Big Girls Should Cry

Friend is a self-described control freak and I love her for it.  I adore a person who’s self-aware and can be unapologetically true to herself.

‘Control’ works for Friend.  It makes her feel safe.  She knows how to stay in her comfort zone so she’ll operate at optimal capacity.  For the most part, this works well for our friendship. Until….Friend’s controlling tendencies cause her to suffer.  Then I, in my emotion-loving, demonstrative Italian way, need to step in.

As a controller, Friend doesn’t cry.  Ever.  She likes to tell herself that she doesn’t need to.  But I don’t buy that hogwash for a second.  Friend is forthcoming about her predisposition to ulcers.  And she makes her own association between stuffing down negative, raw feelings and the resultant deterioration of her innards.  I encourage her to let it all out but this is like asking a zebra to shed its stripes.  It feels too naked and vulnerable.

Sometimes, when Friend is moved by emotion and I hear the feeling creeping up in her trembly voice, I poke the sensitivity for her, hoping that the tears will find their tipping point. But Friend is a master represser who doesn’t yet trust in the beauty of unbridled expression.

I won’t give up on her because I want her to enjoy the All-Access Pass to Life.  I want to help her see the depth and beauty that lies below the surface of the happy human experience. 

This sounds macabre.  But in truth, the realm of darkness balances the lightness of life.  It provides a broader range within which we can explore the vastness that might otherwise be limited by our own fear of discovery.

Life is like an amusement park with benign kiddie rides as well as thrill rides.  If we choose to sit on a bench watching wistfully as the more daring park-goers ride the Tower of Terror, we might feel safe and content but we’re shorting ourselves the full experience.  If we eschew our own emotional roller coasters such as grief, depression or loss, we miss the thrill of having conquered the entire range of emotions at our disposal.  We become observers on the sidelines of our own life, not daring to dive into our limits.

When I rode my first upside-down roller coaster at 40 years old, I nearly fainted from fear.  But the feeling quickly passed and was replaced with immense satisfaction in having allowed myself to participate.  The same response happened during my first public speaking event, and my wedding, and every other situation in which I am the center of attention.  Our rollercoasters are everywhere. 

Unlike me, being in the limelight is a safe zone for Friend.  But feeling and expressing downbeat emotion is her roller coaster.  I have to remind her sometimes that no one actually ‘cries their eyes out.’  And that if she ‘breaks down and cries’ she won’t actually break.  She will simply bust through the barrier that has been holding in all the hurt.

I propose a reciprocal fear-conquering goal for myself and Friend.  One day, I will put myself in front of a large public gathering to tell a heartfelt personal story, and she will sit in the audience, moved to tears, begging for tissues, because she refuses to stop crying until she is spent.  Afterwards, we will both feel shell-shocked and nauseated, but we will have each other to lean on.  When we recover, we will toast to our bravery, then, most likely, we’ll head back to our comfort corners where I will observe on the outskirts and she will smile her way through distress.  But at least we’ll be able to say that we defied our demons and lived to tell about it. 

Growing Pains

Friend is facing her first experience of launching a child off to college and is beginning to do the mother-bird scramble.

“Should I be doing something?”  she asked with a slight hint of panic.  “Did I forget to give my son some sort of key family experience?  Will he grow up and say ‘you never did this with me….’?”

I laughed out loud because this is what friends do when they’re smug about already having moved through a parenting stage that a girlfriend is struggling with.

“It’s simple,” I told her.  “No, you shouldn’t be trying to make up for missed opportunities.  Because yes, your son will tell you that you short-changed him in childhood – no matter what hoops you’ve jumped through to make his life spectacular.”

Knowing this doesn’t stop us parents from trying to over-provide as we send our babies out into the world.  For yours truly, sending my second child off to college this year, my un-nesting ritual included a trip to the pharmacy to prepare an insanely sophisticated First Aid kit, the likes of which could patch up a wounded soldier on the front lines of war; one who also suffers from cold, flu, sunburn, allergies and bug bites.

Let’s face it, this milestone is big-huge for parents, not just kids.  We want to make sure that we’ve checked all the boxes.

When our babies were small, we had growth charts that told us if they were getting what they needed.  Then we had academic progress reports to inform us.  What nebulous system, besides coming of age, do we use to reassure us that they’re adequately prepared to be solo in the big wide world?

We know, deep down, that all will be well.  But we may also secretly fear that our child will crash and burn.  And worse, that it will be our fault – a result of some failing on our part.

This is a rabbit hole that my mind has fallen into more than once.  Like earlier this summer when I determined that 14 year old Peach didn’t have enough structured activity to keep her from melting in to a lazy pile of teenaged decay.  In short, I panicked and began arranging to-do lists for her to complete.  I lectured her about the balance between work and play, giving and receiving.  And I admonished her for her resistance to my lessons.

“The only time you’re growing is when you’re uncomfortable.” I told her, stealing wisdom from a blog I had read that day.

“Uncomfortable?!” she repeated.  Check.  Double check.  We were both miserable thanks to my reactionary measures.

So goes the learning process.  I’m still growing too.

Friend and I poked fun at ourselves, which always serves to lessen the growing pains.  We decided that our misguided fears about parenting are borne of the immense love we have for our children. 

Love and fear are catastrophically intertwined.  It is these two reasons, only these two, that drive all of our actions.

I give to my child because I love him AND I fear that he will suffer without my support.

I withhold from my child because I love him and I fear that he will be spoilt.

Same. Same.

I tried to explain this to Peach by way of an apology.  “If I get crazy, you’re allowed to ask me what I’m afraid of.” 

Peach might just be brave enough to confront me with my own fear.  If she does, I promised to be okay with the discomfort, because I’m told that if one masters discomfort, one can master anything.

There’s plenty of discomfort on my doorstep as a parent of three, and letting go has been challenging.  But I think, overall, I’m doing pretty well with it.

The Passing Of A Princess


I was 7 years old when I fell in love with the idea of a Princess.  Many years later I met a noble woman, known then as the Birthday Princess, who restored my faith in the fairytale of life.

We met during a time of personal emergence when each of us were fledging writers, sharing our identical secret desire to change the world with a book.  We were fast friends whose kinship sustained and nurtured an unexpected bond, despite the fact that we would never meet in person a second time.

Sacha was a natural cheerleader and coach, unwavering in her support of others.  She spread her special brand of magic like a farmer feeding her chickens – scattering goodness all over with abandon.  The only thing she asked in return was that you love your own self more; that you see in yourself the beauty and potential that she saw in you.

Sometimes in life, if we keep our eyes open, we stumble into people along the way that we don’t deserve.  They are the rare gems that enrich us and invite us to elevate our game. 

Sacha was one of those people whose light shown so bright, from a place of such sincerity and generosity, that one was instantly drawn into it.  My crass, inelegant self wondered how Sacha managed to be so filled with joy.  She was never careless with life or people or words.  She was intentional, tender, and bubbly.

When a royal presence like Sacha is taken suddenly from the world, the sweetness of life suffers a bitter blow. I will miss this friend with an unparalleled level of loss, for I am quite certain there isn’t another of her for me in the world.  But I am privileged and humbled to have been part of her fold.  For those left behind, a calling remains, a challenge really, to embody what we’ve learned from one who had mastered the art of love here on Earth.

I imagine Sacha slipping seamlessly into Heaven, taking her place amongst angels as if she belonged there all along.  No doubt she would be shocked to find herself there, but likely she is delighting in the magnificence that surrounds her and wondering how she can share it with others.

After I post this tribute, I will wait with hopeful expectation for her response.  She would write something poetic in the comments section about how my words danced off the page and filled her heart.  And I would believe her, soaking up the free praise given by my most ardent supporter. 

Eventually, it will hit me that I’ll never again hear her words of encouragement, unless, like a solid Sacha student, I learn to do this for myself.  How proud she would be of me for finding the courage to be without her.  She would tell me not to worry that I’m not there yet.  Just be gentle with yourself and celebrate every step toward reclaiming happiness.

Thank you, Sacha, for gracing this world, and my life, with the gift of you.

Deb

City Girl In The Country – With Snakes

When Beagle was bitten by a snake at six years old while playing in the yard with his sister, the two came running to the house at full speed.  At first it was hard to decipher what had happened as the hysteria was so great.  In fact, Principessa – who was only emotionally scathed – was screaming louder than her brother.  “The snake was hanging from his finger!!!”  she screached.

Sure enough, there were two puncture holes – undeniable proof of a snake bite.

Now, when a city girl’s child gets bitten by a snake, even if that city girl has been trained in First Aid, there is sure to be some panic.  But I kept my wits about me and called a number of authoritative resources to alleviate any concern that Beagle would perish from the incident.

“What kind of snake was it?” they all asked me, AS IF I WOULD KNOW.  “That’s why I called you, the expert, to magically tell me that the unidentified snake, which you and I didn’t see, was NOT poisonous.”

Country-Boy husband determined that it was most likely a harmless garter snake.  He was so cavalier about it that one almost wouldn’t detect his immense snake phobia.

In the years that followed, there were numerous snake sitings including one that took up residence in the foundation of our house.  By this point, Beagle had proven himself to be quite a nature boy.  So I enlisted him to try to catch it – in order to conquer his snake PTSD of course.  Good of me, right?

Meanwhile, I was becoming more seasoned in country life as I took to educating myself on local wildlife.  Which basically means that I was figuring out my own hierarchy of ‘Things In Nature That Can Harm Me.’  Strangely, I find myself rather enamored of squamates, most of whom can swallow prey much larger than their heads.  In stark contrast, I am exceedingly sour about ticks whose main purpose it seems is to convey bacterial disease.

When this tiny baby was discovered

dead, but beautifully intact, I decided to keep it as an ornament on my desk, much to the horror of my family.  But the real prize came when Husband called me to the yard where he discovered its mama while mowing the lawn.

Lest you think me completely devoid of my city-senses, I will clarify that I don’t handle live snakes with my hands.  But I will get close enough for a photo op.  Husband, on the other hand, wouldn’t approach closer than (literally) a ten foot swimming pool pole, which he used to scoop it up.

This particular snake with its rattling tail stunned me into a morning of research to verify that it wasn’t a poisonous variety but rather a Milk Snake, common to these parts.

When I proudly played show and tell with photos of my yard-mate, my co-worker jumped back 20 feet and began to unwind. She was shaking and stuttering and had to remove her striped cardigan which somehow reminded her of a snake.

I was aghast at her extreme reaction, but truthfully, I was also entertained and maybe a bit smug.  How far I’ve come after 12 years in the country.  These days I’m more apt to consider the city pests like rats and traffic to be more intolerable than slithering, slimy creatures of the country.

In fact, I’ve developed an actual kinship with nature.  I feel sorry for the creatures that become trapped in my house – the fly desperately seeking exit at the screen door, the drama-filled bird maming itself while trying to crash through the window…  And I’d rather have a bat in my house (which I have, several times) because they’re so smart about getting themselves free through the smallest of spaces.

Friends wanted to know what I did with the snake.  They were horrified to hear that Husband and I placed it on the other side of the fence to avoid injury from the lawn mower.  Many offered advice to eliminate it.  But this city girl-turned-coutnry wouldn’t think of harming creatures in the their natural habitat.  If however, I ever find a snake in my bed, well, that will be a different blog altogether.

Where a Parent Really Is During Graduation

In a few days my son will graduate from High School and I won’t be there.  Well, physically I will be.  But I can’t account for my mind.  It will be wandering across acres of memories, reconstructing a captivating story of the boy we called Beagle.

Regular readers will recall that my boy-raising road was paved with its share of challenges.  But as it happens when one reaches the end of a worthwhile journey, the recollection of events, once digested, magically morphs into a more palatable version of a fairytale, complete with villains, heroes, and happy endings.

It’s only in hindsight that we’re able to connect dots that were laid down like a breadcrumb trail, solely for the purpose of finding our way back to that place we started in where pure, unadulterated love between parent and child reigned.

In real-time, when a child of ours declares his hate for his parents, we might crumble in despair.  When he fails a class, we might worry. When he suffers an injustice at the hands of a friend, we feel the hurt tenfold.  But when we watch him graduate amidst the pomp and circumstance, we see the culmination of all the horrifying and glorifying circumstances that brought him to this point.  The big picture in review makes sense.  He had to struggle some, and we had to suffer some in order to arrive at this moment of sweet relief and joy.

When one’s child graduates, there is a strange phenomenon of vulnerability that occurs during which any incident may elicit a poignant memory.  As this is not my first ‘Mother of a Graduate’ season, I recognize and welcome the anticipatory swell of emotions that shows up at random, unpredictable times.  Whilst bakery clerks may be caught off-guard by a suddenly tearful woman staring foggily into a pastry case because she’s thinking of the precious boy who used to accompany her there for treats, I am blissfully unaffected by my state of emotional undress.  There’s just no telling what catalyst will set off the waterworks in the weeks surrounding the launching of a child, and one can’t be bothered with corralling all those feelings.

Husband recognizes that I’m off-center and, wisely, doesn’t try to talk me out of tears.  Instead, we reminisce about our shared history with Beagle as if we’re discussing something that happened in the span of a day.  We talk about the tender way our son loved his dog and grieved its passing; the summer he patiently taught his sister how to ride a bike and dive into a swimming pool; the funny time at the store when the cashier handed him change and he pressed it back into her hand while whispering, grandma-style, ‘Go buy yourself an ice cream.’

These memories sustain us. The pits and peaks, the joy and pain are equal parts of the perfection.  It’s a mind-boggling miracle, really, this people-raising gig.  Somehow, the process unfolds exactly as it should, every time, resulting in unparalleled fulfillment of life.

Husband, insensitive creature that he is, presents a metaphor that brings me to my knees.  “Beagle’s life,” he explains, “is a train ride that we were on.  We’ve arrived at our stop.  It’s time to let him continue on without us.”  I envision myself on a train station platform, handkerchief waving and heart aching as my baby boy disappears around the bend. 

Husband tries comforting me with more analogies which only serves to open the wound.  He suggests that we’ve programmed the GPS up to this point, but now it’s Beagle’s turn to set the destination.  Lucky for us, he has proven that he’s competent in finding his way and surviving the inevitable travails of an adventure. Like the time when he and his friends decided to buy an old camper and take it to a concert for the weekend with less than $50 between them in their pockets.  I’ll leave the details to the imagination, but allow me to emphasize the point that Beagle did not once feel the need to call his parents for assistance.

Beagle will not likely recall his life the way I do. He may never understand how how his choices worried me, how his humor rescued me, or how his questions entertained me.  He won’t know how I doubted myself at every juncture and prayed continuously for guidance.  This is all ok with me, as long as he knows that he was, is, and always will be loved beyond measure.

The time has finally come for Beagle to claim the independence he has craved since before he could walk.  I have no choice but to trust that he’s ready.  As I sit amidst a crowd of loved ones at the graduation ceremony, I will share mutual pangs of longing for days gone by, coupled with indescribable satisfaction in present time.  Husband and I will squeeze each other’s hands a little too tightly, in order to balance the feeling of releasing our hold on the son we love so very, very much.

When all is said and done, after the diploma and handshakes and hugs, I will be replete and wrung out like a wet rag that was saturated with years of uncertainty and gratification during which I raised a young man.  My map of the parenting experience will be updated. The drama will fade and my prior concerns may seem silly.  All that will be left is appreciation for the gift of this child, this marvel who appears before me in a new light.

Pills, Pot, Profanity and Parenting

As I was leaving a parenting presentation at the local school on the topic of ‘Drugs, Alcohol, and the Teenage Brain,’ I caught up with a fellow mother of a teen boy.  We commiserated in hushed whispers about the pessimistic message of the presenter, fearing that an unintended ear would hear our true confessions. We know that our boys use substances that are frowned upon by social standards, aka laws, and we have learned to tolerate it – somewhat.

Call it self-preservation – or something more judgmental and harsh if you wish.  But don’t mistake it for ignorance, negligence, or lack of caring.  Countless conversations, teaching moments, threats, punishments and bribes have been employed at our discretion over 18 years.  And still, here we are, facing the dilemma of how to keep our kids on the straight and narrow.

When we begin the parenting journey in blissful naivete, we actually believe that we have control over how our kids turn out.  As if children ‘turn out’ – like a soufflé.  With thoughtful intention and unproven parenting prowess, we create a recipe for ourselves, certain that if we follow every instruction carefully, our result will be perfect, or at least predictable.  Plans shmams.

The illusion begins to deconstruct as early as the first tantrum when our little cherub learns to express his discontent.  It progresses to backtalk, profanity, sneaky behavior, lying….any rebellion that helps a child begin the natural separation from parent.  ‘Psychological differentiation’ they call it – an academic way to describe the tug of war between parent and evolving child.  If kids aren’t testing their boundaries, they’re not growing.

A professional colleague had a son who was delinquent and derelict by all accounts.  The mother, an educated and compassionate soul, endured a years-long struggle to set him straight.    Certain that she had failed as a mother, she all but gave up hope of him ever pulling himself together. The boy, a late bloomer you might say, transformed his life in his 30s and went on to study law enforcement.  He is now a judge.  I’ll bet he’s a cracker-jack judge, having had all that experience on the other side of the law.  I also bet that prior to his current career, there was plenty of gossip about how the boy ‘turned out’.  And lots of judgment about his parents, too.

Another friend has a brother who started smoking pot at the age of 14.  He wouldn’t quit until he decided that becoming a pilot was more important.  The point is this: the lives of our children are not about what we want for them.  It’s about what they want, when they want it. 

This is a hard pill to swallow for a conscientious parent. Parents are under pressure to produce a product that will pass quality control.  But to some degree, our real motivation is to satisfy our own need to have a child who makes us proud, or at the very least, doesn’t shame us. We want the ease of not  having to worry about the stability, safety, or success of our children.  We don’t want to be reminded that they are their own beings who have every right to make choices – good ones and bad ones. 

Long ago my son refused GPS tracking, aka Parent Stalking.  Thank goodness.  It has forced me to trust or to worry blindly – just like my parents did without the benefit (or curse) of constant contact.  When I feel the need to check in, I text the one question that summarizes my intent:  “Are you happy and safe?”  That’s really what I want to know.  More importantly, that’s what I want my son to ask himself.  I want him to check in with his own heart and mind.  If the answer to either of those questions is ‘no’, ADJUST COURSE.  I’ve found that the asking is enough to let him know that he is loved and that I’m here for him.

My threshold for alarm is raised quite high since the early days when I worried about kids not eating vegetables to the the present concerns of kids making choices about risky behavior.  Case in point, when teen son opened the pantry cabinet and found an array of delicious and very un-nutritious snack food, he turned to me in shock, grinning from ear to ear.  “You’ve given up, haven’t you?” he asked with delight.  “That deserves a hug!”  I accepted the hug with the same level of gleeful appreciation with which my son cracked open his bag of chips.

Sometimes our parenting doctrine gets in the way of our evolution.  It becomes a god we worship ritualistically without question.  At some point we must loosen the reigns simply because they become too hard to hold on to.  Which usually means that it’s exactly the right time to let go. 

This year I accompanied my son to the voting polls for the first time, where he cast his own vote based on his own thought process.  He was also called for jury duty and could be part of determining another person’s fate.  In the eyes of the law, he is mostly his own young man.  He knows his current mind, and his thoughts are valid, if not in line with my own.  He is experiencing his expanding heart.  He is living with his raging hormones.  And none of it begs me to interfere or to impose outdated restrictions.  It asks for freedom to live.

Wise adults tell children that they were placed on earth to shine their own light.  What if your child’s light is less like a lighthouse and more like a bonfire?  What if the very purpose of his life, the hope he gives, comes so far down the road that you can’t see it?  Maybe it’s in a form that you don’t yet recognize.  Maybe he is shining his light already but you can’t see past your disapproval of personality or behavior.

After all these years I have less certainty than I did before I became a parent.  Much of what I thought I knew was best for my children was misguided because it was based on my own ideas from my own life.  It turns out that ‘best’ is a nebulous and evasive concept.

We simply cannot know what is best for anyone but ourselves.  This doesn’t mean we don’t try to impart our wisdom or enforce rules that make our lives sane.  But we must remember that parenting is part of a bigger dance – one in which every child has the right to be his or her unique self, whether we like it or not.

A Parenting Invitation

Fellow parent,

Let’s not compete for martyrdom by comparing the hours of sleep we’ve missed.

Instead, let’s lift each other up with loving commiseration over the hard work we each do.

Let’s not insinuate that some parents are lucky to have children who sleep well, eat well, behave…

Instead, let’s acknowledge that it is hard work and intention, not luck, that bring success.

Let’s not be bothered by people who dismiss our concerns as insignificant and tell us that parenting only gets harder.

We need to support each other through the tough times right now.  Let’s remind each other that the rewards of childrearing make the drudgery worthwhile.

Let’s withhold judgment of each other’s parenting and avoid giving advice on how to do it better.

Instead, let’s respect that we’re each doing the best that we can and accept that our parenting styles differ.

Let’s not boast about our children under the guise of ‘humble-bragging.’  The insinuation of superiority is obvious and insulting.

Instead, let’s acknowledge the greatness in every child and celebrate their imperfections.

Let’s not talk about how our children make us crazy.

Instead, let’s tell each other how we’ve cried from disappointment in our own parenting behavior, and together, let’s figure out a way to do it better.

Let’s not ever pretend that we’ve got it all together.

Let’s be honest and expose our vulnerability so that we might learn to accept ourselves, and each other, more authentically.

Let’s not play that broken record called “I have no time to myself”.

Let’s choose to sing about how we had the courage to say ‘no’ to the ones we care for, in order to care for ourselves.

Let’s not line our parenting path with comparison and criticism.  It’s not a competition.

Let’s just be parents, traveling side by side, cheering each other on.

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