When my dear Raffi plucks an earthworm from the soil, ecstatic with his find, I know it’s that grub’s death sentence. Gentle, Raffi, I’ll say. Wormies are our friends. I’ll remind him to hold his with tender hands, offer him a stick, or a bucket as substitute. But his grubby hands want to know what life feels like. They hold a pulsing, coiled worm in a loose clasp as he toddles, curious. Pulled by other exploration, he won’t notice that his hands have lost their gentleness. He won’t mean to hold too tight. He won’t mean to rub and squeeze until oh no mommy, wormie broken! Wormie need bandaid!
And then, I’ll offer him my hand and say Here my love, give mommy the worm. We’ll dig a hole and put him back. Earth heals.
It’s my fault. I showed him that first worm. The ur worm. Earthworms are signs that the soil is rich; they keep the soil healthy so that we can grow. I couldn’t wait to arm my babe with shovel, and knowledge that so much more lies beneath the surface. Dig, child of my heart, explore! And so he did.
Each time it happens, I remind him that with all life we must be gentle, and attentive. That we must take care of the world around us. I’ll suggest that we leave that earthworm be. That sometimes, even when we really want something, it might not be the right thing to take it. That we can take a deep breath, and a feeling that is really uncomfortable, like a want unmet, will eventually pass.
Sometimes when Raffi joins me in my raking and sowing he’ll ask for worms and I’ll tell him all the worms are sleeping today, my love. Some days I can’t stand to be complicit in the carnage.
How many earthworms must sacrifice themselves to one boy’s learning?
I don’t remember my own earthworm slaughtering, though I’m sure it happened—I was a lover of the earth, too. My father would take me out in the garden, teach me how to root plants, aerate soil, water just enough. The same hands that shook threateningly in rage-full moments could be so gentle. I can feel how, with confident tenderness, he pulled a planting from the nursery’s plastic popsicle tray of seedlings. The trowel so toy-like in his grasp, so huge in mine. Create a hole, plug it in, pour dirt over, spread. Water. Hope. Repeat.
An early memory surfaces. Sidewalk puddles, just after rain. I squat in the way that only young children, or natives of another less sedentary land can squat; easily, seat low and heels flat, elastic limbs. From that low perch I watch a parade of earthworms who’ve for some magical reason arisen from their earthen realm. I feel as though I’ve been invited to something important. The air is wet and though the day is gray I breathe in green. I am brimming with wonder.
I am sure I squeezed a worm or two to death. Not on purpose, of course. But that’s what happens when young hands meet new things.
Not just earthworms suffer. It seems to me that every kind of first relationship bears the burden of learning gentleness.
All of those lessons learned at the expense of other things—Are those sacrifices recorded in some cosmic tally? A hashmark for every little worm. On each Soul’s judgement day, does the ledger balance—what we’ve broken, compared to what we’ve learned? Maybe that inequity is what sends us spinning back into the next cycle of being.
Learning. Is there learning without breaking? A seed planted must break through its casing to become itself, again. A caterpillar morphs, but to do so must abandon itself completely to becoming caterpillar soup. A planet’s caretakers must be threatened with their own demise before beginning to understand the global implications of their personal consumption—and even then might not change course. A father who learned anger early can come to gentleness, but at the cost of relationship with his firsts born. A woman might learn her strength, but only after coming close to falling apart.
I watch my two-and-a-third-year-old learn. He makes mistakes, plenty of them. He breaks more than he builds. I do not judge him. I love him unconditionally. I celebrate his process. I guide where I can, and provide bandaids where they’ll make a difference. But, mostly, I try to steel myself enough to stand back so that he may learn.
I see his mistakes as part of his process, just as I see the earthworm as part of all that lives, all that passes, all that becomes again. His transgressions I, of course, forgive. They become golden apples, teaching moments that I pluck and share and savor.
But what of my mistakes? They are not so sweet.
I am new to motherhood. I am two-and-a-third-years-old. Sometimes I feel as though I’ll break under the weight of my own fear. Some days I am worn down and short tempered. Some days I crave something I cannot name, and live in the shame of my own dissatisfaction. Some days I do not respond as quickly or as well as a better mother would; some days I am momentarily resentful of his insistent squawking. Some days I am twisted into knots by bills and husband and this incessant fear that I will fail. And then shame pulls me under, for isn’t that squawking golden boy the greatest thing I’ve ever done? Some days gratitude escapes me, and I live for hours in the dark corners of my mind.
If I make a mistake, Raffi is the earthworm I chance mishandling. This is the crux of my fear—what if my dear, perfect baby boy withers in the shadow of my fear, is harmed by my imperfections.
I plead to the Universe: let my Raffi survive my learning.
And because I don’t really believe the Universe heeds individual prayers, I know I have to practice. Every time I’m pulled under this tsunami of feeling, I have to pull myself back to the lessons my own child’s learning process is teaching: that there is no such thing as a mistake, that it’s all part of the process, and that it’s all learning. If an experience teaches us to be more present, and more compassionate for ourselves and others, then nothing is wasted. The energy of the thing broken is transferred, transformed into the lesson learned.
I’d like thank the earthworms for their sacrifice. I’ll say a prayer each time I spill dirt over a wounded one, guts spilling out where toddler hands pulled. May you become part of the earth, again. May you nourish the soil, and what grows. And may my body, someday, nourish your descendants.
(c) 2018 Empower Yoga and Wellness, LLC