promises, promises…

So, to refresh your memory.  Here is the poem from the Tao Te Ching that I posted the other day and wondered if it were a prescription for mothering.

In the pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.


So let’s take today, shall we?  Middle was at a regatta today.  Far away. I knew from the schedule that he had a race early in the morning and another midmorning.  When I got up this morning, I checked the weather where he was.   It was going to be cooooold for a California boy. I wondered if he had the right clothes to wear.  I considered calling him and then refrained.  I didn’t want to bug him as they were getting ready.  As the clock ticked toward race time, I thought of him.  How was the course?  Was he warm? Was he nervous?  Ah, they must be racing right now!  I checked the website for the regatta, which promised "results in real time."  Not.  I picked up the phone and dialed his cell.  No answer.  I didn’t leave a message.  Time passed, as it is wont to do. 

"I guess they must not have done very well," I said to Mate, "otherwise he would have called."

The next race approaches. Still no results on the web.   I consid texting him.  I pick up the phone, but at the last minute, I refrain.

As I put the phone down, I think of Lao Tzu.  What would be gained by interfering?  Well for one thing, my curiosity would be appeased.  That is something, but not, I admit, very much.  Oh, wait, if I am honest I know I have some anxiety too.  I worry they won’t do well.  I worry he will catch a crab and ruin the chances for the whole boat. I worry, a little, that they might flip into the almost icy waters of the lake.  So, if I interfer, if I act on my anxiety, I would be taking care of myself.

So what?  Can’t I take care of myself once in a while?  Of course I can.  But do I need to right now?

Lao Tzu says, "True mastery can be gained by letting things go their own way."

"Let’s see what happens," I think to myself, "if I do not act."

He called.  Eventually. 

Without preamble.  "MOM, it is SOOOO COLD HERE…"  He is off.  Describing the race, the freezing waters, how they circled for 45 minutes in their racing tanks, how it was so cold that the University of Washington, whose home course it is, bailed out of racing. 

Here is what I get for my non-action. A jumble of news, details, exclamations and excitement.  They came in third in the first race.  They are waiting on results in the second. 

"I may have to stick to California if it is this cold everywhere else." 

"I want to go to the Space Needle but don’t know if we have time before we have to be at the airport."

"Norcal flipped after the finish and they had to call ambulances and paramedics because the water was so cold they got hypothermia!"


I ask, "Are you warm enough now?"

"Yes, I left my puffy jacket on the trailer but it is coming back and I have my sweatshirt on."

"You should drink some hot chocolate."

"I am!  They have a Starbucks truck."

Briefly, I act.  "Whaaaat?"  He well knows I boycott Starbucks.

"Mom, it’s FREE.  I’m exploiting them!  I’m downing many free shots of hot chocolate!"

We laugh.  He hangs up.

If I had acted, if I had called or texted or otherwise insisted on my needs being met, much would probably have been the same. But Middle would not have had the experience of agency, the ownership of his day up through and including the telling.  And that would have been a loss. 

Nothing was done. So nothing was left undone.


8 thoughts on “promises, promises…

  1. Alesia, this mom can’t take any credit for that wisdom. It came straight from Lao Tzu!
    slouching mom, great question. If he hadn’t called, then my anxiety would have ratcheted up, but I am not sure that would have changed the equation fundamentally. I might also have been hurt that he didn’t want to share his experience with me. But there was no NEED for him to call – I had his itinerary – he was with a coach whose job it was to take care of him. I just WANTED to know what was up, to be part of things, to have my worries allayed. What I am getting to in trying to understand this concept of not-acting is not that we do NOTHING, but we do as little as the present moment requires. More on this today. Thank you for thinking about it with me!

  2. It’s so hard to transition from being the person your child first comes to with news, concerns, and needs to being a peripheral member of the group of acquaintances. In my mind I know this is simply what I have demanded for myself vis-a vis my own parents, but in my heart, it makes me sad to think that my relationship with my girls (Impera in particular) is changing in that way. Looking forward to more Lao Tzu!

  3. Imperatrix, it is hard. I think the only offsetting benefit is that when they are older and they call you or otherwise fill you in on the details of their lives, they are doing it because they want to do it, and not because they feel required to do it.

  4. I love this stuff–please share more.
    I often struggle with the very same things you mentioned in your post. As Moms, we’re tuned to be rescuers and nurturers, so the letting go is especially difficult.
    You’re right, though. They will call–on their own terms.

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