Sunday, April 08, 2007

Waiting to Exhale

The nature of the business of being parents means that we must often endure, wait out and try to help when our child is caught up in the grip of emotional, social and/or physical pain. We gasp, we hold our breath, we pray, and we wait to exhale.

Our child may be diagnosed with a disease, an illness or an injury, and after doing all that we can possibly do to support them and aid in their recovery, often the results are left in the hands of those more knowledgeable, or in something/someone greater than ourselves. Many times it is up to our child to help themselves, and it is the waiting for that to happen which takes our breath away. The expression, “Time takes time,” is both a balm and bewilderment.

A child may impulsively quit their job with no prospects on the horizon. They may decide high school isn’t for them and we watch as their grades plummet. An undiagnosed learning disability derails our eight-year-old. As mothers and fathers of teens we pretty much have to inhale and suck it up for two, three, four years, especially if teenaged angst makes them implode. In preschool or in elementary school our child may be one of the bullies or the bullied, and we wait both patiently and impatiently for this too to pass.

A son goes to war and the anxiety is unbearable at times, yet bear it we must.

Blake has been deployed since last September, and was in Iraq for the last five months. We learned late last week that he had arrived in Kuwait. He will be there for a couple of weeks until the naval ship arrives to begin the journey of bringing the Marines and Sailors stateside. And so on that score I have begun the exhaling process, which isn’t fully complete until I can wrap my arms around the big lug sometime in June.

During a shopping trip to Bob’s Sports this week, I received a hug from owner Rob Mallozzi upon hearing the news. He commented on my big smile and the look of relief in my face.

“Yes,” I beamed, for the first time in a long time. “The breathing out is welcome.”

We all want our children safe, sane and secure. When bad or uncomfortable news visits our child, we must hang onto hope – that the cancer will go into remission; that the ADD will become under control; that he can play ball again or that her leg will heal enough so may she dance once more; that their heart will mend or their lost soul will be found; that their disability won’t impede success, or that self-destructive behaviors can morph back into self-love; that combat will not offer the ultimate sacrifice. As tempting as it is for us to run for the bedcovers or self-medicate, we must remember that what is happening is happening more to them than to us. We need to get out of our own way and try to be present for our child.

That feeling a mother gets as she watches her five-year-old first board that big yellow bus for kindergarten is repeated over and over as the child ages. It’s the “Omigosh-omigosh-are-they-going-to-be-okay” mini panic attack; the big intake of air, the flutters in the belly, and the pounding of the heart so full of love it hurts.

Holding on to hope is the tool we can use when these moments present themselves (and they will). Hope and choice: Will we let this situation crush us or our child, or will we choose to gain new strength and perspective? Will we inhale so tightly that we can never again breathe easily?

C.S. Jung once said, “I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become.” That is a lesson, a mantra, that we can teach our children and also, of course, ourselves.

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