Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ready, Set, Let Go

Letting go doesn't mean we don't care. Letting go doesn't mean we shut down.
Letting go means we stop trying to force outcomes and make people behave." ~ Melody Beattie

Perhaps one of the hardest lessons in life a person faces is letting go; letting go of people, places, things... even ourselves at times, as well as emotions or feelings. As a parent, the ability to let go as opposed to hanging on is especially - and keenly - agonizing.

I left claw marks on Blake, 26,
and Kenny, 24, not only as they left the house for the Marines and college, respectively, but also as they entered their 20's. I watched helplessly as my authority, responsibility and influence seemed to vanish as vapor. I had to reluctantly allow them to explore, perhaps flounder, face fears or dangers, and make decisions based on their needs, not my desires. Letting go completely ebbs and flows within my heart and in my inherent actions.

As a mother, I have been trained to fix. I fixed hunger by offering bottles of formula, snacks, meals. I took care of discomfort by changing a diaper, burping, administering to tummy aches and boo-boo's, proffering my shoulder to cry on, or my side of the bed in which to snuggle. I went to bat with teacher troubles, mean kids, unfortunate situations. But once a child leaves the house, after they then they reach the milestone of age 21, it is no longer my job to fix, to restore, to protect. Even for the children yet to leave the nest, it has been uncomfortably necessary for me to back off, step aside... let go.

When my daughter, Jess, went off to boarding school for a year-and-a-half, I had to turn the reigns of her day-to-day over to the school deans, headmasters and teachers, who acted "in loco parentis." It was an initial torture, and then actually, a bit of a relief (she is a teenager, after all). Now she is back at home and back at the high school. And I am trying to resist wearing a Harry Potter-like "cloak of invisibility" and be by her side as she negotiates the social and academic minefield from whence she once fled. But in letting go, I am reminded of the strength of her spirit now. I remember that when she left for boarding school I passed on to her a Carl Jung saying which in and of itself is really about letting go of what and how we may perceive ourselves: "I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become."

Jess overcame and became. And she continues to define herself and not allow others to apply their own label. I like to think that we have inspired and inspire one another to shake off that which is not important in the big scheme of things.

It is, of course, not always easy to see the forest for the trees. To recognize when to hold 'em, or when to fold 'em. Sometimes my grip on my kids is so tight that it hurts. Yet at the same time, I comprehend the word serenity and I know peace. It occurs when I loosen my hands and exhale, knowing that I am not as in control of their destinies as I once so fiercely believed.

All humans need to fail in some way, shape or form so that they may grow; become stronger, better. Sometimes sadder, but wiser. We have to learn to let go of resentments: Resentments are like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. I was harboring one against someone recently, and the result was, it was eating me up and taking up too much space in my head rent-free. The way in which I was able to let it go was to speak with the individual, who clearly hadn't died from the poison, in a calm and loving way. Was I still sadder? Yes. And wiser, too. That's the key.

It saddens me to imagine that I am an unemployed mother to Blake and Kenny, these young men well into their 20's. That image, that reality is false. Of course I am still their mother! Of course they will still consider my opinions, suggestions, offers for aid both financial and emotional. And even though my two teens at home often hallucinate that I am no longer of use (except as a chef and a taxi driver and a human ATM), my heart and sensibility reassures me that they, too, need me for so much more than that.

"Some think it's holding on that makes one strong; sometimes it's letting go."

Be a strong parent. And avoid the obvious claw marks whenever possible.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Students on bored

During one of those gross, incredibly hot, humid dog days of mid-August, I asked Jack and a friend if they were looking forward to going back school, now that they were going to be eighth graders. Big Men on the Totem Pole. Kings of the School, etc. (I know, I know... as if they were going to pipe up with anything but a collective groan).

"I wish I were going to kindergarten," Jack's friend mused.

"Not me," said Jack. "Kindergarten was lame. All you did was learn that two plus two equals four and have nap-time." Spoken like my true eager-to-learn youngest. (At least that is how I have chosen to look at him through my rose-colored shades and all.)

"Actually," he amended, "we didn't need the stupid nap-time then. That was dumb. We weren't even tired. We need nap-time now because we have to get up at 6:15 in the morning! They should give us nap-time!" His friend hooted his approval of this thought.

If any members of the Board of Ed are reading this, and can rectify the matter, Jack would be pretty pleased. And nap-time might be more feasible than the later start time thing.

I believe many parents pose the same question to their offspring and friends of their offspring as I did above, because - really and honestly now - it is we who are excited and looking forward to school starting. It's not that we wouldn't mind maybe another few days of summer, but after eight-plus weeks of kids under foot, maybe whining hither and thither about being bored, the structure of a school day and the six or so hours of not being on call loom pleasantly welcome.

Even though our child may not openly (or at least enthusiastically) cop to being excited for the new year ahead, he or she is usually anticipating some aspect. There's the stunningly big-kid feel the just-entering-kindergarten child experiences; the trepidation the incoming middle schooler tastes; the relief at not being a freshman that the high school sophomore enjoys, or the pure giddy yet at the same time terrifying sensation inherent in the senior-to-be.

Just as it isn't always so easy to get a kid to admit to their anticipation of returning to school, so to is it not such a piece of cake getting them to reveal how said school days are going for them.

Ask, "How's school?," and be prepared for "good," even if it wasn't, or "boring," even - again - if it wasn't. Occasionally the response may be: "bad." But do not ask "Why?" because nine out of 10 times, you won't get an answer. At least not right away. Although your brain is screaming, "Why-why-why, omigod why, what happened?!" please resist. Instead, try in a less inquisitive, less frantic manner the following: "Oh that's too bad, honey. Well, if you want to talk about it I'm here. All ears." Either they will launch into it, or they will wait a few beats, or maybe even a few hours. Try not to pressure them, as whatever it was that is making them describe the day as "bad" is giving them pressure enough. Their definition of "bad" may more than likely equal a disappointing grade, or a confusing lecture, or a poor performance in gym class. Of course it could also be a bullying incident or an unrequited crush. When they are ready to spill, let them, resisting the urge to editorialize or "fix it" immediately (except in the case of taunting or physical bullying, of course).

The other response to "How was school?" is the ubiquitous: "School is boring." Sure. Of course it is, sweetie. You are such a brainiac that you don't need to be learning anything new. You can read, write, solve mathematical and scientific questions in your sleep. Who needs to know about the history of this country or any other for that sake! Music and art? Pishaw - you could teach the class yourself you creative king or queen of the world, you!

"Boring" my backside.

All of my kids at one time or another claimed to like recess the best. They expressed annoyance that recess stops in high school, until I would remind them of the free periods which would exist in their school schedule.

"It's the same thing. Only better," I said.

And don't you know? Even the free period has been described as, wait for it... "boring."

Maybe if those free periods were re-designated as nap-time?

I think I'm onto something here...