Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Place at the Table

Yesterday on TV I saw a movie based on the book Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. I haven't thought about Heidi in years, but it was, of course, one of the favorite books of my childhood. Here was a girl with whom I could identify, happy wandering outside with one friend, the mountains and the animals. There was the requisite (for a fairytale) rich relative, the cross child whose heart is won over by Heidi's pure heart, and of course the daunting Grandfather who is won over before long.

Naturally, I settled in to watch it. I don't remember this from the book, and I don't know if it was there or simply added for the film (1968, with Jean Simmons, Maximilian Schell and Michael Redgrave), but Heidi says that all she wants is her own place. She wants there to be a place at the table that everyone knows is hers, and would say "that's Heidi's place." This is where the tears started.

It's becoming clear to me that I never saw myself as having my own place, my own life. I saw myself always as a sort of addendum. When I was younger, I blamed this on my parents for a while, as we tend to do. Now I suspect some of it was just my personality, some of it was being the baby sister of several older siblings, so I rode along to their games, their practices, their lessons, their field trips... it was just an idea that I formed and absorbed. In some ways I am more comfortable in the background, observing, getting the whole story, but I saw myself as being part of the background. There's no blame, it was just an inaccurate interpretation.

Now, each time that I take a step toward claiming my space, there's the most uncomfortable kickback. It's taking responsibility for my life, getting to know myself and what I want, which I had for so long thought would be unspeakably selfish, and just not ME (but who is ME?). I pick out something for the house just because I like it, and feel an involuntary guilt reaction. I stand my ground, establishing my boundaries in relationships and have at times felt dizzy from the strangeness of it. But it's getting easier.

Even with my children, I realized that when I set out dinner, I clear enough untidiness from the table to set their places, but go back and forth from the kitchen and I usually don't sit down at all. I have had no space, because I never make one for myself. If I don't, even my kids won't see that I have one. It's time to make that change, to clear the whole table and sit down. My life is in this home, with my children, and that's my place and the foundation for every place I make for myself.

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