Wednesday, August 9, 2017

There but for the grace of...

I have gone back and forth about posting this one. I think it's an important story to be told but it's deeply personal both to myself and the friend referenced here. This is published with her full permission and blessing and I hope it resonates with some of you. 

I had a conversation with a very old friend tonight. She's been through the wringer of life lately and it was so good to hear her brave voice rising above the chaos.
She filled me in on the vast swaths of her life that I have missed due to distance and other complications and I found myself in tears listening to the sacrament of her story.
She's been so beautifully brave and selfless in the face of her dream castles tumbling down. She's done exactly what I would hope I would do in the same situation, though I can't imagine myself being that tough. She's my newest hero.
I caught myself thinking that old cliche. "There, but for the grace of God, go I." I stopped myself short when this ran through my head because it's not true. I don't know what role God played in the differences in our stories but I don't think He sent her into an abusive situation and spared me. I don't think God works that way.
Girls like us, girls from backgrounds that contain abuse, are drastically more likely to find themselves in abusive relationships when they grow up.

In addition, it is not unusual for people, who grew up in abusive relationships and domestic violent environment to recreate this experience in adulthood and unconsciously choose a violent partner and recreate the dysfunctional home they grew up in. This is not putting a blame on anyone for anything. It is simply stating that trauma has its way of repeating itself from one generation to another (what we call transgenerational transmission of trauma), unless you put an end to it and address it in psychoanalysis or psychotherapy.

See, I didn't make that up, it's a thing.
We all seek out what is familiar. We long for the things that we know. We don't feel safe when we're in unfamiliar territory. But when what you are familiar with is straight up abuse, when feeling scared is your default, it messes you up and it takes a lot of work to make decisions that go against that knee jerk emotional reaction.

But some how, you can know this, you can make good decisions, you can do the work and you can still end up in that trans-generational cycle of abuse even though you did your darnedest to avoid it.  
My friend and I both wanted to be wives and mothers. We wanted to raise happy, healthy children who had two good parents in the home with them. I am privileged or lucky enough to be doing that and my friend isn't. 

We proceeded with caution into the dating world, we'd seen the risks play out so we took the job seriously. She took her time, she dated her future husband for years. She loved and supported him through all kinds of trouble, she helped raise his child and she thought she'd found one she could trust with her life.

I only knew my husband 18 months before we got married. The most stressful things in our dating life was a 1000 mile road trip to attend a funeral and we broke up for a short time after that. We did a lot of eating together and hanging out in bars and then we got married. 

If I were a betting woman, I would have said that one of those girls would end up in an abusive marriage and it wouldn't have been her. 

So, I'm sitting here tonight with a big case of something like survivors guilt, though I recognize it doesn't perfectly fit this situation. 
How did I end up with the reasonably happy marriage and the intact family? I didn't do anything to deserve that. I didn't make better decisions than she did, I think I just got lucky.

I don't really believe in luck, that's a problem when you've just admitted to the internet that you feel you've benefited from luck.  I believe in good decisions, in doing the next right thing, and I believe in our total lack of control of the outcome of those decisions. 

This is something I've been digging into in therapy lately, my control issues. I'm terrified to have control and I'm afraid to loose it. So this little story, my tale of two messed up girls, pins itself nicely to the bullseye of my control issues. You can do all the right things, you can make the best decisions you can and it still might all blow up. That. Sucks.

But, that doesn't mean we stop. We keep on doing the next right thing. We keep making the best decisions we can. We keep taking the best step available to us because we know, no matter how uncertain life is, going forward is still our best chance for something good. 

So tonight I'm going to pray for my friend as she bravely marches on, doing right things and doing them on her own. And I'm also going to count my blessings and be thankful that luck or God or fate did what it did because the wholeness of my family is beautiful in it's chaos. For no particular reason, I got the thing that we were both striving for and the gift of it is humbling.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Driving ourselves crazy

When I was a new mom, I read a lot of parenting books. I read the super crunchy attachment parenting books, the super conservative books, the what-to-expect books, the sleep books, they this-will-solve-all-your-problems books. I even went to a seminar or two.

I can sum up what I learned during that time that I still use in a few sentences.  Consistency and structure are good. So is flexibility and spontaneity. Follow through.

I needed those books and seminars when I had them. I needed to be told again that I had to be a leader to my children and so I had to let my "yes" be yes and my "no" be no. I have be consistent in what I say to them so that they know that my word can be trusted. They also operate better with some structure when they are little and they need to be taught to create their own structure as they grow.

There, I've just saved you a lot of reading. As much as I loved my persona as earth mother with my cloth diapers and my slings and all the breastfeeding, most of that wasn't really about the baby, it was just how I was getting through the infant years. The real work starts when your cloth-diapered-breastfed-home-birthed baby says "NO" to you and sprints toward traffic.

We can drive ourselves crazy of those externalities of raising kids. Between the sunscreen that will kill you or the occasionally raised voice that's going to give your kid anxiety or the spanking that will permanently damage or the lack of spanking that will damage them another way or the sleep training that will kill them or the the co-sleep that will also kill them. None of this is the actual problem!

The real thing that keeps parents up at night, the real things that makes us crazy, the thing that has us so worried we mask it with all these other small fights is our own lack of control. We can't control how our kids will turn out. Let that sink in for a minute. We cannot control how our kids turn out. They will leave our homes and make their own decisions that we wont have a say in and that shit scares us. So we'll dither about sleep training or sunscreen because those are small problems that we can feel some small amount of control over and fool ourselves into thinking that if we just do the right things in the right order, everything will be alright.

Of course, we have some influence and lord knows we can screw up our kids if we want to. Look around and see the whamy that absentee, addicted or abusive parents put on their kids. But a lot of those kids, the ones from parents that seemingly did everything wrong, they're finding better ways to do it all today. I know many of them and I am one of them. I also know more than a few who had parents who did more right than wrong who still went down some dark and scary paths that no one wants their baby going down.

Our babies will go down those dark and scary paths through their own decisions and that's what keeps us up at night, that's the thing that's so terrifying that we have to invent other, smaller problems to occupy us so the big problem doesn't drive us over the edge of our dwindling sanity.

So go ahead and read those books and do your internet research if you have the stomach for it. Breastfeed your baby until they turn 3 and tie them up on your back even though you both sweat like crazy. Do whatever it is that lets you sleep through the night. Do your best, whatever that looks like, and love the children you've been given for as long as you can.

Friday, June 30, 2017

My own hypocrisy in action

So, last Saturday my pastor preached a beautiful sermon about the good Samaritan. He emphasized that we need to not only help those who are unlike us but we need to accept help from those who are unlike us. We need to be humble enough to accept mercy and compassion from those we may have looked down on previously.

It made me think about how often we refuse to let those around us offer us comfort because we don't even let them know that we are hurting. We put the brave face on, post something pretty and softly lit on instagram and hope that people buy it. We even judge those who do wear their pain on their sleeves because that is just not done. At least, that's what I do.

So, full confession time. I've been in therapy since January. My childhood was pretty crappy in a lot of ways and I've been effectively not dealing with it throughout adulthood first by partying a bit too much and then by distracting myself by having many babies. Now, I'm too old to party and my babies are big enough that they are no longer all consuming time suckers. Filbert is 3 and I don't change 15 diapers a day and get 3 hours of sleep a night. I've had time to think and thinking has let a lot of things surface that I thought were permanently buried.

During the last school year I started noticing that my temper was perpetually shorter than it had been.  I was anxious and worried all the time. I found I was perpetually late and started withdrawing from many of our usual activities because it was just. so. hard to get myself and four small people moving. I found myself retreating behind a book or a podcast or a show on netflix so as not to feel or think or deal with my life. I felt like I was getting worse at dealing with my life than I had been only a little while before.

So, I'm in therapy now and I've been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and the letters PTSD have been floated out as a possibility. Therapy is bringing up all kids of stuff I'd really rather not think about at all but I know it's important so I'm thinking about it anyway, most of the time. However, I haven't told very many people and even when I do, I gloss over and brush it aside. All this thinking means that I'm getting worse before I get better. At least, that's the hope.

And so, back to the good Samaritan. At our usual discussion time, I brought up a friend who is very sad about something awful that happened and she's grieving pretty publicly about it. I once went through a similar(ish) experience and didn't grieve so publicly (All 5 of my blog readers knew about it but that was the extent of it) and I did my best to get over it as quickly and efficiently as possible. I know, I hear how stupid that sounds but it seemed like the thing to do at the time.

I mention these things it passing and how maybe my friend has the right idea and she's letting her friends and family from far off bind up her wounds and show her mercy because she's letting them know how it hurts. Maybe me trying to be efficient about grieving was really just pride because I didn't think anyone else could or would be a good Samaritan to me.

I mention these things and the discussion moves on to other topics but my eyes feel strangely watery. Not crying but like I could and then we stand for the song and something in me breaks and I'm crying openly and not fully sure why. Our church is only about 30-40 people so I'm sure everyone can see me, especially when I break down and search for a kleenex. It's like a big ole' white flag advertising the fact that I've broken into tears.

And of course, I play it off like it's nothing. I pretend like my face isn't red and blotchy when I see people giving me a curious look after church. I smile at my kids and when our brand new pastor asks how he can pray for me this week, all I can think to mention is something so minor I can't even remember it a week later. That's right, with the pastors admonition to humbly accept help ringing in my ears, do I tell about any of the very real stuff I've been dealing with? No! I mumble something about nothing and get out of there as quickly as I can.

So, all this is to say, I'm so very sorry for not trusting my church enough to let them show me some mercy. I'm so sorry for my pride in thinking I should deal with this myself. I'm so sorry for completely ignoring the good and true teaching from my loving pastor and I'm sorry for not trusting Jesus enough to let him help me through his people. That's a lot to be sorry about and I hope my church family can forgive my pride. I still feel new and like I want to make a good impression which is ridiculous.

So, for now, I'm going to keep working on being humble enough to accept help. I'm going to work on my issues so that I need less help and I'm going to encourage anyone who reads this to answer honestly if you are lucky enough to have someone ask, "How can I be praying for you this week?" "Oh, I'm fine." is not an honest answer to this question and true community requires that honesty, mercy and trust in each other.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Shoveling out the expectations

It's that time of year again. It's end of school, finish those last assignments, do the testing, schedule the evaluator, pull together the portfolio, that time of year. It's always at this time of year that I get grand ideas for all the things I'm going to do when I don't have to worry about homeschooling every day.
Every year that I do this I set myself some pretty crazy expectations. I'm going to clean my house, organize all the things, reupholster the couch, sew full wardrobes for me and the kids, solve world hunger, bring about world peace, vacuum out the car. You know, the usual.

I think this year I'm not.
I'm not going to set myself up for failure by imagining myself with unlimited time and energy.
I'm not going to imagine an entire new me by fall.
I'm not going to lose 50lbs by September.

This was a hard year for us. I've been dealing with some mental health crap and Pudding and Tyke are moving into more challenging school work while the Walnut starts Kindergarten and Filburt is not schooled yet so he pretty much destroys my house while I do school with everyone else.  It's been a challenge to be everything to everyone at all different stages of development and education.

So this Summer I'm going to coast. I'm going to sleep as late as the kids will let me. I'll fix meals and clean them up. I'll read some trashy romance novels. I'll walk the dog and play with the kids. I'll putter around my garden and run the kids where they need to go but that's really it. I'm not going to bury myself in expectations. Maybe I'll find some motivation later, but right now, my instincts say to coast so that's my plan.