the yes of a one-way street

by rebecca on May 19, 2010

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       I’m participating in Momalom’s Five for Ten series. To read more  stories about the power of YES visit them here.

       Today this one-way sign is my altared space. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my daughter. As we talked, I was able to say “Yes,” to the kind of mother I truly want to be; the one-way mother of nurturance, assurance and solid ground.

       I am not always this mother. Sometimes I am the mother who looks to receive instead of give: did I do that right? Am I making the right choices? Do you love me? Is my career impressive enough for you to tell your friends about me? Am I balancing work and family well enough?

       All these questions leak out at awkward times. Our family will be at a dinner party and I’ll use my child’s experiences to tell a story about myself; stealing their life to draw attention to mine.

       It makes me cringe.

       I know I am not alone. I’ve watched children as their faces brace for the inevitable story their mother or father is about to tell. The story gets a laugh and the child rolls their eyes or shrinks into the corner, smaller.

       It is exhausting and invisible work to be a parent. I’m certain this is where these party moments come from. We ache to be seen: I’m doing this really difficult thing here; could someone please give me the gold star I deserve?

        The conversation with my daughter happened in the kitchen. I was doing dishes. She had just finished reading a novel. The book had affected her and she emerged from her room dazed from the inky pages that leave an imprint long past when the cover gets shut.

       I don’t always recognize my mommy opportunities. When I make lists of goals for the week, which is about half the time, I usually have something on there like, “Stay open to kid moments,” because I learned a long time ago that I can’t schedule quality time with my kids. They hold that day-planner.

       My girl began to pour out the tale from the book. A mother died young, just after she’d had a baby. But she had time to leave her baby letters. As the baby girl grew she unfolded the letters to read what her mother had written. What struck my kid was that, at each stage of the young girl’s life this mother knew exactly what it felt like to be a girl.

       This fictional mother had remembered how it felt to be eight and dream of painting your walls. And she knew about how difficult teenagers had it. My daughter felt heard by that book. Her life had the big fat stamp of approval.

       This was a wonderful and difficult thing to hear my daughter say. I was so happy she felt validated. I know that delicious feeling and I was glad for her to taste it. In the same moment I wondered, had I failed to give that to her? Is that why she tasted it here in this novel?

       Then I watched that briefest cringe cross my daughter’s face.

       I dried my hands.

       The number of kid moments that have unfolded in my kitchen after I’ve dried my hands astounds me. My kids come to my kitchen to talk to me. They pour out their lives while I’m cooking or cleaning up.

       I’m able to listen in that unique way that a little industry provides. The mundane in my fingers leaves my brain diverted enough that I have no agenda for their lives. My ears are bigger when I’m in the kitchen.

       I put my hands on my daughter’s shoulders and offered her my motherhood one-way road sign. “Your job is to live your life. My job is to cheer you on. This is a one-way street. You don’t take care of me. I take care of you. It’s one of the rare relationships in life that isn’t reciprocal.”

       Tears began to pour out of my daughter’s eyes. Eyes that leak tears in moments of intimacy with great reluctance. The cringe was erased.

       I hugged her and she melted into me. Then the air had that shimmery feeling. I noticed. This is what love, unconditional love, feels like. I want to offer it with greater frequency.

       I can’t say how my daughter experienced that moment. We’ve never talked about it. But it is one of the guideposts for me. I did what I set out to do: I said “Yes” to motherhood. I’ve drawn upon that moment many times.

       I noticed the cringe that signaled I’m making my needs more important than my child’s. Fortunately, I was able to undo the something that lingers in the air that motivates those grimaces, eye rolls or shirked shoulders.

       I second guess myself in front of my kids instead of being the rock solid adult they need. I interrupt. I shame. These are not my finest hours.

       My one-way sign reminds me who I want to be for my children. It stands there declaring that I’ve managed to do this for them, and promises I can do it again.

        My kids were born from love. They are headed in their own direction. I don’t need them to define me. I am here to help them find their way.

 

       Do you ever make your children cringe? How do you offer unconditional love? Do you believe parenthood is a one-way street?

       Momalom

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

SuziCate May 19, 2010 at 9:48 am

What an absolute beautiful moment in time. And I am sure she remembers it as well. Thanks for sharing such an intimate and lovely moment of yes.

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Kristen @ Motherese May 19, 2010 at 10:02 am

Oh, Rebecca, this is a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing with us this poignant moment you shared with your daughter. My kids are still too little to cringe at my stories (my baby, especially, thinks I’m the bee’s knees), but I feel like a weight this statement: “It is exhausting and invisible work to be a parent” and the corresponding desire (need?) to shine light on ourselves. I will take this story with me as a relflection on parenting as a one-way street, a metaphor I hadn’t thought about before and one I want to think more about now.

Your writing here really soars, by the way. The physical details matched the existential realizations perfectly.

Thank you, Rebecca.

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Jenn M May 19, 2010 at 11:14 am

My children are too young yet to really cringe when I tell stories about them, but my older son is getting there. He sort of blushes now when I tell my friends about something he’s done.

It is so easy to fall in to that pattern of using your children to define yourself, isn’t it? I think it’s because our lives become so full of caring for them that it sometimes feels like that’s all we have to rely on! You’ve shown here, though, that that doesn’t have to be so–that it shouldn’t be.

This was a beautiful moment between you and your daughter. I can remember some similar moments between my mother and me, and it’s that sort of motherly intuition that I hope I can have with my children. You’ve put your finger right on that “thing” that my mom had that I hope I can recapture for my boys. I still can’t define it exactly…but maybe it’s just the “yes.” The saying yes to motherhood. Very well put.

Oh–and I absolutely adore the line, “My ears are bigger when I’m in the kitchen.” I think I’ll have it framed and put it next to the sink 😉

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Tiffany May 19, 2010 at 11:59 am

That is a powerful post.

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rebecca May 19, 2010 at 1:06 pm

SuziCate,

Thank YOU for listening so intently as I tell my stories.

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rebecca May 19, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Kristen,

You ARE the bee’s knees!

I do think parenting is the hardest and most invisible job I have ever done. Thus, it doesn’t surprise me that I find myself trying to sneak glimpses of myself in front of others. I try to be gentle to myself at these times because I understand my need to be seen.

I simply want to learn to show up under the microscope of life without somehow causing a cringe on the face of another.

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BigLittleWolf May 19, 2010 at 1:10 pm

This is quite beautiful. What a strong metaphor for parenting as (I believe) it should be. A one way street. We choose to have them. It is our privilege and responsibility to do for THEM, to guide them, listen to them, encourage them.

There is no “perfect” in any of it, but awareness that it’s about them, and not us, is critical. I think you’ve put this clearly and eloquently.

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rebecca May 19, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Jenn,

You are seeing more beauty in this moment than I’ve allowed myself. Reading it from your point of view I let more of that beauty under my skin. I do believe that this was a lovely moment between my daughter and me. But, of course, I see the cringe larger than you do too.

You’ve helped by letting me see myself through your eyes. I am a mother and many, if not most, of the mothers I know are more critical of themselves than generous.

I’m letting more of the generosity of this moment in. As I do that I believe it opens me up even further.

Thank you for your comment.

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rebecca May 19, 2010 at 1:21 pm

BigLittleWolf,

Thank you BigLittleWolf so very much. As you say, we are the ones who choose to have them. Acting that way rather than treating them as if they owe us (or more specifically me) validation is the focus for my life as mother.

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Eva @ Eva Evolving May 19, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Wow. This is so powerful and meaningful. “Your job is to live your life. My job is to cheer you on.” Oh, I love this. I love how the image of a one-way sign can instantly remind you of what’s important, help you focus, give you confidence in your parenting. Just amazing.

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Justine May 19, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Yes! A valuable lesson wrapped in an honest, beautiful story. Thank you for sharing this. I will have to remember this myself. Every day.

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rebecca May 19, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Eva,

I had so much fun taking the photos for this post and, although I’d been thinking about it as an altared space for several days (and probably in the back of my mind much longer) it became so real when I saw how many of those signs pepper the city.

Now I have attached new meaning to them. This is one of the simply fun things about blogging. I love taking the photos and making myself notice and attend.

Thank you for your attention here!

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rebecca May 19, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Justine,

Thank you for visiting. And I love the purple letters on your sidewalk.

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Corinne May 19, 2010 at 7:08 pm

This was absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing that incredible moment.
This line is so important to remember: “I learned a long time ago that I can’t schedule quality time with my kids. They hold that day-planner.” – love it 🙂

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Stacia May 20, 2010 at 4:52 pm

I like the metaphor of the one-way street, a reminder to constantly move forward despite the occasional misstep or unexpected halt. I’m also struck by your line “They hold the day-planner.” How very true. And, oh, the power of books!!

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ck May 20, 2010 at 9:53 pm

This post was fantastic and very eye-opening. I don’t know how many times I nodded my head “yes” to the things you mentioned here that I wish I wasn’t saying “yes” to. (Aching to be seen, using a story about my child to share something about myself.) Thank you for making me think. And making me reconsider.

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Jen May 21, 2010 at 9:07 pm

I am constantly tripping over my children in my less-than-ideal kitchen and telling them to get out. But I think this is the beginning. They know, already, that they can almost always find me in the kitchen. And I think it’s easier to talk to me there. To tell me about their days. Which they are beginning to do. And you’ve made me realize that I need to shoo then out less and dry my hands more. Thank you for this beautiful post.

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rebecca May 22, 2010 at 6:41 am

Corinne,

Isn’t it true that our kids will determine when we will connect?

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rebecca May 22, 2010 at 6:41 am

Stacia,

from the soft feel of your words I just knew you were a book person!

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rebecca May 22, 2010 at 6:43 am

CK,

Yes. And we see you seeing yourself. So be gentle.

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rebecca May 22, 2010 at 6:44 am

Jen,

I find this too. Sometimes I just want quiet so I can get something done. But it is in the comotion of the kitchen that the something of family happens. Life is always a balance, huh?

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Yvette Francino May 23, 2010 at 6:25 am

You are such a talented writer and mother. As others have commented, some of your lines are particularly poignant:

“Your job is to live your life. My job is to cheer you on. This is a one-way street. You don’t take care of me. I take care of you. It’s one of the rare relationships in life that isn’t reciprocal.”

As I think back at my relationships with my children, I realize there were times, particularly during the emotional period of my divorce, when I was far too dependent on them. I am lucky that they didn’t cringe, though I do now, when I think back.

Though I do think our love of our children should be unconditional, as they grow into adults, I think the relationship becomes more “two-way.” Our children recognize us as not just “parents” but as people, who also have needs. If we are lucky, the relationship morphs into one in which we can open up to our vulnerabilities and relate to our children adult-to-adult rather than only parent-to- child. And, hopefully, our children will get the same kind of satisfaction in caring for us as we have gotten in caring for them.

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Lesley September 29, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Rebecca, what a beautiful realization- thank you for not making your daughter responsible for your feelings and for sharing this with the world. Our children’s stories are theirs, their feelings are their own, and they do not have a responsibility towards us. Yes, it is a one way street. Beautiful.

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