Last night I was looking at a photo of me and my father that was made in 1990, right after I finished my master's degree. We were having a celebration cookout at my parents' house on the lake in Knoxville. I had worked hard for three years - while working as a legal assistant for 30 hours a week also - and finished my MA in about 3 years. Dad paid the tuition, even though he was disappointed that I didn't want to go to law school.
I was pondering something today, a metaphor that is significant to me.
When most of us are growing up and then young adults we are in our balloons, metaphorically speaking, and Mama and Daddy are the lines tethering us to the ground. We bob along in the breezes, protected by the parents from being blown astray.
Then one of our parents dies. Suddenly, everything is off-balance. We are no longer tethered securely to the ground. We are not fully anchored.
I remember feeling like the entire world was off-balance for months after my dad died. Our relationship had sometimes been rocky. He was a very genial, funny, easygoing guy in public. In private, he was much harder to deal with, for his immediate family. It was not easy to be his child.
However, despite the rough spots in our relationship I never doubted for one moment that my father loved me and wanted only the best for me. The people in his department at the bank used to jolly him into a better mood by saying "How are Bruce and Dee?" - because no matter how stern a taskmaster he was [and he could be really tough] talking about his children always lightened his mood.
Dad was a fixer. He was always trying to micromanage and fix everything in my life, and my brother's life. It was done out of love, but it was maddening sometimes. [For instance he started badgering us both about "When am I going to get some grandchildren?" right after we finished college.]
One of the toughest lessons for me as a parent has been recognizing that I cannot always fix my children's issues. Like my dad, I love to solve people problems.
Unlike most parents, my children were 12 [Alesia] and 10 [Michael] when I first met them, and they had lived through some horrific neglect and abuse. Those years before they met me took a toll on them emotionally, made it hard for them to trust me as a parent, or to have faith that I could anchor them and protect them effectively.
Michael has been a pretty easy kid, most of them time, despite his past.
Not so with my daughter.
I was reminded of that the other day when my daughter's boyfriend called me and said a lot of very mean and unfair things to me. I won't go into details, but trust me, it was one of the most awful and bizarre calls I've ever endured and I finally just hung up.
What I wish I could have explained was this: I did the very best I could to parent her. She didn't want to be parented, and found it strange and unnerving. She had spent 6 years with a mother who left her alone most of the time, or put her in situations where she was abused, then she spent 6 years in a Russian orphanage - a place much like a prison. The first few years after I adopted her we maintained an uneasy truce, most of the time.
When she turned 18, she was off to the races, getting in trouble right and left. There was nothing I could say or do to stop her. Nothing. I tried. She lied to me all the time. I finally had to make the really difficult decision that she couldn't live here, since she refused to follow my rules. Without going into details I will just say this: it was a matter of safety. I stand by that decision as being right, and Mother and Michael understand that and back my decision. However, I still love my daughter and I pray for her every day of the world.
The early 20's may not have the reputation as being a difficult age - everyone knows teenagers are moody and difficult - but they are. I had most of my worst fights with my parents not as a teenager but when I was in my early 20's.
As I am now trying to parent my kids - and watching them make some bad choices - I keep wondering if the lines that tether them are strong enough. Are they grounded enough? As a single parent, you always wonder, am I doing enough? I am trying to fill both parental roles and it's not easy, especially when children are not adopted as babies.
When a child turns 18, you don't stop being a parent. The role just changes.
Sometimes I think about how incredibly sad and depressing it will be when my mom dies. I will miss her terribly. Being her caretaker these past few years has not been a huge burden. I think it's the way we are supposed to do it; we are supposed to take care of our parents. She is also a co-parent with me, too, which is comforting. When things are rough, and I go in her room and need to cry a bit, like the other day, I am very thankful she is still with me.
One day, that rope tethering me to the ground, the rope called "Mama" will not be there. However, I will be floating free, on winds of faith. She taught me to trust God. I hope instead of feeling off-balance and scared, I will remember to relax, and breathe, and look at the incredible beauty all around me, focusing on the journey.
photo by Lisa Amos [thanks Lisa!]