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Saturday, May 10, 2008

On Happiness (And Being A Mother)

I have a surprising number of female friends who are not mothers. I've always thought this to be an odd thing, but maybe it's nothing more than circumstance. Being a mother is something I always knew I would be, and maybe my friends did too. But nothing seems to pre-determine how our lives turn out and, more often than not, our lives turn out to be pretty different from what we imagined. Of course, I had ideas about what being a mother would be like too; I knew how many children I wanted and what type, etc., how they would behave, what their lives would be like. And I have since learned that even when things appear to turn out the way you imagined they would, you get a few curve balls thrown at you anyway. Kids are who they are. Regardless of how blue in the face you get trying to tell them what they should do, they do what they will. If you ever want an exersize in how powerless you really are, have a couple of kids. I don't think I was the kind of kid my Dad wanted. First of all, he wanted a boy. I couldn't do much about that. Secondly, he wanted a quiet, studious kid who sat in a corner and read books. Now, I love books, but I certainly wasn't quiet and studious. I was creative, I liked having all of my friends in my yard, I liked putting on plays and having adventures. Much to my Dad's chagrin, I trampled all over his lawn and flower beds. I screamed and hollered. I wanted a guitar and dreamed of being a star. When I think about all of that, I realize that I couldn't possibly have expected my daughters to live up to my expectations either. I think I've learned that it's more important to see them for who they are rather than being disappointed in them for not being who I want them to be. Not that I'm disappointed or that I have had particularly great expectations. I never thought that I lived up to the "ideal" of mother. I'm pretty sure that has to do with the fact that I lost my mother when I was so young. I never had the chance to see her as human, to observe her imperfections and inadequacies...I was left with a very iconic image of her and I carried the notion with me that, as a mother, I should be the same. Instead I struggled through a long depression after having my first child, feeling like I wasn't good enough because I wasn't incredibly happy and satisfied after giving birth. I never had brothers or sisters while I was growing up so I didn't understand jealousies or sibling rivalry and felt I didn't handle that well either. Oddly enough, my Dad always expressed the fact that he never felt like he was a very good father, yet I think he was a wonderful example to me of a caring and giving parent. Recently I heard an aquaintance of mine say that she couldn't wait for her daughters to grow up...it was more of a "I'm looking forward to when they get out of this young and difficult age", rather than a "I'm looking forward to who they're going to be." The fact is that every age has its struggles. I mean, we only have to look at our own lives to realize that there are good and bad times to every age. There is no "there". Which is, I think, the message that I really want to pass on to my daughters. It's about happiness. I know that when we're young, we get this idea in our heads that once we achieve this or that, we are going to be eternally happy. I hear them express that in various ways when it comes to relationships, achievements, personal goals, appearance...all of it. What I have learned through my own life is that expectation inevitably leads to disappointment. And there is no permanently achievable state of happiness. That sounds rather depressing, but really it isn't. When we cling, when we expect or look forward too much, we only create the potential for unhappiness. True happiness, it seems to me, is when we let go, and find peace and joy and acceptance of who we are and where we are right now. Goals are fleeting, ideas are fleeting, triumph and tragedy, circumstances, thoughts and feelings are fleeting. If you spend a little time just observing what goes through your mind, you realize that none of what goes on around you or inside of you is real or permanent. So if I could give a gift to my children, it would be the ability to focus in on the beauty of now. Because there will never be another now. Slow down, stop judging how the present should be, look around you and see how much you have. That is what you, my daughters, have taught me, and what I would like to return to you. And Happy Mother's Day to my mother who continues to inspire me, 36 years after we said goodbye. IJ