Sailing in Maryland with Bunicu and the boys.

Me and Bunicu on Transylvania.

Nine years of incessant change and sweetness spiked by the realization that I am not the ideal mother I always thought I’d be.

As Bunicu sails across the seas somewhere with his wife and friends, I am reminded of a time when we visited him for a weekend sailing trip near Baltimore. Patrick, Max, and I savored every moment of sunshine and little breezes tickling the sails into laughing.

Max loved steering the boat, and Patrick made sure to be the arms when my own were full. Of course, Max needed reassurance that no big fish could bite the boat underneath.

And so it goes. Parenting is the long nights and the tortured hours of not knowing where or how to step next. There are truths about life and our world that I can’t “kiss away” or change. There are truths about “success” and what it means to thrive, however artificially, in the time of incandescent light bulbs.

There are moments and realities that aren’t mine to re-wire or demystify. Though he certainly isn’t secretive, Max has “secrets” these days- things he can’t quite express but often wants somehow to share or discuss with me. Watching a child grow into his own agency- his own moral compass- is both exciting and brutal. We want to make sure we’ve done everything “right”, presupposing somehow that our “right” is the “right” and that “right” absolves everything else.

Absolution and answers are ultimately a mercy which we share with ourselves and others.

As I type, I can’t keep this line out of a book I’m reading from dancing through my head. The line isn’t an absolution, or an answer, or even an attempt at lightening the burdens of being. It’s just a line that echoes- a line from a Vietnam veteran in a post-war rap therapy group trying to come to terms with the dimensions of existence and integrity. After serving in Vietnam infantry, the veteran returned to the US and dealt with his experiences by getting involved in Vietnam Veterans Against the War, one of the most courageous groups of warriors to walk the White House lawn.

It takes courage and grace to admit that we did what others told us to do for fear of being held responsible or accountable for the consequences of failing to follow. As a parent, recognizing the damaging effects of physical and emotional violence required me to abandon fast-and-easy behavior-modifiers like spanking and verbal humiliation. It also put me in the category of “those who don’t discipline their children” according to established practices. Sometimes people don’t appreciate the difference.

I’ve tried what the Ezzos said (and what my peer groups recommended) and found it to be harsh and soul-killing. I respect the decisions of others to raise their kids as they see fit. And I can’t help smiling as I finally get around to sharing the quote from the long-haired Vietnam veteran who decided to stand up and speak out against what he had seen and done:

When they give me flak, I tell them, “I was in Vietnam. I fought your dirty little war there. Now don’t tell me how to cut my hair.”

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