Monday, August 30, 2010

Letting go

If I don’t talk about it—or allow my mind to drift off into its grip—my resolve does not  betray me. My heart tightens as I watch her sort through new purchases for her future dorm life. I don’t cave for her sake, I think. Instead, I reflect her vibrant, orange bedroom walls back to her while she displays her groupings of independence and adventure. I’ve decided to take ALL my scarves and all my belts instead of more clothes.  I can change the look of the same outfit just with a different belt or scarf, she reasons aloud to me. I sit by my daughter on her bed and marvel at her choices…in fashion (definitely NOT from me or her dad) and resourcefulness (ahhh, something has rubbed off). I head downstairs making room for more crucial decisions about which shoes and purses warrant precious packing space.

Her imminent departure ushers in a wheelbarrow full of reflection. Did my mother choke back emotion when I headed off to college? Don’t know because she left home several years before me. 
Hmmm…is that grieving or resentment? And while I’m mucking through those kinds of memories, the guilt-o-meter spikes when I drift back to my early parenting days. Our two sons arrived three years apart notching up my personal assignment, Perfect-Parent Project. One son was dutifully compliant and the other openly rebellious. I admit to missing many moments of joy and thankfulness when Compliant disagreed and Rebellious activated natural consequences. Even when number three—enthusiastic, packing daughter—was born 10 years later, I was still having to give myself permission to simply enjoy our three children entrusted to us.

I hear my daughter talking to her father upstairs, 
I think our vehicle will fit what I’m taking; I’m just hoping my dorm room will fit it too. Hey Mom, come see how much I’ve packed now. I feel the weight of parental guilt lighten as my daughter calls for me, the Trying-to-Measure-Up one.

I offer the gift of a pedicure with me--my enlightened substitute for long-gone hand-holding while crossing the street. She squeezes me into her schedule before lunch with Chad, shopping for leggings, dinner with Emily and spending the night in Amy’s dorm room.
My house is going to be warm brown everywhere with some burnt mustard, and little punches of color, she remarks as she chooses a warm brown nail polish.

I’m going to miss her spontaneity, her person...terribly. The sadnesses collide as my eyes glisten up. Grandsons and their parents now 3000 miles away. Disappointments from my own childhood. The cumulative guilt of parenting mistakes. My father's advice about our kids' choices received as judgment. Our daughter going away to school in Canada.
Yes! I think my roommate likes me, my daughter beamed as she scrolled through Facebook. She wanted to invite me to her house this coming weekend before school started but knew I was signed up for the orientation for international students. I’m excited to get to meet her! (My daughter has explained to me that fun people use exclamation marks!)

I could feel the uneasiness growing from a deepening sinkhole, or maybe like my heart expanding, I'm not sure.

My daughter-in-law was the first to notice. I was telling her about a new vision I have for my Call to Grow program. 
I am surprised to even be considering something of this magnitude. I’m not usually one to think big, I confided.
Maybe you can think like this because your last one is leaving for her own adventure, as it should be. Maybe you're realizing that you might have think beyond motherhood, my wise daughter-in-law offered.
Who would have imagined that the sorrow of letting go could possibly give way to something hopeful? We deliver our daughter to school this week. I may need a hopeful reminder when we return home...without her.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Perfect Excuse

Sailing makes me sick…so does navigating windy roads, breathing diesel exhaust, reading in a car, or facing backwards in a moving vehicle. These activities top my Urp List. Anyone who has ever experienced nausea or motion sickness can empathetically gag with me.

I married 35 years ago romanticizing sailing as effortless gliding through calm waters. Then, I did not fully grasp that my husband was genetically predisposed to sail. For example, when he was a little boy he put two big blocks of Styrofoam between the legs of a bench, clamped an umbrella to the contraption, drug along an old oar for the rudder, and sailed along the shoreline. Over the years, the idealistic sail was rocked by shifting winds and rough waters in the boat…and out of the boat.

As soon as I could rule out pregnancy (which also made me sick), I used my motion sickness to redirect my family from any twisty-turny activities on land or water. Mother vampire guilt kicked in, “I’m sucking the life out of my family.” Thus was born my perfect excuse for sending the others off without me, “Who wants a green-faced, life-less person along spoiling everyone else’s excursion?” Whoo-hoo! I had the whole house to myself. I stayed in my pajamas till noon, snacked in bed, took use-up-all-the-hot-water showers, ate dessert instead of dinner, read till midnight, and didn’t do the dishes until the sink and counter were fully stacked with dirty ones. Pull-eeez, tell me I’m not the only woman to have perpetrated such crimes in private against her own house rules.

As in pregnancy, I eventually allowed the special indulgences afforded an impaired mother. Again, the perfect excuse was exploited when I accepted priority seating in the cockpit or the front seat of the car. I was excused from galley duty while under way or attending to children in the back seat. Uh-hum, turning around triggers nausea. And when we anchored overnight, I got the open side of the bunk opposite the claustrophobic hull.

But something was not quite shipshape…and queasiness gave way to uneasiness. Like that of a perfect storm where a “rare combination of circumstances aggravate a situation drastically”, my perfect excuse had its own collision course undercurrents. Oh good, more turbulent water stuff.

The currents underneath the perfect excuse were just as unattractive as burping up nausea. Unaware, I had “should” all over myself. I should like sailing because that’s what a supportive wife does. I shouldn’t stay at home without my family because good moms don’t do that. I should be more outgoing. I shouldn’t be so self-absorbed. I should have known better.

I could have easily been sucked into the undercurrent of shoulds with my perfect excuse had not a lifeline—in the form of a question—been tossed my way. In his book,
the me I want to be, John Ortberg asks: If I walk down this road, where will it lead in the long run—toward or away from the me I want to be?

What if I didn’t need to create a perfect excuse to mask my honest preferences, dislikes, insecurities, or foibles? Sometimes, I like solitude. I love special attention from my husband and my family. I don’t like Eggs Benedict. There are actually things I love about sailing, but that’s a whole other story for another time. I can go to anxious measures to avoid hurting someone else’s feeling, or when insulating myself from others stinging me. Regret can overwhelm me when I recognize having been preoccupied with the guarding of MY time, MY talents or MY energy. Without hiding behind a perfect excuse, I am exposed and liberated for
becoming God’s best version of [me], which is the rest of the title of John Ortberg’s book.