Monday, May 20, 2013

Why I Need A Good Cry

by Amy Ruhlin

When my son, our youngest, began kindergarten, I sat down every morning and cried for two weeks. I felt overwhelming sorrow. I looked like an idiot. I sat in puddles of my own tears.  

The time of spending my days sitting with my son on a curbside watching trucks go by, or standing in a sunny park pushing him on a swing, was over. He was moving on: to yellow school buses, to new friends, to teachers who would touch his life. I was happy for him. But, I was sad for me, and I felt a great loss.

I did not analyze or rationalize my feelings away. And for once, I did not judge myself. I did not run from my sadness, nor did I "get busy." I did not berate myself with statements like, “He’s only going to Kindergarten!" or, "What’s wrong with you?"  Instead, I sat on my couch and allowed myself to cry. 

It felt good. And somehow, I knew that if I did not cry, I would live my life as a big, fat, fake. I would be busy. I would be productive. But, I wouldn't be real. And I didn't want that. Instead, I wanted to keep what I had been with my son: a woman who feels fully alive and excited at the sight of a truck passing by; a woman who feels joy at the sight of a child swinging up to the sky. I also wanted to be a woman who lets her son go. I could not figure out how to do any of these things intellectually, but I did know that the only way out is through. So, I sat down, felt my sadness, and cried.

Our society isn't big on grief. Instead, we prefer to say things like, "Get over it!" or, "Put your big girl panties on and deal with it!"  Don't get me wrong: I know that we do indeed need to get over it and move on. But I can't even begin to find my big girl pants, much less get them on, if I don't first have a good cry. Otherwise, those tears get stuffed down into my bones and they become dead weight. 
From those weeks of sitting alone on my sofa, I developed a parenting strategy that has worked well in helping me to let go and to move on.  When I feel silly grief over silly things, I do not discount it. Instead, I allow myself to look like a blubbering fool.   When I finally removed my son's preschool artwork from the refrigerator, I cried for three days. When I rode in a plastic boat with my kids through the simple, painted beauty of "It’s A Small World" at Disney World, I wept behind my dark sunglasses for a full 15 minutes, because I knew that such innocence was fleeting. When I looked out at my backyard one day and saw an empty swing being pushed by the wind, I wailed. When I watched our old home movies of my children in their first school plays, I lost it for days on end. 

But after each cry, I felt great. My grief disappeared and I could see the gorgeousness and rightness of whatever was in front of me. I no longer yearned for it to be as it once was. I loved it for whatever it had changed into.

 My son will graduate from high school next week. The time of spending my days looking forward to him walking through our front door every afternoon is almost over  He is moving on: to college, to independence, to a life without me.  I am happy for him. And I can honestly say that I am ready. I do feel sad at times, and I will probably have a good cry on graduation day. But most days, I feel fully alive. Most days, I feel joy at the sight of so much change happening right before my eyes.  And most days, I know that I am a woman who can let her son go. Because on most days, I have allowed myself to cry.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Best Thing I Learned From My Mother

by Amy Ruhlin

When I was a young girl my mother would open the front door of our home in the evenings, tilt her head to look at the sky and say, "Look at the moon!" Instead, I would look at her face. And I would see pure joy. At the time, I wasn't aware of what I was seeing; I was a distracted teenager and for the life of me, I could not figure out why the sight of the moon made my mother so happy. I would tilt my head to look at the sky too, and though I saw the same moon, I knew that I was not feeling what she was feeling. I also knew that it was important, this mysterious connection that my mother had that I could not quite yet grasp. I knew that whatever my mother was feeling when she looked at the moon, I wanted to feel it, too.

She loved trees. My aunt once helped her look for a house to rent, and years later, after I was grown, my aunt said to me, "Your mother was going through so much turmoil when I helped her find that rental, but all she cared about was making sure that she found a property that had plenty of trees!”

When I was 12 years old, my mother decided to have a small house built on an acre of land that had once been her father's garden. It was an acre without any trees. Once the house was completed, she spent the next ten years planting and growing trees: crepe myrtles lined the driveway, pin oaks stood in the front yard and cedars edged the sides of the house. She turned the backyard into a field of fruit trees. And she did it all while working full-time and being a single mother.

We spent many days and nights sitting together on her screened porch, surrounded by the beauty of her trees. And I knew that the sight of them brought her comfort.

My mother had a great sense of humor and one of her favorite expressions was: "The world is going to hell in a hand basket!" Whenever she said it, I’d roll my eyes and laugh, thinking she was just overreacting or being funny. But I now know it was her quirky, southern way of expressing concern for the environment – her grief over trees being bulldozed for “progress” and the moon becoming obscured by pollution.  In fact, she once gave me the book, “The Sense of Wonder,” by the noted environmental writer, Rachel Carson. It still sits on my bookshelf today.

I currently live in a house with a lot of windows. And through every window, I can see towering trees with thick, green leaves in the summer and beautiful, bare branches in the winter.  Each evening, when the moon shines through the highest window in my family room, I tilt my head to look at the sky and I say to my family, "Look at the moon!” As my chest expands, I feel as if the glow of the moon is coming from inside of me.

My mother showed me that in the midst of life’s pain and turmoil, grief and loss, I can find great comfort in the beauty of a tree, deep joy at the sight of the moon and a sense of wonder by simply noticing the world around me.