Lesson Learned - Letting Go
At that moment I wanted to die. I had never been so shocked and worn down as when my beautiful Em walked out of my kitchen, slamming the kitchen door and looking over her shoulder as she shouted “Fuck you.”
She was my second daughter and I loved her from the depths of my heart. She was an adorable child, always smiling and laughing and making us smile. We had a rocky few teenage years as she and I struggled to keep our selves on reasoned and straight paths These years can be tumultuous at best but they were particularly thunderous for both Em and me. She was so clever and daring that I often didn’t know what to tell her NOT to do. She was light years ahead of me in imagination and curiosity. Em was a free spirit who felt strangled by a mom who couldn’t understand or who didn’t have the energy, time or inclination to deal with her roller coaster emotions through these troubled teenage years. Parents everywhere were overwhelmed with the society’s life altering choices offered to unsuspecting young people. Drugs were rampant and readily available, sex was advertised and free for experimentation and something to play with before one was mature enough to think about or deal with the consequences of such new found freedom. It was in the awful 60’s and early 70’s when youth culture was advertising and preaching “anything goes … make yourself happy … love easily … be free mentally and emotionally ... Ignore anything that annoys you and embrace everything that delights you. You are special and should make yourself happy and satisfied in all you do and feel. The mantra of the day was “if it makes you feel good, go for it, life is short and we are entitled to complete satisfaction as we give and receive love.” We anesthetized our minds and bodies to diffuse any and all pain.
We lived in a small, close knit community where everyone knows everyone else. Joanne, a friend of mine, passed Em as she marched toward the train station dragging a suitcase behind her. Joanne honked the horn to wave and noticed that Em was crying and clearly distraught. She slowed the car and asked her if she wanted a ride. Em simply shook her head as the tears continued to flow down her young and tortured face.
“No thanks.. I’m going to the train station,”
“Are you all right Em? Can I help you with that suit case?”
Em didn’t even slow down. Joanne said she looked straight ahead and resolutely kept walking and said,
“Nope, I’m fine. Thanks anyway.”
Joanne was a licensed clinical therapist who sensed something was wrong. As my long time friend, she turned around and came to my door to make sure things were okay at home. She found me sitting at the kitchen table, head in my hands, trying to stop the tears,
“My God, Maggie. What happened? I just passed Em walking to the train station with a suitcase and she was clearly upset and crying.”
“Nothing Joanne. She and I just had a final and awful fight about her recent bitchy behaviour. And with those words, the tears started to flow again.
“She refuses to follow any household rules, answers back, shows no respect for any one in this family and defies her father and me at every turn. She didn’t even come home last night and refused to tell us where she was or what she had been doing.
And her ridiculous eye rolling and shoulder shrugging set me off on a nasty tirade. I told her if she couldn’t or wouldn’t play by the rules, she would have to leave. She looked me straight in the eyes with such hatred and said quietly “okay”. I continued trying to engage her in a reasoned conversation and pleaded with her to talk to me.
She walked without a word to her room and came back a few minutes later dragging her suitcase behind her. She glared as she walked past me and reached the door. She opened it, looked over her shoulder and said,
“Fuck you” and slammed the door behind her.
“I couldn’t catch my breath for a minute. This was my cherished baby, my joy and my toy. I loved her unequivocally and couldn’t believe what had just happened. My heart was hammering and the room - really my world - was spiraling out of control. I was terrified and numbed with shock. I collapsed into Joanne as if her body could absorb all this pain. She embraced me silently, murmuring the eternal words of comfort in an effort to console me.
“Shh, shh. … let it go, Maggie … “
And we rocked there together until the sobbing and tears subsided. I was left empty, deserted, somewhat insane and scared to death. Joanne’s presence and caring embrace made me shake and cry convulsively. She was smart enough to hold me silently and let me empty my soul of all those tears. Had she spoken any words, I would not have heard them. I was drowning in fear and sorrow, pity and regret and crippling fear and anxiety for the future.
Then, after God only knows how long, I was consumed with thoughts about Em’s safety and was able to focus on her instead of the awfulness of what had just happened.
“My God Joanne, she’s only a kid, 17 years old.? Where would she go? I don’t think she has any money. I don’t think she has any friends in the city.”
I was just about to call people who knew her and who might have an idea of where she would go when the phone rang. It was her sister, calling me to tell me Em was safe and not to worry. She had listened to Em’s story and knew I would be frantic with worry. She told me Em needed to think things through in her own mind and to give me space to do the same. She said Em promised to call me in a few days and that she was okay and would be staying with her until things calmed down. These days were sheer torture for me. I was consumed with worry and guilt for all the things I could have, should have, would have done had I been smarter and more understanding. I’m afraid I had been so frightened by what might have been that I lost track of what was actually taking place. Em was fighting for independence and emancipation. She had always been a few steps ahead of me and this was but a continuation of that journey.
We spoke on the phone several times and after several weeks we agreed to meet for lunch as a small intimate cafe and had a very long over-due soul baring. Without going into the minute details of our exchange, suffice it to say it was the very first time she and I had been completely honest and open with each other. All the expected words of remorse and deep rooted love for each other flowed easily and without subterfuge. We loved each other despite our differences. We freely acknowledged a clear generational gap in what was considered acceptable behaviour. And if the truth were known, it became clear that we needed to each decide on our own what was right and not impose rules and regulations on each other. Our lives were our own and each of us was free to choose the paths our journeys would take with clear and open understanding and acceptance of the differences.”
This honest give and take was the healthiest conversation Em and I had ever had. Acceptance, understanding, openness and truth dominated through tears and anguish. She recognized my chagrin and worry about what night happen in this new and unknown world of the 60’s and 70’s If Em was willing to experience, explore and live these exciting adventures with full awareness of possible pitfalls then so should I. I would support her always in her mature decisions, worry endlessly about her activites and safety, and love her passionately through it all.
And she actually expressed gratitude for my acknowledgement of our new roles. She was a mature woman who was confident in her responsibility for her choices and particularly for the tools she had been given to handle them. I would remain always as her loving mother. Nothing could change that. But we both came to the realization that we needed to communicate better. We could no longer fear disapproval from the other. We were no long having mother/daughter agreements or disagreements with one another but now would be having mature, adult exchanges. Differences would be discussed and accepted or not based on individual evaluations. Our conversation would be adult to adult with both trying to grasp the wisdom and lack thereof of each discussion. And if not, then so be it and move on.
This cafe discussion were part of time earned wisdom for Em and me. Mine or may not be accepted by Em as hers not be right fort me. But they were real and our own to cherish, treasure and share with one another. Time heals, changes, grows, disappoints, reveres, appreciates and loves whatever is ours to own.