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Grown Up & Choosing Life

June 2, 2010

A gift of the discipline adopted from The Artist’s Way is the morning pages. Three pages written in the fugue state between dreaming and waking when we are most in touch with our wisdom. Wisdom unsoured by intellect. Our human being absent our human thinking and doing.

I am often astounded by what lies written on the page before me. Today, in the midst of a tumultuous period I ended with: Buoyantly and consistently hopeful for the first time in my life. Not in the way of Jennie’s “when you grow up”…then again, was she right?

For history, Jennie was the loving grandmother who would swoop into the chaos of my childhood and assure me that everything would be all right “when you grow up”. I often remark that I learned none of the codependent behaviours of children of alcoholics, developmentally – over time and experience as an adaptive response.  I learned them at her knee – the express course. By the time I was five she’d taught me everything I had to know –she’d learned it by 1890 in the chaos of her abusive and alcoholic home. She taught me to keep my head down, pretend everything was fine, foster the illusion of a “normal” family for the outside world, deny my feelings and be a parent to myself – and my younger brother. If I did all that perfectly well enough to keep tempers calm (because children really believe everything is within their power to control) I would grow up to leave home and be happy.

What I suspected in the thirty five years between leaving home and now was that she meant well but that she’d missed the mark.  Because really, everything wasn’t “all right”. Everything was what you would expect from the life of a child turned adult who brought to the world a wounded, unparented self, unrealistic expectations that she could continue to “create the illusion of a normal family”, and on a mission to recover but with the “two steps forward and one step back” that comes with the territory. There were moments of blissful joy, dark despair, celebrated life cycles, achievements, depression, calm and cycles of more of the same.

The most significant “ah ha” moment in my recovery was in my mid thirties while mothering three young children with the wildly hectic and erratic schedules of suburban America. They had school, sports, ballet, figure skating, and religious school, play dates etc. The youngest rarely had a midweek nap anywhere but the back of a station wagon! I’d raced home between carpools to unload groceries from a mad shopping run.  With a sleeping child in the garaged car I was tearing through bags to unload the perishables. SPLAT goes a container of yogurt all over the kitchen floor. It smeared up and down the chairs, the fridge, the wallpaper – in short beyond a mess.

And I lost it. I broke down into the keening crying wail of someone who has lost everything. And I had. Three decades of unshed tears, unacknowledged pain and sheer grief welled up in me. The floodgate I’d used to hold them back was gone. I heaved and cried and rocked on that floor for a long time. My cry was the hiccupping cry of a child. The choked words through tears: “I don’t want to be a grown-up”.  What I knew in moment was that if I didn’t clean it up, no one else would. I understood in a core way that I did not want to be a grown up when I was 5, 15, or 35, for just a while I wanted to be taken care of – a well parented child.

Recovery for me has been that. Reparenting myself a day at a time. Trying to be gentle and to silence the critical voice that sabotages my efforts from the mundane of housework (really, ?!  that floor looks clean enough to you?), to my appearance (really, ?! that’s the best you can do with…..), to my work (really, ?! that was your idea of “well prepared”).  Some days now I never hear it. Some days there is still a faint echo. But I wake every day knowing it will take discipline to keep it silenced.

It has been quieted enough and I have been rewarded with many more moments of joy in these last 10 years than the 40 before. I have been empowered to change my life significantly and I have been happier than I ever imagined being. Still there has been a nagging, sabotaging little girl who really does not want to be a grown up.

And two days ago, for the first time in my life when I was called upon to take care of that little girl, to put her and me first – in the way I would have sacrificed my needs to care for my children, I made that choice for her. It was not without pain and even frankly, the resentment that would at times arise when I chose my children’s needs and priorities over my own. There was, however, the loving resignation that there really was no other choice.

So really, Jennie Muscara, you were right. The day after I did finally and fully decide to be a grown-up parent to my needy little girl, everything really was all right. I am buoyantly and consistently hopeful.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Eavan says:

    Eve, you have written that beautifully and so descriptively, I could actually see you sitting sobbing on the floor in the midst of the mess and chaos of it all. You’ve described what I think many of us have often felt when under pressure and stressed out, that if we could just be a loved child again, everything would be alright, we could deal with anything and everything (by not actually having to deal with it because some grown up will). The lesson though, is really that we have to love and take care of ourselves first before we can take care of anyone else. We have to all learn to love ourselves, no matter what baggage we have accumulated along the road of life.
    As I’ve said to you before, you have a great way with words – a very moving story.
    Have you not considered writing a book??….(include this on your “to do list”!)

  2. Eve says:

    Thank you. Love and take care of ourselves…seems so cliche, and I applaud the work you do on Irishmoms.com to speak frankly & openly, with humour & grace about the ups, downs and pitfalls in our efforts. Particularly as we balance the needs of others in our lives. I left out that it was the company of a few good women in my life who carried me. We did, one to one, what you and Yvonne are doing for your readers. We told the truth, laughed together, cried together and mothered each other’s children. And now it is the company of colleagues both men and women who carry me in the birth and emergence of work and life in Ireland. The gift in both cases has been the choice of friends and colleagues – association and affiliation. I have given myself permission to share the journey with positive, giving people who understand and respect my boundaries. We need energy for self care. We refuel ourselves when we give to people who give back, who understand that when we say no it is because we can’t, and who are themselves healthy enough and well balanced to have a circle of others who support them as well.

    Thanks for being part of my circle, the supportive part and the part where you challenge me to do more. Believe me, many are the days I’ve looked to IrishMoms.com for my mothering!