Put Down The Ducky!

Today's UPI column - there will be none next week - then I will be writing from Africa

So There I was...

Getting on a plane. Returning home, but leaving a huge chunk of my heart behind. I had just dropped my firstborn child off at college, half-way across the country, and every bit of 18 years of mommy conditioning told me I was being bad – very bad.

You do not dump your children off among strangers, hoping that they will figure out how to live in a foreign environment. You do not abdicate your responsibility for keeping the worst of the world at bay while they learn and grow. You do not suddenly cease your constant, if often unwelcome, teaching commentary on their life.

You do not just walk away. You just don’t.

Except that we all do – eventually. At least every successful parent, does, eventually, just walk away.

It didn’t really help that this was an extremely competent child, and that my mothering had mostly been consultive for the last year or two. The problem with competent children is that they often think that they can do all sorts of grown-up things – whether they can or not.

And it really didn’t help that when I got home the family dog ‘yelled’ at me for weeks. He would go into her room, bark, and then come in to me and bark at me.

“Stupid woman! You’ve lost your puppy!”
“I know, Alex, I know.”

When his Lassie imitation failed he fell into a depression that lasted until Christmas.

The girl, of course was all right. I, however, was just starting my work in the Spiritual Discipline of Release. Some of the spiritual disciplines are optional; elective courses for the spiritually motivated and inquisitive, others are mandatory. Release is one of the mandatory ones, a core requisite. You can do it badly or you can master it, but you are going to take this class.

If you are lucky enough to live so long, you will release your parents, your children and your lovers, you will eventually release your strength, and whatever mental superiority you ever had. The more you are blessed, the more you will release, until the day comes when you release your very life. It may be ripped from your clinging grasp, or it may float away like the fall leaves, but you will let go of it. Fortunately Life, in its kindness, offers you many opportunities for practice before that day.

I have learned a few things that help. I have learned to breathe and relax my body on command, especially under stress. I have learned to pray. I have learned to trust God to be God and to run the universe, with or without me. I have learned how to discern if something is my problem or somebody else’s problem, and I don’t usually try and fix other people’s problems. I have learned that control is an illusion, and that when I cease trying to control, my influence actually increases. I have learned to trust people, most of the time they do an adequate job with decent intent.
All of these things help me let go.

Which is good because I am about to take a mid-term exam. I am about to walk away from my life for a couple of months.

This is a thing that competent, professional, middle-class American women rarely do. Like most of my age mates I spin plates, and spin with the best of them, I do. I lose a saucer every now and then, but no major losses. I have hearth and home, two part-time professions, and a handful of odd gigs on the side. Plus a dangerous hobby or two. And being me, I take a leadership role in every part of my life. Much easier to lead than to follow, less frustration, usually turns out pretty well, my kudos cabinet is well stocked.

But there are some things that are so focus-consuming that you have to lay everything else down to have a chance of doing them right. I am about to go to an unstable, dangerous, alien part of the world, to do complicated assessment and training. It is a one plate, one pole spin.

So I have to let go of everything else for a bit. My counseling clients will have to take care of themselves, or find other help. My fledgling church is going to fly without me. My husband will run the house without my help. My second daughter will pack away the 120-year-old Christmas ornaments that I never let anyone else touch. The motorcycles will sit cold with batteries draining and oil sludging. The plants in my late father’s greenhouse will pray for mild weather. And the 101 unforeseen mini-crises that are bound to occur during my absence will be handled or not by someone who is not me.

That same first daughter that I abandoned to her college life had a favorite Sesame Street bit when she was tiny. It was a musical number where Ernie wanted to play the saxophone but was having problems because it took two hands to play and one of his hands was occupied by holding his beloved rubber ducky. A conundrum. A series of famous cameo singers sang this advice to the orange everytoddler. “You gotta put down the ducky, yes, put down the ducky, you gotta put down the ducky if you wanna play the saxophone.”

So watch me, I’m gonna take a deep breath, say a prayer, renounce control, and put down my beloved ducky of a life, and blow.


Peggy, if you've told us this, I missed it. Can you let us know the dates you'll be travelling so we can keep you in our prayers?
This is one of the best articles that you've written, and by far the most touching for me personally.

As a member of the flegling congregation, I just want you to know how proud (agh! I know pride is wrong, and that I'll get a grumpy look from the Quaker Oats Man when I say that...but pride is the right word) I am of you for taking this mission. Yes, it will be different while you are gone, but we will manage, and hopefully, manage well. All blessings to you during this scary (but exciting!) time.

M. McGeehon
I 'put down the ducky' about 14 months ago and walked off to the other side of the world and a new life.

Thing is I'm not convinced I've managed very well to stop myself from picking up another in it's place...

I don't know that I'm ready yet to find out either.

I know right now it's the going that feels difficult, just be open to the possibility that it might be just as hard to return and I hope god gives you the strength you need to deal with both.

many blessings on your journeying (of all natures!)
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