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

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Not for the faint of heart

Half of my childhood was spent in Lancaster County, PA, also known as "Amish country". Maybe it's where my love of the outdoors and green spaces, gardening and quilting came from. I've always considered it "home" and I miss the honest, humble, every-day people that live in Pennsylvania. All over the state, people are just ordinary folks, squeezing out a life and a living. Not unlike the Amish horses that pull the buggies with blinders to shield their eyes from colorful, fast-moving or otherwise distracting objects that might spook them, the average people there move through life in a similar fashion. Every home is different, every family has different rules but all have the same goals to love God, love family, and do what is necessary to provide all while getting along with the neighbors. With the exception of the more historic places in the state, affluence doesn't exist and where it does, it's never flaunted. Everyone is "everyman".

Now I live in a different region of the country in an extremely affluent community which has really challenged my ability to remain content with what I've been given. True, living in a community that has this much wealth has made it possible for us to operate a business. Undeniably, a window cleaning and pressure washing company would have marginal success in the rural or mining towns of PA. But here, where keeping up appearances is supreme, it is our bread and butter. So I can't begrudge the wealth that surrounds us which keeps our business open, provides an education for my children, fresh books at the libraries and keeps the roads paved. I just can't relate to it. At all.

When I'm in my little home, enjoying the comforts we've been able to provide for ourselves, I feel like I'm living a good life, providing adequately for my children and have more than God needed to provide. That's when I'm wearing my blinders, shielding myself from the distractions of my community. I'm content, I'm thankful, I never give it another thought and most days, I am very grateful that God allowed me to be born in such a wealthy nation, that I'm not raising my children in a poverty stricken, disease-ridden third world country in which my home is nothing more than mud and straw. With the blinders, I see quite clearly that which is before me - to pull my weight in this life without question. So I do, happily.

Then I go about town, I talk to people, I make connections with others, I struggle to make friendships, I help The Dad in his business and enter the homes of the other members of the community and I'm overwhelmed. I'm flabbergasted, astounded, floored and humbled by the jaw-dropping wealth around me. By comparison, I have so little. And the government agrees, classifying our family of 5 as living just above the national poverty level. I feel so incredibly outclassed, out of place, small, insignificant and unworthy. We work so hard for what we have. We are so proud to be business owners and to not only have kept it floating through a struggling economy but to have provided a few jobs for others along the way. But despite our attitude and work ethic, our morals and our ideals, by comparison, it all pales like exposed film.

If I never take my blinders off, if I stay in my little home, in my little corner of town where we fit in economically, if I only make friends with people in my social class, if I ignore the nauseating wealth of our customers, I do just fine. But if I look up for half a second, it all fades. I can't help but imagine that if we lived in a community that was comprised of ordinary Joes like us, it wouldn't matter. I never felt the economic disparity when I lived in PA, it felt like everyone was on the same playing field. Living in a community where there are still debutant balls and our customers confide that they hired us because we were white and then in the same breath ask us to park in the back because the hired help should not be seen, well, it just begs for some antacid and Tylenol for the psyche.

I try to make myself feel better by saying that I'm an intelligent woman, I taught science and math for many years in a private school. But in this community, if you don't LOOK smart, you're not. Even if you open your mouth and prove otherwise. (And the contrary is true, if the wealthy idiots open their mouths and prove they are indeed idiots, it doesn't change the community's perception because they have money to cover the ills of IQs lower than 110) I try to make myself feel better by remembering that Christ didn't promise us wealth and riches and that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than it is for a wealthy man to surrender all and follow Christ. I remind myself that Christ only promises freedom form the wages of sin and death. Well, I've already been granted that when I proclaimed Christianity and technically, that's a whole lot more to write home about than a big fancy house and three cars in the garage that are each worth more than the average U.S. citizen's annual salary. Right? That should carry me some, shouldn't it? Being honest here - sadly, it doesn't. Hey, I've never laid claims to being Mother Theresa or Mahatma Gandhi. Point of fact, that was never even a goal of mine when I set a course for this wild and crazy life though now, it seems that is EXACTLY what God is asking of me.

Thus, I continue to feel incredibly out of place, wrong, a misfit, underestimated, misunderstood, misrepresented and horribly homesick for a place that "works" for me and my family. But there's the rub. I don't have a "standard" family, do I?

Not only do I feel ostracized by my lack of wealth, I can't even relate to my peers because my children have such polarizing needs. Even if I was socially and economically equal to the average citizen of my community, I still couldn't relate because despite my extraordinary efforts to explain the daily nuances of parenting my challenged children, it escapes people how difficult even the simplest tasks are. For crying out loud, Sissy can not, under any circumstances, be unsupervised. Ever. Not even in the bathroom. At 10 years old, that makes it very challenging to have relationships with families that have other 10 year old children, annual salaries notwithstanding. Even my daily language, which has been reduced to an odd jargon of acronyms for my childrens issues and needs, is ostracizing. One mother might tell me she's taking her child to ballet recital and I say, "oh, that's fun! I'm taking mine to hippotherapy, AFO fittings and RAD sessions and my 6 year old is recovering from PTSD." Or when someone tells me they are off to the movies and then icecream and asks if would we like to come I'll say, "well, Sissy has a therapist coming to the home and then we have the pdoc appointment and I have to pick up AB's prescription..." yeah. Those are real conversation generators. not.

I should pray daily, at all times, with all kinds of prayer (Ephesians 6:18) but recently my prayers have been reduced to Lord, I need you to do something. Anything. I'm wondering what your big plan is for my family because Lord, I'm not feeling it here. This isn't jiving. And quite frankly, I'm not keen on being everybody's example of what Godly living is all about. Didn't sign up for that one. Just trying to live by Your rules and to do something that brings You glory. So anytime you feel like turning the page for us, I'm all over that like white on rice. Amen.

Then I put my blinders back on, hole up in my little house with rotting siding and trim and jump in our lopsided, wonky, red-neck backyard pool that we got on sale at Walmart, float on my busted raft and cuss at the 15 Loblolly pines that litter my yard so that it always looks like a wildlife refuge for reptiles no matter what I do. I drink a beer and splash with the kids for the whole 10 minutes before AB blows a fuse and screams that splashing is not the rule and Sissy gets in a few verbal digs toward WG when I'm not paying attention to her and then primal screams at me when I tell her she can pull a chore from the chore bucket for being disrespectful.

This life is not for the faint of heart.


GB's Mom said...

It is not for the faint of heart. And truly,I find the needs of our kids are more polarizing then wealth or intelligence.

Little Wonder said...

It's so true---it's hard not to want more when you are surrounded by more when really, we can be happy & content with what we have.

But it's also hard for me to sometimes what's a need and a want. We want a bigger vehicle...stuffing 3 kids and 2 adults into our small 5 passenger 10 year old Envoy makes not a fun trip. But it is a need or a want to look at a bigger vehicle? I don't know. Is it me being selfish and wanting more? I do know that once B hits his growth spurt there is no way he's going to fit in that back seat anymore, lol.

Bren said...

Was it wrong to giggle through this whole post???? Maybe I am warped by living this life, but I felt relief (comic relief) at your words today. I feel ya!

peacechaser said...

Interesting post. I do not have RAD kids but have felt the same isolation because i have kid with a serious illness. Its been tough to maintain friends and even tougher to make new ones. They are off to fun and we are off for more testing, they are off for vacation and we are off to the hospital. its been very isolating. Made me apprciate my job and then i got laid off because I missed so much from when my kid was sick. it is a frustrating life.

Integrity Singer said...

bren, i'm so glad it made you laugh! i was unsure about posting this - didn't want lots of reverberations from commenters about how I need to trust God more, blah blah blah. I just wanted to be honest and open about how isolating and challenging it is, how large the gap is between the lives of families with challenged children and those without. And then the gap is compounded by socioeconomic disparities ...

I'm glad people are enjoying it and relating

Jenn said...

I can definitely relate to this post! I had the opposite problem, I grew up in an affluent neighbourhood but a household that was definitely not. When I moved out on my own into a neighbourhood I could afford, I found my new neighbours to be people I could relate to much better! No Lexuses (Lexi?) or summer homes, just folks out walking their mutts, weeding their flower beds, or splashing in their inflatable pools. (There was one next door for a couple years, and it looked like fun: we're thinking we're going to get one of those this summer or next.)

As someone mentioned in the comments above though, it's more a matter of finding people who share your values and concerns. Yet another great thing to be said for having an online community.

Tudu said...

I had to skim through b/c my kids are in my face. I get the feeling of not belonging to your community. I had that where I was. It was very depressing and isolating. Just the simple act of moving across the state to be near my sister, my kids' birth family, and such has made a huge difference. I have support! They all accept us, warts and all. WHen I had an emergency inspection from DFCS, I had folks running over here to help me unpack and clean. I have never had that before. We are still in the beginning stages of becoming a part of our community. We haven't met anyone from school or the neighbors but it feels great. I suggest you move up here near me. We could start our own support group and have cookouts where no one would blink an eye when they had to move a chair for you to restrain your child safely. Of course, you would have to sell your house and find work up here. LOL

J. said...

I hear you, sometimes it feels like that out here too. faint of heart = dead with RAD around!