Monthly Archives: March 2014
The excitement has been palpable in our home for well over a week. Our girl who goes through life with most of her emotions on the inside, has been visibly joyous with anticipation for this rite of passage, end of elementary days journey to Washington DC. Her dad and I took delight in the expressions of pleasure and anticipation as the day of departure approached. We all held our breath as the never ending North Carolina winter dumped freezing rain and cancelled school a mere 24 hours ahead of take off time. Much care was taken to place each carefully chosen item to fill up a suitcase and small back pack.
After a 5 am wake up, a little breakfast and a last bit of contagious excitement shared, we headed to the school. After unloading the luggage of both mom and daughter, we claimed our spots on the big bus. Knowing that we were facing several hours of sitting, I got out and walked around, and this is what I encountered:
I noticed a mom and daughter walking up the sidewalk with little brother in tow. My mind flashed to my own younger daughter who was at that moment tucked away in her warm bed, safe in the care of her daddy. The story of this family could be one of several. Is she a single mom who could only get her child to this place at this early hour if the entire family came along? Is there a dad working 3rd shift somewhere? Whatever the story, this little guy had to bundle up and leave home well before the sun came up in order for his sister to get on the bus on time.
I headed to the restroom and was warmly greeted with a beautiful smile and a hug. Melissa – pronounced Ma-lee-sa – was one of the children in my book buddy group two years ago. We have a special bond. She has shared some intimate details of her family’s life and story as immigrants to this country from Mexico. As we chatted about our big days ahead, she said, “My dad is crying. It is hard for him to say goodbye.” I hugged her and then walked back toward the bus. As she connected with her dad, I looked deep into his eyes and said, “we will take good care of your daughter.” What was the story behind those teary eyes? What has he seen and lived to have such emotion at this three day parting?
As a mom whose age is north of 50, I have approached this trip with a mixture of excitement, doubt and ambivalence. Do I have the energy to spend 3 very long days and 2 nights with a group of 5th graders? Is this really how I want to spend 3 days? Yet as I reflect on the privilege that allows me choice in this matter, I am humbled. The $300 cost was never an issue. My other young child is safely and competently in the care of her dad. I get to be the one who navigates DC and spends the night in a strange hotel with my daughter and friends. A privilege indeed.
I saw the facebook invitation scroll by several times. One of my professional writer friends posted an invitation to submit writings for Listen to Your Mother – “a national series of original live readings shared locally” to celebrate Mother’s day. I attended this last year with a dear friend and thoroughly enjoyed it. As I soaked it all in as audience participant, the fleeting thought of “would I ever try to do this?” passed through my heart and mind. So a few weeks back when it was day 3 of a long string of winter snow days, I decided to give it a go. I adapted a few of my blogs with a coherent 3-5 minute message, gave it a little different flavor, attached it to an email and pushed send.
I was flattered, delighted and a bit scared when I received an invitation to come to a reading audition for the piece. I had made the first cut and professional people were touched by the story. But even though I am somewhat tolerant of baring my soul in written form, doing so in spoken word is a whole different matter. Public speaking is not my thing. At the advice of a friend, I practiced in the mirror for several days. On the morning of the audition, I was peaceful, calm and practiced lots of deep breathing in the hours before my time slot.
The “judges” were three moms – one of them a friend. I was calm, confident and nervous and tried to be mindful of my tendency to shift back and forth while standing and reading. The emotion that came into my voice at the end of the reading was a surprise though probably should not have been. Reading to myself in a mirror is a completely different interaction than sharing intimate words with real live people. The judges were kind and professional. I would hear something in a week or so.
Then I received the most gracious and encouraging rejection email ever – truly! I was about 50% disappointed and 50% relieved that I would not be up on a stage sharing this story with a room full of real live people. But I am genuinely grateful that I stretched myself, took a risk and can share this stepping-out-of-my-comfort-zone-story with my daughters and my friends. And now, if you are interested, here is what I would have read up on that stage if given the chance:
At the age of 24 years, our firstborn son arrived. Five years and two brothers later, our family seemed complete. Young and naive enough to be arrogant and sure of my particular approach to mothering these three male children, we rolled along with mostly the usual and socially acceptable parenting hitches and challenges. I had this mother thing down.
As the eldest son was on the downhill side of his high school years and I entered my 40’s, the desire to mother young children resurged with a vengeance. I wasn’t ready to retire from the only occupation that had filled my hours, days and years. Was it the desire for a daughter, the unwillingness to have the nest emptying out before I was ready, or a divine grace of knowing that mothering was the pathway to finding my true and deepest self? Matters of mothering and the heart are indeed mysterious.
This time, our two girl children were living halfway around the world in an unfamiliar culture and place. Two trips and two years later, I was now the mother of 5. Two little girls who had spent their early months in a place where there are no mothers entered into our world. With less energy and a bit more experience, our journey together began. I somewhat brazenly and naively felt prepared, adequate and up to the task.
Even though we heard and read that parenting children with difficult beginnings and early relational trauma requires flexibility and often different parenting skills than those used with children birthed into a family, I wasn’t so sure about that. A common yet often misguided hope of adoptive parents filled my heart and mind as we prepared for our family to expand -“Love is enough”. Well, that, and the parenting skills I already possessed would surely be enough.
Somewhere along a three year fog of sleep deprivation, night terrors and behavioral challenges, I as mother came to a critical crossroads. There had been a big rage and tantrum that had gone on for hours. I had pulled out all of the tools in my parenting toolbox, and things continued to escalate. Suddenly, my being was filled with a sacred message whispered, or more accurately screamed, into my ear, “you can change yourself and your parenting or you can dig in, cling to your old ways and in the process destroy two children – this is your choice”. A holy ground moment.
This raw understanding of myself as mother in this sacred dance with a hurting child, some seven plus years ago, was a turning point. It sent me on a pursuit of the many and varied supports and healing paths we need to live as a whole and healthy family. Coming to a place of brokenness and vulnerability as mom and human being was the first step in a journey – a journey that is both a grief and a gift.
I imagine that any parent who navigates life with a child who is different, out of the norm or has some type of special need is faced with a grief to be felt and a gift to be cherished.
The grief – looking around at other “normal” families, our families are somehow out of step. There is a complexity that though not always seen by the casual observer is still very much a reality. It can show itself in many, many places – we may not be able to fully participate in some of the regular things of life such as certain social events, school, faith communities or sometimes just an uninterrupted night’s rest. Spontaneity can be stifled and desires put aside as we strive to be realistic and constantly mindful of healthy limits and boundaries for ourselves and our children. And each family finds themselves somewhere along this “out of sync” continuum.
The gift – living life with a child that demands we march to the beat of a different drummer is indeed a gift. It is like going to the school of what really matters. It is a crash course in getting over pleasing other people. If embraced, this new perspective quickly leads to a far less judgmental stance toward others – we are acutely aware that we never truly know what is under the behavior of that screaming child in the grocery store or that teenager who is “acting out”. We are wise to surrender to a much slower pace of life, offering the chance to live in a space of authentic presence and peace. We are entrusted a complex vision of parenthood and what truly matters. We receive the grace of often being able to see beyond the surface into the deep places of life.
I stand here with gratitude for this journey as mommy/mom/mother. Motherhood has wrecked me, formed me, refined me, shaped me and in ongoing process heals both mother and child.
PS For those of you who read this blog through facebook links, I am jumping off, deactivating, doing an experiment, hoping to learn and grow for the 40 days of Lent. I may post blogs, but won’t link through facebook until after my 40 days. I will look forward to reconnecting at that point. You are some of my most encouraging and challenging readers – thank you!