I have this quiet, fleeting hope that we become family

If you would have told me even a year ago that I’d be running a children’s program at Portland Friends of the Dhamma, I would have laughed and laughed. I would have told you I support the kids program because I want to meditate while my kids are in capable hands — someone else’s. On the other side of two solid wood doors. With a caregiver that’s decidedly NOT ME. I earned my stripes — trying to be a meditator and raise two small children. It has not been easy. All sides are compromised.

During my sacred Sunday mornings, I wanted my five- and seven-year-olds off my hands so I could sit in a room full of SILENT ADULTS. That’s why we offered childcare — wasn’t it?

But I had this nagging feeling the program had the potential to be more than it was. It could grow up, it could mature. What if the kids’ program wasn’t just child care? What if it was Dhamma class? What if it included deliberate character education? What if the kids were introduced to Theravada Buddhist concepts and conventions in a playful and age-appropriate way? What if they meditated and practiced mindfulness-based coping strategies? What if they had a routine and responsibilities?

Then I had a weirder feeling — a sinking feeling — that I too had the potential to grow up, to mature. My heart whined at the thought of leaving behind my precious Sunday mornings, my silence, my community. There were so many reasons not to take the next obvious step: I’d freeze in the center’s basement. I’d never sit with grownups again. The kids wouldn’t take to me. In fact, certainly someone would get hit by a bus — or at least stung by a bee. If I was hired into the program, I was sure I would ultimately be fired, banished in shame from my spiritual home.

These things could still happen. Frankly, I’m holding my breath.

But I took the leap, took the lead, and have been directing the Dhamma Friends children’s program for more than a month now. We started on the most auspicious of days — Vesak, or Buddha Day. We set up our first altar and filled it with items we brought to share. We signed a birthday card for the Buddha. We made glitter-laden candle holders. We made silly attempts at bowing and a downright sorry attempt at yoga. But there was a LOT of giggling. So that seemed good.

Then there was Mother’s Day and the flower card craft that I actually practiced at home before class, the beginning of our unit on gratitude. That day, we had our first unforgettable “circle time” conversation. I asked the kids, “What are some things your parents do for you?” Friends, you should have seen the blank stares on those wonderful, well-raised children. They could not think of ANYTHING. One child blurted out “Socks!” With a little prodding, we came up with breakfast, lunch and dinner. As a mother myself, I had to fight my every instinct to recite the mile-long list of tasks I had completed for my kids that morning alone. I am learning that kids are necessarily self-absorbed — how else do you get the last cookie with your vulturous brother hovering nearby? But they are also naturally generous, empathetic, kind, helpful and stinking hilarious.

Since then, we have crafted gratitude journals, created an appreciation paper chain, taken photos of beautiful and useful things on our neighborhood walks. We’ve signed thank you cards for the volunteers that sewed our zafus and built our new storage furniture. We have started collecting items for outdoor survival kits for unsheltered Portland residents. We’re slowly reaping the benefits of routine, group clean-up and snack-time manners. We have had the added blessing of Miss Anja, my daughter’s preschool teacher, attending our program, and gently schooling us in the arts of the transition, the rule following, the communal snack eating. Last week, our group was 13 kids ranging in age from four to 14, and while that may seem a challenge, it’s quite lovely watching the kids look after and help each other, model for each other and depend on each other.

I have this quiet, fleeting hope that we become family.

The best part is, my kids like to come. In fact, they love it. They help set up, they choose books. They shine on the other kids and bask in the love they receive. And I adore them there, being among them, watching them bloom. We are learning the lessons of the Buddha together, the kindness, the patience, the humor.

My Sunday morning grown-up life feels very far away already. I remember it like I would a lovely and relaxing vacation, a place where I got away from it all. But this new life — downstairs with all the laughter, the glitter and the kids — this feels like home.

3 Replies to “I have this quiet, fleeting hope that we become family”

  1. Karen Swanson says: Reply

    Beautiful…so happy to see what’s unfolding.

    1. jessicaswanson@gmail.com says: Reply

      Thank you! It’s, you know, a little more chaotic than this reveals. But what happens in the “fungeon” stays in the fungeon!

  2. I have often wondered how the transition went for you, becoming the “Dhamma school “teacher. Thank you for being so clear and heartfelt about this transition. Now I feel like celebrating when I see you with the kids downstairs!

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