Saturday, November 26, 2011

How many suitcases are you carrying?

Bulldog and I had a big heart to heart today.  I simultaneously love and hate heart to heart discussions.  They are gut wrenching if you do it right because you are forced to look at yourself and see how your faults and goof-ups have hurt someone else.  Plus, you have to go coal mining for your own hurts that may be buried deep below a layer of impressive bedrock that under normal circumstances  only a few tons of dynamite can breach.

Like so many other people, the seeds of discontent are sown long before we met or joined our lives with our spouses or significant others.  We are all the products of our upbringings and our pasts, regardless of how much we may want to believe otherwise.

I remember a guy I knew in rookie school years ago, whose name was actually Leif Ericson.  I kid you not when I say his brothers' names were Eric and Thor.  His parents either had an incredible sense of humor or were inordinately proud of their Nordic heritage, in spite of being at least a few generations removed from that part of the world.  I'm rambling...Anyway, Leif informed me that he didn't like dating women with "baggage." Good luck with that because all of us are carrying baggage-some may be lucky to tote a carry on, and others are stuck with steamer trunks, like only the wealthy on the "Titanic" would own because they paid someone else to carry them.

Granted, some of us want to clutch our baggage and wear it like a shield.  Maybe we think it will protect us from further hurt.  Some of us pretend that the baggage doesn't exist, in spite of the fact that our shins are black and blue from repeatedly having the allegedly non-existant baggage knocking us about every time we attempt to take a step forward in our lives.  Naturally, it would be better to acknowledge the existence of our baggage while simultaneously not wearing it like a freaking medal, but that is a tough act of balancing.  Yet, if we don't find a way to do this, we may inadvertently ruin our own chances of happiness and pass our baggage on to our children.  My children hope to inherit money and some of my belongings, but I am certain a complete set of matched emotions wrapped in soft-sided exteriors with hidden zippers is not what they had in mind even if it does have wheels and a handle.  Just because it's equipped with handy tools to tote the thing doesn't mean they want my luggage to haul around, if they can avoid it.

OK, in some cases, it's already too late.  I've given my kids some baggage already.  Hopefully, it's just enough to contain their deodorant, soap and a toothbrush and nothing more.  But, now that I am completely aware of my propensity to drag around my baggage and that I may be contributing to the size of their baggage, maybe I can limit my future contributions to their load.

For instance,  accepting my kids as they are is a great start.  Realizing that we are not extensions of each other and that we are wholly separate from each other is integral.  When my child says that his birth certificate is wrong and we must stop saying, "him" and start saying, "her" I must respect that.  If she is wholly separate from me, then her feelings about herself are no reflection on me whatsoever;  my refusal to accept her feelings, however, is.  If it turns out that she didn't understand herself well, and by some strange reason, decides to go back to the original "him," it is STILL no reflection on me that I honored the first request.  It's not as if I was a fool to respect his wishes, or as if I failed because I did so.

Sometimes, the best way to let a person find out if they are making a mistake, or are tripping on the most profound truth of their life is to let them take the risk.  As parents, we often add to our kids' baggage by not letting them do that.  We either want to protect them from failure, or disappointment, or what we deem "reality." Rather, let us give them the tools to pick themselves up when they fail.  Not if they fail, because they will fail at something.  So, rather than make them feel like failures to adequately prepare them for life (a perspective I think of as crap) or not letting them ever fail, why not, instead of giving them luggage, give them a luggage CART by letting them risk rejection, failure, small measures of ridicule or disappointment, so that they can learn important lessons about themselves. Lessons like, it doesn't matter if I get knocked down 5 times as long as I stand up 6 times.  Or, finding out that the closing of a door may be the only way we find the fabulous opportunity waiting behind the stunning bay window.

But our best bet of not significantly adding to our child's baggage, in this author's humble opinion, is to really see our children as wholly separate from ourselves.  We often want to project ourselves onto them.  Many times, we do this out of love, but when inappropriately applied, love can act as a tourniquet.  Maybe it's because it's not truly love to begin with-it's our refusal to accept that the person in front of us is not us but merely came from us.  The degree of how different from us they are can and will vary
W I D E L Y from family to family and from child to child.  If our child is goth, it doesn't necessarily mean a thing about us as parents.  If your child is gay, you did not fail in some way.  If your child was born in the wrong body, you accepting their information is not a reflection of you as being overly permissive, or immoral, or anything like that.

In my line of work, we sometimes cross paths with people who are drug seekers because they are addicts.  Usually, people seek pain meds because they truly are in pain and need them.  Sometimes, as in the case of addicts, they are giving us a convincing story so that we will give them morphine.  Many of my peers consider themselves fools if a patient tricks them into giving pain meds and finding out later that they are what we call "frequent flyers" and are well known addicts by the staff in the emergency room.  But if I believe a patient's story and all other indicators seem to point to the truth of her declaration, and later it turns out to not be true, for whatever reason, I am not the idiot.  I simply believed the person.  Whether or not the person was truthful, or misinformed, or flat out lying is not the point.  My acceptance, or lack thereof  is solely a reflection of me.  Whether or not the person deserves my acceptance is not a reflection of me AND is a slippery slope to making an arrogant assumption. And an even more arrogant assumption is thinking that we know the person better than they know themselves.

"It's just a phase" or "She's just trying to get attention" or "He's confused and doesn't know what he wants"-how do we really know we're right?   And in the case of our kids, if we're wrong about our assumptions about them, that can lead to some pretty deep hurt.....and baggage.

Lately, DJ's hair and make-up and music are becoming less and less to my taste.  I can hope that it's just a phase, but she might end up thinking a mohawk that stands ten inches off the top of her head is a great look for her, even when she's 30.  Lordy, I hope not, but if she does, she's not me.  Her decision to look like a 1980's throw-back truly is not a reflection of me.  Granted, while I may not want to be seen with her, I won't give in to that.  Because really, why wouldn't I want to be seen with her?  Because I would be worried what other people will think....of me.  I might SAY I'm worried what they think of her, but only because I'm seeing her as an extension of me.  Which she isn't.

So, let's do ourselves, and our kids, and the world for that matter, a big favor.  Let us admit to having our own baggage, first.  Next, let us recognize that our baggage can cause us to contribute to our childrens' baggage.  After that, let us accept that we and our children are separate from each other.  Once we get that down, accepting is pretty easy.  You're you.  I'm me.  I can and will love you no matter how different from me you are.  Period.  Isn't that what we all want?  I know I do.