Life is so much easier these days, and that’s a good thing, but it also means that I have the time and space to address stuff that was buried under the weight of responsibility that I took on all those years ago. Seeing clearly isn’t always comfortable! Marriage and family was my salvation, my journey to the light, an answer to the existential questions. It was both joy and sacrifice, a denying of myself in the pursuit of a greater good, a sometimes desperate search for meaning and a sense of belonging. I was blessed, over and over again; and right alongside all that goodness ran the dark current of despair. Those were not easy days, they were full and rich and busy and meaningful, but they were hard.
And then suddenly it’s gone. All that stress, those consuming needs that leave you feeling outnumbered and overwhelmed, blown away like a dandelion into the wind. The kids are grown, or grown enough to not make you crazy. Gone too is the terrible sweetness of a baby’s skin, the trusting eyes of a nursing toddler, the feel of a child snuggled up next to you as close as they can get, as if being near the warmth of your body was the only thing that mattered in the world.
That’s some heady stuff, that kind of love. It’s magic, but it doesn’t last forever. Those sturdy bodies keep growing, the needs expand and encompass the whole world. It’s bittersweet, I guess, but mostly I’m glad that it happens. I wasn’t always strong enough to handle the early years, I see that now. I loved them so much, all of them, uniquely and perfectly… and still. It wasn’t always enough.
But God is good (I use that term liberally, about the only thing I’m truly not is an atheist) and everyone seems to have survived intact and maybe, hopefully, even doing well. That’s the most amazing thing- that such beauty could have come from so much pain. My middle-aged self looks back on it all and I’m filled with awe, I’m humbled by the power of something that is bigger than me, some force that kept propelling us forward even when the road seemed impassable. It shouldn’t have worked, and yet it did. I don’t always understand it, and I still question it every single time I look at my husband and think “Why did I marry you and how the heck has it lasted so long?!”.
That’s the great thing about getting older though, if you can hang in there with your partner long enough. You finally learn how to step back, take a breath, apologize. Work on your own attitude, see it from their perspective, understand that we all have similar frustrations. You see the big picture, which is impossible when you’re right up close and so immersed in the details that you can’t gain any perspective. I think about death a lot lately, because it’s hard not to when your sister dies. She wasn’t my first experience with death, but it’s been my hardest one so far, for sure. My sister died, I turned fifty… the wheels of time keep turning and I do lots of reflecting upon mortality and purpose and making the most of the time we’re given.
I always think like this anyway, but lately it’s been more on my mind. Just looking at all the changes, trying hard to figure out this next stage of our life and going a little nuts because it’s not falling into place as easily as I’d hoped. I had set a goal for myself that Id have it all sorted out by my 50th birthday. That came and went last month, and we’re still not sure what we’re doing long term- not necessarily the rest of our life, but the next 5-10 years. I’ve had to work hard to accept that as something other than failure, but I’m starting to see that that’s the whole point: that you just don’t know and sometimes you have to roll with it and keep the faith.
There are good things and I’m grateful for them. The coolest thing is how easily school has gone for Jesse, my fifteen year old who went to school for the very first time ever this year. He has matured beyond anything I could have imagined, fitting into a brand new world like it was nothing. He’s on the honor roll, did very well in cross country and even got an (unexpected) award for sportsmanship, which makes me more proud than any achievement award ever would. He gets up early and sticks to a schedule like he’s always done it, always happy and positive about the overall experience.
This is my spirited child, the one who nearly broke me. He was my third child, the one I waited eight years for, begged my husband to agree to, telling him how awesome it would be. Jesse was the child that shaped me in ways an easier child couldn’t do, gave me a depth and compassion and understanding that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I did things I’m not proud of- this isn’t a retelling of how amazingly I handled parenting my spirited child. I failed plenty of times, but I loved him and I hung in there and I protected him from a system that would have labeled and damaged him. I let him be who he was, within reason- we had limits and enforced them as best we could, but we also rearranged our life to meet his needs rather than expecting him to fit into our life. We accepted that he wasn’t an easygoing kid, and chose our battles carefully.
My marriage almost didn’t survive those years, the challenge for my husband to have a child who wouldn’t obey, who cared nothing for threats or punishment or pleasing anyone. It’s harder for men, I think, having kids who need more and give less. And yet through it all, through my tears and failures and screaming fights, knowing that I would please neither side- not the gentle discipline parents nor the more traditional ones- I stayed true to one belief, in the innate goodness of a person and the fact that a happy childhood is the key to a happy society. I knew that you couldn’t love or accept a child too much, and that every one of us has something unique to offer to the world, if we’re allowed and encouraged to express it.
And it worked. Here we are, years later, sailing through the teenage years. I don’t want to be too complacent, I know that anything could happen tomorrow and when it does I’ll probably be blogging about it. That’s one thing I can do, I’ve realized- I can be honest, I can write about my life, warts and all. I’ve second-guessed myself so many times that I don’t care much any more. I’m still a sensitive person, but I now understand that you don’t die from sensitivity. Some people may raise an eyebrow, but others will nod in agreement, happy that you let down your guard and allowed someone else in. It’s what keeps us from feeling so alone, the idea that others struggle too, that tears flow at night but joy comes in the morning.