Every other weekend since they’ve been small, my children go to their father’s house, a world I am not part of, a place I have never seen, with people I have never met.
They don’t love it and neither do I, which makes the letting go that much harder. Nonetheless, it has become my biweekly practice, and theirs too, I suppose.
The emptiness that accompanies their departure has no bottom.
As my children make their way from my car to their father’s front door, they do a heartbreaking walk I call The Compliance Shuffle. Imagine a Death Row inmate on his way to a mandatory medical screening. There’s a hollow sense of what’s the point? Unspoken resistance hovers like a ghost behind their slow steps. They love their dad, but…
Mine aren’t the only children who stoically accept that just because a legal document decides where they should be doesn’t mean that’s where they want to be.
At least my kids are safe, which is not the case for many other families. I am grateful for this bit of consolation.
The combination of these conflicting emotions sinks like a twisted chain of stones, heavy in my gut until my children come home. Yes, this particular pain comes from attachment, as all pains do. I cannot conceive of anything mothers are more attached to than their children. If Buddha had been a mother (I know he was a father, but with all due respect, it’s not the same), I wonder how well that non-attachment thing would have worked out for him.
All parents must practice non-attachment to some degree, but single parents are legally required to do it. No matter how old my children get, The Compliance Shuffle doesn’t break my heart now any less than it did when they were tiny.
“Everything comes to pass. Nothing comes to stay.” ~ Matthew Flickstein
I have studied Buddhism for many years, but it took me a long time to grasp what it means to practice non-attachment. I’m still learning to release my grip on how I want things to be.
Someday, instead of a court requiring me to surrender my children, the world will come and claim them. A lover or a distant college will summon them and they will veer off the path we’ve shared and begin their own journeys, without me.
One day, the only protection my children will have will be the lessons I’ve shared and the love I’ve given. One day, they will have to walk alone.
So I train in mindfulness. I train because time is short, and from what others tell me, kids grow up in a blink. I embrace my mother nature, which compels me to keep my babies close and mourns when they are far.
Mindfulness plunges me into that bottomless universe where things simply are. It’s not the joyful contemplation I signed up for, but it’s as much a part of my journey as the bliss I feel when my kids come home.
I have been practicing letting go of things my whole life, partly because it is my nature to avoid encumbrances. I slid from attachment because I intuitively understood, as a child of tumult and chaos, how fleeting all that security can be.
But when these beings came forth from my body, I clutched them in a primal, ancient way. Nobody could have prepared me for what I felt, nor for how deeply imprinted the clutching habit has become. My very DNA is coded to keep my little ones dear, to soften the edges for them. When they were born, so was my habit to love and protect them.
Despite the regularity with which I must do it, letting go of them is not a habit. It is still a legal obligation. I do not let go thoughtlessly, and I have not gotten better with practice. Those twisted stones still knock against my soft parts as I drive away from my children.
However, I am fully conscious in those moments when they come and go. I am aware of my resistance even as I kiss them goodbye. Mindfulness may expose the futility of my attachment, but it doesn’t erase it.
“In time, things will change and the conditions that produced our current desires will be gone. Why then cling to them now?” ~ Master Hsing Yun
Yesterday, my son started high school. We assembled our brave faces for one another, but I could see the flat dread behind his eyes. After he had gathered up his courage and left for the bus, I crumpled, bawling with the powerlessness that had stalked me ever since I first left him at his father’s house. Here was the moment I had tried to evade even as I’d felt it sneaking around corners when I wasn’t looking.
I didn’t weep because I was losing my son. I wept because the world had come for him sooner than I had expected, and all I could do was let him go.
As it turned out, he had a terrible first day, fraught with adolescent pitfalls. Though it broke my heart to hear about his wretched day, I couldn’t erase the experience, nor was I able to prevent it from happening again. I just listened, fully present, overflowing with empathy and a nagging desire to tuck a blanket around his lanky frame and keep him safe at home. I showered him with axioms and encouragement. I did my best to bolster his confidence arsenal without blowing the proverbial smoke you know where.
This morning, he gave me a resigned and soulful sigh as he left, shuffling toward the bus in the familiar way I’d seen every other weekend for years. Though I trembled with resistance, my entire being vibrated in awareness as I watched him go.
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Assistant Ed: Renee Picard / Ed: Catherine Monkman
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