On being needed …

by tamarjacobson

[NOTE: This post was originally written in 2005 in my Tamarika blog – it has been slightly tweaked]

I think I am going to have a very difficult time dying. It will probably have to hit me out of the blue. I just cannot imagine people living without me. They will never be able to think of things to do or do them as I well as I. And how will they manage when I am not around? For example, the cats need me early in the morning. Ada wakes me by pulling on the telephone chord and sometimes sits close to my face, gently patting my lips with her paw. She and Molly want to play. More urgently they like to watch me clean their litter box because they know that those seafood tasty treats are on their way. 

I think about them as I plan my new fall position at a college three hours drive from my home. This will mean that I will have to rent a small studio where I will stay for half the week. On the one hand I am thrilled at the opportunity for this new position. On the other, what will Molly and Ada do without their morning treats, tuna once a week and the twice a day litter cleaning ritual?

I remember when my son and his girlfriend went up into the Snowy Range. He was sixteen. He took a pack and headed out from Buffalo New York to Wyoming on a Greyhound bus. After a week, his girlfriend returned. It had been so high in those mountains that she had felt quite unwell. He stayed behind to wander the range alone. I did not sleep for days. There were no cell phones then. How did I allow him to go off like that? Lying awake each night in my comfortable home in Clarence, I imagined all manner of terrible things happening to him. When I would get to the part about him lying alone in a pool of blood, I would sit up sharply in my bed and head quickly, urgently for the kitchen to make a cup of tea. In my family, all crises are dealt with by a cup of tea. As I write this, I can hear my sister calling out, "Put on the kettle, I'll make the tea!"

My son returned two weeks later looking well. His hair was knotted and tangled into natural dreadlocks but he looked tall and strong. Soon after his girlfriend had left him on top of the Snowy Range he had stumbled onto the "Sand Lake Lodge." There he stayed for a week or more, helping out with chopping firewood and other such chores. Where had he learned that? He handed me a letter from the owners:

Dear Tamar, We had the pleasure of meeting and knowing your son, G. He stopped by for a drink of water and through mutual agreement he stayed and helped us at our lodge. I just want to let you know what a good person your son is. He has pitched in and helped doing anything he was asked to do, and cheerfully (I might add). Please stop and see us if you are ever in this part of the country, and the door is certainly open for G at any time. Take care and hope to meet you some day.

My son could more than survive without me. But was that a good thing? At age fifteen, he started making his own sandwiches for school and I was mortified. I wandered around feeling depressed and listless for days until I realized that I was not feeling needed. After all, making food for the family is one of the ways we give love. Imagine my joy when one year he wrote to me in a mother's day card, "I love you and I need you but I allow you to rest once in awhile. I take that back. I love you and I need you UNCONDITIONALLY. Love G."

Is my self-worth dependent on being needed?

In March I will be presenting to directors of campus based child care centers about delegating. As a director of a large campus based child care center for eleven years, I learned to let go of being the only person who knows what to do, or the only person who does it properly. Before I left the center to move to Philadelphia I would sit in my office and weep silently to myself. Who would know that when you feed Nacho, the cockatiel, you have to chirp and sing so that he/she would reply in kind? Who would talk to the plants, as I did in my mind, as they watered them? Who would …? It was agony. I was sure that no one, parents, staff, children, would be able to live without me. And then we hired one of the teachers who had been at the Center longer than me to be the new Director and, presto! Everyone is growing and thriving. When last I visited Nacho and the plants looked happy, strong and joyful!

Whenever I go off to conferences, Hawaii or to Israel to visit my family, Life Partner does just fine! Even though he does not always give Molly and Ada those special seafood tasting treats at the right time early in the morning, they all seem to be thriving and joyful when I return.

So perhaps I can allow myself to feel worthwhile in ways other than being needed.

I wonder how.