It happened again yesterday. Something that was frequent as a young adult, but has lessened over time. I was in a situation where I felt emotionally unsafe, and all I wanted to do in response? Was go home and hang out with my son.
He’s only two, so obviously, as a young adult, it wasn’t my son I was running to. Back in my college days, I wanted to retreat to the company of my parents and the comfort of my childhood home in order to feel a sense of protection. Boy problems? School problem? Any problem big or small? Get home to mom and dad asap! Calling them on the phone wasn’t good enough. I needed physical proximity for full reassurances.
I recognized the tendency at the time, but I didn’t do anything about it (other than lament the fact that I usually couldn’t just get in my car and drive home). But then, a few years later, my dad died, and his death rocked me big time. My “person”, my anchor, was gone. Consequently, I began clinging to my mother even more.
One day came the realization that I was a full-grown adult whose coping abilities hadn’t matured along with my body. I’m not referring to coping in terms of grief. I mean coping with adversity of any kind. I was constantly turning to my mother for emotional and mental support, relying on her to be my buoy, my raft, and my life-preserver all at once. It was unfair of me, because we were both out there treading the same (sometimes treacherous) waters. We all are; it’s called life.
I decided that I needed to build and strengthen my own muscles so that I could keep myself afloat. I needed endurance for times when I would need to maintain my position and stamina for when I would need to swim away from whatever might be lurking in the waters. I needed staying power so that this ocean of life wouldn’t swallow me whole and spit me out as shark bait.
Now that I have a child, and I spend more time with him than any other person on the planet, he’s become the flotation device that I sometimes want so desperately to reach for. That’s what I caught myself wanting to do yesterday.
I’m guessing I’m not the only person on this planet to have such a tendency – to want to flee for a “thing” that I can go to for a sense of security, even if it is a false sense. For me, that “thing” is family. It was once my mom, dad, and big brother. Now, it’s my husband, apparently my son, and admittedly, still my mom and brother sometimes too. It’s wonderful, of course, to have such a support system in place. However, to constantly rely on others to keep me up teaches me nothing. I miss the opportunity to learn what’s out there that will sting me and what won’t. What I can brush off and ignore and what needs immediate attention. And certainly, I miss out on learning how to not only support myself, but to lend a supportive hand to someone else whenever the need arises.
I am on this life journey that I alone am meant to navigate from start to finish. As I said earlier, we all are. Yes, I can absolutely accept a helping hand along my way – we all need support once in a while. When the waters start churning, rather than kicking and flailing and potentially taking others down with me, I must continue to stretch my own muscles, expand my own lungs, and steady myself within this sea of life. On occasion, when I get the urge to take someone else’s hand (or arm or shoulders), I can take a deep breath knowing that not only can I tread water and swim great distances, but I can also roll to my back and float along, enjoying life as it comes.