On a good day, parenting will test the integrity of your character. On a bad day, parenting will test your will to live. Parenting children with trauma histories will cause you to test the integrity of everything and everyone you thought you knew, for the rest of your life.
~J. Skrobisz

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pulse point

I'm just me. This cool broad that married a cool dude and thought it would be cool to have a job and a family and do the boring American family thing. Those were my aspirations. I'm not a licensed professional counselor, a trauma therapist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a medical doctor, or a pharmacologist. I'm just me and I made the selfish decision to be a parent.

Yes, I said selfish because with infertility, I could have chosen to invest my life in other equally productive ways but I wanted to be a Mom. I HAD to be a mom which meant I HAD to have some other woman's children. Doesn't matter that she wasn't capable of parenting them herself. It can be argued that my educational skills would have been best employed in a proactive way to benefit humanity by helping ill-prepared moms like my kids' first mom, parent their children. It can even be argued that given her mental health issues, she should have never been in an opportunity in which she could get pregnant with children she would never be able to parent. Which in turn begets the need for educated, unencumbered persons to invest in community health programs that redirect and assist challenged persons toward a meaningful adulthood that is functional and without the undue trauma of unwanted pregnancies and court-appointed revocations of parental rights. Which subsequently brings about the birth of equally impaired children that need adequate parenting.

Dizzy yet? What about all of the mentally capable parents out there that have made ill life choices that have resulted in trauma for their children? Who is being proactive on their behalf so that they can get their lives straight and be adequate parents? I could have spent my life investing in them, attempting to prevent children from being placed by repairing and rebuilding healthy families. What about all of the ill-educated, lower class persons that don't know there is another way to live their lives beyond sex, drugs, alcohol and birthing 5 children by age 22 to keep getting the welfare check? I could have spent my life helping them. I could have spent my days teaching and mentoring in an inner city school.

I'm not saying I chose the wrong path, I'm just taking my pulse to make sure I'm still alive and living my life the way I was supposed to be living it. Because what if I got it wrong taking the reactive approach to help manage humanity's chaos instead of the proactive road? What if no matter what road I take, I still muck it up? What if I blaze a trail on the road I'm on, full speed ahead, adopt another sibling group or two of impaired and/or traumatized kids and I crash and burn because for my life, that road was a one-way ticket to disaster and I missed the warning signs in my blindness to do what I thought was right?

My pulse says I'm just Jennie, a cool broad that married a cool dude who thought it would be cool to have a job and a family. I'm nothing special. I like to love and be loved. I like music and reading, sewing and laughing, being outdoors and being alone. I just want to embrace me and all the wonderfulness that is me and not feel guilty about it. I don't always want to be therapeutic RAD mom that has two bins in her cabinet full of some pretty strong pharmaceuticals that she has to dole out to her children every day, manages the five doctors for one child and four for the other and all the paperwork that goes with it, attends 504s and RTIs and IEPs and finds herself educating the educators, fills out reams of psychometric testing questionnaires semi-annually, drives to and from therapies ad nauseum, reads stacks of books to learn more but never gets a degree for what she learns even when she finds herself educating the multi-degreed professionals and does it all with grace and style and a smile on her face and a grateful heart because it could have been that I never got to parent at all.

No. I don't want to be her every day. Just like I didn't want to be any of those other people that do amazing things for humans every day. I just want to be me and to feel like that is enough. I want to put my fingers on my wrist and feel my pulse. Count the number of heart beats in a minute and be glad I'm alive. I want to be happy, with a happy home, a happy husband and happy children. I want to fill our tummies with nurturing food and read wonderful stories at bedtime. I want to wake up and smile and go to bed still smiling. I want to get to the end of my life and say, "it was hard work most days, but it was fun and it was worth it. No regrets." I don't want to wonder if I should have adopted more children. I don't want to feel guilty if I never do. I don't want to be afraid that I'll parent my RADish incorrectly or miss some crucial turning point in her recovery. I don't need to beat myself up for getting annoyed with her therapist that doesn't have challenged children and unwittingly makes ill demands of moms that do. I don't want to feel bad that she's had to be at an RTC. I don't want to always think about their first mom because gosh golly, I'M the mom! I don't want to spend my energy feeling like I've let God down because I didn't "die to my self" enough, whatever that means. I don't want to worry that I'm letting down all of the family and friends in my life. I don't want to wear myself out always trying to be a better person. I don't even want to think all of these stupid questions in my head anymore!

I just want to be Jennie, the cool broad that married a cool dude and wanted to be selfish in life and have a cool family and a cool job. I really didn't want anything more than that. Regardless of how many hats I try to wear in this lifetime, how many hoops I try to jump through to be the best possible person I can be or how many coulda-shoulda-wouldas I run through my head, my heart will keep beating ... until it stops. Somehow, in the middle of the insanity that is my life, I must be allowed to just be Jennie or my heart will stop beating sooner than I'd like.


Alena said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



J. said...

sometimes I too get frustrated by the hand that has been dealt, not what I thought it would be but there has been a lot of peace for me in learning to love what I have in the moments that I like it least... hang in there and you will find what you need, maybe not right now but you will find space for that "cool Jennie"
Hang in there

Diana said...

A big part of being able to be effective at anything we do in life, no matter what path we choose is separating fantasy from reality. Reality is that NONE of us can have it all and we can't be everything to everyone. Superman (or Superwoman in this case) only exists in the movies.

What? You don't believe me? Find a mom who is the cool chick that married the cool dude and now has a super cool job and a super cool family and then study their life. Frst of all, quietly observe them without the rose colored glasses. Look at their marriage, look at the relationship with their kids and what impact that has on the kids' school, social, and emotional well being. Look at their job performance. Look at the state of their home. Look at how many people they are having to pay to maintain this perfect little life of theirs (nannies, stylists, tutors, marriage counselors, landscapers, housekeepers, etc.) Then talk to this person. Find out from their perspective what they really think of "having it all". Most will tell you they wish they could be a better mom to their kids, that they didn't have to spend so much time at the office, that they had a better marriage, that they wish they didn't have to carry so much guilt or regret, that they wish they could afford to maintain the sense of style they had in college, or that they wish they had more time to themselves to rest and relax because every dime they have and every ounce of their time and sanity is being spent on maintaining the dream and the image, leaving no time to actually enjoy life.

I was quite struck, however, by what you wrote about the other options you once had and how they might have turend out. I've actually seen first hand how that "other" scenario really turns out. I had an aunt, a great-aunt really (she was my grandpa's sister, but I knew her well.) She was a wonderful, spunky, caring, intelligent lady. When infertility crossed her path and marked her life, she did choose that "other" path you spoke of. She immersed herself in a public service, humanitarian oriented career. As life would have it, she also spent many years caring for her ailing brother until he finally passed away due to complications of diabetes and age. It was a noble and beautiful thing for her to do. And her life was rich and full at the time.

Sadly, not long after her brother passed away, her dear husband also unexpectedly passed on leaving her widowed and alone for the next 25 years. Once he was gone, it didn’t take long before she started becoming a little jaded and cranky. I guess that’s what lonliness does to a person. Her cool job, however, did indeed leave her quite well off and notably recognized and respected in the community for her many years of service.

Fast forward a few more years. Her career eventually ended and her home was empty, except for her. No one ever came home for Christmas. There was never any jelly on the woodwork, and there were no laughter of grandchildren sliding down her steep stairs on their bellies. Yes, she had lots of “family” around, but they weren’t “her” family. Sure, we (along with my grandpa and a couple of other related families) had a garden plot behind her house and we’d all check in on her and visit with her and mow the lawn when we were there. But it still wasn’t the same as having her own kids and grandkids come home.


Diana said...

She finally passed away a few years ago. She was in her early 90’s, mostly senile, and had outlived most of her former friends and relatives. In order for her youngest brother, the last surviving of her immediate family, to be able to adequately care for her and his own ailing wife during the last few years of her life, my aunt was moved out of town to a nursing facility near his home. Meanwhile, her home here in town sat vacant. It began to deteriorate and was eventually overtaken by a group of squatters. Those in charge of her estate were finally able to get them kicked out, get the home repaired, and get it sold shortly before she passed away. She never knew about most of it. But what she did know was the lonely heartache of never having a family. On her deathbed, she cried deep tears of question and regret. “Why? Why didn’t I ever have a family??” She passed away in the late fall. A large family reunion was held in her honor at a nice local restaurant immediately following her funeral. It was completely paid for out of her estate.

So what’s my point with that? It's great to do pulse checks on ourselves, just to make sure we're still breathing and all (because yah, sometimes we do forget.) But it's also equally important to do reality checks on ourselves as well. As an outsider, I can clearly see that a huge part of your frustration and weariness is coming from still clinging so tightly to the fantasy version of you and your life and the unexpressed and unprocessed grief that’s come from life not turning out like the fantasy or how they do in the movies. And, it's killing you.

You see, every decision we make in life changes will in some way affect every future one that comes after it. Every challenge we face in life presents a fork in the road. I heard a fantastic talk given by a retired airline pilot not too long ago in which he talked specifically about the difference that varying just a couple of degrees from one’s intended destination can make. As one of his examples, he set up the scenario of taking off in an airplane from the equator with the intent of circling the globe. He then stated that if you varied from your intended course of travel by just one tiny little radial degree, by the end of your journey, you would find yourself more than 500 miles from your intended destination.

While the main point of his talk was actually spiritual in nature, his example is also very applicable to life in general. Each of us face life circumstances and make choices every single day that shift our course and ultimately change our realities. Some of those events seem big and obvious, but others are more like that airplane who shifts just one tiny degree somewhere along the way, leading us further and further away from our intended destination. And before we know it, we find ourselves landing Holland when we intended to vacation in Japan.

Reality is that you ARE still Jennie, through and through. You are Jennie who is married to a window washer with a bum knee. And that super cool job you have is maintaining a cyclical window washing business that may or may not pay the bills, depending on the weather, the time of year, the economy, and the general state of the window washer’s health…most of which you have absolutely no control over. You are Jennie who had her life and dreams forever altered by infertility and a thousand other life experiences and choices as well. And, you’re also Jennie who made a conscious decision to love someone else’s children enough to be the mother they deserve. You are Jennie who didn’t choose the humanitarian career, but chose to get down in the trenches, roll up your sleeves and actually DO what you may otherwise have only taught people about. You chose to adopt a sibling group of children, some of whom have significant special needs, and all of whom knowingly came from a risky background. You’re also Jennie who is suddenly realizing she’s ended up in Holland, not Japan.

still more...

Diana said...

So what do you do now? You do the only thing you can, my friend. You let go of Japan and embrace Holland. I believe you already know deep in your soul that Japan isn’t the place for you. Too many choices and life experiences along the way have made it impossible to simply back up, course correct as if nothing ever happened, and eventually still end up in Japan. If you were to try, most likely you’d just end up in Nigeria, still longing for the Japan that never really existed, questioning all the “what could have beens” of Holland, and still wondering how in the world (and why) you ended up in Nigeria.

You can’t change your window washing, bum-kneed, dad to your kids husband into a Ken doll complete with a tux and corporate office. You can’t change infertility or the profound affects it had on your life. You can’t change the choice you made to adopt children instead of pursuing a career. You can’t change what your kids experienced before they were adopted. You can’t even change anything that’s happened since you adopted them.

But what you CAN do is start over right here and now and right from where you’re at. Embrace that window washer with the bum knee and celebrate his greatness. Embrace that window washing business and figure out how to maximize it’s potential, diversify it so it isn’t so cyclical and dependant on one person’s health, or whatever you need to do to make it more self-sustaining and profitable. Take some business classes or bring on a consultant if you need to. Or, get rid of it and try something else if you’re constantly having to feed too much into it (which is generally if you’re not making enough to meet the monthly fixed expenses such as payroll, rent, equipment payments, etc.)

Personally, I don’t believe that choosing to become a parent is a selfish decision at all. In fact, it’s one of the most selfLESS decisions a person will ever make. So, embrace those special needs kids. Learn how to parent how THEY need to be parented, because yes, it is very different than most other people’s kids need to be parented. And then stand back and watch the miracles unfold as they heal.

Look at different resources, too. There isn’t one single one that has all the answers. Even if, on careful self inspection, you find you came into parenthood looking for perfect little Stepford children to have as companions or the latest in fashion accessories or for whatever other reasons you did it, and regardless of any past mistakes, you can change how they’re being parented and embrace all that those kids are and have the potential to become.

very verbose today...still more...

Diana said...

The one last thing you can (and must) do grieve the losses and unintended changes that came into your life when reality clashed with expectations and dreams (infertility, RAD, husband not coming complete with a tux and a Harvard degree, or whatever else is getting in the way of you being able to fully embrace your new life in Holland.) You grieve those things just like you would the death of any loved one…which is by allowing yourself, and forcing yourself if necessary to move through all the stages of grief. Those are: Shock/denial, anger, bargaining or blaming, sadness/sorrow/depression, and finally acceptance.

Too often we find ourselves stuck in the process, and then wondering why we’re depressed, exhausted, and completely wrung out mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and financially. If you find yourself stuck somewhere (usually on one or two of the first four stages), do a little research on grief. There is tons of information available on the internet on how to grieve and how to get through it and how to let it happen.

Also consider that fear is often one of the biggest reasons we get stuck. This was definitely the case for me (and still is in some areas.) I felt like there was a tidal wave of emotion threatening to sweep me out to sea if I let my guard down. But when I finally did, it felt so good to get rid of all that junk. Grief sucks, there is no doubt about it. It’s hard, too. But it’s worth it. And no, it didn’t sweep me away and it didn’t destroy me as I feared it would…but it would have had I kept holding on to it.

Finally done :-)