good American momma!” Each time he said it I died! I didn’t want to be a good American momma; I wanted to be something big, like be a big director. So guess I’m an American momma!
When I got pregnant with Felicity I was 36 years old (she will be 13 on December 25). I knew this one wasn’t going anywhere. I’m certainly not free of any delusions and, being a mother, I’ve found more of them, but I certainly was far more prepared than I was when I was 21,when I had a spontaneous abortion, and 27, when I had a miscarriage.
My pregnancy was a very difficult one. I was in the hospital and Lama Zopa Rinpoche had given me some instructions to handle it. He told me to do tong-len [giving one’s own happiness and taking on another’s suffering], and it was very useful. It did come to a point where I could only remember the words and I couldn’t generate the feeling. What happened was probably one of the most rapturous times of my life.
When Felicity finally came and they pulled out this shriveled-up, screaming, incredible little thing and handed it to me, the first thought that came to my mind was that this was a mother from a previous life who had sacrificed for me countless times, and because of this being I am who I am today. I had the opportunity to meet the Dharma and serve Lama Yeshe, and now I’m here, able to repay that kindness by leading this being to the Dharma. When I saw that thought arise in my mind – and there was no separation between that thought and my mind – I just went into unbelievable bliss.
I made a strong determination on the spot that I would serve this child no differently from the way I’d served Lama Yeshe. Whatever Lama needed to fulfill Lama’s wishes was what I was. It was the same when this baby was born: whatever this child needs to go to enlightenment I will do.
The good fortune I have is that Felicity happens to be a very easy subject. I think oftentimes about what if I’d had a child that was autistic, or aberrant. Lama used to say to me that the reason he used to spend twenty-four hours a day with me was because it was useful for all sentient beings. I tell Felicity that as long as she responds to me and grows, then I will be with her.
I’m not being mean, then, when I say that if I cease to be of benefit to her and she becomes a maniac, then I have to reassess where I put my efforts. I have to decide where it’s useful for me to be. Nowadays you see parents of drug-addicted kids who get totally sucked into it and lose all their money and get emotionally drained. I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do with the limited amount of time. I’m very fortunate that Felicity seems to respond. For her just to be born to a parent who was exposed to Dharma shows her fortune is great also.
Because of its practical application, Buddhism has methods for parents to teach their children. That’s what Universal Education is, isn’t it? Lama Yeshe used to say that Universal Education isn’t changing Dick and Jane to Tashi and Dorje, that it’s not just giving them technological training and contemporary education; it’s to give them the tools they need to help them deal with losing their job, for example, so that they don’t commit suicide. We need to teach them what their mind is like and how to deal with it.
That’s the job, I reckon, of being a parent. It’s not only to make sure your child has a Harvard degree. Look at the Unabomber; look at the serial killer Ted Bundy, who was a highly educated lawyer – they’re still nuts. Particularly now, if we only have technology and don’t teach right and wrong, then you’ve got your nuclear weapons.
The good thing about when I was with Lama Yeshe is that I got to watch him a lot. Everything I’ve done with Felicity I learned from Lama. The first thing that Lama said – and this is Tibetan style – is that for the first five years of the child’s life, the child rules the roost. In other words, whatever the child wants the child gets. The whole purpose of the first five years is to develop the confidence that the child needs to be successful in life; that if they want something they can get it, that they’re not squashed. The mother is integral in the first five years; the mother is the complete love object that the kids crawl all over, drool and spit on, and the father is the discipline. He said it’s very important that the two roles don’t cross – but that was tough in my situation because there is only one of me.
After age five the discipline is really serious discipline. Now the child has confidence and self-esteem and knows they can do things; now it starts to be molded and shaped. I followed these guidelines exactly. I think the big thing is to get the child to have their own experience in life. Nowadays it’s popular to give kids time-out if they something wrong, but nobody tells the kids what to do when they’re in time-out. What they should be doing is re-thinking what they did that was wrong, and then go back and do it all over again to get a successful result.
My whole motivation is to be a good mother. I’m not saying by any stretch of the imagination that I’m accomplished in any of the techniques I’m talking about, but I have some experience with them because I use them myself.
Actually, Lama Zopa Rinpoche has told me to write three books: one for Buddhist children, another for children who are not Buddhist, and a third book for parents on how to raise children. He feels many parents simply don’t know how to do the job of raising children. The basis for the books is the same – loving compassion.
The first two books are sort of like handbooks for kids, and will include some prayers, visualizations, meditations and other exercises. Rinpoche would like these books to be small in size and beautiful. The book for the parents should be written from my own experience as a mother, and is dedicated to the peace and happiness of children. Rinpoche already gave me the title for it: Parents – How to Take Care/Bring up Children for Better Life.
Until I got Felicity I had no idea how much anger I had. It’s been a blessing. When Felicity was conceived Lama Zopa said, “Sometimes it’s better to physically take care of one sentient being than philosophically take care of a universe.” For me, that was spot-on because I was in la-la land with my prayers and my high ideals. All I needed was one person to defy me in the face and I found out where I really stood as far as my development goes. I think I even had some kind of pride about how little anger I had – it was a double-whammy.
The other thing is that I’m very honest with Felicity when I do blow up. As part of the retreat we’re on right now on this cruise liner, we’re keeping a notebook in which we record all of the negative and positive actions we do. We choose one of The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation everyday for a theme, and we also remind ourselves that life is like a dream, and that death is definite and its time uncertain. We make marks as to how we’re doing. Last night I got completely full of attitude towards Felicity for making a mistake. I became extremely embarrassed and had to confess to her my error.
When I let her see me undo my own chain of thought that leads me to an unsatisfactory conclusion, I think that’s useful. Not that I undermine my position as the mother, because that’s my role. Right now we’re in a situation where I have a role and she has a role. At one point that may reverse and she may end up taking care of me, but at this particular moment this is my job and she needs to keep her mouth shut on a lot of occasions and not talk back.
She told me once when she was very young, “Mommy, I’m a very take-charge type of person,” so we have had to deal with that! But yes, in general, it’s hard for me to tell Felicity to do something if I haven’t done it on my own.
Have you seen Felicity’s understanding affect other kids she’s around?
Not just kids; adults, too. It’s phenomenal. When she was in third grade her teacher came up to me and said that she had been teaching third-graders for 20 years, and never in her whole life had she met anyone with such a big mind. Felicity doesn’t let people stay in their poor-me mentalities – she’ll change the subject completely. Even my family, even myself. One time when she was barely out of diapers, I got angry with her – I mean, what can a two-year-old do that gets you so upset? But I was bent over with my index finger pointed, shaking it at her, and my cheeks were puffed up red, and my lips were a thin slit, and I was just completely angry. She just looked at me. She took her tiny two-year-old hand and caressed my cheek and said, “Poor Mommy.” You tell me, where does your anger go when someone caresses your cheek and says “Poor Mommy?”
One evening, after I’d been away on retreat, we were eating dinner. She eats very, very slowly, and I was getting on her case, and she said, “Didn’t that retreat help you at all?” She understands things well, she explains things well – it’s very apparent that it influences and affects people. I’ve seen her get people to promise never to kill again.
If children can learn the Dharma, grow up with it as a way of life, not separate from the way they’re raised, you can see the benefit for the whole world.Tags: parenting