“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so, none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
When I first started to learn about Marcus Aurelius, I thought to myself what a wise man who made a practice of daily reflection and meditation. I imagined him solider by day and sage stoic by night. Or vice or versa. Surly, his meditations were results of the battlefield and political arena. What I didn’t imagine, and which is probably more accurate; a man who was just trying to exist in a chaotic world around him.
Marcus was married to his cousin Faustina for more than 30 years. They had 14 children together. Today, knowing that Marcus had 14 children, the meditation quoted above makes a lot more sense. “The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly.” Marcus just described my toddler children. Not only does his meditation ring a different tune for me today as a parent, but the amount of discipline required to practice stoicism in a household full of children is that much more impressive.
When my son was born, we cuddled and bonded right away. As he got older and had outbursts and tantrums, I could usually stop it from escalating by simply asking if he needed a hug. Just a few minutes ago he came up to me and looked sad. I stopped writing and asked if he needed a hug and he nodded yes, and we cuddled for a few minutes and now he is off playing.
Now my daughter is a different story. Born in the same hospital, by the same doctor, but that’s where the similarities end. She is fierce and unapologetic. She prefers her father, which became clear when she called him mommy for the first 18 months of her life. She called me “beep, beep” which is what we say to our dogs when we want them to get out of the way.
Lately, she’s been hitting me in the face. Last night, she was crying because she peed in rain boots while wearing them but didn’t want anyone to take them off to clean them. I asked her if she wanted a hug and she stopped crying and walked towards me. My heart leaped a little as I thought my patient persistence was finally paying off. When I opened my arms to hug her, she lunged forward and hit me multiple times in the face. In frustration I barked at her and asked if she was “Mad Dogging me?” She thought this was hilarious. We laughed. And for a moment I could clearly see how ridiculous it is for me to allow my feelings to be hurt for even a microsecond by my toddler daughter.
My daughter’s love for me is clear when she is sleeping or scared or sick, she burrows in my arms for comfort. But she does not owe me anything. Not even love. Being her mother is an honor and my love for her is a constant regardless of her behavior. I should focus on celebrating her strong spirit and fearlessness, instead of focusing on the inconvenience or hurt feelings that may result of it.
Today, when I feel overwhelmed, I will be grateful that I don’t have 14 kids or that I must go off and fight in battle today like Marcus did. If I can get past myself, I’ll take Marcus’ meditation to heart and focus on my reaction to life instead of other people.