What I Learned Most Of All, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:19am


When I got back from the stress and confusion of my stepfather’s near-death, I dropped my bag on the counter, my keys in their dish, and called both my kids. I told them that most of all I had learned that I want an authentic relationship with them. That I need to be able to hear what they feel and tell them the same in return. That I will work towards this myself. That nothing they could tell me would cause my destruction.

As a young mother, with young kids, authentic means responding to their needs as best you can. As an older mother, with grown kids, authentic changes.

The day will come when I will be near death, and if we aren’t living in a habitual structure of truth by then, it will be difficult to construct on the spot.

My kids weren’t sure they knew what I meant, or if I meant what I said. Now we’re practicing. The early stages of anything new involves trying too hard, failing to understand failure, failing to understand success, and self-questioning. I’m well aware of my shortcomings and wish I could make my way through life in grace like witches in their glittered gowns. I’m thinking Glinda, you know, arriving in her bubble after the house falls on the Wicked Witch of the West? But I meant what I said. I still mean it. I intend to mean it tomorrow, too.

Have a wonderful weekend.

30 Comments

  • 02/20/10
    10:45 am

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    Belle de Ville said...

    Isn't it amazing how a near death experience prompts an immediate need for authenticity.

  • 02/20/10
    11:16 am

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    LPC said...

    Is that it? Is it universal?

  • 02/20/10
    11:44 am

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    the communicatrix said...

    It was for me. Amazing what you see/feel when the curtain gets pulled back, even for an instant.

    You are fortunate and you are wise. And you are also, perhaps, braver and more gracious than you know to share this with the world.

  • 02/20/10
    11:44 am

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    The Cape House said...

    I don't think I'm sure of what you mean, either, although I get the sentiment. It sounds like a great goal. Good luck.

  • 02/20/10
    12:13 pm

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    hostess of the humble bungalow said...

    I read this twice, and although I do not have a complete grasp on what you are saying….I think you are implying, and I can surmise that you want everything out in the open.
    Honesty, open dialogue, no resentment, communication, no cryptic messages, or talking behind ones back…and If you feel the need to call and say thank you, or I appreciate you or even more to the point I love you…do it and maybe do it every day if it feels right!
    I may be way off base here LPC…and maybe reading between the lines is not my strong point!
    Hugs!

  • 02/20/10
    12:19 pm

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    LPC said...

    Thank you Colleen. And Cape House, Hostess, it's just a sense that I want to move beyond the managed communications of early childhood, and find a new way of talking. But I can't just be their friends, I'm always going to be the mother, so it's as though a completely new relationship has to be created, one I've never had before since these are my only kids and they only just became adults:).

  • 02/20/10
    12:21 pm

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    materfamilias said...

    As you know, I'm negotiating now between my children/grandchildren's place in my life and my mother's. In that negotiation, but especially in the challenges my mother poses, I take so much solace in the openness I seem to enjoy with my adult children — it's not a complete openness, obviously, boundaries being important and all, but your word "authenticity" seems to apply, and I'm very, very grateful. I can count the moments my mother managed to achieve that, using very small numbers, and while I think she did the best she could (I have this naive belief that we all do that, in fact), I hope I can model something a bit more fulfilling. As your other commenters, I'm not sure I've caught your intent here or if, instead, I'm projecting my situation onto yours, but I do wish you luck with your goal, and I suspect you've already built a strong foundation for achieving it.

  • 02/20/10
    2:28 pm

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    Menopausal New Mom said...

    Yes, a near death can certainly make one rethink how they are living their life. I enjoyed your post today, it made me think!

  • 02/20/10
    3:22 pm

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    myletterstoemily said...

    i love your intent and hope to do the same. it is a
    strange place to be their mother but also their friend
    now. sometimes we skate along merrily, and then we
    crash into the 'mother'. they bring her up as frequently
    as i do.

    or i am 'mothering' along and sail into the' friend'.

    all i know is that the relationship is vital to me, and i
    am willing to work very hard at it.

    just like you!

  • 02/20/10
    3:43 pm

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    Maureen@IslandRoar said...

    I think about this a lot. I still have a 15 year old, who still just needs a mom, but things have started to change a lot with the 22 year old boy. Authenticity….I love the sound of that. Not friend, but not just mother, or more than mother….
    You obviously need to revisit this (for our sake) as you progress thru doing it.

  • 02/20/10
    5:53 pm

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    Katherine said...

    An authenitc relationship with my 19 year old son developed when I learned to do 2 things. One, I stopped doing the mental "Mom-editing" that I ran my words through before speaking to him. With kids, it is necesary. To adult kids, the conversation sounds false if I am not talking to him as I would another adult friend or co-worker.

    Two, when he talked, I just listened and didn't offer advice (unless asked), didn't disparage out of Mom fear, or just tell him what to do. This has been harder and has taken some time, but our conversations are getting deeper, and more honest. He can tell me things about his life without worrying, "what will Mom say?"

    I am still Mom though so there are boundaries. For me, no foul language or name calling in my presence, and he respects the rules I have established for our house.

    Authentic conversation is a wonderful goal. And when you start acheiving it with your kids, it may start flowing backward to your parents like it is starting to do so with my WASP father.

  • 02/20/10
    6:07 pm

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    ADG said...

    My father died when I was fifteen. God has blessed me with an embarrassment of riches in mentors/surrogate fathers. I am now slowly losing them…an inevitable endpoint in our transitory journey. Your "authentic" relationship posit resonated with me-maybe for reasons irrelevant to what you actually mean-but that's ok. Consistent with my gratitude for having surrogate fathers/mentors and consistent with the authenticity and grace that has defined a few of them, I fly out tomorrow to say goodbye to one. I don't want to regret later, a missed opportunity to tell him how much I love him and to let he know what he's meant to me. Authentic-yep.

  • 02/20/10
    7:21 pm

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    Bumby Scott said...

    You do make my smile.Hold on to those thoughts,
    You will need them on days that the house has just fallen on you.
    And your little ones are looking down at you as your toes curl….just smiling.

    Always Bumby

  • 02/20/10
    7:55 pm

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    Anonymous said...

    Projecting here – probably a lot! I have the impression that it violates some WASP conventions to discuss much in the way of feelings and inner life – though you do it so beautifully here. Anyhow, my projection:

    It is a beautiful gift you have offered your children. I am 45 and struggle with the fact that my mother wants to keep things very much on the surface. So many things I'd like to ask. So many things I'd like to say (many in appreciation of her) but because she denies or doesn't want to talk about the realities of past situations, she can't and won't hear them.

    Her life has been hard; my childhood was hard. She did her best but sometimes it wasn't all I needed and sometimes it frankly wasn't very good. Nevertheless, I turned out more than fine and as a grown woman I can understand all this and forgive it in a way that I couldn't as a child and young woman. I would like to be able to talk about the past, if only so I could thank her for the innumerable sacrifices she made on my behalf and tell her that I hold no anger, hurt, or even regret for the times she was any less than perfect. But she is unwilling to face anything less than perfection in herself and is unable to hear that it was hard without feeling it as criticism. She is skilled at deflecting conversations that veer anywhere close to the past. As I result I have no opportunity to say "I love (all of) you." Sadder, she lacks the opportunity to hear it. And I know that her passing will be difficult for me as a result of the things unsaid and unheard.

  • 02/21/10
    1:52 am

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    Faux Fuchsia said...

    The quest for Authenticity is a journey. Good luck on yours. I channeled the Good Witch Glinda on New Years Eve and blogged about it. xxxx

  • 02/21/10
    7:39 am

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    enc said...

    This is a fascinating post. I'm working on trying to navigate step-motherhood with my husband's 13-year-old daughter. Things were going stellarly until a few months ago. Now she's sullen all the time. I know, I know, "adolescence," but she's a good soul and I know she's in there somewhere. I will persevere. I'm going to remember what you wrote here. And try to remember what I felt like when I was her age. (Ugh, that sounds so . . . "back in my day!")

  • 02/21/10
    7:40 am

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    enc said...

    I apologize, I meant to say "thank you" for your recent comment on my blog. Thanks for taking the time.

  • 02/21/10
    8:36 am

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    Duchesse said...

    Near death, or other powerful moments reunite us with the need to live in our integrity. The painful admissions and awkward re-starts are part of it; the past is done, but it is imperative to begin, right now. (Same thing happened to me when I visited my mother during her last months.)

  • 02/21/10
    9:31 am

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    Vix said...

    I think Katherine and Anon 7:55 have the two sides of the coin.

    I don't do well with surface, and while I'm sure some see me as the proverbial bull and fear for their china, I wish they'd feel a bit for the bull, who's forced to circle round and round instead of getting to blast off with the china on a wonderful ride!

    Trust is such a huge piece of what you're undertaking. Trust that what sounds like criticism–and may be criticism–comes from a loving place, and trust that each of you can share information/thoughts/feelings without it being held against you in some way.

    Not an easy task you've set for yourself, but one that has many rewards…good luck!

  • 02/21/10
    9:56 am

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    Queen of Cashmere said...

    I am so feeling this post! The transitory stages are hard to navigate, indeed.
    All the players in the scene have to be on board too. I'm a few steps behind you, still in the teenage rage years. (Trust me, it's authentic rage.) One day, with a little luck, the man/boy and I will move onto the part of the stage where you stand now. Please keep posting, your selfless sharing gives more comfort and guidance than you can imagine.

  • 02/21/10
    12:05 pm

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    LPC said...

    You all are very good to me. I appreciate each comment enormously.

    I confess, I had no intent to be good, per se, in posting. Only to tell what happened. Maybe being good sometimes is just telling difficult truths in a way that is accessible. Anon is right, High WASPs haven't traditionally been open about their feelings. And I don't believe that authentic has to mean tell everything. It only means, to me, that was is told is real and that the impulse to communicate from true or should come first. Not to manipulate, not defend, not to create a false image that appears to sustain us.

    I feel for the bull as I do for the china. Vix, thank you for the metaphor.

  • 02/21/10
    12:13 pm

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    Leslie said...

    UR so on the right track! My father died suddenly seven years ago. And we were incommunicado at that time–not mad, but not calling one another either. Times were tough for me, and really tough for him. We could have helped each other by speaking as authentic friends, but that was something we'd never done before. Then poof! He was gone.

    Good for you. Good for your children.

  • 02/21/10
    12:20 pm

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    tippchic said...

    'The day will come when I will be near death, and if we aren't living in a habitual structure of truth by then, it will be difficult to construct on the spot' -I found this the most resonant phrase- and I feel it is as true with my own parents as with my children. As others have said though; appropriate boundaries must be maintained and both sides have to engage. A very thoughtful post from my favourite navy writer! M

  • 02/21/10
    1:02 pm

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    Beth Dunn said...

    You are graceful, even if you are still learning something new. xoxo

    Sc

  • 02/22/10
    3:22 am

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    Buckeroomama said...

    Authenticity comes easily with some relationships and with others, needs a bit of work. No one true formula either.

  • 02/22/10
    5:33 am

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    Barbara said...

    I have been reading your blog for some time, a few months and enjoy it very much. Today your firt paragraph clearly stated what has been on my mind. My son is a man — and have tried to have this conversation with him, one that is so important to me. Keeping the communication open between grown child and parent is the key. Perhaps it could be part of many conversations. But we know how precious our children are and how precious is time.

  • 02/22/10
    6:11 am

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    Anonymous said...

    I really am impressed at your sincerity for trying to have authentic conversation.

    My parents were of "the stiff upper lip" kind and affection was sparse, as was true conversation. Frankly they were so toxic, that I left home early and had few conversations with them for years. I was the "emotional one" and with three sisters who were like my parents, life was not easy.

    WHen I had children, things changed tremendously. My mother fell madly in love with her baby grandson, as did my father. My son was raised by us very differently. My parents were amazed I actually played with him!

    Anyway, my mother soon developped lung cancer. In the end I think we achieved the authentic conversation; and after she died, I tried to do the same with my father. It didn't quite work, and when he died last year, suddnenly, well, I wish I had tried harder.

    How brave of you to try now. I hope you never stop.

  • 02/22/10
    9:12 am

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    lauren said...

    this is beautifully said, lisa. at the risk of saying something dodgy (for i don't know how the book ends), i read your post just before reading the "miro, miro on the wall" section of colum mccann's let the great world spin, and the mighty and nuanced motherlove that character has for her son (and the lovely, tailored way mccann spins out his prose in that chapter) reminded me of you.

    my parents and i have had the sort of relationship you describe, especially since they divorced several years ago and i was really, truly forced to see them outside our family unit. it's occasionally painful, to be sure, but i will never worry that we didn't know each other. that honesty is the biggest love i know.

  • 02/22/10
    4:28 pm

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    Cynthia said...

    This is so timely. Over the weekend a friend asked what does a relationship with adult children look like and how do you do it. I was able to point them to your blog post. Thanks for sharing.

    One of my all time favorite quotes and one that guides me to be authentic in relationships is by Virginia Satir "I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen, heard, understood and touched by them. The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and touch another person. When this is done I feel contact has been made."

  • 02/23/10
    11:14 am

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    Pink Martini said...

    It is a different place you'll find yourself. It takes our kids longer to adjust almost as if they need to give themselves permission or to test the waters first. They have been raised to respect our authority in all things, erroneously believe that we know all and in a child-like place, that we have been perfect in that unrealistic sense that only comes from unconditionally loving their parent. Sometimes it's a sad place to leave and takes time. But if it is gradual, practically stealth-like without force or expectations then it will be a beautiful thing. ~ Or at least, this has been my experience.

    Realizing we are 'the next in line' or being 'bumped up' can make us rethink of what is ultimately important to us. It's never an extra pair of shoes or diamond earrings is it? I've been at the head of the line for quite some time now. :) xoxo

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