Marriage and intimacy

During the 2010 Olympics I was lucky enough to obtain a ticket to the pairs figure skating competition. I was initially disappointed when the event began as I hadn’t realized that I would be watching twenty pairs perform the same routine over and over again. After watching many of the couples perform, however, I began to see the beauty in the repetition, noticing that the couples who were most magical were not necessarily the ones  always in sync. Instead, it was the couples that fell out of step with one another while maintaining their connection who were most appealing. For it was in viewing the stronger partner unhesitatingly and unflinchingly carry the faltering one that the intimacy between the two was most visible, providing a peek behind the curtain into the deeper bond that enables two distinct individuals to separate and come back together in a unified dance that’s all the stronger for a misstep.

Over time, I reflected on this hidden beauty, struck by how it paralleled the relationships that I know and most admire.  And so, when presented with the opportunity to get married to someone who loved me, I turned him down, knowing that our relationship did not meet the litmus test that I had set for myself.

When my son, who also loved this man, asked me why I wouldn’t marry him, I gently explained that I believe that marriage is like a puzzle. Whereas you can sometimes force together two pieces that look as if they belong with one another, it’s a struggle and you always know that something’s not quite right, if not through the process then by the end result. On the other hand, when two pieces belong together, they gently nestle up against one another, falling together into place to create a picture that is more beautiful than either piece could create on its own, each unique part accentuating the other’s natural form to present it in a supportive and flattering light.

Having no desire to be the next Elizabeth Taylor, marrying repeatedly for an elusive but heady feeling that’s unsustainable in the long term, I’ve decided to save my last marriage chit for a relationship that is mutually supportive, allowing each of us to explore and express our dark and light in all their splendor while striving to become the best version of ourselves. And it’s my hope that as my son matures and falls in love, he’ll ultimately choose for himself a relationship in which he’s loved in spite of his flaws all the while being recognized for the work in progress that he is, supported during his mis-steps and throughout his attempts to make the most of who he is, while complementing his other in a dance that creates a long-lasting moment of truth that is beautiful for all of its work and imperfections.

Having a posse

When I turned six, my family imploded. From the outside, we looked like a picture-perfect family: my mother was a stay-at-home mom and my dad was a university professor who was around most of the time. But, as we all know, appearances can be deceiving. Underneath the Cleaver exterior, the 70s political and social hippy revolution was alive and kicking in our home.

By the time I was eight, my parents were engaged in full-blown open relationships, my dad was openly bi-sexual, we had an anarchist press operating out of our basement, and my parents were constantly trying to convince me that it would be best if my brother and I were home-schooled, an event that was to take place in the idealized school bus that we would purchase and convert to tour across the country. In all reality, I was probably the only child who begged and pleaded to be allowed to go to school. For me, it and all the friends that I had there represented a haven of sanity.

When we reminisce about this time, my cousin constantly reminds me that it’s amazing that we all turned out so normal, functional and successful. And I can’t help but agree.

When I reflect on why things turned out this way, the only answer that I can come up with is that, no matter what, we always knew that we had a posse. Regardless of what crisis or upheaval we were experiencing, we always knew that when push came to shove, our parents would drop whatever insanity they had embroiled themselves in and be behind us one hundred percent. And, in spite of the myriad changes to our family constellation, this fact has remained strong and true to this day: I know that no matter what is happening in my parents’ and brother’s lives, and no matter what was said or done in the past, if I need them, they will be there for me, rearranging their lives to give me the physical and emotional supports that I need to get through a particularly difficult situation. This fact has proven true time and time again.

For myself, knowing that I am part of a unit that will circle the wagons in closed and protective ranks has created a deep-seated sense of security lasting well into adulthood. Fundamentally, I know that I am never alone. And, the adage of there being strength in numbers seems to hold true.

As a parent, I find myself consciously trying to create this same sense of security for my son. Although formally, from the outside looking in, it is currently just he and I, I find that this is not quite an accurate depiction of reality. By extending my notion of family to include not just blood relatives and immediate family, but all the people who care for and love us, I find that my son already has a sense of security in his place in the world, confident that if he needs help or assistance someone will be there to provide it. And, by fostering the conditions that allow him to be showered in various forms of love while maintaining the illusion that the world is going to love him for as long as possible, I believe that his equilibrium and ability to cope won’t be fundamentally rocked when he realizes that the world isn’t only a joyous place to be but often requires fortitude, resilience, strength and a belief in oneself to succeed.

Growing up

Sometimes it’s nice to be an adult, but often it’s hard. As an adult, there’s no one to set the boundaries, tell you what the right choice is, or warn you of the consequences of the actions you’ve yet to take. And with bills to pay, clients to answer to, a household to run, and people who depend on you to take care of, the responsibilities seem endless.

Thinking about it, I remember a conversation that I had with a close friend of mine back when we were nineteen. At the time, I mentioned to her that although I felt quite competent and responsible, able to meet life’s challenges head on, I still didn’t quite feel like a woman. Instead, I felt as if I was womaning, in the midst of or almost reaching the end of a process for which I couldn’t yet see the finish line.

As we talked, I realized that I was torn between wanting to stay within the safe confines of childhood and the illusion of protection that it afforded me and the desire to reach out and climb onto the riskier path of adulthood in which more was at stake but the rewards unpredictable and immeasurable.

Watching my son as he plays innocently with his train tracks, gathering his stuffed animals around as if an audience for the great race that will soon take place, I realize something. As a parent, my job is to believe in childhood, prolonging its illusions and sanitized wrapping while gradually preparing my son for the demands that he will face as an adult.

When I think about how I can accomplish this goal that, at first glance, seems to operate at cross-purposes, it suddenly dawns on me that the answer is there. Although no small challenge, I need to create the conditions that will allow my son to revel in and explore the simple joys of childhood, embodied in the cheerfulness of dandelions not yet stained by the label of undesired weed, the ability to go nudies in public without anyone batting an eyelash, the common occurrence of becoming hard and fast friends with someone as a result of making a simple request, and the ability to enjoy the pure and unadulterated beauty in this world.

For it is clear to me that by allowing him to enjoy each moment without unduly imposing on him the burdens of adult concerns all the while helping him to climb to his next level of ability, as if providing him an invisible scaffold on which he can climb the stairwells of life, he will be able to successfully move through life’s various twists and turns without getting stuck for too long in any single passageway. And more than anything, for myself as a parent, my greatest challenge is to remember that parenting doesn’t have a time stamp on it: no matter the size of my son’s outer form and his appearance at having arrived at his final destination, at various points in his life he will need guidance, support, and unsolicited input to help redirect him towards the goals and destination that he ultimately sets out for himself.

Self-efficacy

After I split up with my husband and found myself to be a single mom solely responsible for a boy that had just turned one, I couldn’t help but reflect on where I had gone wrong. I constantly thought about how I could have made the mistake of marrying someone who couldn’t go the distance and take the final, irrevocable step into adulthood. While there were indications along the way that my husband was more of a dreamer than a finisher, it never occurred to me that he would be incapable of stepping into the role of father, caregiver, and provider.

Hiking around a desolate lake on Vancouver Island months later, as I ascended and descended the rugged terrain that was quietly in bloom with the promise of spring, I silently reflected on my new lover and his potential. And, in that moment, it occurred to me that while some people have many obvious talents, skills, and aptitudes, it is the rare person who has a strong sense of self-efficacy.

When I ran this thought by my cousin, she asked me what I meant by this. In trying to disentangle the jumble of my thoughts, I explained that, for me, it meant not only the ability to dream in Technicolor but the ability to believe that you can and, if you choose to engage, that you will effect the outcome you dream.

As I warmed up to my explanation, I asked her why it is that there are people like Jim Carey, who believe so strongly in the future that they want for themselves, that they are able to write a check to themselves for $20 million dollars, knowing, with certainty, that they will one day be able to cash it. Or, on a smaller scale, the infinite number of people who set a life vision or goal for themselves, and systematically go about accomplishing it, regardless of the setbacks that they encounter along the way.

I believe that what makes these people different is their ability to envision a future world that they, themselves, want to live in and place the full power of their intention behind their unique set of energies, creativity, and human potential to make it happen.

Although I myself came from a uniquely bizarre family constellation, often exposed to and forced to deal with uncomfortable and inappropriate situations from a young age onwards, the one thing that I never doubted was my ability to accomplish something that I resolutely set my mind to. My parents were always firmly in my corner, believing in me and my power to create whatever I could envision. As a parent, I believe that if I can pass this sense of control over one’s destiny on to my son, I will leave him an important and long-lasting legacy, enabling him to embrace the beauty of the present while tapping into his talents, develop himself, and create the Technicolor world in which he wants to live.