I've been travelling for work. I had been away for about a week, and still had about five days to go when I received an email from our son:
Daddy. It is like I am living in a parallel universe in which you don't exist, but you are still in my head somewhere.
I went into panic, a paralysis - I was unable to process this simple sentence, and the explosive nature of its content. My initial reaction was one of distress at the notion that he was somehow suffering; in pain that I had been gone for so long. I felt sick and my inclination was to pack my bag and return home. Then, I calmed down a little, my ego became less inflamed and I saw this sentence for what it really is: an effective strategy for managing separation - he has developed a way of coping.
Some of you might recall how it was in the beginning. Our separation seem irreconcilable to me only eighteen months ago: the over-riding experience of having a child at boarding school was, at first, my agony at our son living away from his home during the week. This severance was terrible for me. Even when it became more comfortable for him, I still felt abandoned; a type of emotional cauterisation. I was numbed - unable to face up to the experience of the pain. Each week, this sensation would gradually decrease as Friday approached, but it would return again on Monday morning after I had dropped him off. Unlike our son, I was unable to shift into a parallel universe in which he didn't exist but was in my head somewhere, anyway. Had I been able to make this leap of faith, perhaps I would not have caused myself wallow so much. As an 'enmeshed' parent, I was stuck - unable to reconcile the feelings that I was having with the idea that the situation might be something that our son desired. I was unable to separate my own needs and feelings from his. I imagine that this is a typical parental mistake, and the result was confusion and living my life in a terrible muddle.
His idea of shifting into a parallel universe is helpful. When it comes to an emotional intelligence our son displays some promising traits. The construct of another universe allows me to live and acknowledge two separate truths: I am a caring dad who is deeply loves his my children, but I am also physically absent from one of them most of the time, and unable to look after him in the way I had imagined I would. The rhythm of the week has been exhausting for me. Without a parallel universe, I was involved an enervating three stage spiral:
- Bonding with our son at the weekend
- An extreme sense of loss on Monday mornings
- My mood lightening as Friday approaches
At its worse, this weekly cycle left me with little energy to do anything else, but I can now replace it with two simple transitions - one shift into a parallel universe at the beginning of the week and one jump again at the end. I will develop a futuristic ability to quantum leap.
I've commented on the Zen nature of our son's world-view before now. His awakened heart often exposes my foolishness - my inflated sense of self and my ego-driven ways. If he were a judgemental type, he would find me ridiculous. In Buddhism, there is a notion of something called Boddhichitta - a practice which involves acknowledging that we are all in some way connected. Or, as our son expresses it so simply, shifting into a parallel universe - one that involves a recognition of the presence and the absence simultaneously. It is possible that in the event that he does not become a dancer, he will instead explore the world of science - quantum mechanics, in which particles exist in two states at the same time. Or perhaps his sanguine acceptance of the world will lead him to a very different environment, and he'll become a Buddhist monk.