I love watching the Olympics. Seeing young people from all over the world succeed as a result of incredible determination, focus, and discipline is inspiring. It also leaves me a little sad that I never had the drive to accomplish something on any platform, let alone a world stage. (I feel the same way when I watch the Oscars). The Olympic athletes are all heroes, even those who never stand on the podium and receive a medal. Just getting there is really something, and I am proud of all the athletes.
Today, I watched the Women's Kayaking. I love kayaking, though I don't get to do it often enough. The course was challenging, and I saw several women struggle to get their head inside the red pole, and fight their way up the mechanical current to pass through the green poles that eluded them on the pass down. I got to thinking, "I could do that. I could be an Olympian!" Then I remembered I am old and have a shoulder issue, so the dream quickly died along with the many other dreams I had.
It's probably not the best time for me to watch the Olympics, since I am going through a mid-life crisis of identity. I never thought I would have a mid-life crisis. I used to be so together. For 20 years I was perfectly content to stay at home and raise my family. But when my son came home from his freshman year of college in May, and we began the typical fight between parents who want some respect from the 19 year old who wants to be an adult (i.e., no rules, no responsibilities, it's summer) it occurred to me that my children are going to leave me. Eventually, they will do what I have taught them to do; go out in the world and make their own way. The mid-life crisis hit me right where it hurts. Where does that leave me? What am I going to do? Obviously, because I'm OCD, I will continue to clean my house, because no one else can clean it as well as I, and I will do laundry every day, though less of it. I suppose I will even cook an occasional meal. But is that it? I want a paycheck! I want to do something that earns the respect of my grown children and my husband, something that speaks of who I am beyond a mom. The problem is, I got nothin'.
In a rare moment of open and honest discussion, I brought this very topic up with my 19 year old son, Max, last night. He came home early, which immediately made me suspect that something was wrong, and joined me by the campfire I was enjoying. We had a nice long talk after he assured me that no, nothing was wrong, he was just tired and wanted to come home (Gasp!). It was the best night I have had with Max this summer, talking about life, working out a few issues we've had, speaking of youth and adulthood and balance. I apologized to Max for not being much fun to be around lately, and tried to explain a little bit about my personal identity crisis, because he is old enough now to hear his mother speak as a person, not just his mom. I told him that I just want to find something I am very good at, that I love doing. Quietly, Max said,
"You already have." Thinking that my son was about to tell me I am a good mom, instead he surprised me by saying, "You build a great campfire".
It took me a minute to let that sink in, but he was right. I do build a great campfire, and I love doing it. If it were an Olympic sport, I would be on that podium, with my national anthem playing and a gold medal around my neck. I have trained 25 years building campfires, and they bring people joy and comfort. Yeah, I'm that good.
I find it rather uplifting that Max, a college sophomore, still sees me as a hero, even in the smallest way. It may be difficult for him to adjust to being home again for the summer, and it is certainly difficult for me to adjust to a son who doesn't need me much anymore. But in the middle of my very adult issues, he finds a way to make me a hero. I love that kid. Umm, man. Boy. Whatever.
Max doesn't realize it, but he helped me find a new and better way of thinking about my mid-life crisis. If I can be a Gold-Medal campfire builder, what else can I do? Can I grow to be a serious blogger? Can I find a job with the Department of Natural Resources and spend my time doing something I love? Can I travel more often in a tin can and meet people and change their lives in small but significant ways? Maybe.
Max gave me hope. He planted the seed of thought that even though my children will leave me, they will still love me as I love them so very much. He made me believe that I have done something right, which means I still have time to do more things and eventually find the thing that will define me.
As my fire burned down last night, I impulsively added one more log, trying to prolong this newly found connection with my son where we can both act like adults and enjoy something simple together. But as the log sparked and the flame took flight, Max stood up and said, "Night, mom". I finished the bonfire alone, but that's okay. I do most things alone anyway, which made my brief time with Max that much sweeter. I may not be an Olympian, but I am a mom, a hero, and a person who is ready to let my kids go and always be ready to welcome them back. I am ready to be more. Doesn't that deserve a medal? Or at least a hug from my son, which is even better.