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.

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