When my son was about two years old, I began going to the Mommy and Me parenting group at his preschool. We met once a week to talk about child-rearing issues, but in actuality they turned out to be mostly mom issues. One woman was having a very tough time with her son in the mornings. He wanted to pick out his own clothes, and when she resisted he’d throw himself on the floor and scream until he was blue. It had been going on for months, and by the time she basically sat on him and got him dressed in the clothes she’d picked out he was exhausted and angry and wouldn’t eat breakfast, he’d throw it at the walls. Then she’d have to wrestle him into his car-seat, and once they were at school, he’d beg her not to leave. So she was pretty beaten down and most of the time she’d arrive with some kind of food in her hair. Banana, or eggs.
I’d experienced the power-struggle over getting dressed with my kid, too, and had finally just gotten him a stool so he could open his dresser drawers. I figured he was becoming autonomous, and dressing himself was part of the process. Plus, he was making it pretty clear with his exclamations of “MY do it!” I don’t mind telling you he picked out some pretty interesting outfits for awhile. There was also a period of almost a year when he wanted to be called “Kobe” even though that’s not his name. (Yes, the Lakers games were on in the house at the time.) So there he was dressing himself outlandishly, and everywhere we went, my friends good-naturedly called him Kobe. Once at a supermarket, a woman began talking to him as he sat in the cart at the checkout line. He was wearing one of his hand-picked outfits, a green and white striped shirt, some kind of plaid shorts, and black socks pulled up to his knees. The woman told him he was adorable and asked him his name and he said, “Kobe”, and I didn’t correct him because, really, what difference does it make? I’ve been enjoying my kid from moment one, and I love watching him unfold. But this woman looked at me like I had three heads and said, “Unbelievable. Good luck with your kid,” and huffed off to another line shaking her head. I started laughing, mostly from the surprise of it, and Dylan started laughing, too. I leaned down and told him my name was Derek Fisher, and we went about our day. But the mom at school wasn’t okay with letting her kid dress himself which is fine. We all have our non-starters and not everyone wants to walk around with a kid who looks like a color-blind/pattern-blind very short golfer.
However you do it, and wherever the lines are for you, you have to pick your battles and I don’t just mean with parenting, but in life. It’s important to know yourself, and to figure out what is and isn’t okay for you. If you think you can control what life is going to send in your direction, or what other people will say, do or want, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of pain. I understand that accepting the uncertainty in life is not easy. We all want to feel some sense of order in the chaos. In the, what am I doing here, and how did this come to be, and how long do I have, and when will it end, and what happens when it ends, unknowing, unknowableness of life. So we make our plans and we have our schedules and our routines. We go to yoga on these days and we put our mats in this spot, and on this day we go grocery shopping. We have our kids’ soccer practice Tuesdays, baseball Thursdays. We plan our vacation for these two weeks. We go to work and we go here for lunch and order this, or we go there, where we order that. If the person who takes our order knows our name and what we like to eat, even better.
The truth is everything can change on a dime. Your careful planning and reassuring routines can’t save you from that reality. Not everything will go the way we want it to, and sometimes our plans will get turned upside down and inside out. A few years ago I went to a meeting and this person asked me what my five year plan was. I started laughing, I think I might have snorted; I didn’t mean to, it just struck me as absurd. It’s not that I don’t have intentions, or that there’s anything wrong with a five-year plan. It’s just that she happened to ask me this not long after the birth of my son, and nothing at all went according to my carefully written birth plan. So I think it’s good to have a vision, but also important not to grasp it, to allow some room for a different plan to emerge.
Everything is in a state of flux, and we really don’t know how things will be next week, next month, next year. We don’t know how we will be, either. There are things I’d like to do, but I try to take it one moment at a time because I don’t want to get so caught up in a plan that I miss the pure joy that can happen in any moment, or the absolute heartache. I don’t want to be so focused on working my plan that I forget to live my life, or leave some room for life to surprise me. It’s not happening five years from now. It’s happening now and I can’t control whether I’ll get to accomplish every single thing I’d like to, I can only do whatever I can possibly do today. I can use every moment I’ve got wisely, and I can try to pack as much love into each moment as I have within me and as I’m ready to receive. That’s the only power I have.
I can’t control my son’s path or my daughter’s, nor do I want to. Of course I want to keep them safe, I want to nurture them and teach them to be strong and to love themselves, and to go for it in life all the way. To figure out what lights them up, and to move in that direction with everything they’ve got, but I don’t care if they wear orange and green and decide they want to be called names that never would have occurred to me.
An attempt to exert control over other people is really something to examine if you experience that pull. Love doesn’t manipulate, force or reject. It’s not conditional. This is why it’s essential to choose wisely. To know yourself, to understand what’s important to you and what you need, so that you can recognize a person you’ll find easy to love. When we love well, we liberate the objects of our love so they can be their best selves. So they can follow the pull of that inner yes and fly. When you’re loving someone, you’re wanting their happiness the way you want your own. You’re wanting them to discover what ignites them if they haven’t already, and then you want to get busy helping them stoke that flame. Loving someone well helps them become more of who they are, not less.
If you love someone and you’re afraid, then there’s a good chance you’re not loving yourself well, or you may not have chosen wisely. Perhaps you’re being reckless with your heart. Or maybe you’ve been hurt before and you’re scared you’ll be hurt again. If you keep picking people who hurt you, you have some healing to do. It’s also possible you’ve picked someone in a lot of pain themselves. Loving people bent on harming themselves is heartbreaking, and sometimes the only thing you can do is love them from a distance. Of course you try to support them and get them help if they need it, but you can’t control anyone, or manage another person’s path. You can’t save anyone, you can just love people. If you’ve picked a keeper, don’t allow fear to dismantle it and crush that liberation that could happen for both of you. Yes, love involves risk. People grow apart sometimes. Life brings pain that can change a person. We never know what’s going to reveal itself down the path a stretch. If you’re not willing to be vulnerable, you’re not going to be able to love because it requires your willingness to release control. That means you’re going to expose your jugular, the soft underbelly of your heart, but it also makes you human. If you look down and you see opposable thumbs without fur, then you know you’re human already. So you might as well get in the game.
Sending you love,