Thursday, February 9, 2012

When Did You Breakaway?

I'll spread my wings and I'll learn how to fly
I'll do what it takes til' I touch the sky
And I'll make a wish
Take a chance
Make a change
And breakaway
Out of the darkness and into the sun
But I won't forget all the ones that I love
I'll take a risk
Take a chance
Make a change
And breakaway

Wanna feel the warm breeze

Sleep under a palm tree
Feel the rush of the ocean
Get onboard a fast train
Travel on a jet plane, far away (I will)
And breakaway

(Lyrics courtesy Kelly Clarkson)

How old were you when you became an "adult" in your own mind?

Forget about what it means to turn 18 or 21 in a legal sense. When did you, deep down, feel that you were really on your own? That you needed to depend on yourself or your spouse? Or adjust your thinking so that you weren't still thinking of your parents as your primary family after you got married and had kids?

For me, I was 47. Yep. It took me 47 years to realize I wasn't a kid anymore.

Justin recently told me that it seemed like I got stuck emotionally somewhere in my teenage years and I would be the first person to agree with him. Things happen that can cause you to stop developing and maturing and yes, definitely, I would say that up until last week, I was still stuck somewhere in the high school years. (Just as an aside, I think Justin was born an "adult.")

I've always been extremely close to my parents, especially my mother. But there was one thing that I could never quite understand. For some reason, when I got married and had children, my parents expected me to grow up and become independent. I didn't really know how to do that and so I fought it with everything I had.

All my adult life, my parents have lived within an hour's drive of where ever I was living. In some cases, we lived much closer to them than that. In fact, when Ben was born, we were actually living with my parents while we tried to claw our way to home ownership. (I really do feel bad about that. That could not possibly have fit into their plans.) My parents were always there for me to depend on and I always felt that they would "rescue" me. They were always my safety net. And every time they would talk about moving, I would panic a little inside (okay, a lot) because I still needed them.

As they got older, they started talking about how much they hated the winters in Virginia and West Virginia. We're technically in the south, but we still get a lot of really cold weather and a good amount of snow. And they don't like it. But I think they really hesitated to move further south because of me, Justin, and their grandkids living here. 

About two years ago, they began to seriously talk about moving to South Carolina. I suspect a lot of research and travel and house hunting took place that I was unaware of, simply because they knew I would blow a gasket if they talked about moving somewhere so far away, I would need to get my achy butt onto a plane and fly to see them. Or drive an unrelenting, pounding two day car ride. (Traveling is tough for those of us with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Driving is one of the hardest things to do, because it's so hard to shift and stretch and ease our muscles.) Also, I wanted to know that if I wanted to go out of town for the weekend, the grandparents were going to be close enough to break up a party at my house if the neighbors called. Or come get a kid that had an accident with the stove. Or whatever nightmare scenario a mother can come up with regarding her kids during her absence.

And the plain truth is, I had never gotten to a point emotionally that I could let my parents go. No matter how much I knew that they would be happier somewhere warmer, I didn't want them to move. In fact, I was being selfish and immature. But in my mind, it didn't make sense and (in a true teenage way of thinking), they were trying to move just to get away from their clingy daughter. I couldn't see that what they were really doing was leaving to live somewhere that would make them happy.

Until they actually moved and I traveled to South Carolina (by plane) to visit them for five days.

I felt a physical "click" in my brain as I boarded the first plane to head to the Charlotte airport for my transfer to another flight. All of a sudden, I was this adult person, flying to Savannah to visit my parents. Their house is no longer my house. They have downsized and I no longer have a room at my parents' house. They have a guest room, but if the whole family comes, there will be air mattresses in offices and overcrowding.

I felt another "click" on the night that my mom got angry at me for something I had written for the Off the Deep End site. I understood her being upset and I felt really bad that she was upset. But I also realized that what I had shared was mine to share or not and that I am separate from my mother. I don't have to have her permission or approval to make decisions anymore. Believe me, that was huge. I've always been a mama's girl and I've always wanted to make my mom happy. And, more important, I've wanted my parents to be proud of me.

What I realized on this trip is that they probably are not proud of what I am doing online and they do not understand why I do it. It does hurt that my father doesn't read what I write on my own blog and it also hurts that what I do sometimes upsets them. I don't want that to happen and I think everyone wants their parents to be proud of them. 

After Justin's dad died, I think one of the things that helped him was his mother telling him that his dad used to brag about him to everyone who would listen. I think there was always a bit of doubt in his mind as to whether his dad approved of him and, unfortunately, I don't think his dad actually ever said the words, "I'm proud of you." But he knows now that his father was proud of him and that means a lot to him.

I may never know whether or not my parents are proud of me. They have picked me up when I have fallen down and they have lived through my battles with bipolar disorder when I did things that I am actively ashamed of still. I have done a lot of things I am not proud of, but this writing thing, this blogging...that I am proud of. And I write about my life, so yes, I share a lot. It really is a balancing act as to what to share online. It's a different world now than when my parents were growing up and they are very private people. The fact that I put myself out there in such an open and honest way I think not only upsets them, but it also scares them. I understand their concerns, but where the adult part comes in is that I know that I can make a choice. I can continue to write about my life in an open and honest way or I can shut it down and stop sharing.

I guess I would like to have it both ways. I would like for my parents to be proud of my writing and I wish my dad had the time and interest to read what I write. But what I have come to understand is that I don't really "need" their permission to do it. 

I spent a lot of time thinking during this trip and came to several "aha" moments. I realized that my primary loyalty now lies with my husband and children. My parents will always be top of the list in importance, but it's time to grow up and be a wife and mother. I have to take care of business at home and home is with my husband and kids.

I also realized that I can make my own choices and don't need my parents' permission. I still think about what I am writing and whether or not it would upset them if I put it out there. But I know now that it is my decision whether to do it or not. That was a huge "aha" moment for me. I could be understanding and sad that I upset my mother, but that didn't mean what I did was wrong. It just wasn't something she would do.

And I realized that it's okay that they now live 600 miles away. It's still kind of hard to realize they have moved - the other day I picked up the phone to call my mother and was half way through the number to the house in West Virginia when I realized no one was going to pick up the phone. And burst into tears. I knew they weren't there, but I needed a few minutes to catch my breath and remember that it's okay they aren't there anymore.

Just as my parents made the decision to go somewhere warm where my dad can grow his business and they can be warm year round, I can make the decisions in my own life. I can decide what I write, what I spend my time doing, what causes I support, have my own political opinions, and parent my children the way I want to parent them. I don't always need their approval. I love them more than life itself, but I suddenly understood (and this should have come a long time ago) that I am an adult and it's time to take charge of my life. And that's exactly what I am going to do.

My therapist thinks I made leap years of progress in the last two weeks. I think I did too. I'd still like it if my parents were proud of me, but there are lots of people who are in professions that their parents don't approve of and they live with that. That doesn't mean it doesn't bother me. It just means that I realize it's time to make my own choices as to what is best for me.

In other words, I grew up.

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