The stones and shell already crowded my pocket by the time I saw the sign forbidding it.
But it didn’t matter. This was my renegade week. There were 13 women back at the cabin to prove it. All of us had wandered away from life to wonder a while with words. And each other.
I hadn’t really wandered. I had flown away to be with them. In community. But here I stood, alone on the beach, with purloined rocks and one shell.
I was a mere shadow of myself, wondering where I had disappeared to.
I wasn’t surprised. His disease had been erasing me slowly for years. Yet, it was a shock to see the process almost complete. I had thought there was more of me left.
I put the stones in my pocket to weigh me down. To keep me from floating away on the wind. I would take the small stone and shell home with me in a few days, one for each child.
The other stone was for Shanna. Because I had her truck and thought she needed a tangible reminder that this week was ours. A smooth polished black pebble, with a thin white vein, to remind us that the hard is necessary to see the light.
As if we needed reminding. I should have grabbed a pebble for everyone in the cabin. We had all lived that lesson in some form, it’s part of what connected us. But I couldn’t leave with thirteen illegal pebbles. I’m not that much of a renegade.
I wanted to bring one for Sarah. Since, when the numbness finally wore off, she hugged me and made me cry on purpose, and she poured me a shot instead of hitting me, and because she listened to Graceland in the kitchen while cooking. But, I didn’t want to trivialize this with a thing. Instead, I stacked a cairn for her and added the weight of the view to the stones already in my pocket.
I felt myself fill.
And when I got back to the cabin, I grew fuller. Not because I wrote- I didn’t- but because I read these women’s words. And laughed at their jokes, and cried at their losses, and railed against their pain. I breathed in the glee of their delight as if we had all just received word of a newborn nephew. And I meditated with their voice until I could feel every disparate part of my body connect, and I was substantial again.
Until intimacy and inside jokes overfilled my pockets and gold filled the cracks in my chest.
I have a great writer friend who just wrote a particularly good post on reclaiming your own creative space. You should read it because this women’s issue has been around since before Mary Wollstonecraft, and it’s one a lot of women in general (especially me) neglect. And also because it’s really well written and has a picture of a beagle in it.
It seems particularly apropos to me at the moment, as I am sitting in my local McDonald’s doing my daily writing. This writing will last as long as it takes for my 2 large diet Dr. Peppers to do their job and send me home to cleaner facilities.
My daughter judges time in songs, I judge time based on how long my bladder is happy. This is the world I live in.
As I sit here, I wonder why I’m here in this space instead of my own. This space, with its not-up-to-my-standards bathroom and shitty Wi-Fi that blocks my own blog.
No kidding. I cannot log on to my own website from the Wi-Fi at this (maybe all?) McDonald’s because it has been blocked as a courtesy. I’m not sure why blocking my site is courteous, but my deportment lessons were all pre-internet so who knows what I’m missing. Also, what’s up with the distinction between guests and customers? Do you think I could come in here every morning and sit myself at a table without ordering anything and just be a guest instead of a customer?
This idea, disturbingly, intrigues me.
In possibly unrelated, or maybe just vaguely related news, I was able to click through to a Medium page entitled myerotica in this very same McDonald’s, so I’m even more clueless as to why my site is blocked. And no, I don’t know why Medium suggested that page for me. Is it a bug or a feature?
In any event, when I saw my friend’s post pop up, I had to wallow, just a bit, in the irony that I have made this space into enough of my own that I was a little peeved my usual seat wasn’t available when I walked in this morning. Indeed, I was ticked off I couldn’t sit in my usual spot in this very public space. While that certainly doesn’t make it my space, it does make it seem that I believe it is my space.
My clean bathroom requirements aside, right now this space is working for me in a lot of ways that are important, and I’m calling it my space while ignoring the irony. But I’m left wondering what I’m avoiding to be here, while at the same time I’m feeling pretty good with what I am managing to produce in the space.
That leaves me with lots to ponder and think about as I avoid doing the hard work, of both writing and life. And, because I like to be as efficient as possible in this avoiding, I would love to hear about your struggles and insights surrounding creating your own space in the comments below.
Please, help save me from myself!
Also, please feel free to call McDonalds at 1 (800) 244-6227 to request they unblock my website!
Do-overs, respites, reprieves, escapes, resets. I’ve been hoping for one or more of these to fall from the sky and hit me over the head (gently) for a few months now.
Q: What do you get when you take a child in the middle of a mental health crisis to Ireland?
A: You get to hang out in Ireland with a child in the middle of a mental health crisis.
That’s it. No escape, no reset, no reprieve, no respite, certainly no do-over.
It was an insane, wonderful, excruciating, beautiful, tragic, sublime mess. When I described it that way to my aunt, she said, “Oh, so you got family.”
What I really needed, what my husband really needed, was about a week to sleep and do nothing—think about nothing, worry about nothing. What we got was anxiety troubles on one side and addict misadventure on the other. And sandwiched in between were some profound moments of beauty, joy, and simple fun.
I guess we just got life, but we got life in Ireland.
The boys got to surf. While they did, I got to have a cuppa with a salty Irish pensioner, her dog and her sheep sitting at her tiny table in her home overlooking the beach.
I listened to her rail against American golf course developers ruining the beauty and environment of her community. I heard about the relative merits of surfers over golfers, the importance of protecting the soil, the surf, the fish, the hares. We were totally simpatico. I got to see beautiful pictures of her house, the beach, the waves. I saw her life displayed on her walls and was overwhelmed by the generosity of this woman who took a stranger into her home. She fed me tea and cake while she shared her heart with me. I felt my anxiety melt away as she treated this stranger like a friend.
We got to meet new surf friends at a local pub. Then I saw the boy walk out of the pub and talk to our new friend about her son who is fighting his own teenage fight. I saw her return and look a little less alone. I felt the world shrink as I connected in the delight and fear of that moment.
My son and I got to walk around the top of a ring fort in a mist that was turning to rain, feeling as free and wild as the iron age individuals who called it home 1700 years ago. Then we took a selfie.
I got to stay up with my son almost all night as he suffered. Watching him impotently, as his body refused to be comfortable, as he paced unrelieved then switched to sitting unrelieved. Watching his weariness, his exhaustion, his fear that this was forever.
We saw sheep. Spray painted sheep. Tagged sheep. Lots of sheep.
And green. Enough green to quench our desert-living souls.
We got to pay extortion prices to hike up to “the best views in Kerry” and found the best views in Kerry. Rugged, beautiful, drenched in deep color. Some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen.
We got to see a donkey there too. Just a little bonus.
The seas were too rough for the boat to Skellig Michael to run, the one thing that I had really wanted to do on this trip. And yet I wasn’t disappointed at all with our visit to Kerry.
I got to hear from my daughter that she had just seen the professional Riverdance production at the Gaity theater in Dublin. She told me it was surreal. I think it may have been her best use of that word to date. She got to spend a week dancing with some of those professionals and capped the week off by performing with them on stage at the Gaity herself. When I read her Instagram post afterward, I got to learn it was “one of the best weeks” of her life and she was overwhelmed with gratitude toward the @riverdance professionals who made it possible. She wants to do it again next year, and next time there will be no audition required.
I got to fall on some steps in an Irish downpour and ended up with a hematoma on my ass the size of a papaya. My son couldn’t find ice so he brought me frozen brussels sprouts to help with the pain. It slowed me down. I needed to be slowed down. We played cards and drank whiskey until the three of them left me to my pain and frozen sprouts to find dinner in Dublin. They brought me back Chinese.
We explored art, literature, the Easter uprising, Cromwell, and Wilde. Some of us enjoyed it more than others and then others got their turn to enjoy. It wasn’t perfect but it was right. The boy and I stumbled upon a Vermeer exhibit at the national gallery. We got to spend a little bit of time in heaven while the girl and her father did a walking tour of the uprising.
We drank tea with sugar and milk. We got to drink lots of tea.
We realized we should have allowed ourselves an entire day for Glendolough. We got to see a rainbow on our way to Meath. When we got to the end of the rainbow, we realized we should have allowed ourselves 4 days at our fairytale cottage in Slane.
I got to watch the girl light up when she saw the romantic cottage on the river. I saw the boy relax when the cottage cat adopted him and followed him to his room, where they stayed and played until dinner. I laughed on the second morning when I knew the cottage cats had accepted us by the dead mouse offerings on the path to the cottage.
We were all melancholy as we said goodbye to our fairytale cottage. When we got to London in a torrential downpour and found our raincoats leaked, and we only had one umbrella, and the rain hitting our phones screwed up our navigation, and we didn’t have a paper map, and the queue at the British Museum was 2 hours long; we did the only reasonable thing we could and ducked into the first restaurant with an open table and ordered Irish coffees.
I have a feeling that everyone else in the family would describe our arrival in London very differently. Grumpy doesn’t begin to describe the mood of the table that afternoon at the Savoir Faire in Bloomsbury. But to me it was how we dealt with it that was important, not what actually happened. We got to deal with it by eating sticky toffee pudding.
We got to see London improve in the sunshine, as London does. We got to introduce our children to our friends who had never met them. We met and spent time with our friends’ children. We celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary (both ours and theirs) with champagne in the garden. We got to remember why we love spending time with them.
We got to hang out with our child in the middle of a mental health crisis. We got our wonderful, tragic, woeful, beautiful family together. We got life. But we got life in Ireland.
In my twenties, mindfulness practice seemed impenetrable. All that sitting, and focusing, and what the hell was I supposed to practice anyway? Seriously, I let the word “practice” get in my way much the same way I let the word “metaphysics” derail my first philosophy class.
Now in my fifties, DBT has come in handy as a good practical introduction to mindfulness. We start off each group with a different mindfulness exercise. Mindful observing, mindful knitting, mindful counting, mindful candy eating.
Folks, you can do it with candy!
I was clearly reading all the wrong books in my twenties. Mindfulness isn’t about clearing your mind of all thoughts, it’s simply recognizing what you are thinking about and not hanging on to it.
This, along with my deep-seated need for survival, has brought me deeper into mindfulness.
At home I sometimes practice mindful dish washing (getting better), and on the road, mindful driving (lost cause). It has really opened up my idea of what mindfulness is and how I can use it. Almost in spite of myself, it has become a real tool.
In my current life-as never-ending-crisis cycle, I find myself reaching for this tool more and more. Recently I have tried to incorporate it into my weekly routine, grasping for even the barest bit of sanity.
3 days a week of mindfulness practice at the beach a week—that’s the goal.
Now before you get too far into imagining me sitting peacefully in lotus position on the beach in some sort of flowy garment smiling the Mona Lisa smile of a true practitioner, I should remind you that I reach for mindfulness to help me function.
If I was together enough to arrange a quiet, pleasant mindfulness on the beach session, I wouldn’t need mindfulness.
No, my mindfulness consists of stopping off at the beach parking lot on my way home from carpool. Sometimes I even manage to change out of my pajamas before I leave the house. And as much as I would enjoy having a quiet moment to myself, usually I’m sharing the lot with a sketchy RV on one side and someone who is blasting hate radio on the other.
The goal is to do 30 min to an hour of mindfulness practice, or writing, or thinking about gratitude.
Yep, you got that right, mindfulness in my car, that’s the best I can do.
It usually turns into 15 minutes of me checking Facebook then another 15 trying to find a meme I really wanted to share with someone, 15 minutes of wondering if I’m doing it right, and maybe 5 minutes of actual mindfulness. The ratio has been changing in the last few months, to the better I might add, but it’s roughly 5 minutes of mindfulness.
But today was different, today I went beyond mindfulness. Today I was full on communing with nature. Today it was dolphins!
Pulling into the parking lot I could see what I thought looked like dolphins moving close to the shore.
Remember, I always want dolphins at the beach, but I don’t always actually see them. And when I do, it’s usually just one or two and I only see a glimpse of their back and maybe some spouting. Maybe only 6 out of every 10 visits do I get full on, whole dolphin sightings.
I know, sometimes I hate me for living here too.
When I reached my parking spot, placed strategically between the industrial trash can and the recycling bin, I confirmed the dolphin sighting. Lots of dolphins. A small pod moving north.
I never even made it to checking my Facebook. Still in my jammies, I jumped out of the car to get a closer look, noticing they were swimming toward a group moving south. Today, I decided, watching dolphins was going to be my mindfulness practice.
Leaning back onto the hood of my car, I focused on them. I focused on the color of them, the slide of them through the water, the arc of their backs as they surfaced. I noticed when one would surface, I absorbed the closing distance as the two groups moved toward each other. I breathed in through my nose then breathed out through my mouth (not required for mindfulness, but I do try to incorporate all the clichés I can). I was so totally rocking this mindfulness shit.
OMG there was a baby!
Not that it takes a lot to distract me, but this was total dolphin pandemonium—a couple of babies and more than a dozen other dolphins. The two groups met up and then all began moving south together, showing off lots of flippers and tail flukes and breaching. Some were running into each other and then chasing each other.
Mindfulness evaporated, my mind was in full flight imagining what they were up to.
It was almost like the adults were going back to look for the teenagers that were lagging behind. Teenagers trying out independence and being awful about it. I saw the eye roll one of the girl dolphins gave her mom when asked why she wasn’t staying closer to the main group. I felt the mom’s relief and simultaneous frustration at finding her daughter safe, then realizing there was no reason to worry to begin with.
I’m sure one of the tween dolphins was bitching about having to look after his baby brother. I imagined teenage dolphins flirting, showing off. I saw the boys daring each other to do totally dangerous things to prove they were “cool”. I imagined a great white shark following them around like the schoolyard bully. An octopus trying to give them her words of wisdom, while trying not to be eaten.
I saw the whole ocean being dwarfed by the energy of the teenage emotions they were desperately learning to manage. And the parents struggling to keep them safe while realizing there is no way to control them or their environment. I could hear their grandparents sigh, those damn kids, where have they gone off to now?
These dolphins were living my life, I swear. And they were doing it better!
I don’t know how I knew they were better, but it could be because they were not at all terrified of open water. Or not.
They were clearly doing it better because they had created a community of strength and support. It takes a pod to raise a dolphin. The mother and father aren’t in it alone, and they’re not afraid to accept help. It was like these dolphins were speaking to me. Directly to me. Reminding me that I don’t only find my strength in independence, I find it in interdependence as well. My community, my tribe, my relationships.
I wondered how dolphin parents would handle cell phones. How do they deal with depressed teenagers? Is it easier to manage teenage sleep when you sleep with half of your brain? Are hypoglycemic dolphins as volatile as my daughter? DBT talks a lot about rational mind, emotional mind, and wise mind. But I don’t remember it talking about metaphor mind. My life works better in metaphor mind.
Realizing I didn’t make it to even 5 minutes of mindful practice, I noticed an adult break free from the crowd and take a moment to ride a wave before returning to the pod. That dolphin gets me, I’m certain of it.
I don’t have pictures from Mother’s Day last week. We didn’t have any special celebration.
We are fragile. We are feeling fragile. We are not up to noise, or cheer, or talking. We are over talking.
For the moment.
So we went to the mountain that is not really a mountain. And we held hands while we walked silently.
One step, two steps, breathe in. One step, two steps, three steps, breathe out.
Hand in hand with the two who define my motherhood. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot.
When I got distracted by my thoughts, I just went back to left foot, right foot. I realized I still mix up my right and my left. I laughed.
When our hands got sweaty we released and walked on our own. Left foot, right foot. Someone behind me was talking about cats. I got annoyed. The only directions we received: no talking. I needed to get back to walking. I had to let my annoyance float away. It was hard.
One step, two steps, breathe.
I missed the soft skin of their hands in my hands, I reached for one again. I felt love, and family, and peace. I remembered a book, Peace is Every Step. How long ago had I read it? Why wasn’t I reading it now? I let it go and went back to my walking.
One, two steps, breathe in.
My husband’s knee couldn’t make it up the hill so we were three, not four. There were over a hundred of us, but for me it was only us three. Warming up as the sun melted the mist, and breathing harder as we headed up a steeper hill. I got tired, but still I walked and counted and breathed. The road was rough and pocked with holes and ruts. The hand I held steadied me. A subtle role reversal, but I noticed.
One, two, three steps, breathe out.
I thought about the Dharma talk we had just heard. Imagined finding the baby Buddha inside me, waiting for me. Like honey inside a swarm of bees, he said. Isn’t that nice? Or the seed hidden in the very depths of the flower. Much nicer I thought.
We are all mothers of the baby Buddha inside us, he said. We just need to have a clear mind and access, and… And something else he said. I couldn’t remember. The talk was peppered with words in a different language, in an accent I couldn’t quite penetrate. Like looking through a dusty window and trying to comprehend the beauty of the meadow on the other side. I could make out the shape and color of the flower that was his talk, but couldn’t quite see its delicate structure or catch its scent.
Come back, breathe, walk.
A few people stopped walking and began staring at the bushes, pointing out something they had seen to others. I thought of the sign posted on the way in, “Be mindful of toxic snakes and insects” it said.
I love that sign. Every time I pass it I want to take a picture. But I never do.
Right foot, left foot. Be mindful of rattlesnakes.
Then we continued down, down, to harmony grove.
A small stand of trees beside a dry creek bed. Flowers were everywhere. A small statue waited to be washed with flowers and water. Everyone had the opportunity to pour the sweet water on the statue. The symbolic bathing of a child, the nurturing of the peace within us.
When we met back up with my husband, their father, we were indeed home. We had arrived. And, in that step, there was peace. And maybe we were a little less fragile.
1. No mascara. Unless it’s water proof. Then you’re good to go, but you won’t get to wash your face for about 48 hours so frankly waterproof mascara is really not your friend. I stick with my original advice. No mascara.
2. Just hang up. During a crisis, you will find yourself answering all phone calls even if you don’t recognize the number. This behavior itself is enough to throw your world totally off kilter. You will be getting calls from doctors, social workers, case managers, treatment centers etc. You won’t recognize any of these numbers so you will end up answering all calls just so you don’t have to continue to play phone tag with the social worker. Therefore, you will eventually pick up a call from a telemarketer.
It will be your first instinct to be polite. You may say something like “my son is in the hospital, and I am waiting for a call from the doctor so I can’t talk right now.” Don’t expect them to go away. They have a script, they make minimum wage, they will just reply, “it will only take a moment”. You may even find yourself saying, “my child is in the hospital because he attempted suicide and I can’t talk right now.” Then they will say something like, “I’m sorry, but we really want to make sure you have all the cable services you want and let you know about some great promotional offers that are available to you.”
If you had followed my advice you would have already hung up. If not you will kind of disassociate and see yourself actually saying, “did you understand that I just told you my son tried to kill himself?” Then you will see yourself react as the telemarketer replies, “my condolences, but this will just take a moment.” Just hang up and save yourself the futile exercise of trying to figure out if your cable company is run by the minions of hell.
3. Don’t answer your door. The same scenario as above will play out, but this time it will be a single mother trying to get back on her feet by selling magazines and you will have to go back to rule number one: no mascara.
4. Don’t post shit on social media. Just don’t. It’s not your friend right now. That being said, watching kitten videos, giraffe births, or panda babies can offer great relief. Otters too, don’t forget the otters.
5. One glass of wine during crisis = 10 normal glasses. Plan accordingly.
6. Ask your other child if they have perhaps agreed to take care of anybody’s pets. It may not help, but you will be prepared when the cats haven’t been fed in 2 days and they call you.
7. Get horizontal. No matter how strong you have been in each crisis leading up to this (and you know there have been a lot), your body may yell “Enough!” You will feel a little dizzy and then you will see a long black tunnel. This is a vagal faint. It’s not a big deal unless you refuse to get horizontal on your own. Because your body will absolutely insist. The floor is a pretty hard landing surface.
8. Apologize when lack of sleep, overwhelming anxiety, and constant nausea lead you release your inner bitch.
9. Listen, and don’t take it personally when lack of sleep, overwhelming anxiety, and constant nausea lead your loved ones to release their inner bitches.
10. Be gentle with yourself and your family. Hug as much as you are able.
I try to be mindful as I drive, let thoughts come and go as they please, but I’m not always successful. So tears tend to hit while I’m driving. When I am alone with my thoughts the reality of what is ahead grabs me and yanks until the knot pulls so tight it can never be undone. And that reality is the fact that this is my new normal. One moment walking happily along feeling like all is on the right track, the next being smacked in the face with the fact that things are very, very not okay. Suicide, overdose, death from anorexia—these all are not unreasonable ends to our story.
But so is recovery.
Recovery is not an unreasonable end to our story.
And that is my new normal. The fact that one is just as likely as the other. Or if not just as likely, they are all as much out of my control.
So, I really try to hold onto the hope of recovery, especially in the midst of relapse. But I am not sure that there is anything I can do to influence the outcome. I used to think there was, but I’m beginning to think that there is nothing I can do to make it better, the only real influence I have is to make it worse.
And that, more than anything, terrifies me. How am I making it worse? How am I coddling? How am I enabling? How am I helicoptering?
What is the line between any of those and compassion when faced with your child in agony?
My child, a heartbreakingly depressed young man trying to hold on. And trying to move forward.
Yesterday I came home from one of these driving episodes crying. Distraught over this relapse, this new normal of ours. I collapsed on my husband’s chest and sobbed, “I can’t do this.”
He looked at me and said “Yes. You can.”
My initial response was a snort acknowledging the cold comfort of the truth. Then I let my thoughts wander for a minute and remembered a recent phone call with a friend.
Of course, we can do this, we are already doing it, she reminded me. And we have been doing it for some time now.
This is our new normal. This working and fighting for recovery. For wellness. For peace.
And she is right. We are doing this. We have been doing this for almost 4 years. And we can keep on doing this.
I can do this with my friends who are in the same boat (or at least a similar one) with me. I can do this with my friends who have been there all along. I can do this with my new friends who have come my way because of this journey. I can do this with my husband of over 25 years. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t on the same page. Sometimes just reading the same book is enough.
I looked at my husband again and said, “I don’t want to do this.” And this is true as well. I don’t want this to be my reality. I want a different normal back. Of course, this is where the friction lies. This is where I get caught up over and over again. This is what saps my energy.
Instead of fighting for recovery I am fighting against what is.
Intellectually, I know this is senseless, but my emotions won’t be won over by petty things like facts.
So, I go back to my DBT workbook again. I review, redo, reevaluate the handouts on radical acceptance, and say to myself, “our son has a serious mental health disorder that could lead to his death.”
Take a breath. Figure out what to do with that.
And I remind myself again that this acceptance doesn’t mean I am okay with it. Doesn’t mean I am happy about it. It just means that this is what my life is at the moment. This is part of what my life is. This is the reality that I have to work with.
It doesn’t mean anything, it is just my current reality. So, I start again. I start again reviewing my skills, my supports. I start again practicing skills that build my resilience. I start again practicing skills to take care of myself, to keep myself well. I start again learning boundaries, and emotional regulation, and effectiveness. I start again researching ways forward that we haven’t thought of before.
I start again.
I can do this. I am doing this. I will continue to do this. As messy and inelegant and as hard as it is.
I can do it because my child is worth the fight. Because my family is worth the fight. Because I am fightworthy, even when I can’t do this.
My daughter’s away. Off on an east coast adventure with her cousins. Her aunt keeps sending me pictures of her hiking in the woods, swinging on swings, playing with bugs. Doing all sorts of things that my almost grown daughter would never do around home.
I miss her.
I mean, I miss her physical presence, but I know that she will be back in a few weeks.
But what I really miss is the old her.
I miss her uninhibited spirit that is becoming more and more hidden as she grows up. She went from the girl who skipped everywhere to the girl who points out how silly it is that a little girl is skipping on her way to school. She went from the girl who is happy in her own skin to the one worried about what strangers will think.
From the girl who never minded making a ruckus to the one that shushes me.
She shushes me.
I never thought I would be the one getting shushed.
I miss that she is showing a little, tiny bit of that spirit again, and I am not around to see it. To breath it in and capture it in the way I was too careless to do when she was four.
Back then, I told her I was going to write down all of the wonderful words she made up and call it her Fantabulous Fictionary. But I got busy and I knew I would remember them because they were all so wonderful.
We all know what happened.
I only remember a few now. Beesgusting: means even worse than disgusting, Gianormous: a little mixture of giant and enormous for extra emphasis, and Tinky: same as stinky.
Ok, the last one wasn’t really a made up word, she had a speech impediment and couldn’t say the ST sound. She also couldn’t say the TH sound so she pronounced it as S.
And that is how she came up with my favorite noun:
Me: Please don’t blow dandelions all over the lawn, daddy works hard to keep our lawn dandelion free without chemicals.
Her: But mommy, these aren’t dandelions, they are wishing sings.
Wishing sings, wishing things, dandelions. I’ve never looked at a lawn full of them the same way since.
And when I see one now there is always a little girl in it.
With a halo of blonde curls. In a pink seersucker dress and grey eyes busy, busy, busy taking in her world.
This vision is as clear as a photograph. Seared in my mind along with the words of the conversation. Because it was one of those events that hurled me right into the moment. Like a cable was hooked to me and I was physically dragged to another place.
The right place.
I can’t imagine what my state of mind was when I told my 4 year old not to blow a dandelion. But I know that after that moment I looked at the things she did through a different lens.
It was one of those clear moments of parenting when you realize what you are doing and what you should be doing.
But I’m a slow learner it seems and I wasn’t always able to recognize those moments when they came.
Yet, now I see this girl in the middle of a field of flowers and I know it will be gone soon as well. I want more dandelion moments, but it’s too late.
She is only 15, but she has flown away. I have to focus on the moments now, knowing they are what I have.
So the boy turned 18 and the earth didn’t end. Or shake. Or change at all really. It just went on spinning, taking several more turns around the sun, and the son seemed to take it all in stride.
A few weeks later he graduated.
It seems a milestone has been reached. I’ve technically lived up to my parental responsibilities. Although practically, I’m fairly certain you are never done as a mother.
I think he may have been expecting something more definitive. Myself, I was just sort of relieved.
So he is an adult now. But there wasn’t some magical switch thrown that will allow him to make “adult” decisions. It didn’t come with an extra tool box filled with “adult” tools. He still has what he had, still is what he was the day before, and yet he is different.
The perspective is different.
The expectations are different; the social contract has totally changed.
He has rights that he can exercise if he chooses. He has responsibilities that he must take on now, and some he can let slide until he is in college. The Selective Service reminded him of one of these with a letter that arrived on his birthday. The county registrar of voters reminded him of another when his first official election ballot arrived in the mail.
I see him picking up those responsibilities, and more, in fits and starts. I’m hoping that he takes them a little more seriously than he takes his responsibility to clean is room.
Currently, it appears that he does.
When he was signing the consent forms at a post birthday doctor appointment, I could see him come to the realization that he is now in control of his health decisions and his information. He had a detailed discussion with the doctor about what would be disclosed to me if he chose to sign the consent and what would be the practical implications if he didn’t.
He joked about sending me out of the room.
He really meant it though.
I’m glad he resisted. He is an adult, but we are still on this journey together.
He has a new lens for viewing his decisions, and I can see it is empowering to him. It’s exciting to see him finish one journey and prepare for another with this new view, and watch him adjust to what he expected and what actually is. I can also see the Pandora’s box aspect of it, but that is something that I gave up thinking about a while ago.
We have never tried to protect him from the real world and real world consequences, figuring that learning from them is the easiest way to go about learning to adult. Although, we have tried to incorporate mercy into the process as well.
His journey has been more fraught with danger and more torturous than we would have ever wished for. But he has risen to the occasion that no child should have to (and yet so many must) with more resilience and fortitude than I could have imagined.
My sister is in the same temporal place with her son, but she told me she has been crying lately. I understand that, but I’m not there. It is an amazing thing about trauma, it drags you into reality—ready or not. It challenges ingrained behaviors and pushes you to see other perspectives.
I guess I would have preferred the slow, dawning realization. Perhaps I would have found myself crying gently at the thought of his next adventure and tiptoeing cautiously between his 18th birthday and his graduation date.
Melancholy and excitement sharing the same space.
But that was not to be. I’ve already had to say good bye to so much during this recovery process, I feel like I have already done a large portion of the work of leaving the boy he was behind.
And at the same time I am able to hold on to that boy and realize, he is who he has always been. His diagnosis doesn’t change who he is, it doesn’t define him.
Like all of us, only this moment defines him. And in a second, it will be a different moment. His actions will demonstrate his heart, his inner light, his joy. As he has done in the past, he will make mistakes and, hopefully, he will not let them define him anymore than he allows the labels people try to attach to him.
And although his childhood has come to an end, I find myself hoping that he won’t totally lose the childhood perspective on life.
The possibility, hope and anticipation of his four-year-old self. I want that to stay with him, to be in a place where he can find it when he needs it most. I know he is going to need it.
A few years ago he asked me what I wanted him to be when he grew up. “I want you to be happy” I replied. “I may have some ideas about what will make you happy, but in the end, you don’t have to do them, you just have to find your own way to happy.”
I probably could have given more specific hopes and goals but I couldn’t have given more honest ones. I truly don’t care what he does with his life as long as he finds fulfillment and meaning. As long as he creates joy and lives happy. Accepting that sometimes you have to slog through the hard to just even taste the good. As long as he makes his journey count.
Although I know those are all subjective and judgy, I’m pretty sure I will know
them when I see them.
He has the advantage (or perhaps disadvantage) of knowing that life is not always easy, things are not always fair, sometimes you get dealt a bad hand, and you just have to go with it and make the best of it. He is farther along the road to happiness than many adults I know just having that simple building block.
My aspirations for him seem to be crystalizing. Not so much because of his birthday, but because of the journey he has selected. And because I have let go of what I wanted or thought I wanted. I have followed his lead and am just taking in the moment.
It’s Mother’s Day this weekend and instead of getting all maudlin and melancholy because it’s kinda the last “our little family” one, I decided to think about the things I love about mother’s day. Mom is just one of the hats I wear, but the one I have worn the most in the last almost 18 years so I guess it’s ok to sit back occasionally and see how it feels.
I usually get taken to a wonderful garden for mother’s day. I remember plenty of them at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and a few at the Huntington in Pasadena. But sometimes it has been kite flying at the park, or sandwiches on the beach.
Small or elaborate, my perfect Mother’s day needs to include just a few things: I don’t cook, I don’t clean, and all four of us spend some time together.
I believe my first mother’s day I asked for a card, maybe flowers, but frankly that was kind of a high bar for a husband that spent most of his days in the lab finishing his Ph.D. I have been perfectly content with the no-cook/no-clean version for a while. I was never one for presents, not on mother’s day at least, but I have always been excessively fond of tokens of affection.
Handprint flower bouquets the kids brought home from school have always been my favorite. If both of the kids got together and made one with their now adult hands, I would keep it beside the one I got from my daughter when she was 5. I still have them all, the handmade cards, the decorated poems, the handprint hearts.
They are some of the things I can’t get rid of no matter how much I try to declutter.
One of my favorites is the little jar of sunshine the boy made for me in second grade. I have a sneaking suspicion that his teacher knew that when things got a little rocky in the teenage years, it would be lovely to have this little jar to look back on and remember the simpler times. She was pretty awesome that way.
It’s so simple. A clear jar, the lid covered in a cute floral print fabric and tied with a ribbon (now lost to the ages) and filled with a bunch of rolled up pieces of paper where he wrote things he liked about me, thank you notes, and other random things to make my heart smile. I’m pretty sure I laughed and cried the first time I read them.
He could barely read and write in second grade so some of them took a while to figure out. What I really noticed at the time, however, was how hard he must have worked on them. Phonetic spelling aside, spaces between words and motor organization were things that he struggled so hard with in elementary school, the fact that they were as clear as they were indicated an intense amount of effort on his part. That he was willing to put in that kind of effort has always been the best part of this gift.
Later, though, I realized that it was a coded message. Road signs to point me onto the path of being the right parent for him. I still look at them sometimes when I need some perspective, or reassurance, or even a laugh. I don’t cry as much anymore, but they can still get me teary eyed. I don’t like to be pensive about them so I usually come up with light translations that keep me grounded. And so I will share them with you in that spirit. Happy Mother’s day to all who are mothers or have mothers.
Special things about my mom and thank you notes written by my son in second grade age 7:
You like foods I like: Meaning probably I usually cook things that he will eat, this made things easy for him and easy for me.
You are good at remembering: I guess I used to remind him to bring his jacket so he could go out at recess. This one is actually pretty funny because about 20 minutes ago as we were on our way to an AP test, I stopped the car just past our driveway and asked if he remembered to bring his ID to get into the test. We had to turn around and go back to get it! I guess I’m still good at remembering things.
You are nice: I probably had coffee that morning so I didn’t yell as I was rushing him to the school bus.
You support me in school: This is when I still reminded him to bring his homework to school.
You are a queen: Obviously, but not the Snow White queen or any Disney queen for that matter. Hmm, not much in the way of literary good queen’s either, definitely not Gertrude from Hamlet. Maybe I should just skip this one.
You can do anything: Anything that he asks, at only 7 he didn’t ask much yet and didn’t understand the limits to my mommy super powers. Cuter still because he made “anything” 2 awesome words—in ething.
You are the best mom ever: Self evident. I belong to him, therefore I must be the best.
You are funny: I laugh at his jokes, sometimes I even make funny ones myself. Q: where do cows go on Saturday nights? A: to the mooooooovies.
You are good at cooking: I guess he likes my food.
I love you mom: I start crying here.
You are happy: I am actually, no joke about this one. He apparently likes to be around happy people. If this was all there was to motherhood, I would be golden.
I hope you like it: Just a little validation goes a long way. Now I cry at this one, I wish I had paid more attention to it.
You are a great cook: Again with the food. Either he was running out of things to write or his obsession with food was foreshadowing some problems down the road. I’m thinking the former.
Thank you for taking me to dinner: Perhaps I’m not as good a cook as he thought?
Thank you for helping me with problems: This is the time, before he becomes a teenager, when he thinks that my insights and opinions have some value. Either that or I brought him homework he left on the floor of his room.
You get me things when I need them: I take him to Michaels at 8 pm to get poster board that he just that moment remembered he needed for a book report due tomorrow that he hasn’t started. This is still pretty much standard practice around here, although less so with school work and more so with everything else.
You read me stories: Still my favorite part of being mom.
You are helpful: No matter how often I deny it, I was his Sherpa and apparently he liked it. I have fixed this problem to a great extent, but sometimes he pretends he’s seven and asks me to do stuff. A lot of times I do.
You read a lot: The reason for number 17 above.
You cook good: Funny that he continues to go back to the one thing about “mothering” that I truly loathe. Is it validation when you are approved of most for the thing you like the least?
You like things I do: I show interest in his interests. It’s that simple and it’s that hard.
You help me when I cry: Compassion. My greatest strength and my biggest weakness. I hope this is always true.
You are cool: Proof positive that at one time I was cool.