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I Know You Are, But What Am I?

Recently, I have been thinking about that magical defense spell that we learned to use as children. No… not “I’m rubber and you’re glue”… the other one: “I know you are, but what am I?” It was always there for me as a kid: a snarky attempt to save face when the perfect comeback was waiting to come rushing out hours, or sometimes days, later once it was totally and completely useless. Back then “I know you are, but what am I?” was the verbal equivalent of throwing sand in the eyes of an attacker, to allow for a timely escape. As an adult, I find it taking on new meaning.

I know you are, but what am I? It has become less of a shield, and more of a complicated phrase of introspection. The older I get, the more I realize that it often feels like I have a better idea of who the people around me are (whether or not that idea is ultimately accurate) than I do of who I am, myself. It’s easier to look around, and observe what is happening with those around us, than it is to direct our gaze inward. I suppose a part of that is due to mere science: our eyes aim outward and, along with our other senses, they feed us (and sometimes, in the age of social media, bombard us with) information about people and the world. It takes a lot more effort to take a meaningful look inward and, especially given all the current opportunities for distraction, it can be hard to take the time to simply reflect.

My baby brother (yes, he is 6’5″ and a grown man now, but I will forever claim my birthright to call him my baby brother…end of discussion) recently wrote an articulate blog post in which he addresses the importance of silence in our lives: https://stickneymusic.wordpress.com/2019/06/24/silence-the-non-musical-post/

Trust me, with three kids, two cats, and one very needy dog… I have a deep appreciation for the value of silence (it’s right up there with my morning coffee… but frustratingly more elusive), so, as I sat crouched on the floor of my closet, silently reading his blog (so as not to give away my position), I found myself nodding in agreement and planning out when and how to get me some more silence….

There is a real tendency to want to fill our schedules (and those of our kids) up to the brim with appointments and activities, and while the motivations may be truly noble (Life is short and we want to live it to the fullest! We don’t want to miss out on anything! We want our children to have each and every available opportunity and experience!) we risk limiting or even eliminating those important moments of nothingness… of what the kids lovingly refer to as “MAMMA! I’M BORED!”… which just so happen to be some of the very best moments for deep personal reflection.

That said, however, silent reflection can also be intimidating. Sometimes (whether I like to admit it or not), the noise, activities, and busy work are a welcome distraction from tasks, or even thoughts, that I would rather avoid or postpone. There are times… maybe even while I have been writing this very blog post… that, though the kids, and the cats, and the dog are miraculously otherwise occupied, I catch myself looking for reasons why I can’t sit for a moment and just think. I mean… that towel sitting out near the pool isn’t going to pick itself up, is it? Wait…it’s pretty dirty… I should probably go ahead and gather up all the dirty towels and throw a load in the washer while I am at it. Ugh, how can this kid not see the toothpaste all over his sink? Shoot, we are running pretty low on toothpaste… and paper towel, I’ll just add them to the shopping list on my phone. Oh look! A text from (insert name)! I wonder why I didn’t hear it. (Probably because I turned off the sound so that I could concentrate). I should answer him/her. Well, would ya look at that: it’s time to get things ready for dinner! …and so on and so forth… until my thoughtful silence is once again pushed off to a later time…or date.

But distractions don’t last forever, even when (especially when) we would like them to. So, now that I have a moment (and the towels and sinks are clean)…who am I?

A few weeks back, I got a good glimpse of who I used to be growing up, on a quick visit to the place I spent my grade schools years. It was the first time I had been back in quite a while. I walked my old paper route (how the hell did I ride up that hill on a bike every morning?), drove around town, and got to visit with friends I had not seen in a long time. In the process, I saw and heard reminders of who I was: the paper girl, the kid who was always running like a maniac to catch the morning school bus as the other riders giggled, the quiet kid who played the oboe…etc. But, I am not any of those anymore…

Ironically, on this very same nostalgic trip, I also felt a part of who I have since become being peeled away from me, as I left my first born, My Moon, at a precollege experience for the summer… a precursor to her upcoming more permanent departure from home next month. A departure for which I am, of course, proud (it’s a big next step, though I know that, in reality, she has been steadily sliding away from being under my wing for quite some time, now) but I’m also a little terrified. It’s funny (odd…not ha ha) how I have spent so much time and effort trying to prepare this particular fledgling… nudging her to the edge of the nest, and sometimes all but tossing her into the air… and now that she is about to take off, I am the one who may not quite be prepared… not to see her fly (I am definitely ready for that)… but to lose a piece of who I am.

I think the upcoming departure of My Moon is one of the main reasons that this question of who I am has been dogging me, in the first place. I am nowhere near an empty nester, thanks to my surprise gift of Little Man (yes, I was well aware of how things worked at the time… just not that they were working so very efficiently…Surprise!). Still, A lot of who I have been for the past 18 years… a lot of my current core identity… is wrapped up in the teenaged bundle of sarcasm and joy that is about to take off, like a rocket shedding the structures around it (and we’ve all seen the hit those structures take when that happens…).

Ouch!

My current state of mind could also have something to do with the fact that we moved last year, after having lived in the same place for nine years (that’s a record for us). Nine years is more than enough time to settle into the community, develop close friendships, pick up nicknames… So, now that we have moved to a completely different part of the country… where nobody knew my name (Norm! For the young’uns out there: see Cheers)… I am once again saying goodbye to pieces of who I am… well… was: school workroom mom, insegnante di italiano at the Mocha Lounge, Purple Eagle (a story for another time)…etc. It kind of feels like the blocks I spent nine years clicking together to carefully form the version of myself that lived there were just bowled over and scattered about like Little Man’s Legos, and I am well aware of the fact that some of the pieces are gone, and that the ones I am able to find are never going to fit together the same way.

Sure, there will be new pieces and some of the old ones may reappear, but, at the moment, my excitement at starting over and figuring out who I am here is tepid, at best. I was comfortable… and figuring out how I fit in here and how our new family dynamic will be with just the four of us at home has made me… uncomfortable.

That’s not to say that I haven’t made any friends here. I have… and slowly but surely, taking deep breaths, and making sure I allow myself some silent time both to contemplate the future, and to make peace with my first little bird leaving the nest, I am sure I will once again figure out who I am… for the moment. I get it… it’s a life long journey. I figure I should feel comfortable again just in time for My Sun to throw herself out of the nest… in her special and endearing way… knocking over my new Lego assembly on her way by. The thought is a little intimidating. In the meantime… those towels aren’t going to fold themselves!

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