How to Be Lost

October 2, 2010 § 3 Comments

I had a day today that brought me to my knees. Actually, my oldest son, about to turn five, brought me down single-handedly. There wasn’t any one thing he did, but rather everything. The adamant way he abjectly refused to ride his bicycle down the hill from our house to the arts festival down the street, the consistent whining during the ensuing walk there, his insistence to stop in front of every driveway and block his brother from getting by, the way he spoke to his father and me all day, as if we were part of horrible episode of Supernanny. His four, long tantrums, in which he alternatively told me he needed a hug and a kiss and then hid his head in his pillow and told me to go away.

He isn’t always like this. Most days, he loves adventures on his bicycle, says “OK Mommy” when I ask him to help me take laundry from the dryer, and he happily plays trains with his brother. He’s a good kid. He’s never exactly easy, but if he’s strong-willed, he’s also kind and curious, he loves helping out and learning and being in charge of small, manageable tasks.

Just not today. Today in the store he tried to climb over the check-out counter, and when I finally gave into the temptation that was sitting on my shoulder all day and hissed at him to settle down, he yelled at me that I wasn’t talking to him very kindly. Actually, he was right.

And I was at my limit. I thought about a yoga class, where an instructor told us that if we could face our limits on our yoga mat, we could do so in life as well. That yogis were radical. That yogis faced challenges head-on with a sense of curiosity, compassion, and steadiness.

Today I was not a yogi.

Finally, during dinner tonight, I cried. We were listening to Christine Kane’s beautiful son “Break,” to the verse:

You were last seen working straight around the clock, moving top speed, drinking who-cares-on-the-rocks.
Now the one and only thing that’s left to do is to find a way to break. Fall apart.
You keep holding on to things you know you can’t control. Let go now till you know how.
All the walls around your heart only keep you in the dark till the light shines where the parts have cracked away.

I didn’t sob, it was nothing dramatic. But there were definitely tears leaking out of my eyes, which both of my sons saw. It wasn’t any one thing that set off my waterworks. Rather, it was all that I had carried all day, the weight of all I had done that was wrong as a mother. In my memories, my mother was always steady, unflappable. Once I remember her washing my mouth out with soap, but she never seemed to waver in her abundant care and she never seemed to doubt herself. Today, I felt as lost as a pair of eyeglasses in the darkness. I felt dwarfed by the calm of my husband who always seems a better, more mature parent than I am, diminished by another mother who insinuated that her son wouldn’t eat birthday cake at Oliver’s party because it wasn’t healthy, reduced by son’s behavior, which seemed to be a direct result of my own skills as a mother. And finally, I was humbled by the fact that I couldn’t wait until after dinner to cry.

“Why doesn’t today bother you?” I asked my husband.

“Today was definitely hard,” he said and then shrugged. “But it’s wonderful too,” he told me, “Look at our boys.” This only made me feel worse. Not only was he calm, he had perspective on the situation that I apparently lacked.

“All husbands are like that,” my friend Suzanne said, when she called. “We have more invested in being a good mother than they do. We care more.” It was barely four o’clock there and I could hear the bleep of a checkout counter from the store where she was grocery shopping. At that moment, she felt a million miles away. I haven’t seen her for six months, since we left California for Virginia, and I missed her like crazy. Not only did I not have another “Suzanne” in Virginia, I didn’t have another friend period.

She sounded a little teary herself as we spoke. “Seriously,” she said finally, “I feel like I am going a little crazy.” She normally ran sixty miles a week, but she was injured now and she felt lost within her own life without running and its subsequent endorphin rush. We talked about her three young children, her very dependent mother, and the fact that she was coming up on a one-year anniversary of a very painful illness she suffered from last fall while she was pregnant with her son. But she told me that she didn’t feel entitled to complain about anything because of the abundance in her life. “Three of my friends are getting divorced,” she said, “And I know I have so much. But sometimes, I just feel sad. Or just overwhelmed. And there’s no way to fall apart when you have kids.”

“Ha,” I told her. “I just cried during dinner.”

“Well,” she confessed, in a hushed voice. “I went to bed last night at 6:15. And I had three glasses of wine.”

“So I’m not the only one?” I asked.

There was silence on the other end of the phone. “Who knows.”

I don’t know either.

And here’s what I am trying to figure out: Are we just selfish, over-entitled women who don’t know how to be grateful for our large and lavish gifts? Or are we making ourselves crazy by not allowing ourselves to feel the full range of life, which includes grief as well as joy; darkness as well as light. Is it OK to show our children that sometimes we feel angry and sad and upset and it’s not the end of the world? Or, should we keep up a brave front at all costs?

When my son was little and he cried, he told me, “It’s OK mommy, it’s just a little rain on my face.” That’s how I felt tonight, lying on the dining room bench.

I needed to break a bit. Fall apart. Only I don’t feel allowed. As a mother, I don’t feel entitled to feel what I am feeling in front of my family. So instead, I have an extra glass of wine or I yell at my husband. I eat too much chocolate. And honestly, I am tired of doing that, to adding pain on top of pain.

I was hoping that in writing all of this down, an anecdote would come to me, some story from my past that would clear it all up, or at least show me where I was wrong. But that hasn’t happened. I am still here, sitting in the dark.

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§ 3 Responses to How to Be Lost

  • Lindsey says:

    This is so lovely … you directly address one of the things I think about and write about most. Somehow, given how immensely fortunate I am, I feel like talking about my difficulties can be whining, and like I’m not, as you say, entitled to do it. The way I’ve come to think about it is that as long as we have perspective (none of us is comparing our troubles to the Katrina victims, etc) I think it’s okay … but it’s a fine line, and one I fret about too.
    I do, however, let my kids see that I’m sad, and upset, and emotional. For sure they’ve seen me cry when they don’t understand it and we’ve talked about it. I’ve made the decision that demonstrating that life can be sad and still be okay is a valuable lesson for them. Who knows if I’m right or wrong!

  • I think you are right. Last night I read a great post by Karen Maezen Miller who basically said that kids don’t have the judgement about things we do. It’s all fresh to them. So if you don’t freak out about things, it’s pretty much OK. Actually that pretty much covers everything, right? I just need to take myself less seriously:)

  • And truly, feeling the feelings is always better than distracting ourselves from them. If I’ve learned anything as a mother, it’s to allow my kids to feel what they feel and to let myself do the same. Instead of distracting them–or myself–I remind myself that this, too, shall pass. Sitting in sadness for a while is a pretty good way to make room for the next feeling, whatever it is–joy, laughter, acceptance. How much better it is to admit to feeling sad and overwhelmed and exhausted, then to mask what’s real, have another glass of wine, and pretend everything’s ok when it isn’t. It took a long time, but I’m finally able to say “this is really hard for me.” And instead of manically trying to cheer up a morose husband or a blue teenager, I can say, “You seem really fragile.” (Or disappointed, or hurt, or whatever.) What a relief it is, too, to be seen, heard, acknowledged. I hope that by now the dark place is admitting some rays of light. You aren’t alone, you know! And there is a kind of relief in just allowing everything to be exactly as it is–to quote Adyashanti.

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