Sixteen years ago I became a mother for the first time. I was 2 months shy of my own 40th birthday. Obviously I am a late bloomer. And 13 years ago I became a mother for the second time. And so I have enjoyed saying that I am the mom of two kids for quite some time. But on Friday my youngest son Andrew will turn 13, meaning I will for the last time, be the mother of children and will instead become the mother of teenagers.
I would be lying if I said it was not bittersweet. On the one hand I am delighted to watch my boys grow and become people in their own right. It is fun to have the freedom that comes with the untangling of childhood needs and demands. We have the luxury of not attending to their every need. And I miss soft skin; baby smells (the good kinds) and coos. Even though these have actually been gone for quite some time, there is still a way of defining one’s self that changes with an official transition of stages. It’s neither cool or welcomed to remind a teenager of the things he did when he was a toddler.
But perhaps more than rearranging the child memories out of the forefront of my brain is the awareness that my own identity is once again cast out onto the open seas, unmoored from the dock of supposed security where I had been storing it for a time. This is what we do as a people. We link our identity to some safe haven so that we might know ourselves and have a way of introducing ourselves to others. The dilemma is, of course, when we delude ourselves into thinking that our identity claim is anything more than arbitrary and or temporary. I chose the identity of mother of children; some choose more exotic names like executive or entrepreneur, while others go for more personal descriptions like thin or beautiful. In the end, they are all mere snapshots of who we are, and fleeting. The only thing constant about our lives is that they change.
I am continuing to learn that genuine peace comes not from finding a more solid identity defined by my current circumstances, but rather increasing my awareness that who “I” am, is in fact, none of these adjectives or roles. I am “I” who has participated in many of these over the course of my years and will hopefully continue to participate in more still to come. I am “I” when I was not a mother of any children just as I am “I” today. “I” is a solid and constant, and is the only thing that is solid and constant. The lesson is to not get too attached to the ways I try to box “I” in. It is not the boxing in per se that is the problem, but rather the attachment to the limitations of that box. In other words, if I only feel present and solid because I am the mother of children, then once they become teens, it will be hard to know how and what to be the next day. It will also be hard to know what they are the next day as well. This is the case with folks who experience “empty nest” and depression from other kinds of life transitions like divorce, loss of a job etc.
This is deep, philosophical convoluted and truncated for the sake of space in a way that might not make it very clear. If you want to do more reading “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer is a good primer. This is predicated on the strategy of engaging in more eastern rather than western thinking. In particular, it means to be mindful of not becoming attached to culturally or familial definitions of our self and using those definitions to insist on their legitimacy. Failing to do so means we forfeit the right to choose anything not on our predefined path, and we require everyone around us to support our identity through their behavior as well. Unfortunately, they usually don’t receive the script in advance and they keep mixing up the lines. And when they do, it is us who falters. We don’t receive the right cues, we get agitated and we become the director who now focuses on everyone around us to get their lines right as we want them performed.
Nobody wants to work with a diva. Not in show business, not in life. No one wants to alter their behavior or their life trajectory so that we can feel safer in our comfortably created little identities. The alternative is to let ourselves drift as the fleeting souls we actually are and enjoy the waves as they come along. It means accepting that some will be gentle and some not but neither condition is ours to control or claim.