From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

Calm Mother

Ilove people. I love my family, my children . .. but inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that’s where you renew your springs that never dry up.

Pearl S. Buck

As a teenager growing up in the sixties, I knew what I wanted to do with my life and what I didn’t want to do. I wanted to travel and see the world. I didn’t want to be a mother.

Both desires were a rebellion against my own childhood. I grew up on the flat prairie land of the Midwest and thus yearned to see mountains, clouds and trees. My own parents never treated me well, so I grew up not liking anybody, except for my kind, loving grandmothers.

Every hot, cloudless prairie summer, my family would travel to the tree-lined city to visit both of my grandmothers. Around their own mothers, my parents treated me well. How I loved my grandmothers! Best of all, they loved me back.

Achieving my teenage goals would be easy: After getting a college degree, I planned to travel to the city of my choice and get a job. After two or three years when I began to get bored, I would move on to another ideal city. If I found my true love along the way, I would get married and settle down, but I wouldn’t have children.

In my twenties, I graduated from college and went to live in my chosen city. So far, so good. Then, one summer I decided to visit the hot, flat prairie town where I grew up. It was fun to chatter away with the adults I had known as a child. For once, I was being treated like an adult among other adults.

One of the couples I visited asked me if I would baby-sit for their five little boys. I had never baby-sat for anyone before. How hard can it be? I thought to myself and accepted.

I found out it could be very hard. I didn’t know that five boys, aged two to twelve, could be so loud and energetic. They also got very physical, and amazed as I was, I did not try to control them. This made the situation even worse. Just as the parents walked in through the front door, the little two-year-old boy, who was very wound up, hurled himself onto me trying to greet his parents. Without thinking, I turned around and hit him. The whole family froze in shock. I looked bewildered at everybody until the father asked quietly, “Why did you hit my son?”

“He hit me first,” I answered, feeling completely justified.

“It was an accident,” he replied.

“It was?”

Violence in my own childhood had been intentional and frequent, never accidental. This new concept had never even occurred to me. I turned toward the little boy and asked, “Did you mean to hit me?”

Still whimpering, he shook his head earnestly, the tears falling down his flushed cheeks. My hardened heart cracked.

“I’m sorry.”

The tension relieved, they quickly forgave me and we embraced. Their warmth and forgiveness affected me deeply. I saw that simply not having children wouldn’t solve the deeper problems inside me. The abuse I’d experienced as a child had turned me into a violent adult. I couldn’t ignore it anymore, but I honestly didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to tell anyone, for fear of ruining what few friendships I had. After all, I had almost lost one friendship with a loving family—with one unthinking blow.

The following spring I visited my older brother, who had recently married. He and his wife and child lived on an Indian reservation. I attended church with my family, and found it interesting to be in the minority, one of the few whites among so many Native Americans. During my visit, I befriended an Indian grandmother.

One day, right after church ended, the grandmother and I were standing together and she remarked, “White man’s babies are so noisy.” Looking around the room at all the contented Indian babies and then at the crying, whimpering white babies, I realized the truth in her words! My nephew was no exception.

“Why is that?” I asked her in astonishment.

She answered by describing the tradition of her tribe. When a young girl started menstruating, she left the tribe for one day to spend time alone in the wilderness and meditate about what kind of woman she would be when she grew up. Of course, her father followed discreetly to ensure her safety.

Each following month, at the appropriate time, she would spend another day by herself and meditate. As she grew, she meditated about what kind of young man she wanted to attract. After engagement, she meditated about what kind of wife she would be. After her marriage, she meditated about what kind of mother she would be, and so on. Thus, each woman took time each month to be alone and meditate about where her life was going, what kind of person she was becoming and what to do about her problems. The grandmother ended her narrative by saying, “Calm mother makes calm baby.”

Listening to her, I felt a surge of warmth and love inside me. I knew I had finally discovered the answer to my curse of violence. I followed her advice exactly, only I meditated once a week to make up for the lost years.

First, I meditated on how to be a better worker at my job and how to be a better friend. In the stillness, answers came. I needed to stop taking offense so easily in both situations. I needed to stop thinking and saying “I” so much and start asking about the other person more.

As I was dating, I meditated about each boyfriend and our relationship. Did I give more than I took? Did we laugh easily? Was I a good listener? Did I like him when I wasn’t in love with him?

Eventually, I found my true love. After our marriage, I continued the frequent meditations. The process of two becoming one seemed to bring out issues I thought I had resolved sufficiently when I was single. The questions kept coming. However, I stayed calm and stuck with the plan, meditating week by week, month by month.

It’s worked! Our marriage has continued happily, and now we have five wonderful children. All of these “white man’s babies” have mostly been calm, and the violence of my childhood has remained a thing of the past.

How grateful I am that an old Indian grandmother whose name I never knew managed to change my life and the lives of my children for the better with her simple wisdom: Calm mother makes calm baby.

Holly Danneman

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