My lawnmower stopped suddenly, and I couldn’t start it again.
At home on the island (Aotea – Great Barrier) I keep things as simple and manual as possible.
I spent years and years as a single mum with 3 small kids, honing my ability to keep life manageable. I set up systems that I can rely on, and that I know how to fix if they break.
I don’t do power tools or things with pull-starts.
I once bought a weed-eater that broke down the first day and then took months of fighting with the company to get it fixed and eventually returned.
I don’t need that shit in my life. Back to the hand slasher.
But Dad sent his trusty old lawnmower over with me one time.
I had no plans to use it. But after a couple of years of watching other people using it and it seemed reliable, I made friends with it.
Until now. When it died.
But I was on an island with all the time in the world, no children stressing me out or needing me, and no small-engine mechanic nearby.
So I called my dad (the knower of all things mechanical, electrical, and IT-related). We decided the engine might not be getting enough air, and I should clean the air filter.
Baby step #1
With a few instructions, I removed the cover and sure enough, the air filter was filthy. It was also made of paper, so I wouldn’t be cleaning it. But I could try to start it without one, so I did.
Same thing. No joy.
Baby step #2
I was feeling bold then, so I pulled out the spark plug and gave it a clean.
Jiggled things around. Put it all back together.
Then it started as long as I primed the fuel, but it would just die again immediately.
Baby step #3
So I figured, engines need fuel, air, and spark – check me out, knowing shit about engines – so that only left fuel as the problem. The fuel wasn’t getting through.
Blocked fuel line?
A few more calls to the wise and all-knowing Dad, and I had instructions to completely remove the fuel tank, empty it, clean it and the fuel line, and see what happened.
The next phone call to Dad was to announce my awesomeness because not only had I done all that but I’d ALSO managed to put it all back together (yes, there was one really big bolt left over for a while but I DID find its home eventually), AND it was humming!!!
I freaking did it!
It ran for a whole 45 minutes and then died again.
Baby step #4
Skip ahead to the end of the story: Dad ships me a new air filter, a spare spark plug just for good measure, and a gasket kit so I can pull apart the carburettor.
I now know how to completely service my lawnmower.
I know what the inside of the carburettor looks like, the mechanics of it all, how it all works together.
For the rest of my life, I now have the confidence to troubleshoot and repair my own lawnmower.
I keep telling Carver Boy I am officially the perfect woman 😏
FYI, I’m not.
But what I really am is proud of myself. For being resourceful. For being inquisitive.
For being brave enough to just give it a try. For mastering a completely new skill, at 46.
Maybe there’s a takeaway in this for you
Maybe there’s something in your life that you’re avoiding completely but instead of trying to eat the whole elephant you could just nibble on its ear, knowing you might never get to the tail, but knowing at least you could do one ear.
And when that ear’s done, maybe you could try a drumstick (do elephants have drumsticks?).
Is there something that seems impossible but you could take just the first step?
Or maybe there’s no inspiration for you here and I’m just bragging cos I think I’m cool now.
I WISH we lived in a world where suicide wasn’t such a familiar word. Where it didn’t come up in conversation every day. Where it wasn’t such a very real option for people struggling, simply because it’s so common and so in our collective consciousness.
Our commitment was this: He’d always ask for help, and I’d always be there for him.
OK, so now I can get to the boundaries part.
Watching the struggle
When we watch one of our children struggling – and not just the everyday teenage ups and downs but REALLY STRUGGLING – prolonged pain and suffering over a period of years, it’s the most natural thing in the world to want to rescue them.
To protect them.
To keep them safe.
For me, and I know for so many other parents, that meant enabling him. In an addiction, and in unhealthy, unresourceful patterns of thinking and behaviour.
In my mind, he was always one step away from death (by suicide, or because of making desperate choices that would put him in harm’s way):
If I don’t give him this money, he’ll die
If I don’t find him a place to live, he’ll die
If I don’t swoop in and rescue him from this bad situation, he’ll die
If I’m not available to him 24/7, he’ll die
If I don’t answer his phone call, he’ll die
When I realised that was a) unsustainable and b) probably mostly untrue, I rocked on up to my psychologist and probably scared the shit out of him by announcing:
I need to be ok with my son dying.
To his credit, he quickly hid the shock behind his eyes.
So we worked it through. And unsurprisingly, he didn’t help me get ok with the idea of my son dying, because I’m not a psychopath.
What he did help me do was recognise that there were a number of (if not many) steps between the pressing thing I thought I needed to do for my son, and his eventual death.
For example, if I didn’t give him money “for food” right now, he might be hungry (or he might just try another way to get a hit other than by lying to me about being hungry). He might get pretty low and desperate. People around him might help. He might sell something for money. He might ask someone else. He might start to consider taking his own life. He’d likely reach out for help again then. And then eventually, if he headed in that direction, I’d have the opportunity to step in, bring in professionals, or call for help.
What seemed like a simple if-then to me was actually an if-then-maybe-then-maybe-then-maybe-then-maybe-THEN, and THAT I could live with.
We just built some distance from the horrific outcome I was attaching to my immediate action or non-action.
The other thing we did was talk about was what if.
What if he did die? What if he did successfully take his own life? What if he did make desperate choices and get himself killed somehow?
I played it through in my mind.
The heart-shattering, sickening possibility of my son no longer being alive. What it would be like to get the call. How I’d react. Who I’d tell. Who I’d need to look after. The order of things.
In my mind, I planned the funeral.
I guess you need to know I have a frame of reference here.
I have very real experiences I can draw on, of receiving the phone call to tell me my husband was missing, presumed drowned. Of watching someone I love have the police arrive on their doorstep with every parent’s worst nightmare. Of IDing and dressing bodies of loved ones taken too soon and farewelling them.
My imaginings of my son’s death weren’t based on imaginings.
And ultimately what it had to come down to was this: boundaries.
A precision balancing act between his needs, my needs, possibility, reality, what’s best for him, what’s best for me, what I can control and what I can’t. What’s mine to own and what’s not. What I can take responsibility for and what I can’t.
The boundaries are different for everyone, so I’m not going to get into the black and white of where mine are. But what I can tell you is that my boundaries are both clear and up for consideration in any given circumstance.
What I can tell you is that when I started establishing and maintaining boundaries I stopped enabling my son and he started on a journey of recovery and healing.
What I can tell you is that he has, and no doubt will again, relapsed in his addiction, and attempted suicide.
What I can tell you is that without boundaries, neither his life nor mine would be actually “living.” They’d be existing, surviving, and doing so torturously.
What I can tell you is that a fissure in my heart opens every time I can’t get hold of him, and every time I have to say no, and I start planning his funeral again.
And that the fissure tentatively starts to heal when he has a win, or a good day, or another day he’s just alive.
Hearts are designed that way. It’s ok for them to break because they’re incredibly skilled at healing. Their scars make them stronger. It’s their job to do that for us: break, then heal.
So, m’love, I’d invite you to think about one place in your life, where you could/should/might be able to have a boundary.
If you look at the status quo, who is it serving? Who is it harming? What does all the grey in between look like?
Play out the possibilities. Become intimately familiar with the drivers.
Claim your power in the space through knowledge, awareness, and informed decisions.
Brené Brown’s research tells us that the people who live the most compassionately and wholeheartedly are also the most boundaried.
Boundaries allow us to give. To grow. To be courageous and generous.
A boundary sounds like a limitation. But it actually makes us free.