For to be free is not to merely cast off one's chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
- Nelson Mandela -

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Choosing in the Moment

Life is all about making choices.
That's easily said.
But how do you make them?
And as a parent, in how far can you make choices for your children?
I had a very important talk with my no. 1 birth daughter the other day. In the car. Where we usually have our important talks. When there's nobody and nothing to distract us from each other. No getting away. And we don't have to look at each other.

She has always been unhappy with our decision to move to England. She was thirteen when we moved. It was a major uproot for all of us, but at the age of thirteen - and especially in her case - it was terrible.
She didn't like the house we moved to. She didn't want to participate in anything we did. We tried and tried - maybe too hard - to cheer her up, but she was mainly unhappy.
Although I knew, both in my heart and in my mind, that we'd made the right choice, for her too, I still felt if not guilty then responsible for her unhappiness. And I did my best to accommodate her, to acknowledge her, to listen to her and to support her.
After about two years we reached an all time low. She was blaming us for 'having no life', for missing her friends in Holland, for being stuck in the 'back of beyond'. She did some really dire things to express her feelings - and hurt others in the process - and I felt extremely inadequate and powerless.
It came to a point where, when a very dear friend in Holland magnanimously offered AL could come and stay with her for a while, we accepted. AL was over the moon, happy to get away, happy to go to Holland. She could go to the private school that M had just set up. A school for child-led learning. I cried many, many tears about her leaving like that, it felt as if my heart was torn out of my body. But I let her go. Fifteen, she was. When I returned home after taking her to Holland it felt totally appropriate that the biggest storm ever was raging over the North West and Carlisle was flooded.

After about six months she came back to England. It wasn't entirely her own choice - again - but for many, many reasons it was what needed to happen at that particular time.
She didn't want to stay at home fulltime anymore, and she chose to go to college and do First and National Diploma Horse Care and Horse Management. Something she'd always wanted to do. College life was wild and wonderful. Within no time she had loads of friends and a very busy social life. The first year of the course was relatively easy and when she turned sixteen she wanted to move to campus. But then the whole learning experience started to get more complicated, more difficult. And her response to every challenge would be to say she wanted to go back to Holland. And she did go, she spent most of her holidays there.
After her second year she decided she wouldn't do the third year anymore. She wanted to go back to Holland, find a job and a nice place to live and stay there. Her clan-sister had said she could stay with her for a few months, until September, to start herself up from there. This time it was different to let her go. Still, I did set a unilateral limit. If she wouldn't have a steady income and her own place to live come September, she'd have to come back to England, back to us.

And then we heard we'd have to leave the Vicarage. So when AL left for Holland she had no idea of what she'd be coming back to, if she'd come back in September. Weird. Very unstable. She had a great summer in Holland, a lot of partying and socializing and at one moment she held three jobs at the same time. But it didn't last and she didn't find an affordable place to live. So in September she came back to England. Again. Determined to be back in Holland for her 18th birthday and celebrate it over there.
But then she found a job, some really nice friends, and she found herself liking living in our new house in town and she was thrilled when she was given the chance to live in the temporary house when we moved to where we are now (just over the road). After her fabulous birthday party she confessed to me that before she'd found it really hard to make friends in England, because she was afraid of having to say goodbye to them when going back to Holland. Goodbyes are just so hard, especially when you feel you have no choice in the matter...
Her other insight was that she'd come to idolize Holland, her Dutch friends and the Dutch way of life.

A few weeks later she was going through some hard times at work and generally feeling tired and down. So that one morning when I took her into work she started about how she still wasn't sure where she wanted to live and did I realise how hard we'd made life for her by moving to England, how much she missed her friends in Holland... The whole old song was sang. First I was inclined to do my usual "I understand how hard it must have been for you" and all that. But then I somehow got this urge to stop treating her like the eternal victim in this matter. I wasn't doing her any favours there and I just know that in essence she is one very strong person.
So I took a deep breath and confronted the problem. What I said boiled down to this:

There is no way of telling what would have happened if we'd have stayed in Holland.
Maybe, if we'd stayed in Holland you'd now be on drugs, like a few of the friends you used to hang out with then. Or maybe not, maybe you'd be a prize winning show jumper by now.
Maybe, we'd have lost the next court case for exemption, because of a new judge. Or maybe the laws on education would have changed and home ed was legal now.
Maybe, your Dad's burn out would have turned into more serious health problems or we would have gotten a divorce. Or maybe he'd extended his business and made loads of money and maybe I'd written a bestseller.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
The point is, you never know what would have happened if we'd made a different choice.
Fact is, we did choose to move away from Holland, to live in England. Because at that particular moment it was the best choice for us.
We can't undo that choice, we can't undo the past.
But with every new day we can make new choices.
You have the choice to remain bitter about the move to England and keep blaming everything that goes wrong on us, or to take responsibility for your own personal feelings and situation and make sure you get the most out of your life, for yourself.

We talked about how to choose, how to feel which choice would go best with your flow in life. And how the most difficult thing about choosing is that if you choose to go down one route, it often means you can't go down another one. We talked about what real friendship means and how much work it takes to keep a friendship going when you're in different countries. And we talked about how pain and sorrow are inescapable, and how important it was to accept and try and live through it.
It was a very special drive down to work. And then we arrived. With the typical flexibility of an eighteen year old she checked her make-up in the mirror, gave me a quick kiss and hopped out the car. "Don't forget to pick me up tonight at seven! Oh, and can L and I have something to eat at ours before we go into town? And do you think Daddy will drive us there?"

She'll be fine.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

On Love

From: The Dawn Horse Treatment, by Adi Da

"Love does not fail for you when you are rejected or betrayed or apparently not loved.
Love fails for you when you reject, betray, and do not love. Therefore, if you listen to me, and also if you hear me, and also if you see me, do not stand off from relationship. Be vulnerable. Be wounded when necessary, and endure that wound or hurt. Do not punish the other in love. Communicate to one another, even discipline one another, but do no dissociate from one another or fail to grant one another the knowledge of love. Realize that each one wants to love and to be loved by the other in love. Therefore, love. Do this rather than make any effort to get rid of the feeling of being rejected. To feel rejected is to feel the hurt of not being loved. Allow that hurt, but do not let it become the feeling of lovelessness. Be vulnerable and thus not insulted. If you are merely hurt, you will still know the necessity (or the heart's requirement) of love, and you will still know the necessity (or the heart's requirement) to love."