Those two words take up so much of my head space. I’ve been seeking and chasing them for as long as I can remember. Even when I drank too much and was the epitome of loss of control. Even when I packed up my stuff and headed more than 2000 miles away leaving behind some semblance of stability for the uncertainty of the Wild West.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day. My life has been filled with so much instability and lack of control that I almost feel compelled to secure it, cage it, keep it with me so I know what is around the corner, so I can stop guessing, so I can breathe. As a mother I’ve found that my desperate attempt to capture control and stability has only increased. I want the sort of childhood for my daughter that I didn’t have.
We moved around a lot, partly because my dad was in the Air Force and partly because of economics. Of course as a child, money troubles and job responsibilities didn’t exactly register so all I understood was that every single move meant saying goodbye. I was terrible at making new friends. I was awkward and quiet. By the time middle school hit, I was the probably the nerdiest kid in school.
And trust me, the kids at school never let me forget it. Middle school was pure hell for me. Every single day I was taunted and teased, pushed around, and ostracized. Everything about me was fair game. The fact that I was fat, smart, mixed race, quiet, wore glasses, had acne… It felt like the list of adjectives that could be used to describe me were piled up into one big pile of crap and nothing about me was ever any good.
Chink. Fat Indian. F*ckin’ Jap. Ugly. Freak.
I wanted to shout at the kids that if they felt the need to tease me they could at least get my ethnicity right, but I knew that it didn’t really matter to them if I was Chinese, Indian, Japanese, or Korean. After all, how many bullies are really concerned about accuracy? Hell, so few of them had even heard of Korea that I doubt it would have registered even if I had spoken up.
I didn’t really have friends. I had books. I had daydreams. I had the refuge of nighttime and summer. I learned to sit still in chaos, watching and waiting. And I wish I could say that it got better when I got older, but it didn’t…not for a long, long time. And before it would get better it would get worse.
But that’s a different story for another day.
I seek them quietly but frantically. As I lose my grip on both, you can be sure that inside my head, the noise is deafening. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to ask for help. I never learned how. Instead I learned to bother no one, to keep to myself, to retreat inside my own head, and to be silent. The magnitude of my silence is matched by the noise and chaos inside.
A few months back, I found myself sitting in a counselor’s office with a few simple questions: How was I supposed to cope with life? How could I even think about taking care of myself with so much to do and so many responsibilities? How could I buffer my child from the bumps and bruises of life and maybe most importantly how could I move past the overwhelming sense of guilt that I simply couldn’t? I was sleeping 3-4 hours a night, working on research or teaching or my dissertation pretty much around the clock, trying to spend quality time with Aria, and feeling like my wheels were just spinning in mud. He didn’t really have any answers. But he listened.
What I came to realize is that I expend so much energy simply trying to control every aspect of my life. Maybe I can’t get a full 8 hours of rest each night but just relieving the pressure and the stress that I place upon myself would do wonders. I learned that yes, my childhood and my past experiences probably have a lot to do with why I gravitate towards being a control freak. That no, I’m not ready to delve into all that right now but that just recognizing that is a huge step. And, no I can’t actually control every aspect of my life and perhaps the most important, I can’t actually control my daughter’s childhood.
I think as parents we all have to confront our own demons at some point. Sometimes I find myself thinking that parenting Aria is an opportunity to undo the damage of my own childhood. Except it isn’t. Aria is her own person, with her own personality, and her own childhood to live. And I’m sure there will be moments of pain, sadness, and loneliness as much as I would prefer it be filled with rainbows, glitter, and joy.
So I suppose while I’m busy fighting the urge to capture and cage stability, I’ll learn the art of living life spontaneously cautious or perhaps cautiously spontaneous. I’ll try to learn to let go sometimes and to just be. I’ll learn to accept that I can’t pain-proof Aria’s life and I’ll learn to accept that I’ll probably still try. Mindfulness. Acceptance. Perhaps when I’m 80 I’ll find that those two words have replaced control and stability. One can hope.