I write today from the vantage point of a mother and a grandmother. Who knew I would live so long? The days of being a young mother come back to me now as I interact with my son and daughter-in-law and with the parents of my grandchildren’s peers. The parents seem so young to me! It is nothing short of a miracle that they are able to take care of themselves, let alone their children.
Some of the parents are very together – patient and loving toward their children, calm and self-possessed in their own lives. Some of the parents look like they are happy to have just made it through to another day, slipping and sliding through their lives by the seat of their pants. I watch the children and their parents scurrying about and a Lily Tomlin quote comes to mind: “We’re all in this alone.”
When I was a young mother I was often terrified that my decisions and behavior were directly affecting my children. They were so totally dependent upon me for their very existence and survival. It was such an awesome responsibility and I often felt woefully unprepared. Still I loved my sons deeply and they forgave me my mistakes again and again. I got used to making decisions for them and for our family. We were all in this together albeit alone (see above).
I became a strong advocate for them as they went through school. But I also moved them around as I went through graduate school myself, and then decided to move from California to West Virginia and then eventually to Washington state. They had to go along. They were prisoners to my life choices. Sometimes they liked the choices I made and sometimes they definitely did not. My oldest son was more vocal about his disapproval. He liked West Virginia and did not want to leave.
I also became a devotee of Swami Muktananda when I was pregnant with my first son. Both of my children spent a lot of time with me in meditation centers and ashrams. They celebrated Guru Purnima along with Chanukah, Christmas, Easter and Passover. My oldest son was not as enamored with my yoga practice. “He’s your guru, he’s not my guru,” he told me. My youngest son could sit still for hours while we chanted in Sanskrit at the ashram. He was more of a yogi than I was. Now as adults, my oldest son considers himself a Taoist and my younger son goes about trying to turn his rowdy friends into kind and loving people.
During my children’s teenage years, their father and I separated and eventually divorced. This was another huge decision my sons had no choice about. And again it was me who was the driving force behind the decision. My ex-husband and I are close friends now. We see each other often and celebrate holidays together with our sons. We are each remarried and our spouses get along and we get along with each other’s spouses. An Ozzie and Harrier divorce as my sister likes to call it. But that is now. When the separation was happening my sons had to go through their own pain and suffering. My thirteen-year-old asked me, “Why can’t you wait until I’m 18?” Why couldn’t I? Because it seemed as though I would die if I didn’t make the change. My own survival was at stake.
As I grew into motherhood and womanhood, I would often try to make my decisions based on causing the least amount of turmoil or pain. But in the end I caused a great deal of both for all of us. My sons were forced to see me as a fallible human being with needs and dreams of my own separate from my role as their mother. They had to experience their own reactions to my decisions and behavior. My love for them was always apparent, and perhaps that is what got us through the hard times. We are very close to each other even as we lead our own separate lives.
Now I am a grandmother. My youngest son decided to marry at eighteen and become a father at twenty. He is still married and has a six year old daughter and three year old son. He started going to college this year and is somehow managing to work part time, go to school full time and take care of the kids three days a week. I help take care of my grandchildren two days a week, sometimes more. I went through each pregnancy with my daughter-in-law and son. I was present for each of their births. I help out at my granddaughter’s Kindergarten class and my grandson’s preschool class. I go to all the soccer games. You get the picture. I am very involved with my grandchildren.
I love them with all my heart and I also know I am not the main influence in their lives. I am not their parent. I can stand by to help and support, but I cannot force my will upon my children or my grandchildren. I can merely lead by example. I cannot make their decisions for them, live their lives for them, keep them from making their own mistakes.
I have so much compassion for young families as they struggle to meet the everyday demands life and their own decisions have placed upon them. I see my son and his wife trying to juggle all of the balls of being young parents, working, going to college, finding some time to play. I see their children as their steadying force. If my son had not married and become a parent as soon as he did, he was in danger of spinning out of control. He needed an anchor to keep him grounded and out of serious trouble. Sometimes he chafes at the responsibility, but mostly he takes it all in stride. I see none of the terror I felt at being responsible for another human being. My daughter-in-law goes about her days doing the best she can, working full time, attending to the needs of her children and her husband, taking little to no time for herself. They do not have the time to reflect on the awesome responsibilities they shoulder!
My oldest son and his girlfriend work with abused and emotionally disturbed children in an inpatient setting. They say they will eventually have children of their own, but not now. My son has very clear ideas about how to raise children and set limits. I cannot wait until he has his own children. Then we shall see if his rigid theories continue to hold water.
I am learning so much about myself and about the cycle of life as I enter this crone phase. I am growing old and I still have so much to learn. Will I ever reach a place of true wisdom? We are truly all in this alone, but “alone” to me now means “all one”.