“Huh? What’s that?” you say. “What’s Easter without a major glycemic overload?”
When my offspring were young, I waffled horribly over this holiday. Should I provide them with the surgary confections I so fondly remembered from my own childhood: Peeps, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies? Or should I restrain my nostalgia for the sake of their health? Well … let’s say I tried to keep it to a low roar. What can I say? I wanted to be a “good mother” and control not only my children’s enjoyment of the holiday but also the glycemic index of everything that passed their lips. Perhaps it was my own dad’s habit of referring to such goodies as “Easter joys” that made it impossible to withhold them?
These days, my mostly-adult kids are old enough to decide for themselves just how much junk food their systems can stand. Likewise, they can decide whether to wear boots in the rain, how much sleep they need (and starting at what time of day), what course of study to pursue, and what jobs to apply for. ARRGH! What’s a mother to do? Get used to it, that’s what.
Before this, I had to confront the almost-equally-baffling reality that my mother could decide for herself whether to carry a cell phone when she went walking in the woods, whether to eat healthily, what medicines to take, doctors to consult, and on and on.
Oh, yes, this dilemma has confronted me again and again.
Comes a point — as a parent, child, friend, pet-owner, person-who-loves-someone-other-than-oneself — that you realize: Oh. I don’t get to control them. With a small child, obviously, you can have a lot of influence, but even in those cases, I found it was often best to encourage as much autonomy as possible.
Because it turns out that this Beloved Other, this Special One, does not, in point of fact, belong to you. And then you also realize that … no one else can control you for your own good, either. No one should (or really, can) stand between you and your own poor judgment, impulsiveness, procrastination, difficulty making up your mind, or desire to eat an entire package of Peeps in one sitting.
But you are not alone with your weaknesses, either. You are continually in relationship with others. In one sense, there’s just you. But more realistically, there’s you – and your ability to love others: pets, parents, friends, partners, and perfect strangers. There are flavors of connection: freely offered information, material assistance, or a shoulder to cry on. But these are not control. Attempts to make them into control (bribery, punishment, blackmail, manipulation, baffling with b.s.), undermine the joy of true connection.
And then you start to get it: They love you, but they can’t fix you, can’t save you. Not really. And you can love them, but without fixing or saving. Oh, there’s the occasional “intervention” – the slap upside the head that refreshes. But ultimately, each of us must get our feet under us, and stand up, and find our own balance. It is only from that balance that we can reach out and joyfully connect with our beloved others.
This lesson is one I seem to have to learn repeatedly. With my siblings, my best friends, my children, my parents, my husband, yes, even my stubborn cat who persists in sneaking outdoors at dusk despite the wild coyotes I’ve repeatedly warned him about. Amazing how easy it is to forget.
Accept it, I tell myself: You are in charge of you. They are in charge of themselves. Love means delighting in that truth, not trying to change it.
But on holidays like this, I find it particularly difficult to stop myself, once again, from trying to protect my loved ones. Year after year, I throw myself bodily between them and those Peeps.
Easter joys to all!