A friend and I were walking along the river last week when we noticed a fallen tree with all the bark stripped from it. She commented on how destructive beavers are. I replied “Yes, but they create a lot too.” She said “I guess so,” and we left it there. I stopped myself from describing keystone species—a species whose ecologic function has the ability to affect their environment wholly and completely. Beavers take moving water and make it still, they turn rivers and streams into wetlands and lakes. What other species can do this? None, except humans. Who are we to judge this as good or bad? I don’t want to envision our country, our natural habitat, without beavers in the picture. I don’t know if I possibly can.
To a passerby, the fallen tree looks like destruction, like the animal is wasting trees to eat the bark. We can find ourselves judging and placing value on that act and that animal without appreciation for the bigger picture.
It reminds me how often we judge and place value on things we don’t fully comprehend. Or how often things that look like destruction are actually creation. Nothing is static in life, yet when our flow, our routine, our “normal” is disrupted, we often begin to judge that as a problem. We resist change. We try to return things to normal instead of adapting to the disruption and opening our minds to see what the situation has to offer.
The rest of our conversation was about the challenges in our lives, past and present, and what we have learned and how we have grown. Destruction creates growth. Sometimes the most difficult situations in our lives are the most rewarding. We talked about vulnerability, about compassion, about our shared humanity. And about judgment–how it limits our ability to see people and situations for their potential.
Every day I hear or see mothers of young children struggling because life has become so fast-paced and challenging. Things are not easy, not perfect, and the emotions are overwhelming. I find myself validating that things are challenging but also encouraging them to see the opportunity for growth. To know that the everyday hardships are opportunities to model emotional regulation, self-care, boundaries. This is the stuff kids learn from, more than what we tell them they should do. We aren’t meant to be happy all the time. I remind myself repeatedly of this. The balance of light/dark, life/death, cycles, and interconnected in our natural word remind us of our place and role.
It can be something small:
In the morning, my 2-year-old son likes to take his time on our walk home from taking his sister to school. At times I have found myself resentful and ended up picking him up to come home quickly, so that I might sit and have some coffee before I begin daily chores, but we both end up irritable. The good days are the ones where I pause each time he pauses, and notice what he notices. Sounds and sights are all new and exciting to him, and the ability to delight in the world through his eyes is refreshing, if I allow myself to pause. It brings me out of my headful of to-do lists. A 5 minute walk became 25, and I started that day feeling more alive and grounded in my body and my space because of his enthusiasm for the simple things around us. I feel grateful for crisp autumn air, yellow leaves, ladybugs, and robins splashing in a puddle. The things he helped me see. He also starts his day feeling heard, accepted, and valued.
Or it can be something big:
Last week my 4-year-old daughter had a dental appointment that was many months in the making. She has cavities and needs fillings. We were initially advised she should undergo anesthesia for fillings. I opted to follow my gut instinct and found a second opinion, and a third, and a fourth. I learned of nutritional methods for healing cavities and we have begun that course too. We settled on a course of action that seemed best for us. The night before the appointment, I felt anxious. I recognized the grief from past experiences sweeping forward into this situation. I let it wash over me and I thanked it for showing me I had some more healing to do.
I felt renewed and present the next day when I helped my daughter process her fear in preparation for the appointment. I never told her “don’t be scared” or “it will be okay” because that wouldn’t have helped her. However well-intentioned those statements might be, invalidating her emotions and her experience is a form of abuse. As she talked, she showed me that she needed to feel she was choosing this situation, she had the right to leave, and that she had options. So we discussed all of it, from what would happen if we didn’t get the fillings, to what would happen if she was too scared today to let the dentist do the work. She understood what laughing gas was and she asked the dentist all about her choices. She released her tears about the past times she felt she didn’t have a choice, she didn’t feel respected, she didn’t feel her fears and feelings were validated. She taught me how capable she is of making decisions, how intuitively she feels safe or not safe with people. We walked together into that appointment, with our fears acknowledged, so that we might be carrying the weight of only the present into that moment. She brought her tools to cope, including her weighted blanket and special gemstone, and she sat bravely for an hour. She can carry forward lessons to help her in the future with challenges: her ability to acknowledge and express her feelings, and her ability to deliberate options and make choices. My personal favorite lesson is to question medical authority if something doesn’t feel right or you are told you have no choices. I never told her not to cry, because her tears helped release all the pain she has stored in her body and memory. I gave her a safe space to feel all that and know that she is okay, and perfect as she is. In doing so I remind myself that I am okay too, and all my emotions are valid and worthy of recognition and care.
Or it can be huge: a death, a relationship ending, a trauma, a health or emotional crisis. These all have seeds of potential for more personal awareness and growth, if we can sit with the situation and feel and evaluate before gathering resources and moving forward. Notice our emotions and be with them. Be aware of our own judgments, or how our past might filter our lens with which we see the present. Don’t judge yourself for any of it, but notice it. Be open for guidance, for ways to facilitate change.
I’m grateful for difficult choices, kids with different schedules than our own, and for situations and people that appear to be destructive but might be opportunities for growth and awareness. I’m grateful for the beaver, whose destruction takes pieces of our world and creates new worlds we might not have imagined. We need pesky rodents, and we need difficult situations with our children. Next time you see a child or person who is challenging you on your present path, pause. Think of the beaver, who is so much smaller than the tree and the lake, and reminds us to use the skills we have to make big changes. Our children can effect big changes in the world, if we encourage them to embrace the gifts they have. Accept them wholly, equally on sad days and happy days. Let go of your judgment. Great things can come from things that are getting in your way. You might have to get out of your own way first.