This was written for a HelloGiggles talk on growing pains. I ended up getting deathly ill – a repeated fact of life now that my kids bring home epic boogie germs which I then manage to cuddle right into an endless series of illnesses – and couldn’t do the show. So I stayed home and watched the event on UStream. Watching all those hilarious, wonderful writers up on that stage sent me into a chasm of self-doubt and insecurity. Boy, I’m not funny like those guys. Geez, what would have happened if I’d been able to get up there and give this VERY earnest meditation on growing pains? Yes, I began experiencing my very own growing pain in real time! So, here it is – my earnest, unfunny take on growing pains! I’m gonna get up there and be really unfunny next time! Just watch, I’m gonna do it!
When given this challenge (and choosing to accept it!), my immediate thoughts went the physical kind of growing pains. Maybe because my daughter seems to be having them now. When the day has wound down and we’ve corralled her into bed, she wiggles to the point of me worrying that she had restless leg syndrome. A wise ballerina friend of mine suggested that she may be having “growing pains”. So we’ve taken to massaging that little changing body at nights, and the wiggling has calmed down.
Next, when I think of “growing pains”, I think of the emotional kind. Immediately my head goes to my pre-teen and teen years, as these were very painful. That deep awkwardness and self consciousness is still palpable today. This must be the most painful period of growth for most folks I imagine.
But upon greater reflection, my 20s were quite tough, too. In fact, I can’t think of any age that didn’t scare that crap out of me at some point! This all led me to conclude that life is, in fact, one big long growing pain. This is sort of daunting. Am I saying that we never completely settle into ourselves? Well, yeah, sort of! As life unfolds, it appears to me as a series of chapters. Each chapter requires a new stretching and trying on of a new identity. That said, with the passing of each chapter, I become more and more confident and sure of myself… but never so sure that challenge doesn’t grab me by the britches and force me to re-jigger all that I thought I knew!
But instead of going to an “all is lost”, glass half full sort of place, there really is a silver lining. If we accept that life is a story-book, with chapters, that isn’t over until the final page… well then, we are never fully grown, are we? We are always changing. We are always learning. We get to stay young as long as we remain curious.
Here are some of the stages as I see them.
- Baby through child: There’s not much to say about this one, as we don’t remember it, do we? That said, upon having kids, I feel a great responsibility on my part for creating a solid ground for my kids.
- Child through pre-teen: I just remember wanting to be “older”. This seems funny now, but watching my daughter yearn to be a “big girl” brings it all back. She makes me lie and tell people she is five!
- Teen through young adult: I think this stage stands out so much because it is such a drastic transition. I can think of so many deeply painful moments from this time, moments that haunt me still today. For example, getting my first period at a punk rock show, all over my army green dress. Walking up to my “friends” at lunch and having them all walk away. Lewd drawings of me on a public wall at school. Switching schools because those darn mean girls were just so… mean! The list goes on and we all have stories like these, but they sure hit hard in the moment!
- 20s searching phase: I found my 20s to be relentlessly tough. I went to college, even law school, and still didn’t know who I wanted to be. It’s scary out there. Especially now with the economy. Love eluded me. This is the age of endless searching, late night conversations about love, truth, art. Conversations that err toward preaching in our wish to be right. To be right and learn who we are. This chapter is really the searching chapter – a chapter I felt hopelessly lost in, as well as constantly beating myself up for not being further along!
- Becoming a wife: This wasn’t so difficult, but it did mean having to always consider someone else and meeting in the middle. This chapter is one that needs constant maintenance. A relationship is work that is never finished.
- 30s and Parenting: To be or not to be. Just when you think you’ve figured it out and reached some sense of comfort within your skin, you have to throw it all away and take on the new identity of a “mom”. Or not. And if not, juggle with the identity of “childless”. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mother. I was deeply afraid of how it would change my life, a life that I finally felt happy with. My husband and I went to a couples therapist to talk about it and she said, “You will never be not scared and there will never be a perfect time. This is the deal you entered into upon getting married. Go get pregnant!” And I did. And it was the best thing that has ever happened to me.
- Pregnancy: This was a big growing pain for me – pun intended. Not only was I about to be a parent, but my body, equilibrium and my private and public sense of identity shifted. In some ways, this is another genius move by mother nature. As a woman, you are forced to accept that a BIG change is coming your way. How dramatically your body shifts while you are pregnant forces you to reconcile that yes, you indeed are about to be a parent!
- Actually Being A Mom: While I maintain that this is the number one best thing I have ever done and will ever do, it is rifled with compromises, difficulty, guilt, worry and sleeplessness… But I tell you, I finally know what love is. I finally know how to give and receive love. The sense of purpose and something bigger than you that being a parent brings is unparalleled.
- Career: My career shifts and has to be constantly re-approached as I juggle work and family. Sacrifices have to be made!
This is as far as I’ve gotten in my personal life chapters. I imagine there are mini-chapters within each chapter, such as being a mom to teenagers or watching my kids head off to college. When I look at it this way, I begin to see that life is an ever-changing series of adjustments. It’s a lot like being pregnant all the time – your center of gravity is always changing. You are always having to re-find your balance, your center, where you feel safe. I’ve come to like this. Nothing stays the same, be it good or bad.
These are the chapters I am looking forward to in the future:
- Empty Nest Phase: I dread this and look forward to it simultaneously. I hope that is a renaissance for my husband and myself. I look forward to the ability to travel at will and be footloose and fancy free!
- Mother-In-Law: Sharing my son and daughter with another man or woman… ugh, this sounds tough to me!
- Grandparent/Saga Years: Okay, this is the one I’m really psyched about. My kids had better give me grand children! I see how wonderful my parents’ relationship with my kids is. It’s all the love without the responsibility. I’m living for it!
- Twilight Years: This one seems real tough, too – coming to terms with being elderly, how our physical world changes and our abilities are lessened. I wish our culture celebrated old age and the wisdom that comes with it more. Coming to terms with mortality doesn’t sound like a walk in the park, either!
Accepting that life is a series of ever changing chapters, I wish I could have been “there” for more of it. If I could go back to my teen and young adult self, I’d say, “Take a load off, sister.” Be present, ask questions, take classes, be curious, say “I don’t know” a lot. None of this is set in stone; this too will pass.
I’d also say to face each adventure with courage! Courage and something like enjoyment. Maybe it’s impossible to fully enjoy it all because the point is to be struggling. Struggling toward becoming an adult, holding down a job, becoming a partner, a parent, a godparent, an aunt; eventually becoming a matriarch, a patriarch, a grand parent, an elder, a sage friend. The point is that the moment is now, and this moment is singular, specific and will never come again. So if you can’t enjoy it, as least try to be preset for it and take it all in.
Another idea I’m obsessed with is The Universal Drama. As different as we all are, we are all in the same boat experiencing, essentially, the same emotions and chapters. The continued struggle to cope with daily life whilst experiencing these awkward challenges is part of the drama. How we choose to handle life’s struggles says a lot about who we are. Do we handle them passive aggressively, with confrontation, with uncertainty, with judgement, like a crashing wave or a perpetually lapping tide? With or without compassion? Each of these precise chapters are unique to each of us, and yet the experience of them is common to us all. This is what makes us human and this is what keeps us connected.
I’ve also begun to realize that this approach to life keeps us young. If I accept that I will always be learning and stretching, then I am never quite done growing up, am I? I love this idea.
My dear Uncle Ted told me a story once about his best friend dying that has stuck with me for years. As my Uncle Ted sat at the death bed of his best friend Severin, he asked , “Are you scared, Sev”? And Severin replied, “No, just curious.”
Sweet, isn’t it? Perhaps because it highlights this ceaseless quest for identity and how I hope to arrive at deaths door curious, not yet fully formed, still reaching and having growing pains to the bitter end!