Home and Away

We're into the second half of my daughter's two-week backpacking trip in the High Sierra with Outward Bound. That's a big deal for both her and her parents. I realize that a great many children would have spent at least a week or two away from home by this point in their lives. She is 17, after all. I certainly had. And her mother had left home for good. But, for a variety of reasons, her time away from us has been extremely limited.

Separation has never come easy for her. Back when she was a baby, when we were still living in the Bay Area, we had three people who could and did watch her successfully while we went to a movie or a concert. Once we moved to Tucson, though, those opportunities became a lot harder to find. Although we lived next door to Kim's parents, they were far from ideal babysitters. And we never found anyone else who could reliably step into that role.

Eventually, the children's gym near our house started having Parents Night Out events on Fridays, which she enjoyed, allowing us just enough time to see a film and maybe get a quick bite to eat. But the program only last a couple of years. Since then, with the exception of the few days she spent on a class trip in fifth grade, the highly unfortunate three days she was confined against her will and ours at our local crisis center for troubled teens back when she 15, and a recent overnight martial arts camp, she has only been separated from us during waking activities like school.

That's why her resolve to go away for two weeks and, what is more, under demanding circumstances she had never experienced before seemed like such an important step for her and, by extension, us. As we should have expected, her usual anxieties -- the ones she has been beset with since infancy -- were at their maximum levels beforehand. She had second thoughts about going right up until the day before. Thankfully, she managed to overcome this reluctance, in the end, though the long drive to Fresno was extraordinarily stressful for her, me, and her mom back home.

Since I dropped her off at Fresno-Yosemite International Airport the Sunday before last, she has been out of mobile phone range. We miss her. The cats miss her. Perhaps even the tortoise misses her. And she may well be missing us, though I expect that the sheer intensity of her experience, among other factors, will distract her better than anything can distract us. If all goes the way I hope it will, she will return with a much greater sense of autonomy than she had when she departed -- even if there were aspects of the trip that she disliked -- and we will soon be forced to confront that time that almost all parents struggle with, when the need to let go wars with the impulse to hold on.

I can't be sure how that transition will go, though I suspect that it will take longer than it should and feel shorter than it actually is. And I'm also pretty sure that the disconcerting emptiness I keep feeling throughout the day, this vague sense that something is missing that won't ever be wholly recovered, will be with me for the duration and beyond. It scares me. But it's also a source of hope, because it has become increasingly clear over the past few years -- as parents who have been through all this will no doubt remember -- that for things to continue as they have been would only make all of us feel claustrophobic to the point of paralysis.

As much as I miss my daughter right now, I am also realizing how much I missed being me. There are many reasons, as I have tediously rehearsed in previous entries, why I more or less stopped updating this blog. One of the biggest, though, is proving to have been the sheer amount of time I have devoted to being a parent. That wasn't clear to me before, because I was too close to my situation to get critical distance from it. The more time I spend not consumed by my daughter's crises, both real and manufactured -- I'm not sure even she can tell the difference, frequently -- the more I recognize that I allowed them, as has long been my tendency with the problems of others, to become my own to such a degree that I sacrificed my own autonomy.

I'm not saying I would have or even could have done things differently. My goal was to do whatever I was able to do in order to help her make it through a very difficult period in her life. She is doing better than she was six months ago and much, much better than she was a year or two ago. For all of our mistakes, her mom and I have managed, for our part, to facilitate this improvement. I'm not willing to discount the value of our efforts. At the same time, though, I am now aware of ways, going forward, in which preserving more time and space for my self could prove instrumental in her sustaining the sense of autonomy she is cultivating on this journey of personal discovery. That's why I took the time to write this today, to remind myself that it's important not to forget who I have been, who I am and who, most importantly, I could be in the not-so-distant future.

Reality Checkmate

I was puttering about just now, getting the bikes ready for my almost-nightly ride with my daughter, when I suddenly found myself thinking about Live Journal and, more specifically, what led me first to taper off my output and then stop altogether. I have written before about my sense of alienation with regard to a platform that once played a huge role in my life, reaching conclusions that I still agree with. But this time the act of reflection felt different, more whole somehow, than it had previously.

It wasn't simply that I got burned my decision, back in late 2010, to create a filter in order to share a very difficult time I was going through. Nor was it that I had come to find it harder and harder to sustain my vision of family life in the face of frequently blatant contradiction. The technological explanation, that I had drifted from Live Journal once my life became so hectic that I started doing almost everything on my mobile phone, though undoubtedly significant, also fell short of the mark. The underlying problem, I finally realized tonight, was that I no longer felt capable of producing the sort of convolutions that I had established as my dominant mode here.

I had always told myself that I enjoyed being playfully indirect here, hiding the often painful truth of my day-to-day existence in plain sight. And I suppose I did take pleasure in the mechanics of subterfuge. But in reality this way of communicating was just a distraction from facts I was unwilling to face or, to be more precise, unwilling to be seen facing. Put bluntly, my journal had achieved a degree of deceit that I was no longer in the proper frame of mind to maintain.

So where does that leave things? Facebook, for all of its faults, continues to hold me in thrall because the brevity of what I post there makes it much easier to avoid confronting the deeper structural flaws in my world. I don't have to worry about being indirect because the very form of that social media platform guarantees that almost no one can piece together a clear picture of anyone else's existence. Live Journal, by contrast, demands -- or at least demands from me, because of how I have used it since 2003 -- that I either resume my former practice of crafting posts so lacking in clarity that even I have difficulty excavating their layers later on or find some new way of approaching what I do here. And there's also the fact that almost no one seems to spend much time on Live Journal anymore.

But maybe that's what I was waiting for, a "safe space" more like my journal was when I first began it, when I only had a few unconnected readers, rather than the far-too-public production that everyone at work seemed to be reading and, I suspect, commenting on behind my back. Part of me would welcome the opportunity to work in solitude, like a postmodern-day Thoreau. After all, if I want a large audience, I still have Facebook at my disposal. Here, by contrast, I can almost be certain, despite the fact that I have vowed never to post anything to a filter or even friends-only again, that very few people will read what I share and that the vast majority of that potential micro-public consists of people I am comfortable sharing almost anything with.