My children get into my things all the time. Nothing is off limits: bedroom drawers, my filing cupboard, paperwork for my Yoga classes, notebooks with writing ideas, my piano music books, the stack of books sitting on my bedside table, letters that come through the letter box. There’s never a pen around when I need it. Nothing is sacred: everything is fair game.
It often feels as though nothing is solely my own now that I am a mother of three curious children. The only thing that I have that remains private is the world inside me: only available to be rifled through if I choose to allow it.
The effect of my children’s involvement with everything that I think of as ‘mine’ is enormous. They rip papers, spill drinks on important documents or magazines. They fold over the pages of my books, they press the keys when I’m working on the computer and suddenly change the font size (how do you change it back?!), they play lots of low notes when I’m struggling with a phrase on the piano. It’s inconvenient and irritating; it gets in the way of my running a smooth business and managing bank accounts and paperwork for various charities I’m involved with. I often find myself in the embarrassing position of returning an invoice that has been ripped in half or apologising to friends for damage to books I’ve borrowed. Just before Christmas my toddler urinated on my very expensive touch-screen mobile phone. That one merited an insurance claim.
When I walk in the room and see the damage they’ve done to all around them I want to pick up all my things, wrap my arms securely around the broken items and shout “Mine!” in the most Gollum-like manner I can manage! It’s infuriating and it makes me roar with rage.
It seems to happen to me more than anyone else in the family and I have been wondering why this is the case. One possible reason is that I have no other place to keep my things. I have no office, no lockable cabinet, no alternative location to escape to. My husband has his office, and at home he has very little that he actually cares about. The children have their toys, but they don’t seem all that attached to them. And there’s the rub. Attachment.
As I swept up the glass from the last item of mine that the toddler broke it dawned on me with epiphanic significance: The reason I seem to be so strongly affected by my children’s criminal damage is not because they are criminals, it is because of my own attachments. I am attached to too many things. So while I want to blame my children for getting into everything, what I really need to do is look at myself and interrogate my attachments: is shouting at my children about a ripped magazine more important than my relationship with them? It patently is not. However, at the time it seems so important and I feel so cross!
The third klesa or obstacle to having a quiet mind is raga: not a pasta sauce, but attachment. It is an attachment to impermanent things, or the desire to have something whether I truly need it or not. I look around me and tell myself that I have very few attachments: if someone came and burgled my house there would be nothing of value here to take. But actually the reality is that I am attached to quite a lot: to my papers and books, my knitting wool and needles, my piano books and my phone. I am attached to lots of ideas: autonomy, running a successful business, having my own space, privacy.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with all of these things: of course everyone wants a bit of privacy. But it’s the cold, hard grasp of my hands around those things that gives me so much pain. My children are just that: children. They are inquisitive, they understand little of personal space or privacy, and certainly my two year old has no idea that he is damaging something that matters to me. What does he know of touch-screens and insurance claims? I wonder if I were able to shrug my shoulders a little more often and say, “oh well” would my mind be quieter? If I had fewer things hanging around that matter to me, or if they mattered a little less, would I experience less turmoil when they do get damaged?
What is impermanent? My ‘things.’ What is permanent? My connection to my children: love, mutual understanding, trust. I know which one is more important to me, but it’s so easy to lose perspective.
Photo credit: I, Jina Lee, Wikimedia Commons