Yelping Like A Sea Lion

Me and the kids In San Francisco 2009

I’m growing weary of my own voice. I am. I’m tired of hearing myself talk. Maybe this happens to all people. I can’t say. I can only speak for myself, which again, makes me tired of my own voice.

I find this slightly ironic because I lost my voice this week. Well, I more or less lost it. I have a cold and I sound like the Sea Lions on Pier 39 in San Francisco. Barking incessantly. They’re pretty funny, these Sea Lions. They huddle up on top of one another, squashed in coziness as they snooze on the docks. Hundreds of them sprawled out — flippers on faces, noses in armpits —  sunning themselves luxuriously. Out of the blue, one will roll itself off of the dock with a big heave-ho and plunk into the water. She’ll swim around for a bit and then hoist herself up to a new spot. Effortfully plopping her enormous body onto another unsuspecting companion resting on the dock. While she nestles herself in amongst the pack, this affront inevitably causes some disgruntlement and the recipient starts barking at the offender. This causes a ripple effect and one Sea Lion after another joins in on the noisemaking; each trying to outdo the other with its volume. They sound indignant but I’ve always suspected that they were collaborating. Soon you won’t be able to hear yourself think with all of the barking taking over your thoughts. It’s quite a sound.

I wish I had a magic window onto my life. I would like to sit and watch how I relate to myself and my family. Much like observing and taking in the Sea Lions. If I did, I would have some clarity on what I’m actually experiencing. I think that so many of my perceptions about myself are tainted by my constant inner barking declaring I am not good enough. My friend told me the other day that it hurt her to hear how hard I am on myself. She was coming from such a compassionate, heartfelt place, and because of her brave honesty, I actually heard her. For a moment anyway. That moment sort of held me and I felt relieved and moved to tears. I wish it lasted longer because it was a moment of peace from my incessant questioning and second guessing. When she said this I was awash with relief: “Phew, I really am okay. Thank you, for giving me a break from myself.” And me being me, I got choked up and teary as I so often do when I am overcome with witnessing compassion and kindness. For that moment my internal and external chatter were silenced.

Perhaps a window would help redirect my yelping internal narrative — this noisy assessing and questioning whether I’m good enough. Am I caring for my children well enough? Am I seeing them? Am I nurturing enough? Am I raising authentic individuals who will evolve into adults with a solid sense of themselves? A solid foundation in which they feel safe enough to dare and risk and live vibrantly? Do they know how much I love them and that I would throw myself in front of harms way for them without a second’s hesitation? I would fight for them vehemently. I would, as they say, throw myself in front of a bus for them. I am that person. If you are in my corner, I will go the distance for you. Always. Without hesitation. This is how I approach my mothering — as I imagine a momma Sea Lion tending to her cubs — watching, modeling, protecting and launching all at the same time. This is my ideal; to lay that solid foundation.

I did not grow up with a camaraderie of family hooting and hollering together. I grew up with silence. My hunch is that I parent my children the way I needed to be parented. I care about others the way I had hoped to be cared for. Growing up in a house without boundaries, a home where what was real was denied, deeply confuses your sense of self and reality in general. It leaves a faltered foundation and a deep internal place of emptiness or a sense of loss. As a child, going to my mother and telling her this is happening to me and continually experiencing her response of — no, it’s not —  is pretty mind-blowing. I lived with the constant, aching thought that something must be inherently wrong with me. I silenced my external voice and integrated an internal self-recriminating voice in it’s place. What else was I to do when every nuance in my life, every response and interaction from my mother, indicated that my reality wasn’t so. How do you get your head around that as a child? How do you as an adult? I still haven’t found the answer to that, but it is my mission to do so. It is my life’s work to quiet that unkind, internal bark; to know that I really am being heard and that my true authentic perception of myself is in fact real.

My mother’s dismissal left me, my small vulnerable self, to wonder, “What is real? What is true? Me, or my mother — the person who should have been my valiant protector from all evil in the world?” Only now, years later, I can see that mental illness and a complete disassociation from herself governed the way she related to the world and to me. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not like my mother. I do know this. I’ve always known this from a very early age. The times I spent with my father were my life-vest, affording me a different perspective of life and it’s possibilities, despite being weighted with pain and silence. We all need just one gift to grasp on to. This was mine. It helped me hold onto my truth and my-self.

Even with my trusty floatation device, the self-doubt lingers and I so often find myself knee deep in fear. I fear so much I will not be fully present with my children. That I’ll miss something so small and yet so important that I’ll drop the ball and they will be forever lost to me. But this can’t be true. Can it? All of my studies have shown otherwise. All theories I subscribe to point to Winnicott’s “Good Enough Mother” who shows up more often than not. Imparting that the authentic relationship is the true bond which not only binds us together but makes us whole.

You can’t build a house with duct tape and glue. And building a house by yourself feels improbable. You need a community and solid materials. Without the true materials, there are cracks and holes, empty spaces and vital pieces lacking, leaving a wobbly foundation. You need nails and cement. You need the real stuff to bind its foundation and frame together. Sure, maybe a nail pops out now and again if a windstorm blows on through, but because there are enough nails present, you don’t put too much weight on the one that popped out. You hear it ping to the floor, you may look for it and pick it up so as not to step on it, but then you go on living. Honest true and whole. I want to be that house, with nails and mortar and brick and cement. I want to be real and raw and true. I want that for my children. I want that for myself.

I think I am that Sea Lion barking and barking and barking. The loudest silliest most ridiculous one. The one who, when all are quiet, starts barking anyway. As if she woke from her reverie to a sweet silence and found the quiet such a novelty, she barked in spite of herself. I want to swim over to her and put my hand on her head, look into her ancient eyes and say, “Shhhh. Shhhh. Quiet. We see you. We all hear you. You don’t need to bark so loudly anymore. You are here, piled on top of your kindred species, all trying to soak in the bright sun, holding each other up, leaning on each other. There’s no need to yelp anymore. You are surrounded and held and supported by everyone on your dock. You are in fact, okay.” And, I think you are my companions.

Sea Lions in San Francisco


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