I’ve been on a few classic ski trails this winter, long crisp grooves cut into the snow by a machine, inviting me to slide my skis into the tracks and let them guide me. But, I never ever do. I’ve tried, and I can handle it for about a minute before I’m up out of the grooves making my own way.
This is not new behaviour. My dad tells this story about me as a little kid. I had run my mouth off and was given a choice between a spank and having my mouth washed out with soap. I remember the hardened resolve that reared up in me that day. There was NO WAY I was going to be held over someone’s knee. I marched up to the bathroom, grabbed a whole bar of soap and bit off a chunk, chewing and gagging and chewing grimly. My dad, tears in his eyes, watched me suffer a far worse fate than I would have had I submitted to a spank.
To me, this was the better way. The only way. Because I was the one holding the bar of soap. I have never ever done well in any situation or relationship that felt like a trap. Anytime I’ve ever felt like I was being nudged into neatly made grooves, I’d dig in hard and engineer a way out. Who knows when this little coping mechanism hardened into habit. How old was I? Was there a defining moment that set in motion what has become nearly four decades of a well worn pattern? Somewhere along the way, I decided that the only way I could respect myself under pressure was to hold my boundaries, defend my territory and DO IT MY WAY.
The little girl I was got a lot of mileage out of this tough act. I ruthlessly sifted out the things I didn’t want to be influenced by, and very quickly distilled my values and passions into a sense of self I could wear comfortably. I’m learning, though, that the identity I built for myself as a kid doesn’t always work for me as a wife, a mother, a friend…
My husband doesn’t need a wife who chafes against the needs and dependencies of a partnership, my kids don’t need a mom who doesn’t know how to really sit with their emotions, and my friends don’t need me to remind them how strong I am. I think my husband could use a wife who lets him know he’s needed just a little sometimes, my kids could use a mom who lets herself cry when they cry, and my friends could use my kindness more than my bravado. I think they’d be better off with the girl without all the armour.
John 21: 18: “…when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”
I don’t want to give up my armour. I really really don’t. I’m worried I won’t know how to live with the woman underneath. But I know this is the way forward. For all of us. I think walking less and less wherever we want, and more and more wherever we’re needed is what maturity looks like. I read recently that staying willfully stuck in our hardened ways ‘limits love’s possibilities.” Of course it does. This would be one circumstance where my dislike of limitations is a good thing. I want my capacity for love to be limitless. So, I’ll just have to go ahead and get over myself.