Saturday, August 21, 2010

Unpacking the Boxers in the Pack

I was thinking this morning about how far my family has come from just 10 years ago. It constantly amazes me how much change occurs when we aren't looking. A mere decade ago, my kids were still considered little. I worried about everything back then, well, I guess that much really hasn't changed that much. I still worry, but now I spend much of my day convincing myself it is a bad idea. They are old enough to know better. Whether they act on that is up to them. My oldest child was 12 years old, while my youngest was a mere 8. They have indeed grown up right in front of me, ready or not. Even the dog got older, and is trying to enjoy her golden years.
Beyond the 1,200 miles we have traveled, we have matured in so many unexpected ways. The learning curves for us have come up time and time again, in ways we couldn't have possibly imagined a decade ago. My heart breaks when I see one my children make a mistake, where the costs are so high, but the benefits are often one more step to true understanding of who they are, and what they are made of. I made plenty of mistakes, back in my hey day. I lived to talk about them too, or at least write about them. I had so hoped that my kids would not make the same mistakes I did, in order to grow up and expand. Sometimes they do and sometimes they make whole new mistakes, I find jaw dropping. Either way, they tell me things that make my hair want to fall out. It's my good news, bad news conundrum. The good news is my kids still talk to me. The bad news is they tell me, honestly, the things they have done they have learned from. Ouch! I sit, trying to keep the "Oh dear God!" look off my face while they are telling me their story. I remind myself that staying non-judgmental is the key to keeping them close. Kids ARE their most unlovable when they need love the most.
Years ago my kids, mostly due to their closeness in age and the death of their father, traveled in a pack. I watched as they clung to me and each other, as if they might blow away in the wind. If I went to the bathroom, they went too. If one of them went somewhere, the others expected to follow. It was extraordinary to witness. My husband, Michael, noticed it first. "You guys always stay so close to each other in proximity as well as emotional attachment." "What do mean?" I asked sincerely puzzled by his observation. "Well, whenever we go somewhere, you all stay within a two foot radius of each other. When you get up, they get up, when you go to another room, they follow. It is like watching a pack mother and her cubs."
Up until that point I hadn't noticed what he was talking about. After that comment I began to watch my kids very closely, but without them noticing it. Sure enough, we did exactly what he said we did. We traveled in a pack. My kids had learned to protect each other and me, by staying close. Everybody had the others back. I suppose much of that was due to the insecurity of having lost their father so young. Nothing could ever be the same after that , so they all felt the responsibility of picking up the pieces, guarding each other from any harm that might come in to the fold. It stayed that way until recently.
This is the summer of the malcontent. The kids are growing and need the space to screw it up, do it over and be plain, old different then who they were. It is extremely tough to change, when you are surrounded by family who know all of your deep, dark secrets and fatal flaws. One needs to break free of the stereo types one has set for themselves in order to be different. My limited understanding of the growing psyche of my kids, had me at a loss for what was truly going on in my household. Now, later than I would have liked, I get it.
My kids don't even like each other. Their need to strike out in the world and be their own person, away for the pack, they have been a part of so long, has come due. They fight constantly, attacking the very character traits they all share. They find the others distasteful, beating feet to get as far away from them as possible. At first I lectured that we are all family and owe each other loyalty. I sat appalled at the amount of emotional betrayal between the children I raised. The truth is, they need the break. For years, they and me were all they had. For years, they protected our family unit even to the detriment of their own independence. Now it is time for them to truly move on and away from the family unit, so they can figure out exactly who they are as individuals. It is my job to let them.
"I hate her!" " He is a pig!" "What a loser!" Where I corrected the latest angry child/adult from negative speak before, now I simply say this, "Yes, I get it, go ahead and hate them." They won't hate each other forever. But maybe they need to hate each other now in order to live their own life without fear, guilt or recrimination. Parents get that they and their children start to dislike each other for awhile in order for the child to make their break. At least, I understood that much to be true. I hadn't seen that they needed to break from each other, as well.
The moving we have done this summer has been all about letting go of the past. We have donated, sold and gotten rid of hundreds of pounds of extra stuff that didn't fit our lives anymore. Toys were donated, bedding was thrown out, furniture is being sold, all in the name of streamlining our lives in order to allow good things to come to us. We are making room for good fortune. My herd is thinning also. My pack is unpacking in order to become. They need to thin for the extra room required to become who they were born to be and not what others expect of them, even me.
So there it is. The next phase of family life for the family. Growing hurts more than any injury, breakup or torment. It is the single most painful thing we, as humans endure, and yet, we will die from the inside out if we don't. This summer was my reminder, I am still discovering so much about all of us. It was the wake up call I needed to let my kids figure some things out on their own, without my "help". Now, what to do with all of my extra free time?

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