“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” — Kahlil Gibran
In this lifetime, I’ve never had any children of my own. I came briefly under fire at a tribal college while teaching Children’s Literature. I was a full-time Composition and Literature Instructor at Oglala Lakota College. I discussed my predicament with Cedric Red Feather, a wise Mandan elder from Ft. Berthold.
“The next time anyone brings this up with you,” he said, “tell them you have vast experience in the literary field…and as for the ‘children’s’ aspect of Children’s Literature, just remind them that you yourself were once a child.” I told this anecdotally to my class, and they accepted the inherent wisdom that had been imparted and were kind about it. I had no problems after that.
On another occasion, I asked Cedric whether he thought my inability to have kids this time around was karmic. Instead, he said something really lovely. He said to me, “You have many children. They are your students.” There’s some truth in his insightful response. I teach at a community college. Although the students literally are not children, there’s so much more to the job than PowerPoints and lesson plans. We have students from cultures around the world. I teach various writing and literature courses to students from the United States, as well as from Iran, Ethiopia, China, Mongolia, Nigeria, France, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam, Tibet and Somalia. In office visits, they come with academic concerns, tales of triumph over personal tragedies, and philosophic truths.
I always dreamed of having children of my own when I was in my early twenties. I even had names picked out: the boys would be Jared, Justin and Brandon, and the girls, Tiffany, Chantelle and Wendy. Thereafter, I focused upon career, art, writing and relationships. That left little time and energy for creating a family. The aforenamed, hypothetical progeny remained unsprouted seeds in the over-cultivated fields of my imagination.
In looking more deeply at the issue of “raising children,” I revisted Kahlil Gibran’s beautiful, prophetic, autobiographical spiritual treatise, The Prophet. On reading the words excerpted above, I underwent a shift in my own consciousness. I no longer regret not having given birth. I would be a terrible mother. I would view the children as extensions of myself — as reflections of who I am. It would be about me, not them. I would love them unconditionally, but I would secretly need their unconditional acceptance in return. If any of them rebelled — as children inevitably seem to do — I would be devastated. I would never recover.
It has generally been agreed among spiritual teachers, writers and wisdom purveyors that the children coming into existence over the past several decades are old souls. They seem to know at a very early age why they’re here. I’ve heard them called Crystals, Indigos and Earth Angels. We run across them in public places, talking to their parents in a manner that makes us feel as though we’re witnessing an alternate universe. We hear the very young child voicing a preference and telling the adult what to do. The child speaks with premature eloquence, correcting some false notion of the parent’s, or else responding to a rhetorical question in a way that seems to come from a place of infinite wisdom.
We should feel honored if we happen to be among the ones who usher in these very exceptional beings. With any luck, those of us who braved up and accepted that assignment will recognize that we are not shaping a human life, guiding a little person, or raising a miniature version of ourselves. We are doing something more akin to midwifing a consciousness. At this point, I will inevitably run into trouble with those actually living in a family unit, trying to feed, clothe, shelter, educate and spiritually direct one or more little humans. They will complain that I have no right to talk about raising children when I have none of my own.
To them I respond, “Consider for a moment…I was once a child myself.”