Sunday, August 10, 2008

Advice to My Son

When I look back on my life, it’s clear to me that the single most successful relationship I ever had was with you. With you I was able to give without expectation of getting something back. I was able to give you room to be yourself and to love whoever showed up. I never needed you to show your love in a specific way for me to be sure it existed. I was never afraid of your anger, your grief, you annoyance. Maybe it would have been tougher with a girl but from day one I saw you as an individual and never needed you to think and feel the way I did.

You taught me how to be better in relationships and I use those skills now in my friendships with others.

You never ever called me “mommy”, always “Carla,” no matter how anyone tried to persuade you. After a time, I came to hear “Carla” from you as “mommy” and my heart swelled in the middle of the night when you would scream “Carla!” after a nightmare.

From this I learned – let people be in relationship with you and express their feelings for you the way they are able to. Don’t make assumptions based on how you would do things.

Every time you get angry with me ( which is not often) there is a part of me that is so relieved that you trust me enough to express the scary feelings. I try to see beneath what you’re saying to hear what you’re feeling. I rarely feel defensive and I try ( not always successfully) to never answer you with “Yeah, but you….”

I don’t have such luck in other relationships but I’m working on it. People need room to have their feelings and it’s so hard to give them that room.

Since you were the kid and I was the grownup, I had to learn to be clear with you if something didn’t work for me. Banging pots and pans around in a sullen way hoping you would read my mind was not going to work. Yelling would be abusive. I had to say “When you do _____ it makes me feel______. I would like you to ______.” It always worked – not because I was a childrearing expert (“Do you hear that Ben, he wants to rear your child” – Knocked Up) but because you were and are so utterly reasonable.

I have not been so clear in relationships. I thought that passive aggressive jabs would adequately convey my displeasure and failing that the silent treatment. I could go months not talking to someone and they didn’t even know they were being “punished.” You taught me to tell people what did and didn’t work for me.

You taught me how to just enjoy the present moment with the person I’m with instead of letting future plans or past issues mar our time. I remember watching a ladybug make it’s way down the sidewalk with you once. We watched that bug for a half an hour and it never flew away. You were so fully present with that damned ladybug I finally succumbed and enjoyed the experience. It was delicious. When I can summon that kind of presence with my friends my time with them is so much richer.

Finally, I never ever thought “what can this kid do for me?” It just doesn’t factor in. As a parent all you think about is how you can help your kid move along the path of life – sometimes by helping and sometimes by getting the hell out of the way and sometimes by painfully standing by as they make mistakes, experience hardships and endure injustice and learn for themselves.

I am no longer in a position where I can be of much help to my friends but in those rare times when I can do something for one of them I experience a deep deep joy. It’s actually true that it’s better to give than receive.

You are already such a remarkable person, but I still want to offer this unsolicited advice to you – especially if it helps you avoid some of the rough times I’ve encountered:

1) Let people show up for you the way they can. Don’t set up a friendship litmus test – everyone will fail.
2) Don’t be afraid to let people share their negative feelings – just don’t take them on yourself and don’t let someone emotionally abuse you. But if someone says “it bugs me when you’re late” let them share that.
3) Express your needs, boundaries, and expectations clearly. Don’t expect people to read your mind.
4) Be in the moment. If you’re hanging out with someone, really hang out with that person.
5) Be generous of spirit. Don’t judge all your friendships based on what you want.

There are so many other things I’ve missed but maybe people will blog comment their friendship advice.

You’ve only been gone a day and I miss your jokes, your political updates and just you.


Anonymous said...


Even though we have never met I love reading the words about your life. I appreciate how the feelings come through. Your passions are gems.

Thanks, --bill daul

Anonymous said...

You say: "I am no longer in a position where I can be of much help to my friends but in those rare times when I can do something for one of them I experience a deep deep joy. It’s actually true that it’s better to give than receive."

I say: You have given more to us than you will ever know - now and for all time. On the receiving end of your generosity, I have contemplated life, love, and happiness in a new way. I will hope to bring forth, aided by your wisdom, an ability to be better at giving than receiving.

Thank you ever so much.

Anonymous said...

You've made everyone who knows you or has been touched by your journey a better person, a more caring and thoughtful person and a richer person. You give now and always have given a great deal.

Anonymous said...

This is magical in its simplicity and truthfulness!
I am forever greatful that you have shared this moment.
I will live by this and become a better daughter, sister, friend because of it.
As one of the prior comments says "You have given more to us than you will ever know - now and for all time"
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Carla, beloved Carla,
You are generous with us beyond words. I feel it each time I read your writing and my heart opens opens opens. And I feel that generosity manifest in what others write back to you this gorgeous web you have inspired.
With great love and gratitude,

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to be a bit jealous of a woman who is going thru such a tragic ordeal? I'm jealous of your ability to express yourself and put pen to paper (I'm struggling just to write this comment). I'm jealous of your enormous talents (I can't sing, I don't have a quick wit, and I'm not that funny or that eloquent). I'm jealous of your ability to captivate an audience (I can't captivate one or two people never mind an audience). I'm jealous of the incredible support group you have cultivated. (I was never a part of an awesome Mom's group.) I'm jealous of your ability to touch the lives of so many. (I'm not sure if I've really touched anyone.) I'm jealous that you have lived life to the fullest while I just sit here on my butt. You are one special lady; making the best of a rotten situation and giving us all something to think about.

CT said...

You're short-selling yourself if you think you can't be of much help to your friends. I owe you a lot, and I have a feeling I'll owe you even more before it's all said and done. If a relationship between two people can be evaluated based on diffusion of ideas, changes each person influences on the other, and overall love, I'm pleased as punch to be your friend. I sometimes wish I were more able to voice my love and admiration to you in person, but my composure in emotional situations is very tenuous in the first person, I'd probably be in tears in ten seconds or less.

Anonymous said...


I arrived home yesterday the 13th from a trip to our Beautiful British Columbia. The Gladstone "girls" were together again and we had a great time. Of course, we all talked about you and what a treasure you have become in our lives. We all check the blog daily. Your mum picked me up at the bus from Armstrong, and I stayed the night at their house. She drove me to the airport in the morning, she is such a generous friend. We had lots of girl talk and I saw many, many pictures of you and Maclen. We were all given CD's so were able to enjoy listening to your beautiful voice. I am going to transfer the CD to my Ipod today. The wisdom you have written to Maclen is so on point, you have hit on the most important aspects of relationships. As Gail has said it would be a gift to have your way with words. Thank you for what you give to your readers. You are truly exceptional.

Anonymous said...

A million points of love, light and bright stars, chocolate home baked cookies,warm spring breezes and steamy summer nights and everything else your heart desires shall come to you every moment of every day for eternity and beyond. Of this I am certain

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing the precious photo of you and Mac in the early years. The joy, pride and love you feel for him shows in your gleeing face.
Love be and stay with you!

lccarson said...

Linda here, artist/playwright/teacher from Ontario, Canada. While I, too, enjoy reading your work here and following your story, I think we-the-readers let an opportunity slip by to repay you.

You asked for advice for your son on how to be a friend. Here goes.

(1) Listen between the lines.

Friends can only love you the way they can love, not necessarily the way we want to be loved most. My father says "I love you" with car advice. You may not need car advice. You may not want car advice. But you'll recognize the love of friends better when you practise listening between the lines, when you figure out that "diesel engines more than two years old need lubricant added to the fuel because they've changed the formulation" means "you are beloved and I want to make things better for you."

(2) Work together.

Quilting bees and barn-raisings build more than quilts and barns. Working side-by-side on projects is a great way to cement friendships. Take turns. This week, paint the shed at her place. Next week, vaccuum the minivan at your place. You're getting something productive done and you'll inevitably share conversation, ideas, secrets, and laughs.

(3) Find friends you can learn from.

Sure, it's great to have lots in common with your friends, but cultivate unexpected friendships, too. Enjoy the friend who does something on Saturday afternoons that you've never even seen: cricket, lace-making, flamenco guitar. Let them teach you what they love about it.

(4) Stay in touch.

You're going to change schools, jobs, and addresses a lot in your life. Friends will play larger and smaller roles in your life at different times. Start practising now how to stay comfortably but loosely in touch with all of them. Try out email, facebook, and good old-fashioned postcards until you get good at some way of holding the threads of your friendships. You're going to enjoy the reunions.

Anonymous said...

Carla - this is still my favourite posting in your Blog. I re-read it to remind myself to fully put myself in the moment, whatever it is. I picture you, Mac and the ladybug and it brings me into focus. Thank you forever for this personal moment of yours, shared.