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.