Am I a bad person?

Sometimes late at night when life is stressful it’s hard to shut off all the running dialogue in my head. When it’s been a particularly hard day, it’s the highly critical voices that keep jabbering long after the rational and kind voices have fallen asleep. I lay there in bed thinking, perseverating, contemplating but it’s fairly useless a process because no matter how much I turn it over in my head, no matter how I try to counter the criticisms I hold over myself, no matter how bright the future is apt to seem the next morning I cannot shut it off.

I recently had a rough interaction with someone I’ve known for a long time. We were friends, I suppose, depending on how one defines that. For myself, I consider someone a friend based upon the conversation we have, the deep moments (online or offline) we share, how well we respond to one another in vulnerable times. Some friends are those people I call when I have to get the voices to be quiet. Some friends I won’t burden with my blatant insecurities. It all depends on how safe I feel in that friendship. This friendship was, I thought, filled with fairly deep moments and a great deal of vulnerability. We are divergent opposites in nearly every way but we’d been able to find our common ground over the last 10 or so years and that’s encouraging. Unfortunately, the rough interaction ended our friendship and though my instinct, generally, is to pursue and repair relationships, in this case that’s not possible. This friend has no interest in being in relationship with me any longer.

It leaves me hanging, then, suspended and questioning. I envy people who can move on after friendship break ups. I lay awake at night and wonder where I went wrong, perseverate about things I said and did, regret this, regret that, justify this, justify that. In the end I am laying awake and wondering, “What if all the worse things someone believes about me are actually true? Am I a bad person?”

Now, before you rush to tell me I’m not a bad person, it’s important that I tell you that this questioning isn’t about tearing myself down and wallowing in guilt, or at least I don’t want it to be. I realized the other night as I considered all of the relationships I’ve had to walk away from, that I can count them on one hand and that’s saying something. Instead of patting myself on the back about that though, I do think it’s important to take seriously the gripes that those people have issued about me and about my character. Am I controlling? Am I divisive? Am I insincere? I ponder those questions because I sincerely want to avoid being those things. I don’t want to dig in my heels and just feel better about myself. I want to be better than I am.

I don’t take these criticisms into me. I don’t let them take up residence in me but I do listen to them, like I listen to the Jehovah’s Witness who comes to my door and catches me at home. I listen and try to understand. I listen and nod my head. I listen and question with people with whom it’s safe to question but I listen. I have to ask the hard questions. As much as I thrive on affirmation I know it’s important to engage the criticism, I know it’s wise to listen and hear and then answer in the best possible way. In the end I can only respond with love and sometimes the loving thing is to walk away from that relationship. It doesn’t mean that the gripes weren’t rooted in some truth and it also doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person.

The reality is that relationships are always messy. They are a mishmash of personality and injury and history and vulnerability. I am not going to friends with everyone and probably it’s not terribly healthy to try to be friends with everyone anyway. But I can ask myself the hard questions in the wake of the “rough” times and if I’m doing it right, I can silence the insomniac voices in the night by responding with love, for myself and for those lost friendships.

What about you, dear reader? Have you ever had a friendship end suddenly? What did you do with the feelings that were left on the table?

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Letting go…

All four of my children will be in “real” school starting Monday. I’m having a bit of a freak out about that, I have to tell you. After receiving an email from the principal for my oldest son’s school, welcoming us, encouraging us, I broke down. It’s hard to let go.

We have been homeschooling in one way or another since about 2003. We brought our oldest home after a rough year in Kindergarten. She’s always been outgoing and friendly. She loved preschool and she liked Kindergarten, excelling in reading and math and general awesomeness but she got teased every day on the playground. She liked to play alone and the other girls in her school gave her so much grief about it she cried every day when I picked her up from school. Teacher meetings, parent meetings, long talks with my daughter, “grin and bear” it moments, all came to nothing. We’d already changed schools once going from the Montessori school to a school closer to our house. It was too late to apply or get into a third try for the coming school year, so we brought her home, always thinking we’d make a switch the following year.

All in all, it’s gone well, I have to say. As we added kids we just slid them into the homeschool routine. It worked well when we traveled, when we moved, when we were living on 18 acres in the middle of nowhere. We hung out, we asked questions, we made observations, we argued and we struggled and we cruised for a long time. For as long as I was holding things together it really was a phenomenal time and then life changed up and they all seemed to need different things, things I could not deliver with any expertise or consistency. Last year, my daughter, having been home for most of her educational life finally stepped into High School, real school, art school, as a sophomore. She loved it and it loved her back.

I wrote last year of my decision to send Henry to school. It was grueling. His way of learning was so different from my way of teaching and long story short, I was leaking out all over the place where homeschool was concerned anyway. I was losing my mojo, not keeping up with Henry’s needs, falling apart in the bathroom because I felt I was failing them. I finally enrolled him at the neighborhood school so that we could both get what we needed. He loved it and it loved him back.

We tried a “real” school with Chet last year too, thinking the “game theory” approached they offered at the Chicago charter school would be perfect for him but you know, there is no perfect and he had trouble adjusting. He did great with the work but the classroom was overwhelming for him and often the chaos in the classroom kept them all from doing the work, which was the only thing Chet really wanted to do anyway. He did not love it and it did not love him back so we brought him home and I spent last year swimming in the guilt of being unprepared, questioning everything I tried, worrying about the present and the future and the past and all the while poor Miles cruised along doing his own thing, a little lost in the shuffle.

As the youngest in our family, Miles has the cushiest position and yet the strongest opposition to falling into line. His reading lessons probably sounded like I was driving spikes under his fingernails because he hated it so much. I was already burned out and he was getting the dregs of what I had left to offer and the guilt about that gnawed at me daily. I knew I’d put them all in school this year and the pressure ramped up then to “get them ready” for it but the more the deadline approached the worse we seemed to do. It remains to be seen how things will roll when Monday comes. Even so, when I questioned him on it this week he said, groaning, “Geez, mom. I’ll adapt. I always adapt. I’ll be fine, you have to let go sometime.”

And so, there it is. I am letting go a little, reluctantly, expectantly, with great fear and trembling and excitement because I have no idea what this year brings for us all. I imagine it will be a new kind of struggle and a new kind of joy and a familiar struggle and a familiar joy too. I imagine we’ll have moments of great regret mixed with moments of great relief. I imagine that I will adapt and that I will be fine because I have to let go sometime. It’s what we do as parents. We wish for them and we hope for them and in it we are always teaching them how to be their own people in the world. Parenting is letting go, a little at a time- crawling to toddling to walking to running- hair blowing in the warm wind, face to the sun, into the future.