I’ve been kicking around ideas of what to write about all day today. And now, as I am finally summoning the courage to write what I’ve been avoiding, I’ll probably get this posted about the time you are all headed to bed. But no matter, it will be waiting for you bright and early Monday morning.
We had a non-conventional Thanksgiving. Because it was just my mom, R and me, and because I didn’t feel like cooking, we decided to go out. We actually had a really nice day. We went for a walk in the morning, then to Cabrillo National Monument for some tide pool exploration. Then we went out for dinner at a restaurant that served a nice Thanksgiving dinner. It was a good day, even though I felt a little off all day.
On Friday, I decided that getting a Christmas tree and decorating it would help things feel more holiday-ish so we loaded up and went to Lowe’s to pick out a tree. We found a decent one. The cashier gave me $20 off because the universe loves me (look for evidence—it loves you too!). We brought it home and Mom helped me get it set up in the tree stand. I did this all by myself last year and I’m not even sure how I did it!
R was soooo excited. He was down on the ground with me, tightening the supporting screws around the tree. He was testing the branches by hitting them with a ruler. He was chattering about Santa Claus and snow and presents. When we opened the box of ornaments, it was all my mom and I could do to keep him from destroying the breakable ones. He wanted to inspect them all. We had Christmas music playing and I was frantically trying to get the lights on the tree so we could unleash R with the ornaments. I think it was our personal record for fastest tree decorating. R jingled all of the bells and cuddled all of the angels.
As I’m describing it, it sounds really fun—the wonder and magic of Christmas for a 3-year-old playing out in front of me. But the truth is, I felt held back. Damn foreboding joy.
I got R to sit down and eat a little lunch by putting on an Amazon Prime movie about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Then it was time to load him up to go to his dad’s house. When I put him in the car he cried. He looked at me with those big, brown eyes and clearly said, “I want us to be together,” meaning his dad, R and me. “Don’t leave me, Mommy.”
Words fail to describe the heaviness, the crushing weight, of that phrase falling from his precious, innocent lips.
I paused, with him in the carseat and me standing by the open car door. I told him that I understand his wanting that. I told him that his dad and I love him very much. I told him that we had a long car ride and that I would be with him in the car. This last pieced seemed to satisfy him. After a few minutes on the road, he asked me, “Is it okay if I take a little sleep?” He slept the rest of the drive to his dad’s house.
Sometimes we don’t get what we want. Even if it’s a beautiful desire. Sometimes it’s a no. And it’s heartbreaking. How would I explain to a three-year-old the twelve and a half years his dad and I tried to make it work? How could I convey the sense of self that I sacrificed to that relationship? Of course, it’s impossible. But it’s also not his to know at three. It’s something that he will come to know over all of the years he walks this earth. He will add to it his own experiences. And this might be one of them—his first Christmas with the consciousness that he doesn’t get to have it with his mom and dad together in the same house.
There are not many perks to having a divided family, but I count this as one—perfect is not an option. Any idea that we are carrying on a perfect life over here is immediately laughable. We are all just people, doing the best we can. And sometimes our best is pretty terrible. But it is our best.
In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown wrote a chapter called “Wholehearted parenting: Daring to be the adults we want our children to be.” I came across this chapter at a time when I really needed it. It’s easy to question how well I’m doing in the parenting department. This time in my life is an intense struggle for myself, let alone the little human, with whom I’m entrusted. I don’t always show up how I want to. On days when I have R, I often feel overwhelmed and tired. On the days I don’t, sometimes I miss him like a piece of my soul is gone. It’s like being on an accelerated carousel of mommy guilt where the highs and lows are too dramatic to be fun.
Brené encourages us to focus on becoming the adults we want our children to be, rather than parenting in the right way.
“As Joseph Chilton Pearce, ‘What we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.’ Even though the vulnerability of parenting is terrifying at times, we can’t afford to armor ourselves against it or push it away—it is our richest, most fertile ground for teaching and cultivating connection, meaning and love.”
So who do I want R to be? I want him to be resilient and hardworking. I want him to see the world as an abundant place where he can do and become anything he wants to. I want him to be kind, both to himself and to others, even when they fall short. I want him to feel connected to friends and family. I want him to be spiritual, to see the divinity within himself. I want him to understand respect. I want him to feel love and to feel loved. I want him to know that love does not require the sacrifice of self, but that it celebrates and champions the self to become as big and complicated and beautiful as this diverse, messy and wonderful earth God has set us within.
And so this is my work—to become. God, help me.