So many of my choices are made based on the realization that we all die- anxiety is the mother of this realization: she births at first, a dread of death, and then over time, if cultivated carefully and devotedly, an appreciation of death, and then, an almost painfully exquisite appreciation of life. I have motivated myself my entire adult life like this; moved from a youth of laziness, illness, spiritual, mental and physical fatigue and chronic malaise to an adulthood of rising to the occasion, meeting needs of those around me, holding my child that one more time at night, letting my children sleep with me, nursing for so long, staying the course when marriage is rough, gentling my voice when I want to scream, apologizing, lying in a hospital crib for 8 nights in a row with Ever, pulling Dakota out of preschool because he cried too much despite the great inconvenience and lack of another option for me, letting go a career and money to be with my children when they are small, devoting myself heart, lungs, brain and body to my family, because one day, we will all be dead.
The parental conundrum. I want so badly to protect you while knowing that marrow is only discovered in the jagged cracks of broken bones. The world’s going to rip you apart and shatter your dreams. You are not enough. Things will never be okay. You must die to everything you want, let the fire burn you down and leave no ash. And then only then.
This is, I think, the truly wrenching part of what it means to be a parent. That we have to hold them tight, and then we have to let them go. And painful as it is, I know none of us have any choice in the matter. This is our job, and what we signed up for the day they first breathed in the world and exhaled wailing, bundled in our arms. We have to give them what they need and then release them to themselves. We have to. Even when every ounce of who we are wants to keep holding their hand forever.
All season long, at every game, I watched a group of 12 boys try their hardest to do their best. They stumbled and fell and made mistakes but they always got up, brushed themselves off (both literally and metaphorically) and tried again. And as they did, I was there cheering them on, reminding them to be better, be faster, be smarter. But for this last tournament, these last few games to determine a regional champion, the only thing I wanted to remind these boys to do was to have fun.
And so I can’t help but wonder what my son thinks when he sees silver-screen parents reuniting after fights and heartache and divorce. Does he notice? Does it faze him? Does he ever conjure up his own plans for the ultimate Parent Trap? Does it make him wonder about his own split parents and whether the final scenes will be the three of us holding hands? That part of the script is just about as real as a house-full of arctic-imported penguins at this point.
It’s such a crippling mindset, and only hurts us in the end. It’s like the time equivalent of “pennywise and pound foolish” – minute-wise, and hour foolish. It’s what makes me resist instructing other people to do what I usually do. It’s what makes me resist creating systems to manage things better in the future. It’s what keeps me from trying new products and new technology and keep on stumbling along using “what works” instead of taking the time to explore what might work better.
My mother tells me we all have an age inside of us. Some of us are born with little old men in our souls or little old women or infants or toddlers. Archer was born one hundred and two but I am thirteen. I turned thirteen and seventeen years later, here I am: confused by the appearance of my face without braces, my bedstand without Sassy magazine. There is a strange man in my bed and a sound machine in a bedroom full of babies. And they’re all real. They’re real and I don’t remember how any of it happened.
And like all of us, my faith journey has had its twists and turns. It hasn’t always been a straight line. I have thanked God for the joys of parenthood and Michelle’s willingness to put up with me. In the wake of failures and disappointments I’ve questioned what God had in store for me and been reminded that God’s plans for us may not always match our own short-sighted desires.
Throughout high school, college, and my years in summer stock, theater served as the vehicle to express my potential and maybe God-given talents, but mostly it served my joy. Until it didn’t. In my first experience among Equity stage actors, I noticed how they withheld from the bonding and affection we kids gave so freely to each other. Professional actors, it seemed to me, found their joy in their work—but undeniably it became work. Perhaps a life of goodbyes and next gigs does that to a person. The hierarchy of professional vs. amateur stymied the dressing room schmoozing. People didn’t hand out heartfelt notes on opening night, nor stay out all night after closing the show, writhing to Aretha Franklin while eating nachos and crying.
Okay, so none of this is Streep’s fault. And as I would tell my toddler daughter if she could say more than “Hi Doggie!,” that the Oscars should be based on talent, not skin color. But I appreciate the tension over Streep’s win, even if it isn’t really about Meryl Streep or Viola Davis. The whole Oscars and race thing is just suspect. The Oscars simply don’t look much like America, or any other country where the majority population isn’t naturally blond, for that matter. America is 13.6% black. Thanks to multiple process changes over time there are conflicting figures for just how many Oscar nominations have been made since the Academy began giving awards in 1927. But if you consider that they have been giving Oscars for 84 years and only 99 African Americans have been nominated…
I don’t remember where we were — maybe the grocery store — when Gobez, my nine-year-old son, adopted from Ethiopia, started throwing punches at me, trying to stir up a pretend boxing match. He was in that wild rumpus kind of a mood that grips little boys from time to time, and wasn’t listening to my warnings to stop. I felt myself edging toward panic. I’m 5’2" and about 128 pounds. Although only in fourth grade, my son is approaching 5’1" and carries 100 pounds of almost solid muscle. I felt scared, but not because I thought Gobez would hurt me; he wouldn’t. I was afraid that someone in the store would not realize that we were mother and son. That someone would misinterpret what was happening between a black boy and a white woman and call the cops.