Parenting H

Category: personal growth

“H is getting so big,” he tells me. 

He has slid forward in the bucket swing so that his body stretches long. His legs are dangling toward the ground, and they look more gangly than I remember them being a second ago.

He looks into my eyes, grinning. He looks proud. 

“Yes! H is getting so big!” I smile back at him, basking in the reflected glow of his delight.

In this moment, my heart understands something transformative. There is joy in growing, and I can take delight in my own growth as he does in his. Joy and delight will not be possible all of the time, no, but taking a longer view of the journey might help me meet the muck and the rocky terrain that inevitably comes up with less resistance. This painful moment is not all there is, and it will not stretch on indefinitely. It is a stepping stone to the next moment, which may well contain a counterbalancing joy. How much more likely I am to find joy strewn in with the pain when I believe it can be there and look for it. I feel my body relax and my mind become more spacious with the shift in perspective from ‘this growing is painful’ to ‘this growing can be painful and yet there is much joy, too, to be found in the journey.’

I don’t have to make it be so hard for myself. There is joy in growing. I breathe in the idea and let it go, making room for everything that is happening right now, the pain, yes, and also the joy.

I give H another push and let his laughter bring me back to him. He is getting so big, and I want to be witness to as much of his growing as I can. It is, as he knows intuitively, a joyful and beautiful thing.

H and I laid together at bedtime, face to face, my eyes inches from his. It started with me pushing my cheek gently into his back while he sat reading Tumble Bumble. For some reason this made him laugh, and he threw himself back on the mounded up comforter behind him. I laid down, too, our noses nearly touching, and leaned in to brush my eyelashes against his cheek. He laughed even more before protesting.

“No. No,” he said, shaking his head, laughing still.

“No. Okay,” I agreed seriously, and I stopped.

He brought the tips of his fingers together and said, “More. More.” I leaned in for another butterfly kiss.

“No. No,” he laughed as my lashes touched his cheek.

I stopped.

We continued this dance for what seemed a blissful eternity, but surely was just minutes. Amid the butterfly kisses, protests, reversals, and a handful of eskimo kisses thrown in for variety, H poked his finger at my eyelashes, saying, “Eye. Eye,” and laughed and laughed.

I wish I could bottle H’s toddler laughter so that I would have it with me for always, for those times he will be with his father or at school or away on some as yet unseen grand adventure of his imagining, for when he is grown and off growing a family of his own. The sound I would capture is honest and true and all that is right with the world. It is pure happiness, pure grace, pure joy. It is a lifeboat that ferries me from the thoughts that flood out the peace in my head to a calmer place. If his laughter had a smell, it would be crisp white sheets hung on the line to dry, damp earth after a rain, freshly mown grass, maybe the smell of wet gravel and rocks.

H is a balm. His laughter saves me.

He has saved me again and again. When postpartum depression pulled out all the stops to convince me I wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else but here, pumping milk for H and then breastfeeding him saved me. When I walked out of the hospital every night for those first 40 days of H’s life, my heart shattered into a million pieces, coming back the next day to sit by his side and hold him for as long as was allowed put me back together. When the cracks in my marriage spread and finally pulled us apart, H’s immediate needs helped me be braver and stronger than I ever knew I could be. The sheer fact of his existence has brought down the armor around my heart, rendering me vulnerable in ways that are both profoundly unsettling and profoundly liberating. His existence has challenged my assumptions about what is important in this life and has helped me become a better version of myself day after day. Because of him I am more patient, more kind, more forgiving, more open, more vulnerable, all of these with room to grow. I am learning to be less afraid to look at my dark bits, my imperfections, the things I do not like about myself. I am stronger, and I am softer. I know, and I don’t know, and I am learning to embrace this contradiction, to surrender to it, to shed black and white ways of thinking that cause disconnection and suffering. I am feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin.

H has no obligation to do any of this for me, not to save me nor to show me the way to saving myself. It is not, nor will it ever be, his responsibility or duty. I do not ask it of him, and yet he does it again and again. It is a gift he gives me unknowingly, an unexpected gift of motherhood I never knew I needed until he came along.

When he laughs, I pause. I take these moments whenever they come, be they in the middle of bedtime or when I am wrangling him into pants so that we can be out the door. The post-bedtime quiet alone time can wait. The appointment will be kept; we will get there even if it is a minute late. When he laughs, I close my eyes and still my mind. I am anchored in the here and now. H, his laughter, the call to be present, this is what saves me and how I save myself, again and again.

You will be told that you and H have an attachment issue. You will be told this by a mental health professional you are going to for help when you are in an already vulnerable state. Your face will betray surprise and your body will flood with shame when you hear those words. You will say that you don’t see anything wrong with a strong attachment to your child, but you will feel like the words fall flat and lifeless on the floor, ineffectual with someone you will feel is taking everything you say and turning it against you. You will be asked what, exactly, it is that you are doing to foster independence in H, but it will hit you as a challenge rather than an impartial, curious inquiry. You will be told that mother-child pairs who have intense connections cause marital problems, that if your husband is contemplating leaving you, you had better listen to what he has to say and you had better do something, anything, to save your marriage. You will be told that you are drawing too tight a circle around you and H, that you need to let outside voices in. You will be told that you need to talk to H’s pediatrician about his sleep, that the doctor is the expert and knows about these things and so you have to listen. You will say that you have talked to her and that you have opted not to follow her advice in this one area, and you will feel this only further confirms the impression of you the mental health professional seems to hold. You will be told that you are viewing the world as hostile, in an us against them kind of way, and that you are lumping the mental health professional into the them when all the mental health professional wants to do is help because she cares about you. You will be told that you are reading into things and your misunderstandings of the mental health professional’s words are projections of your own distorted thoughts and feelings. You will start to feel like it does not matter what you say and so you will start to say nothing very much at all. You will be told that you are angry, that the mental health professional can see that, that she knows when she is done, and that she is sorry she has incited your ire, but she really does care about you and only wants to help. You will start packing up your belongings to go, but you will be held a moment longer. Would you like to come back in two weeks or four? you will be asked. After you have left the mental health professional’s office, you will wish that you had said you prefer not to come back at all.

Later, you will be sitting with H on your lap, his back curved snugly into your chest and your check nuzzled into the warmth of his head and the softness of his hair. Your thoughts will return to the mental health professional, and you will feel the helplessness of being told, despite your protestations, things about yourself you know not to be true. You will wonder if this is what it felt like to be a woman in the 1800s diagnosed with hysteria simply for having a uteruses and feelings. You will sense a gathering of mothers around you, mothers told they caused their children’s autism with their cold, inadequate parenting; mothers of gay sons accused of being smothering and overbearing; single mothers blamed for the crime and poverty in their neighborhoods. You will think about how mothers can be undermined and criticized for almost anything they do, how you sometimes cannot win as a mother, you are either too distant or too involved, too strict or too permissive, too affectionate or too stern, too much of this and not enough of that. You will wonder why mothers are so often criticized and blamed when there is every reason to celebrate and lift them up. You will feel the collective pain of the mothers gathered around you, because it is your pain now, too.

You will be brought back to the present moment by H. He will insist on holding your tea mug by himself to drink cold oat straw tea, and you will wonder why everyone is harping on what you are or are not doing to foster his independence. You will see it, right there, in the way he grabs your mug and pushes your hand away when you try to help. You will wonder why the gentle, respectful, responsive parenting that feels so right to you is perceived by so many to be so bad for you, for him, for your family. You will feel utterly misunderstood and alone even as you sit with one of the most important people in your life on your lap.

And then you will get up and keep going. You will continue to follow H’s lead and to trust that he knows himself and his needs best. You will breathe deeply and reorient yourself toward your core parenting values. You will work at quieting the voices that don’t serve you while at the same time tuning in to those that do. You will remind yourself that it is worth standing up for a world filled with people who have known gentleness and respect from the time they were young and who are seen for who they are and not for who someone else wants them to be. You will feel a quiet kind of strength, the kind that comes from sitting in the fire until all that is left around you is ashes. You will feel that strength rising up within you, but you will know that you are not yet as unshakably confident in yourself and your parenting as you would like to be. And so you will close your eyes, lean back into the dark, expansive universe and its brilliant points of light, each one representing everyone who ever has or ever will exist, and you will trust that you will get there.

He is too attached to you. You are too attached to him. You respond to him too quickly. He has to learn that he can’t always have his mother. He has to learn to be independent. It is good for him to cry. He should sit in his chair. He should be quiet while we eat. He shouldn’t play with his food. He shouldn’t make a mess. He shouldn’t cry. You are too soft. You are coddling him. He needs to self soothe. The world is a hard place. He has to learn. You have to teach him. He has to sleep. You have to do something to make him sleep. You have to let him cry. He wouldn’t be so small if your body had been able to carry him to term. He wouldn’t be so small if he were eating more solids. He would be eating more solids if you weren’t still breastfeeding. He would be eating more solids if you had started with purees. He would be walking if you didn’t pick him up so much. He would be talking if you hadn’t taught him baby signs. Your parenting is the reason he hasn’t bonded as strongly to his father as to you. Your parenting is ruining your marriage. Your parenting is ruining your life.

It is what is in my heart that matters. I know. And yet the voices of others can be deafeningly loud, shouting down my heart and crowding out my voice. If I let them, these cacophonous voices are my edge to lean into, my soft spot to breathe into. Hearing them is my chance to be more open, more kind, more tenderhearted, more gentle. Sitting with them is my chance to remain steadfastly with myself.

You are parenting from the heart. He is securely attached to you. You are securely attached to him. He is growing and thriving. He is gentle and sweet. He is becoming  independent and confident because of, not despite, your love.

This is my voice. H is my heart. This is what matters.

Sometime before H’s first birthday, he helped me decorate the white craft paper we used as wrapping paper for his birthday present. We worked alongside each other in crayon, me making polka dots and H making marks. My heart thrilled watching him make short and long, faint and strong, and straight and crooked scribbles over my dots. I felt there could be no better marks in all the world than the ones coming from H’s hand.

Sometime after H’s first birthday, we received a mysterious gift. Someone left two hand made paper cones for us, one each on our front and back stoops. They were fashioned haphazardly, the edges mismatched at the top, each held together by a single, short piece of Scotch tape. One cone was decorated with repeating patterns of shapes, but the other had only scribbles, just like the ones H had made on his wrapping paper. I don’t know who gave the cones to us. H and I talked to our neighbors on either side, both likely candidates because of their young children, but neither knew anything about them. Both had received similar cones and thought they had been from H. The cone giver remains a mystery.

I thought a lot about those cones around the time we received them. I even kept them for a while. I enjoyed turning them over in my hands and thinking about the child who made them. How old was he? Was the child a she and not a he? Was she anything like H? Most of all, my heart felt happy at the possibility that this mystery child’s parents thought the marks on the cones were as lovely as I found H’s and that somewhere out there was someone just as loved.

Love. H has taught me what unconditional love is. He has never had to do anything or be anything different than who he is, and I love him. I often long for moments with H to stop or at the very least slow down. I want to remember everything forever, including the quality of my love for him, but everything is happening so fast and so much has been lost already in the fog of my mind. And so I write. It is like a meditation, a way of being in at least a few moments longer than I would be otherwise, and it is as close to stopping time as I have found. I imagine reading these stories years later, the memories fresh and vivid for having spent the time it takes to capture them in words. I imagine H reading them someday and smiling at the things he did and was but won’t remember.

The stories I write about H are ordinary moments made extraordinary to me by the fact that he is my baby. He is growing and developing in his own way and at his own pace, yes, but he is growing and developing just as all babies grow and develop. In a way, it is astounding that he pulls his hands midline or stands unassisted, but in another way, it is nothing special at all. He is not he first baby to do these things, nor will he be the last.

Sometimes I feel self conscious sharing these stories. “They are too ordinary,” I tell myself. “No one will care about this. Everyone will think I am making too big a deal about nothing. It’s silly to write so big about something so small.” But then I think about the marks on the mysterious cones and the child out there somewhere who made them. I think about how much joy H’s marks bring me. I think about all children everywhere and imagine them as loved as I love H. The cones are a reminder that I am not alone. There are millions of parents out there shepherding millions of littles through life, and I am connected to every one of them through H and all of the big and small things he does and through the love I have for him. There is nothing small about this, and, from that perspective, there is nothing too small to celebrate. And so I write.

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I thought I knew things about parenting, or the kind of parent I would be, before H came along.

All babies sleep in cribs, I was sure. I am not going to be my child’s playmate. I am going to be his parent, I was confident. All the firsts, first smiles, first birthdays, first steps, first haircuts, will be full of joy and only joy, I assumed. All I need to do is find the right book to help me understand my baby’s sleep and we will all be well rested. All I need to do is find the right book period and my every parenting question will be answered, I took for granted.

Now I know that some babies just cannot be put down for naps or bedtime. Now I know that there are many ways and places for sleep to happen. Now I know that to play is to parent. Now I know in my heart the great joy of firsts, but I also know that the joy of firsts can be tinged with sadness. Now I know that there is no book out there that can teach me better about my baby’s sleep than he can. And well rested? Now I have an inkling there may be no such thing as a parent, no matter the age of the child. Now I know there is no book period, no matter how helpful it is, that can teach me better about H than H himself can.

Maybe I knew nothing despite all the things I thought I knew, but it doesn’t matter now. H teaches me every day everything I need to know about parenting him, often throwing in an extra credit lesson for me about myself. He always shows up and he never gives up on me, no matter how many times I need the lesson repeated. He is a most excellent teacher, the best at showing me who I am and who I want to be, both as a parent and as a human being.

H spots the mesh cup of golf pencils at the reference desk. He points, swinging his legs and bobbing up and down in excitement. H discovered these golf pencils last time we were here visiting with the children’s librarian. I set him on the desk, and he gets right to work removing the pencils from the mesh cup and depositing them in a rotating rack holding informational brochures and bookmarks, making faint pencil marks on some of them in the process.

“How old?” the librarian asks. She is not the children’s librarian. I have never seen her before.

“He’s almost 16 months,” I say.

“He’s adorable.”

She smiles at H, watching him with gentle eyes. She is friendly.

I fish the pencils from the brochures and return them to the cup. H takes them right back out, and I smile at his industriousness. Pencils clatter on the desk and fall to the floor, and I  pick them up obligingly. Pencil points that get stuck in the mesh of the cup break off, but I continue to smile. They can be resharpened.

H turns his attention from the rotating rack to the librarians’ phone. He puts a pencil on the phone and presses the nearest button. The phone goes to speaker, the dial tone loud in the quiet library.

“How did you know to do that?” the librarian asks H as she cheerfully lifts the receiver and puts it back on the hook to disengage the speaker.

“Lucky press,” I say.

She moves the phone a bit toward her and I move H a bit away from the phone. She periodically turns her attention to her work, but mostly she is watching H. She is still smiling. She is still friendly.

H sees another mesh cup of pens, markers, and highlighters. He empties this mesh cup, object by object, into the rotating rack. He takes some brochures from the rack and bends and crinkles them as he works at putting them back.

The librarian is smiling, still benignly, at H, but I begin to feel uncomfortable. We have been here too long, I think. We are being a nuisance.

H is focused on his project, oblivious to my growing unease. The voices in my head get louder. I shouldn’t be letting him do this, I think. We shouldn’t be here at all. A better parent wouldn’t let her baby play with the pencils at the library’s reference desk. The discomfort in my body becomes so great that I cannot stand still anymore.

“Would you like to go look at some books?” I ask H.

He pays no attention to me, continuing to find different configurations for the pencils, pens, markers, and mesh cups. He stacks the two cups on top of one another and works at putting one on top of the rotating rack.

“I am going to pick you up,” I tell H, looking at the librarian with embarrassment. I pick him up. He protests. He tries to keep his body where it is, but I am bigger and stronger so he is in my arms. H throws his weight back toward the desk and starts to cry his super sad cry.

“We’ll go look at some books,” I say to H, pointing back to the children’s section.

I look at the librarian. She smiles at me. “Oh, it’s okay,” she says, waving my hand away as I struggle to collect the remaining of the wayward golf pencils.

We walk away. H is screaming, his face red and twisted in displeasure. His cry is easily the loudest thing in the library. I shut out everything else around us, hearing and seeing nothing but him, so that I can remain calm and stay present with his feelings.

We get to the children’s section and H asks to play with the roller coaster bead toy table. I set him down and he stands, tears pooling on his cheeks, half heartedly moving the beads on their curved wires. It is not long before he sits down to crawl away. I follow him back to the main part of the library and pick him up. He points. I walk where he leads. We are back at the reference desk.

“He wasn’t done with his project,” I say to the librarian.

“He’s okay to be here,” she says kindly. She is still friendly.

H happily resumes his work with the golf pencils while I hold him tight against me. The shame of having taken him away not because of what he was doing but because of how I felt sits heavy in the pit of my stomach.

After a while H starts to get a bit frantic. Things are falling and clattering. The mesh cup topples to the floor.

“Are you all done?” I ask H. “Would you like me to pick you up?” He comes into my arms willingly. The librarian helps me right the cups and fill them with the pencils, markers, and pens.

“Good bye pencils,” I say. “It was so fun to play with you. See you next time!”

H and I wave at the pencils and at the librarian. She waves back at us, still smiling and friendly. As we walk away I point out the recycling bin at the check out line. H points and bounces his legs. We go through the metal detectors and turn around. “Bye library,” I wave. H looks and, after a beat, waves, too.

We turn and push the door open together. We are outside, down the stairs. I hug H close and think about all the wounded parts of me that made an appearance in the library. I acknowledge the part that thinks it is safest to be quiet and small, that to occupy space fully is to be bothersome. I notice the part that looks for validation from others in order to feel good about my parenting choices. The part that gives over my authority to others, that lets them decide where I do and do not belong, whether I am too much or not enough, whether I am good or bad, is harder to identify, but it was there. I know that they are not the whole of me, these parts, but they exist. Sometimes they are quiet, and sometimes, like now, they are loud. I know they do not serve me, that I feel stronger and better when they are not around. I think about how bad these parts of me can feel. I feel awful.

I do not know for sure how to keep from passing along these wounded parts to H, but I have a working theory. My theory is that H is watching me even when he does not appear to be, that he picks up on the subtlest of my words and behaviors. My theory is that if I work at staying present with my own feelings, if I turn them over with a curious, non-judging mind, if I hold myself gently, these wounds will heal and H will be less likely to carry them on. I do not know for sure, but I am working on it, for me and for H, anyway.

I was angry. I was angry because it was noon and he was not sleeping. I was angry because it was noon and he was not sleeping and we had had a failed nap attempt two hours earlier. I was angry because I had not showered in a week. I was angry because my husband had lately been coming home from work at or after bedtime. I was angry because in addition to leaving me and H for work during the week my husband had found reasons to leave us on the weekends. I was angry because most of my husband’s reasons for leaving us on the weekends were reasonable. I was angry because I had been getting out of bed with sore nipples in the morning because there had been so much nursing at night. I was angry because my husband and I had argued about photocopies. I was angry because my husband and I had argued about photocopies but we were really arguing about something else. I was angry because I was not sure what that something else we had been arguing about was. I was angry because I did not know how to talk to my husband about the undefined thing we had been arguing about when we argued about photocopies. I was angry because there was no one to take over the nap. I was angry because I felt like it was all up to me. I was angry because I was angry. I was angry because I was angry and I could not just stop being angry.

And then I surrendered. I curled around H, feeling the rise and fall of his rib cage and the warmth of his body against mine. “I am home,” I thought. “This is where I am meant to be.” My breathing slowed. I got very still. I laid there feeling the full weight and discomfort of my anger. I could feel that I had hardened around it. I worked on softening around it instead. I could feel that I wanted to look away from it. I worked on staying present with it instead. I could feel my mind justifying the angry thoughts. I worked on letting go of the need to have ground under my feet. I wanted resolution, for something external to change so that I did not have to feel angry anymore. I worked on accepting the anger as my own and a choice that I had made.

And then just as suddenly as they had come, the angry thoughts were gone.

I am in the thick of this practice. I do not know how far I have come or where I am exactly. It often feels as if I am fumbling around with my eyes closed in the pitch black of night. And yet I keep at it. I keep at it for myself, I keep at it for H, and I embrace one thing I do know. Things arise and fall away, again and again, and all there is to do is make room for it all, even the uncomfortable anger.

I am upstairs in the bedroom with H. I am changing the sheets in between racing him to the foot of the stairs, where we practice going up and down. Spin around and feet first, I tell H. He looks at me and smiles with delight. I help him down one step, then two. He uses the stairs to pull up to his feet, testing his balance. He hoists one knee up to the next step and pauses for a split second before the other knee follows. Up the next step, wobbling between knees, he is on the landing now. He looks back at me and laughs before he crawls confidently away, back to the bedroom.

I hear T downstairs. He is speaking to himself in German, swearing. I pick up that he has knocked over the glass of water I left on the living room floor. I can feel the anger in his voice, and my stomach tightens. I cannot hold space for his reaction right now. It is almost 4pm, and H has napped for maybe 20 minutes all day. I am tired and frustrated. I go to the bedroom and close the door. I close my eyes and pause for one breath, then two. I finish changing the sheets.

H is showing hunger cues. We get in bed together to nurse. Maybe he will nap now, I think, but his body does not slow down. He is twisting away from me, kicking his leg out, scratching my chest. He unlatches and rolls away. I pull him back for the second side. He nurses and pinches and scratches at me. There is no sign of sleep.

I feel slightly crazy. There is tension in my body. My insides are bouncing around like they want to get out. I feel trapped. We will go to the park, I decide. H loves the bucket swing. I will treat myself to a vegan chocolate chip cookie. I put H in Babyhawk. I can barely tell T that we are leaving.

He’s not giving me a hard time, he’s having a hard time, I remind myself about H. Yes. That helps. I wonder if I can apply the same to T. He’s not giving me a hard time, he’s having a hard time. Yes. That helps at least a little. How about me? I’m having a hard time. I’m giving myself a hard time. I give myself a hard time when I’m having a hard time. Why? I do not know.

We are at the park. H is excited about the people on the tennis courts. He is excited about the people riding bikes, the buses, and a dog that walks by. I struggle to stay with myself. I will call my sister, I think. I can hardly see the screen of my phone in the glare of the sun. I think I found her number. I press call, but the phone does not ring. I try again. Still there is no ringing. Emergency calls only, I manage to see on the screen. This feels like an emergency, I think, but there is nothing to be done. 911 cannot help me with my insides bouncing around.

I push H on the swing. He points at the bikers, at the abandoned water bottle on the grass, at the trees, at I don’t know what. Maybe the sky? I sing the ABC song to him, first the Dr. Seuss ABCs, then with just letters. There is nothing to do but breathe. I relax my shoulders. I pull the bucket swing back, one, two, three times and let go. H kicks his legs. I push him higher and run behind him. H loves this. He looks behind himself as he swings back and laughs. He kicks his legs more vigorously. He laughs and laughs, and finally, I cannot help it. I laugh, too.

H asks to come out of the swing. He is showing tired cues. I put him in Babyhawk, and we walk up the hill.

We are home. It is bedtime. I put his nighttime diaper on, and we get into bed together to nurse. I hold him in cradle to nurse from the first side. This is the only time we nurse in this position anymore. I hold him just as I held him as a newborn. His eyelids are heavy. His eyes flutter closed, and his breathing slows. He is nearly asleep. I put him down, and we nurse from the second side. He is asleep within minutes, mercifully, after the long day.

We all had a hard time today, me, H, and T, and now it is good night. Tomorrow we will all have another opportunity to practice holding ourselves and each other gently. Thank goodness for new days.

H had air continuously pumped into his airways for a day after he was born. He was jaundiced and could not eat on his own. He was tethered by cords and wires to a monitor that told us whether his heart rate was too high or too low, whether his breathing had stopped, and how much oxygen was reaching his lungs at all times. And he was perfect. He was, without a doubt, whole and complete. I knew it right from the start. I knew that he didn’t need to be anything other than himself, that he didn’t need to do anything at all, that he was whole and complete just the way he was.

At 11 months, H cannot yet crawl, he makes a monumental mess when he eats, and he wakes often during the night. We have been through three rounds of biting while breastfeeding, each worse than the last. And he is perfect. He is, without a doubt, whole and complete. He doesn’t need to be anything other than himself, he doesn’t need to do anything at all, he is whole and complete just the way he is.

I thought about this a lot at the hospital, sitting with H in my arms or watching over him as he slept in his isolette. I wondered then, as I wonder now, about when we stop seeing ourselves and each other this way. Why do we feel we need to do something or be something different in order to be good? Why do we forget, or cover up, or ignore our essential goodness? Why do we become blind to it in others?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but H serves as a good reminder to me to be gentle with myself and others. When I’m hardening toward myself, when I find judgment about someone else rising up in my mind, I think of H and how he is whole and complete just the way he is. And I am reminded to let go of the harshness and the judgement and instead be open to seeing each of us as we are, whole and complete.