On the Periphery

I went to a birthday dinner with a group of nice women. Somebody asked me how my daughter was doing on her class trip to Gettysburg. I started to reply, when someone else asked what she was doing there. I explained that the gifted and talented group joins another school’s annual trip. The atmosphere sharply turned into a seething mix of anxiety and resentment and query. Ah, I’d triggered parental competition zone. I let the veil drop and turned into myself to ride out the chattering, the references to learning styles and I don’t know what else they were going on about. When they turned to me to ask when the testing for the gifted program was, I quietly said I didn’t know.

I disconnected, but this time, I followed the clues to figure out why I’m disconnecting. Mothers go out together to get the scoop. Here I’d given them a scoop when what I needed was a receptive audience to hear my own hardships. Why was that so important to me? My daughter was in Gettysburg without me. My husband had chaperoned son when he went a few years ago, and I always hoped that I’d chaperone her. That didn’t work out. I’d allowed myself to imagine worst-case scenarios of her on a trip without me. Once she departed, however, so confident with her smartly-packed suitcase and little camera at the ready and her knowledge of battles and generals and colonels ready to be put to use on the actual battlefield, I trusted the process, and I let her go. That was a big parenting step, especially this year, when I’ve been so protective of these kids. I was so proud of her and so sad about our situation. In the days that she was gone, I spent so much time alone that I held it all in. I didn’t have anyone to talk this through with. When finally asked at the dinner, it was my chance to share my feelings, but they didn’t want to know about my or her troubled souls, they just wanted to know how to get their kid into the program. I get that. The fault was mine in expecting more from dinner-party conversation. I’m seeking out connections that one finds in a partner, because that’s what I really crave, but nobody goes to a dinner party to deeply connect, they get that at home. This is what I took away from that dinner: I am not Number One in anyone’s life.

It’s okay. A lot of people care about me and care for me, and I’m grateful for that. I am lucky to have a number of people who will listen and counsel me on some pretty deep stuff. But they’re not there for me everyday, or for every little problem. When it comes down to it, I’m on the periphery of everyone’s life and the center of no one’s. (except the kids. I know. But I take care of them, they’re not here to take care of me.) I understand that many people live alone, so it’s time to figure out how to live a life this way, too. But first, I’m just going to let it simmer a while so I can feel how much it hurts, and explore the depth of this absence. This past year I’ve been so distracted by the activity of getting our lives in order, and I’ve felt so much pain that it’s as if husband and I were still a couple, bound by pain. As I’m moving on, I’m finally confronted with emptiness, and it often surprises me to encounter it, and to be reminded, again and again, just how lonely I am. I’m sitting with it for the time being, because I’m pretty sure that loneliness has not finished slapping me in the face. I’ll let myself get battered around by it, then I’ll be sure to let this go, too. And then I’m going to need to rely on myself, on my own core. Meditation has taught me that if you turn in deep enough, you come around on the other side to meet the whole world, the universe, and maybe I’ll even be able to connect with people at dinner parties, what with my lowered expectations and all. I know there’s hope. But today–crikey!–I’m a lonely son of a gun.

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