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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

where is my reset button?

For whatever the reason, lately I've been feeling like someone who has a terminal illness.  I'm guessing, in fact, that it might be that I'm not used to being present.

Pedestrian moments feel momentous. Each person I love and count on to be here seem somehow fragile in the hands of life's unpredictability.  It feels like the curtain has lifted and I see that this life that I've carefully constructed, where things are cataloged and ordered, is a figment of my imagination.  Life offers no such guarantees about tomorrow being like today.  People die, they change their minds, they move, they get sick, friends grow apart,  kids grow up.

I think I've spent most of my life in active denial about this.  I feel like someone who has just crawled out from under a rock and has been debriefed as to how things actually work.

No matter how stable things seems, like isn't stagnant.  Wise Heraclitus wasn't kidding when he said: "You can never step in the same river twice". In many ways I'm glad for this; there are plenty of things, people, situations and states of mind I'm grateful weren't permanent. But what about the good stuff?  How do you hang on to it?  I'm fearful the answer is quite simple: you don't.

I realize that, often, it isn't until I look back at what used to be that I wish I had known how to celebrate what was when it was, rather than grieving its absence now.  I'm often so busy wanting, planning or looking toward what is coming that I forget to be enjoying that which I've already created. 

For instance, I am so looking forward to Sandi being done with school (November!). I look forward to having her back in our family full-time, to see her smile more and for real sleep to erase the perpetual bags under her eyes. I'm excited that we will have a pay check and she will have free time again. I'm excited to spend a weekend away with her and lazy mornings in bed.  (Oh, wait... we have kids.  Scratch the latter.)

Yet, to wish the time away also means to miss this time in my life, in the girls' lives, in our family's life. When Sandi graduates the girls will be 6 and 9. Right now we are all healthy, happy and together. Life changes on a dime. Do I really want to rush through this part to get to the next part, the one that has no promises about how life will be then?

Do I want to stand here with my arms painfully extended in a pose of wanting or do I want them wrapped around the people I love who are right before me in this moment?

I know this may seem like an extreme example, because obviously it is a very stressful circumstance, but it actually translates into the rest of my life, too.  Because really no moment, no period of time is ever all wonderful or all awful.  Everytime I wish for something to be different than it is, I am exercising my wanting instead of my presence.   And when I do, I miss my life. 

My kids are growing up. I am aging. I have lines on my face I didn't used to have. It is like it has just occured to me: there is no going back.

 I remember so many days when the girls were little and they would be crying and screaming at some event that was supposed to be fun.  Sandi and I would look at each other as we carried their limp, whimpering bodies to the car and say, "This will be more fun when they are older."

And it honestly is.  Except they won't ever be young again.  You can't have both. 

Lately I have been grieving the growing of my children profoundly.  I can hardly look at the growth chart in their room without my eyes brimming with tears.  To see the pen mark when Ella was two and now the one where she is eight... To remember Maya sleeping in her crib with her bum in the air and her cheek smooshed contentedly on the mattress...  When we clean their room and package up toys to give away because the girls have outgrown them, I am grateful and incredibly sad.  One glance at the collection of Sandra Boynton board books that we have spent hours snuggled up laughing over, learning to read over, and I almost come undone. 

But, thankfully, Maya still loves them and being read to is a huge part of our girls' time with us.  Ange said to me today, "Remember Maya is only five still.  You have time." She is right of course.  But all I can think is, she's five now but the injustice is she won't be five forever.  Somehow, that feels like a cruel part of parenting. 

Today I registered Maya for kindergarten which means the permanent step out of our house full time.  Some of this hurts so much I feel like I'm packing my kids up for college. 

I can remember being in the grocery store with Maya strapped on my body in a carrier and Ella in the cart.  I remember feeling totally overwhelmed and sometimes even frightened about the responsibility of caring for them, purchasing food and keeping my head together.  Strangers would often stop and admire the girls and say to me, "Enjoy it.  It goes by fast." 

I would say, "Thank you. I needed that reminder today," and try to appreciate the moment.  Often, though it would be lost the instant the crying started, the grocery bag split open in the driveway and Ella cried because her shoes didn't match her dress.

The truth is that I don't want to go back to when my kids were young. I remember how hard it was. I remember how trapped and overwhelmed I sometimes felt. I remember the stresses of life that were going on at that time and I would never want to walk that path again. 

Yet...

I wished I had relished it more. I wished I had understood to the core of me that time was, in fact, passing, and that no matter how much it felt like it would be like that forever, the inevitable passing of time was sifting the sand right under my feet. I wish I could go back and hold my girls as their younger selves, just for an afternoon.  I wish I had done a better job- been more patient, more present, more fun.  I wished I had done less and enjoyed more.

Ella has had significant emotional turbulence as of late.  When she yells and screams and says things like, "I can't do anything right!" I feel guilt and regret slice me off at the knees.  I worry that I have messed this whole thing up horribly, that I never should have tried to be parent.  In my darkest moments, I worry that someone such as me, who didn't know great love, stability and safety as a child, should never have dared to be a mom. 

Sometimes I just want a chance to go back and do it over again.  To do it better.  Of course, it is totally unfair for this more mature, more relaxed, more present version of me to judge my former self. But, let's face it, it's hard not to.  How much better a shot at life would our kids have if I could turn back the clock and do their formative years over?

Ella just bought herself a Furby with her Christmas money.  This is a toy that talks, has digital eyes and a microchip heart to communicate its various themes on personality.  In short, what you expose it to determines how it will behave (sound familiar?).  Ella took it to some busy places this weekend and it wasn't acting quite right. 

This is the tearful conversation Sunday night as she tried to get herself calm before bed. I doubt the metaphor will be lost on you.

Ella:  "I just want it to go back the way it was. It's voice is different.  It's eyes are different.  I don't want the new Furby. I  want my old Furby back."

Me: "Honey, you might like this new Furby. Maybe you could just give it a chance."

Tears fall down Ella's face and her cheeks burn with color as she looks down in anguish at the toy that has betrayed her.

Ella: "Mom, can't we just reset it like Mommy and I saw on the computer?  Can't we just start over and I can have it the way it was?"

 Me, imploringly, swallowing the lump in my throat: "But look at it.  It sounds more like a girl which you were hoping for.  It's voice is very sweet and - oh, did you hear that?  It just said 'happy'!  And what a pretty song it sings. You may actually like it this way better. Remember how we read that it takes a little bit for each Furby to establish its own personality?  Maybe this is who your Furby wants to be.  Can we just give it a chance?  Maybe sleep on it and wait until the morning to decide if you want to reset it?"

Ella, begrudgingly relieved as the Furby's eyes flashed hearts at her and cooed: "You're right Momma.  I think I might like it better this way.  Let's not reset it."

Maybe it is universal to sometimes want things back the way they were.

Do other people grieve like this for life talking the course it is meant to take?  I'm guessing this is where some people get baby fever at my age.  I tell myself to revel in what has evolved, to really love all our girls have become.  In the best case scenario, you raise your kids in a happy family and they grow up to be good citizens of the world who stand on their own feet and find their way.   In fact, I'm pretty sure this is the end goal of being a parent.

Then why is it so damn hard?

As if processing all of this in my newly raw and wide open self wasn't enough, last night out of the clear blue, another pillar of childhood fell. 

Maya has been after this one particular Barbie (the mother of her mermaid Barbie) that they don't make  Ella has been telling her that Santa's elves could make it.  On the second go around of this, while Sandi held a wailing Maya over the loss of the never-to-be-obtained Barbie, I mentioned to Ella that maybe we could let this lie since they don't make the Barbie. She began to question me about why Santa couldn't make it.  I told her he can't make everything.  Thus began the unraveling. 

Ella: "Momma, please just tell me, is Santa real? Or do you and Mommy buy the presents? I've been wondering for a while and I just really want to know.  Will you please tell me?"

I tried every which way to Sunday to avoid the question, to focus on the magic of Christmas, to telling her that I believe in Santa.

Ella: "Yeah, but you know if he is real or if it is you and Mommy."

Me: "Why do you want to know honey?  You are only young for such a short time and once you know certain things, you can never not know them."

Ella: "But some of it just doesn't make sense.  Some kids don't get the things they want from Santa and some do.  So tell me, please, is Santa real?"

I had to tell her. I worked hard not to cry.  I told her that it was the world's biggest secret (alongside what happened to JFK and, of course, if Elvis is alive) and that she had to keep it from all other kids.  I told her that it could be fun now because she could be involved in the secret.  I told her it was okay to be sad.

Ella: "I'm not sad.  I'm kind of relieved to know the truth."

I'm grateful my kids aren't leaving for college today, that I am not out of time. I have regrets over how I have done things but I also know, can remember clearly, how hard it was and that I did do the  best I could. I'm grateful that I can still be better. Now when the kids ask me to play with them, I try to drop everything and do it. This weekend we built a blanket fort inside which we read books, ate Swedish fish and played go-fish (once you got through security clearance with the password that is).



Ella actually looked relieved last night after our talk.  She seemed at peace and I even began to wonder if this helps her resolve her own conflict of growing up, the way she seems stuck between young and older sometimes.  She appeared proud to be in on an adult secret. 

And then, when we went in to check on the girls, this is what we found:


This has never happened.  We have often encouraged (strongly at times) Ella to take on the protective role of big sister and she has always been reluctant.  I think in some ways she felt she would have to give up being young if she did.  Perhaps embracing her own growth will be to everyone's benefit.

I am working hard to relish my life and the people in it, to no longer wait to do the things that make me happy, to not, indeed, need a terminal diagnosis to wake up in my own life.  I don't want my life to be a string of accomplishments and checked off lists.

I want to play, to laugh, to cry, to rest, to stop, to appreciate, to love.

2 comments:

flandmade said...

I frequently find myself longing for both past and future instead of enjoying the present. I have a charmed life, and yet I miss my carefree childhood with a nostalgia so strong it sometimes stops my breath and at the same time long for my future so strongly that it makes me resent having to wait for it. I am very, very good at denial (to the extent that I still look forward to visiting people who my rational brain knows are dead), and it takes a lot to shake me out of it. It is definitely an ongoing battle learning to keep myself in the present, and it is wonderful to read about somebody else's experiences. Thank you for sharing.

Emilie said...

amazing stuff that made me think all day long. love you so.

 
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