“They would think she was savoring the taste (blueberries, cinnamon, cream-excellent), but she was actually savoring the whole morning, trying to catch it, pin it down, keep it safe before all those precious moments became yet another memory.”
― Liane Moriarty, What Alice Forgot
I remember times throughout motherhood when I just knew I was in a moment I wished could go on forever. I tried with all my might to hold on to each millisecond that was flowing by, like leaves falling from the trees on a brisk autumn day, wanting so badly to catch time and make it stop in its tracks so that I could savor and expand the absolute joy of being a mom, of seeing these precious gifts I was given flow and grow. All the while I knew that just like any other 24 hour day this too will come to an end and we would head forward toward another memory to be made and another day in which I would want to hold on forever.
The other day I was reflecting on just what it means to celebrate Memorial Day as my son leaves home and embarks on taking the reins of his life. I’m blessed and grateful that I am not remembering him through tragedy but I am remembering him nonetheless for how fast the time has come and gone from his conception to birth to twenty years later. I can’t help but wonder, did I teach enough, did I love enough, did I connect enough, was there joy enough, laughter enough, or support enough? How does a parent measure success as a parent?
“If that’s what joy is, connection, then to fully experience it requires something terrifying as well as exalting: opening oneself up to the possibility of loss.” – Jennifer Senior, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
The real question for me is what is loss? Is loss the history of time? Is loss missed opportunities? Is loss something had but now gone? If you have ever really, truly loved another human being then you have opened yourself up to the possibility of loss. Sometimes I feel like I have lost the chance to influence my children differently than I already have; I feel like I have lost the chance to say the things I now know how to say; I feel like I have lost the chance to enjoy their youth more than I already did; I feel like I have lost the chance to connect with them deeper than I already have connected. I am feeling the loss of time.
Or have I lost the chance at all? Even if heaven forbid my children were taken from me and never to return was the chance to see them grow up ever really part of the package of being their parent in the first place or was I only meant to take their souls just so far and then let them go? Was I meant to teach them what I now know or was I meant to teach them what I did know at the moment I was their young mother? Have I really lost the chance to influence my children or will they be willing to hear all the lessons I have learned since being their young mother? Did I lose the chance to connect with my children deeper or is that still possible as they get older? It will still always be a battle for time.
The joy of connection with my children still exists if they want it to exist. It’s up to them now. The loss I feel can stay a loss if I don’t learn how to capitalize on the new order of the relationships.
I might have lost them before I was ready but then again, is a mother ever ready to let go of her children? We would be a case study in perfectionism, all of us, if we got ourselves mired in the reality of knowing that we only have this one moment right here, right now, to get “it” right and well in order to have our children grow up whole, happy, productive, contributing, sane human beings. Alas, thankfully, there is no such thing as perfect and somehow the children manage to grow up despite our imperfections. We each can only do the best we can with what we know right this moment and let love be our guide.
“There ain’t no way you can hold onto something that wants to go, you understand? You can only love what you got while you got it.” – Kate DiCamillo, Because of Winn-Dixie
He left. He took the reins of his life, like I taught him to do, and he left home. He was so comfortable and so well taken care of that he became lazy and unmotivated and passionless and complacent and entitled and he knew it and he felt it and he wanted to change it all. I didn’t teach him that, although maybe I did, by loving him and taking care of him when he was tired and feeding him when he was hungry and talking to him when he clearly needed a talking to and washed his clothes when he had nothing to wear that was clean and pointing out to him the life lessons he should pay attention to. It would seem that all of the love has empowered him to say through his act of leaving, “Mom, don’t worry, I’ve got this.”
Psychologist and Nobel laureate Dr. Daniel Kahneman has made the distinction of how we remember events that take place in our lives. He talks about the remembering self and the experiencing self. The experiencing self is the self that moves through the world and in theory should be more likely to control our daily life choices. For example, Dr. Kahneman points out that if you are going in to have a colonoscopy and the procedure lasts even 10 seconds longer than originally scheduled and ends with a bit of discomfort, it is the ending that the experiencing self will attach to, not the overall painless, not so bad procedure, in the immediate aftermath of the procedure.
Given time and space the remembering self will kick in and the overall memory of the procedure will not be as bad as it was just following the experience.
However, it is the remembering self that plays a more influential role in our lives, especially when making plans for our future. For example, even by choosing to create the reality of my son virtually saying he is ready to take on his own life I am employing my remembering self simply because this milestone and significant change is more vividly alive and emotional to my whole being than anything mundane that I would do during my daily life with frequency.
There are painful moments leading up to my son leaving but my remembering self will only choose all the good points. The things we do over and over whether for good reason or habit we tend to take for granted. There is very little of the mundane that stands out as a worthwhile memory. It all just gets lumped together. Although I have said good-bye to my son a dozen times throughout his life I always knew, if all goes well, he would be coming home. Not this time.
The emotional toll surrounding his leaving is heavy and my experiencing self will always be left with the pain of the last hug and the heartbreaking send-off. BUT, I choose to employ my remembering self, long before it is a memory. My son’s happiness, which as a parent is always the highest aim for their child, is what is most important. To this end I can see that perhaps I actually did achieve parental success by somehow instilling in him a sense of wonder, and courage and curiosity and love that is strong enough to see him through life’s challenges whether those challenges are of his own doing or fate based.
My experiencing self is not very happy about the fact that he left but the story has not ended yet, it is still ongoing so right now my experiencing self is sad not to have him in my everyday but my remembering self has been working overtime thinking back to when he was born all the way through the hard times of his late teenage years.
“We enshrine things in memory very differently from how we experience them in real time”, says Jennifer Senior.
So on this particular Memorial holiday I choose to employ my remembering self as this being when my son launched his life on his terms and started to become the man he wanted to be and at the same time launched his mom to take a good hard look at her own life and emulate her son by becoming the woman she always wanted to be.
To all those finding themselves in the unique and wonderful position of being in their remembering self I say remember on……