We are very much imperfect, but we are trying

Tonight, we celebrated my son’s 17th birthday which was earlier this week.

My son is an extraordinary person.

He was born an old soul and has always been ahead of his time in both wisdom and depth.

He and I share an inability to do less than our best and a sense that when we give less than 100% to anything, we are letting others, and more importantly, ourselves down.

Even though others encourage us to give less, it leaves us feeling like everything is getting short-shrift, like we are letting everyone down, and like we really need to do better in our lives.

It is quite something when your children reflect the hardest parts of yourself back to you.

Tonight, my son started his birthday dinner saying that he needed to do better at surviving. He was near tears. He has been like this a lot lately.

I have been worried, but much more than that, I have been sad, that someone who is such an incredible human being would feel such a depth of despair.

But also, I understand.

So I asked, “Is there anything we can take off your plate? Is there anything you feel like you’d want to give up?”

He named a few things. One is not for now, and can be pushed back a few months until he feels like he can give more of himself. One is perhaps not for ever, something that he tried because he loved, but which morphed into something that felt more like an obligation than joy.

I see his potential in all the things, so in some ways, I could see why he didn’t even want to say aloud these things. He was worried he would disappoint those who had invested in him, those in his community, us. He was choosing to continually disappoint himself (not having the time, energy, or strength to give his all) to avoid disappointing everyone else.

He is not a kid who gives things up easily, and he is someone who has always been cautious with his time. But school is a lot, and between school itself and multiple extracurriculars, it is too much.

Yet, he looks around and sees others doing more, and he worries it is not enough.

I understand.

Tonight, as we were waiting for our first course to arrive, I looked at him and said honestly, “You know, I think that’s great that you want to set some boundaries on your time and that you want to give yourself some space to really devote your best to what you’re doing. I get it. I can’t give less than 100% to things either without disappointing myself. I wish I knew at your age how to let some things go.”

His body has been rebelling lately. He says there are days he feels more like he is 70 than 17. I told him that maybe his body is telling him he is doing too much as well, that our bodies hold wisdom our minds don’t allow us to consider.

He understood.

He decided to talk to those in leadership in the two areas he is going to delay or take himself out of. His initial concerns about what they might think of him somewhat assuaged by the assurances that it is likely they will understand, and by the reminder that those who truly know him and those who truly love him are there for him because of who he is, not anything he does.

We had a really good birthday dinner. He was able to enjoy the food and come back to himself. He was relieved. I am grateful.

But most of all, I am reminded at how much I have to learn from my children and from mothering.

I have felt so much of what he is feeling recently, so much of not wanting to let anyone down but feeling so limited in time, energy & spirit, that I am, in effect, letting everyone down. I am not capable of giving less than my best. I can’t fight against that.

So I have to do less.

Take things off my plate so that I can enjoy the feast that is in front of me.

Trust that people will understand when balls and plates and activities drop.

Trust that those who love me do so because of who I am and not what I do.

We are on parallel journeys, my son and I, to accept our own humanity, the limitations of our time and energy, and to make wiser choices that allow us to remember who we are, instead of trying to be all things to all people.

We understand.

We are very much imperfect, but we are trying.

We are in it together.

And we are well loved.

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