When the Fog Clears

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I have friendships and relationships, not so old and not so new, that transcend beyond the most central ones to my life today. My imagination harbors a special few. Sometimes I dismiss them as ghosts, but mostly I feel them through me when I’m moved by a quiet beauty, as if the culmination of all that energy and passion rush back magnetically from the sky and flow into my personal space like tiny particles reuniting. When they hit, they are painfully beautiful. They blanket my current frustrations and dissatisfaction, offering a harmless, quiet exit from the mold. Recently, I spent a great deal of a car ride back from a breathtaking waterfall in this restless head escape.

My childhood friend D graciously arranged for our two families to have a family photo shoot on our recent vacation in Seattle. The drive up to the falls was enough to set the stage for a remarkable day. But when we got there, the kids didn’t want to wear coats, and then they did, and then they wanted to splash in the puddles and flail excitedly around tourists, but they refused to smile while facing the camera. It was as if they conspired to push while I tugged; I said right, they went left. I felt like the ragged mother unsatisfying her kids and unsatisfying the moment. I’m sure the pictures will turn okay in the end, and that will erase a memory of feigned grace, but as always with my reflections, I feel guilt.

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Instead of focusing on how I should let the kids be kids, take the moment for what it is, accept and appreciate the present, I wanted to get my hands dirty with a truth: I fear I’m losing my humor in parenting. I know without a doubt what I give my family, setting up the foundation for their daily and future lives, but I’m in a tough stage now. November craze isn’t forgiving of my ever-growing responsibilities, and hearing, “Mom?!…” followed by a litany of problems to solve is grating at me.

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I wonder if my kids notice when I stare off into space. When I’m showing them something wondrous like this passionate waterfall, when the mist gently clings to our hair and slowly soaks into our coats, puffy and slick with cool black, do they notice I’m traveling back and forwards in time, staring at my life and wondering about my place in it? Are they vulnerable to absorbing my own inner wars?

I remember quiet car rides with my parents en route back from a gathering of Persian families or long rides to Toronto with the radio playing easy listening tracks, and I swear I could sense what my parents were feeling. I sense my dad’s tension or my mom’s sadness (almost always masked by her dedication to shield me from it); I felt like such an old person. Despite all the love and goodness they have unconditionally given my brother and me, my parents couldn’t shelter me from the unsaid. I was emotionally in tune with them even if I didn’t have the contextual maturity to process what I felt. Often, they didn’t expose me to the real, but I’d find out about it anyway.

Until the fog clears, I am dazed by the present. I’m guilty of zooming to a place that is thick with imagination, lustful for a place where unfinished, unfulfilled worlds are real. I’m even thankful for this sway, this rhythmic consolation. Adele has a song called “A Million Years Ago” on her brilliant new album; she says “I know I’m not the only one… Sometimes I feel it’s only me, who never became who they thought they’d be.” I’ve been sinking into this place in stark reaction to the very real stresses of being a parent and making a home. I will get through it because I know inherently that the place of frustration holds a secret promise that I’m not just one thing, that I can be a barnacle clinging onto something breathtaking just to survive through it to see what it all really looks like when the fog clears.

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Multiplicity

I was going to write about my trip to Seattle, my sojourn to visit my best friends and a new baby niece, a small apostrophe who curbed my shoulder and reminded me of those first few months after a baby is born, and a peaceful view that made me want to look for the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.

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Then, I was going to lament about just recently when my son started choking while I was driving on the highway, when I had to pull over to the side, yank him out of his car seat, save him (thank God) in front of my stupefied daughter, and sob uncontrollably when the terrifying ordeal was over.

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And then I was going to write about this charming farm to which my friend introduced me, and at which my kids had a perfect experience.

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But all of this accumulates to a comforting series of thoughts that hit me on the way home from work yesterday. In fact, it was more of a silent vow than it was a thought.

In the 1950s, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote, “This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity,” in Gift from the Sea.

Before my short trip to Seattle, I had over a year’s worth of guilt about leaving my kids a few nights, burdening my husband and my parents for help, and wondering if my kids would feel that I abandoned them. But I am not only a mother; I’m also a friend, right?

After Zade’s traumatizing experience in the car, I demanded of myself, “How could you let this happen? What if you weren’t able to save him?” But certainly I’m allowed to learn from this experience, to do better next time, to anticipate and anticipate; I’m a student as much as I am a teacher.

And after I took my kids to the farm and felt my insides swelling with joy because I felt I did good, showed them a whole experience, facilitated them having a memorable time, fostered an experience that could grow into helping them be caring and whole human beings, I still allowed something creep in underneath:

What if I was a stay-at-home mom and could show them more of this; what have I not shown my kids yet that I will regret later, that they may ask me about when they are older with a regretful tone in their voice?

And this is where my silent vow comes in. I realized in the car that motherhood is the combination of instinct and experience—both of which are sharpened in time. I have to allow myself time, and my kids have to allow that of me as well.

Silently, I want my in-the-future 50-year old self to remember that whatever I did for my family, I did with the best intentions and with as much introspection as possible, and that if I messed up here and there, it is because I’m human first before I’m a mother, sister, friend, or daughter.

The way one makes vows in marriage or protects silent bonds in friendship; I vow I won’t hold too much against me, that I will give myself a space of forgiveness because my intention to raise whole-hearted and responsible children has always been there, even if I can get stuck in multiplicity sometimes.

I find perspective in these words, and I’m grateful for Andrea who put this book in my hands.

“I want to give and take from my children and husband, to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen. But I want first of all—in fact, as an end to these other desires—to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can.” –Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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