Monday, July 4, 2022

Find What Makes You Free

My boys are at the river with Daddy. It's his place of peace and their personal playground. This weekend in particular, my kids are — as a cohort of West Virginians would say it — ate up with excitement. I stayed back, as I do these days. I've visited the river many times, led by narrow pavements rolling to the rhythm of Appalachian hills, ending abruptly at a gravel path barely breathing between a small overgrown ridge and a row of patchwork houses along the bank.

Splendor! Unless you're different.
Photo: West Virginia Tourism Twitter
I can concede that in photographic stillness, this Appalachian waterway is the picture of tranquility, a respite from the clamor of (un)civilization. However, in the depths of certain minds, certainly my mind, there are chasms that separate what should be from what is.

Each time I drive those narrow roads and arrive at the place where my children delight in nature, discomfort rides shotgun.
This river doesn't speak to me. There's no flat expanse. The only view is straight ahead. Behind is a cacophony of gravel and sandwiched cars against a tall, earthen barricade. It feels wrong and suffocating.
In this corner of God's beautiful creation, my internal dialogue saysThis is not where you are free.
I can't be with this river and feign interest in what she has to offer. So in lieu of strained relations, she and I have settled on irreconcilable differences. I've accepted that in some cases, change is more work than God or I intend to do. Armed with this knowledge, I'm able to admire my children's river from afar.

When my boys are away, I miss morning snuggles with my 6-year-old who dives into my lap first thing after waking up and wraps around me like a starved anaconda. I miss the increasingly grownup conversations I have with my 10-year-old who analyzes like a scientist and emotes like an artist. At the very same time, I thoroughly soak up the joy of being alone. Guilt free. 

From 18 through 34, I had a few brief stints with roommates but largely lived alone. I navigated life on my own terms, without much input from anyone else. That degree of freedom for that long is a hard habit to break. Of course comparison is a dangerous endeavor, but I'm tempted to say I require more alone time than your average mom. Being needed all day by two humans still figuring out how to calibrate their needs and emotions — while I'm doing the same myself —has felt not like a progressive shift but like a magnitude 4.0 earthquake. Here's where I should mention being high-strung (read: a cutesy euphemism for anxious, one who marinates in thoughts and worries). It's a real ante-upper when you want to be your best zen self for your children or, more realistically, simply not feel frantic on the daily when your mind and your immortal To Do list conspire to take you down.  

Solitude is my way of gathering all the parts of me that have gone astray when #momlife gets real, which is always. Lately I've wondered if I'm being selfish, if one day I'll look back and wish I'd gone to the river anyway. And then my own internal scientist kicks in and asks why this sort of questioning is so common in our culture. Should what we may or may not regret in the future override what we know we need in the present? If we're sound of mind, I think not. Radical self-love tells me that when I'm tempted to punish myself, I should gift myself instead. In this case, that gift is the eradication of #momguilt. It's choosing to focus on what I give my children rather than what I take from them. 

Tomorrow, my boys will return. There will be big hard hugs and kisses. There will be tales of barely escaping bellicose copperheads, riding the world's biggest rapids, and catching ten-foot fish. Shortly thereafter, I predict pouting and tantrums due to the rules of engagement: l dare deprive them the pleasure of mainlining sugar and overdosing on screen time. I force them to practice the misery of personal hygiene. I require them to walk two entire feet to the sink to deposit their dishes. I instruct them to be bigger than their human urge for revenge that tends to manifest in punches in tender places. These days, raising good boys is a community service. Nothing is fool-proof, but I'm satisfied knowing I try my best. 

I'm grateful that on many summer weekends, my boys and I go our separate ways toward balance — they in communion with their wild river and I bearing witness to the rejuvenation of solitude in my home. We should all find our way to freedom. Happy Independence Day. 

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