Monday, June 20, 2011

Your Children Are Not Yours

Things have happened in my sons' lives that I could not control.

Imagine that.

When I looked down at my blanket-wrapped first baby, I felt so responsible and terrified. What if I dropped him, what if I scarred him for life? He was so perfect, I was so afraid I'd mess him up. I couldn't stand the thought that what I did or didn't do could so harm him as to change the path of his future, irrevocably send him down a path to ruin.

I tried, I really did. Each day I tried to smooth his path, guide him with love, help him learn, feed him, hug him, keep him clean, keep him from hurting himself. I almost did it perfectly, too - then life intervened.

I had to go back to work, and leave him with a sitter. I got tired one night and shouted at him. I turned my back and he fell and cut his forehead. I had to send him to school.

Little by little, I realized he was not a blank slate I had to write on perfectly. He came with his own personality. This I realized even more when his brother came along with a whole different personality. Things I thoughtlessly did or said would upset one son; the same thing didn't phase the other.

As they grew, so did my efforts to raise them well and my worries that I was not doing it right. Teacher conferences were agony. How could I make them do what the teacher wanted? They loved to learn, just not the way the schools taught. Oh, God, was I raising daydreamers like me? If they would only do their homework!

And did they have friends? The right sort of friends? Why were they picked on by bullies?

And then came driving, and experiments with drugs, girls, and....somewhere along here I realized that I was not in charge. Never had been. Still I fought to hold the reins, while the horses bucked and threw off the saddle.

And then one day they were gone. Not forever gone, but, now adults, they were gone off out into the world where I could not see them every day, could not nag and scold and protect them. I had done my job. They were, for better or worse, RAISED.

A sadness swept over me. Had I done enough? Had I hugged and kissed them enough, told them I loved them enough, punished them for infractions in just the right way, so as to correct their actions but not stifle their spirit?

I am now watching my adult sons with wonder and awe. I see their struggles with life and love and realize that their struggles are theirs, not mine. I do not own them. Who they become is a product of genetics and upbringing, yes, but it is in the end the product of their decisions. This is the crucial part, the part I cannot do for them. I and my husband have done our best; the rest is theirs to do.

And I think, looking at them, that they will do just fine. I love you guys.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Way We See Ourselves

I have a dear friend who had a very rude awakening the other day. Deciding to shop for some new clothes, she headed to the dressing room of one of the major department stores, an armful of new outfits draped over her arm.

She had removed her own clothes and was preparing to try on the first outfit when she looked at herself in all her glory in the three-way, fluorescent lighted mirrors.

The expression she used was not ladylike. She called me up later, still upset, and told me she had seen herself revealed in ways she did not want to see - every blemish, extra pound, wrinkle and flaw.

"Honey!" I said, trying to calm her. "Don't you know that those dressing rooms are the WORK of the DEVIL?"

She laughed despite herself.

"Really!" I said, warming to the subject. "They are especially designed by the Devil in cahoots with department stores, so that we will hate ourselves for the way we look and buy a lot of clothes to cover it all up."

"Well," she said grimly, "The first part was accomplished. I hate myself."

After we talked a while, she came to the conclusion that while it was a horrible way to have her flaws revealed, she was going to work on improving them instead of just being upset.

We get rude awakenings, all of us. Some of us do not own a full length mirror and delude ourselves that we look pretty good, until we go shopping. One can go for years believing that we are as slim as we were years ago, until either we get the dressing room awakening or someone posts our picture on Facebook.

Yikes! Who is that woman?

With society's obsession with the slim and the young, those of us with lived-in faces and bodies can be easily distressed when it is finally revealed to us that no, we aren't as cute as we once were. We rush out and buy the clothes, makeup, hair dye and other things to try and make our outsides match our illusions of ourselves. It seldom works. I saw a woman the other day whom I judged to be in her sixties trying desperately to look younger - thin to the point of skinny, Botoxed features, carrot-red streaked hair. I remarked on her attempt to the clerk at the nutrition store, and was shocked to be told that no, the clerk knew the woman and she was only in her early fifties. Trying to look younger actually made her look older.

I recently stopped dying my hair. I was a little fearful at first, but I went ahead. figuring if I really hated it, I could dye it back. Turns out, I love it!
No more expense, messy chemicals or checking for grey roots.

We let go of a lot of stress if we can accept the woman in the mirror. Don't look at her wrinkles - look at the kind light in her eyes. Don't look at her fat - look at her welcoming soft arms and lap. Don't look at her grey hair without seeing the beautiful way light bounces off it, almost creating a halo.

We should take care of our health, of course. But obsessing over our lost youth? Futile at best, tragic at worst. Don't let the Devil and his trick mirrors get you down!

You are beautiful!