Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Fear and Parenting

photo from www.newromantimes.com
We had snow in Seattle last Wednesday. It rarely happens, and when it does, it's a novelty and generally doesn't last for long - just the way I like it. Thursday, the sun came out and melted most of the inch or so that had accumulated, except in the spots that remained shady. As I walked the dogs through the neighborhood, I could see some icy patches of sidewalk and a few places with snow tucked beneath branches. We rounded one corner and there stood a tilted snowman about three feet high, just beginning to melt and sag at the top. The dogs cowered behind me, tugging at the leashes to get as far away from it as they could.

It wasn't moving or making noise. It was just sitting there, melting in the sun. And they were petrified because never before on our walk had they seen this thing in this place. It freaked them out.

I considered encouraging them to go closer and investigate - to see that it wasn't a threat - but they would have none of it. I wish I knew what was happening in their heads - what did they think it was? What were they worried it was going to do? All they knew was that it was foreign, unexpected, and scary.

Sometimes it's hard to argue with your instincts. Sometimes, you have to just hope that the thing you just saw that freaked you out won't be there the next time you round that corner and try to put it out of your mind.

And sometimes, you have to creep up to it, slowly and cautiously, to check it out. You have to walk around it to see from all angles, sniff it, maybe even poke at it and try to determine what the significance is. It's also important, while you're doing this, to acknowledge that this takes energy - a lot more energy than walking away does. It's frankly exhausting to stay alert and run through the mental calculations and be ready to bolt at a second's notice.

Parenting teenagers is a lot like happening on an unexpected snowman in your neighborhood. Sometimes I just rear back and walk away from that thing that just happened, hoping it was a one-off. Other times, I steel myself and tiptoe up to assess the situation, ever-vigilant and truly hoping it's not as frightening as I thought it was when I first saw it.

It was a week filled with snowmen. I'm tired, but also relieved that the ones I saw weren't as bad as my nervous system said they were. And I'm also happy that I've spent time training myself over the years to breathe deeply and creep forward. I've learned that if I simply describe what I see in front of me I am suddenly less fearful.

There is this thing here that I didn't expect and I'm not sure what to do with it. To be honest, with teenagers, it happens more than I'd like. I can't possibly anticipate most of the things they'll do even though I try, and sometimes I'm altogether floored.

But, as the mom, it's my job to remember that I set the standard, and that maybe we're all a little freaked out by this thing that happened (even if it happened as a consequence of some teenager's poor choices). So I take a minute to let the initial adrenaline rush subside and I start talking. And usually, that snowman starts to melt in front of our eyes and become more manageable.


Saturday, February 03, 2018

Unlearning

The last year or so has been a challenging one. I am getting a divorce after 23 years and there is a lot to learn, and even more to un-learn; about the world, about myself, about relationships. I have been thinking a lot about "groundwork" and how I believed for a long time in a paradigm that said if I worked hard and diligently and laid a solid ground beneath my feet, at some point I could rest easy and revel in that. It's that same story we hear in the West about getting to retirement or busting our asses in high school so that we can get in to a good college or killing ourselves in college so that we can land a good job and ... rest.

I am un-learning.

I am reminded that people who embody their purpose and their passion, who trust their instincts and intuition and forge a path from that, centered in it, steeped in it, are the people who most inspire me. These people don't lead with fear, they live with it, walk with it until it falls away. It is, at most, an occasional companion on their journey, not the engine that drives their motion.

I wanted, at some point, to stop living moment by moment, breathing deeply and re-centering myself. I wanted to have built a solid path already so that I wouldn't have to keep laying one cobblestone at a time, breathing always, focused always. I wanted there to be some magical point in time when I would have laid enough "groundwork" that the path would simply be there, shining and solid before me, so that all I had to do was step out and follow it with ease.

As I say that out loud, I realize that the only way that can happen is if I go backwards. The path in front of me hasn't been laid yet. It can only be laid by me.

Some days, I want to lie down on the path I've already made, at the place where the last cobblestone is set before dropping off into Earth, and rest. And I think that's ok. Rest is ok. This is hard work, laying your own path, staying grounded in who you are and being true to your own deepest pull.

If I am to forge my own way, I have to keep building one stone at a time. I have to keep asking, 'is this who I am?' I have to believe that what lies behind me is only important because it is how I got here. It is not worth going back to.

So while I don't know exactly where I am going, I know that I am getting there one brick at a time and I also know that each brick is laid with care and determination. The point is not to get "Somewhere" or to "Finish" or even to look back and show how far I've come. The work is the point. The daily inquiry - what is most important and true today? what is the highest and best expression of my Self? what is the next right step?

If I embody those things, the work is centering and grounding and I am grateful for it.

Suddenly, I have no more longing for a clear path ahead. I know that what I'm creating is its own purpose, and that gives me joy. And I know that all around me is an abundance of materials and support, reverence and love, and that if I can remember that I am part of something bigger that sustains me and to which I am responsible, in the moments when I falter, I am held firmly.
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