I’ll Be Right Over Here

“The relationship is more important than being right.” This little bit of wisdom is one of the top ten Mom-isms that my children hear on continuous loop.

In practice, it looks like this: I call my elderly father-in-law at 11:00 to let him know that I will pick him up at 11:30. He seems perturbed, and it takes me a second to figure out why. Gruffly, he says “It’s 11:30 now.” I’m pretty sure it’s 11:00, and I say so, but just to be sure, I look again at my watch, the clock on the wall and my phone. “No,” he is adamant. “It’s already 11:30.”

It’s 11:00. Really, truly, objectively eleven o’clock. But there is no doubt in his mind that it’s 11:30, and there is absolutely no point in my continuing the disagreement, not that I’ve ever “won” an argument with the man. Instead, I tell him that I will pick him up at noon, and he is satisfied. We have lovely luncheon together with the family, and that is the point.

It’s not always so easy. Someone left a note on my windshield last week, written on the back of a Jack-in-the-Box receipt, accusing me of taking up two or three parking spots. “Not cool!” the note proclaimed. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how three cars could possibly have fit in the one marked spot holding my car. But instead of tossing the handwritten missive into the garbage with contempt, which was my first impulse, I folded it and tucked it inside the glovebox. Curiously, there was something about this interaction that I wanted to honor.

It bugged me. I wanted to defend myself, to stand at the curb with the offending note-writer and figure out how, exactly, two cars would fit in that spot, let alone three. It embarrassed me. I like to think of myself as thoughtful, generous and considerate, and this note flew in the face of my preferred self-image. It perplexed me. I wondered what this person had going on in his day that my unfortunate parking job had provoked him to take the time to write the note and leave it on my car. I was disappointed that I had created such frustration, and I was grateful that she hadn’t keyed my car in her rage.

I grew up with the debt/debtor version of the Lord’s Prayer, but this is one of those times when the trespass version was illuminating. The act of trespass is so visceral – physically walking on land that belongs to someone else. As I thought about the verse, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I mentally added the phrase, “because they’re coming.” It’s going to happen. The trespassers are on their way. And sometimes we are the trespassers, even if unintentionally.

This is the challenge of living in community. We will step on each other’s toes – literally and figuratively – all the time.

I broke a toe once when the boys were little, and I remember being astonished at just how many times in a day a busy toddler can step on his mother’s feet. He didn’t mean to cause pain, of course, and I did my best to dance my feet to safety. Even so, the occasional toddler stomp was a small price to pay in the grand scheme.

Maintaining a relationship is not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about the capacity to forgive and to be forgiven, which is much more difficult.

Sometimes, it’s impossible. Sadly, not every relationship is worth the investment. When continuing a relationship means subjecting myself to ongoing abuse, then the best I can do is to cultivate a compassionate stance, from over here. Way over here. I will keep my toes and my children’s toes out of harm’s way, thank you very much. No less forgiving, just a lot less trespassable.

Sometimes inspiration comes from the oddest places, like a hastily-scribbled rebuke from a stranger. But there it is. Trespass is unavoidable. Forgiveness is critical. With that insight, my inner harmony surrounding the interaction was restored. I tossed the note in the garbage.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And serenity in forgiveness.

Dog, Agnostic, and Other Measures of Grace

The car ride to school is sometimes the most quality time I get with my busy teenager on a given day and not nearly enough time to connect and check in. But every now and again the mile drive is entirely long enough to create some serious mother-son angst. I was attempting to encourage my son to rely on me as he navigates the challenges of high school. What I meant was that I will do whatever I can for him. What I actually said was that I would throw myself in front of a bus if I thought it would help.

Yup. To the child whose father threw himself off a building.

In my defense, I will just say, Oh nevermind. There’s no excusing this one. It’s true that the suicide-related idioms run rampant in our culture. But his own mother should have behaved better.

Note to my mom friends: You might still be in the race for runner-up in the Mother of the Year contest, but I’ve just clinched the title.

I confess my maternal transgression to an agnostic, my dear and amazing friend Helen. She continues to love me and support me no matter what stupid shit comes out of my mouth, which – obviously – is no small measure of forgiveness. She is more accepting and open-hearted than many a church-goer, and I thank God for her daily.

Helen reminds me that holidays are on the horizon, including her own extended family’s particular brand of dysfunction and various Christmas-related anxieties, and that she might yet have a chance at the title. She’s right. This competition is going to be a sprint to the finish line.

With a little grace and some real fortitude, there’s still time to redeem myself. I lace up my running shoes, and I leash up the dog. The so-called hunting dog has placed himself strategically in front of the heating vents this morning. His sister is hunting quail in the Dakotas. Meanwhile he sits shivering in Southern California. We all have our strengths. Or not.

And it is precisely this weakness that opens a space for me to breathe. The dog is almost everything his breed is reputed to be, except for his aversion to cold, wet feet, and we adore him. So it is with all of us, our vulnerabilities and glitches do not preclude us from being loved.

I’m going to run. I’m going to breathe. I’m going to forgive myself. I’m going to apologize to my son and try again to say what I mean: That I will do whatever I can to support him, and that I will love him no matter what.

On our run, the defective hunting dog and I turn up a little street that we don’t usually traverse. As we come around a curve along the route, we slow to a stop, for in the middle of the road there are four deer, a mother with her three young ones. They appear to be adolescents, still immature, even though they are almost the size of the mother, who stands tall and alert, almost regal, while the three skitter to the shrubs along the sides. She stays still, not taking her eyes off me and my coyote-size dog, as though assessing the risk, even though a car approaches and slows from the opposite direction. She does not budge until she is confident that her young ones have found cover, and only then does she shift – intentionally, gracefully, powerfully – out of harm’s way herself.

That’s the image I meant to convey to my son.

As the dog and I continue, we pass an open field where the deer now race, hurtle and spring, exuberant and unaware of threat or danger, and again I stop to look. They are breathtaking in their youth, energy and innocence. The young bucks (which almost rhymes with something I called my own kids the other day) are fast and strong and will soon overtake their mother. Yet she guides and protects them in whatever ways she can. I imagine she stops – as I do – admiring her young with pride and delight.

I pause, grateful for the reminder that I am not alone on the path that is motherhood, full as it is with both dignity and remorse, success and disappointment, hurting feelings where I intended to console, but coming back to each other still. I know he needs me less as he takes his faltering steps toward independence, despite my own parenting mis-calcs and his occasionally unfortunate, juvenile behavior. We re-create our relationship as the child achieves a milestone, and I step back to watch. I smile, continue on my way, and look forward to telling my son about the deer.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And small graces.