Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Just Another Auld Lang Syne

Another Christmas has come and gone.  We just got home from Christmas with John’s family in Valley.  He and I did what we have done every year on our way home from our last celebration:  we shopped.   This year, however, the season brings with it more than the usual bittersweet emotions.  This is our last Christmas with Erin all to ourselves.  I guess  that isn’t exactly entirely true.  We left Valley by 7:30 this morning to get to the airport in Atlanta in time to catch her flight to Milwaukee.  TJ met her there.  She has gone to spend some of her Christmas vacation with him and to attend his father’s New Year’s Eve wedding.  By this time next year she will have moved to Wisconsin permanently.  This spring will be her last semester at U of A before transferring.  As I understand it, she will not be moving unless there is a real commitment between the two of them by the time she is expecting to move in May.  Personally, I’m surprised she didn’t become engaged over Christmas, but then, TJ is a man of his own mind and I’m sure he has a plan. 

This morning when we dropped Erin off at the Delta drop-off, I watched her walk away from us and it struck  me just how confident a woman she is.  Had I not known her, I would never have guessed that she is only 19.  She looked like a worldly traveler, confident in her ability to go and do whatever she pleases as well as any obstacles that may get in her way.  It was almost as if I was seeing her for the first time, only this time not as her mother.  Pride swelled as I watched her walk away.  It wasn’t until we actually drove away that I realized she really was doing exactly that.  Today, she walked away and never looked back.  She has taken control of her own destiny, made her plans, and forged ahead.  If there is fear, I will  never know.  I’m sure that she will tell me some things, but surely not all.  Her life is completely her own and there are things that she will experience, some good and some bad, that I will never hear about .  At various points during the afternoon I found myself almost tearing up at the oddest times.  It seems that after more than a year I would not get so lonely when she leaves, but I swear that it only gets worse.  Every time she leaves, it is easier for her.  How can I have such mixed feelings about this?  My heart breaks a little every time she leaves, yet my pride in her ability to run toward her life is immeasurable. I’m pretty sure mine is the plight of most mothers everywhere.  I so badly want to hold onto her, yet would never deny her the joy of what she is experiencing now.  Her future is so full of promise.  Unless I have misjudged the situation horribly, she has found the person she wants to spend the rest of her life with and he feels the same about her.  She has decided on a major that  will be challenging but makes her happy.  It never occurred to me that the fulfillment of her dreams would take her so far away from home.  I guess it all depends on your definition of home.  I believe it was Robert Frost that said that home is the place that, when you go there, they have to let you in.  True, but there is so much more to it.  Home is the place where you go to find refuge, where there is someone who is willing to fight your fights for your or to just let you rant until you feel better.  At home there is comfort, love, warmth, solace.
John and I talked about New Year’s Eve plans on our way home.  This year, we will do what he and I have done since Erin became old enough to make her own plans.  Before then, we watched the Twilight Zone marathon on Sci-Fi and occasionally played a board game while we watched.  Once we found ourselves alone, John and I have been going to a movie then out to dinner.  Afterwards we hit Krispy Kreme and head home.  Not a very exciting New Year’s celebration, but we like it.  This time of year it is traditional to look back on the year that is ending and make resolutions for the year to come.  Today, I’ve been revisiting the past nineteen holiday seasons and have marveled at how quickly they have passed.  It is hard to imagine what my holidays will be like in the future.  My whole life Christmas has followed a pattern.  This year that routine changed just slightly.  Next year will bring more change.  But no matter how I choose to see it, there are undeniable facts.  The biggest milestones of my life have passed.  I graduated from college, married the man of my dreams, raised my family.  Now what?  Grandchildren and retirement?  Really?  That’s all? 

I refuse to believe that is all that I have left to look forward to.  Surely my life from this point isn’t supposed to be based on my career ending and watching my child reach her milestones.  With her building her life so far away, mine will definitely be different than before.  I’m sure that I will share the high points in her life from a distance and over the phone.  When that happens I am just as sure that not being able to be with her will break my heart, just as watching her walk away at the airport today did.  Yet, beneath it all will be a fierce pride at her courage.  In order to chase her dreams and live the life she wants for herself, she is stepping out on her own.  Her dad and I will never  be more than a phone call and short plane ride away.  There is nothing here that could keep me from going to her wherever she is, whenever that may be. 

As the new year approaches I will do my best to keep from being saddened by all that has changed in my life over the past year.  Rather, I will find joy in my life as it is now.  Part of that joy will be watching my child find hers.  Happy New Year, everyone.    

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Not long ago John and I went to see a movie.  Just the two of us.  Erin was in Wisconsin and John and I decided to spend that rainy Sunday afternoon in Dothan at a movie.  The Debt is about telling the truth.  Ultimately, though, it is more about the lies.  It isn’t the lies we tell the world that ultimately eats us alive – it’s the lies we tell ourselves.  Those lies define us – make us the people we turn out to be.  We lie to ourselves every time we settle for less than what we wanted.  We tell ourselves we’re happy.  We tell ourselves our lives are the way we always hoped they would be.  We tell ourselves that all the little compromises we have made along the way don’t amount to anything.  What we don’t tell ourselves is that what we really are is cowards.

We are afraid to take what we want from life – maybe out of fear that we will hurt those with whom we share our lives.  But if those people love us as they say they do, don’t they want us to have the life we want?  Aren’t they willing to love us enough to help us pursue our dreams?  Are we courageous enough to let them?  Or, in chasing what we really want, are we afraid to risk those things we have simply settled for?  Those things, those compromises, define our comfort zone.  Many of those choices have little to do with how we see ourselves and more to do with how those who love us want us to see ourselves.  Why?

Are they afraid that in the choice we will fall?  Or are they more afraid that the choice is really just running away from them?  Is that what it is?  Really?  My mother has often said that she had always believed that of her two children I would be the one to get as far away from Kinston as I could the first chance I got.  Why didn’t I?  Fear?  I don’t know.  It would be easy to say that the pieces of my life just fell into place to work out this way.  But since I’m talking about honesty, I can’t really claim that is true.  I am where I am because of the choices I have made.  I went away to college but was so unhappy that I moved myself to a school closer home.  I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to major in, so I just took my transcript to my advisor and asked her to look at it and tell me what degree I could get with what I had in the time I had left.  I took a job as a secretary because it is nigh impossible to find a teaching job in November…when I graduated.  I took my first teaching job at a private school because I felt I really should be using my degree even though the secretarial job paid more.  I actively pursued a job in a public school because there is no way John and I could have the life we wanted with my job paying the little that it did.  So, many years later, here I am.

There’s a country song that says something about “the crooked road that took me straight to you.”  Please forgive me if I have misquoted, but you get the idea.  My life has been a series of seemingly unexplainable, unrelated  twists and turns.  I talk to my students all the time about getting out into the world.  I encourage them to explore options that will take them outside their comfort zones.  I probably did my best job with that particular goal with my own child.  Once Erin spread her wings she soared. 

So what lies am I telling myself now?  Probably the biggest one is that I’m happy that Erin is moving on with her life.  That one is a whopper!  Don’t get me wrong, I am happy for her.  She is making her own decisions, fearlessly, and making her life what she wants it to be.  I just feel as if when this school year is over and she moves to Wisconsin, as she is actively planning to do, that I will be terribly lonely for her.  Things will never be the same.  I’ve talked a lot about easing into this natural separation progression and how that is making the whole process easier.  It has, really, it just can’t do anything to make me happy about it.  Someone told me once that from the moment your children are born they begin their journey away from you.  It’s natural.  It’s the way things are meant to be.  It’s only right.  Maybe what gets me about this is that my choice hasn’t come into play.  My choice for her life isn’t one she took.  She listened to our advice and considered what we wanted for her and then took the route she wanted to take.  Do I think the choice she has made is the wrong one?  I don’t think so.  Should things not work out the way she has planned, the potential consequences are vast.  But, then, that’s where my past choices come into play.  Should her plans not come together the way she sees them doing so, the culmination of my choices will put me where I need to be . . . right here if she needs me. 

Have I lied to myself in the past and told myself that I’m happy when I’m really not?  Sure!  Who hasn’t?  I like to think that I have a realistic approach to the whole “happiness” concept.  I read an article yesterday that said that the couples who are happiest together over the long term are those who do not insist that every problem be solved or every argument reach an amicable settlement.  The couples who persevere and grow old together are willing to accept that only 68% of the disagreements they have over the course of their marriage will actually be resolved to mutual satisfaction.  It seems to me that those couples have simply agreed to disagree.  They have agreed to be happy.  They have made their choices along the way and then chosen to be happy.

In the movie that we went to see, the lie the characters live has much more serious implications.  In my little corner of our existence I will continue to make choices with a conscious effort to be honest with myself about what I want.  I will take the opinions of those I love into account and then look into my heart  and make a choice.  I’m sure there will be times that some of those choices will turn out not to be the best thing I could have done.  It won’t be the first time, nor will it be the last.  At this point in my life I think the most important thing to remember is that my opinions about what Erin should do to be happy are just that….opinions.  I want her to look into her heart and make a conscious choice to be happy.  There may be consequences and / or ramifications, but I believe that if she is honest with herself and chooses what she truly believes will make her happy, that those consequences will be few and less severe than if she lives her life by others’ choices for her and then lies to herself…telling herself that she is happy. 

Her not being close by will not make me happy.  Seeing the joy on her face and hearing it in her voice will.  And that is not a lie.