It was a student’s birthday, so for a special treat, I allowed him some extra playtime. He chose to play house with the kitchen set in one of our classrooms. He was precious as he set the table, cleaned up, and used the grill, throwing the dish towel over his shoulder. But as often happens when I see a child playing like that, I thought of my firstborn.
I remembered when she was three and we got her a full kitchen set for her room. We ended up putting it in the living room instead just so we could watch her play. Then the next year we got her a little playhouse for outside. Sneaking it in and then setting it up is a whole other story, but the good memories from that adventure in assembly far outweigh the aggravation two college educated adults experienced while setting the darn thing up! Instead what stays with me are her squeals of delight and happiness. The huge smile on her chubby face and the overwhelming feeling of joy.
Things Took A Turn
So I watched my student and I remembered that little girl. Then the dull ache began in the pit of my stomach. It felt deep and heavy and weird. It expanded until it took up so much space in my chest that it became hard to breathe. I know this sensation. I’ve experienced it before. But only when I think of Tara.
I don’t do this with my second born. I don’t see things like that and then immediately begin thinking about Grace’s childhood. And I don’t have whatever that reaction is. I wonder why? She was just as happy and lovable as a baby. I have lots of sweet memories of her as a chubby toddler running around. But those memories make me smile. They don’t make it hard to breathe.
I think, if I really get deep into the meaning around it, it has something to do with seeing the past as a positive place for Tara but not her future. Like we’ve already seen the best of her so somehow, that’s done. I don’t really believe that but I do know something isn’t right.
Not only is that a terrible way to think, but it’s insanely unfair. Unfair to both of those girls and unfair to myself. Why automatically assume Tara’s past is better than her future? Benton would say I’m catastrophizing. This is a fancy way of saying that I’m anticipating and preparing for the worst to happen. The idea is that if you’re prepared for the worst, it won’t hurt as much when it happens because you were ready for it. It’s a defense mechanism but it causes more damage than protection.
When I step back and give those feelings some space, I realize that just because her future, and her present, look different than I would choose for her, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a beautiful life ahead of her that is perfectly tailored to her unique experiences and gifts. Yet it’s hard because I can’t picture it. I can’t see how the road will develop. And what I have seen of the road so far are twists and turns, bumps and craters, U-turns and a crash or two. It’s hard to see open highway when you’re still in the storm.
Not For Me To Expect
And then there is just not knowing what to expect.
Ah! But wait! Here’s the catch!
These are MY expectations…
that I’ve decided are best…
for an adult…
who doesn’t live with me…
who has her own life…
The days of telling her what to do are long gone. She’s not the toddler in front of the play kitchen anymore. If my parents had tried to tell me what to do when I was 21, my head would have exploded. Yet because she’s made choices I wish she hadn’t made, because her life has been harder than I wanted, somehow I feel that I can grab my superhero cape and fix it. If she would just do what I tell her to. But don’t we all know, even a superhero can’t make a headstrong young adult do what mommy says. Nor should they.
Tara made choices. I don’t like them but they are hers. I know some of them were terrible mistakes that she must fix. But SHE must fix them the way SHE sees fit when SHE is ready. Despite the past. Despite me thinking I know best.
It is her life, dammit…
After all, I’m not all up in Grace’s business. She asks for advice occasionally but her judgment is solid. Mostly she just needs gentle encouragement and confirmation.
But with Tara, I come in like a wrecking ball, knock over anything she has built for herself, and then tell her how she needs to fix it all. No wonder she says her bedroom is a trigger. The whole house is probably a trigger. I’m probably a trigger.
A Parent’s Challenge
So the challenge is to give her space and trust her to begin to be the adult she is destined to be. And I try to remember that this is her path to travel, not mine. And the same applies to Grace. Just because her path is more familiar to me, it is still her path, her story. I have no more business mucking around in Tara’s life than I do in Grace’s. I am solidly here for either of them if they need or want me. But if I couldn’t stop those bad decisions in the past, how can I presume to stroll in and fix them now?
Just as I loved watching the girls play with the kitchen in the living room, I love watching my girls evolve and grow into amazing young women. They are different from each other and they are different from me and that is exactly how it is supposed to be. I can’t control them, and really, I don’t want to. It’s exhausting.
So, I say all this and I mean it. I actively live it all daily and I know it’s right. This perspective, this attitude, is the best for my health and ultimately the best for my relationship with both of them. I know this in my mind and I feel it in my soul. But sometimes a child reminds me of little Tara and my heart ignores all of this good advice. It would seem my heart simply does what it wants…
Yet another thing I can’t control…
These blog posts are about my journey through my daughter’s emotional issues, addiction relapses and recoveries. I don’t presume to speak for her. While I want to preserve her privacy, she made choices that affect us all. How I have dealt with the consequences of those choices and their effect on me is what I’m sharing. She has her own story and it’s her decision whether or not to tell it. However, I’ve chosen to tell mine in the hopes that it helps others who might be on a similar path. I want to be clear that I am responsible for my own thoughts and feelings…no one else. There is no blame or shame here. It is what it is. I have something to share and I hope it helps others. I adore my children. I wish them both happiness and peace and I know we will all be okay.