Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Smudged, Cracked or Shattered

"All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair."
~Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Damaged children.

As parents, we try our best to be what our kids need. At least, I think, the majority of us do. We make mistakes, say or do the wrong thing and then try to fix it. But we hope to never crack or shatter the people we love the most.

As I sit here this morning I'm taking a break from another day coping with a child fighting severe depression. It's been almost two years of major medical bills, doctors, and tears. This morning he won't get out of bed. I've tried everything including a phone call to his therapist who also tried everything.

I know he's had smudges and cracks in his life. He didn't handle the divorce of his parent's seven years ago well. He had some experiences in junior high that broke his confidence. And then an altercation with his father who justified it as a 'right of passage' that, two years later, remains what my son describes in therapy as one of his worst days.

He also has the genetic makeup to be prone to depression.

What everyone who works with him says is, "he's such a sweet kid." He's in a group therapy program and his best days are when he feels like he has helped someone else. He thanks me for driving him to every appointment, refilling every prescription,  attending every meeting. There is not one thing I do that he forgets to thank me for. He has the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met and that can sometimes add to his sadness.

He described the sadness once as "filling." As if some days he's so filled with sadness he can't hold anything else so he just has to sleep until it's less full. This is one of those days.

But yesterday, in our family meeting with his therapist, I found out that one of my son's favorite things is often our family dinners. He had told his group that it's not uncommon for us to sit for two hours talking about everything and anything, usually motivated by his chatty sister or funny step-father. We have one night a week where activities overlap and dinner is grab-and-go. There are a few nights a month where I am working and just my husband controls the meals. I don't like those nights. I feel like I'm missing out on something.

So the therapist was so impressed with our family dynamic he commented on it several times. Their step-dad and I have a very open and loving relationship with them so conversation is fun and easy.

But my kids haven't always had this dynamic.  When I was married to my ex-husband I worked many nights in an attempt to avoid that person. I tried not to work on nights he would be gone. Family dinners were rare and never relaxed. Eat and disburse was the scenario or they would eat a packed or picked up dinner at my workplace. At the time it was more about my sanity and protecting the kids from what was clearly a disfunctional relationship, not about enjoying each other's company.

We try our best and always think we should try harder. If, as a parent, you don't feel this way I'm guessing you are in a smooth spot (enjoy it while it lasts) or you just don't care enough to worry.

I know so many of you are dealing with your own parenting issues. I often hear about them and it never stops being a bit of a shock to know that everyone seems to have something. No matter how grand our social media persona is we all deal with our own, personal cracks. And just like my son in his group therapy, we should never have to feel alone while trying to glue the pieces back together.

So I guess my idea is to reach out to each other. Don't be afraid or ashamed to talk about the bad stuff as well as the good. You may not only find some comfort for yourself but you may, as my son so likes to do, help someone else in your journey.

"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof."
~Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mermaid Doll

"Dude, I don't want to talk about Lacey's prom shoes. And I'll tell you why: I have this thing that makes me really uninterested in prom shoes. It's called a penis."
~John Green, Paper Towns

So obviously everyone with the above appendage is not unappreciative of prom shoes so don't think that is what this blog is about.

I recently saw a father who posted a picture of his son picking out a lovely mermaid doll get slammed by severe Christian conservatives for letting his child do such an obviously life-threatening and morally apprehensible act.

A mermaid doll. He is five.

It made me think of Ethan when he was little. The playgroup we were in was mostly girls and it never failed that Ethan would hit the dress-up trunk and go for the heels, taffeta and beads. When visiting his cousin he loved her barbies and Polly Pockets so much those things became his Christmas list. He still had a dinosaur fetish and eventual obsession with Rescue Heroes but he could get lost in the make-believe of playing, doing, and being whatever he wanted.

I completely supported him.  The way I convinced his ultra-conservative father to lighten up was by reminding him that we were in the process of adopting a girl so these toys would be passed on when Ethan grew out of them.

My daughter was never against playing with a truck or race car. And even though Drew was all about things with wheels he was also (I thought) my future Broadway star. He could belt out any show tune like Shirley Temple with an adorable smile and twinkle in his eye.

I grew up playing with matchbox cars and Star Wars figures. I did want to be a boy, though. All of my friends early on were boys so if you couldn't find me I was probably at the top of a tree or in the creek letting crayfish pinch my fingers and hang there to impress my guy friends and freak out any girls that might have joined us.

The fact that certain narrow-minded people think gender confusion is "caused" by a thing or a way someone is raised is pathetic, dangerous, and sad. Kids figure out who they are without any help from us. The best thing we can do is give them a full toolbox of their choosing to express themselves. Punishing them for self-discovery is telling them that who they are is wrong. Fine if you're seeing psychotic, animal maiming tendencies but not okay if your five-year-old boy wants the pretty mermaid doll.

Ethan grew out of his love of pearls and heals and now loves soccer and video games. But even if he didn't, even if he loved all those things and still had a need for pretty prom shoes, that would be okay. People shouldn't be put in a box with a label and instructions like a mermaid doll. Kids and even adults should be more like legos, ready to be created and recreated whenever necessary.

There are no directions to be followed. Just ideas, passions, passing fads, obsessions, and discovery of who we are and who we want to be.

Be proud of that person no matter what narrow mind tells you otherwise. They are the ones to feel sorry for. Think of how many fabulously creative, beautiful, talented and smart individuals they will never have the honor of getting to know.

That's what happens when you live in a box. Those twist ties are a bitch as well.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Take Back the Power

"You are the sky. Everything else - it's just the weather."
~Pema Chodron

I recently heard a woman discussing her failing marriage say, "I don't like who he has made me become." That struck a loud chord inside of me.

I don't like who HE has made ME become.

Most of us have someone in our lives who bring out what I will call our worst selves. Personally, I've been in this battle for many years now. Dealing with someone who is supposed to be co-parenting but barely has the time for his children and won't even communicate about basic questions can cause me to fight my own worst self.

But I'm trying to be more enlightened in an attempt to stop always having a twisted feeling in my stomach and a need to once again reason with someone who just will never see it.

I can change me.

As much as I see the benefits of communication, scheduling, being reliable and even available, I can't make someone else see that if they don't want to. I can't make someone be a better parent let alone a better person. All I can do is what I already do. Take care of myself and my family.

To stop giving someone else the power to constantly disappoint you or hurt you may be impossible in its entirety. If it's their operating mode they will find a way. But to accept that it is who they are and there is nothing you can do about it at least puts some power back in your hands. It's not you, it's them.

We can feel sorry for them. In my case for the inability to see how he has made his children feel and the glimpse into a relationship that will forever be minimal at best. But I will try so very hard to no longer make that my problem or my disappointment. My kids have a very nice life provided by myself and their very loving step-dad. If and when, on the rare occasion, they decide to visit their father and it isn't inconvenient for him I will look at it as a much-earned break.

And maybe, if I take back the power, I'll be able to say goodbye to that person I don't always like so much. The one with the twisted stomach and the sharp tongue.

I can change me.

"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."
~Wayne Dyer

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Music Therapy

"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain."
~Bob Marley

We all have a soundtrack of our lives. Certain songs will take us to a moment, a memory, or a feeling. They can randomly come up during an iPod shuffle mode or take us by surprise in the produce department at the grocery store.

We turn to music to dance, to sing, or to mourn. We dissect lyrics and attach them to our current state of mind. We look at favorite artists or bands as old friends who just seem to "get" us.

For some, music is a life force. Their existence depends on it. For others, it's simply an occasional presence that can be enjoyable.

I absolutely depend on music to get me through a workout, motivate me to conquer a project, keep me occupied during long weekly drives or help my tears flow when all I need is a good cry to move on. I can't create it like my husband can except in belting out show tunes when alone. But I feel it. I appreciate what it gives to me.

So for the next random amount of time I'm going to periodically share music that has done one of the above things and I invite you to share as well. We may not have the same taste but you never know what will speak to you and why. Maybe we'll come across our next best therapy song.

Maybe we'll find something else that makes our hearts sing, cry, or conquer.

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."
~Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday, April 4, 2016

Choose Wisely

"Your love story, I don't want to give away the ending, but both you and your lover die."
~Jarod Kintz, Love quotes for the ages. Specifically ages 18-81

What does true love look like?

That was a question I found myself searching for in my failed first marriage. I knew I didn't have it but did anyone else really have it either?

I had a group of eight wonderful women who helped me answer that question. We would meet once a month for a girl's night. My then-husband believed we just bad-mouthed our spouses and so I was being corrupted. But in so many ways the opposite was true. Yes, we weren't all in marital bliss but some of us, as I like to say, chose wisely the first time in legal bondage.

We went to New Jersey for a girl's weekend in early fall eight years ago and what burned in my memory was how each women's homecoming played out. Some simply walked to their door but a few others had a husband and children running out, excited to see them and hear about their weekend, exchanging stories of Dad/kid time adventures.

Then I went home.

My husband was angry and bitter that I had been gone. My kids were sad and relieved that I was back. There were no fun stories and excited chatter. There was only tension and blame. Something was wrong with my picture.

So I started to watch couples, really pay attention to body language and actual language. How do they talk about each other? Do they touch often? Do they smile politely when they share a gaze or does their whole face light up?

I began to see, whether in new relationships or ones spanning decades, what real love looks like. It was possibly the farthest thing from what I had been experiencing for an entire marriage.

I have so many people in my life searching for what they didn't have the first time around. They are much pickier and more selective, being, of course, older and wiser, with a probable laundry list (or novel) about what they want and why. Absolutely no relationship is perfect. There will always be occasional issues, hiccups, pet-peeves, and mistakes. But if you truly love someone that will shine through even during the times you want to use them as a speed bump (only in your mind of course).

If you are one still searching for your perfect mental speed bump take it slow, know your worth, and never settle. Make sure it's full of passion, respect, and most of all, fun. Find that person that makes you swoon with desire but can also make you laugh so hard you pee a little. Once you find him or her you'll know it was worth the wait.

Choose wisely.

"Love is like a virus. It can happen to anybody at any time."
~Maya Angelou