Empty Nest — Souls Unfolding

Ever have those moments in life when you wish that you were someone or something else?  I’m reminded of the movie I watched as a child, The Incredible Mr. Limpet.  “I wish I wish, I wish I was a fish, ‘cuz fishes have a better life than people,” says Don Knotts who subsequently falls into the ocean and miraculously becomes a fish.  I’m not saying that I want to become a fish.  No way. I want to become a mother hummingbird and here’s why:  baby hummingbirds, merely three weeks old, start stretching and pumping their new wings readying themselves for their departure in the ensuing days.  Even when they’ve started their new, autonomous life, the mother hummingbird still feeds her babies for two to three days after they have left the nest.  With great care, she ushers them to the best places to catch insects and to gather nectar. Then, she chases them off to live on their own.  Evidently, she’s absolutely fine with the fact that they’ll never come home again for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or birthdays; they’ll never call her on Mother’s Day; they’ll never, ever need her again in the span of their lifetime!  Think of it, she suffers no identity crisis, no depression, she has no need for extensive therapy, or weight gain due to copious amounts of food trying to fill the void.  Her empty nest is merely…empty.

Being the only daughter, and youngest member of my ‘flock,’ I was never allowed to wander too far from the family nest.  My middle brother, the proverbial black sheep of the family, moved to New York with his wife and infant son in tow.  My family was aghast, and my parents literally sat Shiva.  My remaining brothers and I stayed close to home.

The night my son was born and I witnessed the miracle of his tiny mouth suckling my breast at long last, I was reminded of the prose from Khalil Gibran:  “Your children, are not your children.  They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing itself.  They come through you, but not from you.  And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

In that quiet and gentle life affirming moment, I inhaled joy, and exhaled a profound sense of sadness.  I promised my son, Jacob, that his wings would not be clipped as mine had been, and that he would be encouraged to explore his own thoughts and dreams wherever that would take him.  And then I kissed his fuzzy brown head, and cried.  No longer holding him within my body, sharing, nurturing, growing, containing him, I realized he was his very own soul, complete unto himself, with his very own journey.  It felt like a small part of my heart calved like an iceberg off a mighty Alaskan glacier – a new Self was being born.

A few weeks shy of his first birthday, my video camera had become an appendage in my right hand.  It was more than apparent that Jacob wanted to walk, and I could literally hear Neil Armstrong’s voice, “One small step for baby, one giant leap for Jacob.”  And then one night, he let go of our round, pine coffee table and walked.  Camera in hand, you could hear me crying and laughing, as I got a great shot of our brown carpet – technical, I’m not.  I missed the first few steps, but once I gained my composure, I got the next few tippy toe strides.  Another piece of my heart calved; a new Self was being born.

It happened again on his first day of kindergarten.  I walked him to school, and brought him into his new classroom; a kiss, a hug, and off he went.  I waited outside with the other moms just in case he needed me.  I caught a glimpse of him playing blocks with a little girl.  After a while, he got up, walked to the classroom door and told me to go home.  I looked at the woman next to me whose terrified daughter clung to her leg like mussels on a pier piling.  “You should be proud of yourself, you did a great job.”  My eyes welled; another calving.

And so it goes with each changing cycle of my son’s life.  Graduating elementary school, middle school, high school, piano recitals, sleep-aways, Bar Mitzvah, school trips to Europe, proms, getting his driver’s license, buying his first car, going away (far away) to college, falling in love, having his heart broken…more pieces of my heart, suddenly falling and breaking away.  A new Self was being born.

The concept of an empty nest was painfully introduced to me on the first Christmas my ex husband took our son away to Denver.  Empty nest defined as: “The stage in a family’s cycle when the children have grown up and left home to begin their own adult lives.  Note:  For parents, the empty nest sometimes results in midlife anxiety.”

Jacob was five.  The divorce had been amicable up until the moment Jacob’s father announced it was time for his son to participate in a traditional Colorado Christmas — without me. Anxiety doesn’t begin to describe how I felt when Jacob left for a week.  I haunted the house like a soul trapped between here and the afterlife.  I cried myself to sleep every night.  I sat in his room, held his favorite stuffed animal close to me, and felt as if some huge shift had occurred, and that life would never be the same again.  Surrounded by Jacob’s childhood cherishables, I realized that NOTHING stays the same.  Every life experience carries the seed of change.  Right then and there I knew that in the blink of an eye Jacob would be pack up his adolescent life, and take off, leaving behind his beloved toys, his books, his loving dog, Bamsa, and me, soaring out of reach, out of sight to places unknown.  In that moment, with that undeniable, unquestionable truth, my resolve to hold my child with open hands, and a resilient heart, allowing for his inevitable flight, encouraging it, assisting it, insisting upon it…became my mission; like a kindred soul with the mother hummingbird.  And for both Jacob and me, a new Self is being born.

Could it be that the greatest perfection is…imperfection?

Shouldn’t your baby be a Gerber baby?

Since my blog is titled, rantings from a recovering perfectionist, I thought I’d speak about perfectionism.  I’ve spent many a decade perfecting my perfectionism.  I carry the genes of perfectionism, thank you mother, and I grew up in an environment of perfectionism, thank you mother and father.  My perfectionism is a nature, nurture honed diamond – no flaws in that baby.

The “aha” moment of not only becoming keenly aware of my perfectionistic tendencies but staring them straight in the eyes and owning them occurred when I was trying to stop my three month old son, Jacob, from drooling.  His drool leaked onto everything and everyone within a four-mile radius; I’m not kidding.  Exaggerating to make my point, but I am serious.  Finally, I took him to our pediatrician who I trusted with not only my son’s life, but mine as well — for reasons I won’t bore you with.  He explained to me that there was nothing to be done; Jacob was teething which stimulates drooling, which is often worse with some babies than others.  I began to study other babies in my mommy and me group.  Nobody, I mean nobody, was bringing forth copious amounts of that slimy, silvery, non-odorous ticky, tacky drool like my boy.  Here’s when the ‘aha moment’ hit.  I was breast feeding Jacob late one night, and I thought about trading him in for a non-drooler.  Seriously.  At three months I loved him, but there was a lot of things that I hadn’t signed on for.  One, he had a lot of hair on his head and he was long and skinny.  Gerber babies were bald babies who had chubby cheeks, and were pudgy.  Two, he was colicky and the only person who could quiet him seemed to be me.  Gerber babies gurgle and coo and are easily held by anyone with two arms!  Three, he peed and pooped bountiful amounts and the stench, quite frankly, was embarrassing.  Gerber babies pee and poop maybe three, four times a day sans stink.  Last but not least, Gerber babies sleep through the night and take nice long naps in the afternoon.  My baby slept in the early hours of the morning, napped a little, and never, ever slept through the night.  Which means, guess who else didn’t sleep through the night!

I shared the swapping-my-baby-for-another-non drooler-baby with my perfectionistic parents.  I was sure they’d understand, especially my mother.  She used to iron my twin brothers diapers and tiny t shirts.  They thought I was crazy.  My mother yelled at me and my father quietly slipped me the name of a psychiatrist he had taken my mother to see many years ago.  That night, as Jacob breast fed, his tiny, perfect fingers curled around my perfectly manicured pointer finger, I realized I had a serious problem.  I was considering a baby exchange program for this sweet, wonderful son whom I fought very long and hard to birth.  (I have an incompetent cervix but that’s another story.)

The next day, after another sleepless night in Sherman Oaks, I looked for the perfect Perfectionist Anonymous chapter.  Not only does the perfect Perfectionist Anon. chapter not exist, no chapter for perfectionists exists.  I was shocked.  Personally, I would have absolutely no problem standing up in front of a rather large group of people saying, “Hi, my name is Brauna and I’m a recovering perfectionist.”  Of course, I’d be wearing the perfect outfit, something casual but elegant, matching shoes, not sensible, but not come-f-me either, and for sure I’d have my hair done at my favorite salon.  Instead, I went to a therapist and started a recovery program for perfectionism.

Twenty odd years later, I think I understand perfectionism.  I can actually embrace it, be with it, but not let it take control of me.

Let me begin by defining ‘perfectionism’ in my language.

Perfectionism is a limiting belief that perfection is not only possible but achievable.  Anything less than perfect is, well, unacceptable.  And who deems what is perfect?  The hard-core judge (her name is Judy, and to be honest, she’s perfectly intelligent, perfectly righteous, and never, ever a hair out of place) and her hand picked jury (like an exquisite strand of pearls, are they) that lurks within the shadows of my soul.

After many, many years of therapy, spiritual workshops, churches, temples, yoga, near death experiences, healing and healers of all shapes and sizes, fasts, cleanses, colonics, bad hair days, I have had an awakening…

Let me digress a quick moment here.   In my world, an awakening is an, oh so very good thing, because it’s that moment when the demon EGO which works diligently to control and manipulate you, is quiet and the hushed wisdom of your soul, that divine spark inside us all, speaks.  (You can find it when you breathe; in between the inhale and the exhale, but that’s another blog, for another time.)

Back to the awakening…drum roll, if you please:

The fundamental reason I strive for perfection is because I have had a tremendous need to feel in control of everything at all times so that I could protect myself and feel safe.  (That overwhelming feeling of not being safe carbon dates back to my childhood, but that’s a whole different blog).  In the past, feeling vulnerable was unacceptable.  Now I know, that if I’m not feeling vulnerable, I’m not living.  I may be existing, but I Am definitely not living life.  There’s only one thing for certain in this life, and it’s not death and taxes.  Life is about change.  And change is transformational.  Norman Mailer once said, “Every moment of one’s existence one is growing into more or retreating into less.  One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.”

It’s taken me over five decades, and not one but two near death experiences to let go of my need to control life, to simply accept each and every moment that comes to me without judgment, and live this beautiful gift called life, a little more…

Now that’s perfection!  (I said I was a “recovering” perfectionist,  right?)