The Weight of Waiting

I stood in the middle of our living room staring at the wall, my hand over my mouth, the kitchen lights softly streaming across our beige carpet.

“I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or scream. I don’t know how to do this with him. He’s just gone.” I was talking to no one, but my husband was hovering in the background, listening to same raging screams that had become our normal recently. I felt him put his arms around my shoulders and he whispered, “I know. I’m just as lost with this, Danielle. What do we do?”

I shrugged, and rubbed my wrists. It’s hard for me, especially given my own past with abuse, to know how to handle these violent outbursts. Everything in me screams to run and hide, because that’s my learned instinct, but the Mother in me overrides, and I find myself right in the middle of the battle, trying to reassure my son that I’m there, giving him options for how to rid himself of the frustration. “Punch your pillow,” I say as he whips another toy in my direction, the crashing laced with his fiery screeches. Sometimes he hears me. Sometimes he doesn’t, and I wind up blocking another punch, another kick, another toy.  In those moments, he’s not really my son, though he is. He’s just succumbed to the pain of always feeling everything, all the time, every single day. He’s given up to the weight of anxiety.

What do you do when your child loses control of himself, stressed himself out because of anxiety, because things change, and it’s just too much? How do you give him coping methods that take years to hone and execute?

stairswaitingThe doctor gave us a prescription. And I balked at it. Because, he’s just six. I pushed for a referral to a psychiatrist, only to find out weeks later that it’s a year wait. “We cannot wait a year,” I had almost pleaded with the nurse, “We need help, now.” More numbers were given. More waiting. More hoping that finally we’ll find a way to help him manage this side of his life.

Our son has always been an anxious child. He’s always had issues sleeping, only ever sleeping in bursts of 45 minutes for the first six months of his life. He’s always held back in situations that made him uncomfortable. He was the child glaring at everyone, not really angry, but just afraid of the newness of other people, of other situations. He worries about everything, the things he knows, the people he loves, the things he doesn’t want to happen, all of it, racing through his mind, constantly. We’ve learned that he needs his routine, or he falls apart, and we’ve just fallen in line beside him. We don’t always notice the magnitude of his anxiety because it’s our family’s normal. We have to schedule things. Nothing is impromptu. We are always talking, talking about everything. It doesn’t seem abnormal to us. Until it’s clear that this is bigger than just making sure our routine stays in place and talking through the worries.

And, that’s where we are.

My husband turned me around, and for a moment, we breathed in our loss, our inability to know how to help our son. A place that no parent really wants to be, a thing no parent wants to admit openly. He slipped from my arms, toward our son’s room. The door creaked, and air was filled with angry screams from our wonderful six year old. I heard my husband try to talk, to comfort, to ask. That was followed by a crash, and more yelling. The door creaked again, and my husband padded down the stairs, retreating.  A confirmation, that we just had to wait this storm out. When it was finished, our son would come out, sheepish, and wanting to be held.  We just hold our posts until that time comes.

Later that night, with my son, curled up beside me in my bed, silent, finally silent, and sleeping, I swallow the events of the evening. I think of all the things I could have done to prevent it. Why didn’t I see the warning signs that he was on the edge? Why don’t I know how to reach him when he’s gone? Why don’t I know how to make this stop for him? Why, why can I just make this stop for him? The tears fall fast, and hard, guilt intertwining through each stream. I’ve broken him, I tell myself. It’s my DNA, it’s my fault that he’s like this. I gave him, without wanting to, this monster. The same monster I deal with. Then, I hear my husband, and my best friend in my ear, “You didn’t do this. Stop.” So I do, for the moment. I stop trying to place the blame, trying to shoulder everything my son feels, and I try, with my might, to stop the guilt that only a mother feels when her child deals with mental health issues.

There are still no answers. We can only wait, and hope that everything we’re doing to help him, will be enough for him. For now, he can sleep. He rests. I rest. We all rest.  He came back to us. I’ll be ever so grateful for that. Tomorrow, we’ll continue our talking. We’ll pick up the pieces, figuratively and literally. We’ll hope the phone rings with help on the other end, for him. For us.

It’s all just waiting. No matter the part.

 

 

For This Life

The sun sets a little faster now, the leaves have turned from green to yellow, falling to the ground, crunching under my feet as I rush the kids to and from their various activities. The sounds of them playing in our yard have switched from splashing water, and to raking those crunchy fallen leafs into piles and more piles so they can dive into them, over and over again. It’s the time of year when I watch the forecast closely, wondering when the snow will demand that my husband work longer hours, going days without seeing the kids.

For now, we have a moment. A brief moment before the snow settles in with the brutal cold, before the days become terribly short, before we begin to make our new years resolutions and wonder if we did enough this year. It’s a blissful moment where we can meditate, reflect and remember all of the wonderful things we have to be grateful for.

And, we are blessed, my little family.  I know I don’t show gratitude nearly enough. I don’t always tell my husband how proud I am of him, for the hard work, and long hours he puts in every single time he goes to work. I know that I forget to say thank you to my kids for the things they do that make my heart burst with pride, because it feels like a neverending battle to get them to just listen. Sometimes, it’s just so much easier to get stuck in that rut of complaining about all the things that don’t seem to go quite right. We (I) get caught up in the frustrations of life, and I know I personally don’t take enough time to count my blessings.

I have a love-hate relationship with Thanksgiving and the outpouring of gratitude that happens as a result of it. For me, it all feels contrived. It feels forced, too planned. Every year, no matter where we are, or what we’re doing, I try to reflect on what I’m truly grateful for, and I always feel like my list is boring or not enough. There is this pressure, it seems, to dump all the gratitude we feel for the things and people in our life, in one solitary day. Obviously, there’s so much wrong with this, and perhaps, this is why, as I meditate on my personal gratitudes, I feel both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by my list.

THANKSGIVINGAs we sat around our  bountiful Thanksgiving table, I forced asked my family to go around the table and say what they were grateful for. My husband started off saying he was grateful for all of us being patient with his hours, and his work. Girlie went next saying she was grateful that she had her brother to play with, who then responded in kind to his sister. When it came my turn, a long list ran through my mind, but this was all I managed,

“I’m grateful that I have you all in my life.” 

Simple, yet without them, I’d have so much less. I wouldn’t have a fridge covered in artwork curated especially for me. I wouldn’t have someone sneaking into my bed at night to snuggle. I wouldn’t fall over laughing in my kitchen when my husband plays silly games with the kids, ones that make no sense to anyone but them. No one would rush to squeeze in between my husband and I when we steal a moment of love together. I wouldn’t have been able to pick up the phone while I was stuffing the turkey and share a laugh with my Mother In Law before passing the phone to eager, outstretched arms. I wouldn’t have bedtime stories to read, someone to discuss the plot points of The Walking Dead or someone to tease about his terrible music choices. Maybe without them I wouldn’t have my best friends. One who has known my kids since they were one, drinks fabulous red wine with me, and admits that parenting isn’t always what we thought it would be as our kids age. The other, a woman who I consider my soulmate, the kind that you search for your whole life. It was our kids that connected us, and it was our kids that fell in love with one another, solidifying our friendship further. Now, despite the long distance between us, we do our best through our ridiculous texts and occasional phone calls to keep in touch. Would I have them without my family? I don’t really know.

I am, even if I don’t remember to say it, grateful for this life. For all of it. For all the imperfections, the beauty, the expected and the unexpected. I’m grateful for every single person who has been in my life, for the ones who have taught me much then moved on, and the ones who continue to teach me, but stay. I’m grateful for all the things I can’t even begin to know that I’m grateful for yet, the things that will happen into my life, either by hard work, or by chance. I’m grateful for the past that I’m coming to terms with, because it’s allowed me to grow, and evolve into the woman I am right now. I’m grateful for love, and those around me that show me the diverse depth of it. I’m grateful for my words, the ones I use to communicate with people in my life, and the ones that splay across these pages.

No matter how many things I list, they all point back to the same thing: My family.

They have, in the small time we’ve been a family, have afforded me so much richness. For that, I am blessed. For that, I am eternally, and always grateful.

An Opinion Isn’t Our Life: My Opinion on All Those Opinions

Growing up, I was taught, every Sunday at church, that my sole purpose in life was to bear children, then stay at home with them. From the moment I was born, because I had the parts that would typically define me as female, it was a given that I would have babies. A lot of of them. I would spend my life serving my husband, others, and the church. For years, this was the version of my future I was sold. Even my own mother, who was highly educated and worked outside the home, bought into this rhetoric, and sold it to both her daughters.

In all honesty, I never had dreams or aspirations of being a stay at home parent. I mean, I wanted to get married, maybe, and I definitely wanted to have kids, but not a pack of them. I had no particular feelings about staying at home or not, despite the indoctrination I was subjected to.  It all seemed so far away to me, so untouchable and unimportant. I did know that when I grew up, I wanted to be a writer. The rest was just noise.

When I was about 13 years old, I had come home from school, like any other weekday. My mother was in the corner of our tiny townhouse kitchen, speaking to someone on our red cordless phone. She was saying very little, but as I started rattling around the kitchen, she turned to me to hush me, and I saw that her eyes were red. It startled me: She was crying. My mother, the woman who showed no emotion other than anger, was crying. Unsure how to handle the situation, I ran upstairs to my room. Later that night, as my curiosity bested me, I learned that a local church member had thought it appropriate to call her to chastise her choice to pursue higher education. I never forget that day in the kitchen, the day when I saw a tiny sliver of humanity in my own mother. The day when I saw the impact of a woman judging another woman for her personal life choices.

It’s been well over a decade since that day. Now, I have my own family, my own life, my own choices to make – ones for me, and of course, my family. In the past I’ve been a working mother, but more recently, I’ve gained the title of stay at home mother. There’s not really an efficient way to sum up how and why that has occurred other than to be cliche: It’s just works for our family, right now. As tired as that statement is, it’s just simply the truth.

opinionOf course, I always knew that the Working Mom versus Stay At Home Mom arguments were still alive and well with supposed controversy. In fact, I’m certain it provides oxygen to the monster Mommy Wars, a battle that was waging long before I showed up on the scene. There are those who believe a woman staying at home is an insult to feminism. There are some who tell you hell is about to open up and swallow us all whole because women work outside the home. There are others who tell you that women stay at home have it so easy and should be grateful. There are those who surmise that women who work were not really cut out to be mothers in the first place, and should not have had children. On and on it goes, a long list of insulting, contrite statements that are not applicable to the grand majority of us.

This rhetoric comes from every angle; “In Real Life” and of course, because the internet is a gift that keeps giving, we get it from strangers using their keystrokes to deliver their superiority. All of it, a constant flow of unfiltered opinions because everyone has the “right” to say whatever they want. Since you have a child, be it your first, second or even seventh, you are obviously in desperate, dire need of advice. Your cousin, your friend from high school, your mother, and mother in law, grandmother, sister, brother, stranger, coworker: They all have something to say about how you are being a mother, a partner, a woman.

I’ve gotten used to the random advice on my kids. The weird comments, the know it all statements, the passive aggressive insults cloaked as helpful commentary. Where it once would bring me to tears and scare me into hiding in my house, now it rarely even registers with me. That ability comes with time. Your skin gets thicker and you learn to just let those opinions roll off your shoulders. I can smile and nod with the best of them. I can say thank you without breaking a sweat and feeling like I have to explain our entire life to a stranger. I can post a status about my kids and ignore a know it all comment from someone because it’s simply a waste of my time. Being a parent has taught me the hard and fast rules of Battles: Some are worth fighting, some are not.

Recently, I posted this piece, Being A Stay At Home Parent is a Luxury…For Your Spouse on Facebook that presents the idea that for a working parent, having a stay at home parent is actually a luxury for them. I’d never actually considered this position, mostly opting to stick to the expected commentary about how grateful I am that I have the opportunity to stay home. Because, that’s exactly what is expected. I am grateful that I am able to stay home with my kids. I really am.

But.

My constant presence at home does allow my husband the freedom to do what he needs to do in order to climb the corporate ladder.When he needs to log extra hours at work, late into the evening? He can. He doesn’t have to worry about the kids missing their extracurricular activities, or race home to make sure dinner is started for them. Because I’m home, he can focus his attention on work. He is lucky that I am here to do the things that are just as much his responsibility as a father. He is afforded a luxury by not having to worry about those things on a day to day basis.

After I posted the above article, I broke the first cardinal rule of being a stay at home mom. I admitted publicly that my husband sometimes takes my presence for granted. Suddenly, I was bombarded with “shoulds” and passive aggressive statements, that actually became more aggressive as I stood up for myself and my feelings.

My role was an expectation. My role is easy because I can’t technically be fired, because of supposed flexibility, because I supposedly get to choose my job description. There was a Working Vs Not Working mother comparison, and a statement that one is harder than the other. I don’t get paid for my job, so therefore my husband’s work is more important than what I do in the home. There was the blatant insinuation that my husband works harder than I do. Basically, I was told to shut up, and sit down. The final, swift slap in the face of all stay at home mothers alike: I needed to be grateful, because apparently stating that I have needs means I’m ungrateful for the paycheque my husband brings home.

This isn’t a manifesto about how hard it is to be a stay at home mom, though can I just say, on some days, it is really tough. But, that’s like any rewarding job. There are days when you love your job, and there are times when you feel undervalued, overworked, and most definitely underpaid. We all feel that way sometimes, no matter what we do. We all feel the pressure of society breathing down our necks asking us to account for our every minute, explain our personal decisions, daring us to even whisper a single complaint, because how dare we even admit our humanity. How dare we expect that we’re shown a little respect for the things we do, no matter what we’re paid or not paid. How dare I expect that my husband would meet my own emotional needs by telling me that he appreciates the hard work I do to make his life that much easier. How dare I.

Despite the utter disappointment I felt in knowing that there was a loved one out there that thought so lowly of me and other women, I realized that these statements weren’t necessarily about me. This old debate has been circling the drain for years, unwilling to just go away, and that commentary made me realize, it likely would never go away.

The fact that my working mother was dealing with the same ridiculous diatribe that I, a stay at home mother am dealing with decades later, just proves that there will always be people who get off on telling people they are doing it wrong. They enjoy being superior, they enjoy reveling in their own history, even if it’s not applicable now. The loudness of their opinion doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t mean that my role should be undervalued, or better than. It just means that they think judging my life decisions is more important than supporting me as a person. As a fellow human being.

We need to just leave these persons in their corner of the world, or the internet, and let them chew on themselves with the self-righteous superiority. Let them wallow in their smugness, and so called expertise. However, let’s not ever forget the way we felt when they rained down on our decisions. We need to remember that feeling so we never do it to anyone else.

Go and do what works for your family. The rest of it? The opinions? It’s just noise.

Label All The Things: Mabel’s Labels Giveaway

Look! Our before school routine is so smooth we even have time to draw pictures! (Not Shown: Fight over pants. Bumped nose. Whines over being tired. Requests to find socks. Informed that jacket is unwearable).
Look! Our before school routine is so smooth we even have time to draw pictures! (Not Shown: Fight over pants. Bumped nose. Whines over being tired. Requests to find socks. Informed that jacket is unwearable).

Phew. We made it through September. Obviously, I say that like we totally have our shit together, and the morning rush to get both the kids to school on time is not complete madness.  There is no yelling or heavy sighing. There is absolutely no crying because someone doesn’t like to wear pants, and I tell her that it’s a hard fact we all have live with but that doesn’t help. In fact, just completely ignore my last post.  Please assume that I still make the lunches in the evening, have never been late dropping the kids off and have never, ever run around the house looking for just one matching pair of socks while holding five unmatching pairs in my hand.  Nope. We totally have magical, amazing, blissful school mornings around here. As I’m sure you all do. At least Pinterest tells me that’s how it goes down in your home.

Last year was our first introduction to Back To School Madness. Mind you, we only had to wrangle one child, two or three times a week, so it was more like we got to dip our toes in first. However, we were not exempt from the dreaded back to school list. I know in some places these lists don’t exist, and for those of you who don’t have to deal with Back To School lists? You are lucky, and I might hate you, just a little. Of course, because I was a new Mom, I assumed, “Oh, yeah, this stuff will be super easy to find.” Stop laughing at Last Year Me. She was just a newbie to this world, and so innocent.  Obviously, I waited until the very last minute. Because it was not going to be complicated.

Stop laughing.

Two adults, four stores, and several hours later, we managed to find everything. Except the labels. The plan had ultimately been to order a package from Mabel’s Labels, but because I procrastinated, it was no longer an option. So I had someone print off a bunch of cool paper ones off, and voila, the list was complete.  All that was left to do was to assemble and label all items before the first day of school.

I stupidly thought that the paper labels would do just fine. Until they didn’t. Like the one for my son’s lunch box that I ended up having to tape to his lunch kit with packing tape because it just would not stay put. Or the multiple paper labels that filled his pencil box at school because they just wouldn’t stay on the crayons. Eventually, I wound up grabbing a package of Fill in Your Name Mabel’s Labels from a local store here, and randomly slapped those on anything that came home that needed to be relabeled.

I learned my lesson, of course.

This year, at BlogHer ’14, during the amazing closing party, I met the owner of Mabel’s Labels.  It was our mutual love of unique names that made me love her just a little more, as she gushed over my daugher’s real name. She offered me her card, and said we’d work together because Canadians are awesome. We are.

Yes, September is over. Yes, you’ve likely labeled all of your items, and probably with Mabel’s Labels, because you were smarter than Last Year Me. However, we all know next year, all of the things will need a label. Or maybe, you are like Last Year Me and just figured paper labels would work just as well as Mabel’s Labels (they don’t, trust me).

We got the Ultimate Back To School package this year. While the obvious durability of the labels were my favorite part, I also loved the variety of sizes, and that they stuck to everything like crazy glue. My son absolutely adored the keychain, and proudly added it to his backpack.  There were enough labels in this package for me to label the most important items in his school list, even with quite a bit remaining for next year. Awesome!

In an effort to be super prepared, I’m partnering with Mabel’s Labels to do a Giveaway for the Ultimate Back To School Package. You get to benefit from the naive and innocent Last Year Me, and be a step ahead of her by getting this package way ahead of schedule!

Here’s what you can do:

Comment below telling me why you love Mabel’s Labels, if you’ve used them before, or why you’d love to try them.

For extra entries: 

Please leave links in the comments verifying that you’ve completed any of the following, for 1 extra entry per item. 

Like Another Version of Mother on Facebook

Share the Giveaway on Facebook

Tweet this post on Twitter 

The Rules

  • The contest will close be open for one week (ending on October 7th at Midnight MST)
  • Contest is open to US and Canadian Residents only. 
  • Before the winner is announced, links and shares will be verified. 
  • Please leave an email address so I can contact you. If there is no way of me to contact you, then your entry will be void, and a new winner will be picked. 
  • The winner must contact me within 24 hours of being picked to claim their prize, if not, a new winner will be picked. 

I’m Sorry You Won’t Hear I’m Sorry

By the middle of last week, I was not terribly pleasant to be around. I’m pretty sure if I was a cartoon you’d be able to see a cloud of angry clouds brewing around my head. I could feel the rumblings of this Terrible No Good, Awful Bad Mood when I snapped at my son as I was trying to hustle both kids out the door for school. He’d forgotten his water bottle, and of course, because Murphy’s an asshole who knew that we were already running behind, he also had no idea where it was. I may have stomped back up the stairs from my waiting spot at the door, mumbling about children leaving school stuff in the same spot, and not just tossing it everywhere, because my god, don’t they know I have to deal with finding it later?! I definitely slammed the cupboards closed hoping that it might alleviate the rising frustration I felt. It didn’t. There was a string of explicit words as my eye caught the time on the clock, and realized we had to be gone five minutes ago. When I finally found that water bottle, I filled it as angrily as I could possibly manage before thrusting it into the waiting hands of my son. Then, because my tantrum wasn’t fully complete, I ushered both the kids out of the house, still semi-ranting about the lost bottle that was now found.

I did apologize, moments later. Of course, because it’s just who he is, he smiled that bright smile and said that we all have bad days. We were okay now. Even if I felt sheepish. Saying sorry did make feel a little better, but it didn’t completely stave off the guilt for not being the better version of myself that morning.

The truth was, I was in a bit of an emotional haze, stumbling to gather my bearings. The afternoon prior, I’d received a message from someone telling me that someone that I trust and love was saying terrible things about me. Words like manipulative, and liar were used. Adding to the long list of not so lovely things this person was saying was a message that had been sent, one that had been written with the intention that I would never see it. I had burst into tears. The context of the insults didn’t even matter; this person had taken the words of my husband, twisted them, and laid the blame firmly on my shoulders,

Obviously, I was upset. Mostly though, I felt stupid. Incredibly stupid for trusting this person and thinking we were past this juvenile stage of our relationship.

In that moment of feeling stupid, I picked up the phone and called my husband. Indirectly, somehow, I blamed him for this person’s thoughtless behavior. The reason I’d simplified in my head made perfect sense. So I ran with it, ranting, and expressing, in between the pockets of anger, my hurt.

He hung up on me.

In that moment, I would have told you that I didn’t deserve it.

But I did. Because, it just wasn’t his fault.

6288367519_3f5147db7c_o
Image Credit: Leyram Odacrem

When he came home later, we’d argued discussed the situation. When we finally stopped baring our teeth at one another, we came to the same conclusion: There would be no apology. We could confront her with the expectation of no responsibility being taken, but would it solve the issue, or cause more problems? We knew from previous experiences that it might help, but that it would also add fuel to this person’s already burning bonfire.

Then, either because it was late, or because we were emotionally exhausted, we just left it at that. I thought the conversation had helped me move on, because I knew there wasn’t much else we could do. I would just have to accept, again, that there would be no apology. Just let this shit roll of your back, I repeated.

Roll, roll, roll.

Yet, I couldn’t. Because, as much as I wanted to just cooly pretend like her words meant nothing to me, they did. They hurt because they were harsh. Because I’m human. Because I care about this person, dearly. Because it fucking sucks when someone you loves says awful things about you, for no good reason.

After both the kids were in school, and I was tucked into my corner seat in the living room, a cup of black coffee in hand, I called my husband. This time I asked if he was busy. Through my tears, I told him how I wasn’t sure how to just let this go. I told him that it was unfair that I was expected to just let this roll off my back, because it was kind of A Big Deal. I told him it sucked that she said those things, and that I felt like it was a giant step backward in the relationship I’d been carefully constructing with her. He listened before he confessed,

“I’m upset too, Danielle. You did nothing wrong, and it makes me frustrated that my words were twisted because I chose to be nice. It makes me sad that she didn’t take responsibility, and instead just pawned it off on you. I’m mad at her, for you. I feel helpless, because what do you do when someone is clearly not going to listen? Do we just say them anyway? I just don’t know….I’m sorry she said those things about you. I really am.”

It didn’t make all the hurt magically disappear. The simple phrase, “I’m Sorry” opened up a space where I felt validated, heard, and understood. It made those cartoon storm clouds part, and allow for a ray of sun to come through. It made me realize that if I need to take some time to regain my focus, I can.  It made it much easier for me to just let that shit roll off my back. Because, with some people (especially family), it’s your only option. It made it easier for me to say to my husband, “No, it’s okay. It’s not your fault she said those things. Maybe she was just having a bad day?”

Because, we all have those bad days.

It Was A Yellow Day

“I circled the yellow one today,” my son mentioned as he wiped the table clean from dinner. He was talking about his School Agenda. In the corner of each date, there were three colors, red, yellow, and green. Each was meant to be a tool for the kids to describe how their day had been. We’re only a month into the school year, but he’d yet to circle anything other green. Even on the day he admitted he was struggling with understanding his teacher, and the amount of french they were using each day. That was still a green day.

“Oh? Yellow, huh? Why’s that?” I asked as I set a plate into the dishwasher.

“Well, Jake* said he’s not my friend anymore.”

I raised my eyebrows, and pursed my lips, half amused, because I remember those days in elementary. The ones where your BFF is so totally not your BFF anymore because she refused to play skip rope with you at recess and opted to play Marco Polo in the trees with someone else and it was like, obviously, the worst day ever. As I rinsed another plate under the faucet, I prodded him a little further. “Why did he say that?”

“We were playing Minecraft, and I wanted to use my imagination, and he wanted me to play a certain way, but I wanted to use my imagination, and he said I couldn’t.”

“Oh, he wanted to play your game a certain way?”

“Yeah, but I kept telling him that when you play pretend that you have to use your imagination, and that the game can change, and it’s okay. But he didn’t believe me.”  He had stopped wiping the table and was now playing with the nozzle on the bottle of cleaner. Obviously, he was bothered by this interaction, even if I knew by Monday morning, they’d likely race to high five or hug each other when they saw each other.

“That sucks. Did you guys just try playing a different game?”  I inquired, still absentmindedly loading the dishwasher. Keeping the conversation informal is the only way to keep his nerves at bay. The ones that cause him to freeze and shut down if he feels a sliver of anxiety.

“No, he just told me that he had this list of all his friends and that when someone isn’t his friend, he erases their name.” “A grade one sociopath?” I muttered under my breath as my Mama Bear blood began to boil slightly. Then I remembered the book that my group of friends had created in grade 7, which aptly discussed my physical flaws, and a pact to not be my friend. Kids can be assholes. I shook my head and formed my next question, “How did that make you feel?” I turned to face him, resting my elbows on the edge of the sink. His brown eyes darted about the room, until they found mine, and he sunk a little into the chair he was using to prop his body up to reach all the corners of the table that he’d likely wiped clean at least a dozen times in the last few minutes.

smilingpotato“It made me sad. I don’t have a list, Mama. I just have friends, and I like them, and I want to play fun games where you can use your imagination. I don’t like it when people are bossy. And Jake was bossy today.”

“I would have been sad too,” I comforted. “What did you tell him when he said it?”

“I said that he wasn’t being nice, and to stop it. He didn’t stop, so I  said I didn’t want to play with him anymore, and walked away.”

I nodded, “That’s just like we talked about. Good job. You told him that he was hurting your feelings, and instead of fighting with him when he refused to stop, you walked away. That’s awesome!”

He smiled a half-hearted smile because this kid loves praise and knowing when he’s done something good. This time though,  my praise was meaningless; one of the kids he’d proudly announced was his very best, best friend on the first day of school had hurt his feelings and told him they couldn’t be friends. As an adult, the triviality of the situation wasn’t lost on me, but I also knew that in his world, it might be a worst case scenario for him, possibly next to losing his favourite toy forever.

As he brushed passed me to put the cleaner under the sink, I gently grabbed his shoulders and pulled him in for a hug. “I know it sucks, Bubby. I bet you are hurt that Jake said that to you. But you know what? I bet on Monday it’ll be all figured out, and he’ll want to play Minecraft with you at recess.”

He shrugged his shoulders as he pulled away to face me. “Maybe. But, you know what? I won’t ever say something like that to a friend, ever. Because I know how much it hurts, and that’s just not nice to make someone sad.” My eyes welled up but I smiled, “Right. I guess that’s a good lesson too. But, really, don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll be friends again soon.”

When ran out of the kitchen, he flashed his brilliant smile, and then, as if to tell me our talk had mended his beautifully big heart just a touch, he gave me a thumbs up. I sighed as I returned to the pile of dishes that still had to be added to the dishwasher. “Ah. Dishes or kids acting like assholes?” I pondered out loud, jokingly.  “Yeah, I’ll take dishes any day.”

*Name changed.

When It’s More Than Just Words

Words, I told myself, they are only words.

I don’t know if I really believed it. I don’t think I did. However, that didn’t stop me from continuing to repeating it over, and over again. This phrase met my anxiety when I tried to swallow the enormity of this step forward. These words danced around the terror I felt as I tried to comprehend how I would begin a conversation that has been paused  for over a decade. Nothing I wanted to say seemed good enough. Nothing I wrote seemed to convey how incredibly important all of those words were to me.

How important he is to me.

There was a disconnect; how I thought I would act when I was given this opportunity, and then, the shattering disappointment when I didn’t behave as such. For years, I was certain I would sit down immediately, and write my heart into words. It would be poetic, it would be easy. But, then, it just wasn’t like that. I’ve lived enough years to understand the complexity between the fantasies we create in our minds, and the actuality of reality. The music wasn’t going to swell as I put the stamp on the perfectly signed letter. The sun wasn’t going to be my inspiration. In fact, as it rose each day, it only served to taunt me. That was another morning, meaning another day that my son would not get a letter from me. One that he may be expecting because I had said I would write.

Words, right? They are only words. I just had to write those words for him. Even if it meant that I had to feel as though I was extending myself past the precipice, beyond the safety of familiarity. I had to be the one to stand on the edge, and wait for his signal to build that bridge between us.

Guilt enveloped me as I thought of his adoptive mother sitting down with him almost two years ago, just a nine year old then, and expecting him to write a letter to me.  Here I was, a twenty-nine year old, struggling with intense emotions, ones that I couldn’t even name because the simplicity of this task had more complexity wrapped up in it than any other task I’d been expected to complete in my entire life.

How does one introduce herself to her own son? Is it casual, and just expected, as though no time has past, and we just know each other’s places in our lives? Or, does it become a grand theatrical production? With a list of cast mates, a biography on where I’ve been for the last eleven years, and the things I’ve accomplished?  There didn’t seem to be a proper way to start a conversation with a child that you’ve only ever really known as a tiny baby that just entered the world, the same one that you kept safe and warm in your womb. In so many ways, I’m still stuck in that moment. I’ve refused to leave it behind, keeping it as close to the present as I can, because it’s all I’ve ever really had.

The space between that tiny baby and the young man he’s becoming is gaping. There are blanks that will likely never be filled. Now, what lays before me, is an opportunity to change the blank pages of the future. Maybe it’ll be one sided for now, until he’s ready to add his own story to the collective pages. For now, I can do my very best to make sure that he doesn’t lose anymore of me. He deserves to know that I’m here, that I always have been, even in the blankest pages, just waiting for a door to open.

So, I wrote that letter. It was awkward. It was painful for reasons I could explain and some that I just can’t. I judged every single word that I penned on that page. With every sentence, I felt the urge to erase and redo the letter. I craved perfection despite the promise I’d made to leave my writing and editing quirks at the door. The letter would be done in one take, because that would give me the ability to be thoughtful, but not so thoughtful that that I turn into a neurotic analytic version of myself. This wasn’t going to be my best work,. It was just a letter, to my son, the one I’ve been desperate to know for years.

As I slid my fingers across the folds of the paper, making it small enough to fit into an envelope, I realized that even though the words barely filled an entire page, I may have been wrong. Those modest words may have been my best work to date. They were the words that would branch the worlds between us. They were words that might be just what he wanted to hear, like they were for other adoptees. There was a elegance in the primitive execution of those words. There was not a single wasted sentence, because I didn’t want to take up space on that page that would waste our new precious time. The prose was choppy, and nothing like anything I usually write. I set my heart on that page, just for him, so he could see it, so he could know it. There was no need for pomp or circumstance.

The innocence of a mother softly whispering to her son, through the ease of words, how much she loves him.

 

So, There Was a Wedding

I think I said, “I remember why we did a small wedding” about eleventy billion times last weekend. I meant no offense to my beautiful sister-in-law who had spent the last two years planning her and her fiance’s big day, but oh my god, it was a lot of work. A lot of standing. A lot of discussing. A lot of early mornings. A lot of snow. A lot of “Oh no, we’re missing something!” Did I mention the snow? Because there was a lot of snow and of course, snow removal.

And a lot of wine. I wasn’t about to let that bottle of white wine go untouched when it was already uncorked at our table. What a tragic waste it would have been. I’m a team player, really.

Despite the mishaps, and setbacks (snow), when the day of the wedding arrived, the sun was beaming beautifully, just as it needed to do. The ceremony location was set up, and completely devoid of snow, ready for all the guests. Family lined the simplistic, and rustic DIY benches, eager with anticipation to hear the vows. The Padre, a personal friend of the groom was articulate, smooth, and delivered exceptionally as the officiant. The vows were written by both the bride and groom, complete with inside jokes, personal anecdotes, and promises of love beyond.  The bridesmaids were beautiful, and the groomsmen handsome. And the bride, oh, she was stunning.

Of course, there were these two.

wedding

I may or may not have bawled when they came down the aisle, hand in hand. We’d practiced this for months leading up to the wedding, using our hallway in our house as a guide. We talked about standing with the wedding party and being exceptionally quiet, but reminding them that quiet didn’t mean not breathing, so please remember to breathe. They nailed it during the three different run through’s the night before, and we were optimistic that any meltdowns or anxiety could be staved off. When it came their turn to walk down the grassy aisle, they nailed it. I think my entire chest was overflowing with so much pride watching them.

It may have been the smallish bribe of a present that lured them toward the end of the aisle. Of course, Potato took this offer with intense seriousness. When his sister almost didn’t walk down the aisle, I was told he just took her hand and said, “Come on, I’ll walk with you. It’ll be okay.” Because, that’s what big brother’s do, right? Together, they walked down the aisle, she raced to my side the moment she saw me, and he stood with the groomsmen, and even walked out with the wedding party at the end. At the end of the ceremony when he finally found me, he declared,  “I was SO quiet! I get my present, right?!”

He was quite pleased with his Star Wars Light Sabre and Kristoff doll. His sister was pleased with her brand new Anna Baby Doll. Can you tell we’re still in the ZOMGFROZEN stage in our house?

The reception was beautiful, both in decorations (thank you very much, it was a long ten hours of setup, and worth it in the end), and the program hosted by my husband and a good friend of my now brother in law, was light, funny, and personal. For all the twitching I did as my husband rushed to complete his side of the program in the few days running up to the wedding, he really hit out of the park. His stories about his sister were just spot on, the perfect mix of her and him. The speeches by the parents were both funny, and my favorite was from my father in law who made me look at my daughter and think, “No, it can’t go by that fast.”  My husband looked handsome, because that’s generally what he does, and helped to make sure the whole reception ran smoothly for his little sister.

I say all of that, even though he yelled at me quite animatedly when we teamed up to play beer pong against his brother and cousin. Ahem.

Yes, there was beer pong. At any event with my husband’s family, some sort of drinking game always arises. Or someone talks like a pirate. Or dances with their shirt off. This time, someone may or may not have lost a tooth later in the night which may or may not have sent me into fits of giggles when I would ask him to smile. Beer Pong retired for the evening after that incident. Oddly enough.

Family gatherings with my in-laws are most definitely never dull.

Of course, there was dancing and a cake made with love. There were children running about, my own excitedly telling me how happy they were to be playing with “cousins”. There were relatives that I haven’t seen for years, and great conversations about where everyone is in their life. There was love wrapping every single person up on that day. It was such a perfect way to start their lives together as partners in crime, surrounded by love and laughter.

Here’s to a hundred years of happiness to the newlyweds.

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Image Credit: Lorelei Hoffarth Photography

Talking About Teen Pregnancy and Coercion, As One Does

On Friday morning, at BlogHer in San Jose, I saw Liz Henry across the room. She’s been someone I’ve followed on Twitter and Facebook for some time. I may or may not have been messaging her regularly to make sure she was still coming to San Jose, because I absolutely had to have a fangirl moment with her, awkward or not. So when I saw her, I gathered up all of my introverted self, and excused me from the comfortable group of women I was travelling with, and marched myself right into her personal bubble:

“I saw your resting bitch face from across the room, and I just knew that was my person!” I gushed awkwardly directly to an almost stranger’s face.

Of course, Liz shares a similar sense of humor, and she lit up, while dropping a few f-bombs in my direction.  We giggled to ourselves, and found ourselves a table among the hundred or so other attendees. Mid bite, she leaned over and said, “What are we going to do about getting you published elsewhere?”

I nearly choked on my eggs.

What came from that conversation besides an amazing feeling of knowing there was someone out there who believed in my writing, and wanted to mentor me in getting it further beyond just this space, was a beautiful, f-bomb laced friendship. And a sounding board. The kind that I could send things to and say, “Oh I was thinking I’d just put this on my blog” with her response being, blunt and honest, “Uh, no. Submit it. Tighten it, but submit it.”

I didn’t send her this piece. I actually, for some reason, believed it didn’t need a second set of eyes. When I heard back just hours later from an editor at XOjane, I was floored. They wanted to publish my piece. They liked it. They also wanted to pay me for it.  I told only my husband about it, because I was still worried that maybe they’d come back and go, “Uhhh, on second thought, we don’t want it anymore.”

Until I saw my picture on my Facebook feed today. Pregnant, 17 year old me. The girl that I write about adoption, and all the mess it can entail, for. The girl who felt she had no choice because everyone around her took it from her. There she was, that beautiful girl, in front of me with the bold headline:

I Was A Teen Mom Who Was Coerced Into Giving My Child Up For Adoption.  

My heart stopped for a second, while my eyes became wet with tears.

It’s taken more than a decade, but we’ve found our voice. Hopefully, that voice helps others understand the importance of making sure that women are given actual choices, and not demands. Maybe that voice will help people understand that adoption isn’t a pristine practice, and at the very best of times, even in the good adoptions, it’s a murky. Perhaps my story will cause even one parent to pause before pulling the trigger with their daughter, and actually investigate the options available, including the organizations that are hosting said options. Ideally, all of those things would happen.

In the meantime, you can head over and see the piece in it’s fully glory. Share it, Tweet it, email it. I think it’s an important story, not because it’s my own because, I know that I’m not the only woman who was cornered and forced to believe she had no other option. And that’s not good enough.