How Much is Too Much?

I often add kids into my stories, and I guess it’s because in spite of the fact that mine are all grown now, there are still issues. I use these issues all the time in relationships in my books. I weave in situations that we’ve gone through before that they may not even remember, but have left a mark on me.

It’s not true, that rumor floating around that empty nesting is a real thing. They never leave home, not really. Not that I mind, quite the contrary, I love having them around. Except when those pesky issues pop up and remind me how human we are, how prone to hurt and offense; how weak and insensitive we can be when expressing ourselves to those that really matter.

My two daughters and their babies

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to enjoy those fleeting partnerships we run across in life, be it peer groups or social clubs or Bible studies or church attendees or professional colleagues. We can chat and talk about surface things, smile and laugh, and enjoy ourselves, then leave. Poof. Light, airy, effortless, most of the time. We pretend that we are really close with these people; have deep relationships with them, but we don’t. Deep applies to the family relationships that grow and change over years, decades, lifetimes. These relationships take gut level honesty, a crap-ton of prayer, an ability to forgive, a desire to stop resentment in its tracks, and take a stand. To know, intimately, that the relationship will change and grow, and this is messy and often results in a breach if not managed in love and kindness.

But what I want to know is…how much is too much?

When is it time to stop offering sage wisdom and parental advice?

When is it time to stop offering love and counsel as only a parent can?

Is it ever time to stop wanting to protect? To help a grown kid avoid a pothole so big and so wide that it could have ripple effects over his or her entire life?

Me with two of my kids and my husband at my book launch party in February!
My son and his kids

I’m struggling with these questions right now. My parents were the hands-off variety. Not much meaningful interaction whatsoever… but they were great in the arena of financial support, and their marriage lasted (which is wonderful) but as far as relationship…including much- needed instruction about things like right and wrong….pretty much non-existent. I heard over and over, “you’ll figure it out.” Um, no. I didn’t. Until I’d gone through so many emotionally muddy situations that I finally joined a group that helped me understand my weirdness. My interesting reactions to situations. My crazy fear that something awful was going to happen. These kinds of filters mess us up on many levels.

So, due to this background, I suppose; I’m willing to risk rejection from my grown children in order for them to have information that is an option to choices they make that I feel could be damaging. I’m very big on prevention. But, I’ve found, over time, that this is intrusive and counter-productive to our relationship. I think the cut-off is about 35 for instruction and direction. After that, it appears a parent is just being judgmental. Selfish. Prideful. Many other adjectives that have been batted around that I won’t mention. (Parents of grown-ups, do I see you nodding your heads out there? Thought so.)

So how much is too much?

When is it ever time to stop caring, stop investing, stop growing in relationship, stop doing life together? There are often differences of opinions and lifestyles and politics, ad infinitum. When one or both parties stop listening and start accusing, it’s often a slide into a place from which there is no turning back. Lines are drawn. Teeth are bared. Stubbornness drives a stake in the sand. This is when deep…gets hard. This is when decisions must be made…our own way? Or love? Being right? Or learning from each other’s differences and personality quirks and moving on?

So how much is too little?

How much is too little caring, too little loving, too little mentoring? How much is too little relating to each other, too little kindness, too little gentleness, too little believing the best of each other? Is there a beautiful middle ground where offenses and insults and resentments can be thrown off? Where healing and reconciliation take the place of stubborness and pride?

I think there is.

I’m not sure where, but it’s there somewhere. I’m determined to find it.

‘Tis the Season

The marsh grass is the color of wheat, now.

Little did I know, that when we bought this house, the lowcountry marsh behind it would change color with the seasons. I have a desk pointed in that direction, so I can study the panorama and think deep thoughts as I write. Or think nothing, which seems to be my default position these days.

My creativity has leeched away temporarily. There’s a lot on my mind, but this week, the week of Christmas, I’m pushing it all away. I’m choosing to focus on the holiday. All is calm, all is bright, joy to the world, amen.

The holidays are never calm in my house, since there are multiple adult kids and families to consider, so it’s a choice to remain calm. My mind goes back through the years. I think the only ‘Silent Night’ Christmas I remember was the Christmas I’d just gotten divorced and the absence of stress and relationship struggles made all the difference. I still remember that time fondly, sounds strange, I know, but a horrible marriage does not a calm and silent Christmas make. But the peace…it felt incredible.

Lately, I’ve been fighting for peace and sanity amidst the pandemic and the voices that fan terror and strife from the media, which I no longer trust to tell the truth. Fighting for sanity amidst the changing landscape of shopping and planning events and interacting in general as a society. I think we can all agree, it’s been a tough year, and we’ve been infected with more than a virus. Tensions are at an all-time high, and it’s harder than ever to choose ‘calm’ or ‘peaceful’ or ‘optimistic’ but we must. I can either give in to fear or choose faith. I can let my feelings overtake me, and drown in depression; or choose hope. I can become angry and tense when things don’t go my way, or I can let go and choose love. Love is the highest road, the best road. Always. Even when we disagree, we can do it patiently. Kindly.

So…I’ve determined to love even when I have to grit my teeth. I’m choosing to remain silent when I want to blow up at someone. (Not always successful here, but I’m definitely trying.) I’m choosing to focus on the birth of Christ and God’s incredible gift to humanity. I’m excited about seeing the ‘Bethlehem Star’, which happened with a spontaneous gathering of neighbors, complete with binoculars and telescope. A magical moment, and a time for quiet speculation. Hope in the midst of the storm. Light in the darkness. Reassurance that as a country, we will move on, we will learn from 2020 – the year of radical unmet expectations – and our country will not give in to despair and contention. I’m letting petty differences and the fear I’ve picked gifts that my loved ones won’t like slide away. I’m determined to ignore a messy kitchen and an even messier life…for now. I’ll pick this stuff up again next week, but I want a timeout. I’m forcing a timeout. At least mentally.

My zillion gifts I bought for kids and grandkids and husband have been Amazoned (this should be a verb now, right?) to their destinations, and the rest wait patiently under my tree for the parts of my family that will be here. I have an entire week on my calendar that has nothing on it except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. My cats have not ripped up the gifts and the tree, for once, so that is something to celebrate! A small thing, but still. Notable.

Like the marsh grass in winter, my outlook lies dormant and devoid of color. 2020 has been a long, rough season. But like all seasons, it hasn’t come to stay. It will pass.

Though we may not feel it or see it right now, we are passing through. Spring is on the way!

I Liked the Old Normal

I miss hugs.

It feels strange to go out now. If I have to sneeze (heaven forbid) and I am in a store, even though masked, I feel like a ‘super spreader’ caught in the act. The ‘covid elbow’ is a poor substitute for a handshake, and though we laugh about it, it is weird. Isolating.

Then there are those who want to spew their anger all over those who don’t mask up. Don’t they realize that the masks they are wearing do little to stop the spread of their saliva as they scream obscenities and accusations? I prefer to not go through the exercise of explaining why I don’t want to wear a mask, so now, I jerk one over my face as I enter a store, then jerk it off the moment I leave. It is a reluctant obedience. I gave up.

And that is the problem. A lot of us have given up. And given over.

We wander through our few, but necessary, shopping expeditions like silent wraiths in an apocalypse. I’ve noticed people have begun avoiding each other’s eyes. The friendly hello is fast becoming outdated. Our ‘new normal’ is gaze avoidance, silent meandering, a quick snatch of products needed (lest they not be on the shelf one day) and screening the checkout lines for distancing.

I hate the phrase ‘we are all in this together’. We are not in this together. We are in this APART, i.e. social distancing and Zoom calls. Mandatory masking. Video call apps are becoming wildly creative. Microsoft Teams has a new mode called “Together.” If more than five people are on the call, they look like they are seated in an auditorium side by side, as if everyone is in a classroom. Together. And everyone seems happy about this. It even includes fake high-fiving. This is so creepy I’m having trouble comprehending the consequences. Are we now manufacturing fake togetherness in an effort to make forced isolation more palatable?

It’s not palatable. It’s not healthy. And it won’t last forever.

Friends now look at each other as if they are already infected, and stand a good distance away or raise their hands in protest if one zeroes in for a hug. Can you say…rejection? I know, I know…it’s protection…subliminally, though, that rejection thing is happening. Mandatory quarantining and screening are a given. My dentist takes my temperature when I walk in, makes me swish with hydrogen peroxide for 30 seconds (no less, or they make you do it over) and nearly slathers hand sanitizer all over my upper body. They perform all of this like medical attendants from a Hitchcock movie. Smiling, militant, hard-lipped, steely-eyed. They are focused on the mission. After all ‘we’re all in this together’.

Nope. I’m not all in this at all. I mean, I am…but…in my mind, I’m running as fast as I can for freedom.

The new catchphrases of the dreaded COVID existence:

new normal

mask up!

virtue signaling

flatten the curve

essential business

novel coronavirus

shelter-in-place

stay safe!

social distancing

super-spreader

contact tracing

droplet transmission

PPE (personal protective equipment)

Our communication is peppered with these phrases, now. It is the top conversation on every network, FB, Twitter, Instagram…the entire world, I guess. Still, I refuse to cave. I’ve limited the amount of news I allow into my brain. I’m stunned by the division this ‘pandemic’ has brought, and avoid FB posts that lecture the rest of us apparently misinformed, misguided, uneducated, helpless souls. It now makes me laugh, the sheer condescension of some of the comments aimed at those who rail against imposed restrictions that should not happen.

One thing is certain, a pandemic brings out the best and the worst in people. At least now, it isn’t hidden.

I miss hugs.

I believe they’ll be back.