There is a part of the earth that exists between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. These are latitudes at 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator that mark the boundary of where the sun may be directly overhead at some part of the year. Everyone living beyond these latitudes may only feel the sun from an angle at any given time.
My babies have grown up “from Cancer to Capricorn”. It has been a youth lived in the tropics, with beaches and sunshine and ghosts and giants. Their friends are beautiful children of marriages made, or at least lived, across cultures and religions. They knew the King’s Anthem in Thailand before they knew the US Pledge of Allegiance. They understand deep duality and that faith is faith is faith – whether it is in the ghost in the garden or a god that controls everything. They understand that people starve to death and indulge themselves to death. They can see that sexuality is a continuum of internal truths and not two fixed possibilities. They do not get lost in the possibilities – they are simply not afraid of them.
Now sitting on the cusp of my youngest launching into his own life, I realize that my babies have become citizens of the world but in all honesty, as a mother, I was just going for happy.
When I became a mother, I wondered who my kids would become and what they would care about, but first I prayed (with the intensity that only fervent-non-believers can) that my children would be/could be happy. I didn’t care about rich, or successful, or beautiful or smart. I prayed they would be happy.
And I have to admit that I hadn’t the foggiest idea how to give them that. But something deep within my ancient-mother-knowing knew that their happiness had something inextricably to do with my own happiness. It also had something to do with me cultivating their space to become themselves.
But enough of that mysticism-y stuff because we all know that on a day to day basis life is about the small stuff – buying toothpaste, and pushing grumpy teenagers to do their homework, and remembering to give them their allowance. It is about trying to serve organic vegetables instead of frozen dinners and remember to buy milk (or should I buy soy or almond milk?) on the way home from work. In all the years in between, I read articles about nutrition and where they should go to college and how to get them to talk to me. You name it, I worried about it, and somewhere in there I forgot about the happiness and got focused on achievement and practicalities.
My children have felt controlled, judged, slighted and hurt by me. I have made so many mistakes, but the biggest one I made was letting myself get unhappy. When I was unhappy, I didn’t have the bandwidth to hold the space for my children to be happy. I didn’t have the energy to talk about real things, I didn’t have the space for them to make my mistakes and I didn’t have time to sit beside them while they slept and listen to their silent beating hearts. This is a big one. Those silent moments are the times when I would really reach to hear them in all the things they don’t say.
It is a longer story than I have time for here but I got myself happy. And my ex-husband got himself reasonably happy. And then we remembered how to create the space for our kids to be happy. I remembered to reach for understanding in the silences and to spend energy trying to hear them.
I believe this is the solid ground that my kids stand on. They know that I am listening and trying to breach that enormous gulf between any two individuals. Even if I don’t agree – I am listening and trying to understand. In my act of giving them that as often and as clearly as I can, I have held their space to be happy and to listen and try to understand their world.
And now back to the magic – the giants and ghosts. What is their value in this mother-prayer for their happiness? In our part of the world, giants and ghosts are neither fairy tale nor horror movie. Those magical creatures simply live in the unseen world. The Balinese call this unseen world, this half of the universe, the Niskala, and to deny that this exists is to walk through life with one eye closed. The giants and ghosts are the magic that is part of the landscape and that magic helps us to understand that there is much we don’t know and much we don’t understand. It is what requires us to sit quietly and listen to ourselves; our inner voice, our instincts, our disquiet, our peace and our own truth that tells us not who we should be and what is “normal”, but rather who we are and who we could be if we so choose.
I am proud of my son for working with coaches whom he doesn’t agree with. He can give them respect without agreeing. I am proud of him for being a 6’5” pro-feminist who uses his brains rather than his brawn to learn from history and challenge an entrenched status quo. I am proud of my daughter for holding her own princess revolution and challenging the world’s definition of what a marriage should be in her writing and for her enormous desire to create simple and better solutions by bringing her empathy (and empathy in general) to science.
I think they learned these things because they grew up with the sun directly overhead. Their lives, from Cancer to Capricorn, from Bangkok to Bali, have given them a kind of light that doesn’t come from growing up in the same town that I grew up in. And they will happily tell you all the things they have missed out on by having marginal internet, small schools and no great soccer teams to play on. But they will also tell you how much they have become who they are by living in places where modern meets ancient and where you can see things in a different light. I think maybe, just maybe, this mother’s fervent non-believer’s magical prayer has evolved into the tangible and the possible.