*This occurred last year, and I knew it was something I wanted to put into words but I could never quite find the right ones. I began reading Dani Shapiro’s moving Devotion last week, which inspired me to finally sit down and find the words.
The dishes are done, the lights are low, my husband is giving our twin boys a bath, and I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my daughter as she taps the tip of a pencil on a subtraction worksheet so that scratches of graphite splash across the page. It’s been a long day and I’m thankful to have a little time with her as it winds down, but math is not her strong suit, nor is it mine, and frustration is quick to surface in us both.
“This is the worstest day ever. And math is the worstest thing ever. And YOU are the worstest mom ever!”
I send her to her room to cool down, and she stomps up the stairs defiantly. I take a deep breath. I have yet to figure out if this six-year-old of mine is a bona-fide perfectionist or just incredibly hard on herself. When I finally walk upstairs I find her buried under the covers with a book. I sit down but she says, “I just want to read”, so I let her.
The next morning, I sit outside of a yoga studio as the sun rises on a crisp fall day, towel and water bottle in hand as I wait for my friend as planned. This friend isn’t naturally a morning person so her arrival is questionable, and I already know that if she doesn’t show I’ll bolt.
The only class I ever dropped in college was a yoga class during my freshman year. You see, I pictured the class more happy baby pose than peacock pose; more om and namaste, less backbends and headstands. The problem was not that I was lazy. The problem is three fused vertebrae at the back of my neck and a displaced shoulder blade that limits movement in my left arm. The physical impossibility of contorting my body to somewhat resemble the fluid, polished movements of a yogi left me feeling exposed and disgraced, so I stopped going to class. I quit.
For the next 14 years, I was more conscious of what my body couldn’t do than what it could, even after it carried my daughter through pregnancy and cooperated through labor and delivery. I had become convinced that my physical abilities were limited until limiting myself became my habit, my pattern, my story. It wasn’t until I carried my twin sons to full term, albeit with quite a bit more effort than the first go-round, that I realized I could probably push this body of mine more than I ever thought. I decided to confront that ghost from a lifetime ago. It would be difficult, maybe even uncomfortable, but that was exactly the point.
My friend’s car pulls into the parking lot of the yoga studio, and I’m both relieved and disappointed. Leaving would have been so easy.
The room is packed when we walk in, and I squeeze my mat between the wall and a woman in head-to-toe white doing a headstand. I map my escape route. Leaving is still possible.
But something happens in that 85-degree room engulfed in sweat and sinew and surrounded by yogis of every level. My muscles and joints loosen and relax and something within me becomes unbound. I won’t learn until sometime later that I’ve unlocked what yogis call a samskara, a pattern or story that becomes imprinted upon your subconscious. When you release a samskara, you make room for new patterns, new stories. For now, I simply begin to challenge myself. I’m sure it isn’t pretty or even technically correct, but I feel capable in a way I wasn’t expecting. It’s a 75-minute class, but leaving doesn’t even cross my mind until we pledge “Namaste” and begin to roll up our mats.
Back at home my daughter is getting ready for school and dancing with her brothers. If one were searching for clues to the previous night’s calamity, her disposition certainly wouldn’t give her away. I take the worksheet that now bears the thrashings of an impatient pencil and motion for her to come to me.
“You are so smart,” I tell her. “You can do this.”
She crumples into me and nuzzles her face into the crook of my neck so that I can barely hear when she says, “It’s just that everyone in my class is good at math, and I’m afraid I’m never going to be good, and…” She takes a deep breath as though preparing to relinquish a secret. “I just like books better.”
“I know you do,” I say. “I do too.”
Maybe I shouldn’t admit this to her. Part of me feels like I’m folding into the cultural, if misleading, norm that girls aren’t especially mathematically inclined. It’s even possible that maybe I’ve been pushing her in order to dispel this notion, a big fat Take that! for gender equality. But the truth for me is that I just get words in a way I never will mathematics, and if I know my daughter at all, it is her truth as well.
“Just try your best,” I tell her. “But your best won’t always look like someone else’s best.”
Her curls brush my cheek as she nods her head. I can’t be sure, but what I hope she’s heard is this: You are capable, you are brilliant, and you are you.