Being a mother in the confidence of a young adult daughter is such an opportunity to relive some of those old colours and sensations of youth. Listening to my daughter tearily describe to me, from the airport as she awaited her flight home, the sheer tirade of emotions running though her as she left behind three of the most incredible months of her life and all the intense new friendships she has made working for the summer on the other side of the world, I found myself saying these words to try and help her navigate the seeming overwhelm of it all: “You’re experiencing the ‘exquisite pain of youth’….the reason you feel things so intensely at your age is that even the pain is because you love something or someone so much. I remember that feeling! Yes, life is very intense at your time of life, so enjoy it. I miss it!!”
And I meant it…was caught, transfixed, for a moment immersed in its flavour, carried on the wind from my newly travel-enriched offspring. Back then at her age, as I recall, all the colours and volumes of life were turned up for me too…and I allowed it all in, I beckoned it, without hesitation. It was a sensory explosion and life was a crazy, rich tapestry of ecstasy and hurt…so much hurt. There were so many fixations upon things and people but perhaps, especially, boys who did not reciprocate; in fact (I suspect) if they had I would have run a mile, yet I jumped in with both feet, intensely and obsessively when it came to these one-sided fixations which, I now learn, is an Asperger’s thing. Whether they are one-sided or not (and for my daughter, clearly not) it was this free-for-all, the wholesale “give it to me” wolf howl for experiences to happen that I remember the most. What happened to all that?
As I reminisced out loud to my husband this morning, I found myself describing how I kept it going, perhaps, longer than some…wooing this free-for-all experiential feeling long into my twenties, living as bohemianly and noncommittally as I could, mixing with colourful people who seemed to throw these colours around on their palette just like I did. However, one by one, either because they had attached to some career path that meant more to them or because they were on some other work path that didn’t and which wore their spirit down, those people stepped away from the exhuberant scene I had chosen and I was left all alone.
Also, somewhere down the line, that general exuberance got replaced by alcohol driven behaviours, fixations that were about other things to those that truly excited me. I can recall how, in the early years that we were together, one of the things that most beguiled me about my first husband was the way he would exude so much excitement for a future built on all the riches he planned to “make”; spinning stories about how he would spend his millions on a lifestyle that “we” would be enjoying by now. As exuberant friends stepped away from our circle to get married or “serious” about life, I shortchanged myself into accepting his version of what I once had, which wasn’t ever about being rich in money, but was always about being rich in life. I mistook one for the other, dazzled by the frequency of excitement and not so-much hearing the content; until I was caught up in it all, duped into something that had “seemed” to be what I was wanting but was not. For here was a man who had nothing to offer when it came to exploration and travel, to feelings and colour; he wanted none of that, poo-pooing all I had to say on such matters. My sensory synapses got blunted and then blunted some more until I felt like a mute piece of firewood for the longest time. That was how it had happened…
At the start, all I had ever really wanted was to travel, to meet people, to experience different cultures, to defy the linearity and planning-obsession of life and mix it all up into soundbites of colour and sensation, like a multi-sensory synesthesia painting. I was where my daughter is now, newly back from crazy, eventful travels with a female friend, with that travel bug biting away at my heels and with such misgivings at the prospect of setting down into my first job (which awaited me) gnawing away at my thoughts, when I met my first husband and it all got trimmed away as superfluous.
So, in my conversation with her last night, I also found myself saying “I think you know this by now but only be with people who encourage you to grow and explore…if they try to clip your wings, fly away!”
This is as sound advice as I can give anyone of any age but it applies especially to her age group, as friends “get serious” and partner up so fast that the conveyor-belt mentality is literally all around, bedazzling with promises of a house, a ring, a dog…empty promises without the freedom to experience all you are here to experience. It would have been good advice to me and I still give it to myself (though I have far less need to, these days).
The challenge, at my age, can be finding people who still want to join you on the sensory explosion of life, as you once caught a taste of in your youth. And can it ever be experienced again, once life has blunted off all your most wayward, exploratory nerve ends, whole bunches of synapses filed away as superfluous by the hard “truths” of conventional life? Once life has “taught you” the disappointing and hard practicalities of “the way things are?” Its a hard thing to achieve but not impossible to regain some ground and, there, I suspect I have the advantage as the non-conformist, a-typical Aspie with the built-in synesthesia point of view. Forever, I have harboured this nugget of the wayward, like a handful of that earlier prototype of myself “held back” when life came to demand that I hand it all over; and it has served me well in many a crisis. Because, while those around me started to fixate on their salary brackets, lawns, cars, package holidays, waistlines, where to get their hair or nails done and the plots of their favourite soaps, I was busily having the burnout that returned me back to the rawness of myself. Yes, it was often exquistely painful but a timely reminder and somewhat of a relief, after the comfortable numbness that preceeded it. Those beliefs I once had, that life can be rich, intense and fluid are still there, seeking new outlets as the alternate me I have become (and am still becoming). I am not politely self-limited but exponential, in my own revised viewpoint, beyond convention.
Its made me a far more accessible and useful parent than I might have been. In those glimpses when I still recall the intensity of those earlier times like they were yesterday, I am able to share out that relatability factor with my daughter at the same time as reserving a portion for myself. In those remembered moments of what life can feel like, full volume, as though you had learned none of the jaded stuff to contradict what your heart wants to feel, I can draw back some of those sensations into my own colour spectrum and dip my brush in their vibrancy to paint something new and surprising for my age-group. It mixes things up for me and, though I largely do it alone with respect to my age peers, I newly appreciate how I was always meant to do that anyway. ..that it was always about me, having the experience, and not reliant on other people to provide the subplots. Life is as rich as we individually make it (and allow it to be) and while some would say “you have to grow up…put those ideas to one side” I would argue that there is no good precedent to say so. Really, are those who ever did so such a great advert for the effect? As ever, I prefer to be alone and be authentic to myself than in a crowd miserably “conforming”.
We compartmentalise youth as though its something to be grown out of, put aside…but, so often, we lose such big parts of ourselves and some of the richness of life along the way. With increasing nostalgia, as parenthood brings memories (such memories!) flooding back, I find myself remembering and getting drunk on the exquisite pain of it all in preference to the well-rehearsed stories I had long used to compartmentalise the past in so many grey boxes on the shelves of my memory. Those occassional shards of remembered pain are like a defibrillator sparking my jaded heart back into life; I regret nothing anymore…no, not one single stab in the heart, paired as it was with such vibrancy, excitement and joy to be alive. The full experience range of life “remembered” as in to “reattach” to myself. Exquisite pain sounds, to me, far better than chronic numbness, so these windows into what it is possible to be feel are doing me such good on the roller-coaster ride of parenthood. Though I might not want to do it all again from scratch, I relish the chance to (re)learn the gift of being more fully alive through younger eyes and hope, in the process, I offer good counsel not to give it all away for a song.