My five-year-old son has not yet decided what he wants to draw today.
He and I are on a Doodle Date, holed up at one of our favorite coffee joints, and our sketchbooks and pencils are ready and waiting. At the moment he’s chatting happily about astronomy, between buttery bites of cinnamon-raisin bagel; maybe, just maybe, he’ll draw another spaceship. Fragrant steam curls upward from our mugs of tea.
For a little while, we get to dwell between worlds.
When I think about parenting (and I do, perhaps too much), the Doodle Date is one of my favorite moves yet. The kid and I have been enjoying these outings ever since he started figuring out the cause-and-effect nature of a crayon. It’s not very complicated, really: we find a quiet spot, we have some tea and a snack, and we draw. Sometimes we doodle together. Sometimes we draw separately. Sometimes we check out other art and talk about it.
At the moment, he’s got very little patience for modern realism.
A painting of a bowl of bread really ticked him off a few weeks ago.
I’m convinced the creative lifestyle is serving my son well. I’ve heard lovely feedback from others about his drawing skill, his wild imagination, his willingness to dive into the abstract. I’m grateful for it. We all love to be reassured about our children, don’t we? He already embodies so many things that I myself aspire to: he’s fearless and silly and suffers no bullshit. He thinks laterally. The kid can speak eloquently about how it feels to create. What a joy, to see his developing Self emerge, and to witness his early awareness of it.
But here’s the reality: the Doodle Date is not just about the kid exploring art. It’s also about me learning—again and again—to see.
In parenting, even when we try to avoid the worst of modern media, there is a thriving culture of doubt. The e-sages would have us believe that we are all choosing the wrong food, sleeping arrangements, toys and activities, and that our children will invariably be screwed up as a result. The nature of flawed self-worth leaves us vulnerable to social expectation and seductive advertising. We’re distracted by endless choices that impersonate wisdom and empowerment; we fall prey to mirrored cycles of inadequacy.
We are asked to perceive any child’s future as a problem we are failing to solve for them here and now, not as a gift we get to savor with them in time.
In the midst of this, can we be brave? Can we step away from the noise, sit still, and really open our eyes?
In my knock-kneed, fumbling explorations of Buddhist thought, the message I’ve taken most to heart is this: Don’t believe what you’re told. Don’t believe what is written. Don’t believe what is said to be wise. Believe only what you yourself judge to be true.
And the truth, as I watch this astonishing little guy transform a little more every day, is this: every moment I have with him, even as I experience it, is already gone.
When he was newly born, he opened his big, dark eyes and looked right into me. I felt that terrifying spark of star-stuff in my chest that every new parent must feel. It threatened to crack me open and scatter me to the winds. And that moment too, as soon as it happened, was gone.
The act of seeing in this moment, truly and deeply, is the meditation and the practice. It needs to be the basis of everything I am as a parent: if I can open my eyes and really see him for who he is, here and now, he’ll show me what he needs.
Granted, we still have to devote time and attention to the everyday and the material. We must shop for groceries and clean mustard off the walls and scrub little underpants. Like anyone, I often struggle to bring my full awareness to tasks like these. In my quest to remain present, I have failed often, and will continue to fail. I know there are things I forget and things I overlook, and I get lost sometimes.
But my most important job is to perceive and honor this child for who he is, in any moment I get to share with him. The rest is gravy.
Light flops through his messy hair as he hunkers over his sketchbook, and I get to see it. How wonderful is that? I get to see his little brow furrow in concentration, as he spins out a funky little world with robots and a spirit-bunny. In the shifting angles of his face, I can already see shades of the man he will one day become, and I still see the wiggly baby he used to be; but as satisfying as those visions are, I have to let them go, because right now, this moment is the one that matters.
He’s drawing so fiercely that he’s abandoned the chair to stand up, and his shoe just fell off. He doesn’t even care. He just keeps going.
This moment is telling me everything I need to know.
And it, too, is already gone.
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Apprentice Editor: Marcee Murray King