The sadness and fear that lives in me as the mother of an 18 year black high school student who is oblivious to how the real world works is almost debilitating.
Raising a teenager is hard! I know, because I have one, and more often than not, it’s exhausting finding the right balance between being overprotective and being too lax.
There is a healthy middle ground, and finding that sweet spot was tough. Staying there is even harder as teens grow and mature, but there are steps you can take.
Salvador. You don’t know him. You will probably never meet him. But I feel compelled to make sure you have heard of him. Its been on my heart for a week now and it hurts so bad my eyes tear up to even think of him. It’s such a real pain that I whisper his name when I say it in my head trying to soften the blow I know is coming.
I’m going to free write to get this out just to make sure I get it out and keep it short and concise.
Salvador is a two year old boy with a cast on his freshly broken arm. That is what you would notice first. The cast on his arm. I have a boy who is almost two so I immediately cataloged a list of things I would need to modify as I watched the half dozen toddlers I would be watching that day in the one and two year old children’s nursery for my churches late service. The hand off from the early service provider is usually swift as there are no kids there yet.
But here was Salvador, with his cast, and today was not going to be like any other day.
“This is Salvador,” she said. “This is one of Dotty’s three foster children she got this week.”
One of three foster kids? I distinctly remember Dotty stating a few weeks ago that she would be getting a foster child soon and I was so excited for her. But three foster kids. Three foster kids? A whole family of kids? That cast! I start to slowly shake my head because I don’t want to hear what she is going to say next but she whispers it to me anyway… “You see his cast? His dad did that.”
And now I have to make myself not cry. Not now and not then. Both times I fail. I remember looking down on this boy and his cast playing with a church train set and now I see the laceration on his freshly shaved head. The scratches on the back of his neck. The bruise on the non-broken arm and a rage builds in me that is hard to describe. Even harder to contain but what can I do as the other teacher tries to leave to attend service.
I put on a sweet smile and a calm presence because this baby doesn’t have to deal with my issues today. He doesn’t want to stay with me. He had just gotten use to her but when I go to pick him up he lets me. I say “let me” because chances are better a one year old is going to give you an earful if you aren’t on his list of approved picker uppers. But Salvador comes to me and I hug him tight. I pray over him. I try to push every happiness and strength god would let me out of my body and into is trying my hardest to believe in belief by osmosis. And then we go to the rug to play trains.
I have a 20 month old and him and Salvador are the same size but Salvador is obviously older. He has a seriousness about him that shouldn’t be there and I hate it. My son is a pure terror. Won’t let me out of his sight and will cry to vomiting if left in someone else care. A pure monster and the greatest beast on this planet. He has a vocabulary of dozens of words and is the king of one word sentences. And here is Salvador: A few days removed from an event I refuse to give vision to that leads to being removed from his home and parents, put into foster care, entering a new home, and going to a church to play on the floor with a woman he has never met. He says only two words as far as all of us can tell. Mommy and train.
Mommy and train. That is it. And in the hour and a half he was with me maybe he said those words five times. And it breaks my heart every time he says either because he says them the same. Same tone, same emotion. That there was an equal importance to the two things. And my brain is screaming, over and over, “Where was your Mommy? Why didn’t she protect you?” Its unfair, and I don’t know the circumstances but the momma bear in me wants to rip the head off of a handful of people and every time he says “Mommy” she gets back to second billing on the head removal list.
Four other babies come to the nursery for service but I cling to Salvador like the secret service at an outdoor parade. Luckily I have a great bunch of babies that day and they are cooperating and playing together nicely. That is just one of the three blessings that allowed me smother Salvador (purely to make myself feel better because this two year old was fine without me playing on the floor the entire time). The other two blessings were that I had left my son at home with his grandma and my husband had his MBA group project that morning so he came to church after me and when he stopped by on his way in to say hi I dragged him into the room and introduced him to Salvador.
So my husband didn’t go to service last Sunday. He played on the floor with Salvador and four other amazing little boys. This was a WONDERFUL moment for me because I got to see my husband, the man that is with me for the rest of this life, make this little battered boy laugh. It was like hearing sunshine. I of course never thought to even try to make him laugh. He’s been traumatized. Maybe I was projecting my personal history on him because it never once occurred to me that he would laugh if you tickled him. This serious, too grown for a two year old toddler, has the greatest laugh you ever heard. And my husband did that. They all got tickles and everyone seemed great… but me. I was and still am devastated.
At one point Salvador was retrieving his precious train from the hands of another boy and hit himself in the chest with the train and started to cry. The softest cry I’ve ever heard when compared to the noise that my children make. I swooped him up in bear hug so fast I think the wind from my speed messed up the hair of all the other kids in the room. I hugged him to me, promising that no one would ever hurt him again. An irrational reaction to a horrible situation. He was not hurt in my care but I felt as if I had failed him by allowing him to hit himself in the chest as he tried to navigate a train set and another toddler with one arm. But the “I will never let anybody hurt you ever again” feeling hasn’t gone away. It hasn’t lessened. I can honestly tell you that I had started working out the logistics of how I could escape with him and his 9 month old and 3 year old brother to an undisclosed country where there would be no possibility of them EVER going back to their parents. But I was pretty sure that would get his foster parents and my church in a whole lot of trouble.
I have an abused past and these things shape the adult that you become. I have been lucky enough to fall in love with a man who has a huge heart and like me wants to help the abused and discarded children of this earth. We have always planned to adopt a few kids once we relocated in the next year. And Salvador sits on the floor between us and confirms that it’s not only what we should do but it is what we will do. As many as we can afford to feed and nurture. And that brings a joy to me that I can not describe.
So I just really want you to know Salvador. And know that these kids are around you and they need your help. Salvador’s mature, tough as nails expression would make you believe otherwise but don’t fall for it. He needs you. The Salvadors in your neighborhoods need you.
I’d like to encourage you to think about foster care and think about adoption.
If you have room in your heart, you can find room in life.
I’m not that big into poetry. I tend to over-think things when left to use my own imagination to build a backstory. Or worse (in my mind) not go deep enough and just don’t get the emotional connection to some words unless I know the emotional journey of the person who wrote it. Lacking that I’m forced to lay the poetry over my life experience and see if it fits anywhere and then it becomes more work than pleasure and I’m over thinking it again. But there is a quote that I find quite poetic and has profound meaning to me. And I say poetic because it evokes such a strong emotional reaction in me with so few words.
“I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” –W.B. Yeats
As a writer, or creator of anything, we pour ourselves into building things that when done correctly force some kind of response out of others. This can be as simple as a smile or as complicated as unexplained tear; but we want something, THE thing we were striving to evoke in someone. And when it doesn’t, it is heart breaking.
Do they know that they are holding your dream. You took it out of the secret place you hide it and softly handed it, your baby, to them, and… nothing. Maybe you are on your 100th broken heart and this time is just another day but maybe its your first broken heart and you don’t know if you will survive.
Well… you will. And hopefully you’ll put that beat up heart out there again and again until it is just the toughest little muscle in your whole damn body. Then no one can break your heart and you write… or paint, or sing, or dance, or crochet, or sculpt, or whatever it is you do… and the people who get it will get it and the ones who don’t go oblivious to how they missed out on what you gave them.
This post is dedicated to my husband who encourages my writing even when I don’t have anything to show him. Sometimes I just have to get my mind right. And its a good time to do that.
Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal;
nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. –Thomas Jefferson
The infamous coulda, woulda, shoulda!
Are my “shoulds” getting in the way of my happiness?
Being present and purposefully active in living your life (as opposed to simply being alive) leaves little time for “shoulds”. You should either being doing something, or not doing something. Therefore “should” has no place in my thought process. It’s a waste of time. Even worse, a supremely negative waste of time and if you are going to waste time at least do something enjoyable or relaxing. I make it a point to waste time doing positively meaningless things that make me feel good. No feel good ever came of “should”.
I should finish the book outline I started a month ago. There are two options for today and everyday I’m lucky enough to wake up; I can do it or not to do it. “Should” has nowhere to fit into that scenario. It is I am or I am not going to finish the book outline today. In recognizing that “should” is a negative, that “should” accomplishes nothing, I give no power to these kinds of words. A powerless word cannot get in the way of my happiness.
I know I should be more patient with my brother. I have all the facts of the situation and know what the right thing to do is. Dwelling on how I could have been more patient in the past or how I could be more compassionate in the future creates no change other than to pepper me with discouragement. I could use that brain power on deciding whether or not the time is now and if I’m doing that today then what’s the best way to go about it.
The word “should” is a duplicitous time waster. It tricks you into thinking you are doing something about a problem because you are thinking about it but what it is really doing is trapping you into doing nothing outside of thinking about it.
I’ve never seen the inspirational poster that say “You should be the best you be” or affirmations that start with “I should be strong and confident”. They’d never work. There is no motivation or action in “should”. But a bold font, big printed “BE THE BEST YOU CAN BE” or “I AM STRONG AND CONFIDENT” force you to at least try or make a liar out of them.
Happiness is a choice. It’s a lifestyle that you choose. Two people with the same lives, same upbringing, same tragedies, same triumphs and you’ll easily find one is quite happy and the other is far from it. The happy one is not by accident. They don’t deal in “shoulds” because they “are”. The unhappy lives the life of “should” and will dwell there until they make a choice to not despair the “should” but make an activity driven decision to do or decide to not do and then let it go. Turns out I have to end up letting go of a lot but the flip side is I also get meaningful things done and those contribute to my happiness.
This question is really over a dozen questions once you break down the different areas and started an avalanche of sorts of multiple thought streams that I need to rein in. There were several categories from spiritual to work to friends but I’ll go with family and try to keep it under 500 words!
The article states that when we don’t act congruently with what we value, symptoms of discomfort arise. I’d have to agree with that so let’s hope we are heading into a comfortable self-analysis because I don’t drink so if this blogging experiment goes all wrong there’s no numbing the pain.
What are my values and am I being true to them?
We’ll start with a list and work in the ‘am I being true to it’ answers to keep it neat.
1. Responsibility – This is near to the core of my existence. So much so that I’m convinced that if it were not for the birth of my son there is little hope that I would have made it past my 21st birthday. I had a strong sense of responsibility towards my family, in the face of overwhelming apathy as long as I could remember. I couldn’t stand my mom or my brothers at different intervals of adolescents but if you said something even remotely critical about them I’d likely try to pull your tongue out. So while I was loyal to these one sided relationships, they gave me nothing in return. But when I first held my son, and each of my babies since, the responsibility to love, care for, protect and raise them became my reason for being. In this I have never wavered or slacked and I have been true to this my whole life.
2. Love above all things – when I think of family, outside of my own children, I’d have to say that it is very over-rated. Being tied to and responsible for all these people who don’t care about you; that is my experience of family so everything else I see on television or read in book and especially the smiley “yeah for family” stuff posted on Facebook always seemed very make-believe to me. I can see how you could have it with the family you pick (husband and kids) but not with the one you are born to. Given that this was my reality, I feel like I am still very true to this value as I still love (verb love) them all the best I can. If they hurt, then I hurt because I love them, outside of all the BS, and above all else.
3. Faith in God – There are a set of morals that I feel are necessary for you to be a good person and live a fulfilled life that honors the gift of your existence and those morals are conveniently listed in my religion. There is a lot of extra stuff in there also but I try to not let that distract me from the fact that there is a God. You don’t have to believe in him for that statement to be true but my life is enhanced when I acknowledge him. My families faith in God means to me that we are all working from the same set of rules and expectations and I find great security in that and nurture it in my husband and children staying true to this value.
I’m feeling a little like after written finals in high school where you are pretty sure you answered the questions correctly but you could be totally off and jacking up your grade. But this is worse because I’ll never get a grade so I’ll never know! I’ll just say it’s enough that I’m four days into my self-imposed blog challenge and I have three post so just on participation points I’m pulling a good A- or B+ and I’m happy with that.
650 words… 150 words over my promise… geez… okay… B-
Ooooh… this one will be EASY!
Why don’t I do things I know I should be doing?
First, I’m stubborn as the day is long. If there was a donkey in the zodiac I would have been born under that sign. If you asked any of my friends and family if I was a little stubborn even the most loving and polite would repeatedly nod yes, very hard, and correct the question by putting “very” in front of stubborn. So stuck in my ways that sometimes I don’t do something just to spite myself.
Second, plain old fear. Fear of failure. Fear of using up all my options. Fear of being wrong about what I believe I should be doing.
I would definitely list on my personal flaws board “not doing what I should be doing”. These to do’s usually solely apply to things I should be doing for myself; continuing my education, taking a break and getting a message, doing my writing before doing the laundry, etc. But unfortunately sometimes it affects other people like me stalling for almost a year now on teaching my daughter Spanish, because first I would need to learn Spanish. It’s a pretty unattractive trait. Kind of an Anti-Life Skill really.
If I mind mapped it (which is something I rarely do but people keep talking about) I’d probably be pretty disgusted with the bubbles floating out from this question. Stubborn and Fear sure do sound a whole hell of a lot better than Lazy, Self-Defeating or Don’t Know What the Heck I’m Doing! Maybe they all apply but in the pursuit of defending my life choices I’m going to stick with the first two and make sure to keep my eyes open for the rest.
Wish I could say that this question made me re-think how I do things and while it has made me take a look at what I’m not doing that I should be doing – I’m probably still not going to learn Spanish tomorrow.
In honor of all the writing challenges going on this month I’ve given myself a 30 day blog challenge around “The 35 Questions That Will Change Your Life” Forbes article by Jason Nazar. I’ll try to approach this with honesty and brevity, much like streaking across the campus courtyard stripped bare and as fast as possible.
QUESTION 1: What are you pretending not to know?
Wow. This is a powerful question. So is this the part where I need to face one of my “denials”? Ok… I can do that. I’ve been doing a lot of self-realization lately so this shouldn’t be too hard.
I spent a long time pretending not to know and OWN that how my life is now, was not the result of a vastly less than ideal upbringing.
Past 25 years old it is just irrelevant how you survived your childhood when your life is now the culmination of all your adult decisions, good and/or bad.
Solely my fault, my glory, my light that I shine or my shame that I hide.
The reason I was able to live pretending to not know that having four step dads or being abused or whatever bad things happened did not define me was because I never used it as an excuse as to why I got to act this way or I deserved to get that or should get to do this. I wasn’t mad, didn’t dwell on it, and never let myself act like the world owed me because I had it so rough. So it wasn’t a problem that needed fixing and I could pretend to not know that it needed addressing for me to grow. In a weird twist I used it to convince myself that I was doing better than I was on my personal growth because I had started so low. And what was the point of that?
If I was around town or at church and I saw a smart, strong, successful man who glowed with the love he had for his family I would observe longingly and think, “Lord knows I would have been the first female president of the United State or cured cancer if I would have had a daddy like that. There would have been no limit to how high I could’ve flown!”
What I was pretending not know was that I’m an amazing woman, unrelated to any childhood pain or disappointment. A strong, kind, amazing person not because of my circumstances growing up nor in spite of my circumstances growing up. I was pretending that the reason I was less-than-perfect person was because no one who had grown up through and with what I had COULD EVER BE any better than I was. So I had set the bar on my personal growth at being “The Best Person I Could Be – for someone with my background”. In this affirmation I’m pretending that I don’t know this statement is complete bullsh*t. Pretending not to know that my affirmation should have been “The Best Person I Could Be – period”.
Luckily I feel like I am, and since the birth of my son 17 years ago have actively been trying to be, the best person I can be; so taking the veil off this pretense is not as painful or earth shattering as it could have been. It’s funny that as much as I tried to separate myself from the “victim” persona people who still crowd my family and friend circles have always used as a crutch, I still kept one foot in the muck with adding “for someone with my background” as an asterisk when there are special circumstances that get you on the Best Of List. You are either the best version of yourself or you are not and that is not relative to anything that anyone else is doing to you, for you or around you. It was just another thing I was carrying around for no good reason, and I decided to let it go. I call that Good Riddance.