I distinctly remember the growing pains I had in my legs as a child. My mum had to massage the pain away. I still have growing pains, but they’re of a different sort now. It’s the pain of being a mother and watching my child go through life’s painful experiences.
Just when I thought I’d got the parenting thing licked, just when I thought we were coasting along, I feel like I’m back at square one, learning how to be a mother again. And it’s hard!
I catch myself, some days, wondering about the high emotional price we pay when embarking on this journey. When we go into parenting, most of us do so quite misty-eyed. So caught up in the magic of first smiles, first laughter, first teeth, first wobbly steps, first everything; why doesn’t anyone tell you how painful it is when your daughter starts living through the ghastly years between young child and adult?
Bethany’s eleven in March; her body filled with ever-changing hormones. Up until now, I’ve taken it all in my stride and really just expected that there might be a few outbursts here and there, but really, nothing can be as bad as toddlerhood, right?
What I hadn’t counted on was the depth of feeling involved in raising a highly sensitive child through the highly sensitive pubescent years. I catch myself wondering if I’d have become a parent if I had really known how hard this would be.
Bethany’s emotional pain is so real that I can touch it, but I can’t do anything to ease it. Impotence, as a mother, is life-changing. Sometimes I don’t know who is in more pain, her or I.
One moment she’s fretting because the bow for her violin is made of horse hair, and she feels like a hypocrite calling herself a vegan. Another time she gets upset because all the clothes locally, for her age, are made in sweat shops overseas, exploiting children as young as she is, or younger.
On our long walks together, she confides in me about boys. The questions can’t leave her mouth quick enough, and in no time I find myself back in the tortuous teenage years, a place I’d hoped not to revisit.
I share with her my first major heartbreak, at fifteen years old. The love of my life, Kevin Bourke, left school without warning to start an apprenticeship. His friends were all envious that he no longer had school to contend with. This was the end of my world, not so much because he left school, which was tormenting enough, but because he left to become a butcher! What’s an ethical vegetarian girl to do with such heartbreak? I remember pouring out my heart to my mother, but the look in her eyes didn’t reflect the pain which consumed me. It was here, at the tender age of fifteen, I learnt that heartbreak is something you truly go through alone.
“Is it possible to love two people at once?” Bethany asks.
“Yes,” I reply.
“Have you?” she probes.
“Erm, yes.” I find myself getting edgy. I like to be honest with my children, but is this a route we really have to go down? She wants to know everything about the men who’ve gone before her dad. Hmmm, this could take a while!
For all the times Bethany and I don’t see eye to eye, this challenging time in her emotional life is bringing us closer. We have something in common. I can relate to her pain and she can see that I’m human, something she occasionally doubts! And in a strange way, she is inviting the hidden narrator of my life to come forward and tell her so many stories she’d otherwise be unlikely to ever hear.
She wonders why boys tease girls when they fancy them. “Why can’t they just tell them they like the girl?” Bethany wants to know how the men in my life asked me out. This has me raising my eyebrows somewhat. I’ve asked every man out! “Honey, if I waited for men to ask me out, I’d have never gone on a date, at least not with the men I fancied! And as for your dad, I’d still have been waiting!”
I explain to Bethany that life is different to the gloriously romantic, olden days. Men are different. Women are different. Expectations are different.
Bethany’s heard a whole list of heart-breaking and hysterically funny moments from the first ten years of my adulthood. The Dixie Chicks could have written their title song, Taking the long way, based on my life.
Even if I was the most powerful woman in the world, I couldn’t for one second stop Bethany going through those experiences which often-times make up the teenage years.
Bethany’s hormones are developing a life of their own. She wants to know why she cries for no reason. Many women probably want to know the answer to that question about a week before their period begins! I suggest foods and supplements which will help to ease some aspects of hormonal function, but there’s no magic cure for feeling sensitive to life.
Some of us are ultra-sensitive to everything around us ~ bright lights, caffeine, the wrong look from someone, noises, smells, etc. We have to allow our sensitivities to become our strengths, and we do so first and foremost by honoring the body and soul we’re in. The journey somehow becomes easier when we submit to this path, rather than try and avoid it. After all, duvet days are ok occasionally, but we can’t spend our whole life under the covers or we’d never find out how much joy there is in the world.
When we take the risk to love, we risk everything. And as much as I hate the saying, ’tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all’, the truth is, it is absolutely true. We risk everything by loving, but we gain everything by loving too.
When I was a child I prayed to God asking that I die before my mother because I couldn’t bear the thought of her dying first. I still can’t!
Now I’m a mother, my prayer is for my daughters to outlive me, for it is a pain I truly know that would rip me to shreds. I’ve seen what it has done to friends of mine who’ve lost babies and children. One friend, nearly fifty years later, still works night shift to avoid going to sleep. Sleep is the place of nightmares and pain. And why should anyone have to constantly relive the pain of losing the child they’ve brought into this world?
My life is a comfortable, content and happy one compared to millions of mothers on this Earth. I try to retain this perspective when I watch Bethany struggling with her angst. But why does it hurt so much watching her go through this? It hurts even more than when I went through it…
There’s a song by Garth Brooks called The Dance. The chorus sums up the risk we take when we love, and how I feel about being a mother.
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end
the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance
And it’s that dance that we so need to have, regardless of the pain. Kahlil Gibran wrote “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.”
He goes on to say, ” Much of your pain is self-chosen. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore trust the physician and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity; for his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen, and the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.”
If you are going through pain in your life, try to remember that even on the darkest day the sun shines above. In time, the clouds of grief, heaviness and despair do give way to light, and sunshine can again warm the soul.