My nine year old is yelling at me from downstairs insisting that all of her clothes are too small, she needs new clothes. A part of me believes there are numerous pants of the correct size strewn about her cluttered floor. The sofa alone houses nearly 9,000 mismatched pairs of socks at this moment. But she is growing and one complication of transformation is not fitting into the old things, the comfortable things, the available things.
Growth is hard, ask a seed. It utterly destroys you. I think that’s part of why we avoid change so desperately, even in the face of powerful evidence that staying complacent in slowly killing us. How many people can we all wisely observe from afar and discern that they are all making tremendous mistakes in their relationships, in their lives. Why do they stay? We would never do that. Compromise myself ? Pish.
Obviously I joke, it’s one of the many tactics I employ for avoiding change. Do you suppose the seed feels complacent while roots and stems are bursting through it’s hard outer shell? Perhaps the butterfly holds tight to its legs, having wings will just be too terrifying. But for the seed, or the butterfly avoiding change means to actually cease to exist. We don’t have the luxury of forced transformation. We can choose to stay in our comfortable cocoon forever. Stagnation carries it’s own pain though, and there is a price to pay for sitting still. Can’t go around it. Have to go through it, painful and uncomfortable though it may be. The good news is there is a reason to push forward, endure the transformation and reap the rewards: authenticity.
She found pants. They make her legs itch. Horribly itch. Itch with the fire of a thousand flames. Holding on to the old pants has become too painful. Only one thing left to do, change.
Once, as a child, I made a bad choice and was sent to my room for an hour. At the end of the hour, my mother opened my door and said that I could come out. My response? ” it’s already been an hour!” I was in the midst of playing something that involved an old zip up suitcase and my play sized kitchen sink. My imagination was my best friend, I preferred it over most humans for many years to come.
I am a fiercely independent only child and survivor of many things. I have numerous friends, and have entertained (hopefully) many people. I adore making people laugh, I delight in the stories that people share, I enjoy the buzz of parties and I am more comfortable on a stage in front of a sold out house than most any place.
I am happy eating alone, watching a movie alone, spending the day alone. I have traveled throughout the United States, Amsterdam and Germany alone. I have bought cars, and houses, drawn up wills and settled estates alone. I have raised my daughters virtually alone, not every moment, but the majority of the day in and day out, the midnight terrors, the early morning breakdowns, the fears, the hopes, the disappointments.
I have done some of it by choice, somethings by necessity, some by habit. I have taken pride in some of it, responsibility for most of it and when things failed, I have taken it hard. I have actively avoided help, slyly ignored offers, purposely pushed people away. Not always because it was best, but because it felt the safest. I made bad choices that made good relationships hard and worse choices that made bad relationships easier. Being fiercely independent, is the opposite of being vulnerable.
That fierce independence has served me well though. It has protected me in the worst of times and kept me in the survivor column. But it has also caused me to miss out on real opportunities for real love. It has left voids where deep friendships and connectedness should be. There are many ways to be alone, closing yourself off to deep connection is only one way.
Fifteen years ago I flung myself into the fire, with an openness to love and a deep desire to be a mother and a wife. I wasn’t as careful as I needed to be, I didn’t keep my eyes open. I loved boldly, though. I earned that deep connection.
And the time has come to love boldly again, to be vulnerable to the other honest-hearted souls, to love fearlessly, but wisely. I’ve grown and I’ve sheltered, I’ve healed and I’m healing. And the time has come to open up, loosen my heart, feel the warmth of intimacy, the comforting embrace of another. To give.
And I’ve taken my first baby step, by being vulnerable to each of you.
I believe in karma. Meaning, I believe what you give out to the universe, is what you get back. Maybe that’s not karma exactly, but it’s the word I’m going with, much like alanis mortisette’s use of the word “ironic”.
So I am fairly careful about what I specifically wish for, I think the universe has a way of allowing you to learn your lessons the hardest ways possible, so you don’t forget. I suppose I imagine the personified version of the universe much like the cigar smoking uncle in the Christmas Vacation movies with Chevy Chase. “Ok, you want a date that’s footloose and charming well here’s your philandering pharmacist, stupid. ”
The trouble is, thinking you know what you want, and not REALLY knowing. The universe is happy to oblige by sending you what you asked for, but seems remarkably absent when you try to return said request when it implodes in your face. Like rubbing a magic lamp, better be sure of what you wish for.
So what do I REALLY want? I want what I believe we all want: to be happy. So what does that look for me? I think this is where things get sticky. I had a very specific version of happiness, or at least I thought so. I met, fell in love with, married and had three beautiful, smart daughters, with a brilliant, successful, kind-hearted man. Who wouldn’t be happy!?
Of course, Chris was more complicated than that short list of adjectives and the challenges came in the spaces in between all of that. But I believed that was ALL I needed. So coming up with a NEW list, feels terrifying. What if I don’t know what I need to be happy, or worse, what if I don’t trust that I know what will make me happy?
Before I go too much further I believe it’s important to clarify, I am happy. I am human, I am struggling at times, I am healing, but I am happy. And I love to say to my girls, “No one can MAKE you anything.” But there are people who come into our lives that make it easier to choose to be happy and people who make it harder to choose to be happy. So what I’m really asking for is a partner who will make choosing to be happy easier. And I think the real challenge for me still, is trusting what I feel when I meet that person.
It’s a little like buying a car…you make a list of features you’d like, you save your money and you shop. You’ll like some cars, some would do fine, but one day you find the quirky, little, blue Mini Cooper and you just know that you’d be heart broken if you came back and it wasn’t in the lot anymore. Buying cars is easier than trusting my heart still, but as I keep saying, I’m learning.
Last night I had a dream that an ex boyfriend and I were making out when he abruptly got up and walked outside saying he wanted to look at the stars. I followed him, naturally, to discover huge crows with human faces out in the trees. My ex didn’t seem to be moved by this sight, but I found it frightening. He laid in the bushes ” watching the stars” , but I knew he was just purposefully ignoring me. Eventually, after one of the crow/humans walked into the roadway, displaying a row of active teats, a passerby took some pictures that I thought were going to be amazing. In the meantime, my ex had put on some Spider-Man PJs and was crawling back toward the door of the house. One of the crow people was standing next to me and I said to him, ” I think he’s leaving me. Will you hold my hand?” He did, dutifully for about 30 seconds.
That is most likely the result of sleeping for 30 hours on and off and not eating, but that is apparently what my brain does to symbolically represent my emotions. A psychologist friend of mine once said to focus on what you are feeling during the dream. I felt rejected, both by my ex and the crow person, afraid of the crow person, who I then had to ask to support me. I also felt excited that the lady got a picture of the wild creature. Finally, I felt regret that it had all fallen apart.
If there’s anything I despise it is regret. Regret means, you had an opportunity and you lost it. But consciously I don’t feel that. Not really. Maybe a little. But I want to believe I’ve done my best, and I’m taking the lessons and learning. Looking back should be a reflection of what happened, what I gained and perhaps what I lost, so I don’t miss that the next time.
Nursing mother crow people and spider man pajama wearing exes can not define my future. Don’t worry, I have no idea what that means. But I’m going to assume it’s part of the healing process and take it from there.
Typically widows, are supposed to be old grey haired women, who lost their husbands to a late in life heart attack. Her children are grown, and she’s surrounded by other women her age who are also widows.
I was 39 when I became a widow, I remember sitting on the back patio the night I found Chris and saying…”I’m a widow”. In those months after Chris’s death I was fortunate to have had the community of friends and family that gathered around the girls and I. But three years later their lives have gone on, as they should. But I am still a widow. It’s difficult for me because my peers are not in the same station in life as I am. Some of my peers are married and have the typical struggles of marriage, some of my peers are divorced and have the typical struggles of divorce. But young widows are pretty rare.
I suppose it’s the way friends are when the first of their group has a baby. No one really understands what it’s like to have a newborn, unless you have one. You don’t sleep, and sometimes even if you have the chance to get out and visit friends, you don’t because it’s exhausting to be awake, and the baby might give the sitter too much grief, or you can’t afford to go out. But unless you have a baby, you just think, ” it’s Friday night. Get a sitter and come out.” Eventually new parents have to become friends with other new parents. People who will understand when you have to say no and keep reaching out to you.
For the most part peers travel in the same cycles, getting married, having babies, getting promotions or new jobs, buying houses, caring for their parents, divorcing, staying married after all those years, rediscovering your youth, raising teenagers and so on. It’s lonely being outside that cycle. Maybe like the couple that has discovered they are infertile and will not be joining the play group set, or the one family with an autistic child, or the young widow. I haven’t found my young widows yet, I suspect they are out there too though.
Just when even I had begun to wonder if we had purchased a “bad” batch of butterflies, the first butterfly burst out of its chrysalis and back into the world. Overnight two more emerged and there is once again hope for the remaining two. They are very still, likely exhausted from the hard work of transformation.
Currently in our home we have the 3 butterflies, two gerbils we are keeping for a friend who is Ireland, our own two cats and two dogs. We have a fairly impressive collection of animals. I’ve not even mentioned the spider that terrified M last night because it was hanging out over her bed or the stink bug that terrified A when she discovered it on her shoe box. It is a house full of life to be sure.
So, in keeping with literary analogies, you know the next step in keeping the butterflies, is letting them go. To keep them here would mean a miserable existence for them. What a life, to have wings and never really get to fly. Selfishly, we’d like to keep them here, to observe for our own enjoyment, what the remainder of their life is like. After all, don’t we deserve that? We’ve nurtured them, cared for them, fretted over them. What about our delight?
As it turns out, the cross stitch pillow is right, if you love something you have to set it free. Especially if that something, or someone, is better off without you.
We will enjoy our last day or so, with our house full of life, watching the butterflies learn to use their wings, feeding them so they can go out and do amazing butterfly things. Pollinate the hell out of some flowers. And though it is not as heartbreaking as letting go of the people that we’ve had to let go of, it reminds us that nurturing must be selfless in order to be really nurturing.
Back in early March, my youngest daughter used some Christmas money to purchase some caterpillars and a butterfly habitat from Amazon. Over the past several weeks we have watched the tiny caterpillars grow into big fat caterpillars and now they wait silently in their chrysalises. Any day now they will push their way out and emerge transformed, their metamorphosis complete.
As literary symbols go, the caterpillar to butterfly transformation is fairly common. But I think it’s very limiting. This transformation will happen only once for our lovely painted ladies, for humans, transformation is repeated many times over our lifetime. And rarely is our transformation so well-defined, so clean, in a sense, or so linear. Our transformations are fits and starts, partial and incomplete, repetitive and sometimes regressive. Instead of small caterpillar to big caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, the life cycle of our transformation is any combination of any of these steps in any order. Little caterpillar to big fat caterpillar back to little caterpillar, caterpillar to butterfly, long stints in the chrysalis phase only to return to fat caterpillar. And we get to repeat the process many times over our lifetime, if we are lucky.
During the chrysalis phase, the butterflies are still and quiet, leaving my nine year old to wonder if they have died. Transformation takes a lot of energy, energy that appears less like movement and noise and more like hibernation, stillness. I imagine, it’s the most difficult part. The waiting. Spending the past couple of weeks eating must have been nice, pushing through the hard work of growing and then settling into the darkness of a cocoon. Waiting.
And so we wait also, to see if the caterpillars will emerge, reshaped, reformed, lovely. Although the butterfly only gets one shot at metamorphosis it is a complete change. And there is always the possibility that there will be complications during the undertaking, leaving us with a black cocoon that will need to be discarded.
We take hope from the forced task of the butterflies and struggle to remain patient with our own transmutations, enjoy the eating, be patient in the silence and never become too satisfied with a single transformation.