Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tight Rope: Life's Ups and Downs

            Watching your children head off on their own into the world of adulthood is a lot like watching a high wire act. You are filled with excitement and anticipation as well as the underlying feelings of fear and doubt. Consumed by this mixture of horror and awe, holding your breath, you gaze up at them, eyes wide, as they take those first pensive steps-- establishing their grip on the tight rope, wobbling slightly, focused and intent. Part of you is confident that they have been properly trained to work without a net; that no one in their right mind would just let them out there, so high and alone, if they didn't have the skills to complete the performance. The other part of you maintains its full grasp of reality-- shit happens.
            This was of course my exact feeling as I hugged my child goodbye and drove the 400 plus miles home. You spend a lifetime preparing for that moment, and there is so much you want to impart to them in those last seconds. You wish it was like the movies, where you are able to give them some profound piece of advice which will guide and protect them on their new adventure-- words of wisdom. Father's give practical advice: Keep your doors locked, Turn down the air conditioner at night, Park close to your apartment. Fatherisms, meant to subtly convey love and concern. Moms are faced with a particular dilemma at this point-- how to give last words of advice without sounding like a mother.
            As mothers we are plagued with the awareness that everything we say at this time in our children's lives is discounted as overprotective evidence of our inability to "let go" and often met with an eye roll and an impatient sigh-- the universally renowned,  wordless communication of "Let me go." One day these words of wisdom may be sought out by frustrated adults who find themselves in one of a dozen situations, and their cry for help will always begin with one simple word, "Mom." But in the meantime, there I was, standing there as each family member hugs goodbye, my turn coming closer and closer, pressure growing, knowing this is it-- my parting words. As everyone stands by impatiently waiting to get going I hug tightly and say, "I love you." Hoping it says it all, and knowing it will never be enough. Disappointed I couldn't come up with something better.
            A few nights later I came across some old letters I thought were long gone. A decade or so ago, when they were all still young, I was going to have major surgery and I was very nervous. I was concerned that if something happened to me my children would be without a mother. They would miss out on all the important motherly advice beyond "wear clean underwear" and "brush your teeth." I would never have the chance to teach them the really important stuff they would need to know about themselves and life. So I wrote them each a letter, trying to tell them everything they needed to know about growing up, and being a good person. I remember I felt the same writing the letters as I did saying goodbye-- like it was too much to cram into one moment.
            Curiosity caused me to open the letters and read what great wisdom I had left for my children in the case of my untimely demise. I don't know why, but I was surprised to find it was all the same things I had wanted to say a few days ago. Although, I was happy to see that while I had missed the opportunity to say them out loud, I felt confident I had managed to impart them in other ways. Things like: don't doubt yourself, value family, laugh as often as possible, don't waste time with anger, make informed decisions that represent you well, be open minded, treat people well, always do your best and help others do the same, don't worry-- accept change as a gift, always look for the silver lining, never let others define you, don't grow up too fast, it's ok to be vulnerable, you can always come home, unconditional love is limitless- pass it on, follow your beliefs, if it's worth feeling- feel it passionately, speak up- you have a voice be heard, and remember I am always with you. All the meaningful advice had already been given.
            A tight rope walker has to count on a lot of people and factors before they ever set first toe on the rope. Not only do they rely on a lifetime of training, but they have to be able to count on the guys who set up the rigging, the guy operating the lights, the rosin they used on their shoes, even the participation of the audience is key. Everything has to come together in perfect harmony for the show to end successfully, for the performer to avoid plummeting to the ground. That's a lot of pressure, a lot of "ifs." As I reflected on my feelings saying goodbye, and those involved in writing the letters, I am faced with a new revelation: I am the tightrope walker.
(and I made it!)


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