Thursday, May 30, 2013

I am the bow and my child is the arrow

I am the bow, my children are the arrows and God is the archer.
(Illustration by Kahlil Gibran)

I spent two and half years writing a parenting column for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario, California. My editor at the time took a risk on me when I pitched the idea of chronicling my pregnancy and subsequent motherhood. I wrote about morning sickness, my swollen breasts (we called that column, "My New Breast Friends"-- I'm not kidding) and even about my private parts going "under construction" while I recovered from childbirth. 

I had the grandest time with these columns. It was wonderful and cathartic to share my deepest joys and anxieties with my readers. And to my delight, I had garnered a small following. Every week I received encouraging feedback and kind emails from veteran mothers, moms-to-be, fathers and grandparents. I even received hate mail from readers, which I found rather amusing. 

This column, inspired by Lebanese-American poet and artist Kahlil Gibran, is one of my favorites. I came across it again and wanted to share it with you. 

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
September 25, 2006

"I am the bow and my child is the arrow"
By Jennifer Cho Salaff

EVERY ONCE in a while, you come across something so brilliant it changes your perspective on life. For me, it was a poem by Lebanese philosopher and artist Kahlil Gibran. His perspective on children inspired the way I approach parenting.

"The Prophet" is Gibran's masterpiece and his most beloved work. Published in 1923, it is a collection of 26 poems on matters such as marriage, work, friendship, beauty and prayer. It reads much like proverbs: short and succinct with juicy morsels of wisdom.

I was in bed one night when I read "On Children," the third poem in "The Prophet." It was just what the mother in me needed. It had been one of those days where I felt like I was on survival mode. My head hurt. My bones were tired. I was discouraged.

Then I read this:

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said,
Speak to us of Children.
And he said:
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.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot
Visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you
With His might that His arrow may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.

My favorite image is the parent as bow, the child as arrow and God as the archer. It reminds me that my 9-month-old son, Caden, has all the potential in the world to achieve anything he dreams of. As his mother, I must be that bow-- sturdy yet flexible; firm yet able to yield. The arrow won't go far if the bow isn't strong. And the archer can't use a bow that doesn't bend.

I agree with Gibran; Caden is traveling through life's adventures with me, but he's not mine to keep. He's my gift. I may give him my love, support and guidance, but I must not stifle him. I will learn much from my son and hope to be like him, but should never expect him to be a carbon copy of me.

I love that the "archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and he bends (me) with his might that his arrow may go swift and far." How wonderful to  think that Caden will be shot into the future like a flaming rocket.


Jennifer Cho Salaff's column about motherhood runs the second and fourth Mondays of the month. Contact her by e-mail at or write her at Jennifer Cho Salaff, U section, The Daily Bulletin, 2041 E. Fourth Street, Ontario CA 91764.