Washed Up, But Wiser For The Wear

washed up

Not living in an ongoing state of fight or flight was not only unfamiliar to the family, it was downright unnerving. “It feels quite unsettling to at long last have things settling down.”, was exactly what the woman had told her therapist during their last session. “The kids seem to be doing better, and so does my husband. He is beginning to relax and acting more like the guy I fell in love with. They are all doing well in their personal areas of life. Happy, even.” The woman teared up as she spoke, and the therapist sat with her in the room as it filled with mixed emotions. The woman dabbed her eyes with a tissue while joking about the advertising lies of waterproof mascara. The therapist stayed in the moment with the woman before gently asking, “And how do you feel watching them all come back together? You have worked hard to get them here.” The woman looked directly into the eyes of a person she had come to trust with her truest self. “I feel exhausted, like I’ve been fighting a stormy sea for most of my life, barely coming up for air before the next angry wave pushed me back under the water. All I have ever known, for over forty years, is to keep fighting; just survive. I spent the last twenty years making sure these three other people would be okay, too; that we would all be okay together.” The woman was speaking as tears spilled out of her eyes trickling salty drops down her face, into her mouth and lap. She continued, “It feels like I finally got us all to shore, out of the stormy waters. Now I’m watching them find their land legs. They have started building their own sand castles, and are beginning to feel joy.” The woman cried openly now, dabbing her wet face with a tissue. “Where are you on the shore?”, the therapist inquired with a compassionate demeanor. “I’m laying in the surf, too exhausted to move, searching for a bottle of rum.”, the woman responded. She was still now, her tears slowing down, breathing the way a small child calms after a burst of upsetting emotions. They sat silently together in the room, both knowing the endless trail of trauma the woman had endured. It was no surprise to the therapist, or the woman, a time of recovery was overdue. The woman went on to share, “I had an epiphany of sorts this past week. I realized I’m worried about what is next, what do I need to handle, or what should I be doing to give back to others; what is my next project?” Her emotions were swelling once again, she continued; “Then, I realized I’m the fucking project! Me! It’s time to help myself!” The woman sat back into the couch, a bit more relaxed once her declaration of self-importance had been declared. The therapist smiled as she stated with care and compassion, “Yeah, you’re kind of important!” She was proud of the woman, and the progress she had made in their time together. She knew the woman had spent a lifetime of being abused, used, taken for granted, and given all she had to those she loved and cared for. The woman was beginning to love herself enough to demand the time to care for herself. She had lost herself in the battle to save everyone else. It was time to find out how she had changed as a result of all she had endured. At long last, it seemed to be a season of rest and recuperation for her ragged soul. It was time; time to find out who she truly was, make peace with her past, and embrace who she was destined to be.

For the first time in her life, the woman began to believe what she had previously only dared to hope for; her story would have a happily ever after, after all.

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Her Child Stood Out in the Field, but Was Not Outstanding; and it Was Okay.

41_one of these things is not like the other..

The woman stood in the field, her hair swirling around her head from the wind as she snuggled deeper into the soft warmth of her sweatshirt. Clouds intermittently covered the sun, blocking its warming rays. Her husband stood beside her, both of their eyes fixed on the same, small person clad in a purple sweatshirt amidst a field of her schoolmates. It was the end of the year field day; a day of various athletic games set up at different sections of the school grounds for friendly competition among the students. Sports were not what the little girl excelled at. The couple stood watching their child struggle to participate while showing obvious signs of emotional distress over knowing she was not performing at the same level of most of her peers. Of course, there were other children in the crowd who were not athletically inclined, but it did not seem to affect them in the same manner, or maybe it was just because they knew their child so well. The first event had been one the woman would not have done well at either; throwing small balls through various sized shapes in a large canvass hung a few feet away from the allotted standing points. The little girl’s first attempt fell well short of the canvass and she was immediately visibly discouraged. The woman felt her husband tense up beside her as he stepped forward a bit and began to offer well-intended verbal coaching to his daughter. It was more difficult for the man to watch his daughter struggle as he had been a natural athlete, and even a coach at one time. The woman gently grabbed his arm, “Let her be, babe. She has to do her own thing. We just need to cheer her on.” The man relaxed, knowing his wife was right. He took a deep breath and silenced his previous instinct. He did not get to experience such events often, and once again he marveled at how much his wife did for their child. He made a mental note to tell her so once they were alone.

The little girl had special needs, something he had struggled immensely with accepting at one point in their life. She was high-functioning and by all appearances, a typical, and beautiful child. She was more advanced than most people, adults included, the man knew. In some ways, her gifts made her struggles difficult for the man and woman to know how to best parent the little girl. The woman had recently shared how much she desired a break from it all, she was just exhausted from the never-ending ups and downs of such a high intellect, a strong will, and  low functioning emotional self-control. The woman was in her mid-forties and still learning to regulate her emotional self. Nobody had taught her the many things she worked so hard to teach their daughter. The man understood how draining it was for the woman, as he felt it during his time at home, too, even though more limited than his wife’s. Whenever he thought of the parents he and his wife had as children, he held a slight resentment against them for their not making effort to be better parents like he and his wife worked so hard to do. The woman always reminded him she used to feel the same way, but she finally realized they did not know how to be any better than they were. Of course, the man and woman knew many ways to be better as parents, and God still thought it would be swell to send them a child with a completely atypical development. They treasured the gift she was, although often overwhelmed and left feeling inept as well.

The couple moved through the differing activity stations set up around the field, cheering on the children alongside the other parents, and teachers. “Oh, no!”, the woman and man shared the same thought as they approached a mini-high-jump bar and mat. This was not going to be pretty. The event quickly divided the athletic and non-athletic children in the little girl’s group. The high-school volunteer running the event made the division more pronounced as she continually inched up the jump bar. The only way to clear the bar was to hurl one’s upper body over it first, basically diving into the mat. The man and woman stared as their daughter ran to the bar, suddenly stopping each time, performing some type of Irish jig foot moves, finally attempting to step over the bar, and knocking it down. Every single time. It was painful to watch. The final two competitors were a little boy with an obviously bright future on the track and field team, and a little girl highly skilled at gymnastics who was doing front jump rolls and tucks over the bar. She won that event with quite an impressive flip. The couple watched the little girl hang her head after each turn, knowing she felt embarrassed. The woman listened to the athletic kids in line, cringing at the fear of one of them mocking her little girl. It was an eye opening moment for the woman. She realized she was not upset her daughter struggled athletically, the woman herself had never been great at traditional sports, and her daughter was a beautiful dancer, and artistically creative to no end. It was not about disappointment in her skill level, it was the fear of her daughter not only being perceived as different, but being mocked because of it. The little girl had been bullied in the past, being timid and socially challenged had made her a target. The bullying had begun with another little girl openly mocking the woman’s daughter for not being as fast of a runner as the other children. It increased from that point when her daughter did not stand up for herself. She was not as adept on the playground as the other children, and as a result often played alone during recess; ever since she attended pre-school. The woman used to cry when she would pull up to the school and see her tiny girl sitting alone, safely away from the other children. She knew her daughter struggled to make eye-contact, or to verbally interact with people she does not know well. The little girl was in her sixth year of speech therapy and had come a long way from not being able to be understood by others, yet she still struggled to communicate with her own peers. As field day ended, the woman and man hugged their little girl goodbye. They all had tears in their eyes as they parted. The little girl always had tears when she had to say goodbye to the woman. The parents were teary knowing their little girl always struggled to part with her mother, while fighting internally to keep her sadness and tears hidden so as not to embarrass herself in public. It was also hard for the couple to walk away leaving her playing alone on the hopscotch court, with a crowd of happy children playing together behind her. The woman felt sad, as she always was by this familiar scene, yet grateful her husband was with her to share in the experience and better understand her role in their life.

The woman thought about how it is so easy for parents to watch their children excel at things. She turned to her husband as they walked exclaiming, “We take pictures of when they win a trophy, videos and action shots of their accomplishments and life-skills, but we hide away their struggles. I know some parents do this out of their own ego, they believe their children are a representation of them and therefore each accomplishment, or failure, is reflective of who they are. I have always been afraid of doing that to the kids.” The man listened, leaning closer to her as they walked. “I just realized how much I don’t do that at all.”, she continued. “I only want to protect her from being made fun of, even though I know we can’t protect her at all, really. WE know she can’t swing, and is terrified of the kids who are running around among one another like maniacs, and that’s why  she hangs out alone on the playground. WE also know she can already create art that should be hanging up for sale in some trendy coffeehouse!” The woman began to cry.

She knew what it felt like to be judged by others, to be hurt and wounded for being different. She had struggled most of her life with problems invisible to most outside of her intimate world. Invisible diseases, invisible disorders, invisible abuse; she knew it all too well. Looking typical on the outside, beautiful even, led people to make many assumptions which were often painfully far from reality. The woman knew the term High Functioning was merely social code for: “We know you can keep it together since you often do, so that is expected of you. Please hide the messy and unpleasant parts of yourself.”

The woman thought perhaps her child was not a reflection of herself as a parent as she had feared, but rather a reflection of herself as a child. A painful reminder of being a troubled, different, little girl who did not have anyone to guide her. Also, a reflection of the man as a little boy. Two, once vulnerable, wounded children who had deserved better than they got, somehow found one another as adults and created this amazing little girl. Of course she had special needs, the most special people do.

The woman smiled through her tears as she realized what a gift it all was. Even on the days it felt like a burden to carry, it was an honor bestowed upon her and her husband.  An opportunity to teach a child it was not only okay to be different, but to celebrate what makes us each unique. A chance to teach a future adult, some days we are out of our element. We struggle, cheer one another on, and do the best we are capable of doing without feeling bad about ourselves. Other days, we find ourselves in a place where what makes us special is exactly what makes us shine.

 

 

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Homework Hell and All That Follows

 

dinner

She sat at the table holding her head in her hands while taking deep breaths. Some days were easier than others, but the difficult days felt like endless torture. Homework time is not for the weak. The woman was not certain which she hated more; the tears falling from her daughter’s face as a manipulative form of defensive protest, or the pile of eraser shavings all over the table and floor from the mistakes made due to her eyes being clogged up by water and rage. She stared at the tiny human she had once prayed to God for, and whom she now prayed daily for God to protect. The woman decided she should pray for God to protect the tiny child in the moment. She knew better than to pray for patience or God would extend the shared misery so she could learn from the struggle. No thank you, she thought. Please, just end this earthly hell. Amen.

Once homework hell came to an end, the child began happily playing with her choice toys of the day, as children should be permitted to do. The woman made certain everything that came out of the child’s backpack made it either back into the backpack, or onto the appropriate pile on her messy desktop. She laughed at the irony of the save the earth flyers and wondered how many origami trees she could create from the overflowing file of memos. Now it was onto the next hurdle of the evening; dinner. The woman loved to cook, and bake. At least she thought she had enjoyed them at some point during life. Now cooking a gourmet meal meant using all the pots and pans and creating an even bigger pile of dishes to wash. She had a dishwasher, but as a spoiled first-world woman, she begrudged the loading and unloading of it. The fact that she felt such an annoyance over privilege, made her loathe herself. She pledged to send more money to help woman in underdeveloped countries have wells drilled in their villages. Stifling her angst over preparing dinner and cleaning dishes, the woman began preparing a meal for her child. Her husband would not be home until later and she would have another meal prepared for him. She thought of her crock-pot and how much she preferred the days she utilized it. Her crock-pot was one of her best friends, although she did not offer that information to many others. As the woman was preparing dinner, emptying the dishwasher to free it up for the new dirty dishes being created, attempting any other small tasks she could add into the mix such as switching laundry, or adding to the grocery list, the thing every parent dreads occurred; her child asked her to play.

The woman bristled and took a deep breath. Children have a knack for asking you to play with them with worse timing than an inexperienced waiter who interrupts you with food in your mouth. She would love to play with her child. It was a blessing to have a child who wanted to play with her, who was asking for time shared with Mommy; she knew this. However, Mommy already had seven plates spinning in the air and was in no healthy emotional place to be performing voiceovers for dolls, or stuffed animals. The woman looked at the tiny, hopeful, child, knowing the disappointment which would consume her if she was denied playtime. She told the child to let her finish up her tasks and they would play once she had eaten her dinner. The dinner she was in the midst of preparing in an effort to avoid the common drop in blood sugar which resulted in an hangry and emotionally unstable child.

The child ate her dinner while planning their play activity aloud between bites of her food. The woman offered to play a board game, color in any of the thousands of coloring books they had somehow accrued, or even get out the dreaded play dough. None of that satisfied the small child. It never did. Children only want to perform such activities when they feel like it, they do not really care what you feel like doing. The woman knew this and took a deep breath as her child informed her they would be playing My Little Ponies, and her mother could choose which three she wanted to be. The woman barely had it within herself to complete her own thoughts and sentences, let alone three different personalities of Ponies, Unicorns, Pegasi, or Alicorns. She agreed to be one personality and the child was satisfied. The woman figured the child had negotiated well by demanding the role of three characters while knowing her mother did not have enough functioning brain cells to commit to more than one. “Well played, small one”, she thought. The woman cleared the dinner dishes and kept good on her promise to engage in child play. She wondered why it was so difficult to engage sometimes. These are the moments I am supposed to be cherishing. There are woman out in the world who would give anything to play on the floor with their child, why is it such a struggle? Of course, in these moments it was easy to be overcome with guilt for being a human being with an overloaded plate of responsibility, who quickly dismisses the amazing amount of play and effort the woman constantly does invest in her child. Maybe she was not actually a bad mother, maybe she was a justifiably tired woman. She could not remember her own mother, or father, getting down on the floor to play with her as a young girl. The woman did not remember her own parents taking deep breaths, or using verbal communication in place of corporal punishment. Her generation was giving more time and attention to their children than any of them had ever dared hope for; it made no sense how easy it was to fall into a pattern of feeling like it was still not enough. The woman decided to use the playtime as a bartering tool and informed the young child she would play the part of two characters if the child promised to get ready for bed in a timely and non-dramatic manner. The child eyed up her mother with the knowing squint of negotiating before deciding to take the deal. They shook on it and pinky-promised, both feeling satisfied.

The woman did her best to keep up her end of the barter, even using the appropriate accents and mannerisms for the characters she was assigned. She truly did enjoy the time with her child. She really did love being a mother. The woman thought to herself how nobody ever felt safe enough to be honest about the never-ending internal dilemma of having children. Motherhood is a constant internal struggle of fear and anxiety over anything negative happening to your children, giving yourself to them so completely that you would literally die for them; and also wanting them to leave you the hell alone. Just for a minute, to pee in peace.

 

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Coq Au Vin

She was waiting for him as she did most weeknights. He worked long, laborious hours at his job, but rushed home to her, and their child, each night. She did her best to create a refuge for him to come home to,  a reprieve from the daily demands of the workforce. Her days were not exciting, nor were they often stimulating beyond the latest fiction novel she was reading, or dramatic series she was watching on Netflix. The woman once had  enormous dreams of achieving many great things, but somehow reality had taken over and become an endless road trip of detours. She would watch the travel channel while folding laundry, imagining the young woman she had once been traveling in place of the television hosts. Perhaps she could have seen more of the world, learned another language, or participated in a romantic love affair so arduous common language was unnecessary. Of course, she always reminded herself she would have likely been one of the tragic young women who end up on the evening news as a missing person. This helped ease the pain of her imagined nostalgia.

She was not unhappy, she had experienced decades of what being unhappy felt like and was decidedly content overall. Compared to the many terrible and tumultuous years the woman had endured, she felt satisfied and grateful for her current life. Something was missing, though. She had everything she wanted, but for the lingering effects of the years gone by which had almost destroyed her and the ones she loved most. She needed excitement, wanted adventure, but it was almost bedtime for her child. A storybook would have to do. She tucked in her child, read the book, sang the song, said the prayers, and turned out the lights after a seemingly endless exchange of, “I love you”, and “Goodnight”. She assured the child Daddy would come in a give goodnight kisses as soon as he returned while she closed the door.

Staring at nothing in particular, she stood at the stove sautéing a pan of the latest chicken dish. She thought of a recipe she had read online earlier while researching new ways to prepare chicken that she had not already tried over two decades. Coq Au Vin, a recipe for Rooster, or Cock, with a red wine sauce. Bringing her own glass of wine to her lips, she laughed. Perhaps if she would pour the wine into recipes in place of herself, she would be able to absolve what had become a daily habit. The years of stress and giving everything she had to keep her family from absolute disrepair had taken a toll on the woman. With little to no time to herself for over twenty years, she had learned to find solace and calm in her nightly ritual. It began as a coping mechanism to get her through the night hours of dinner, homework, and the return of a spouse who had not wanted to come home for a few years. She did not blame him for those years, she had not wanted to be there either. Yet, here they were. Her eyes teared up as she thought of all they had been through, of how happy she was now, and she took another sip. She decided tonight the wine would do for her what is intended for the chicken in the recipe; it would help spice things up and bring a rich flavor to the evening. If she wanted romance, she would have to create it, just like a recipe. Her thoughts were stirring now, her skin prickling with goosebumps while the chicken sizzled in the pan before her. Swallowing the last sip in her glass, the woman heard his key turning in the lock. She smoothed her chestnut hair, and turned the heat on the stove to simmer. Her husband entered the room, and she rushed into his arms, embracing him tightly as she kissed his neck. He was salty from work, and yet still sweet. He had no idea what she was cooking up, but as he wrapped his arms around her, he was certain he would savor it.

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