A Mother’s Enduring Touch
February 17, 2010

Growing up I always said I was never going to have kids.  I didn’t really play with babydolls and stollers.  I don’t even think I ever had a babydoll.  Maybe because there were always real babies around our house, I didn’t need a doll and I didn’t need to play pretend.  As the oldest girl in a family of 7 children, I did countless diaper changes and bottle feedings, it wasn’t that much fun in my opinion.  I can remember I was completely enamored with and much more interested in the lives of Mary Tyler Moore, Miss Alice Johnson on Room 222, and Ann Marie, That Girl.  My mom’s feelings would get hurt when I would proclaim that I was going to be an independent career woman.  She felt this was a judgement against her chosen and beloved vocation.  I had a sense as a child that she was particularly good at being a mom.  I now know that she was beyond exceptional.

I got married when I was in my mid 30’s and we agreed that we weren’t really interested in having children.  I channeled my nuturing instincts into gardening, my many neices and nephews and my pets.  I was happy and fulfilled.  I had a job that required extensive travel and I didn’t have to feel guilty about being away.  I loved working with so many different people in so many different areas of the country.  I enjoyed being able to just kick back when I was home – spending weekends hanging out with friends and enjoying family get-togethers.  It wasn’t until five years into the marriage, when my mom died, that I struggled to find purpose and meaning in my life.  My therapist first brought up that many people cope with the loss of their parents through the parenting of their own children.  I wasn’t sure what to do with that – I certainly didn’t want grieving over my mom to be a reason to bring a child into the world.

Eleven months after my mom died, my sister was in a fatal car accident.  If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you will know that this is how I came to take on the role of being a mom.  That was nearly seven years ago.  There have been so many changes in my life that came about as a result of this decision.  The one that may be the greatest blessing is remembering the mother that my mom was, and being inspired by her courage, depth of love, natural playfulness, and her undying, persistent optimism.

Mom made everything playful and a game.  I can honestly say that some of the most fun we had were doing things like painting the house, washing the walls, doing our weekly chores, cooking and baking.  We would have music playing, and be dancing and singing throughout the tasks at hand.  We would joke and play and laugh.  We painted each other, doused each other in water, chased each other around the house and generally had fun together.  As long as we all worked together to clean up the messes we made, mom not only didn’t mind, but often was right in the middle of it all.  I have to say, that I do remember a time our family friends were over when our parents weren’t home.  Don’t ask how, but we all got into a “fairy dust” fight.  If it was white and powdery, it was fairy dust.  We had baby powder, flour, baking soda, powdered suger and heaven knows what else all over each other and the entire house.  Mom and dad walked into the middle of this little game.  She was not amused.  It took us the entire day to clean up the mess we made.  I am sure, that out of our sight, she must have had a good chuckle, though.

Everything I have learned from her has helped me in my efforts to raise my kids and to help them work through their emotional pain.  She showed me how to be firm and funny at the same time.  She was exceptionally talented at tough love.  She had high expectations and never made me feel like a failure.  She worked hard, played hard and loved unconditionally.  She did not back down from difficult decisions and would fight to the death for the good of her children.  At times, she so identified with her role as a mother that she struggled with letting go and creating opportunities for independence.  I learned from that as well. 

The one thing she taught me that has most helped me to parent my kids, is that there are no bad kids.  There are behaviors that may be unacceptable, but the behavior does not make the kid.  And there is nothing that cannot be made better with love and laughter.  When I remember this, and stay committed to love above anger and fear, I am at total peace, regardless of how chaotic and disregulated the kids are.  This is also when I feel my mom with me, celebrating the joy of parenting.

copyrighted 2/18/10 – Happy Birthday, Mom ❤

To Live Gratitude is to Touch Heaven (Gaertner)
October 30, 2009

It has been a long and strange week.  An odd assortment of happenings and circumstances have occurred and my emotions are all mixed up and jumbled.  Kenneth had a bleed this week – always sparking worry for me.  Not because of the medical issue – I have dealt with hemophilia and hemorrhages all my life.  I just never know how Kenneth is going to do with it.  He hates needles and doctors and doesn’t handle pain very well at all.  He actually cooperated quite well with keeping ice and an ace-wrap on it Monday night.  He was still sleeping when I left for work on Tuesday and I was a little stressed because I had a mandatory meeting in the middle of the day.  Of course, he calls me just as the meeting starts.  I texted and learned that his knee was worse and was going to need an infusion.  If you are not familiar with hemophilia, or what an infusion is – a quick overview.  His blood is missing a factor that causes it to clot when there has been trauma to the body.  So, where most of us might bump into something and maybe have a red mark or scrape, Kenneth will have a massive bruise.  The more serious the trauma to soft tissue or organs, the more significant the “bleed”.  A minor bleed can be treated with cold and compression.  Moderate to severe hemorrhages require Kenneth to have concentrated Factor IX infused intraveneously – usually once or twice a day for 1 – 4 days.  So, the kid is already in pain, then has to be jabbed, not just into his arm or soft tissue, but directly into his vein.  He happens to have the misfortune to have small, mobile veins.  So, if the nurse is not exceptionally skilled, he is hard to “hit”.  I once watched as a veteran nurse stick him 6 times and still was never able to succeed.

So, one can’t really blame him for doing everything in his power to avoid an infusion.  Luckily, over the last year he has matured, learned to trust the nurses at clinic, and been more responsible about managing his disorder.  So, even though I had to take off work and bring him to clinic, he was not only cooperative, but told me he drank 4 glasss of orange juice to help hydrate himself and make his veins an easier target.  It was a bit nerve wracking balancing work and clinic, preparing the concentrate, getting Kenneth in and out of the house on crutches in the rain.  Not the worse case scenario, and I was still very tired at the end of the day.

That evening, I received a phone call from my ex.  He wanted to let me know that the mother of a friend of ours had passed away.  I know, it seems a rather benign situation – yet it put me into a bit of an emotional tail-spin.  Having experienced the deaths of 3 siblings and both parents – I am highly empathetic to others’ losses.  It can also bring a lot of my own grief to the surface.  The thing that caught me off guard though, was a wave – no more of a surge – of emotions  surrounding the loss of friends that occurred after the divorce.  This friend in particular, and his wife, were people I would spend time with nearly every weekend and sometimes during the week.  We would gather for baseball games, Mizzou basketball games, political debates.  We had dinner and went to parties and movies together regularly.  They were with me during the illnesses and deaths of most of my family members.  My dad passed away on New Years Eve and this friend joined my family that night as we pulled together and toasted the passing of a complex man and a difficult year.  I believed I was as close to this person as friends could be.  Yes, I met him through my ex – and they had been friends for a long time before I met them.  I thought, though, that we had a friendship that extended beyond the confined of mine and my exes relationship.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not the only friendship and relationship I have lost in the chaos of divorce, death and raising 4 traumatized children.  It’s just this was probably the closest and the event of his mom passing away brought all of this crashing in on me.  I was overwhelmed by sadness for his loss, missing this friendship more than I had realized I did, and a high level of awareness of the many others that have disappeared from my life.  It is hard to say if these relationships have dissapated because of choosing which of us to stay with in the aftermath of the divorce, or because of the drastic change in lifestyle I under went when the kids came into my life.

This is by no means meant to place blame.  It just is.  And it happened to hit hard this week how much I miss some of these friends.

Wednesday was parent-teacher conferences with Megan’s teachers.  School is always a hot-button for all of my kids.  I have described in earlier posts how Kenneth has struggled with the authoritarian environment common to all schools.  The girls, also having Attachment Disorder, have issues as well.  They manifest a bit differently, but the end result is the same – unhappy kids, unhappy teachers, unhappy mom.  If Megan likes a teacher, or if there are minimal requirements (art, music) – she is typically a star performer.  Subjects that require her to put forth effort, do homework and pay attention – not so much.  She starts high school next year, and in order for her to get into one that is safe and will provide her with what she needs to go to college, she needs to really kick into gear.  So, I was absolutely dismayed to see that she had C’s and a D in most of her core subjects.  The good new is, so was she.  She actually teared up – where in the past she would just brush it off and make a joke about it.  She sat with me and participated in discussions with the teachers about what she can do to bring her grades up.  The teachers were great – reinforcing the difference they see in the effort she is puting forth and encouraging her that if she follows through with their suggestions she will easily be an A-B student.  So, another night of emotional ups and downs.  In the end, I felt good ab0ut the conferences and Megan’s performance.  And, I was exhausted when I got home.

Then, yesterday, after work, I brought my 18 year old cat to the vet to be put to sleep.  I have had her for 17 years – she was given to me by my ex when we first started dating.  I named her Shadow – as in Me and My Shadow – she used to follow me everywhere.  We had to put our dog down just a couple of months ago and every death dredges up the kids’ fears and unresolved issues.  Patsy, who has been on rocky emotional terrain already took it especially hard.  She wanted to be with Shadow when the procedure was administered.  Once Shad went to sleep, Pasty began howling and bawling.  Now mind you, she had not interacted with this cat for weeks, maybe months – and she was often mean to her.  I found myself feeling so angry and resentful toward Patsy that I could hardly bear it.

This morning I was so tired and emotionally drained that I considered taking the day off of work – but since the kids were off school I realized it would actually be less stressful to go to the office.  Luckily I had no meetings and it was a quiet day.  After work I finally made it to the gym – the first time all week.  Thankfully that did wonders for my state of mind – along with the fact that it is finally Friday and I now have the weekend to recuperate. 

I have been working to be aware of all of life as a gift and to live in gratitude.  It is an interesting exercise to open up to sadness, resentment, aggrevation and emotional fatigue AND do so in gratitude.  It feels counter-intuitive and contradictory.  I am sure it will feel more natural as I do it more often.  Even now, though, it is a much less desparaging experience than to lamblast myself with guilt, shame, and self reproach.

It is a new and wonderful experience to treat myself with the same compassion, patience and gentleness as I do with the kids.  I highly recommend everyone give it a try.

copyrighted 10/30/09