I’ve started doing something new.
I’ve intentionally begun taking a break away from my desk everyday. After I eat lunch–at my desk, mind you–I go for a walk through a nearby neighborhood.
I usually walk with my phone in hand, buried in my latest book as I rely on my peripheral vision to dodge the dangers of fallen pine cones, branches, and the occasional parked car. From time to time, I’ll look up, that inner, wiser voice encouraging me to appreciate my surroundings. Look up and breathe.
Yesterday, I looked up to see a branch drop gobs of fluff from its tips–it looked like snow on a sunny day. I saw perfectly manicured lawns, and when the narrative in my book grew a little slow, I created narratives about the people living within the houses I passed. I surmised that most of them had a conventionally perfect life. It’s what I do these days–bestow upon most the assumption that they have figured out life in ways I haven’t. You never know what goes on behind closed doors–even the perfect hurt each other, my inner voice reminds me.
At the end of a cul-de-sac sat a charming two-story brick home. From the fenced back yard, a large dog barked at me. From inside the front window, two smaller dogs also barked at my perceived intrusion. The house was decorated with shamrocks and St. Patrick’s Day flags. I spied a bicycle leaning against the side and behind it a paddle board, and beyond both, a lot of closely arranged patio furniture with decorative lights strung overhead. I imagined that whomever lived there had hosted several backyard parties, and perhaps had an adventurous spirit, too. The Subaru parked in the driveway seemed to confirm this in my imagination.
And then I looked at the dogs again, and as I passed by, I thought, “It’s quaint, but I wouldn’t want to live there–that’s not the life for me.” Perhaps it was the idea of living with three dogs that turned me off. Maybe it was the style of the house. Or the location. Or maybe it was the idea of being mortgaged for 30 years.
Yes, I own two homes–but I’m only on the deeds, not the mortgages–a moment of both great stupidity and great brilliance on my part.
As I turn my attention back to my book, I read a passage in it where the author talks about a revelatory conversation she had with her mom. In it, she shares with her mom her vulnerabilities in relationships–how she wants and needs affection and a constant-level of closeness. Her mom tells her that she’s always wanted those things, too.
This is a shock to the author. Just pages before, she described her mother as “independent, strong, self-efficient. A self-feeder. Able to exist without regular doses of romance or flattery” from her emotionally removed father.
She quickly realizes the sacrifices her mother has made to make her marriage and her life with her father work.
And the question now for me is, What are my choices to be? What do I believe that I deserve in this life? Where can I accept sacrifice and where can I not?
I’m reminded of a recent conversation with my own mother in which, to my telling her that the South feels like home to me and so I’m not inclined move 3,000 miles to be closer to the kids, she replied, “After all, kids aren’t static.”
And she’s right. Kids aren’t static. Most don’t stay home forever. Most do leave. I cannot chase my kids around the world. After all, there are five of them and only one of me. As unsettled as I feel in my own journey right now–my own recovery–and as much as I miss the kids every single day, I like living here.
No, kids aren’t static. I certainly wasn’t.
As I continue my walk, I think about how I wasn’t. Convinced I’d be the only person in my high school who wasn’t going to leave home, I applied to only “far away” universities and colleges. (I ended up being the only one of my friends to leave home, attending a college just a 9-hour drive away.) I’ve criss-crossed the country numerous times. I cut my mother off while I was grieving not one but two miscarriages, and did not tell her I was pregnant with my oldest until I was five months along. And yet, I’ve quietly always wanted her love and affection. I miss her friendship, though I have to pursue it cautiously.
And that’s when it dawns on me: I am Claire.
Claire is my second oldest. And my wild girl. I cried when she was born not because I was overcome with new-mom emotions, but because my pregnancy with her was hard and it was finally over.
She and I have had a precarious relationship. The mother-daughter bond was never quite like it was with the others. She tested my patience. She has a rebellious spirit. She is a differences person. Like me.
I love this little girl, but she also exhausts me to no end sometimes. And somewhere inside, I’ve always known that at some point, she’d pull away from me in anger over my leaving when she was little. That there would be weeks, months, or years of silence between us while she did her thing and I gleaned what information I could from her older sister. Like me.
Claire was on my mind a lot yesterday. In planning my next visit to see the kids, my ex-husband told me that Claire did not want to spend the night in my Airbnb. She wanted to see me, but did not want to sleep over. When I asked why that was, my ex-husband said she cried all night in the Airbnb and could not sleep.
This hurt. On multiple levels. I knew she missed her grandmother during our visits. She’d make tearful calls home on occasion talking about how much she missed her and her home. But ever the spirited wild girl, she always pulled through. Or so I thought.
I knew she would be the first to pull away. I did not expect it so soon.
I felt sad and was inclined to review every horrible mother moment in which I lost my temper with her, or around her, or made her feel like she was inconveniencing me, or lost patience with her disorganization and rebelliousness.
Be kind to yourself, my sponsor had told me the day before.
So I tried. And I realized that Claire was more like me that I had realized. And in that realization was some grace. Though I had pushed for space and distance between my own mother and myself, I knew how much I longed for closeness with her. How much I thought of her and wanted her advice. Other women had come into my life as role models over the years–including Claire’s grandmother–and yet, there’s something about the connection between a mother and daughter. I could rest easier knowing that Claire would do her thing, but also knowing what her thoughts were likely to be as she did them. Because I’ve had those thoughts–I have those thoughts–myself.
I can see the codependency in her and I can see the codependent adult version of her, too. And while this was a revelatory moment for me, maybe it’s not. After all, every recurring nightmare I’ve had as a mother–of a child being in mortal danger from which I could not save her–was of Claire. Every one of them. Just last week, when I found myself able to control my dreams and one of my children came skipping toward me, I made her Claire.
Let it be Claire. Let it be Claire.
It was, and I hugged her tightly.
Maybe this is because that wiser, inner me has known all along that my daughter is me, and I am her. And while it does not make the separation any less sad, it is easier to let go and let her find her way. Because letting go is loving. Her and me.