I’ve been thinking about the ways we don’t think we measure up. That we think we aren’t enough. That you just aren’t “cutting the mustard” in your life whether it be with your family in your role as parent or child, your career, your social or financial status, or even with your aspirations, your dreams.
By now, if you read my writing, you get that I am a single parent. I am a widow. (Checking that box for the first time is laser printed in my memory.) I actually don’t like that term, “single parent” for me. It implies that I am just single, not married to my childrens’ other parent when in fact I am, yes, sadly single but more accurately I am an “only parent.” There is no other parent. I am it.
Hilary Clinton famously said, “it takes a village” to raise a child and I can assure you I agree. Being an “only parent” is challenging at best and there are many, many times when I don’t think I am doing enough, that I am enough for my 2 children. My husband was an amazing father and together we were a great parenting team. I was sort of Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”, he was pretty much Michael Scott from “The Office.” He was the one who took them swimming or boogie boarding in the ocean while I SPF’d everyone to death, he was the one who took them to his golf course to drink Shirly Temples and eat ice cream sundaes and drive around in golf carts while I was home preparing a healthy, organically grown meal that no one would want to eat, he was the one who would take them on roller coasters while I waited in the shade with all the oversized stuffed animals and souvenir cups. He was the fun one.
When he died, I felt a huge sense of “how am I going to be him too?” for my children. I felt an enormous amount of pressure to fill his shoes. To be both parents. To be the fun one too. And I felt like I was always coming up short, that I was perpetually failing. I tried my best, I took them to Mets games, Giants games, Hershey Park, Bronx and Philly zoos, the beach, Legoland, vacations by myself – I did everything. I was exhausted, resentful and guilt ridden. There just wasn’t enough time, there just wasn’t enough me to be two people, two parents.
I did this for about a year and a half and then on the second Father’s Day without him, we were driving back home from a Mets game and got lost – damn GPS took me off the BQE and decided the shortest way home was through the city! Before I realized what that GPS bitch was doing, she had directed me off the highway and I found myself in mid-town gridlock. It was an emotional day to start being Father’s Day and driving to the stadium wasn’t my best idea so when I ended up in what would now be hours to get home, I lost it. Big time. I was screaming at the GPS like a lunatic. F bomb was dropping along with every other expletive known to man. I was f-r-e-a-k-i-n-g out.
But then after about 15 minutes of terrifying my children and literally thinking I was headed to a mental assylum, right there, in the middle of 59th street, in the middle of gridlock, in the middle of my melt down, something shifted. It hit me. Like a blow to the head. I had what in Buddhism they call a moment of satori, a moment of zen or enlightenment. And what it said to me was this: “You are enough.” In that moment of complete lunacy a miracle had occured, a shift in my thinking occured. Peace just descended like a miracle. (I wish I could say we were on 34th street!)
A Course in Miracles says that a miracle is defined as a “shift in your perception.” That when your thinking changes, your situation changes. “Your greatest power to change the world is your power to change your mind about the world.” (ACIM) You return to right thinking and from there, all things in the physical world are possible. And this is what shifted for me that day – I didn’t need to be Scott. I didn’t need to be anyone else for my children but myself. I was all they needed. I was enough. I was never going to fill the void for them of losing their father. Never. No matter how many camping trips, amusement park visits, or baseball games I took them to. He wasn’t the fun things he did with them. He was much more than that. He was Dad. Trying to fill his shoes wasn’t going to bring him back, it wasn’t going to make up for him being gone. He was gone.
I entered another phase of grief that day. I realized what I had been trying to do was soften the blow of my children’s loss by pretending if I did everything Scott did with them and for them that they could actually avoid feeling any loss. Or it could be minimized somehow. I realized that once again I was trying to avoid suffering but that this time, it was my children’s suffering I was trying to avoid. Right there, on the spot, in the hot seat of my SUV, I realized this was impossible. That I had accepted suffering for myself but that I wasn’t prepared to allow my children to suffer. I erroneously believed that they shouldn’t have to suffer. But suffering is universal and the thought that, “my children shouldn’t have to suffer” makes you suffer so much more, makes them suffer so much more. You can’t protect them from life and suffering. You can’t be everything for them, do everything for them, protect them from life, from what it means to be human. Trying to line up everything perfectly for them, filling every need and want, buffering every perceived threat or harm is a recipe for disaster because their life, your life is meant to be fully experienced. All of it – the good and the bad.
When I was a kid, I would say to my mom over some perceived act of injustice done to me – like not getting the phone next – “but it’s not fair!” and she would say, “Life isn’t fair.” I heard this a lot growing up with 3 sisters. We don’t really say that to our kids anymore, do we? We don’t say to our kids in the words of Kid President, “Some days you get ice cream, some days you don’t.” We try to make everything fair. In sports, in school, between friends and siblings. Ice cream everyday! But this idea of always trying to make everything fair and eradicating all pain is harmful because life actually isn’t “fair”. Or least our very limited definition of “fair.” Life will always give you what you came here to learn, what you need in order to grow but it doesn’t always look “fair.”
Pain and suffering can be our greatest teachers if you are open to it, if you allow space for it. Endlessly trying to protect our children from pain and life’s “unfairness” in exchange for only giving them pleasure is fruitless and harmful. Eventually life will catch up with them. Because that is life, like it or not. Always trying to buffer them from pain will lead them down the road on an endless search for pleasure, for “ice cream” everyday and it will take more and more to satisfy that craving. And it will always leave them feeling hungry, dissatisfied and wanting more because you need some protein, you need some veggies, you need balance, you need more than just ice cream to live a fully awake and present life. Teaching our children that they shouldn’t have to suffer cuts them off from a whole part of themselves and what it means to be human, what it means to know their compassion, their strength, their grace and their wide open heart.
My friend M who was also my “life coach” after Scott died (Yes, I had a life coach! I know, “la di da, la di da” in the words of Annie Hall) said something to me that really eased a lot of the pressure I put on myself to do more, be more after he died. Not just for my children but for myself. She said, “you don’t have to do anything, be anything here. All you have to do is be. That is enough.” Now, I’m not sure I was totally on board with that thinking at first so I, being me, did some diving deeper and what I found was this quote from Neale Donald Walsch’s book What God Said, “There is nothing you have to do. There is much you will do but nothing you are required to do. God wants nothing, needs nothing, demands nothing, commands nothing.” Now that sounded like the God I wanted in my life. That sounded about right to me. Forcing ourselves to be all, do all and have all puts a lot of pressure on ourselves. Causes a lot of stress and suffering. Relaxing and accepting that you are ok, you are enough no matter what does or doesn’t happen in your life, no matter who approves of you or not, no matter what you do or don’t do is all that is required of you. And it is all that is required of our children. And with this realization, I relaxed. I could finally let out my long held breath that who I was for my children wasn’t enough. And could then breathe in, I am enough.
Realizing that our family, just as it is, was enough changed my perception from one of lack to one of abundance. As Augusten Burroughs said, “Loss is not a subtraction, as an experience it is an addition.” We miss Scott immeasurably but we aren’t really lacking at all. We have so much. We have great memories of a father and husband who loved us and whom we loved. We have family and friends who love and support us. We have love and joy back in our lives again. But most importantly, they have me and I have them and that, is more than enough.
Mark Rhodes said:
There was so much to hear in this message, that I had to read it twice. It made me both happy and sad at the same time. Sad, because I knew what you and the kids were going through at the time, yet I was helpless to be of any real aid to you. Happy to hear how much you have grown having gone through this terrible time in your life. I wish for you continued growth and happiness.
Some roads you must walk alone but knowing they are lined with friends who love you makes the journey easier to bear. xo
Mark Rhodes said:
For sure your road is lined with friends who love you – I am happy to be one of them. Missing you terribly – – lets get together soon!
Claire Dillon said:
Thank you Maeve for giving me something to think about today – a message that we all need to hear and live. Great piece – love your writing!
Thanks so much Claire! xo
Linda Balon Stein said:
Maeve, Your pieces resonate with me. I have also shared them with others struggling with loss. The writing is truly compelling. Thank you for posting.
Thank you Linda. I hope that they help others like writing them has helped me.