Shattered

In one moment,
just one action,
childhood’s golden innocence shattered.

Yet, was it really just one?
Lie upon lie,
stacked as high as the sky.

Broken trust,
misplaced affection,
breakfast like nothing happened.

Through the brokenness,
the Sun still shines,
life begins anew.

Innocence was lost,
weakened hope still grows,
and love never dies.

Raising Adults

“We’re raising adults not kids” is a statement I first heard from a former administrator. I think about it often.

You see, I have this middle school daughter who often asks for explicit directions on where some ingredient is located in the pantry – and I generally respond “just look for it.” She gets frustrated because of the assumption I’m withholding known information. She really does believe as an adult in the house I actually know the location of every single object. In reality, I’m horrible at organizing. I normally figure if the drawer closes or the cabinet door shuts it’s good enough.

Raising adults; it means I have to actually explain my ignorance. Then take the time to talk my daughter through the steps I would take to figure out the answer to her dilemma. It would be faster to just do it for her, she also knows it would be easier if I just did it for her. I have to remember my goal, that I don’t just want to survive today, but I want to raise a daughter who can problem solve on her own. It’s a lot more work to convince her to go through the steps of working through difficulties- especially if she has to choose between multiple good options.

There’s a lot of push and pull, like on days when she wants to make blueberry scones. I don’t know how to make blueberry scones, probably because I’m not particularly fond of eating them. So, we talked through how to pick a recipe from the internet based on reviews (and ingredients in the refrigerator). She made that decision for herself, and started baking. But I cut her some slack and just told her it was perfectly fine to use frozen blueberries instead of thawing them first.

Raising adults means holding my breath when my little monkey boy calls out “Watch this Mom!” as he precariously balances between swing set pieces or clambers up a tree above my head. It means passing the paintbrush while working on his Minecraft desktop. Raising adults means holding my breath while my husband explains to our daughters how to safely ride their bikes to the new corner store.

Raising adults is the hardest part of parenting. Knowing the difference of when to support and when to step back- and then actually stepping back. I really don’t want to just raise kids though, I want to teach my children how to function as adults in a world that’s constantly changing.

Sleep

Sleep seems like it should be such an easy task. I’m often tired, can easily nap for hours. But, when it comes to sleeping in an actual bed- at nighttime- I struggle. I know logically some of my concerns are ridiculous – When we moved into a new house I had to decide which side of the bed I’d claim as mine. Do I have my husband’s side of the bed closest to the door- just in case someone invaded the house? Or, do I make him sleep by the window in case someone attempts to break in? I decided our living room windows would be easier to break so he’s ended up on the door side.

Nighttime just scares me I think. I refuse to look under the bed after dark. I know in my head that monsters living there aren’t real- but I question it just enough to avoid testing the theory.

Really, I just start to think at nighttime. I wonder how I can best protect my children. What risks do I let them take, and when do I intervene? How do I know if they’re safe? Like, safe on the inside- emotionally stable and secure in knowing they are loved? Would they tell me if they’re hurting? Would I understand what they were trying to say if they they did attempt to share? Like many parents of teens, I hear frequent complaints that I’m never available, don’t love them, ask for to much information about grades and simultaneously show no interest in their grades. I don’t know if it’s the best strategy but lately, I stopped defending my parenting choices. I just apologize, say “I’m doing my best and you can parent however you choose when that day comes.”

I love putting my five year old son to bed. He takes forever to actually get ready for bed, Brushing teeth, hugs for the dog (but probably not sisters) putting on pajamas, finding the necessary stuffed animals and getting “fresh cold new water” can easily take half an hour or more. But when he finally settles down next to me, laying his head on my shoulder as I read his bedtime story….then I know everything is going to be okay. It’s the best moment of my day when I turn out the light and he holds tight to my arm -insisting I stay until he falls asleep. To see how innocently he loves me and completely trusts I’ll take care of him.

A Mother’s Love

Mother’s Day just passed, according to my Instagram feed we show love to Mom flowers, cards or chocolate. It could also be shown through vacations or experiences together. My children chose to write cards with heartfelt messages that claimed “You’re the best mom in the world.”

In our culture, a “Mother’s love” spoken of in almost sacred terms as a constant that never fades. An instant connection from that first moment you look into those tiny newborn eyes. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t really feel an instant connection- I felt terrified. How on Earth was I going to manage to keep this tiny little human alive when I felt so awful? I absolutely adore all of my children now, but it took a while to get to know them.

It still scares me, the responsibility of being a mom. Probably because looking at the family tree – mom’s haven’t necessarily done so well. There’s the Great-great grandmother who’s daughter bore her father’s child. Also, the story of a Grandmother who slapped her daughter’s face and said “Never say anything like that again” when her daughter brought up being molested by her father. I still remover the shocked expression and statement that “Some people just bruise easy” after I shared my opinion that leaving bruises on a child is abusive. Those are just the stories I know. I wonder what pain was simply ignored or silenced out of family loyalty?

What does love for my children really look like? It can be enduring vomit filled, sleepless nights. Sometimes it’s working together on spelling words or math problems for what feels like hours. It can be helping with projects that are fun in a child’s mind but also great tests of parental patience. Love is making sure food is in the pantry and the electricity stays turned on. Parental love doesn’t always come from a biological parent, sometimes it’s just a person who is willing risk getting involved, when a parent isn’t around to give guidance and encouragement.

In over 20 years of working with youth and children, I’ve never met a parent who didn’t want the best for their child. Unfortunately, some parents are pretty adept at being clueless about what is best. We tend to see as normal whatever our own experiences were. We keep our children from the horror that we endured- yet the trauma that slips through the cracks of our protection can still be devastating.

None of us are all good, or all bad. That’s what makes love so tricky. I’m simply in the middle- trying to raise my children to be better people than I was raised to be. I try to look past their occasional angry accusations, knowing that emotional angst is just part of having teenagers (or toddlers). I try relish the moments they share appreciation. Remembering it’s a process, while we may still have a long way to go- it’s been a heck of a journey to get this far. I don’t need to be discouraged with where we are today.

When it comes down to it, I think love is simply going through life together, holding your breath when a child says “I’ve got it Mom” and helping them up again if they fall.

Life’s Intricacies

It seems to me that life’s intricacies are a bit like the lines on this page- drawn purposelessly from point to point without rhyme or reason. There was no aesthetic plan, no pre-set goal to be achieved, just a blank page to be filled. Colors clash, and lines aren’t evenly spaced. Looking back, I couldn’t tell you how it morphed from original idea to current composition. Creating plans really isn’t a strength of mine.

Perhaps it’s because planning often seems an exercise in futility. Things change.

Plans ≠ Reality

Life, when I plan it, rarely goes according to that plan- I’m not the doctor I planned to be at 19, nor the author I planned on at 15. The world is blessed beyond measure that my 9 year old dreams of being a singer never came to pass.

My children are beginning to learn ways to negotiate around my distaste for firm plans and commitment. They say things like “Not today, but sometime could we….” I’m okay with a vague requests, but try to nail down the time when we will actually bake blueberry scones together – my mind instantly goes into overdrive with what might happen to prevent the activity from happening.

What if we don’t have butter or blueberries? Or, what if the baking time is to long and we have to do something else before they’re finished? What if I say “Yes” and then remember something I was supposed to do a week ago for work that has to be immediately rectified? What if…. My ability to think of unique reasons I should avoid committing is outstanding.

The obvious solution to those who give me advice is to write down all appointments, due dates, schedules and such in a planner. I’m not against the idea. Every year, I buy a new planner. Its pristine pages lure me into thinking this is the year I’ll actually be consistent in writing down my plans. I stand mesmerized in the aisle staring at the variety of accessories that promise to improve my organization. I normally buy a few.

The trouble is, I start writing plans, reality hits, and everything has to be adjusted. Honestly, even when circumstances stay the same – I forget to check my planner to see what’s written – because it’s so rarely correct.

Yet, every year I buy a brand new planner.

“You’re An Okay Mom“

One of my lovely daughters made this comment from the backseat during a slightly heated rant in the car the other day. My husband and I immediately began trying to hide our laughter. It was one of those moments when you know laughing is only going to escalate the situation but the irony was so intense all you can do is laugh.

I don’t even remember what she was upset about at the time. I mean, we’ve reached the stage of parenting where crazy rules are formed, like “You can’t express anger at someone for looking at you.” Note, the rule concerns expressed anger- actions not feelings- parenting four has taught me to be explicit with word choice.

Really and truly, I was so impressed to have improved so much in her eyes that even in a moment of anger, I was still considered “okay.” I’ve been called much worse during prior arguments. I think I’ve decided that to be an okay parent is fine.

I no longer aspire to instill a love of language and extensive vocabulary, in all four children. The classics of my childhood have mostly been rejected as boring. But, if we can get them to read the occasional book, (despite the high use of Disney+, Netflix and YouTube). It’s okay.

I look at the entire shelf of processed foods and white bread that gets packed daily in school lunches. I remember the whole wheat carob chip cookies of my childhood. My mother even ground the wheat berries to get flour for the bread she baked from scratch each week. When I bake bread, it’s normally by popping open a can. I’m still okay.

Now as an adult, I see one of the truest expressions of my mother’s love was the Pocahontas costume she made for me in first grade, and the wedding dress we sewed together. My children’s Halloween costume options are determined by what’s in stock at Target or available with Prime Shipping. Still, I’m okay.

I guess really, I want my children to trust me enough to vent their frustrations – even though I often mistake venting as request for a solution. I want my children to be able to share their hurts and the growing pains of changing relationships. I want to be who they text with good news. The one who can be counted on to celebrate the small everyday successes.

Ultimately, I want my children to know I will always love them as they are. That would be spectacular parenting though and I’m dealing with the emotions of children pre-kindergarten to high school. This is the messy middle where I’ve tried parenting suggestions, read books and research and really all I’ve found out is my children don’t consistently follow the formulas in books. In fact, they follow very few. So, I’m not trying to be spectacular, as long as the arguments end by bedtime- I’m doing okay as mom.

Today

Today I hurt. I remember the hurt and it still feels real. The pain of being ignored and unprotected. The pain of rape and abuse that went unseen when every part of me screamed inside to be seen. To be noticed. To be loved. I just wanted love. Acceptance. To know that I wasn’t the problem that I wasn’t worthless. To be told that I mattered, my body and opinions of how it should be used mattered. To be intrinsically valuable. My mere humanity creating my worth.

Today I hurt to remember the child I was. I look at my 11 year old daughter and wonder how on earth someone could be so messed up that they see her as a sex object. She is a child. I remember that was me- but no one stepped up to protect me. The harm was hidden and behind closed doors. My heart breaks at the kind of pain that would put into action the plans that were commonplace. Plans to take my life. I looked at the blades but I never put them to my wrists. Today I remember the pain of the past. It reverberates through every part of my being.

I hate to think of of the hidden pain that drives a child to attempt to take their life. I hurt to know that pain is in so many, so close to me. How do we as adults explain the overwhelming emotion? How do I equip my students and children to ask for help? How do I ensure their whispered cries are heard? How do we as adults teach our children to articulate the feelings, to give voice to the confusion inside?

Value

I had a conversation with some friends recently about values. Not like “This we believe…” values, but more like how do you see that others value you and how do you show others they have value.

It raises the eternal, internal question – what is my worth?

Is my value to others transactional? I matter to you simply because of what I can do for you?

I’d really like to believe that my value is intrinsic. Value tied simply to my humanity. Every member of the human race is worthy of respect.

Yet, so often some are marginalized. There are those who are ridiculed for the obvious; race, religion or sexuality. But, also those who are shown contempt for ignorance. For lacking expected skills. Or, for just being different.

Do we value others enough to look beyond what is visible and recognize there might be a void that’s been overlooked?

Do we value others enough to acknowledge the “elephants” in the room? I work in United States 4th largest city. It is a major hub for sex trafficking. My route to work every morning for years took me past prostitutes walking home or finishing up their nightly quota. I never bought gas in my neighborhood – unless it was early morning. In the evening, I would drive 15 min. to a neighboring suburb before I was willing to stand outside my car and fill it up.

The stories I read indicate many prostitutes were first sexually abused as children. Statistics say 1 in 5 girls will be sexually abused as children. The most common age for child sexual abuse to occur is 7 to 13 years. (National Center for Victims of Crime)

I’ll never forget the day my view of prostitution changed. It was fifth period, after lunch, and I was welcoming students into chemistry class. One of the girls talked about how she skipped lunch to make some money off a John across the street. My heart broke when I realized she put her worth at $20 for a quickie in a car. Her value seemed so much higher to me. Yet, for her that was a normal way of earning extra cash.

How do we show value? How do you communicate that sex isn’t just a strategy for quick cash or cheap entertainment? How do you teach that real respect doesn’t come from a pimp? Or even, how much you earn per trick. How do we break out of a middle/upper class bubble and actually address the pain of those living in the margins?

Self-worth, value, it’s all tied together. How do I show value to those who live in the margins of my life? The security guard who always says hi, the officer who directs traffic, the displaced who sell water asking for donations, or simply sit-sleeping under a bridge? Who do I value? How do I demonstrate value to them?

Father’s Day

Father’s Day brings mixed emotions. It reminds me of all the gray areas when I wish things could be just black and white, cut and dried with clear distinctions . I have a lot of great memories with my Dad; camping trips that were spent at the washateria because our tent had flooded again in the rain, buying sweatshirts at a discount store when the weather during travel was colder than expected. Dad was my hero, it seemed like he never got cold and could always explain how things worked. He was a man of integrity, acting the same in public and at home.

Yet, my hero had feet of lead. In his last year of life, he shared how he knew at least one of his sisters was molested by my grandfather. He shared how grateful he was that cycle was broken – my father never molested me. I wanted to ask about that other relative, the one who raped me. The one I tried to tell him about twenty years before. The one he encouraged me to just stay silent about because the abuse had ended. Did the cycle really change? He was right, in a way, the perpetrator changed, but abuse and silence remained.

I was stunned that day. Caught off guard and speechless. It was one of those gray areas. I mean, what do you say to a dying man? To your father who only has weeks to live? Do you really share the shortcomings, the regrets? I wanted his protection. Yet, I also want to live without regrets. How could I be the one to hold past failures up to a dying man? My father who I loved, who I was also so angry at. I chose that day to focus on the good, the memories that made me smile. Like how Dad coached my soccer team and said I was the best goalie ever – even when I couldn’t score a point to save my life.

This is the first Father’s Day without my Dad. I’m still finding my way in understanding how who he was shaped who I am today. Sorting the advice into good and bad, trying to find black and white. I can’t fathom that silence about abuse is right. Yet, remaining silent the last six months of his life seemed best to me. Really, all I’ve found is that life is mostly full of gray. Seldom are things all good or all bad. We recognize beauty more after seeing the horrors that can exist. Joy is even greater when it breaks through the storm clouds that surround us.