A few months ago, my 23 year old son slapped an unwanted a label on me. FRAGILE. Wait. What? Is this how he really sees me? And as many things go in a large family, it didn’t take long for the rest of the family to follow suit, and find and use every opportunity to playfully call me fragile. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not above using this to my advantage when I need something physical done that I don’t want to do. You know, “Can you please do this for me? I’m too fragile.” But I admit, this new label was taking up way too much space in my brain, and I just couldn’t shake it. It bothered me…a lot. But then, I remembered the Gloria Steinem quote, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” I realized I needed to identify the source of my emotions and I asked myself what I always ask myself when someone says something that hurts my feelings or makes me angry… “Is it true?”
Okay, so maybe I always need my reading glasses. Maybe I can’t eat all the things I used to eat. And while I’m not at the “I don’t want to fall and break a hip” stage of my life, a 100+ pound person falling on me or knocking me over while the kids are roughhousing, could potentially cause some damage, or at minimum, a lot of pain at this point in my life. But this doesn’t mean I’m fragile, does it? This is just normal aging, right? Please, tell me I’m right. But I suppose, in the eyes of a strong, healthy 23 year old, I may appear “fragile”. I beg to differ.
There is a scene in the movie Love Actually, where Emma Thompson’s character is sitting around the Christmas tree with her family. She realizes her husband has had an affair. She politely excuses herself, goes to her room and begins to cry. After a few minutes, she wipes her tears, shakes off her emotions, puts a smile on her face and returns to her family. No one suspects that her life has just been changed forever.
This scene brings tears to my eyes every time I see it. I think it portrays a moment that most of us have experienced. A moment that brings us to our knees, a moment that turns our life up-side-down, a moment that is so painful and unimaginable that we want to shut the door, turn out the lights, curl into a ball and cease to exist. But that’s not what we do. We wipe our tears, shake off our emotions, put a smile on our face and return to our life and no one suspects that we have just been changed forever.
Life, and particularly parenting, is not for the fragile. There is a strength we don’t know we possess until we are faced with such a moment. There is nothing fragile about the love a mother has for her child. It is unconditional, enduring and often heart breaking. There is strength behind the quiet dedication, sacrifice and compromise we give to our loved ones every day that often goes unseen and unappreciated. It takes strength to be silent when we want to speak, and strength to speak when we want to be silent. It is strength that allows us to let go when we want to hold on, and strength that allows us to hold on when we want to let go. It is a strength beyond physical measure.
I determined that my reaction to his label is not because there is truth behind it (okay, maybe a little), but because it makes me feel misunderstood. He has a perception of me that I do not have of myself. So now I question if I have failed in showing my strength, if I have succeeded in hiding my struggles or if it is a combination of both. Maybe this is an area in my life that I need to strike a better balance.
On New Year’s Eve, my son told me that if I would squeeze a “Pop It” between my fingers, he would not call me fragile for a week. After several minutes of negotiation, he agreed not only to refrain from calling me fragile until St. Patrick’s Day, but that he would also refer to me as a badass once a week until then as well. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I am under no delusion that he will actually live up to this deal, but I will admit, I felt warm and fuzzy inside the first time he called me a badass. I know he didn’t really believe it, but maybe…just maybe, if he says it enough times, he’ll start to see it.