Saturday, December 24, 2011

Operating Instructions

Our oldest is 25 today. It's hard to believe that she is that old because, by implication, it means that we are that old. It's true just how relentless time is. My husband is aging much better than I am. Time is relentless and comes with wrinkles, aches and pains and a complete and total lack of fairness.

I am reading Lamott's Operating Instructions. It's a journal recording the first year of her son's life. She is a single, liberal, Bush-loathing, ex-addict who cannot face one more abortion. The sperm-donor in this situation has bailed and she prays for wisdom about what to do next. She has a dream directing her to save her baby. She is about as different from me as possible (other than the praying part and the belief in Jesus, though I definitely do not envision or call Jesus "Uncle Jesus"). She's only been clean and sober for 3 years at the time of this book and her writing is crude and raw. That I can relate too. Probably because I'm in a constant state of recovery, and also because I have not experienced life as very fluffy. Fluffy as in easy and comfortable. Life before marriage was not fluffy and life after marriage has not been fluffy.

While Lamott does not have a marriage partner she is surrounded by a tribe of people, family, friends, community, that have lasted the test of time, weathered addictions and deaths and disappointments, and hung together. She also lives in Northern California, in the Redwood forest, and while living in California ensured it's own stresses, I have fond memories of the weather, and the ocean and the freedom, in a sense, that is so prevalent there, that is not tangible in other parts of the world.

My husband and I have worked hard, on a number of levels since we've been married; worked to learn, to build, to create a family culture, to create community.  It is much easier to create community, or be part of one,  when you understand the culture, are welcomed into it, know the morays and nuances and language. We've moved too often, I think, to regions that were as different from each other as could be, the east, the west, the southwest, the upper Midwest. None of these places speak the language of my youth, and none of them have come with operating instructions. We've been alone, more often than not, though we have invited and shown up and laid the ground work for more. We have applied to a zillion jobs closer to "home" and are still part of the diaspora. We work with what we have, but it's been lean, a lot.

It's odd how, when you get a child, you hope. You hope for a fluffy life for them, success, fulfillment, for a tribe. You hope that they are not alone, not foreigners in a strange land, but comfortable in the places they find themselves, at peace with themselves and their situation. But one constant my husband and I have noticed is that when there is too much fluff, too much ease or wealth or toys, a sense of entitlement emerges, becomes part of the person, the personality, the community, the culture. Having fluff takes the edge off, but also makes one, or the tribe, less hungry, less willing to take risks, make mistakes or get dirty. Dirt, after all, emotional or otherwise, is the universal language for unkempt, as opposed to curious and involved with living.

At one point in the book, Lamott, a 35 year old, says to her mother, after weeks of living with a colicky baby and being totally sleep deprived, "Mommy, I'm so tired."  I felt a twinge of jealousy at reading that because I don't think I ever said anything that vunerable to my mother, and if I had, I'm not sure that she would have had the capacity to care. I've felt those words often, weary from the stresses and the not knowing how to fix things and feeling in a constant state of failure and anxiety and worry. I can't figure things out and there is no relief from the mess that I've made. I feel, these days, this strange sense of being caught. Caught between what we've given our kids and what my parents gave me. Caught between what I've worked so hard at getting; a sense of ease with my self and the world, through therapy and faith and the crucible called marriage and just the very act of sticking with life; and the values and morays I grew up with. Get thin, get rich and then good things will come; ease and fluff and tribe and relief from the colic of life. Caught between old operating instructions and the ones I've found to be really, truly true. The true ones that include colic as reality. The true ones that  say relief might not come, but it doesn't define me as a failure. The true ones that include an enemy that has designs on me, to keep me either desperate from fluff or so immersed in it my understanding of Jesus and my self have drowned and might not be resuscitated.

Fluff isn't really on my scope so much any more. For myself or my kids. Fluff is like the sticky marshmallow goo that I ate once out of curiosity. Intriguing, but nauseating. It gets all over your hands and mouth- the very parts of yourself that you need to communicate with, and is hard to extract yourself from.

Don't get me wrong. I hope that my kids don't suffer. I hope that they find a sense of ease with themselves. At the same time, I don't really want them to get too comfortable in this world. I don't want them to get too settled in cause this is not the real thing. It's a fine line between living a life of fluff and comfort and selling out to the Lady of the Green Kirtle and living in the underworld.

One of my sweet Catholic friends was talking about how her priest has been preaching on the fact that at conception, an eternal being is created. I love that on many different levels. We are going through this life, not for fluff, ease or comfort, thin-ness  or wealth. We are living now, as a sort of pre-amble to the real thing. This is just the warm up. It's a difficult task to raise a child as an eternal being, wanting for them the good things in this life, hoping for enough fluff to see them laugh out loud and showing enough restraint to keep them invested in something bigger.

And then they are grown and are discovering the operating instructions themselves and in the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter what we hope. We've laid a foundation, for better or worse, and are called on to trust in the rightness or wrongness of it, the character of our kids and our hope in Jesus. I sound melancholy, perhaps, but I don't feel it. I feel relived that one child of mine is launched, making their own choices and decisions, doing a good job, working, schooling, relating, curious about the world and invested in the things of God.

Happy Quarter Century to our oldest daughter. Wishing you enough fluff for side-splitting laughter and enough reality to keep you grounded in the heavenlies.


Lillian said...

Excellent post Lisa. And happy birthday Rachel.

Nancy said...

Stopping by to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, only to find this elegant and vulnerable posting by you. Lovely. I have read everything by Ms. Lamott - she's such a breath of fresh air. I have a 22 year old, so I'm right behind you on all this and most of what you said resonates with me, too.