Unconditional Love

Letting go is gradual and well timed but it allows for the space of deeply knowing our children on their terms, not ours.

This Thanksgiving break turned into an incredible lightness of nothing wrapped in good intentions. We had planned on hiking at Joshua Tree; visiting several interesting exhibits at The Broad and LACMA; and trolling inexpensive restaurants downtown, as well as a number of other unfulfilled self-promises. Truthfully, we saw one movie, The Green Book, which is a heartwarming and complicated story about race, class, and friendship. I read a good deal, but mostly for fun and entertainment. My list included Little, a delightful novel based on the life of Mme. Tussaud, My Friend, the National Book Award winner for fiction, and Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Unsheltered, not my favorite and a bit heavy handed and didactic, but I’m always interested in differing opinions. I also re-read Into the Magic Shop, a non-fiction memoir written by the neurosurgeon Dr. James Dody about growing up poor and befriending the shop’s owner, a magical and inspirational person herself whose little shop becomes a physical safe haven and metaphor for life lessons the author accumulates throughout his life.

While my fiction reading was my vacation, re-reading Into the Magic Shop reminded me of the importance of quieting the body and mind as well as being in touch with my thoughts and emotions. I managed to successfully quiet my body this break just short of comatose, but I also tried to follow his advice to engage more deeply with those around me with compassion and kindness. His treatise on unconditional love explains that love is not without hurt or pain, but rather is a love that is selfless and all encompassing. My most enduring unconditional love is for family and has been the touchstone for my child raising years. It endured through their teen years when they were occasionally angry, disrespectful, or thoughtless. But love always has kept me rooted in their corner, at the ready with the towel and the encouragement to get back into the ring. And I now have the most wonderful adults in my life who bring me joy every single day.  I’m still mom and I get teased unmercifully, but always served with huge helpings of love.

I have written before about my son Rob who spent much of his teen years in defiance and opposition—angry that his father left, angry at me for being the one who stayed, angry that a car accident robbed him of his good studentship, and angry at the general unfairness of never being able to reclaim the world as he knew it. To combat life’s injustices he turned to alcohol and drugs to anesthetize himself until, with the help of an intervention and rehab, found sobriety by losing his anger and finding love and self-forgiveness.

He is often my “go to” child when I need to hear hard truths told through the experience of tough love. As a drug and alcohol counselor, he is a man who understands and lives a life of unconditional love. My professional life has been enriched by his sage wisdom and his advice is always thoughtful and spot on. He also reminds me that when I was finally able to detach from his issues with love, he had the space to become the man he is, filled with compassion and care for others.  Ultimately the sadness, the anger, and the sense of unworthiness were gone. I am proud for his hard won sobriety and I am proud that he is someone many others turn to at the lowest point in their lives.

As an educator who cares very deeply for the children entrusted to our care, I want our students to be surrounded by unconditional love as they learn to take on the responsibility for their lives. The contract that we have with each girl is to prepare her for lifelong learning and for her to be an honorable and compassionate citizen of the world. To walk with grace and love while owning full responsibility for her life is the joy we hope to see at graduation.

In a few short months, our seniors will be preparing to separate from school and parents. We help them by allowing them to make this transition with support but powered by their own steam, leading the way into their future, not ours, remembering that growth happens when we learn to deal with adversity. My best moments have come from low points in my life and I wish I had had the wisdom to realize them as such. My parents gave me the enormous gift of allowing me to struggle and to cherish my independence.

I have forgiven myself for my lack of cultural pursuit over break, but by choosing tranquility I was open to and fully present for my other son, Geoff, and listened—truly listened to him—and did not offer a scrap of advice, which pleased him immensely. Letting go is gradual and well timed but it allows for the space of deeply knowing our children on their terms, not ours.

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