#21 Hold the Space
It's the space between current reality and our desired future.
You may know that I have a kiddo with unique needs. I will confess that I have a hard time speaking or writing about it. I will also confess that I don’t even know if I can use the term “special needs” because I fear that doing so would somehow water down what disability advocates have fought so hard to enshrine in our laws and our school systems. So I’ll use the phrase “unique needs” here because there’s an argument to be made that there’s a whole uncategorized group of conditions, diagnoses, as well as undiagnosable circumstances that affect children and families deeply that do not fit neatly under disabilities or special needs.
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If you have such a child with unique needs, you know the emotional, psychological, and financial toll it can take to manage these needs and all the different ways the rest of the family and the world needs to accommodate them. For me, the experience has been a formative part of motherhood. It has taught me over and over again, the challenge—and value—of patience.
We now have two months of school in the rearview mirror. And this is the time when expectations for the school year start to settle. Whereas the start of the school year is fraught with unknowns, anxieties, and shimmers of hope, this is the time when some of those unknowns are known, and we have some data points that shape the new normal.
I know my child. He is a vibrant, intelligent, caring, humorous kid. His anxiety prevents him from being his full self in many situations, including school. But as his mother, I can envision a future when he is able to be fully himself at school, even with his anxiety. That gap between the current reality and that potential future reality is something that weighs on my mind and my heart everyday. That space between reality and desired future for my child is the unknown. And I hold that space everyday with an ache and longing in my heart.
In the past, I tried to offload it to someone else—a specialist, or a teacher. But I’ve learned that there’s no delegating when it comes to holding this space. I can share this space and I can let others into exploring this space, but I am uniquely responsible for holding it and not letting go.
I often check in with myself to ask, Am I imposing my own vision of his future on him unfairly? Am I overstepping reasonable boundaries of responsible parenting? And at times, I do find that the vision I have in my head of a future version of my child has characteristics that are superfluous — that have no real bearing on his true wellness and agency. And I work to shed those expectations or desires from my head. At the core, however, what I long for is a future when he has adequate tools to manage his anxiety and navigate this complex world on his own. In my view, it is precisely my responsibility as his parent to hold that future vision in mind.
We all hold the space.
That space of longing, that space between the current reality and a desired future, is what a lot of us are holding right now. And it feels heavy.
Just a week before the U.S. midterm elections, we are all, in some way, holding the space between the current political reality and our desired government. For most of us, that space feels vast, and we know that our one vote won’t really close that gap between what we have and what we want. And so, we have to hold that space of longing with disciplined, active patience. We hold that vision of our desired political future and advocate for it. Because it is uniquely our responsibility as citizens and voters to do so, the same way that it is uniquely my responsibility as mother to advocate for my child. If not us, then who?
We also hold the space between the current state of women’s rights and a vision of a country where women enjoy full autonomy and equality. We hold the space between the current state of environmental policies and practices and what is desperately, urgently needed to avert (or at least minimize) global catastrophe.
Holding this space is what helps us appreciate both where we are and where we long to go. Holding this space means recognizing that our individual agency can only take us so far; it is the human experience of being tethered to one another. And nothing has taught me that lesson more than the experience of mothering my child.
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There is such poetry in this, Sy. I admire your self-awareness and your honesty.
Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts and being open about challenges. There's something freeing and reassuring about your idea of holding space between the realities of today and the outcomes we want for tomorrow. I'm embracing your disciplined active patience as midterms, year end and 40th birthdays loom...