Carol A. Hand
Yesterday was my granddaughter’s ninth birthday. We celebrated with a simple family gathering, thanks to my daughter’s thoughtfulness. Even though it was one of the days when I would have preferred to remain reclusive, I took time for silent reflection and decided to be fully present. It was the right choice.
Writing about the stories and observations of a younger me has helped me understand my life with a little more depth and clarity. I realize how easy it is to choose which stories we believe about ourselves. The stories I chose to believe about myself as a child were consistently reinforced by only giving credence to later ones that conveyed the same messages.
From my mother – “You have always been self-contained. You don’t need other people to be happy. You never have – even as a baby you didn’t need me like your brother. You’re different. You’re too smart. Other people won’t like you or understand you if you can’t learn to be more like them. You need to be more like your brother that way.”
From my father and other authority figures – “You’re willful. You think you know better that others and insist on learning things the hard way. This will teach you to listen!”
What I listened to were the mixed messages that encouraged me to withdraw into a world of nature, books, ideas, and imagination. I became self-contained and never really learned how to form deep enduring relationships. In retrospect, I have learned to see this as both a blessing and a curse. Withdrawing into study and reflection, I defined myself ever more by my differences. For decades, although I tried to withdraw and avoid confrontations, I couldn’t walk away from situations that reminded me of my childish stands in situations of oppressive authority. I saw them everywhere I went. And everywhere I went, ultimately I chose to stand in willful opposition. Again, a mixed blessing.
But internalizing these messages didn’t lead to an easy life. And they didn’t make me the best mother or grandmother. I’m not authentically soft and cuddly. I’m not good at cooing to babies. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love, it just means I do it differently. Yesterday, I chose to simply be who I am during the time with my family. By accepting myself for who I am, with both strengths and fatal flaws, I can accept others for who they are. I can celebrate their strengths by sharing past memories and try to build foundations for the future by creating new memories of laughter and kindness.
Image: My Granddaughter’s 9th Birthday Celebration
I’m grateful I chose not to withdraw into my solitude yesterday. It helped me feel a little less superfluous now that I’m retired. Even if I had made a different choice, however, it wouldn’t change the depth of love I feel.