"Let it go, let it go!" Ever since my daughters saw Disney's Frozen, hardly a day has gone by without the girls treating the household to Queen Elsa's anthem on infinite loop. With no escape from this song in the foreseeable future, I have taken an extreme measure to restore my sanity: "Let it go" has become my mantra.
Maybe I've just been brainwashed by the cultic chant of my burgeoning songstress offspring, but I can't help but see a grain of Zen wisdom in the words "let it go." Sure, there is admittedly a great deal of absurdity in comparing the lyrics of a princess-diva's enchanted life story to the teachings of a spiritual discipline. The association is coincidental, but strangely it works for me. I was taking shelter in the bathroom, reading a book about Zen mothering one bleary Sunday morning while the children belted out "Let it go!"...over and over. It's hardly enlightenment, yet it struck me that my kids were urging me to practice non-judgment.
My understanding of Zen non-judgment is that by trying to get over dualistic ideas like "okay/not okay," one can defuse feelings of frustration with the state of things. Essentially, just chill out and get over yourself. I can't control the world or even my kids, but I can try to change my reactions to everything that drives me crazy. Let that crap go, mama.
Obligingly, my girls frequently present me with chances to "let it go," although those words are rarely the first ones that spring to mind! In my experience, it's been more like counting to ten before you do something you regret (does that count as Zen?). I set some guidelines: Is safety on the line? Are anyone's feelings hurt? If not, practice the aforementioned mantra. Mostly, these (ahem) "opportunities for spiritual growth" have to do with my daughters' developmentally appropriate behavior.
I remind myself that three-year-olds may very well prefer to not use their fork. Chicken is manifestly a "sometimes" food. Pants and beds may get wet, despite ever so many dry months before this backsliding phase, bringing new meaning to the chorus "Can't hold it back anymore!" Arguing siblings are doing some of their most important work, "To test the limits and break through!" to borrow another phrase. Let's just say I'm still practicing my newfound Zen outlook on those.
I practice letting go of judgment about their toys. I have finally had to face the seemingly inevitable lure of Disney. Heck, even I'm not immune to that halcyon call forever, despite all my caution over commercialism for the past six years. "And the fears that once controlled me, can't get to me at all!" as my daughters might warble.
With so many doting and equitable gift givers, the girls both got "Disney Fairies" with Barbie-doll proportions; also toddler-bodied "My First Princess" dolls; as well as plush, so-safe-you-could-indoctrinate-your-infant versions of Princess Anna and Queen Elsa. I've been holding back the branded princess floodgates for so long, and I'm done. My daughters romp and sing and brush those plastic yellow locks, but never fear: they will be squabbling over the no-media-tie-ins, sustainably-harvested bamboo dollhouse furniture in half an hour. The gender-neutral dinosaur Legos and train engines will follow in due course. Oh yes, the bickering will be balanced.
I expand my nonjudgmental practice to other peoples' parenting. I was once startled to see one of the girls at school show up on one of those rare rainy days with no pants or tights under her dress. I now remind myself that we live in Santa Cruz, where the climate never reaches extremes. Bundling up is a response to incremental vacillations in temperature and moisture, not to mention a justification of that adorable rain gear purchase. My initial reaction had far more to do with my own ego, and not so much the wisdom of whoever let her out of the house in a sundress. That same morning, I insisted that my daughter put on a long sleeved dress under her sweater and jacket. Seeing some other kid galavant around with bare legs stuck into her rubber boots shows just how meaningless that battle was. Besides, you've heard Elsa: "The cold never bothered me anyway."
Most of all, hardest of all, I must practice letting go of judging myself. This is the most important one, yet it can feel far too self-indulgent. I imagine reaching the end of my day with that sense of satisfaction that is normally reserved for those who have checked off their to-do list, been faultless in their parenting, made time for their partner, reached a milestone in a project, and generally lived up to all of their own expectations. "Be the good girl you always have to be." I imagine putting down the heavy load of my own intentions, muting the play-by-play commentary of my own harshest critic. One day at a time, and this one is complete. I take my self-flagellation and "Let it go! Let it go! That perfect girl is gone!"
I'm happy to say that when I do manage to take it easy on myself, the benefits spill over delightfully into my family. Once I stop judging myself so much, it's easier to stop judging my kids so much. They do so much better when they don't feel nagged (doesn't everyone?). I've been in "enforcer mode" for so long that the instructions and warnings usually flow from my mouth on autopilot.
It can be startling to witness the girls self-correcting when I just bite my tongue for a minute, but they know the drill. Deprived of the clash of egos, it's entirely possible for them to run on autopilot too, albeit much more slowly than I'd like. "No right, no wrong, no rules for me - I'm free!" It's the same lesson my husband taught me years ago, really. Bless that unexpectedly loaded dishwasher, "correctly" done or not. Things will not always go my way and on my schedule, and that's all as it should be. Wow, does this one take practice...
All this Zen talk might sound a little high-minded (maybe that's why it feels so ridiculously satisfying to pair it with blockbuster entertainment). It may seem nigh impossible to abandon feelings of resentment, anger, lack of control, and all the rest... but that's why I call it "practice." Non-judgment doesn't have to be consistent to be beneficial. Every time I practice, I feel better.
I can enjoy little islands of contentment in my day when I remember to worry less, react less, and just allow things to unfold on their own once in awhile. The endless choruses of "Let it go" ringing through my house merely drive home the point.
But man, don't even get me started about whether I want to build a snowman.