Stop Stopping

Christiana White
Feb 9 · 7 min read
Photo by Filip Gielda on Unsplash

I’m in a weird place in my life. That much is obvious. I’m anxious. Worried. I’m drinking every night. Yes, just one drink. But that drink is a doozy. A cocktail, or a glass of wine that goes right to my head and leaves me in a kind of fog, which is probably exactly where I want to go because, yes, I’m anxious and upset these days. I seem to wake up in that state most mornings.

What’s going on with me?

My daughter is leaving for college in the fall, of course. Of course, this is a big deal. I built my life around taking care of my children, as have most of us mothers and many of us fathers.

When I got pregnant the first time, I was flooded with joy and tenderness, but the dominant feeling was relief. Finally, I could stop thinking about myself, about my worries, my fears. Finally, I could muffle the tape running in my mind about what I was doing wrong. Finally, I could stop the voice questioning again and again, what are you doing? Why are you doing that? Why don’t you know what you want to do, what you’re about? What matters to you? How will you make a difference? What will you do with your one perfect life?

Now, that life is more than half over, and I fear I’m still a zombie in the face of these important questions.

When I realized I was pregnant, I finally knew what I had to do, and that was care for this new human. Care for this human, and the one that came after, with all of my heart and soul. Keep money coming in, keep a house reasonably clean, keep cupboards, larders, and fridges full. Keep the stove warm, deliver hot meals to the table on the regular.

I got good at that.

I was good at that.

I am good at that.

I don’t much like cooking for myself, alone. But, I have done it, more than once, lately. I’m getting ready, preparing.

My son might not leave in the fall. But, he might. That is up in the air. He will be 22 in March. He and I work together at a tech company in Silicon Valley. We commute together, usually in my lumbering Mitsubishi, but sometimes in his little Fiat convertible.

Both my son and my daughter applied to college this year. My son had eschewed the idea, writing university off as a monumental rip-off and scam. He wanted to do his thing without the degree. He’s doing quite well, in fact, and could probably, eventually, make a go of it. But, I think he is finding in interviews that the question of why he lacks a degree continues to arise. It annoys him, but he’s shifting his perspective a bit.

It’s dawning on him that finishing his education (he has two years of community college under his belt) might be a good investment after all. And, in fact, might even be fun. I keep telling him school is more fun that work, and that this is the time in his life where he can explore all that he cares about and is interested in. He’ll have plenty of time later for earning money and doing the grind. Now, he should be exploring technology, yes, but also music (which he loves), philosophy, history, economics, literature.

My daughter, Nina, will definitely be gone in the fall. She has worked terribly hard for years. She did everything right. While my son took a very meandering path to where he is today, Nina has been on the straight and narrow all along. She really delivered for herself. She attended Berkeley High School (after I rescued her from Oakland School for the Arts [OSA], which was laughably easy) and has challenged herself academically and intellectually.

She didn’t want to go. She wanted to stay at OSA, where she knew she could maintain a 4.0 GPA. She didn’t think she could do that in a rigorous program. But she did. She has above a 4.0 in the International Baccalaureate program at Berkeley High School. I am beyond impressed.

She applied to the top four campuses of the University of California (Berkeley, UCLA, Davis, and Santa Barbara), Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Reed, and a handful of private schools on the east coast.

She is hoping for a good financial aid package, as am I, of course, and she just may get one. We wait with bated breath.

It’s dawning on my son that it will be potentially uncomfortable for him when his younger sister leaves, and he’s still living with mom at home. But, we know what we’re doing and why. We live in the Bay Area, where a serious housing crisis means it’s impossible for a young person to rent an apartment. Even if he could afford it, just barely, I don’t want my kids paying other people’s mortgages for them. I feel strongly about this.

We are trying to build wealth, and I came very late to the notion I could have any agency in this aspect of my life. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-forties that I began to get serious about understanding money. I’m still a financial neophyte, but at least we have no debt other than the mortgage now. The car is paid off. I’m working hard to make us secure. And, I really believe that our kids will have a harder time than we had. I want to leave them as much as I can. A paid-off house in the Bay Area, for starters.

The fact that my kids are leaving is not what makes me anxious though. That current coursing through me has been there for most of my life. Maybe it’s the human condition, as they say. I’m sure part of it is.

I have a feeling thought that with our brief span of time on earth we’re supposed to do whatever we can to master that strain of unease.

I heard recently somewhere, or read it, “It’s not your fault you’re fucked up. It’s your fault if you stay fucked up.”

“Work on yourself, Mom. The rest will come.”

My son said that a couple of weeks ago.

He’s been clean and sober for about six weeks. No tobacco, alcohol, or pot. The pot was his real nemesis, and once that started up again, everything else did too.

He’s attending sobriety workshops at Kaiser, our local hospital, nightly. He’s meditating and doing a habits app. He’s exercising daily and keeping a journal and floating in tubs of water with a thousand pounds of Epsom Salts in them.

He’s doing the work.

He was fidgety and uncomfortable the first couple of weeks. As I am now when I try to avoid the feelings that arise at dusk. That transitional time. The gloaming.

A wave of gloom threatens to engulf me. It’s a desperate feeling of not having captured what needed to have been captured. Not having done the right thing, made the right decision, and now the chance is lost. The feeling of time passing, hurtling by so fast I can’t get my fingers into it, can’t hope to grab it. The feeling that no matter what I do, what I decide, it’s wrong.

That feeling.

This morning, I began this entry. After weeks and weeks of failing to write, failing to write, after facing daily this sinking feeling of having let myself down, I managed to begin this entry this morning. Midway through, I left it. I went outside to throw the ball for Daisy.

I threw the ball for Daisy. I threw it down the street, and she chased it down hard and trotted back proudly, head held high. The sun was breaking through the fog, and the light was clear and tender, warm, with a touch of spring in it. And I felt happy. And I noticed I felt happy. And I noticed it had been a while since I’d felt light like that. A long while.

And I wondered, was it the writing? Just writing a few mere paragraphs, throwing some words on the page, some paint on the wall, was that what was so freeing?

I felt free. The tension had dissipated.

Two women and two children around six years old were walking down the street. They stopped to pet Daisy. We chatted. I was able to be present with the kids, to sink into and feel the moment. To notice the boy’s curly hair, the girls long black ringlets.

A few minutes later, my kids came out of the house and we set off to take their dad to lunch at a China Village, a Szechuan restaurant on Solano Avenue in Albany.

A woman of around 63 was passing as we piled into the car. We began to chat. Somehow we learned ever so quickly that she spends half the year in Mexico, in Baja, to be clear (San Felipe, I think she said), that she bought a house on the beach for $50,000, that it’s beautiful and only a 12-hour drive. She spends every winter there.

That exchange, that chat, that warm episode of sharing, would not have occurred if I hadn’t been opened up in the way that I had. By the mere act of typing a few words on the page, I was able to open to new experiences, to what is: to sun, Daisy, kids, this woman.

Develop yourself, Mom. The rest will fall into place naturally.

It’s hard for me to do that. It’s hard for any of us, I know this. Part of the job is finding and nurturing the will power to do the right thing, to make the right decisions.

I will need to find the strength to find myself once my kids launch themselves from the nest. To locate the Self in me and stand up for her. To know what I want. To stop dancing with bad leaders, for starters. To know why I’m getting out of bed. To know what I care about. To count myself in.

I have something to say. The job now is to find it. And say it. And stop stopping.

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