Saturday, November 1, 2014

Kintsugi

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintsugi - The art of fixing broken pottery with gold.


At some point in your life, no matter what has happened to you, you have to make a choice. The choice is to either wallow in the past and accept it as your fate, or to fight against it, to put the pieces back together and rise up. To heal yourself.

Throughout my life, I've been beaten down and, at the bottom of it all, had to learn that the only person who could or would ever save me, was me. It started with my physically, mentally, and verbally abusive mother, and morphed and changed and moved through a rapist, some really screwed up dating relationships, several stalkers, and finally ended for me a few years ago when I decided that I would never be a victim again.

My mother is a really interesting person. She spent years breaking me down, telling me how ugly, stupid, clumsy, unloveable, etc. that I am, being unpredictably physically violent, and treating my sisters and I very differently. Whereas I was the scapegoat for pretty much everything, they mostly got off unscathed and were treated... better. It's not like they didn't feel any of the effects of her insanity, it was just really lop-sided. Let's just say that one of us got books about ponies and one of us got an actual pony, one of us got books about princesses, and one of us got the shopping trips to buy a princess' wardrobe, etc.

The other half of this coin though was that my mother was quick to take all the credit for anything good any of us did. For me, I was always great in school. I made top grades, I was selected for special academic programs, I was creative and I cared about other kids... even if I had a hard time figuring out the right ways to show it. (When you get beaten till you're hysterical and can't breathe anymore, and then told, "I love you so much and I only do this to make you a better person" in the same half hour, it's pretty confusing for most people, let alone a small child.) My mother would praise me publicly and act like the mother of the year, while completely destroying me privately. I was terrified of her and I wanted to please her more than anything. Being in the light of her praise in public was amazing, hitting the depths of her depravity in private was hell.

After I left home, being used to this roller-coaster, thinking that it was what love looked like, led me to seek out other people who would do the same things to me, and I found them. Over and over again. I had to relive that childhood story until I finally figured out the lesson. As a kid, I couldn't escape. As an adult, I can. As an adult, I can plan, and work, and change, and most importantly, get out. I can protect the people I love from these kinds of unhealthy situations, and I do not have to perpetuate it. I can teach my child how to avoid these situations as well. So he can start out ahead and not spend years wandering the proverbial desert of victimhood.

I used to think that whatever I deserved would come to me, whether that was praise or punishment, and that I had no control over it. When I realized that if I wanted something other than what I had or was getting, I could ask for it and work for it and make it happen and not only that I could, but that I should and really even had to, that was an amazing moment.

Something that helps me stay on track is that I've gone back through and changed the stories I tell myself about my past. When I was younger I tried to figure out what I could've done to deserve what my mother did to me. Now, I know that it wasn't my fault. My mother is just a sick person. I'm not her victim anymore, I have pity for her and I have realized that she has a mental illness that she won't treat because it's fooled her into thinking that every single person around her is wrong instead of realizing that when everyone closest to you says the same thing about you it probably means it's at least partially true. She doesn't have a relationship with me or my son because I don't want or have to subject us to her abuse. Just because someone is related to you by blood doesn't necessarily mean you owe them something. Family is as family does.

In the past, I looked at being a victim of rape as someone stealing my agency and breaking my soul. Now, I look at it as a fact, it was a thing that happened and it's over now, I came away from it and healed, I am a stronger person now, and where first, I only survived and I had anxiety and nightmares and things, now I thrive and live, and know that I am much much more than this thing that happened to me.

As a result of my past, I am teaching my son how to be a good man and good person. I'm teaching him how to care for the people around him and to respect boundaries and be empathetic. As a result of my past, I take action through volunteering and donating in my community to help other people find their way out of victimhood to survivorship and to living and thriving.

In the past, I looked at my bad relationships and thought, 'why do I get all the screwed up people'? Now, I know, that there was a lot I needed to change about myself so that I could have a healthy relationship, and now that I've done the work and keep doing the work, I have one. A healthy relationship is about two people recognizing their flaws and their strengths and coming together to combine those things to make a whole that is greater than the sum. We heal each other and challenge each other, and work together in a way that I've never experienced before. It's amazing what you can do once you decide not to hold onto outdated ideas of who you are and you become willing to change and grow. Once you pick up your broken pieces and seal them together with gold.

Kintsugi.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The halcyon days of the last summer before...

Kindergarten.

I think I'm more worried about it than my child is. He's excited about going to a new school... with STAIRS! and BIG KIDS! at it.

We toured the school he'll be going to and met the three kindergarten teachers, one of whom will be ours. They all had fish and frogs, and baby ducks and all kinds of things going on and the kids all seemed to be happy and bright and engaged. I know that my kiddo is socially adept and will be fine after whatever adjustment period he needs. Once he makes a new friend, and it'll only take one, he'll be happy. It's me I'm worried about.

New schedule: he'll have to be at school every morning at 730a, which means, we'll have to leave the house by 7a. Ugh. We normally roll in between 9-10a these days. That'll be... hard. BUT, on the plus side, we'll both get out of work/ school earlier too, so the timing will work out and maybe we'll get more quality time. We'll see.

No flexible attendance: if I want to take him out to watch a movie or do something fun on a school day (e.g. for his birthday or something), we'll need an excuse and/or we'll get in trouble and that's no good.

New teachers and school structure to learn: we're finally mostly used to our current school and how they don't communicate well, (once you understand the fail points, it's easier to bypass them and get what you need). This will be all new, hopefully better, but I guess we'll know when we get there.

PTA / Other parents: At the daycare, it's kind of easy to avoid the other parents if you want to. (Not that I want to, I'm just an awkward sort of person.) There's not been competition or anything weird like that so far, but now we're entering a different arena where stay at home mommies come into play with us working mommies so I'm bizarrely anxious about running into helicopter or tiger moms, because I'm not one of those.

I just want to spend as much time as possible with my little guy before everything changes. In my head I know that having a child is a never ending experience of teaching and learning and letting go, and accepting the whole way through. It's just that my heart always wants to hold on to the best parts of each stage in our lives together and sometimes, it's harder to let go than I think it'll be and I'm a little less graceful about it than I wish I were. I guess we'll see how it goes. :)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The b- word, no, the other one.

I guess I never thought it would be someone from my own family who would trot out this special label for my son, but, of course, I should've known. Other people are too polite to say what some of the members of my family have no qualms about broadcasting or throwing in my face.

My child's father and I were not married when my child was conceived. We were at the end of a tortured relationship wherein one would love and the other would act indifferently, and then the positions would reverse, like a seesaw in hell. It was a "one last time" fall into momentary comfort that began our son and finally ended our relationship. My child's father and I were friends who chatted every day for hours, who hung out several days a week, we were lovers, and we were each other's most gifted tormentors, each finding ways to "accidentally" hurt the other, or on purpose, or for whatever reasons we did all the stupid things we did to each other, it's like we were made for causing each other pain and suffering, healing each other over and over again just enough to have something to tear down.

I knew that I did not want to marry my child's father, and I knew that he did not want to marry me. I still chose to have our son and I knew that with that decision inevitably came the final abortion of the relationship. I accepted that loss as part of the price of becoming a mother. Accepting the loss and the gain didn't make it an easy choice to live with. I still had to figure out how to live without the person who had been my daily regular contact - the person who would send me silly links to brighten my day, listen/read my thoughts, make playlists for me, who told me I was his "Natalie Portman in Garden State", the person who had been my most constant companion, and who took almost all of our mutual friends with him. I had to learn how to say goodbye to every way I'd always dealt with problems, goodbye to the girl I was, and accept the wreck of my body and mind from the hormones and the baby. All of that was very hard. I had a lot of grieving to do and I made a lot of mistakes during that time.

In these days, so many people are born out of wedlock it shouldn't matter what relationship their parents had when they were conceived or born. (Man, even the word "wedlock" gives me the skeeviest feeling when I say or write it - it sounds like a sprung trap.) Maybe I feel weird about marriage because I was so hurt by all the people who, asked me about my "proud husband" or whether my "husband's excited to be a daddy" and waited expectantly for me to gush about this missing man, and instead were rewarded with, "Oh, I'm not married, but I'm really excited about being a mother," or "Well, he's kind of out of the picture, but my parents are excited to be grandparents",etc. Reactions like the "ohhhh" of coming to different conclusions about who I am because of my non-married state, the "I'm sorry" of barely masked curiosity dipped in rotten pity, the hundred other vague and slightly awful thoroughly awkward reactions I inspired just by being an unmarried, obviously pregnant, woman in a society that venerates marriage, likes to pretend that long-term relationships don't involve sex, and that extra-marital copulation never occurs except in movies.

My child exists in a world where he has two biological parents, a step-mother, and my boyfriend who basically acts as a step-father. He has more involved immediately relatable parental figures in his life than most kids born in wedlock do, and yet, he gets this stupid stigma because we didn't do things in a traditional way. Children whose parents got married first and had kids, and then later realized they were utterly unsuited for each other will never have to deal with the kinds of things my son, whose parents both cleverly realized their unsuitability for each other before his birth, does.

I've been ruminating over why I was so offended by the word "bastard". I can't deny that his father and I weren't married, and I wouldn't ever, so it's a true statement if you take it without connotation or judgment. My son has been legally claimed by his father so it's not like he's fatherless. The fact that we weren't married and will never be, shouldn't matter to anyone. It's not like we're in some royal dynasty and there's a question of who will rule the people of our fair country. Part of it was the tone in which the word was used, the way this blood relation of mine chose to try to make my lack of being married seem like a failure when really it's a success story, how they tried to paint my beautiful, wonderful, smart little boy, a child, as a sin and a crime against people who are married, as less than someone who was born to parents who were married. I think that's what did it, really. It was the insinuation of "less than" about MY child, that made me want to rip this idiot's tongue out through one their eyeballs. I didn't though. I laughed at this insensitive asinine relation and called them out for being a bully of small children. This caused other people to laugh at them as well and finally stopped the flame war.

Honestly, why would any grown person choose to publicly blast out insults against a child? It speaks more of this person's character than it does of mine or my child's.

I worry about my child, and I know I'll have to explain people like this relation to him at some point. I'll have to explain the "b" word and I'll have to talk with him about how to react to bullies. In the interim, I'm just shielding him from this kind of garbage and hoping that it's a long time before he encounters any of it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Alpha Beta Omega, whatever...

I'm just a parent.

There are all these different articles and books about Tiger Moms and Dolphin or Jellyfish Moms, Helicopter Parents, Alpha, Beta, and even Omega parents these days, it's just confusing.

I'm something of all these things at times. I love to read all about different styles and ways of being and behaving and learning and growing. I always have. The more things I've read, the more ideas I have and the better the toolkit I have to choose my tools from.

I don't know why people always seem to be looking for labels for each other and themselves.

I want to be authoritarian when it matters. I want to bend when it matters. I want my child to be exposed to many different experiences, and I want him to learn how to commit to something and stick to it, to practice at something until he's good at it, even if it's unpleasant for both of us in the interim. I want my child to be able to walk away from something that's just not the right fit for him, and I want him to be able to judge for himself and choose for himself what he would like to do and who he would like to be.

I just want to be the best parent for him that I can be. Things that will work for my son, may not work for him coming from another parent or work for me towards another child, and that's why, though I'm happy to tell people what I do, and give my reasons, sometimes whether I'm asked or not (d'oh!), I don't try to judge or enforce my ways as best. See, I don't know your kid that well, and you don't know mine that well, and I'll never be close enough to another parent (except my cohabiting one) to know what-all goes on in your home or what-all has happened in your history to make you who and how you are.

It's not my place to give you a label or to accept a label, and I don't think any one of us needs one. If you want one, that's cool though, more power to you. :)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dare NOT to Compare

I never want to get caught in the trap of comparing my child to someone else’s. I mean, I’m his mother and I already know that he’s smart, cute, talented, friendly, and pretty much every good thing you could name. I also know that he’s stubborn and has a hard time controlling his impulses and a lot of other thing that aren’t necessarily good or bad, but that can be difficult at times. He’s a wonderful kid, but he’s not perfect, and I’d be suspicious if he were. :D!

My kid will be going into kindergarten in the fall. He can’t read yet, but he knows all his numbers and letters and the sounds the letters make and all kinds of things. He recognizes symbols and can write his letters and numbers as well as you’d expect a little kid to be able to. I’m cool with that. I know that he hasn’t seen the true imperative need to be able to read for himself yet and that he loves to be read to, partially because it’s easy to be read to and requires only asking, and partially because it’s comforting to sit on or near people you love and have them unlock a story for you. It’s a gift from them to you and he loves the closeness. A long book being read to you can also prolong the bedtime ritual and if there’s anything he hates, it’s bedtime. Did I mention that he’s a smart kid?

He’s also a kid who has two homes, four parental figures, and multiple grandparent figures, uncles, aunts, cousins, and all his parental figures’ friends, and we are all connected and not-connected in very specific ways. He can keep us all straight in his mind, two whole families and friend groups, and he knows how to relate to all of us in ways that make sense.

This is a child whose emotional maturity is vastly beyond that of his peers in some ways. This is a child whose ability to blend into and absorb human situations is advanced. Yes, he has to be reminded at times to imagine himself in someone else’s shoes, and no, he doesn’t have all the answers or always act appropriately for a situation, but he’s thoughtful, he asks hard questions, and he’s emotionally expressive.

As far as I’m concerned, I don’t need to compare him to other children. He might not know all his states and capitols yet, and he might not quite be able to read yet, but he’s brilliant with other people, he’s great at physical activities, I can tell that he’s on his way to accomplishing those classroom milestones and that he’s fine and happy. I’m not going to rush him or put pressure on him because there’s just no need.

With two different households come two different paths. In our house, we read and play word games, we play board games, we do puzzles, we talk about strategy and social situations, we do science experiments and art, we cook, we play and explore outside, and we play inside with computers. We read all kinds of books, at least one bilingual (Spanish) book a week, and we play with numbers. I don’t know all the things that he does at his dad’s house, but I assume they do some things similarly to us.

I learned to read earlier than my kid has, but he’s much better with other people than I ever was, and he’s much more kinetically intelligent than I was at that age as well. We all have different intelligences and I am very thankful that he’s not exactly like me. I’m enjoying the journey with him. I love unlocking the doors for him, and helping him see how to walk through them. I love building scaffolds for him and helping him understand things. I love the way he sees the world and I am proud of him for being who he is as he is, right now. He is just as he ought to be.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Choice and Liberalism

When I learned that I was pregnant I technically had a choice. I legally had a choice. When I saw my flickering bean on the screen, my choice was made. The chips had to fall as they would.

By no means did making the choice make the subsequent actions and the choices easy. In my experience, a child never makes anything easier. Co-parenting with someone who, to put it lightly, dislikes you, is difficult. Even after years, for many of us things don't get much easier, you just have to learn to let go more.

One of the strangest things I've encountered is people who assume that because I am pro-choice, because I worked in a women's clinic for a long time and definitely recommend birth control and the morning after pill, that it's okay to say to me if I ever mention that things are hard, that I had a choice. As if that negates the difficulty, or that I am not allowed to say that it's hard to be a single mother.

"You know you had a choice, right?"

"You chose this life for yourself."

"You didn't have to keep the baby."

I didn't decide to get pregnant. My birth control pills failed me. I'd used them just fine for 12 years, but that one day, there was a failure. I was 21 days pregnant when I went to the doctor to have them tell me what was wrong with me. It turns out that nothing was wrong at all, it was just a major crossroads in my life.

What I did decide to do was to become a mother. A single mother. I knew my child's father wasn't the person I wanted to raise our child with, and that I wasn't the one for him either. I'd watched my parents' relationship and knew I had no desire to replicate that for my son.

I knew that it would be hard to be a mother, but there was really nothing I could've done to prepare myself for just how hard it would really be. I read a lot of books, and talked to people, and tried to do everything I could to prepare.

But, I wasn't prepared to make $100 too much per year to be eligible for WIC. I wasn't prepared to make just enough too much per year to get child care assistance. I wasn't prepared to work full time, take care of my child the rest of my time with no help, and bring home less in my paycheck than my kid's dad was bringing in from unemployment. I wasn't prepared to be trapped in Austin and the contiguous counties. I wasn't prepared to lose almost every friend I'd ever shared with my child's father.

I did the work though, to dig us out, to support us, to make new friends and re-cultivate old ones, to find new work, to make a home for us and it was not easy.

It's gotten easier, as we've gone along, and I have less to complain about and more to be overjoyed about, but I shouldn't have had to feel judged for my decisions about my body. No one should.

Decisions and recovery

During my pregnancy with James, everything with him went perfectly. He hit all his check points throughout, and was even born on his due date. With me, I suffered through the pregnancy.

He brought me joy, quiet moments of fluttering, sturdy kicks that made me dream of my boy kicking a ball in a yard. In the darkest hours of that pregnancy, my son was my lifeline. I was so depressed and alone, the only thing that I could cling to was the hope and promise that he represented to me. I dreamed of him growing into a beautiful strong intelligent and good man. I still dream of the man he will be even as he is my little boy. He is funnier than I ever dreamed he would be and he is constantly surprising me with his multitude of talents and the depth of his feelings and thoughts.

I learned a lot about my body during the pregnancy. I learned a lot about genetics.

The labor and delivery went about as well as could be expected. Thirteen hours of labor, resulting in a perfect beautiful baby boy.

I was told that the problems I had during the pregnancy with James would be worse in any subsequent pregnancies and that it would effect any baby I tried to conceive, possibly even causing miscarriage or stillbirth.

I have two sisters. We have not always gotten along, but I wouldn't trade having them for being an only child. I dreamed that James would have a younger sibling, but the doctors scared me, and my body scared me.

Last year I had a surprise surgery and learned afterward, that I could ameliorate some of the difficulty with another pregnancy through another surgery.

I knew that I wanted James, but not until after he was already a fact, and then nothing in the world could change my mind about him.

I know that I want another baby. Even though I'm afraid of being older, and I worry about how James will react. I worry about the work and the time and the money involved. I also worry about being abandoned again while pregnant, but I know that my partner truly loves me and isn't afraid.

I put off the surgery because I was afraid, partially because no one enjoys going under the knife, partially because I knew and know the recovery will be hard, and partially because it's one of the last things standing between me and another baby.

I know that whatever happens, I will survive and I will not let my family fail or fall. If another baby is meant to be, I will welcome it. If not, that will also be okay. James is enough.

What I have to do now is focus on recovering and getting well and healthy. We have time.