“When the conversation becomes heated, when you feel the untenable tension of who you were born to be and who you have become, running will seem like a good option. But, Virgo, you should stay, you should put the bottle down. That child you grapple with is the one who needs you most.” – Galactic Rabbit January Horoscope 2017
This week I wanted to run. Something happened with one of my children that left me feeling like a horrible parent. Not just a bad one—a worthless one. I felt like I was being pulled underwater, like I couldn’t breathe. When I came up gasping for air, I wanted to get as far away as possible from that feeling. I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to work to fix it. I wanted to abdicate my responsibilities and run.
It wasn’t the first time in my life or in my time as a mom that I have felt this way. During my pre-parenting years, I let myself indulge this urge. Different towns, different friends, different jobs — I liked it that way, knew that it was essential to my well-being to have this freedom of movement. I even used to play a Dolly Parton song about being a “wild rambling rose needing free limbs to grow” to new romantic interests before getting serious. After getting married to a person who prefers being homebound, I convinced myself that the instability I had in my childhood was what created this compulsion in me to get away. So when I had children, it was crucial to me that I stay, that I build for them a life and a home that was stable.
The problem is that I never understood stability. Not really. What does it mean to have a stable home? Does it only mean that everyone in the family stays in one place? And if so, what does it mean to stay? I’ve learned through trial and error that stability does not mean merely staying in one place with the same people. And staying? It is perfectly possible to be physically present and gone at the same time. I’ve been doing it my whole life. I learned, or thought I learned, how to be physically present, high functioning, and nurturing while keeping my core being locked away in a liminal space.
I was shortchanging everyone. My kids, my partners, my friends, my self. I wasn’t merely living a lie, I was a living lie. Somewhere along the line, I had learned to drive the vessel of my body without experiencing life through it. I had separated my core being from the input of the world — inside and out. I could promise to stay but it only meant that my body would be where it was expected to be found. What I could not do was promise to be present. I didn’t know how.
In the last couple of years, I’ve been working on learning mindfulness. The little exercises are easy enough — really tasting a raisin, deeply listening to the rain, walking slowly through the woods. The problem, for someone like me, who can slip my body so deftly while looking for all the world like I am still right there, is that my instincts tell me that I should use these mindfulness skills to present a calm exterior while my core self escapes reality into my imagination. It is hard work to stay present. It is frightening. I’ve built such a beautiful, strong invisible fence. But it is lonely sometimes beyond the gate.
I want to learn how to step outside of it — and stay.
Jenith Charpentier writes to dissect the human condition with less formaldehyde than middle school biology applied to the frog. She is quite certain that at some point, there must be a fulcrum between crisis and breakthrough and she is ever so curious to learn if she will make a grand discovery or fall on her face trying — she promises to be laughing either way.