I’m walking on Shelf Road, which is this great trail/hike/walk that overlooks pretty much the entire Ojai Valley and is either very busy with lots of walkers and bikers (the peddling kind) and dogs and kids and families or else is very quiet. On this day it is quiet. I am here with Nava, my beautiful and smart and sophisticated and heading towards well trained and did I say beautiful Doberman puppy.
So, I’m walking along and this guy comes along with this really cool dog and the two of them – meaning my dog and his dog – get that dog play thing going that is just so great. A bit of sniffing and a lot of running and tumbling and running some more with some tag and keep away and wresting thrown in just to make it worth their while.
And we, meaning me and the owner of my puppy’s new best friend, are just hanging out and watching our kids play when he says that his pup has really needed this because he has a new baby at home. A real baby. Like a human one, not like a dog one. A new, eight week old little boy baby!
I asked him how he is…. and then how his wife is doing, too. She’s basically a food source he says. Which is true. We all were to some degree or another, I think to myself. And then, being the kind and concerned mom of now adult children that I am, and wanting him to know that he is not alone in this, that we have all been there, I reflect on my own kids and how that all worked out and tell him that eventually they do eat other things. And then I joke about how I am sure it’s hard for him because his wife is basically attached to this small buddle of joy and need and so, at the end of the day, when there is perhaps a moment of calm, and he, meaning this guy, comes in for a hug, he is probably getting something similar to do not touch me right now.
Because here’s the thing, when a baby is latched on pretty much all day, either actually latched or just there, against our bodies, the last thing in the world that we want is someone else to touch us – except perhaps to rub our feet. But truly, that sense of personal space that really is so important, that is gone when this new baby comes along. And so we grab it when we can get it. And that may mean that this wonderful man who is the father of this beautiful bundle must be kept at arm’s length.
Yes, that is pretty much how it is right now, he says to me.
Don’t worry, I said. This will pass and she will reconnect with you in, oh… three or four years.
And I laugh and he laughs, too. Kind of. And goes on his way with his pup. And I hoped that he heard the truth within my joking so that when he is home and perhaps feels a bit disconnected - because he cannot get the physical contact that he craves - he will know that he is not alone. That this happens. I am not going to say that is happens in every case, but I will say that every single women that I have ever talked to about that says yes, this is so true!
And this got me thinking about all those other pregnancy and baby things that happened. And how wonderful it would be if we shared these things with each other. Because then we wouldn’t feel so alone or think that something was wrong. We wouldn’t feel shame or not good enough or selfish or lonely. We’d know that it was all, ok. That not everything is pretty. That actually most things are not.
I’ve shared a lot about getting older - that aging body and wise crone-woman place that I am landing in. And it’s been really amazing to send out these thoughts and have them resonate with others.
But I have not really done much in terms of talking about those other great moments that I have walked through. And how these, too, are moments that we tend to underplay or hide parts of. I think it’s because we worry so much that we’re not doing it right. Like this whole new baby thing. Good forbid if, beside not getting the diaper on right or the nursing down pat, or those skinny jeans back on our exhausted body, we admit that some days we don’t even like our baby that much. Or our husbands/partners. Or ourselves. Well…that would not be a pretty conversation at all. And so we do not have it. And then when we feel this way, we also feel alone. And that sucks. A lot.
So back to my puppy’s best friend’s dad, who is also a new dad to that sweet and hungry eight week old human boy. What I truly hope came out of our interaction – though light and full of banter – was that this miracle that he now loves that came from the love between him and his wife, some days it won’t feel so good at all.
And that is absolutely ok.
Last week I wrote about my parents getting older. And, as the world always aligns the way that makes the most sense, this past week brought forth many changes for my three children and so it is only fitting that I now write about them. A closing of the circle, as their own lives open wide.
Watching my three, beautiful children gives me great joy. My children - they are wise. And they are capable. They are talented and trustworthy and kind. Funny and free and full of life. But still they will be faced with challenges that will test their knowledge and their strength, their resolve and their ability to rebound.
And so that inner struggle once again visits my psyche and challenges my innate instinct of what I know is right. Because it is so hard, as their mother not to want to fix the problem. Organize the adventure. Smooth the conflict. Make it all ok.
But this I know is true: it has never been my job to protect my children from life but to shine my light on their path and let them truly live their lives fully.
Whereas my children’s greatest gift to me is my own growth as their mother, my greatest gift to them has always been to acknowledge their abilities, their innate wisdom and their true self.
I have known this from the moment my first baby was born. A truth, living deep in my belly, that told me when to set up rules and boundaries and when to let them navigate their journey on their own. When to soften the blows and when to let life’s lessons teach my children the hard truths so that they could discover the enormous inner strength that they have.
And this they have done. With grace and with fortitude.
I expected gently fading edges. As this has been my experience when my grandparents grew older. Or my aunts and uncles from the generation above the one my parents live in. So I thought that they too would soften.
But that is not how I see them. They are clearly marked. The word that comes to mind is acute, to an intense degree.
This is not to say that they are hard. They are not. My parents are lovely. We have always been close. And as I grew in my life with them, their edges were soft.
But now their edges are clear. Acute.
I think that I see them this clearly because I am seeing them truly. With adult eyes that can grasp the enormity of what is happening. I am hyper aware. I am extremely vigilant. I lose my patience often.
My parents are not sickly. Not at all actually. They are both strong and capable. But small things creep up. Aches that are more and so are checked out at the doctor. Pains that won't go away as soon as they used to and cause worry and concern. Those little things. The minutiae of aging.
But then there are the bigger things too. Those things that are individual to them. Their own body's way of slowly slowing.
And these are the things that challenge us. Us, because I am there with them. Caring.
My sisters are, too. We are in this, all of this nurturing of them and each other. We are in this. And we are very good at it.
We ask deep-set questions, probing for answers on the Internet, which we bring to them and to their doctors for explanation and verification. We challenge protocol. We are not easy but we are thorough and we are appreciative.
We laugh a lot. Aging and death, they are laced with humor and we seem to be able to capture most of it in any moment. It is so wrong sometimes. But in that way that offers relief.
We do not cry very often. But when we do our tears are hot and full. They smell of loss too soon. The anticipation of loss. Because we know what is coming.
We take pause more often. My siblings. And my parents. We linger longer. We hug harder. We make allowances where before there was too much else to allow for that kind of time. Because we see time now.
We see the way time pushes us. Granting us small moments that last for more but then jump forward too quickly. We hold these moments dearly though, pressed to our hearts as we lean into each other when we stand close to one another. And we feel them beat to each other’s rhythm. These moments move to the drumming of our combined hearts. And we know that these moments are what we have and we hold them gently.
My parents will not die too soon. This I truly know is true. They are still strong. But they are getting older. This I see.
And so each day I make mindful affirmations to be present in this. To sit with my conversations with them. To stay connected with intention. And so be able to hold onto as much as I can. To take it in. To not miss anything.
And this mindfulness, it is flowing over now. To my children. Who are themselves now adults in that cycle that, though cliché, is truly that of life. As my parents grow older, and I recognize this and begin to value even more who they are and how honored I am to be their daughter, I find myself turning to my children and seeing them clearly, too.
I see their edges. I see their growth. Their abilities. Their talents. I see their hearts. I am profoundly grateful for these children of mine as I watch them grow into themselves and away from me.
And I wonder if my edges look soft to them as they create their own lives, separate from me. Or if I am becoming acute. Clear, as my parents edges are to me?
We put up a new fence today for Nava – our new and delicious and perfect and exhausting… but perfect Doberman Pincher puppy. She had a fence up already. A small one that I had put together the week I brought her home. It was small because my Husband was away. This big fence, that circles our yard now, I could not do on my own. It was a more-than-one-person project. And so I bought this awesome fencing on line that came in two, big cardboard boxes and was easy to put together and allow for a bit of safety for my puppy. And though it served its purpose, it was not quite right. A bit small.
My eye would stop at the fence rather than my sight running free to the ends of my property and into the woods beyond my lawn. The fence was stifling and tight. My puppy felt it, too. She tolerated being held within this small space but her joy was obvious when we would play outside these metal walls.
And so when this new fence was finally done today there was this overwhelming sense of freedom and space even while the fence still contained our place and kept us, and most importantly our sweet - and new and delicious and perfect - puppy safe.
And this got me thinking about the significance of building our own good fences – our personal boundaries. Because there is this balance that we need to be aware of. A balance that we need to honor so that the fences that we create around ourselves nurture us and keep us safe while giving us the freedom and space to live our lives fully.
Creating strong fences – healthy boundaries that honor self-care while enhancing our lives – can be complicated. Putting up boundaries carries with it those negative connotations that stretch from being considered elitist to being unsocial, narcissistic, uncaring. Self-care means selfish. Our boundaries, those essential fences that allow our souls to soar because we have a safe and contained place to land, are considered the manifestation of our selfishness. And so we hide our boundaries behind excuses so that we don’t offend those people that we care about. And worst, so that we don’t constantly worry that they will think badly of us.
Or, the most damaging of all, we hesitate to build our safe places by putting everyone else before our own needs. Our fences never go up or we neglect them and they fall apart over time.
And what is truly so sad about this is that when we don’t feel that we have a place to go - a fenced in yard that we have filled with those things that give us our life source - in the long run we truly cannot care for those other people in our lives that we love so deeply. Because we have no place to regroup and refuel and re-evaluate.
But when we create space for ourselves that feels safe and honors our own needs we are actually able to share without worry that we will burn out or fear that we will be hurt.
But there is even more that is magnificent about this.
Because we don’t have to build our fences alone. Yes, they are our contained spaces – the boundaries we create are created solely for ourselves, matching exactly what we need. But just as my husband (and a dear friend) helped me to build this fence for our puppy today, we can garner support from the people who love us to create the healthy boundaries that we need in our lives.
The beauty of creating healthy boundaries is that it allows us to give of ourselves fully. We don’t have to conserve those gifts that we share with others because we can never run out. We need only to go back to our fenced in yard and fill ourselves up again before going back out into the world to share our goodness and our love with each other.
Mother, Wife, Friend, Sister, Daughter, Dancer, Dog and Cat lover.