We are sicker than sick on this day of gratitude. The kitchen is a cluttered and unclean mess. The boy lays low in his tent, entertained by the screen. I'm under an afghan, nursing an earache, waiting to feel better. And we are home. That feels so good to me in a way that all this gooey achey irritating illness cannot touch. Our home. A tiny apartment that holds all of our worldly possessions and we're in it, held by it, resting and relating to each other in our home. I am grateful.
this has not been my most healthful, most productive week ever. it was largely a week of recovering from the visit with my mom. well... our relationship makes me tired and sad. so much of what is most significant to me seems to be insignificant, or even negative, to her. and, at 43, i still don't have the words to tell her these things.
so i keep the peace. i let the unspoken words collect in my throat. and when the visit is over, and mima has returned to her home, all those thoughts and feelings splutter up and out, sour tasting and slimy.
i document it all in my journal. what i heard from her, how it felt in the moment, what i think about the same topic (which is largely antithetical to her point of view), why i didn't say anything. i notice the shape and weight of what i didn't say. i sketch it out to try and understand the differences between us and the history that keeps me holding my tongue.
my siblings, though more alike to our mother politically and culturally, have had similar challenges expressing their own points of view to her. they get labeled rude or ungrateful or worse when they talk back. even at our adult ages. but then, they tend to lash out in anger. none of us have found a polite respectful way to say what we think and be heard. each of us have experienced the backlash in some form or another.
i believe that my mother loves me. i'm not sure that she likes me very much. her comments tell me that i'm too fat, too grey, my home isn't ordered properly, my boyfriend isn't her type, my city isn't her culture, my beliefs about spirit are wrong, my faith in friendship is misplaced, my dreams are best left in the past.
so what would i tell her? now that she's gone and the words are still with me.
first, these things are my own - my health and appearance, my home and 4 sets of measuring cups, my sweet thoughtful boyfriend, my cosmopolitan liberal city, my spiritual-but-not-religious soul, my steadfast precious friends, my dreams for creativity and vocation.
second, i am enough and whole as i am. i don't need or want the persistent comments and critique as if i don't measure up to some ideal that i don't even subscribe to. i don't need to be saved. i don't need correction, lectures, exhortations. i'm not interested and the constant comparison is distracting and draining as hell. i am enough.
third, accept me as i am today. see me. value me. let me be. encourage me in the things that are important to me.
fourth, give me space to speak my words. please, pause the monologue. grant me the room, the airtime, to speak up with a clear head and open heart.
it's pretty common to have a challenging relationship with one's family of origin. it's a familiar phenomenon to all get together and start acting out the roles we had in the family back when we all lived together. when we were children. i think maybe my mother is stuck at a particular point in time, which i have grown past. like, maybe she doesn't recognize me now because i'm not the same girl i was back then. mom has often said that she has to be mother and father now that my dad's passed. but i don't really need that kind of parenting. i'm looking to be seen and heard as the adult me, who i am, enough and whole, today.
Since I started feeling sick a couple of months ago I've been wishing for my mommy.
I don't actually have a mommy. Maybe no one has a mommy and no one ever did. Maybe she's an imaginary character in a fairytale. An archetype we dream about taking care of us, kissing boo-boos all better, snuggling us in her arms, unconditional and expansive. An unattainable standard I subconsciously compare and contrast both myself and my mother to.
Oh, but I want my mommy, right now.
I'm so very tired and there's always so much to do - for my son, for my boss, for my home - for me. I come last, every single time, and I want - so badly it feels like a need - someone to take care of me for a little while. Not only the pressing physical and financial needs, but also the emotional and mental needs for comfort, reassurance, vision, hope.
In my imagination, my mommy is good company. She is present with me saying, "This is hard, and you feel crummy. That's ok. And, we're going to get through this together." When I'm feeling fatigue or despair, she wraps me in a firm hug, "It sucks right now. I see you struggling and doing your best." Then she provides me with creature comforts - runs a hot bath or tucks me into my covers for a nap. "Let's take good care of you." Her compassionate presence and practical support remind me that I'm valuable, provide me a bridge or some internal elasticity to get over the hard parts, and give me a little more energy to keep going.
My mommy gives me a reprieve from the all the aspects of "adulting" that are bearing down on me and wearing me out. She pays the bills, brings home the groceries, cooks us a healthy and yummy dinner, and puts the laundry away. When the day's work is done, we sit together in quiet companionship, reading or watching tv or whatever it is that mommies like to do when they get to rest with their loved ones. And I'm bundled up in my p.j.s and a blanket with my head on her shoulder.
There's no one in my real life to care about and take care of me the way my mommy does. Most days this occurs to me as a fact and with a feeling of isolation and scarcity. My life is hard and no one is coming to help me. Until recently, there was judgment caught up in that, too. Something like, "My life is hard, because I make poor choices and generally suck at being an adult, and no one is coming to help me, because I'm not worth anything nevermind the resources and effort of helping." But the diagnosis of Mono stripped away the judgment, at least for a moment - the reprieve I've been pleading for. Now, right now, there is room for my mommy to slip in to how I care about and take care of myself.
I can be my mommy. A slightly less idealized version of her, since I am an in-real-life-human and not an archetype, but her nonetheless. I can remain present with myself when I'm exhausted and hopeless - feeling the feelings, jotting them down if that helps me to recognize and experience them and let them be. I can literally, sincerely, hug myself. I can draw that bath or snuggle down into those covers to give myself good care. I can practice compassion for myself. I can follow through on practical remedies with faith in my goodness, significance, and value.
There's no pause, really, in the tasks and responsibility of being an adult, especially as a divorced single mother. The reprieve is in my mind and heart. It is my mommy's compassion extended to myself. I forgot about compassion as life got harder and I got harder with it. But compassion was once my most closely held value and it's been remembered to me, first for others and now for myself.
Being my mommy to myself doesn't change the quantity of stuff I need to do to maintain my son, my job, my home, my health... It changes the qualities with which I approach and engage in each of those things. I may move more slowly, allowing myself rest. I may enjoy more comforts, like a hot bath. But in addition to those tangible actions there's the intangible grace that my mommy grants me and that's what I'm learning to give to myself. It's a practice; it's not automatic or immediate. It's good work that renders greater compassion in my life.
Autumn has always been my favorite season. As a child it meant apple picking, apple cider doughnuts, and pumpkins! Pumpkin selecting, pumpkin carving, pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin pie. Every year we made a little trek into "the country" to pick out our pumpkins at a farm stand. We hauled them home to the suburbs for all the ways we enjoyed them. It was looked forward to, even as teens, and served as a sure sign of the season.
While there's plenty of country, farms, and farm stands to be found in Washington, Little N and I are urban dwellers these days. And kiddo doesn't take much delight in long drives to unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people, sounds, and smells. So we took the city-dwellers' approach and I picked up a couple of orange beauties at the grocery store next door to our apartment. We invited a friend over and commenced carving.
Little N wanted a "happy" pumpkin, so Miss A delighted him by carving exactly what he had drawn for her. I went for a spookier approach, which also allows allows a lot of candle light to shine through, and cut a cyclops from my pumpkin. Kiddo does not like my creepy monster and sequesters it to a different part of our deck, away from his happy creation.
From a Pagan perspective this season, like each season, holds sacred meaning. By now we've noticed the days getting shorter, the darkness enfolding us, and in Seattle the cold and rain have started. We inhabit more time indoors. We reach for creature comforts of hot beverages and hardy foods. We are embracing the darkness as best we can and listening for the messages it offers. It's a time for composting that which doesn't serve us, as well as the dreams that have not come to fruition in the time we granted them. New life will be cultivated from their detritus in another season. It's a time for giving thanks for what we have received and that which we have learned. Our lives are stronger and more vibrant for these things. It's a time for drawing near to the folks we love. We are all connected.
Little N doesn't really understand seasons yet. He is puzzled by our dark mornings as I rustle him up for school. He plays out on the deck in dark evenings within the glow of the overhead lights. I don't know if that's due to being a child who hasn't seen as many seasons change as I have, or if it's related to his Autism and not perceiving sequences. I'm hopeful that his comprehension and appreciation will develop as he grows up. To that end, I have the job and the joy of sharing what I perceive in each season. I'm trying to become more intentional in my parenting around this topic and Autumn calls me to it more than any other season. I string little twinkle lights up in our apartment to warm the darkness of our evenings. I make a place on my altar to host the photos of our Beloved Dead, his grandfathers. They have a special place in our hearts and minds at this time of year (more on that and Samhain coming soon).
I want Little N to perceive the turning of our little blue planet in our solar system, in our galaxy, in our universe! Our lives are tiny, precious, and changing with our own seasons in this magnificent space. We humans are all connected to each other in various ways and I wonder how to teach him about that as well. I want Little N to experience connection to traditions I grew up with as a link to a family he is part of, a family that loves him, but who he barely knows, rarely sees. I want Little N to be familiar with the emotional and material meanings of entering the dark. We needn't fear or dread the darkness. We can work with and within this season. I want Little N to deeply know all of these things and have fun living with it!
So I drag home the pumpkins from the grocery store. We carve them and giggle over the slimy orange goo we pull out of them. We light them and watch the candlelight flicker inside of them. I plug in the twinkle lights. I make room on my altar for the grandfathers. And I try to draw Little N's little-boy-attention to the darkness and what it can offer.
So we're finally using the "D" word with Little N. I read two-hug day to him the other night and it brought up more questions from Little N and some better answers from me. I explained that the word "divorce" is what we call it when a mom and dad decide not to live together anymore. We decided to divorce because we had grown-up problems that we couldn't fix, even though we tried. The book also does a great job of showing that both mom and dad still love the child, want him to be comfortable and happy, and care about his interests. He can have a good time with mom and tell dad about it, and vice versa.
I'm anticipating more questioning now and phases of new questions as Little N grows up. Before too long he'll outgrow two-hug day and Sesame Street characters. But a good foundation, I hope, is being laid today. L and I are doing our best to make safe space for Little N's big questions and big feelings. We are answering him honestly and consistently. We are reassuring him that we love him; that we are both invested in him and take care of him. We've established some basic routines so that he can expect when he'll be with dad or mom, although those continue to adapt with summer break, vacations out of town, and special occasions. He's doing a great job of adapting with us!
Finally, I'm really pleased that L and I were able to reach agreement on when and how to talk to Little N about divorce. We got lucky in finding that kit and even luckier to both like it. We got lucky that Little N started speaking up about his questions, letting us know it was time for more and better answers. In just a few emails, which, really, is how we communicate clearly and child free with each other these days, L and I were able to agree to the timing and the current solution for Little N's needs. The better we can learn to communicate as co-parents of a little guy we both adore, the greater the peace and stability for Little N.
C. Jane Kendrick is a Mormon feminist and blogger that I've been following off and on for a few years. I've been checking her blog recently, waiting for her response to the Ordain Women controversy and subsequent excommunication of Kate Kelly from the Mormon Church. As someone concerned about and committed to gender equality in our spiritual systems, this event got my attention. Kendrick gives us a heartfelt, thoughtful consideration of the issues and people involved in today's post: To My Mormon Daughters.
In writing the essay as a letter to her daughters, Kendrick owns that she is a feminist who cares deeply about her faith and her family. She is seeking new and more opportunities for women to serve in the Mormon church, while maintaining a deep, lived appreciation for the spaces she currently inhabits. She holds her Mormon sisters in high regard and values her engagement with them.
Kendrick presents the essay in three sections. First, the research and relationships that informed her position on the issues at hand. Second, her affinity and affection for people who courageously express their hearts even when their ideas are unpopular. (I'd include Kendrick in this group.) Third, her belief that the ordination of women in the Mormon church won't come about until more women really want it.
My favorite part of the essay comes near the end. Kendrick shares her conviction that there is "no scriptural or doctrinal declaration" proving that God does not want women to be ordained. She continues affirming the call to bring before God what is on our hearts. "Ask, knock, ponder, pray, have faith, have hope." Finally, she compares God to a loving parent who gives their children what their hearts desire, when it is "inherently good and safe."
I love this essay because it is brave and heartfelt. I love it because Kendrick writes it to her daughters about who she is today and the vision she has for their future. I love it because it resonates with my own heart's desire for more opportunities for leadership and inclusion of women's perspective and experiences in the Evangelical Christian church of my youth. I love it because it illustrates Kendrick's commitment to stay in the church she loves, simultaneous to her work for something more for that church. It's a commitment that I couldn't make and I'm impressed and humbled by her example.
We've been telling Little N that he has to "try again" with Summer Camp. After Friday's success in the new group, he came home happy, proud, and full of energy. "I tried again!" he raced to tell me when I got home from work. Then he proceeded to pounce on me and jump around the living room.
Last night he started to get anxious again, but we reminded him that he was going to the new group and that he has a friend there.
This morning, his dad dropped him off - with no problems. Little N found his friend. He called to his dad, "Bye!" and then turned to his friend. "Well, it's just you and me."
Poor Little N. I signed him up for Summer Camp for his Summer child care. I talked to the director of the program and it sounded like a match. It's not. Kiddo hates it and cries and fusses every night and morning in anticipation of another day at camp.
Little N says it's too loud, even with his ear muffs on. His dad has witnessed the classroom and describes it as disorderly and undisciplined. All of kiddo's Autism triggers are being hit. Noise, chaos, unpredictable behavior. More than a challenging transition to something new, it's a full offense on his sensitivities.
Today, we're trying something new. Little N's dad went with him to drop off, as usual, but now is getting kiddo moved into a new classroom of slightly older kids. These children are kindergarten and first graders and are a little more mature. They already know how to behave in a classroom setting. Plus, this group has a teacher trained to work with children on the Spectrum. So far, this morning, Little N is participating, making friends, and playing with the group. He's still got his ear muffs on and his dad remains hovering in the background. But we're optimistic. Fingers crossed that Little N can do the same on Monday, when his dad drops him off and heads out.
Out of the Attic
This blog started in 2006
on Blogger as
Out of the Attic.
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