Please Hold On To Me: A Memoir (post 3)

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It feels like I’ve barely survived a natural disaster of calamitous proportions, seeking refuge from bitter winds, torrential rain, plummeting temperatures. My house a shelter, the last safe place. Although I’ve never been directly affected by hurricane winds and flooding or had my house crumble in front of me, I imagine those shattering situations to be better than what’s happening right now, regardless of how soft my couch feels, how lovely the vacations, or beautiful the view. All I’ve ever wanted is to go through life’s ups and downs with the person I love. I imagine we could get through anything, even a natural disaster, holding on to each other and our children but that is no longer the case for me.

It’s supposed to be us taking on the world, not us taking on us, as it’s been all too often in my life. The person who promised to hold my heart, and I his, changed his mind and got on the last flight out. I am left holding onto everything we built together – except his business but he credits only himself in that endeavor. I am ever grateful for the life we chose together and all that has been bestowed to me but I would trade it all to joyously raise my girls with the man I love and who truly loves me.

My parents were divorced. It was my dad who got full custody of my younger brother and me when I was almost five. The actual event was barely a drizzle raining down from Seattle skies. It wasn’t their divorce per se, but the constant drip of stress and smaller traumas that slowly poisoned my childhood, eighteen years summed up with one word.

For my generation, whose childhood spanned the 1970s and 80s, divorce is hardly remarkable. It happens so often; forty to fifty percent of couples break apart, a number that rose exponentially from less than twenty percent in the 1950s. Divorce is old news, hardly worth mentioning anymore. From the outside it’s just a light dusting of snow on the lowland hills, only a change in seasons – short-lived and life resumes once everyone is settled. “When are you going to move on, Janna, it’s over,” said one of my closest friends at the time, like I had food poisoning six months ago and keep making myself sick for attention. What? Although well-meaning, I’m sure, my friend’s comment speaks to our collective naivety of what it means to be forcefully extricated from the life you live, and imagined you’d live until your time here on earth is done. In the game of Life, you go back at least twenty spaces. I don’t have to choose my career path again, thankfully I took the college route, and I already have three pink pegs in my blue car, but I do have to go back too many spaces to be counted as a mere setback.

To say divorce is unremarkable negates the impact it has on one million kids per year whose parents try to start life over, ending their connection to each other and often times to their family. If it’s your parents, your kids, your life, it’s shattering. Many times, the parent who doesn’t have custody feels the immediate heartbreak most acutely, the children not quite aware of what’s happening and the parent with custody can briefly forget within the routines of parenting, respite from the ache. A lack of awareness is a blessing and a curse. In my case, it was my mom who was pushed out and then gave up on being a parent to look for solace in new bonds and a new life free of guilt and shame and loneliness. But in most cases at that time and now, it’s the dad who is kicked out of the tribe – first in moving away from the family and then by emotional bitterness setting him up for failure in holding the connection to his children. Ultimately it’s the child, millions of kids, it was me, and now my three girls who lose the most.

We all have the one thing we say we will NEVER do, ever. We will do whatever it takes to avoid this horrible thing we experienced as a child. We will bound to the top of snow-covered mountains or crawl through a waterless desert, navigate the greatest storm in a rowboat but we will never let this one thing happen. This was my thing – never, never, never will I get divorced and put my kids in a situation where they question the love of either of their parents, where they have to grow up faster than they are supposed to. “Really, God? This is where I am going? This path right here despite it all?” I look up into the gray clouds to ask these questions daily. I am incredulous. My only solace is that maybe within our one tragic-awful-catastrophic-heart-shattering-calamitous-no-way-never thing is where we ultimately find wisdom, acceptance of life and ourselves, grace. Even so, it doesn’t seem fair but who am I to argue? I have to concede that this life is my life and, yes, I must move on as best as I can.

When I was young I felt responsible to hold onto my dad, my only available parent, but I was just a kid. Our deepest need is to be attached, to belong. The only power I had was to sit quietly and wait for him to hold on to me until I couldn’t wait anymore, I had to grow up despite the conditions. This one gut-wrenching year when my own marriage fell apart gave me the gift to go back in time to parent myself through my dad’s three divorces and loss of his fourth wife from cancer, to give myself what I’d desperately needed as a kid – to be held onto by both parents. This time I did have the power to change the trajectory for my girls. I had the power to hold them close so they didn’t have to choose to hold on to their parents or to grow up – two essential imperatives hardwired from the beginning and should never be mutually exclusive. It was my responsibility to hold onto my girls, and despite every raw instinct to keep them safe from the person who was hurting me more than I thought possible, it was my responsibility to keep them connected to their dad. No one, not even me, can replace a parent.

 

 

I am grateful to be a MOTHER in America

As a mother in America I get to choose how to raise my children. When I say ‘choose’, I don’t mean whether or not to breastfeed, work or stay home, etc. The choice that I am grateful for is that I get to choose how to love my children and there isn’t a person in the world (except my husband) who is capable of understanding how much I communicate my love to them.

The TIME Magazine article was written to sell magazines, to go viral and the way to do that in America is take the topic to the extreme. The woman and her son on the Today Show did not seem any different than any American mother trying to do the best she can. She was not extreme. Dr. Sears, whom I have met and read about half his books) is not an extreme parenting guru on Attachment Parenting. There is no “Mother of the Year” award people. There is NO SUCH THING. We need to stop trying to compare ourselves to each other and drawing conclusions based on each others choices and appearances!

While running today, I started thinking about all types of mothers that I know and the choices that they make. It is a very long list. Who is the better mother? Which one loves her children more? Whose children are more attached? There is no way or need for any of us to judge each other or to know whether we are a good mother or not by looking to external cues. At the end of the day a relationship is between two people. Each child is the only one who REALLY knows at the end of the day, right?

Here is a start to my list: works or stays home, breastfeeds or formula, gay or straight, single or married, homemade baby food or jars, cloth or Pampers, Ferber or Attachment, runs marathons or barely climbs the stairs, organic or canned, private or public school, one child or nineteen, minivan or SUV, prefers outdoors or indoors, country club or city park, PTA or non-PTA, church or no church, big family or small, well-mothered or undermothered, surgically enhanced or au-natural, family vacations or not, nanny or daycare, went to college or not, graduate school or not, had a career or planned to be a mom, designer jeans or Target knock-offs, reads books or People magazine, kids in activities or come home to play, traditional school or home schooled, likes gardening or horrified by dirt, kids watch TV or no TV, and the list goes on and on and on.

The human brain is designed to differentiate and therefore we immediately come to conclusions about what kind a mother someone is by all these differences (and a whole lot more) but these decisions or life circumstances do not define how we love our children. If we all spent less time wondering what everyone else is doing and whether we measure up and more time focusing on our own children and what their needs are, this world would be a much happier place.

I am grateful to be a mother in America where am free to make my own choices but should not be free to judge others.

I am grateful for the little people in my life

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I am grateful for the little people in my life.

Their sense of adventure, curiosity, exuberance, innocence, happiness, creativity, emotion, tenacity, sensitivity, empathy, strength, vulnerability, presence, joy, delight, their love. Really, I love it all.

Please add your words to my list of reasons that you love children.

I am grateful for all the children in my life, but especially my three beautiful girls.

I am grateful for choices

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I am grateful for choices.

As adults, we all get to make choices everyday from how to spend the next 30 minutes to what to where we want to live. We aren’t always cognizant of our choices but they are there and sometimes, as Americans, choice becomes overwhelming. Sometimes it would be easier if someone else could make choices for us once in awhile.

I just read The Hunger Games Trilogy. It is not an easy story to forget. Katniss Everdeen has been in my head for the past several weeks. I even read several books of essays so I could keep thinking about why I can’t get her out of my thoughts… The people from the Capital had traded their ability to make important choices in their lives for a life of plenty; plenty of food and plenty of entertainment. Katniss and the people of Panem, however, did not have the luxury of not choosing. They had to choose every single day to keep going or stop, to put one foot in front of the other or not, to live or to die.

Katniss’ only real choice was to keep going regardless of what other people’s agendas might be. I don’t believe that she was a puppet for the Capital, Snow or Coin. She was in charge of her choices, it was just that she didn’t have many. Katniss simply continued to do what she had been doing in the Seam which was to choose to keep going, to survive. Before Mockingjay was written, there was a lot of publicity on whether she would ‘choose’ Gale or Peeta. However it was never really a choice. Katniss chose to keep going, to survive and after everything she had been through she needed to choose a life of peace represented by Peeta. She had to choose to heal after the lifetime of trauma that she experienced in 6 years. Katniss couldn’t make any more choices and instead let the universe allow her to rest. It was the best ending possible.

When I was a child and then a teenager, I did not have many choices either. My family was always in the midst of caous. I could choose to wallow in misery or not, to keep going or not, to thrive in spite of it all or not. I went on to college despite being told in would be a waste of time, had a career in sales and marketing, went to graduate school and now have a wonderful family and friends to boot. All of which required a million choices every single day. It is funny though because I never had the perception of choice but instead a very clear path from here (not so great) to there (the promised land). I kept walking, running and sometimes crawling through every open door. Maybe the choices were so far apart that it made it no choice at all.

Today, I know that I have lots of choices and I am so, so thankful. I get to choose what I want to learn (or write) about, how I want to raise my children (along with my husband of course), where they will go to school, where we want to go on vacation or live, who my friends are, how I respond to others and on and on. What a blessing life is. We must be careful, however, to never stop making the tough choices. In America, like the Capital, it would be easy to narrow those choices down to meaninglessness without even realizing it. Choices can be a blessing and a curse depending on how we look at it. We need to choose wisely everyday as even the smallest choices today can become the roads we travel upon tomorrow.

I am thankful for my choices in life.

I am grateful for my dad

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I am grateful for my dad.

This weekend my girls and I saw the Disneynature movie Chimpanzee. It is a documentary on the beginnings of a baby chimpanzee named Oscar, deep in the tropical rain forests of Africa. The story starts out as Oscar begins chimpanzee “preschool” with his mom learning how to find food, use tools and bond with other chimpanzees through grooming. Towards the middle of the movie Oscar’s mother is killed and he is left bewildered on what happened to her. He searches for her, tries to find food, tries to remember what she has taught him but he begins to lose weight and lose grasp of his happy life that he once had among his tribe of chimpanzees. The other mothers and young were hostile towards him now that he didn’t have a mother to protect him. It looked bleak for Oscar. There was one last chimpazee that Oscar hadn’t asked for help and that was the alpha male and head of the tribe. The most unlikely chimpanzee as he had never paid any attention to the young, his job was to protect the territory and his members. He was good at it. Oscar started to follow him around and copy everything he did from opening nuts to scanning his fur for bugs. The alpha male took notice and started to give him food and allow him to snuggle close. By the end of the movie little Oscar rode atop of this giant alpha male’s back just as he had with his mother. Oscar was going to be fine.

My mother left us when I was four and my brother just one year old. There were several stepmothers who should have taken me under their wing to show me how the world worked, how to make friends, bond with others and how to be in a family but somehow couldn’t. I can remember following my dad everywhere, watching his every move. He was very young himself, only 25 years old at the time but seemed to be far more adept at caring and bonding with his children than our mother ever could have.

My dad was dependable, consistent, and resourceful. He was not perfect but he showed up. Everyday. Like Oscar, I didn’t get the millions of moments of love that only a mother can fulfill BUT I did fully experience all the millions of moments that only dads can give. Luckily, I have a very keen ability to watch and learn as well as an innate curiosity of life. I have filled many of those cracks that were started when my mother left by watching others, reading, experiencing life, relationships with family and friends and most importantly by being a mom to my three girls. God has filled my life with a wonderful husband, three beautiful girls and a dad. I am going to be fine.

I am very grateful for my dad.