Relax (Advice from a Wise Seven-Year Old)

The other night, my seven-year-old son looked up at me and said,

“Mom, you should really relax.”

What? Me—not relaxed? I mean, how could I not be relaxed, we were sitting on the couch watching a movie, as I aimlessly surfed the Internet, reading status updates and deleting an endless stream of unread emails. I’ll admit, his question caught me off-guard. There were so many other things that might have come out of his mouth at that moment:

Mom, you should really pay attention to the movie. 

OR

Mom, you should really make me some dinner.

OR

 Mom, you should really stop staring blankly at the computer.

But telling me “to relax” was not at all what I had expected. As I thought about it, however, I realized that he was right­—I wasn’t relaxed. I was tense. In fact, I’ve been tense for months. Even when I think that I am relaxed, I can’t seem to lose the knot that is perpetually gnawing at my insides. When I try to identify the cause in an attempt to make it go away, I am flooded with images of my job, my husband, my kids, even my blog—all of which in some way contributes to this feeling of unrest.

A side-effect of this ever-present anxiety is that I sometimes forget to smile. It’s not that I’m frowning, or even unhappy. I’m not even thinking about one thing in particular. Instead, I find myself lost in my own head, thinking of nothing and everything all at the same time. When this happens, I don’t know which thought to grab hold of, which thought to analyze in order to finally put it to rest. So, instead, I am left unable to focus on a movie, to write in this blog, or to be as connected to the world around me as I need to be.

With my son’s simple statement, I realized that it was time to confront the one thought that pains me the most, the one that runs through my head over and over again like a negative mantra—my daughter is growing up. I know, not a surprise as I have said this too many times to count—so what the hell is my problem? The answer is, I honestly don’t know.

Looking back, I think it all started when she graduated from elementary school a month ago. Watching her standing on the stage, I had the terrible realization that she is closer to the end of her childhood than she is to the beginning of it. She is physically changing before my eyes, and I am in awe each time I see this tall, beautiful creature walk into the room. At the same time, I am overcome by emotion when she shows me the little girl that she still has inside of her.

Even as I write this, I now see that it is this in-between stage that is causing me so much pain and anxiety. If she were already a teenager, I believe I could deal with—or at least try to deal with—all of the things that come with it. And if she were still a child, I would find comfort in knowing that I am the one person in her life that has all the answers. Instead, I am somewhere in the middle, just waiting for it all to change. And although the waiting is unbearable, I still dread the day when the only time I see the little girl that she once was is in photos from her childhood.

So, I guess that’s the answer—I’ve never been good with waiting, and I am especially bad at waiting for the “unknown.” However, now that I know that this is the crux of my problem, I am beginning to feel the knot lessening, and I may even feel a small smile playing at the corners of my mouth.

I wish I could adequately express how thankful I am to my son for giving me his simple words of advice—you should relax­. Starting today, I will do just that. I will stop living in my own head, and I will begin to look forward to getting to know the young woman my daughter will soon become.

Looking for “Home” (Part 2)

In my quest to find the meaning of the word “home,” I’ve been thinking about the home in which I spent my teen years. There were many good times spent in that house, and yet every time I see it, I find myself thinking “What if . . .” This house—with it’s big backyard, it’s bedrooms for each of us, it’s kitchen large enough for a family of six—still holds the pain of the dissolution of our family.

We moved to this house when I was eleven—I was so excited for the new adventure that awaited us there. I was no longer going to have to share a room with my brother—or with anyone for that matter. Both the walls and the carpet were a beautiful light blue, and my parents even let me pick out my own light fixture. For the next 10 years this would be my room—a place to be by myself, to talk on the phone, to listen to music, to do homework, to get ready for dances, to hang out with friends—it was mine, and the thought that some day it would no longer be, never entered my mind.

I live just a few miles away from the town I grew up in, and as much as I love to drive past my first childhood home, I don’t often go out of my way to see this one. There are moments, however, when I find myself getting nearer, and I feel an overwhelming urge to just look at the house once more. I never stop the car, I just slow down long enough to really look at it, at the windows of the rooms that still hold the memories of my family. The number of good memories far outweigh the bad, and yet all I can think of when I see this house are the painful ones—the ones that came at the end.

The “What ifs” that flood my mind are not “What if my parents hadn’t gotten divorced?” because that would be like wondering “What if a different man were my father?” These are two impossible questions that are futile in their nature and not worth pondering. Instead, the “What ifs” are more for my mother. I think of all the questions she must ask herself about the life she lived for more than twenty-five years, a life that ended when her husband walked out one fall day. This home is the one she had to give up, the one she had to leave behind.

There was a moment during the divorce that my mother could have decided to stay in this house—she was given a choice: to stay in the home of our childhood or to move to one a few hours away, free from the reminders of her former life. In the end, it wasn’t really a choice at all. My mother recently reminded me of a conversation we had prior to deciding where to live. She had asked me my opinion on what she should do, and my words to her were  “Home is wherever you are.”

When I ask myself the meaning of “home,” I realize now that it has a meaning that hadn’t occurred to me before. I knew that seeing a former home could bring you back to a time in your life that you otherwise wouldn’t think of—and with that can come the happiness or nostalgia for your former self. However, I now know that a house can also hold the ghosts of your past—ghosts that are sometimes better left forgotten—and by leaving these memories where you found them, you are able to move on with your life.

Sixteen years after packing up each of these rooms for the last time, our lives are settled and going well. We—my mother, siblings, and I—no longer feel the pain we did during that time. In fact, in many ways, that part of our lives has been forgotten, or at least replaced by the new memories that can be found in the homes we have since created. My advice for my daughter, as she continues to wonder what it would be like to move to a new home, is to know that life is filled with both painful and wonderful experiences—and sometimes it is possible—and necessary—to move to a new place in order to leave the painful ones behind.

Spend time with me!

Sometimes I look at my daughter and I see the teenager she will someday be. It isn’t a clear picture—I have no idea what she’ll actually look like, and I have a very hard time picturing her taller than me—but I sometimes envision a teenage girl who will want nothing to do with me. My future daughter will find everything I say to be completely wrong, and she will spend all of her waking moments—when not in school—in her room talking to friends or on the computer. Life with my daughter as I know it will have come to an end, and she will no longer want me around. This is my fear, and something that I sadly believe will more than likely come to pass. Because of my absolute phobia of the teen years, I have sometimes taken a possibly odd tack when it comes to parenting her. It may sounds strange, but I tell her about my fears, not in a “please don’t do this to me” kind of way, but in more of a questioning sort of way, like “When you are older, are you going to make me walk 10 feet behind you at the mall?” She usually laughs at my questions, and I smile inside knowing that she finds the idea of it somehow difficult to imagine. Part of me is just trying to prepare myself for the inevitable, while the other part of me prays that by telling her how she’ll behave, she somehow won’t do it just to prove me wrong.

Up until my daughter was about ten—maybe a year ago or so,—I had a nighttime rule that the living room became a “child-free” zone at 8:oo pm. I didn’t mind it if the kids stayed up watching television in their rooms, but I desperately needed some time to myself—my husband didn’t get home from work until about 10:00 each night—and I would look forward to an hour or two without anyone asking me for anything. Even with that rule in place, there were many nights when my daughter desperately wanted to stay up with me, wanting to watch something that I would otherwise have DVR’d for us to see the next day. She would come into the living room and ask me if she could spend time with me. I was adamant about my “alone time,” so I would say no, and she would slowly drag herself back to her room. If either of the kids came out a second time, then the threats would start: “If you come out once more, tomorrow night you’ll be going to bed at 7:00!” It usually worked, and the rest of the evening would go by quietly.

I will be honest, I didn’t feel guilty about sending her away, I know that the quiet helped me regenerate my burned out body and mind for the next day’s work, and to prepare for life in general.

This is how life used to be.

One night, maybe a year ago, I was about to send her to bed when I looked at her—I mean really looked at her—she had changed so much. She was growing so fast, and it suddenly occurred to me that the teenager I feared was closer than I had realized. At that moment, what I wanted more than anything in the world was to hold onto her youth, her sweetness, and her desire to be with me. So, I have given up my time to myself in favor of watching television with her in the evenings, listening to her insightful commentaries, and laughing at her occasional interpretive dance to the songs in commercials. Each evening I am thankful that I have been given one more night with her in which she still wants to spend time with me.

My advice to my daughter is to recognize the times in her life that are fleeting—those moments that will eventually end—and to cherish them, enjoy them, and most of all to not be afraid of them coming to an end, as ultimately they will become a part of her.