It takes a spot of courage to stand up tall and a bit of derring-do to rise when you fall

Monday, December 05, 2005

Wing Damage

Lately I've seen the meme where people list, as part of it, the however-many places that they've been. And some of them are pretty exotic. Some of them are pretty cool. Which makes me feel pangs of envy because I've been so few places in my life. Some of that's because it costs money to go anywhere---there's always that catch---and I've never had an especially abundant money tree.

But mostly the reason, I suspect, lies in the fact that I've never had the courage to go. When I was younger and the time was ripe, I was much too afraid to venture very far. My mother saw to that.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love my mother dearly. She's a good woman, and as the years have passed, I've come to appreciate her more and more. But one thing she does excellently is worry. When I was young, like as now, she worried about every conceivable likelihood of what could possibly happen and then when those ran out, she imagined the rest. Which isn't to say we didn't run and play and fall and scrape ourselves up plenty when we were kids. We did. In fact, back in those days and in the little town where I lived, it was common to hop on your bike in the morning and not return until suppertime. Times have changed.

But she managed in subtle ways and unconscious ways to stifle every attempt to soar. Every weak attempt to fly to the world which existed outside of the narrow lines of my childhood was met with worry and fretting. I try to remember exactly how she dampened what might have sprouted into an adventuresome spirit. This wasn't a crime of intent or malice. I don't believe her goal was to keep me imprisoned. She thought, rather, that she was keeping me safe. We love our children, and we're desperate to keep them safe. I know this.

So, like I mentioned, I've tried to figure out how exactly it was that she managed this feat of keeping me grounded. I know that she would list the things that could happen if this or that were attempted, and you could see the real fear she lived with regarding those possibilities. And so then I, too, would contemplate those possible consequences---some realistic and others ridiculous---and fear was born. Fear of trying. Fear of failing. Fear of getting in a crash on the way. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of getting lost. Fear of getting kidnapped. Fear of strange people. Fear of the unknown. Fear of running out of resources. Fear of strange dogs biting me and then getting an infection and winding up in a hospital bed with no one around to help. You know: Fear.

And I discovered that upon entering "adulthood" (supposedly), fear didn't dissolve and dissipate like childhood fog. It clung. It had silently sunk its talons into the innermost workings of courage and poisoned the seed. Crippled the origin, the core. When I would contemplate the door of Going Away To College, I realized: how scary. I could fail. When I would contemplate, even beyond that, Going Away To a Faraway City To College, I could even become paralyzed by fear of all the possibilities. When my thoughts might flit and land, temporarily, on the idea of getting a job that would include travel, I would lurch past it into safer waters. Something near. Local.

More than I was afraid for myself (except for in the areas of being afraid of failing), I worried for my mom. I imagined her fretting and stewing and crippling her days with worry for me while I was gone, and I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I realize now that the very best thing I could've done was go far far away and let her see that life would go on. For her. For me. That the bogeyman wouldn't get me (but what if he had? he could've and what if he had? then it would have just confirmed every worst fear. better safe than sorry).

I did manage to go from Northern California, where we had been living through my high school years, back down to Southern California where I grew up. That was as far as the rope would stretch and that was only workable because I was moving into my uncle's house, the home of my mother's brother. Something nice and safe. Of course, there were the distances I was traveling on my own for work, navigating the freeway systems of Southern California---which was no small feat---so there was always a fresh crop of worries. (Oh, if only she knew!) But they were manageable compared to what they could have been.

One would think that after I was safely "married off", my mother could sit back, breathe a sigh of relief and transfer the job of worrying onto the broad and capable shoulders of my husband. Who would then have shrugged them off permanently to rot on the side of the road. But marriage wasn't the end of the worry road for me mum. Well, I suppose marriage itself might have been but once children entered the scene, there were new levels of worry. To this day, if I go away for a weekend with a girlfriend, say, my mother frets. In the beginning, when I would go somewhere, she would say, "But what if something happens to you? What will your kids do? They'll be without a mom!" She has since said less and less but I know that the worry is there. It comes off of her in waves, like garlic.

When I know that I'm planning such a getaway, I fret about when to tell my mom (because there's not really any way of not telling her. We live close to each other and talk practically every day. It would be an obvious omission and would hurt her feelings, even if the motivation was only to spare her the worry). Timing is critical. If I tell her too early, her worries will infect me and rob me of any fun anticipation. They fuel my own worries because, yes, I now have the same ones. If I tell her too late, it would be---like I mentioned---an obvious omission. I know, I know. I'm an adult. But I don't like to hurt people's feelings if it can be avoided, especially my mother's.

I regret that I'm making her out to be someone psychotic. She isn't. She just lives with the disease of worry. It has crippled her in many ways and has managed to mangle me in maybe just as many. It's a cancer I'm desperate to stop. I'm trying to figure out just how this illness starts, what feeds it and how it grows so that I don't infect my children. If I can give them a gift, I want to give them the courage to do what they want and to go wherever they feel the urge to fly---whatever state, country, whatever continent or planet. I'll be here at home base, perhaps in a puddle of fear and worry for what might befall them---it's a powerful fear. But let me hold my tongue! Let me be silent and give them wings that are healthy and strong and daring.

Fly, baby, fly.


Blogger heatherfeather said...

jay are, this is a very good post... just by nature of who i know and what i've done for work, i think about parenting a lot. and how it's such a fine balance that is often blurred, often screwed up, but rarely irreparable.

my dad was a lot like how your mom sounds - he was the worrier, he was the one that wanted to know where i was all the time. heck, i've said before he'd call from california to maine to ask if i'd eaten dinner.

but he was tempered by my mom who wanted (and still wants) nothing more than to let us be independent, individual, and bold. i had friends who wanted to go to college out of state, but their parents took a compass and drew a 300 mile radius circle around their home and dictated their kids had to go to college in that circle. (you know where i grew up, and i'll tell you almost all of them went to san luis obispo - the farthest school from that point) my mom wanted us to find our own way - i went to boston, my sister went to ohio. it broke their hearts to see us leave - with my track record, i've left them often. but only ever in person - i make time to touch base with them not out of duty but because i want to. any worry and fear they have for me is quashed by their desire for me to do what is best for me.

i think this is one of the greatest gifts that my parents have given me - my independence (which some would argue i have to a fault) and my courage to try new things, see new places, and suck as much out of the world as i can.

this is a really wordy way to say that what you want to give your kids is, as a recipient of this gift, one of the best you can give them as a parent.

i admire you so much for that.

10:54 PM, December 05, 2005

Blogger bryan torre said...

and kudos to you for your ability to try to see things as objectively as possible, to accept the good, the bad, and the just-is, and try to make the future as good as possible for yourself and your kids.

11:12 PM, December 05, 2005

Blogger jay are said...

I don't feel worthy of such praise....
and independence! that was the word. You notice I didn't use it in my post because that word didn't occur to me, not once. The buck must stop here.
What a great gift to give. the question is: can I do it?

11:21 PM, December 05, 2005

Blogger Michelle said...

With heather on this one. A very poignant post. I had 2 parents that really didn't give a crock...still don't. My main goal in my daughters life is to provide that love, grounding and caring that i never had as a child. Sure i have flaws, but at least my kid knows she's loved, cared about and admired.

Yes! You CAN do it :o)

3:33 AM, December 06, 2005

Blogger jay are said...

In reading some people's blogs, I feel so sad about how many grew up with parents who were either absent, evil or ambivalent. I can't claim any of those, thank goodness. My parents may not have been perfect but I knew they loved me...I'm glad, Michelle, that you're giving back what you didn't receive. I think it's remarkable to be able to do that a parent never taught such love lessons.

7:29 AM, December 06, 2005

Blogger No_Newz said...

I have no anwers. Great post. I'm sorry she has to live with those fears.
Lois Lane

9:51 AM, December 06, 2005

Anonymous si said...

jay are: i had to comment on this post. i feel that you & i had very similar backgrounds (from your previous post re your father [and that amazing song] to this one about your "fearful" mother). i feel like these *are* my parents also. i have grown up in a fearful world because of my mother and thus haven't really gone "as far" as i maybe could have. my father is very distant -- almost a non-entity as far as emotional support goes. i do know that it's easy to blame "the parents" for everything that's not right with one's life -- i don't mean to do that. i do believe that how i was brought up has affected me, though.

now, my mother has succumbed to one of her fears -- she had a massive stroke last feb and is paralyzed on her left side. i have had to be more involved in her life (obviously) and in my dad's. since my mom is in a care-home, i'm at my dad's house a lot, making sure that he's eating & taking care of himself. our relationship (or lack thereof) shows major signs of strain (in my mind) due to this close proximity.

sorry for taking up this space on your blog. i wanted to acknowledge you & your post, & how it resonated with me.

it sounds like you definitely have taken the first step to right the course for your kids -- by being aware.

1:00 PM, December 06, 2005

Blogger jay are said...

thanks for sharing, si (you've been gone for awhile!). it's somehow nice to know that there's a bunch of us running around out there who feel a little unmoored and a little unattached to those responsible for bringing us into this ole world; we're not alone. Somehow we stumble along and make our way (probably just as they did). I'm sorry to hear about your mom and I imagine it must somewhat stressful to be forced to play "parent" in some degrees to a father you're not very close to. Ugh. These life experiences that I suppose teach us something---though it's not always obvious what---aren't always what we would exactly choose.
Good luck.

3:22 PM, December 06, 2005

Blogger anya ransuns aka Roxy said...

Wow. Like Bryan said, I commend your ability to view the factors so objectively. You can do it. You do do it, I think.

2:20 AM, December 30, 2005

Blogger jay are said...

it's awesome when others can teach you to fly by their own examples and courage.

2:04 PM, December 30, 2005


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