Last weekend I was asked to perform at an outdoor Serenata at the chapel Capilla San Miguel Arcangel just up the road from here so I prepared a few pieces I thought the group of about 200 people might relate to and enjoy. One of the pieces, “You Raise Me Up” has been so overused in the States it normally wouldn’t be a consideration but here I felt they’d enjoy it and it would be appropriate on so many levels. Given the song’s meaning, it depicts many things, including our mutual admiration. They truly seemed to enjoy the piece and I heard myself quietly singing the significance to them from inside my heart while I played. We all smiled together.
I stepped off the platform and went to find a seat among the wooden pews that had been brought outside where the audience sat in the large grassy garden and patio area of the chapel. I watched perform a group of little ballerinas who take classes in folkloric and the traditional Danza Paraguaya at our cultural center, Casa Hassler. As a side note, I would say that one of our largest areas of interest in the arts among Paraguayan children seems to be in folkloric dance. They spend three or more days a week in classes and practice at Casa Hassler, with mothers sitting on the periphery chatting, preparing merienda, and sharing thoughts regarding their toddlers in nearby strollers, just as I once did when Bess and David were small.
On the small stage flanked by gigantic sound speakers, were 16 smiling little girls twirling around, holding high their full skirts to display the row after row of luscious cotton ruffles edged in Paraguay’s well known crochet, combined with our gorgeous ao po'i, ñanduti and encaje ju. Each costume had its own color scheme of purple flowers mixed with blue, or a pink and red combo, giving the stage the look of a spring garden. A spray of flowers encircled slick black chignons, and each dancer wore dramatic makeup that highlighted their lovely caramel skin. Charcoal accented their brown eyes with purple and turquoise and frosted blue added, along with rosy blushing cheeks and bright lips.
I’ve gotten to know the young mothers of these little ballerinas and it’s been fun to be included as a part of the group, sometimes helping beforehand to adjust the skirts, smooth the hair, and assist the little dancers in not tripping on their skirts as they enter and depart from the stage. Once they’d finished and the applause died down, the mothers went to fetch their own to join the family in the audience. I watched as a lone little boy got in line to get on stage for his solo performance. He’s at an age where weight can’t seem to catch up with the growth spurts, so his tiny little waist and shoulders and gangly legs seemed too small for the broad brimmed hat he was wearing. The memories began bubbling forth. My son had that narrow little frame when he was the same age.
The little niño, dressed as a campesino in black pants, cummerbund, embroidered vest, silk tie and boots, secured his hat to his head and entered the stage as the loud music began with a fast-paced, Danza Paraguaya. He tucked his hands behind his back, quickly stepping to the beat, tapping his toes and heels and elegantly stamping his feet as he smoothly made his way ‘round the stage. The audience clapped in time and applauded over and over as he executed some intricate steps to the dance. I was taken back to a time 20 years ago, when as a young mother my little son and daughter were performing at various events, whether it be a piano recital, theatre, or talent show. There was so much excitement and anxiety and joy all tumbled together in those moments, smiles for the camera beforehand, all the while checking to see that their outfit was tucked and adjusted just right before going on. Then, off they went out of reach to begin their performance.
Sitting there among the young mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles and cousins, I found myself doing just as I had done with my own children– smiling big, clapping loudly, nodding dramatically and giving a wink if they looked at me from the stage, and giving thumbs ups of encouragement at every turn. As I enjoyed the show, my mind wandered a little bit to the most recent changes I’ve been experiencing. I am at that place where my grown children are clearly on their own now, still wanting my attention and loving support but not needing me in the same manner they had when they were younger.
It has taken me a while to see the picture as it becomes more focused. I can be tenacious, can hold on very tight and perhaps have done so for longer than some. As a single parent, I relied on grit and determination to make things work, so that identity and those responses became deeply engrained in me. But the two year separation brought on by the Peace Corps has given me a gift, the gift of time and knowledge gained as I see the days go by here, realizing that the responsibilities of motherhood have taken on a fairly new look for me. And now, I love it when my grown children message me regularly and call me with news, questions, opinions and I happily receive from them the technologically-sent smiles, applause, thumbs up and winks of encouragement that they return to me as I recount to them my activities and live out this unusual, distant lifestyle for a while. Mind you, there are times when I still need to connect more than usual with them as we go through this metamorphosis, theirs and mine. A daily journey, it is.
It’s seems that there is a natural progression that propels you slowly into a new place as your children grow up. It happens at every stage, I’d say. The process of growth sometimes prepares your path without your knowledge and at some point you simply find yourself sitting smack in the middle of that place. At other times, it seems like a sudden awareness for which you don’t necessarily feel prepared. I suppose for some it could be painful or confusing. There have been times when someone would ask what I intended to do with myself now that my children are grown. I remember my immediate thought was to say that nothing was changing. I’d reply that my focus would still be the same (constant and all-encompassing). And those times when I’d tell myself that the time had come to think about what I personally wanted to do with my life in this new chapter, I’d find myself feeling guilty for considering any other options whatsoever. I’m their mother and I have a job to do. So, yes, it has been somewhat of a dance itself, as I’ve begun figuring out my role. Two steps forward, one step back, round and round, twirling, and happily over-mothering at times, then realizing I’ve overstepped, then steadying myself, adjusting and remembering where I am on the stage.
With each transition in these stages of life, I turn and look over my shoulder, saying goodbye to one set of doing and being, and the identity to which I was so accustomed smiles and waves farewell. It’s not at all a final farewell, however, just amended and edited in a way to allow for newness. It has a sort of a layering effect (which is very fortunate) keeping some of the old, and adding in some of the new.
These shifts in our stages of life can be enjoyable when there is an awareness of them as they happen. And, too, it can be a pleasant surprise to realize them when they arrive suddenly, unassumingly from stage left. I have noticed that when old themes have been lived out and are ready to exit, there can be a feeling of restlessness and a strong need to stretch, to move out of the confines and into something open and new. I’ve always marveled when those moments would arrive. They’ve been a sign to me to stop and pay attention. It feels a little like an inner voice calling, trying to reach and sound a small alarm, alerting that there’s something new coming, something new surfacing, listen, listen.
It seems a fortunate thing to me that we are actually prepared and equipped for the changes in our lives, although we may not realize it at the time. If we pay attention, we can take part in the transition. I don’t feel sadness that my children are grown and independent. I love this time in their lives just as I did the chapters previously. And, the mothering in me isn’t departing, it’s just making some pretty wonderful adjustments, looking forward to the newness of what lies ahead. I say today to my children, to the Peace Corps experience and to my Paraguay – You raise me up.