Fekkin Boundaries. Every time I walk up to this topic, I get smacked. I have great boundaries. I can say no. I can. I have a huge capacity, so it may seem like I can’t say no, but I can. I have no problem overextending myself in work tasks as long as I can still do a better job than my predecessor. I have dropped the perfection act and now feel OK with OK. I can do a task to the best of my ability and it can be far from perfect. I can even feel good about that. I can. I don’t have trouble with toxic people anymore, either. Not in real life or on the internet. I can identify when I’ve been triggered and pull back to center myself. I can read an article and ignore the hateful comments. I can listen to conservative talk radio and actually listen for insight (no, really). I have evolved so much in my capacity and my tolerance. My heart can be wide open and still I can feel safe out in the world. It’s here at home that I am utterly destroyed on a daily basis. HOLD ME.
The reality of personal growth is that it changes only us. By nature, it’s and inside job. Each of us has a path, a journey that is intensely and personally our own. The way we live and relate to the ones we love is divine in so many ways. We enrich each other’s journeys, if we’re doing it right. We live and love and grow together over time, making each other better and loving each other better over time. Until we don’t. Everything can be copacetic…until it’s not. that is the reality of living in close proximity to other people. The truth is that at any time on any day, we can cross paths in a way that feels largely NOT beneficial. We can actually hurt or maim or stunt one another if we aren’t careful, or if we misinterpret someone else’s actions. Surely if we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t. But theres also the part where we just feel plain worn out. There are so many times that one or all of us feels so deeply depleted that we don’t have any support or growth or love to give. The truth is that because we are all journeying separately, there can and will be times where we are all in the desert together and our suffering is not alleviated, but instead compounded together. That is the story of this week for me.
We had the most wonderful spring break together. We took not one trip, but two. We did ALL THE THINGS. We went to the zoo, rode rides, had cotton candy and toured museums. We played in water areas, visited tree houses and rested. We rode ponies, zipped down zip lines, hiked, ate s’mores and raced canoes. We had so much great family time together. And when we arrived home, fully fulfilled and totally spent, Allen hopped a plane to Cali and the girls and I unpacked and flicked up a movie. That’s when reality seeped in. That hour and a half was a slow and steady drop into the space and time that would follow vacation….the end of the school year sprint to summer. Hold us. When I turned off the movie (much later than agreed upon), there were tantrums and sobbing just,laying in wait. The horrors were lurking there, just on the stairs, waiting for us to find them. In the hour that followed, I realized through all my yelling and bargaining, threatening and cajoling that none of us liked each other at all. What I’ve learned most about this shared family space of mutual disdain (besides how painful it is) is how quickly we all backpedal out of it in an effort to save ourselves. It’s all fight or flight up in there…brainstems on parade. If you can remember the next time you’re there, take a moment to look around and notice what each of you is doing. That space holds the key to each of your suffering. Remember that pain is a given and that suffering is optional. And each of us suffers greatly (because humanity). It is in these moments of collective suffering that we can learn a lot about our tribe. But alas, I digress (because pain). In the space of that Sunday night desert, I became very despondent and felt incredibly alone. I realized that there was no saving myself in the place of authority I must hold in the house. I felt that very real and all too familiar feeling of resentment for being mature one in the room. Frankly, I felt unable to carry out the task. Neither could my children pick up the mantle and carry us forward. They are simply not old enough yet to understand the complexities and dynamics of people in a group. When they are suffering, they simply pull in and take care, however they can. I once had a conversation with a 5 year old about negative attention. She quite astutely explained to me the difference between getting negative and positive attention from her parents. When I asked her which felt better, she quickly replied “Neither. They are both the same.” Sunday night told that story over and over again. And by the end of it, there was a list of consequences as long as my arm. We slumped into Monday and wriggled our way through pickup and dance, then pouted and whined and hollered our way through bedtime, all three of us. By the time Allen called, I was in the WHATS THE POINT headspace that gets us all nowhere fast. I was completely shut down and willing to get a job at Crate & Barrel just to make it all go away. I found some garage sale website impulse purchases to make myself feel better and took myself to bed.
After dropping the girls at school (where I admitted to friends that I wish I’d had a kid-sized slingshot to get them to their classrooms faster), I refilled my tea mug and took off for gently used unnecessary items guaranteed to lift my spirits. I got WAY more than I bargained for, loves. God sent me two angels with an IKEA patio set and the most delightful tea. They promptly sat me down and reminded me of who I was, which is all the more incredible when you consider that they’d never met me before this moment. As we talked through this week’s kids meditation lesson, shared our faith, told our life stories and delved into our love for travel, our hearts joined in one common and beautiful refrain of THIS IS THE POINT. I left there remembering our time with Laura two weeks ago when she tenderly reminded us not to be the judge, but instead to “be the sunshine and shine on everyone.” And back I circled again to the fear and reality that I am not always so shiny and bright. As I told these angels about Forming Families and my plans for the future of us, I was able to reiterate what I’ve always known to the core of my being. We cannot make it alone, none of us. We are equal parts amazing and mess. An amazing mess, each of us, we can and will have so many times where we are depleted and hurting and exhausted. And when we feel that way, we will need a place to come back to. We need a well to drink from…over and over and over again. This is how we live. We do not judge our thirst, so why should we judge our need for the love and spirit in life? Bryan and Huyen reminded me that the mind is a sponge for negativity and teflon for positivity. We have to keep loading in good things or we lose our way. And it isn’t a journey for which we get one simple roadmap. It’s a map that is interactive ever-evolving.
This experience all served to reinforce Laura’s wisdom that lay there in wait, unused yet, but still available in my mind on the way home. Punishment and reward do not work. We have to deal with our family struggles head on, with honesty and sunshine. We have to remind each other of who we are when we forget and wait for the storms of our struggles to pass. Boundaries in this way aren’t so much about keeping other people out as they are about keeping ourselves intact. As people, we NEED connection. It isn’t optional, it is NECESSARY. When we are low, we seek out people to raise us up. the closest people to us are the first that we approach, which can often end in disaster. Because those people represent a deep well of love for us, it can feel like an emergency when they withhold love from us, or worse yet, push a button. A loved one in struggle can be seeking love from that same well and shove us painfully from it, leaving us feeling desperate and unloveable. The struggle is real.
In order to be able to navigate these tough moments, we have to build in the good ones on the regular. We have to foster connection in steady, small increments that we can learn to trust. We have to ham up those moments and really amplify the adoration for one another. We have to build in support for ourselves so that in our less mature moments, we have people to turn to outside of this first and closest network of loved ones, people who won’t change their opinions of us upon hearing the truth of our horrific Sunday night circumstances. We have to bring limits early and often for our children. They need to know the truth of the space where they reside and where the lines are they simply cannot cross. Lastly, we need to remember that at the end of any good time together, there will be FALL OUT. We would do well to be prepared for that. Once we get all good and lovingly connected, we can trust that we fall from this high platform of love. This is a fall into waiting arms of parents who are willing and ready to hold them. This trust fall will allow them to dump the stress of the upcoming week (or the week preceding) and can be viewed as just that. Laura calls it the “Spoiled Outing Syndrome”. You know the drill….you stay out watching fireworks and eating cotton candy only to sit through the 30 minutes screaming fit on the way home….regretting that you didn’t leave sooner…regretting that you bothered going at all. Outing spoiled. But the temper tantrum is not the problem we perceive it to be, is it? It is actually a sign that we connected just right. It is an indication that our deep well of love is full to the brim, overflowing slightly, and we are so lucky we got to drink so deeply.
Carry on, loves. We are doing it just right.