A Inside Case of Tug o’ War
My heart broke somewhere between the stadium fireworks and the pinning of the corsage.
At first I thought it might’ve been an exuberant case of acid reflux from too many turkey sliders and watermelon White Claws that I’d scarfed down at our son’s college graduation party last Friday, following a three-hour University of Georgia ceremony that included a pyrotechnic extravaganza and a very long brand commercial from Delta CEO and commencement speaker Ed Bastain.
But the sharp pain pulsing in my ribcage didn’t subside the next day as we sped back from Athens to Tybee Island to make it in time to snap Insta-worthy pics of our senior year daughter in her glittery mermaid prom dress, before she and her crew headed to Garibaldi's for a fancy dinner then to Red Gate Farms for the main event.
“What is wrong with you?” my husband asked, glancing over as I squirmed around trying to release the pressure, maybe with a nice loud belch.
“NOTHING I’M FINE” I snapped, fighting with the seatbelt like it was an anaconda looking to lunch on my torso.
Out the window I could see a station wagon traveling in the next lane with a stack of bikes strapped to the back, and I caught a glimpse of a child’s handlebars festooned with purple tassels.
Suddenly, a memory washed over me of riding my bike down the beach the first week we’d moved to Savannah, the children tiny and tucked up next to each other in the purple trailer we’d scored at a garage sale that day, their faces bright in the sunshine, laughter mingling with the soft roar of the ocean.
“Do you want me to stop for some Tums at this exit?” Mark looked concerned as I sucked in my breath. I gave the anaconda a choking push and felt the tension snap deep inside the cavity of my chest.
But instead of the burp I’d been cultivating came a sob. A loud, honking wail that was as ungraceful as it was unexpected, followed by a spasm of snot and tears that sprayed the window and froze my face into a Scream mask with microbladed eyebrows. The father’s face was one of alarmed curiosity as we passed their family truckster in the left lane.
Turns out what I’d thought was heartburn was actually a massive emotional gas bubble that’d been building for weeks as we’ve navigated the logistics of the exciting occasions of our double graduation and prom and adulting. As I’m normally aware of all my feels to the point of neurosis, it caught me by surprise.
Believe me, I’m embarrassed to be bringing it up again. I honestly didn’t think I’d need to: I’ve been checking in with friends, binging shows only I like, and practicing other forms of self-care to ensure I am processing it all right on schedule, leaving plenty of time for overservings of White Claw and afternoon naps with the dogs.
Frankly, with all of the other grander things things to grieve right now—the seizure of our bodily autonomy at the exact time the collective failure to feed the babies the fascists insist be born, yet another chilling mass shooting by a racist incel and then another, the utter collapse of human decency among an entire political party—my sad mom shit just seems small and stupid.
I mean, shouldn’t I know better? Pretty much since my kids came out of my uterus (that I maintain sole proprietorship over and make all the decisions for, thanks) I’ve held this Khalil Gibran quote close:
Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
This adage has definitely been helpful, especially when they were throwing tantrums and spaghetti at a restaurant and I would murmur, oh gosh, whose heinous spawn is that? terrible parenting *tsk tsk* while Mark carried their writhing bodies out the door to calm down.
But now that Life’s longing is drawing these two people up and away, I am pierced with another of Gibran’s sage observations:
Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
The discomfort had dissolved with my tears as we blazed into Tybee for the prom group photo sesh, air-kissing as to not disturb any dewy makeup and flash-sewing a broken dress strap. Then our girl and her friends were off in a cloud of sequins and tuxedos, leaving behind a gaggle of bewildered parents clutching their hearts.
Though it seems I have given birth to a future one, I’m no doctor—but that’s never stopped me from neurotic self-diagnosis.
I’m feeling better since this episode, but I’ve definitely made an appointment with a cardiologist, since along with denying certain emotional stressors I’ve probably ignored that fact that as my kids get older, so do I. As my big-hearted friend April Haas pointed out by sharing this handy infographic, signs of heart disease in women are often different than in men, so I hope y’all are paying attention to your bodies as well.
However, I suspect the very real pain in my chest was a case of psychosomatic tug-of-war, the result between protraction—the act of prolonging something—and its opposite force, retraction, an applicable description for hugging your child so tightly your spouse accuses you of trying to put them back in your uterus. (Again, the uterus that I own and make decisions for, even if there is no way any more people are coming out of it, or for that matter, going back in.)
Rather than cancel each other out, these dynamics have been spinning a silent bomb of sorrow in the background of my consciousness—while here I was thinking I was doing such a good job of managing my feelings. I guess I’m lucky it exploded quickly instead of festering into cancer or some other chronic illness, but it’s made me more vigilant of what else I—and others commemorating life-changing occasions this month—might think about as we surmount these milestones.
Maybe I don’t think I’m allowed to mourn the passing of life’s precious moments whilst celebrating so many blessings.
Maybe all I need is a a massage or a round of antidepressants or another vacation, though I’m quite positive I don’t need any more White Claws.
Maybe I should pay better attention to our friend Gibran, who reminds that such emotional tug-of-war is a fact of life we must accept:
Joy and sorrow are inseparable…together they come and when one sits alone with you, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
He probably didn’t mean extra time snoozing with the dogs, but I think it’ll help heal my heart.
Keep on beating ~ JLL
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