My baby left home today, heading to work at the beach for five weeks before she starts college. Frankly, my off-the-mat aikido hasn't been working so well lately, but today I feel better. In everything I do, relationships matter most. I primarily do aikido so I can go home and be kind to my family. So why isn't that what's been happening?
I teach kids my daughter's age. They love me and I love them. She rolls her eyes and glares. "I hate this town. I've never been happy here. I can't wait to leave."
She wasn't sure what courses to sign up for. Her AP scores weren't back; yet she'd have to register for fall classes. She loved her AP psych class and was fairly sure she'd get that credit. But she couldn't take more psych without that pre-requisite. "You'd like sociology, too, probably," I told her.
"No, I wouldn't," she said, hot-eyed again. "You don't know me at all if you think I'd like sociology."
"Stop letting her get to you," my husband tells me. "Laugh at her when she's being ridiculous. Invite her to have unlawful carnal knowledge of herself." I hear him and I know he's right; I'm getting sucked in, getting my feelings hurt, letting the stakes ratchet up. Where is my center? I've always been good at conflict resolution, but now I find myself yelling, fuming -- acting a way I can't believe.
"Stop that. Breathe," I tell myself. What were we even fighting about?
We went to college orientation but not together. The signs were confusing, so I called to tell her how to find the building. "Mom! Leave me alone. I can find the damn building," she said and hung up. An hour later she called, late for check-in. "I'm lost," she told me. I talked her to where I was; then she took off, walking too fast for me to catch up.
After the welcome, kids and parents split up, off to their different sessions. After lunch we were told to find our children. "There's no room for you to sit with us," she said. I started to tell her about something we'd been told we must handle before Friday. She raised her voice. I felt eyes all around me pricking the back of my neck. I left the auditorium, washed my face, went to sit in the back.
The speaker talked about GPAs and credit hours, the Gen Ed requirements. I'm an advisor at my own college, so I had plenty of time to let the voice in my head whine, think up hatefulness. My martyr complex kicked in hard. "I'll be paying this much money and this is how she treats me. Hmmmmppfff. Maybe I'll let her pay all her own bills, see how big she is then." The speaker finished and the students went to take math placement tests. By then I had myself good and worked up.
The next speaker's opening lines punched me hard in the gut. "Is your child obnoxious? Rude? A know-it-all? She's scared." Parents all around me were nodding. I even heard a few amens. He wasn't just talking to me because he'd seen our little interaction. Everyone in the room seemed to relate. "Going to college is a frightening transition." Scared? Really? Her? She's never been scared of anything. I'd been so caught in my own point-of-view I couldn't see hers. The speaker talked about how college-age students must individuate, separate from their parents. It's their job. I knew all this in my head. So why wasn't I putting it in my body?
A student panel answered parent questions. A surprising number were about how to communicate with one's child. "Do you act like you're the one with all the answers, the wisdom?" one junior responded. Hmmm. Another atemi, this one to the head. On the mat, tenkan is one of my favorite initial moves—yet off the mat for the last few months I'd been bulling right into the conflict. Force on force. That never works for me on the mat. Why did I act like it would work anywhere else?
Later she showed me her schedule. Calculus, Russian, oceanography, freshman seminar, sociology. Tenkan, tenkan—I managed to ask nothing about sociology. "Russian, that's interesting."
"Everything else was closed and I'm not taking Japanese." She looked at me. I said nothing.
"I couldn't get a PE. They all have waiting lists, and I am not taking aikido." She looked at me again. I want to write here that again I said nothing. But I'd be lying. I told her she already knew how to roll, fall. She shook her head, and I did let it go. I swear.
When we got home, we sat and talked for hours. Really, she talked and I listened. I saw something I'd needed to see for a while—sometimes it's more important to hear than be heard.
This morning I took her to get her physical for college. "Even though it's suggested not required, I really want you to get that meningitis vaccine," I told her.
"No," she said. "I'm not interested in unnecessary pain."
"You have your ears pierced in eight places and a nose-piercing, and a shot that could save your life is too painful for you?" (OK, cut me some slack here. Little by little, right?)
"I chose that pain," she said. "I don't want extra shots. I'm eighteen. I get to choose."
I let it go. Really. "Do you want me to go back with you?" I asked.
"Nope," she said. "You might tell them to give me those shots anyway." She grinned at me and I grinned back.
After a while she emerged, her upper arm striped with Band-aids. "Tetanus?" I asked.
"Yep," she said. "And meningitis. And another one the doctor thought would be a good idea. She made sense, so I decided to do it." She handed me the information sheets.
I nodded and kept my mouth shut.
Today after she packed her car, hugged us, and drove away, I stood on the front porch waving. I realized it's all about what aikido has always been about for me: overcoming my fear with love and trust.
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:
We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.