Holding the Empty
|September 5, 2012||Posted by Issa under Parenting|
In 2008, I moved into a van and I started blogging. I named that first blog Holding The Empty. That was a strange turn of phrase, and I was frequently asked to explain the name. Here’s what I posted in explanation (slightly modified):
I started this blog when I decided to move into my van. Moving into the van was an odd decision for me, made on impulse and with a desire to “give up” on certain aspects of my life more so than a specific desire to live in a van. Trying to decide what to name the blog dovetailed with thinking about my motivations for moving into a vehicle.
Here’s what I came up with.
Our culture tells us that we need to have goals. We need to be doing, growing, gaining, getting, and always in the process of being something else.
You’re in high school? What are your plans for college?
You’re in college? What job field are you going into?
You’re dating? When are you getting married?
You live in an apartment? Are you going to buy a house?
You’re married? When are you planning to have kids?
You bought a two bedroom house? What will you do when the kids arrive?
You’re an assistant manager? Are you going to be promoted soon?
It’s October. Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?
Oh, cute baby! When are you planning your next?
When are you going to lose those extra pounds?
Are you up on the latest green activities you’re supposed to be doing?
Where do you want to be in 10 years?
Oh, and by the way, do you have the new car, the big screen TV, the latest cell phone, the trendy religion, the right length skirt for this year, coordinated living room decor, the right teeth whitening products, new shoes, the latest bestselling novel, and are you volunteering often enough?
The main theme that I hear with this is that your life is supposed to be full. Full of plans and goals, full of the right this and that, full of meaning, theoretically, and also full of stuff.
I’m not interested in necessarily denying the value of having certain things in your life, but I wonder if we are collectively denying the value of just not. Have we left any space that isn’t full? And if we haven’t, where will we put the things that come along that could truly add value to our lives? Someone needs to mind that space. There needs to be room for empty.
I think of myself as holding that empty space, at least for myself. I’m making room for other possibilities by denying the drive for fullness. My own life has certainly been overly cluttered, mainly with the expectations of other people – expectations that aren’t in line with my true values. I’m not sure I even know my true values, because there’s simply been no room for them.
Living in my van and having no real job isn’t exactly a goal or a path for me. It may not be what I’m doing a year from now. I honestly have no idea what I want from my life right now, and I’m just giving myself permission to do that. To not buy things. To not have aspirations. To not make plans. To not have any idea what I want or how I’m going to get it.
I’ve tried holding the fullness, clinging to it, really, and I don’t think I was ever better off for it.
For now, I’m holding the empty.
I’m no longer holding the empty in my own life. I own a house! And a truck. And, at last count, 16 animals. And I have a child, of course, which makes a great big fullness in my life. But curiously, my parenting of Dylan involves holding another kind of empty.
Especially when he’s so little and new and dependent on us, I want to create and protect a physical, emotional, and spiritual space in which he can do what he needs to do and feel what he needs to feel. We have to do that for him, because he can’t do it for himself yet; he doesn’t have the freedom or authority to surround himself with the people or information he chooses, select or significantly alter the physical space where he lives, or even just decide he wants to bake some cookies because he feels blue and self-indulgent one night.
I want to be careful not to throw my weight around and unthinkingly wield my considerable privilege as an adult, because I know that his emotions and perceptions right now are just as real and valid as my own. Regardless of what our culture says, a child isn’t an inconveniently not-yet-finished adult but a whole person … even if he needs more help than I do.
But I try to remember that if someone simply refused to let me do what I wanted to do or go where I wanted to go, or served me a meal I didn’t choose and didn’t feel like eating, or wouldn’t let me have food or a drink when I was hungry or thirsty, or physically restrained or moved me against my will, or ignored me, or locked me in my room because they didn’t like the emotions I was expressing, or took one of my belongings away from me … that would make me feel really frustrated and out of control, and in some cases downright frightened. Holding the space sometimes means not doing those things because we can find another, less invasive, way.
It’s important to me to acknowledge that Dylan is a real person, right now. He will also grow and change over time, and I see my parenting role as making room for that.
I’m good at pushing back against the expectations of our progress-oriented world. In 2008 it led me to sell all my belongings and move into a van. It’s nice that that same drive serves me well in parenting as well.
It’s not my job to impose a bunch of restrictions and expectations on Dylan or to let the world pressure him with its demands of progress and growth.
It is just my job to hold an empty space big enough for him to stretch out in.
Whatever Dylan wants to do, whoever he wants to be, I will make room for him here in this world.