The danger of being a shadow of yourself

When I split up with my husband and entered the dating scene, a friend told me that it was a minefield – if I didn’t watch where I stepped, I could get blown up. As predicted, I soon entered a rebound relationship: it quickly heated up with promise of the future and crashed and burned soon thereafter.

In dissecting the spiral of events, one thing became crystal clear. The man I had been dating was terrified of being alone, to the extent that the four days between our commute were too much for him to handle.

As I thought about it, a memory of my aunt came to mind. Years ago, she recounted to me about how she once asked her pre-school aged daughter who her best friend was. When her daughter answered ‘me’, my aunt said that she knew that she had done her job. As depicted by a note my cousin left her years later that currently hangs in a frame on her corridor wall, stating ‘Mom, I went outside to play with myself’, her daughter was perfectly happy having a party of one.

As a parent, this entire dating episode taught me a valuable lesson. In order for my son to have fulfilling and enriching relationships, he needs to have one with himself: if he doesn’t find himself good company, no one else will either. And, he will always make the coward’s decision of grasping on to the person closest to him to act as buffer against himself and a reflective mirror from which he can draw an image.

In noting this, I think of Dr. Seuss’ book Oh the Places You’ll Go. I remember the passage that talks about the different places you’ll go in life – some joyful, some exciting, some just waiting, some unpleasant, and some unhappy, but all part of the journey of life that leads to learning, self-discovery, and the magical unfolding of life’s surprise twists and turns.

With this thought, I realize that I need to teach my son to not only believe in himself but to enjoy the time he spends with himself and his own self-discovery as a complete relationship. This means helping him to develop the courage to face the unpleasant in himself head on and stay with himself through the painful and lonely times while being able to give of himself and remain true to his inner worth.

By imbuing him with a trust that the future will take care of itself and a firm belief that he doesn’t have to settle for less than he deserves or make choices from a place of fear, I have confidence that he will be able to stand tall, do the right, not necessarily the easiest thing, in most situations, develop himself and all his talents, push himself to be his own best version, and, ultimately, lie outside the danger zone of becoming a shadow of himself.

Everyone’s got an opinion

When I was pregnant with my first child, aside from the ‘Big Love’ everyone guaranteed me was coming my way, parents, family, friends, and even complete strangers started giving me unsolicited advice and tips from the parenting trenches. It quickly became clear how much I didn’t know and needed to learn in order to create a healthy baby and then raise a well-adjusted, intelligent, happy, and contributing member of society.

So, I started to read. I read about what I needed to eat during my pregnancy. I read about the ideal delivery method for minimizing birthing trauma to the baby. And I read about what to do once the baby came home and parenting officially began.

By then, I was eight months pregnant and almost insane with a craving to engage in gluttony with anything deep-fried or composed of pure refined sugar. I refrained, of course, because all the books promised that as long as I followed their listed recommendations, I would be the perfect mother raising the perfect child.

Then, I gave birth and reality set in. It first appeared in the delivery room when the doctor pulled out the forceps and all I could hear were fourteen scandalized voices whispering ‘She won’t push anymore, she just won’t! And she took the epidural!’.

Reality then followed me home. And it was there, subject to randomly unsolicited proclamations about how ‘This baby needs an undershirt’ and dictates about the unequivocal superiority of specific feeding and sleeping schedules, that I realized something. Everyone’s got an opinion. And when it comes to babies and parenting, everyone feels entitled to air it.

When I asked my cousin, a veteran mom of three kids, if she had ever noticed this trend during her mothering career, she started to laugh. Oh, do you mean when people from older generations let you know how much better their way is (In my day, we had babies eating solids and toilet-trained by the age of three months, sniff)? Or, do you mean when people talk to you through your baby (Poor you. Your little hands are soooooooooo cold. Your mommy didn’t dress you warmly enough this morning.)? Or, do you mean other parents who don’t tell you what to do directly, but let you know what they think anyway (Oh, are you doing that? or Oh, I wouldn’t do that!).

Listening to her, I laughed and the tension that had enveloped me in my endeavor to be the perfect mom that never made a mistake started to dissipate. In that instant, I realized that parenting is a process. There are no last chances for success. As long as you love your child fiercely, do the best that you can do at any given moment, and forgive yourself for the moments that you don’t, things will turn out more than ok.