Tuesday, November 8, 2016

On Living an Authentic Life and Parenting

A few months ago, a certain blogger-author announced she was leaving her husband for the second and final time, just one week before her book on marriage was released. I'm sure her publisher was thrilled with her decision. I debated with a few of my close female friends about the authenticity of her choice (as if we had any right to have an opinion). This author-blogger proclaimed the timing to be less important than being true to herself. I raised the question with my friends: but wasn't it odd that this same author-blogger left her husband the first time the same week her first book came out?

That same week that she left her husband, her good friend, another author, left her husband for a woman. In the sake of honesty, of living an authentic life. And last week the author-blogger mentioned above who left her husband a few months ago just shared with a live audience that she is in a relationship with a woman.

I feel like I'm moving up and down on the wake of these two women's decisions. I feel off balance and affected though the only way I'll meet either one of them is by standing in a long line for hours with fellow fans in order to get five second with her and my book signed (which I did once). The fluidity of the world has me on shifting ground. I have no problem with alternative lifestyles (or do I? I've examined myself because of my reaction to these women's decisions in the past week), and support gay marriage and have taught my children that love matters most, no matter the coupling.

But, speaking of children, here is what is eating at me: How does this change of pace, this "living an authentic life," this changing of direction affect the children in the picture? I'm no child psychologist, but as children grow and change and experiment themselves, what if their foundation--their parents--are still growing and changing and experimenting themselves? What are the lasting effects on children if their foundation is constantly shifting? It's not just changing the gender of one's partner. It's also divorce, which has been around for long enough.

It's not just the children that matter, but I think they matter more. As parents, do we give up some of our own right to live an authentic life when we have children? Or do we have all of the same rights, and we get to make decisions without carefully and deliberately thinking of how those decisions might affect our children now and in the future? Shouldn't we just make a choice and stick to it--whatever that choice is, whatever the consequences of commitment (because, remember, there are moments when any commitment is fraught with discomfort and challenges and hard stuff)?

I'm full of questions this week. I don't know the answers, but my gut says that there are going to be some consequences for our children if we parents don't provide a firmer foundation for our children. There are so many unknowns out there for them--shouldn't we be their Known, their Familiar, their Rock? Or can we be even if we leave our partners once or twice, or fall out of love with a woman and in love with a man?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Things My Daughter Learns From Me

My daughter had a difficult horseback riding lesson last week. As always, the two lessons before affected how she was feeling and riding. Two lessons prior, she had had a break through on getting her horse to canter. Finally, after a year or more of manic trotting before finally being rewarded with a rolling canter, she figured out how hard she needed to kick in order to go from a walk to a canter, bypassing that messy trot. But during the lesson after that, her horse spooked at the canter and took off with her--my daughter got her pony back under control and ended the hour with a laugh, but she was rattled. What spooked the pony, you wonder? Her horrified mother who was walking her innocent puppy.

All of this led to an uncertain, hesitant rider on a lazy pony. This is not a good combination, because the pony instinctively knows that she can avoid the work being asked of her. My daughter sat atop that pony and sorta kinda kicked her. Sorta kinda asked her to canter. She sorta kinda did this again and again and again. The instructor, determined to repeat the success from a week ago, gave the instructions while pony and rider trotted like mad but did not canter: "Walk again. Now canter." Those four words came out over and over and over.

And as the words rolled across the ring, frustration set in. I could see my daughter trying to stay determined, but she wasn't very determined to begin with, because she didn't want the pony to bolt again. It's a hard balance--wanting the horse to go faster, but not too fast. Using a lot of leg, but a little hand, too.

Watching my children fail is one of the hardest parts of parenting. My brain understands that it is important, that she is in good hands with her instructors. I know firsthand how cruel it is to learn that you have to relearn everything when you ride a horse. Or when you relearn stuff in life. I know firsthand how tough transitions are from a walk to a canter. Or transitions in life. But let's face it: failing is painful.

My daughter's instructor chose that moment to do what I just did in the paragraph above--to draw out from what was going on in the ring to the bigger lessons in life. If she didn't know if she wanted to canter, did she know what she wanted to do in life? If she didn't see in her mind what she wanted the pony to do, how could she see in her mind what she wanted to have happen in life? My daughter was already a mess, and this lecture made her wilt. Her shoulders slumped, her hard hat fell down, the tears plopped down on her pony's mane. I recognize the wilting because I know I do it when lectured in my own real life. I don't usually fight back; I look down, get quiet, and work on a wall of resentment. I'm not proud of this, but...it's what I do. And looking at my daughter, I grew mad at myself for teaching her to do the same.

To no one's surprise, the lesson ended in more tears. My daughter and I walked around in silence, cooling out the pony. She dismounted and spat out, through angry and sad and frustrated tears, "Can't I just wait in the car, Mom?"

"No. There are things that need to be done," I said firmly. "Let's do them together."

She cried through all the necessary after-lesson chores. Pick all four hooves. Untack the pony. Put the saddle away in one room, the girth and saddle pad in another room. Curry the pony well. Brush the pony. Rub the spots behind her ears where she sweats the most. Give her one treat. Put on her blanket. Walk her back to her stall. Roll the stall door closed. Clean the bridle. Rub the bit clean with a rag. Put it back on the right hook. Thank your instructor (not sure this one was well done, but...).

The ride back home was quiet until my daughter found her sense of humor again and could chat about things other than ponies and transitions and cantering. But in the quiet, after I finished beating myself up for teaching her to get quiet instead of getting angry, I realized that I did teach her other things. Better things. More useful things.

I know she sees me doing what needs to be done, and never, not once, letting someone down just because I'm sad or lonely or frustrated. I do not wallow or lie comatose in the face of frustration or sad. I keep on keeping on, always moving forward, even during the low times in my life during which life's daily tasks were the only things that propelled me forward, onward, upward.

It's humbling and alarming and wonderful how closely apples fall from the trees in which they grow. I can only hope it's a net positive--that my daughter learns a little more good habits from me than my own bad habits. And let me try and work on those bad habits while she's still in the house to watch me.