Keep Your Crown Shiny Through the Shit Storm

It really sucks walking around this planet, sometimes. Even as a committed optimist you are going to take some blows that will sap your soul and drop it into a deep dark hole. Something like ten percent of the population have personality disorders. Some of them are going to cross your path. Sociopaths are going to crop up in surprising places. Some really bad shit is going to go down on occasion by no fault of your own. People you trust will betray you. You’ll find your self face to face with wicked malice that you cannot even comprehend. There will be loss. You are going to suffer.

Believe it or not, this is actually a post about protecting joy (hang on its coming), but the cold hard reality is that there is unavoidable anguish in this journey. I recently saw a quote that said something to the effect of every woman will reach a point when she has to decide whether or not to become bitter after years of dealing with life’s struggles. I would add that once you reach this place, you are going to have to make this decision again and again. You are going to have to decide day after day as life knocks you on your ass, to get back up again. It was only when I began to realize that the quest should not be for a life without strife, but rather for a badass attitude that fights ferociously to preserve joy in the face of adversity, that I became quickly able to recover from any shit storm that blows my way.

I’m climbing out of a rut now. We recently returned from an 11-day vacation that included a 2,000 mile round-trip drive. It began like this; two parents, one young adult, three teens, and two traumatized littles all smiles setting off for 22 hours in a 15-passenger van. It ended like this: two sleep deprived parents considering driving said 15-passenger van off a bridge.

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Let’s just say it hasn’t been my finest hour.

Physically exhausted from sharing a small hotel room with a child who does not sleep and is prone to disturbing misdeeds when unsupervised and emotionally exhausted from handling anxiety triggered regression into frequent toddler-like tantrums of another child, I returned to modern American life and stepped directly into the trap of the current soul sucker in my life.

It was dark for a minute, but I’ve been feeding my inner fire. As the self appointed Queen of my own life, I’ve developed defenses to protect my reign and there’s no hole deep enough to keep me down. Because I’m nice like that,  want us all to rule our own queendoms, and need a little attitude adjustment of my own, I’m going to share my methods for fortifying my crown.

Pajama Mama’s 10 Tips for Flipping off Funk

1. Find a group of intelligent women with whom you can liberally use the word “fuck.”  I’m not talking about some ladies who just tolerate it. You need some gals with a true appreciation of and are themselves well versed in the art of profanity. This is especially important if you live in a very religious or conservative community. There is great delight in the harmless juvenile rebellion and nothing quite so satisfying as a well placed F-bomb.

2. Guard your integrity. Vow to never say anything negative about anyone else’s appearance. Avoid personal attacks when dealing with conflict–stick to the behavior. It’s really as easy as that. Just don’t do it any more. I discovered when I stopped criticizing others, I began to feel better about myself. It’s really easy to slip into a pattern of pulling others down to lift ourselves up. In the end, we all just wind up in a heaping pile of ugly.

3. Find some people who will be ridiculous with you. I have the great fortune to have a daughter who shares my love of shenanigans and some imagefriends who aren’t afraid to play dress up. My darling daughter and one of my lady loves recently accompanied me to an eye exam dressed in feather boas and tiaras as I worked to overcome the trauma I have associated with my vision. If you want the details, they are here. Now, instead of recalling horror when I think about my last eye exam, I smile and remember my fearless friend Sharri telling the examiner who was not even slightly amused by our production, “You should have seen us at the gynecologist.”

4. Stop trying to please everyone (also known as the practice of giving zero fucks). You never can and you risk becoming a door mat to the sociopaths. Be kind, do good, be unapologetically you and don’t take any crap. Some people won’t be able to handle the paradigm shift and will walk away. That’s cool–I hope the door doesn’t hit them on the ass.

5. Steer clear of religious extremists. In my experience, the louder someone proclaims their faith, the harder they are working to conceal their corruption. Anyone spewing hate or practicing unethical behavior based on religion is dangerous and you need to turn your cheeks and run.

6. Exercise. You don’t need to run a marathon, just move your body. In the eloquent words of Elle Woods, ” Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”

7. Recognize that there are some things that you will always be sad about, but don’t let them define you. Weep when you need to-it’s good for you. Really. Crying releases toxins, reduces sadness and anger, reduces risk of heart disease, and can improve bonds with those who support you through your tears.

8. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good. Seek to love everyone, but be careful who you trust. Not everyone is on the same path to self-improvement and there are a lot of broken moral compasses out there. Keep the circle small and show toxic components the way out–again, the door/ass thing.

9. Learn to let go. Write it down and set it on fire, meditate, dump it on the profanity pack in step one, or do whatever you’ve got to do to put down the anger you’ve been carrying around. Recognize that much of the ugly that comes your way has everything to do with the deliverer and nothing to do with you. If after some honest soul searching, you can see that your own hands are messy, own it, clean it up, make amends and move on. You can’t change the past. You can’t control other people. put on your crown and keep moving forward.

10. Focus outside yourself. Be a better friend. Walk with others through their grief. Express your appreciation to the loves of your life. Throw yourself into service. When my Sailor Boy left for bootcamp, I was nearly disabled with grief. Within days of his departure, I took in two Foster children and in the coming weeks fostered multiple litters of puppies. I spent so much time managing maladaptive behaviors, cleaning up poop and taking puppies to the vet then adoption events that my pain was not my constant focus. I did, however, develop a contempt for puppies (at least 7 at a time.)

So that’s my recipe for keeping joy alive. Feel free to take it, leave it, add some optional wine, or print it out, write down your fury on the back and throw it in the fire. I’m going to get my head on straight over number 2, practice some 4, 5, 6, and 8, polish my crown and move on.

Christmas Kerbobble

I wish I could say the season had my eyes all aglow. I truly envy friends who love Christmas and are full of joy this time of year. Complicated by the parenting special needs adoptees thing, a child who is not coping well this season, and haunting feelings that my aim has fallen short, I must admit the whole christmas thing has me a bit kerbobbled. It has been evolving for me over the years and now that the bustle has quieted a kind of sadness is seeping in.

I spend the entire holiday season engaged in internal battle. I’m torn between my desire to abandon the entire thing and take a cruise and my desire for my children to experience the magic. There is never enough time and there is always compromise. I try to convince myself that I’m doing it all my way only to emerge on the other side feeling a little dirty.

My older children were all homeschooled through the “Santa years,” their television viewing was pretty limited, and we were far removed from family leaving them mostly free from outside influences. Their desires were few and their joy contagious. It was so much simpler then. Now, that seems like something that happened in another universe.

My younger children attend public school and have been submerged in the cultural madness that has turned a single religious holiday into an all encompassing national seasonal phenomenon of over indulgence. My youngest recently informed me that it is Santa Clause’s job to bring him presents with an air of entitlement that I’m still coming to terms with. His demands for an “elf on the shelf” pushed my patience to the brink. Although we chose to eliminate Santa visits after wish lists began to sound more like ransom notes, the school provided a spin on the jolly elf’s lap without my consent.

imageMaybe we didn’t venture out as much back then, or maybe it’s the in your face nature of the Internet, or maybe I’m just more raw now, but I find the intensity and duration of the season overwhelming and a bit soul crushing. I don’t have the endurance to maintain the enthusiasm for months on end and wouldn’t want to even if I could.

Everywhere we go someone asks, “Are you ready for Christmas?” The children are asked what Santa is going to bring them. I’m bothered by the assumption that we participate and my heart aches for those who don’t. Not because I think they should, but rather because I find it annoying and it is my cultural tradition. I can only imagine how horrible it would be to have this all crammed down your throat when it is not. I’m tortured by my attempt to find a balance between showing those I love how much they mean to me and waking December 26th with my integrity intact.

I despise the idea that I “should” do anything the last six weeks of the year and have been working to define our own practices. I stopped sending Christmas cards years ago and pledged to express my gratitude to those who impact my life every day of the year. Courtesy of Hallmark, I’m fully aware that this choice may be perceived as a slight by some. I remember years ago a friend telling me that if someone went two years without sending her a Christmas card then they were off her list. Ouch. Beware the Christmas wrath.

Ugly Sweater party --one of the season's highlights.

Ugly Sweater party –one of the season’s highlights.

We’ve scaled back gift giving, limiting it to small doses for immediate family, choosing to host a party for our friends, and focus more on doing and being together. Again, there is the danger of hurt feelings in this choice and that is the core of my unease.

I completely reject the practice of enabling entitlement and have forbidden my children from making lists or writing to Santa. This became necessary after I heard Little Guy complaining about the one request that wasn’t granted last year–a skateboard because he was 5 and lacked the coordination for it–but couldn’t name a single item that he had received which among others included a new bike.

As the month of December wore on this year, I became increasingly disgusted with the thinly veiled and escalating requests for handouts on my community’s Facebook page by mothers lamenting that they couldn’t give their children the Christmas they “deserve.”

I’ve heard everything from grief to panic expressed by friends and strangers. And from those parenting special needs children whose wires are already crossed and often suffer complete meltdown under the holiday stress, I’ve heard outright hatred spoken. The existence of the phrase “holiday stress” should be an easy indication that we’re not doing it right.

Even as I write this I know that I may be misunderstood and receive one of those monikers reserved for nasties with no holiday spirit. There in lies the kerbobble. Anyone who knows me will testify that my nature is generous and I care deeply for my fellow travelers. My discomfort is not with giving, or sharing, or a lost spiritual meaning. No “reason for the season” bit here–that’s not my shtick. I’m not even suggesting that anyone should stop doing anything that brings them joy.

It’s just too much for me. I’m perplexed as to why we are all expected to buy in. Why do we year after year participate in this colossal merchandizing scheme when, for so many of us, it is downright painful or financially impossible. Why is opting out risking becoming a social pariah or crushing guilt? You’ve seen “Christmas with the Kranks,” right? Not so far from the truth.

I wish I could wrap this up with a final tidy sentiment, but I’m afraid I don’t have it quite figured out. I usually wait until my emotions are more settled before I put it in ink, but I need to get this funk out and move on.

I wish that I could rewrite the script to go something like “Hey, you do you and yours however you see fit and I’ll do the same. I will accept and appreciate any way you choose to or not to include me and mine and you do the same. Oh, and let’s cut it down to a couple of weeks next time and see how that goes.”

Maybe next year I’ll get it right.

Don’t Be a Richard

The subject of Internet anonymity and resulting hatefulness it seems to inspire has been heavy in my world lately and yesterday the weight became unbearable.  Recently, Big Sister created an Instagram profile @rethinkfeminism_  to explore feminist topics inviting polite debate with the goal of growing and learning.

Yesterday this debate took a terrifying turn after she shared a meme calling for the halt of verbal abuse toward women who had procured an abortion. One follower believed this to be a death worthy action and under the cloak of cyberspace was not afraid to tell her.  Here’s what I have to say to him.

Dear Captian [sic] Richard,
You don’t know me, but we need to talk. Seems yesterday you called my daughter a monster and wished a violent death upon her, assuring her that no one would care that she had been murdered, because she voiced a political opinion that differed from yours.

I’ve posted a screen shot of your public posts below just in case your memory is hazy.

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If you were looking to land a stinger, congratulations Dick–we can drop the formalities right, given your death wish and all?–you were successful. I admit I was wounded. In my defense, I never expected anyone to hasten the death of my beautiful, brilliant, precious, loving, generous 15-year-old child so I haven’t had opportunity to prepare–to still my mind and face this event without emotion.

My first response was defensive and protective. I’m a fierce mama bear and an attack on my children is an attack on me. I would protect them to my last dying breath. But I’m working on my zen so I took some deep breaths and a step back from myself to look at you.

But I can’t see you, Richard. You are hiding in the shadows of anonymity veiled by a screenname spewing hatred. I have to wonder if you would be so brave if I knew your real name? What if I knew your address? Could you be so vicious in front of her father? In front of your Mother? What if you had to own your words before all who can see you–would you have chosen more carefully? If you are not willing to attach your identity to your words then you are not brave, lost soul, you are a coward. A coward who hurts others is nothing but a bully.

You see, Richard, I’ve been at the business of parenting hurt kids for a very long time and though I claim to be an expert on nothing, I do know a thing or two about trauma. I know that such a rageful hate could only fester in a deep dark place of sorrow and fear. Anyone who would need to lash out in such a vengeful way must be in a lot of pain. For that I’m sorry. Really, truly sorry. My wish is for us all to always and only know love. Clearly, you’ve met something else.

I don’t know how old you are, but I want to believe that you are young. Firstly, because it means that you have lots of time to have other experiences that open your mind and grow your heart and secondly, because I would feel better knowing your words are born of immaturity rather than bitterness.

Lest there be no confusion, I want you to know that I have no problem with you disagreeing with my daughter. I would fight for your right to  express your opinions even though they are very different than hers (and mine), but we need to talk about your tactics. Apparently you have strong feelings on the subject, as so many do, but you are not doing your camp any favors with the name calling and death wishes. In fact, you may just get yourself labeled a maniacal loon and then nobody will want to play with you.

And could we take a last look at the contradiction that you are. You are vehemently pro-life, but hope for the death of someone who is pro-choice. So where exactly do you jump ship? Are you only pro-life situationally, like when everyone is agreeing with you? Is there an age limit? Are their racial or cultural criteria? Is it only my daughter’s life that has no value to you? C’mon Richard I’m afraid your behavior has left me confused and I’m not exactly sure what it is you stand for.

But I don’t need to understand. My mighty daughter was unmoved by you and has already handled your transgression (and improper word use) with a grace and maturity that you might want to take note of. Peace to you, Richard. I couldn’t tell it any better than she already has.

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Bad Seeds

“Look mommy, I drew an Indian,” Little Sister announced delightedly, thrusting a picture of a feather adorned girl in braids toward me.

“What makes that an Indian?” I asked, blood pressure rising.

A list of stereotypical characteristics ensued, all described in the past tense, clearly indicating that whatever her school prescribed vision of an “Indian” was, it was a thing of the past.

“You know Indians are people who live now,” I shared.

“Really!?” She responded eyes aglow as I’m sure images of Disney’s Pocahontas and war painted warriors began dancing in her head.

"You don't look like an Indian," 1995 John Branch

“You don’t look like an Indian,” 1995 John Branch. Used with permission.

This week preceding Thanksgiving at school has been full of the fantastic storybook renditions of a beautiful tale of peace and harmony complete with cartoonish depictions of groups of people. Little sister enthusiastically described the making of feathered headdresses for the Indians that I’m sure now decorate the school walls.

Big sister who has been raised on truth and tolerance and spared public school propaganda was privy to this conversation and quipped,

“Yeah, maybe you can draw Black People next.”

So I gathered my little people round and called up Google images of modern Native People.

The first was a young hip mom with a single pink strand in her dark hair and a nose piercing holding her baby.

The light left Little Sister’s eyes.

“That’s an Indian?” She asked through curled lips.

More images followed of a group of older women gathered round a table laughing, children playing in the park, father and son getting into a truck, and so on–you, know, people doing people stuff.

“They just look like normal people,” Little Sister said not disguising her disappointment.

Bingo.

I must admit, I’m pretty disgusted that nothing has changed in 40 years. I have memories of this very same feathered headdress project when I was their age. This project is a multi-layered tragedy that confuses children. It plants a pervasive image of a simple and single definition of “Indian” as lacking depth and life, disrespects the sacred significance, and for many Native People it’s simply inaccurate–not all Native People wore them.

The headdress project is just part of the greater myth presented as fact full of insulting stereotypes and flagrant omissions of brutal massacres that continues to predominate the classroom.

I won’t go off on all the inaccuracies because plenty of people far more knowledgeable than me have already done that, and this is what makes the continuance of this practice so inexcusable. A five second Internet search yields dozens of reputable sources for the true story, cultural sensitive lesson plans that include studying Native American history and culture beyond a single fantasized meal, and historical facts. It’s just lazy not to use them.

But this shouldn’t surprise me. Texas touts a “pro-american” history curriculum that brushes over the existence of any people on this continent prior to the European settlers and waters down or completely ignores the atrocities they committed after they got here.

With the goal of instilling patriotism, the state board of education recently voted to teach a state-defined curriculum for the Advanced Placement American History Exam rather than using the federally-defined curriculum on which the exam is based in order to avoid teaching the more negative aspects of American History.

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Circumventing federal standards is not a problem for me as I’m a big fan of independent thinking; the problem is that it also circumvents the truth. The end result, aside from the obvious perpetuation of lies, is that Texas kids will wind up in college classrooms looking like dumbasses. Yeah, that sounds like a great plan.

As I watched my children’s fantasies slip away, I tried to ascertain what exactly they had been told about Thanksgiving so I’d know where to begin the damage control. But after sharing confusing stories of videos of pilgrim girls with talking pet turkeys, adventures on the Mayflower, tepees and feathers, they shrugged their shoulders admitting that they had no idea.

For that I’m grateful. The seeds, though planted, have not taken root and it should be easy enough to unearth them. I’m not even going to talk about the colossal waste of resources that has only served to confuse my children…not now anyway. In the spirit of the holiday that for our family has always been about thankfulness and nothing to do with pilgrims and Indians, I’m going to incorporate gratitude for this reminder that I must never rely on the state to educate my children and get busy with some gardening of my own.

Her Boobs; Her Business

Raising A Free Daughter in the Bible Belt

My teenage daughter has had an awakening. Her growing insight has been both marvelous and heartbreaking to witness and she grapples with the newfound knowledge that women are still treated as second class citizens in this country.

It doesn’t help that we are submerged in a christian homeschool community where she receives frequent messages that it is her responsibility to prevent violence against herself by dressing modestly and behaving in a godly manner.

I really don’t even know what that means.

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The shirt alone in this outfit has four dress code violations–it’s too tight, the straps are less than three fingers wide, it exposes cleavage, and does not cover bra straps. The shorts are also in violation–too short.

I do know that we’ve been presented with lists of dress code requirements that always include a supplement exclusively for girls.

She has been instructed about the precise acceptable length of her skirts and shorts, directives to wear appropriate undergarments, but said undergarments should never be visible. She has been forbidden to show any cleavage or wear tight fitting clothing of any type. Under no circumstances should she ever reveal that beneath her drapings is a feminine form.

I can only assume that this is viewed as a necessary measure to prevent the boys from slipping into their primal brains and savagely raping their classmates. Because showing cleavage clearly expresses a desire to have sex and boys are mindless beasts who cannot control their urges. This is absurd and insulting to both sexes. The entire notion of “modesty” is contrived to blame the victim and excuse the perpetrator. And if they can’t handle a hint of cleavage in the classroom, how on earth do they navigate the beach without having sex all over it?

When you’re done go here. Check out this brilliant slam poetry piece by Anna Binkovitz tackling the ill conceived notion that a woman’s clothing choices are  an indication of well, anything at all.

I can testify to the ridiculousness of the idea that your attire is an expression of your desires. I have traveled through Europe and visited topless and nude beaches, yet I have never witnessed a public orgy (nor a private one for that matter.) What I did see were families and friends (yes parents with their children) enjoying time together in the sun. End of story.

Enough is Enough

The double standard has become increasingly unbearable for my thinking child and she’s angry. When I pointed out that her chosen attire for today’s classes exposed her bra straps (more the result of petite frame with narrow shoulders than rebellion, but rebellion would have been okay too) and we had just received an email from the co-op principal that further dress code violations would result in being forced to wear a uniform of a polo shirt and khaki pants, she’d had it.

“I know that every boy in the room has a penis. Ms. X even talked about their testicles the other day and I didn’t immediately demand that they fertilize me,” she lamented, pretty sure that a boy catching a glimpse of her bra wasn’t going to leave her pregnant.

Up until puberty struck earlier this year she had lived in an insulated environment. We tend to run with crunchier crowds and we have always encouraged her (and all our children) to discover their own paths–to decide what makes sense to them in every aspect of their lives from fashion to spirituality. Our message has been “Be kind, do good, be free.” The End.

This is not to say we don’t offer our own insight and guidance–I don’t want to send them out there unarmed–but ultimately the decisions are theirs. They are her boobs and what she does with them is her business.

This year, we have ventured into a new arena, she is taking several classes in conservative Christian environments, and is spending far more time with adults who do not share our views. Physical changes, awakening awareness, and being thrust into an oppressive environment have caused a psychic collision. I’m not so sure how long we can endure the blasts.

Bye Felicia

We have committed to this year and I believe there is value in spending time amongst those whose beliefs are very different than your own, but I will probably suggest we keep the visit short. The messages are too destructive.

The bombardment of warnings that she should cover her body, not entice or mislead the opposite sex by showing too much flesh, and that her very shape is shameful and should be concealed are taking a toll. She feels judged and alienated. The experience has been hurtful. But there has also been an unintended positive result.

She doesn’t live in that universe and has her parents’ blessings to disagree. And disagree she does. Freedom and the Internet have opened the world of feminist dialogue to her and she’s listening. She has discovered slam poetry and has started writing her own. She seeks out messages of self love and empowerment and she is coming into her own as a strong independent woman.

This is in direct alignment with my hopes for her. I wish for my daughter to know her own mind and act with integrity. I want her to have a healthy body image and sexuality. I want her to venture into the world with the expectation that she will be treated with respect and equality and reject any equations that produce a different yield. I want her to expect this not because she is dressed in some arbitrary standard of decency, but because she is a human being and it is her right. I want her to fight for what she believes in and never compromise her values. And in a final thought that is difficult to speak, in the event that she becomes a victim, as 25 percent of us will, I want her to know that it is not her fault.

Trauma Doesn’t Tell Time

The time has come for bifocals. There’s really nothing remarkable about this in and of itself. Most of us find ourselves here sometime during our fifth decade on the planet. But for me it’s complicated.

imageI have amblyopia–more commonly known as a lazy eye. Simply stated, my left eye does not work. This also is not, in isolation, a major deal. These days it is usually discovered in infancy and corrected by preschool –the perfect window of opportunity for training an eye that can, but inexplicably won’t see.

For me, the discovery came at the tail end of kindergarten  and the window was only left cracked. But try they must and a series of interventions were launched. Unfortunately, this process happened to directly coincide with the breakdown of my parents’ marriage.

It started with a patch over my good eye to force the bad one into action. In an instant my vision went from 20/20 to 20/200–legally blind. My mother was home less and less and nobody would tell me why.

About this time, my mother decided to cut my thick wavy hair short resulting in a perpetually disheveled look. Corrective lenses with a frosted lense and then a red colored plastic film were added to the regimin. I was told daily that I was ugly and people would stop and stare. I couldn’t see.  My parents were fighting bitterly.

My left eye began to weaken and cross under the strain and corrective surgery was scheduled. I was dropped at the hospital the night before and left alone. It was a different time when it hadn’t yet occured to the medical profession that children might recover better if they felt safe and supported. I was afraid and alone. Then I was sick and in pain.

I returned to school bandaged. I was scolded for removing the bandaging and showing my curious classmates my gorey eye. I was disgusting. I was a problem. I didn’t see my mother for days or maybe it was weeks at a time.

I removed the patch every chance I got. I wanted to see clearly.  I was considered oppositional. A strange woman moved into our house. I didn’t know where my mother was. Then my sister was gone too. Nobody would aswer my questions. I couldn’t see. I was terrified.

Then I lost it. One day in class, I had taken off my patch again and the teacher directed me to the hall for a scolding. She attempted to put a new patch on me and I blew. I fought her off with every ounce of strength my little 7-year-old body could summon. I screamed, I kicked, and I clawed. She had to call in reinforcements to control me.

I was angry, scared, and invisible. I was desperate for a modicum of control as my universe crumbled around me.

Soon after, my mother gathered her forces and absconded with me and my older brother, but not before the other woman lunged at her with a pair of scissors. Perhaps it’s fortunate that my eye was patched  and my memories of the incident are blurry.

Suffice to say the divorce proceedings were handled with something less than sensitive maturity. But this is not a blog about my parents’ divorce. Not really. Nor is it a blog about my vision.

This is a blog about trauma. This is about how it creeps into you in complicated ways and never goes away. We can bury it, integrate it, face it or try to forget it, but it’s always there. Forty years later, the thought of  visiting an eye doctor is sending me into a panic.

Forty. Fucking. Years.

Two unrelated traumatic events have become irreversibly intertwined and each a trigger for the other. Revisiting the pain has been paralyzing.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not walking around every day under the weight of any of this…. usually. About fourth grade, my vision was declared as good as it’s gonna get (which although improved to 20/40 in my left eye it was functionally unchanged because although the eye could now see it still wouldn’t)  and further interventions were abandoned.

By then the divorce was final and both of my parents had remarried. Their rage had quieted or at least they’d gotten better about concealing it.

Other than when I caught balls with my face courtesy of my faulty depth perception or I saw a picture of myself with my left eye looking not quite right, I haven’t given much thought to my vision, the process to improve it, or my parent’s divorce until very recently.

I’ve been surprised by how powerful the pain still is and how easily It found its way to the surface as the realization set in that the over the counter cheater glasses I’ve come to depend on aren’t cutting it anymore. Trauma is a twisted bitch who jacks reasonable processing and I am again an alternatingly ugly and invisible little girl terrified of losing her mother.

As I’ve been reduced to tears on many occasions over the past few days as this post was taking shape in my mind, I’ve had cause to consider what my adopted kids are silently enduring only a couple of years out from the depths of hell.

Their traumas are fresh, tremendous, recurring, and embeded in triggers none of us recognizes. It could be the scent of a candle that was burning when they witnessed or experienced violence. It could be the television show that blared in the background when they felt fear. It could be a holiday when festivities erupted into conflict. It could be a sight, a smell, a sound. It could be anything that sends them back and makes that buried pain vital and present.

Complicated by the fact that so much of their trauma occurred pre-verbally, they may never be able to attach words to their feelings. Their demons will always lurk in the dark places of their minds waiting to catch a ride to the surface on an unsuspecting trigger. This will never look reasonable to anyone around them and they are going to have to work harder than most to be the masters of their own minds.

And I know I need to set the example. I’m going to leave this mess in the sun a little longer and bleach out some of its vigor, then I’m going to fold it up neatly and put it away. I’m going to surf the Internet in search of beautiful, mature women wearing glasses. I’m going to laugh out loud that my kids will never again get to make fun of me frantically searching for my cheaters resting a top my head. Then I’m going to make the appointment.

 

 

 

How to Decorate without Divorce

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It started with the stairs. Well, really it started with cat urine on the stairs. Seems sweet Molly, our otherwise perfect tortoiseshell, had chosen the landing of our split stair case as an alternate litter box and no amount of scrubbing or enzymes was diminishing the smell. One morning, early this year, I couldn’t stand it for another second and ripped out the carpet with no plan for what would come next.

And so it began–this journey to reclaim my home. It’s been a rough year culminating in the departure of Sailor Boy quickly followed by a sucker punch from a corrupt CPS Worker who filed false accusations against us after her own bad behavior blew up in her face. She got butt hurt after she withheld vital information about the behavior and issues of a teen that she placed with us, said issues became threats in my home, resulting in her facing corrective action. She lied and an investigation was launched. Her claims were all dismissed, but I was injured none the less. Call me crazy, but vindictive malice hurts my feelings. It had already been battling a downward slide, but that’s where I completely lost my footing.

The dark color scheme and big heavy furniture that once felt warm and homey to me, had begun to feel stale and depressing. I’d already begun the process to bring cheer back into our home with brighter colors inspired by the beautiful Mother’s Day drawing Little Guy had given me, but the mission suddenly became more desperate. We had been talking for some time about selling and starting over somewhere else, but switched gears early this year and decided to remake this home–To bloom where we were planted.

Little Guys's Mother's Day gift 2014 that inspired our new decor.

Little Guys’s Mother’s Day gift 2014 that inspired our new decor.


Not long after I tore out the carpet, we built garden boxes and a cute little picket fence. I started painting everything. I’ve been walking around with glue and paint in my hair for months. I began living on Pinterest and started to believe we could do anything, would grow closer in the process, and restore harmony to our home. What I didn’t know in the beginning is that those Pinterest bitches lie.

“Work together following these six easy steps to a flawless result to anything and you and your mate will feel so accomplished and closer as a couple that you’ll immediately retreat to the bedroom for a night of passionate lovemaking,” they imply with their smiling mouths full of perfect teeth.

Here’s how it really goes and what you need to do to save your marriage.

You’re going to scour the Internet for months until you land upon the perfect project, pair it with your own creative nuances, study the complete step by step instructions, and jump in. If you are like me and your construction experience is limited to second grade Popsicle stick picture frames, you are going have to jump back out and go find him hiding in the garage or bathroom compiling a list of reasons why this can’t be done.

It’s okay, you are persuasive and your blind confidence will balance his pessimism and you will be begin. You’ll go to Home Depot together. It will be kind of like a date because you’ll get the older kids to watch the younger kids with fast food bribes. But it’s gonna be a bad date.

You’ll know exactly what you want and need, but he will have completely different ideas and disregard your months of research. You will argue. You’ll begin to question who this man really is. You’ll leave the store without making any purchases and not speak to each other the entire ride home.

Do not lose hope. You want this and you have a secret weapon. Two words:
Power Tools.
He wants them even if he doesn’t know to use them.

You are going to go home and cool down. You are going to show him plans and pictures and you will venture out together again and come home with the needed supplies…except one. You’ll send him back for a miter box (a simple device used for cutting angles and needed for cutting baseboards and the like which can be purchased for under $20.) You are going to tell him exactly which one you want, make and model number, and location on the store shelf as you learned from the 700 YouTube tutorial videos you watched prior to commencement of this project. You are not going to get that one.

He’s going to call from the store and tell you about the power miter saw that he thinks will make this project so much easier and (here it comes) be so great for future projects. He just committed. You must agree to this purchase even if you have to take out a loan.

Now here’s where you really need to prepare. He’s going to be pretty excited about this saw. He is not going to know how to use this saw. You should send the young children away during the learning process. He will not read the instructions and there is going to be a lot of swearing. A. Lot. Of. Swearing.

Afraid this one is a do over.

Afraid this one is a do over.

There are also going to be a lot of mistakes. There may be some blood. And here my friends is where divorce proceedings do or do not begin. He’s going to be frustrated and angry because in his heart of hearts, he wants you to be happy. He knows his work is less than perfect and he’s disappointed. You have to know and share with him that it doesn’t matter. Wood filler cures a lot of ills and its kinda fun–like sandy super soft play-doh. But it doesn’t cure them all so there are going to have to be some do overs. If you were wondering how I was going to bring this back to parenting, here it is.

In the greater scheme of things, perfect baseboards are not going to change our lives, but how we handle the mistakes will have lasting consequences. With our kids, with our spouses, with everyone, it’s all the same. Empathy, forgiveness, seeking improvement not perfection are the keys. Trying again. Getting better. That’s all I want. That’s all we need. Tight square corners and flawless paint jobs would be nice as would life without struggles, but I’m really coming to appreciate the imperfections and growing from the challenges. I ultimately decided not to correct the imperfections of another project because they grew on me as exclusively our own and we’re pretty awesome. I came to see them as having character–our character.

It’s important to me that we continue working together even if the final product isn’t pin worthy. Perfection is not the goal. We must grow, build, try, fail, connect, and accomplish even if we have to throw down some expletives along the way. Ours is not an easy journey. Raising special needs kids is an arduous task ( hell, sometimes just walking this earth is an arduous task) and many a couple crumble under the pressure. We just celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary and continue to believe the best is yet to come. We’re good. We’re marching on. We’re in this together. But I haven’t told him yet that the replacement door that he so proudly bought last week is the wrong size.

Nothing Gonna Tear Me Away From My Guy

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She put her flat hand up in front of my chest to stop me. “We’re not allowing parents on set,” the production assistant told me matter of factly. My heart immediately began racing and I felt the mama bear rousing.

image“It’s not legal to separate children from their parents,” I replied bracing for battle while not entirely sure that I was speaking the truth.

I’d heard the announcement prior to the children being escorted from the room. We had been instructed to wait here despite an earlier email promising that we would be positioned in a place where we could see the children perform. I considered, for a moment, obeying as every other parent in the room did. It’s never my desire to stir up conflict. But then I looked at my wee small boy who had turned around in the line to find me eyes smiling and curled his fingers toward his body gesturing for me to follow. “C’mon, Mom,” he said with every confidence I would. There was no other choice but to go.

The director was called to handle the problem mom that I had just become. She reiterated the policy that parents were not allowed on set and I reiterated the law. She told me I could watch through the window, went into the room with the children, and closed the door in my face.

From my position, I could only see my son from behind, but could hear him loud and clear. He was in a strange place, surrounded by strangers, a flood of foreign sensory input, not knowing what to expect, and he couldn’t see me. He was slipping into his primitive brain and I was powerless to stop the slide. He was bouncing wildly in his seat, speaking in a loud obnoxious cartoonish baby voice–trying desperately to drown out his anxiety with noise and movement– and though I couldn’t see his face I knew exactly what his crazed expression looked like.

His bouncing was obstructing the camera view and the camera operator asked for him to be moved to another seat. I don’t know what was said to my bouncing boy, but he was escorted from the room and collapsed in heaving sobs in my arms.

“We’re having problems already,” the camera operator told me. “He’s being a disruption.” camera guy explained that they had asked him to move to another seat and he refused and then camera guy disappeared back inside the room.

Certain neither camera guy nor anyone else was interested in a lesson on trauma’s effect on a developing brain, how years of chronic cortisol baths had left my sweet boy’s stress response wacked, how this wackedness caused him to perceive mildly stressful and sometimes completely benign situations as severely threatening and react accordingly. I just had to fix this quick.

He wanted this so badly–to perform as his idolized older sister does. I had put him off for so long for fear of this very situation. It seemed unfair to set him up for failure. But it evolved into seeming unfair to not let him try. He’d auditioned for and booked a role a few weeks earlier that with me by his side to help him maintain control had gone off perfectly. It hadn’t occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to be there for him this second go round.

Little Guy having a blast on the set of his first film.

Little Guy having a blast on the set of his first film.

He just needed me to squeeze him, look him in his eye, explain why he had to be moved, and tell him what he needed to do. He needed me to ground him–To help him regulate and regain control of his body. After a couple of deep breaths, he explained that he wasn’t refusing to move, he had never heard anyone tell him to. Heart rate slowed and oxygen now flowing to his brain he returned to the room–in a new position where he could see me–and carried out the assigned tasks beautifully.

But the stigma had already been attached. He had become that kid and I that mom. Surely his behavior was a product of my overprotective and permissive parenting. I don’t really blame people for these judgements. He doesn’t wear his life history on his sleeve. No one would ever question whether we are biologically related and he has been blessed with a sharp intellect and a mostly engaging personality. I understand how this could appear to be my failing to those who don’t know. Unfortunately, we get it from those who do, as well.

At the parent teacher conference earlier this week, I was told he’s leading the class academically but “it’s just the behavior.” Discussions of my familiar friends “self-control” and “disruption” commenced and his young teacher looked completely surprised when I suggested that he be helped to calm down before he loses control rather than reacting punitively after it happens.

And this is the torture of this journey. Bright, articulate, witty, and fun, but burdened with sensory processing issues, and a broken stress response, I have to send him into a world that doesn’t understand. There is an assumption that adoption immediately cures the pains of the past –stopping the trauma makes it all better. If you can’t see the absurdity of this notion talk to a war veteran struggling with PTSD. This is not a choice he’s making. He hates it far more than anyone.

This became gut wrenchingly clear as we strolled the school halls on the way to meet the teacher. The children’s projects were posted on the walls and his class had a section dedicated to their hopes for the school year. While other children wrote about having fun and making friends, my boy’s desire was to “learn everything and not act crazy at school.”

Call me what you will, but he needs me and I’m going to deliver.

I didn’t get to be there from the beginning. I didn’t get to quickly and lovingly meet his infant needs. I didn’t get to gaze into his eyes as he drifted off to sleep full of warm milk and love. I didn’t get help him internalize that he is valued and protected and I will always be there for him. Every other kid in the room had a five-year head start on him and dammit I’m going to do whatever I can to close the gap. Because he believes I will, I must.

After the shoot had wrapped, as we walked to the car, I finally had a chance to talk to Little Guy About what had happened.

“So what was going on there at the beginning?” I asked gently, his tiny hand clasped in mine.

“I was feeling uncomfortable and anxious,” replied my precious child. I told you he is articulate.

Full of pride for this tiny brave person, I shared with him how performing often causes me anxiety too and we discussed ways to cope and stay in control of our bodies. We walked silently for a bit while he seemed to ponder this with his eyes cast downward. Then he suddenly looked up to me, determined and said,

“I’m going to do better next time, Mom.”

Letting Go…again.

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Two months ago, I said good-bye to my second born son. He would board a plane in the morning and begin a life in which most of his plans moving forward would not include me. I was no longer entitled to answers and even if I were, he didn’t have them to give me. I was told to expect a 30-second scripted call to let me know he made it safely to the Naval Recruit Training Center and nothing else.

I’d had nine months to prepare. (The irony of that time period is not lost on me.) I wasn’t ready. I would have given my eyes to make him stay. I would have given my eyes to help him fly away. It was bigger than me, than him, than anything within my control. This need to soar. I got it. Always the most independent of my children, I suppose on some level I expected it. I certainly understood it. I still hated it.

The call came at midnight. Not much more than I’m here. I’ll call in a few weeks. I love you. Goodbye. Then silence. Two and a half weeks of complete silence. I felt like I had been ripped open and had a hard time understanding how people could just go on talking to me without noticing my guts spilling out. I could only imagine the horror my precious son was enduring and for the first time in his life I felt powerless to protect him.

Raised in the electronic era, there had never been a moment when I couldn’t reach him. For the duration of his training, only a horrible tragedy would have granted me access to my own child. I was angry and afraid.

I longed to collapse into a puddle of grief, but the eight other people who depend on me couldn’t bear the sight of me liquifying. I mustered all my strength and carried on. I took the kids to the pool and hid my tears behind my sunglasses. I put one foot in front of the other. I did the laundry. I cried in the bathroom. I avoided his room. I buried myself in service. I beat myself up over the grief I was feeling when my loss was relatively small. I knew he was safe and I would see him in 8 weeks. Others had suffered so much more. At times I felt completely foolish about my inability to control my emotions. I cursed the recruiter and the orchestrated plan to lure our sons away at the peak of their bravado and cravings for independence. I questioned my sanity and I cried some more.

At last the phone rang. He sounded completely fine. He was upbeat and confident. He told me repeatedly that it was easy and he was doing great. “You don’t need to worry about me, Mom,” my man child assured me. My chest relaxed for the first time in weeks. It didn’t get easy, but it got better. Until the final week. The anticipation of seeing him coupled with the realization that despite boot camp’s completion, he was not coming home, caused me to decompose again.

Before boot camp, I’d never been separated from him for more than a few days–now I was facing the reality that he would likely never live under my roof again.

I’m still trying to figure out what to do with that.

But after a bittersweet weekend together, one thing is clear; He does not need my shelter. My worst fear when he left was that his spirit would be crushed–that my funny, charming, witty boy would grow cold and bitter. I was afraid I wouldn’t recognize him. That didn’t happen. He is very much his good humored self only more settled, standing taller. He literally grew an inch while in bootcamp. He is confident, ambitious, determined, and driven. He knows where he wants to go and how to get there. He has come into his own. He is absolutely aglow. He has made me so very proud.

image Ultimate parenting goal achieved–So what the hell is my problem?

The truth is that this is not the path I would have chosen for him. But I was never so foolish to think it was my choice to make. My motivation is completely selfish and has everything to do with fear and my own loss trauma. I would have stopped the clock years ago if I could have. I miss him. I miss him with a pain I don’t know how to express. It’s total bullshit that we are expected to pour our hearts and souls into our children for nearly 20 years then pretend to be happy watching them walk away. That model will never make sense to me. I want him here with me. Always. I want them all here with me. Always.

But alas, I know that one by one they will tear out a piece of my heart and head for the door. Clinging to the past, weeping like a fool is not serving me or him well. I really don’t want to diminish his joy or alienate him with my sorrow. His eyes are focused forward. As they should be. His light is contagious. The world awaits him. He’s gotta go.

So I’m going to try to put this all here and leave it behind. I’m going to embrace the next chapter and relish the fact that my son has arrived fine and upstanding at adulthood’s door and take credit where it’s due that my powerful love helped get him there. This is me stepping back to find our new balance. This is me letting go.

This is the good stuff

Every older/hurt child adoption text I’ve ever read says that maintaining a sense of humor is the key to navigating this jungle.  Some say, it is the single deciding factor as to whether a family makes it.. It seems if you can laugh at feces purposely smeared on the wall, you can handle anything. I tend to agree.

This is why my Little Guy, maladaptive behaviors and all, is a gift to me. He’s hilarious. At least once a day and often more, he says something that makes me laugh out loud. Feeling like this blog of mine could use a little levity because I’m going to hit you with more heavy stuff I have brewing soon I’d like to share a few of my Little Guy jewels.

While being dragged through Target one evening, he randomly asked me, loudly enough for anyone in the women’s department to hear,

“Mom, are you Jesus?”

Already amused and eager to see where this was going to go, I replied as casually as possible,

“No, honey, I’m not.”

“Then how are you always there for me?” he asked completely straight.

If there had been an older sibling around, I would have accused him or her of coaching him, but this was all Little Guy and his confusion courtesy of vacation bible school, but that’s another post entirely.

A few nights ago, while we were sitting on the back porch eating watermelon when Little Guy suddenly smashed his piece over his head.

“What are you doing?!” I demanded.

He sat quietly for a moment seemingly seriously pondering the question then flatly replied,

“I don’t know.”

Not much you can say in the face of a 5-year-old’s version of a temporary insanity plea.

One night as I was leaving his room after having tucked him in he called to me to wait to tell me,

“Mom, do you know there are coconuts all over the house?”

“Did you just say there are coconuts all over the house?” I asked expecting him to launch an illustrious bedtime stalling attempt.

He simply replied,

“Yes, goodnight Mom.”

Pretty sure that clever little bugger was just messing with me.

Tonight he informed me,010

“I can’t go to bed because I don’t have any humans to sleep with me.”

Apparently Sponge Bob’s charm is fading.

A recent conversation with Big Sister went like this:

Little Guy: I found one cat food.

Big Sister (not really paying attention): Okay.

Little Guy: I’m going to eat it. (throws cat food in mouth)

Big Sister: Did you just eat it?

Little Guy : *crunch* *crunch*

Big Sister: Did you just eat it?!!

Little Guy: I’m not going to die. *swallow* See, I’m not going to die.

He was right.

And finally my current favorite. Number Three Son is a fan of the Daft Punk song “Get Lucky” and was singing along loudly when it came on the radio in the car. The refrain lyrics are “I’m up all night to get some. She’s up all night for good fun. I’m up all night to get lucky”

Later that day, I was treated to Little Guy’s rendition that goes like this:

“I’m up all night for fun. I’m up all night for fun. I’m up all night to get a monkey.”

You kind of adore him now too, don’t ya?