The subject of death is taboo to so many people. In many religions, it is considered a rite of passage or the passing from one existence to another. It is the circle of life. I believe it can be peaceful. But not for the ones we leave behind. For them there is pain and sadness. I lost my own father when I was a teenager. Some of my siblings were older then I was when he died and some of them were younger. We all have fleeting images and varied memories of him. Except for my youngest sibling. She was only seven and has no memory of him whatsoever. I remember her as daddy’s girl, their laughter and teasing, the close times they shared. It seemed inconceivable to me that she could not remember any of that. And yet there it was.
So it made me realize that if I were to leave this earth when my children were young, they would not have a memory of me. That was a cold spear in my heart. How could they not remember the daily cuddles or the nonstop care when they were sick? The laughter and jokes we made up? The books we read together, the movies we saw. The birthday parties. The traditions we created together. The places we traveled and experiences. Field trips. Plane rides. School concerts. Family nights. Bedtime rituals, morning rituals. The thousands of hugs and kisses. How could all of that life and living not be remembered?
It was not something I allowed myself to dwell on but I tried to make everything we did as something that could be remembered. And now I am one of the fortunate ones. I am still here watching my children grow into adulthood. They do remember me and many of the things we have done together. We can laugh about silly past events or childhood rituals they have left behind. We can celebrate the big and little steps they have achieved. I feel so much pride in the people they have become. But time is a greedy thing. Or rather I am greedy for time. I want more and more of them. I want to see what they will accomplish in the world, to be with them through their middle age and more. Which brings in another issue about time and memory.
My own mother has enjoyed a very long life relatively free of major health issues. She is healthy even at her ripe old age. But ten years ago a disease started to erode her brain. It took away her memories one by one so that today when we, her children, visit her she cannot remember our names. We are shadowy images that tease her but never allow her to fully remember. And so it begs the question. If I am blessed to live to a ripe old age to watch my children grow, will I remember them?
We do not get to choose when we are born and we don’t choose when we die. But we can choose how to live the life we have. To have one more day to embrace my children as we watch each other grow. That is both my prayer and the challenge I am willing to face.
Kenny Rogers wrote that iconic song about a poker game strategy that was really a metaphor for life when he stated that knowing when to hold and knowing when to fold your hand was the way to go. The same could be said for parenting. I was always told to pick my battles but there was the rub. What should be a battle and what should I let go?
I recall when my kids were young that often when they asked if they could do something or go to an event or a friend’s house, my stock answer would be “maybe”. One time after I answered that way, I heard one say to the other in the back seat of the car “When Mom says maybe, she means no”. I was stunned! I realized that they had thought the “maybe” answer was for them when really the answer was to give myself time to consider the request and make sure I made the right decision. Was it then always a “no” after my consideration? Perhaps it was. Let’s just say that for many years I felt confused about whether I should “hold ‘em” or “fold ‘em”.
There is no manual for parenting. There is only your own parent’s style of child rearing or maybe your grandparent’s or aunt or uncle’s or the family next door. We all learn by example. I have certainly said to myself that I would do things differently then the previous generation and have heard my friends say the same things. But did I? Was I strong enough to forge new methods of child raising or was I relying on the old standbys? Certainly there was a plethora of books and advice out there to refer to. Let your baby cry himself to sleep or he’ll always want to sleep in your bed. Don’t let your child cry himself to sleep or he will feel abandoned. Feed your baby on demand. Don’t feed on demand, set a regular schedule. Give time outs for bad behaviors. What happens if your child stamps their foot and refuses to time out? You can appreciate the confusion. What to do? Am I a good parent? Have I ruined my children, made them afraid, distrustful, angry, sad? What kind of a mother was I??
The answer of course is a normal one. We all do the best we can with what we have. Sometimes I see what my adult children are doing or how they are reacting to something and I wonder if I should have done something differently. But they are individuals with their own minds and ways of doing things. And I need to let it all go and just feel blessed that I am still a part of their lives.
And oh yes, very happy that I am not a poker player.
I have to admit I have never felt true fear until I became a mom. I have a vivid memory from my early days in LA as I pursued my dream to work as an actress in film. I was invited to ride the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica to Malibu on the back of a motorcycle, an invitation I accepted without hesitation. I can still see that brilliant ocean touching the sky on the horizon, the salt air wind whipping my face and hair and the utter release of myself in the elements. It was the closest thing to flying I have yet to experience. Afterward when I told an older friend I had taken this ride, I was surprised at the angered response at my carelessness. Didn’t I know I could have been killed? I suppose I had but it hadn’t seemed to matter at the time. I had felt wild and free and yes just a little bit dangerous…but afraid? Not at all.
Fast forward to seven years later when I was holding my first child in my arms and the fear was palpable. How could I be responsible for this tiny helpless creature who depended on me for everything? Suddenly there was so much to be afraid of. Global warming, stranger danger, that parent in 5th grade who let her kids watch R rated films when my child went to visit. Diseases, plastic toys with chemicals, fast food, mystery meat. Religious cults. Song lyrics! It was mind boggling. I had to drive my children everywhere and stay for every birthday party or event because in my mind, no one would watch out for them like I would. The fear would change and modify as they grew. Teenagers learning to drive. Sleepovers at homes of friends we barely knew. School trips. Nowhere was safe. And yet I slowly had to let go..and let go and let go. I had to trust that I had taught them all I could to make good choices, to be safe. And suddenly I am not that protector anymore. Suddenly they can pat my hand and reassure me that they are fine. Out in the world where I cannot see them nor should I follow them to make sure they are okay.
And yet…that is how it should be. That is the way of the world. We bear our children and raise them and nurture them and then send them out into the world to find their own life story. I must trust that they are fine and put the fear to rest. And yes in my secret heart of hearts I hope that they both experience in their lives that wild ocean side ride with the wind blowing through their hair…I just don’t want to know about it.