There’s a story in Travelers’ Tales, “A Mother’s World: Journeys of the Heart” that gave me a reason to pause. In case you pick up a copy of this volume of Travelers’ Tales at your local used bookstore, the story is on page 102 and is titled, “Ten Blocks”.
It’s about a mother, Terry Strother, and her four-year-old daughter, Emma, and the trials of getting ready for school on time - a story that any mother could write - but this mother inserted a coping skill that was useful for her four-year-old and transferrable to any one in need of bearings. The mother asked three questions that automatically brought her daughter back to reality.
1) Where am I?
2) What are you doing?
3) How do I do it?
As Emma dilly dallies with getting dressed and eating breakfast, Terry struggles to keep Emma going so they will not be late. Emma cannot seem to get started on breakfast. Terry tells her to hurry up. In frustration she pleads with her mother, “Can we have one more slow day before we go back to fast days?”
Terry responds, “We can have as many slow days as you want...”
“I want five.” She holds up fingers.
“...but the slower you go the more important it is to be mindful and direct when something needs to get done.”
“But my mind is jumping like a monkey - it’s here now. Oh, now it’s here...” She points to different parts of her head.
“When your mind jumps away, you can bring it back by saying - where am I?”
She is surprised, “At the table.”
“What am I doing?”
“How do I do it?”
She looks puzzled, “Pick up the spoon.”
Laughter. Takes a bite.
They set out to walk ten blocks in the rain through Manhattan to school.
The story picks up from there:
Out on the sidewalk I find that I can’t hold an umbrella and push a stroller at the same time. I think of insisting that Emma sit in the stroller and that we “run between the raindrops” to school but something stops me. I turn and look back. Emma is smiling as she walks: big confident strides, umbrella cocked back, rain boots squishing.
Then I realize what she’s doing: where am I? - on the sidewalk; what am I doing? - walking in the rain; how do I do it? - put one foot in front of the other. Or some version of that.
At any rate she is fully in the moment, in her environment, and thoroughly enjoying it.
[...] For the last three or four blocks she’s been singing...
Drip drip drop
little April showers
what can compare with your beautiful sound
Terry’s thoughtful approach to motherhood is allowing room for her daughter to become a poet as shown by what Emma wrote while still only four years old:
Do you remember
when you were a baby
and looked up at the sky
and wiggled and waggled?
I could sing to you ‘til the fire flies
and she folded up her hands to see the
“It’s all right,” her mother said
and nudged her.
Emma Strother, age 4