It’s been raining today on the island. I went for my morning walk a little later than usual. The girls had asked us to wake them up so they could go for a run while Neal and I took our walk. Not the best idea, in retrospect. I found myself getting pulled into a long conversation about the day. As expected, the girls are less than excited about the prospect of a rainy day.
I find myself going down a familiar path; trying to make them happy and help them discover the gift of a rainy day; not the easiest task with two sixteen year olds.
I feel my mood changing and I stop on my tracks. It doesn’t have to be this way today. The girls are old enough to be alone and find their way through this morning. This is their big chance to practice that independence they’ve been talking about lately.
Today, I’m making a different choice and decide to go my way.
When I’m on this island, every moment is precious. I put my raincoat on and head for the beach. Not many people here today. The water is rough and soon my shoes and pants are wet. Fine by me. One less thing to worry about. Off with the shoes. I usually walk barefoot anyway.
“You have to be able to be happy in your own company” he says. He appears to be in his seventies and he’s sitting with a younger woman. We’re at the mall where I brought my daughters and a friend of theirs for shopping. I’m not interested in shopping but I don’t want to drive home and back again. I decide to stay, have a cup of coffee, watch the world go by, and maybe write.
As I sit down and make myself comfortable I can’t help but listen to his words. Maybe I hear them because they hold meaning for me. I know people who are terrified of being alone. Solitude is a curse for them. “You have to be able to be happy in your own company!” Some people get that; being able to tune out the noise of the world and the distractions that come their way.
Distractions beckon. People have become hypnotized by speed. We have turned into an ADD society. Our attention moves from one thing to the next and refuses to linger. Images and messages are coming our way faster and faster. We think and communicate in soundbites. Meanwhile we profess to crave deep, meaningful relationships and connections. Well, it takes longer than a few milliseconds to create deep, meaningful connections and nurture fulfilling relationships.
I’ve grown to like my own company. I welcome solitude. I like to observe human nature, starting with myself. The intricacies of our relationship to self, the way we talk to ourselves, the choice of words, the feelings that follow thoughts. How easy it is to fool ourselves into believing one thing as we do another.
We think and talk in cliches. We revel in other people’s wise words but do not allow the essence of the words to penetrate the surface.
My daughter held my face in her hands, this morning, examining it closely. She noticed my lines and then came up with suggestions about “taking some years off.” “This is the 21st century,” she said. “Does it bother you not looking young anymore?” “It doesn’t bother me,” I answered. “I accept it. This is who I am today. I’m not twenty anymore and I like it.” She shook her head. How is that possible?
We are confusing ourselves to no end. We want to freeze time and look young – forever. We want to speed time when we don’t like something. We want to stretch time because 24 hours in a day are never enough. Yet time is time. It keeps flowing, unconcerned, detached, unaware of our little dramas. We can’t grasp, alter, hasten or slow time. Time is the great equalizer. It just is.
There is one thing we can control and that’s our relationship to time. It’s like any other relationship. The more we try to control, shape, avoid, or manipulate, the more elusive the object of our obsession becomes.
We can choose what to do with the time we have. We can choose to let go of the illusion of control. We can make different choices and we can accept what is. We can stop yelling at the weather and see what we can do with what is given to us. That would be a good first step to nurturing a healthy, mutually supportive relationship, don’t you think?
The girls were sitting on the bench, waiting for their turn to join their team on the field. It was a rainy, chilly afternoon. “There is my mom,” one of them said. “Where?” the other asked. “Do you see this woman in the yellow raincoat? My mom is right next to her!” the first one answered. The girl looked to that direction and put her face in her hands “Oh, no,” she whispered. “What’s up?” the first one asked. “That’s MY mom in the yellow raincoat. I don’t know what’s gotten into her with this neon yellow raincoat.”
My daughter doesn’t approve of my yellow raincoat. This is not the first time she’s made a comment about it either.
As we talked about it during breakfast I turned to her and said “I love this raincoat! Anyway, you can always see me when I’m there, watching you playing. You can’t miss me!” She made a vague gesture and dismissed me. Got to go!
I was left wondering. How did I transition from the adored mother this kid couldn’t get enough of, to this crazy old woman in a yellow raincoat who should mind her place? When I ask her this question she pretty much gives me this answer: “Mom, you know how much I love you but I’m fifteen, can’t you see? I can’t help it!”
I know she can’t but the yellow raincoat stays. You see, I can’t help it either. I think it’s important that we both give each other space to be who we are. At this point of my life I know who I am and I understand that she’s still exploring who she wants to be.
Being fifteen is all about fitting in and conforming to some kind of social maze. On the other hand, being fifty is about taking the journey back to the origin of self. It’s about shedding the layers of identity piled on over the years and setting our wild selves free.
Exchanges like this make me realize how easy it is to loose ourselves as we try to please others and feel accepted and endorsed by them. I want to be loved, respected, and admired by my daughter but I don’t want to be someone other than who I am. It’s been a long journey to claiming self-hood. There’s no going back.
I know that friendship and love are often used by people to extract a heavy price. How many times, especially women, morph to fit who they are with, be it family, friend or lover? Is this what love and friendship are supposed to be? Certainly not.
I was born to parents who expected perfection, albeit their version of it, and demanded obedience. They were strict and unyielding. I worked hard to satisfy and please people who weren’t meant to be satisfied.
I became really good at reading people’s moods and adapting accordingly. I became self-reliant at an early age. What I couldn’t get at home, I looked for in books, nature, and the wise mentors that seemed to always be there for me. I was blessed in that way. Life kept ushering me forward and I learned, at times the hard way, the importance of self-awareness and self-acceptance.
It’s true, when people say that our children become our teachers. As parents we’re meant to love, protect, and guide them. Our children can help us take the journey back and untie the knots that keep us bound. And, that’s what love is, isn’t it?
It’s raining pretty heavily, puddles of water already forming on the sidewalk. I’m at our local coffee shop, a cup of hot coffee and a morning glory muffin next to me. There’s the steady hum of the fans above, the chatter of a handful of people ordering coffee and joking with the owner, light jazz coming through the speakers.
On my way here, I drove by the post office to mail a letter and decided to circle back by the Middle School. The school is in session and the streets are quiet. I drove by slowly, looking at the school when it hit me.
My daughters are in High School now. Gone are the days when I used to drive by the Middle School, thinking of them, wondering what class they were in and sending them smiles. Sometimes, I’d walk in the building for committee meetings or to help with this and that. I used to see them in the corridors on their way to class and they’d smile or stop to say hello but . . . no PDA . . . please!
All this went through my mind at the speed of lighting. I felt tears coming. I let them come, first time since the girls started High School.
August was a whirlwind. We survived Irene and the four-day power shortage, went away for a four-day vacation and came back to more rain! The floods that ensued caused the first school closing of the season All that while trying to adjust to a new schedule, a whole new set of demands and expectations, preparing for a workshop I was giving, and trying to orchestrate home repairs and renovations. There has been no time to stop and reflect.
This is how I tend to be and I suspect that’s how it is for many of you; at the moment of a crisis or transition, I tend to brace and dive in. I do what I have to do, putting one foot in front of the other and making sure everyone is taken care of. Eventually the “storm” passes, the initial impact is softened, and the craziness becomes a distant memory. I find myself alone and quiet, settled into the new rhythm and ready to be with myself.
That’s when whatever emotions were kept at bay, so I could function, often come to the surface; demanding to be dealt with. Today I finally felt the impact of having my daughters, my babies no-more, entering a new phase. I often joke that with twins, there is no dress rehearsal. No previous experience to fall back to.
Our relationship is strong and loving, yet things have also changed. For as much as they love and respect me, they’re establishing boundaries and flexing their muscles. As a constant presence in their life, I’m here to rebel against and run to, often, at the same time. Confusing, to say the least, for all of us.
I have to constantly try and recall what it meant to be fifteen . . . while reminding myself that they’re not me! Their temperaments and individual traits may remind me of myself or my husband but they’re not us. They’re unique individuals.
Today I’m sitting at our local coffee shop, my coffee cup empty and my muffin indulged. I’ll have brownies for them when I get home. They’ll be really happy after a long day at school and field hockey practice. They’ll give me a big smile and a hug before they grab the bag from my hands. For a brief moment they’ll regress back to being two kids with chocolate all over their mouths and a huge grin of utter satisfaction.
“It’s peaceful,” my fifteen year old daughter said, “Almost, too peaceful!” she added. We had just come from a four-mile walk on the beach above. We were sitting on the porch facing the Atlantic. I was reflecting on our walk, feeling grateful for the expansion of beach and sky in front of us.
Right then, I was reminded . . . she’s at the stage of her life where the more the better. I have entered the period in my life where less is more and peace and simplicity are what I crave the most.
Two women, two generations, two different takes on life. I wondered whether she’s bored with my ways. I’m sure it happens often these days.
Peaceful is golden for me. Peaceful can be boring to her.
I love my daughter and I admire and respect her lively, curious spirit and authentic character. She’s beautiful, loving, fun, and curious.
I want to somehow transmit what I know and tell her to take it easy and feel the richness of every moment. I tell her but I’m not sure she really understands what I mean.
How can she? She’s at the beginning of her life’s journey and I’m way past the middle point.
She’ll have to find out for herself. I’ve given her all I could and now, I have to stay back and observe. I can’t rob her from the privilege of her experience and I wouldn’t want to.
These days, I’m coming to understand that, parenting, loving, co-existing have a lot to do with letting go and letting be.