An Open Letter to My Kids

kids

 

Dear boys,

As a mom, I know that I am your stability in this world. I keep you safe, I keep you fed and clothed and sometimes I spend too much at an arcade because picking toys you’ve won lights up your faces. I took on the responsibility of bringing you into this world and know that means seeing you through every piece of it.

As babies you never slept. Some nights I had no idea how I was going to make it the next day on one hour of sleep. I’d stare at your cherubic little face in the 2:00 a.m. quiet as we rocked and I’d beg you to please try sleeping. Close your eyes and rest and let me rest so we could start again the next day. Sometimes I got mad, sometimes I cried; there were times I found myself pleading with a two month old realizing how little that was going to do. I loved you through all of it.

As you grew and as I grew and started to realize that the opportunity I had received to stay home with you wasn’t fulfilling me, I started to question myself. What kind of mother doesn’t want to keep that opportunity to be around you at all times. Who was I to want to go back to work when I had the chance to always be the one you woke up to and played with and learned with. I selfishly worried what I had done to my career by staying home. How would I find something new and make the decision to send you to strangers every day. I worried I had failed you by staying home when I wasn’t equipped to. Feared I wasn’t teaching you enough or letting you flourish. I spent so much time feeling out of place. Uncertain where I belonged. But I loved you deeply and immensely and without fail, every second of every day.

When I re-entered the working world, I wondered if it would work. Feared I may not be able to make it all flow smoothly. How often would I be able to pick you up if you were sick. My mind raced with all the things that can happen in daycare, positive and negative. Other kids could be mean, you could get hurt. Almost worse, you could get your feelings hurt. What if the teachers looked the other way at the wrong time. All while realizing I was facing proving myself to my employer and demonstrate why I was a value, after being out of the working world for an extended period of time. I didn’t know if those two years had done any damage to my success when I already started out with hurdles ahead of me. But being successful was a must. I had to do my best for myself and for you. You were always my priority. Always my driving force.

About a year later I made an incredibly difficult life choice and put you both in a confusing, hard to explain position. You were going to have two homes. Your mom and dad would have separate time with you. I had no idea how it would all work. And looking into the faces of two children under four and attempting to explain divorce will always be one of the more difficult periods of my life. You truly had no concept of what was happening. Just that your whole world was upending. All while mine was as well. I was lost, sad and trying to find my way. Keeping my head above water and still giving you the best life. I couldn’t tell you any of this, I couldn’t talk to you about those rough moments, the tears, the ugly times. I was strong for you and remained your pillar even if I was usually crumbling and patched together with crappy glue and duct tape. You were my hearts and you were what mattered.

As my life went on, and you got older, I made some pretty stupid choices. I had some life moments that are still bewildering. More hurdles, more difficulty and more sadness. But you couldn’t see that. You couldn’t be privy to those moments because you needed to know everything would be okay. I was a crumbling façade and at times you saw my weaknesses. You saw my tears and my pain and my inability to hold it together. But I kept you safe, I kept you happy and I loved you. With all of me.

During all of this, I suddenly found myself in a position of explaining death to two kids under five. Ty, with a crayon sticking out of his ear, not really understanding why we couldn’t see Grandpa anymore. Where had he gone, why did he leave. Would he be sad now that he was all alone. I kept my composure, but let you see me sad and told you how that part of life works. Even when months later we’d drive by a cemetery and you’d ask if Grandpa was coming back some day.  In that moment, I made sure you knew that Grandpa loved you very much. That he thought the world of you and that would never change.

As time has gone on, and I’ve seen how the world can be, the good and the bad, and I try to not let you see some of my latent cynicism. I don’t want to spoil any of the world for you, while your eyes still see good and your brain still processes primarily innocence.

When kids were mean to you, Dylan, I felt a rage I’ve never felt. I hurt and I cried and I wanted to put you in a little bubble and keep you with me always. But I knew that wasn’t the best way to see you through this part of life. I restrained from finding those kids and telling them they were not nice. I didn’t call their parents and ask what the hell they were doing. I got you through it. Knowing it will happen again. It’ll happen to both of you. And I have so much to fear sending you out into this big, sometimes scary world, but if I share my fear I don’t set you up for the best life you can have. If I scare you, your fear becomes too large for your hearts and that’s not what a mom wants. That’s not how I help you flourish.

As I’ve faced more difficulties, I hold it together because that’s what I do as a person. But also what I do for you. Knowing that my strength will be what you carry with you, always. The moments you see my emotions, good or bad, are the moments that shape you. Prepare you. Show you my love. Show you love in general.

Life’s going to be a real asshole sometimes. It’s going to knock you down, only to push you back down once you brush yourself off and get back up. It might do it multiple times until you just don’t know if you can get back up. But you do. Because that’s living. That’s knowing that when you didn’t realize it, you had friends helping you back up. You had family making sure you could stay up. And bandaging the wounds from falling in the first place. Life will be unfair, it will hurt, but it will also be great, wonderful and beautiful, if you let it. I’m still figuring out how that works myself sometimes. When you’re in the dark, wandering and lost, just know the sun has to be somewhere. The light has to be in a place you’ll eventually find it. Don’t give up. It’s not who you are and it’s not who we are. Because together we are strong. Together we can find our joy and what makes us who we are.

Don’t let anything stifle you. Don’t let pain guide you in the wrong direction. Keep your beauty and I can only hope the kindness I’ve tried to instill in you. I hope that as life goes on, I can continue to be your rock and the person you know isn’t perfect, but tries her damn best at everything. I hope you’re not embarrassed of my failings and while I would never tell you this now, because I know it’s unfair, sometimes it’s you two and only you two who are the reason I get back up, brush myself off and ask “What’s next.”

Because I love you and I always will.

Sweet Child O’ Mine

TY

I took a picture today. An idyllic, charming spring time portrait of a child’s whimsy. The kind of picture that you share and know becomes a moment of blue skies.

I didn’t share the photo, because it was forcing a moment. I was looking for something after struggling and it lacked substance and accuracy of the life snapshot.

As a parent, fear can be your greatest enemy. Fear of damaging the life you’re guiding and supporting. Melancholy at whether you’re doing it right; and the resounding realization that you’ll never truly know what right or wrong even mean in that role.

The child in that photo was transfixed on a popsicle; sun on his cheeks and determination in his posture. A bright spring day, which allowed kids to play outside and parents to enjoy the distraction.

The child in that photo has made me cry three times in the last week.

I know it’s possibly seen as irresponsible; potentially out of line to place blame on my child for tears. But just as my scolding can prompt hysterics in them, their interactions can sometimes bring me emotional breaks.

Children are bundles of unstable ends coming together. Forming the chapters that start the story of who they’ll be in the future. But for now they’re messy, raw, pure and kindling next to gasoline and matches.

He defies me, shows no remorse for actions, spits attitude at me with gusto and pomposity. He’s his mother’s child in his stubbornness, but hasn’t yet learned you can’t just use it in ways that don’t consider others.

And as I sit in the car, as he says he hates his brother and looks at me with intensity of disrespect, I break down. There has been minimal time I haven’t been raising my voice, or feeling exhausted or like sometimes the weight is a test I’m not sure I’ll ever stop taking.

As my parenting comes into doubt surrounding the situations, it’s very apt to bleed over to my everyday life and choices and doubting myself as a whole. Overanalyzing, mulling over as verbosely as I write.

I stared at that picture and behind it was capturing a moment I wanted to make normalcy while knowing I was merely hanging onto the pieces that gave me the heart swells. To balance the heartache at wanting to be perfect. Life metaphor, perhaps and cloying at that.

The same kid stands at the door, the door I’ve asked of them no less than fifty times to leave closed and he looks small and whimsical and pure. My heart fills and expands like a water balloon in my chest and I hug him. He tells me I’m his favorite thing. I want this to be my memento.

Moments later we hit the downswing and his impetuous actions arise that seem to be what I’m always battling and I feel the moment make me exhale with failure.

And these are our days, rushes of love from a truly kind soul that are combated by unbridled, complex emotional development at its messy worst.

There are the days where I just wonder if I’m fucking up the whole damn thing. Days where I realize there could be moments of this I reflect on when it’s been five, ten, twenty years and I won’t know the lessons until then. Moments where I hope I’m not the only one; that I’m not the roost cause and/or precipitant of what’s happening. Whether for the environment I provide; the selfish moments. If my hurdles have become theirs by default. The moments where I sit and absorb the moment and just feel helpless.

I want the knowledge that he is one of my favorite things be enough to make everything okay. The sage advice “this too shall pass” is slightly inaccurate. Because parenting doesn’t pass. That’s the best part of it. It’s always a part of you. You fight the fight together and come out on the other side hopefully as beautiful humans.

Your favorite things are sometimes your favorites because they’re not only unique to you; but also because they take more work to get and the reward is having them. Your favorite things are the pictures that are left behind. Childhood memories of bright blue skies.

 

Snippets…

Because by sharing pieces of my book, it’ll encourage me to keep going, here’s a snippet from my timeline entry style book that’s needed to take this long to write, but hopefully I’ll finish some day.

September 8, 2013

The call lasted for hours. The grape juice and vodkas I’d downed helped the process. But it was also because I was talking to someone I’d known forever for the first time. We were oxygen and fire. Feeding off each other. Ebbing and flowing. As is the way of the world; the digital playground of the internet had unearthed him. He was striking in looks. To me. His eyes. They held the world even in photos. Deeply. Dangerously I’d realize. His age a concern, but it seemed to be the path I took. Youth. At least when you were my age it seemed to be. Still in his 20s, even if nearly out.

I had no idea what I was looking for when conversation began over quick exchanges through the system’s limited abilities. Until we traded numbers and could converse on end. I was looking for something I’d lost. I’d left a marriage. I was one of those. No one plans for it. But as the world turns; and humanity evolves, we could be fickle or rather more in tune with changing together or apart.

I hated to be alone. Still. All these years later and I thrived on interaction. Touch. Caring.

We talked about work; made sarcastic jokes about whether we were each being catfished. And hours later, we realized we should probably hang up. We said goodbye and I floated for the rest of the night. There was electricity and something that was reaching me, whether preying on my vulnerability and lack of identity or simply meeting a longed for need.

We were going to meet. In three days. And it would all change forever. Indelibly.

Sink or Swim

Divorce, break-ups, endings. They’re hard. They’re messy. Even in the most simple, mutual of ways, they’ve left their mark. Emotions are felt differently by each person involved. And even on the parts of those who aren’t, but are more than happy to share their viewpoint (requested or not). When you join your life with someone’s, whether it’s 2 months or 20 years, there’s a connection, a dent left behind in your armor that will leave you either respecting it as getting through or focusing on the damage incurred. There’s never a right or wrong way. Endings can come about in so many different ways; anger, changes, growth that doesn’t match, fear, hatred, realizations, death…..

At some point you have to move forward though, no matter what side you were on. You’re entitled to all of the emotions you encounter, but sometimes they’re overwhelming. Smothering, almost. You rise to the surface for air or you push it to that last minute where you’ve got to catch your breath to save yourself. Moving forward means new encounters, which can make some uncomfortable; can cause others immense fear and in others encourage curious excitement. But truth be told, moving forward involves something new. Finding a fit and a place. Understanding who we are on our own, as opposed to being someone associated directly with another. And depending on how much of yourself you’ve either held on to, or lost along the way, the path can be muddy and dirty and tiring or a cakewalk. Somewhere in between is where more probably go.

If you’re the introspective type, song lyrics suddenly mean more; if you’re the impulsive type, you indulge in momentarily soothing behaviors typically bordering on self-destructive. Those who can ignore their feelings simply land on the next day and don’t look back. Not to say they aren’t blindsided by the acceptance of the situation down the road, but some just see the constant rotation a way of life or what they deserve.

The addition of children to the equation is the hardest part. And that’s how this started. Becoming a single parent, whether you are solely single, as in permanent custody or a co-parenting situation, it’s really effing hard. I respect any single parent who maintains their sanity, even if that means pizza and two hours of Curious George to get stuff done for an hour, only to get those five minutes to sit down before someone needs water. Or food. Or can’t put their pants on. Life’s not fair, we all know that one. But this was a situation created by one or both parties and you can’t rest on the negatives of it. It’s life. It’s the present. You suck it up for the benefit of the kids. Especially because you have to explain to them that life isn’t fair when they use the phrase on you.

Everything is more complicated. Scheduling, dating, planning, identifying your new chapter; all while remembering it has to be as smooth as possible for the children who are involved. One parent brings someone new into their life and that new person goes, you have to address the idea of loss more than once with children. (Break-ups are losses, so that counts any situation). One parent brings more than one person into the children’s life through impulsivity and searching for air in a situation where they feel they’re drowning. Excitement can be that person’s air, and the balance between that, being a good parent and mental health is a potentially combustible moment. A parent decides to move; it creates more change. More upheaval. No matter your age, adult or child, those types of changes have effects. The parents fight and the children are in the middle and the kids absorb that regardless of age. That’s not to say all parenting situations are bad. Some of those aren’t necessarily bad, depending on how the parents handle it individually and with or without a united parenting understanding.

Having a bad day? Suck it up. Those kids need you. You might be lucky enough to have a co-parent who will change the schedule to allow you the time you need to decompress. Yet you also have to understand that you are the parent at that time and you can’t expect another person who has been removed to be that understanding or flexible, given that you now have separate lives, especially if they have brought someone else into their new path. (I hate using the word path. But it’s really the best description. Road? Trip? Go with it.)

You have to understand what you can do in your alone time and what can cross over. The mistakes you make, the losses you experience, those are all a part of their lives and if the children are young, explaining can be difficult and if they’re older, the ability to comprehend the situation without explanation will mold some part of that child’s future. You can have a bad day with the kids, but then you also may get the whole next day off (for lack of a better word) and know that while you’re dwelling on other life moments and feeling sorry for yourself, that parent may be having the same rough day. While having to solely monitor, watch, feed, give permission to, drive to events; etc.

Being alone is hard, no matter how strong you are. No matter how used to it you are. Being with kids alone can be incredibly trying and also incredibly rewarding. You manage to keep a roof over their heads, food in their stomach and clothes to wear and some days, that’s what you have to pat yourself on the back for and be okay. There are days where you have to leave the room and that’s okay. There are days when you don’t have the kids and be okay with that and not feel guilty. If you’re the sole caregiver, you don’t have to feel guilt for relying on a support system, or feeling burdened by the lack of one. We all just do our best, even if our best can suck, subjectively.

As usual, I’ve strayed from place to place. My end implication is always the same. Life is hard. Tricky. Either handed to us or earned. It’s what we do with it. Some choices will be right, some will hurt, some will leave marks and some will be in a gray area. If you want the less sunny description of life, you could compare it to a swimming instructor. Life is either going to teach you by keeping on the arm floaties or standing on the sidelines, yelling “Sink or swim, bitches!”

You can hate yourself for mistakes, feelings, emotions and reactions or you can face them and then make your next choices accordingly. I’ve contradicted myself in the last statement, and I acknowledge that. That’s kind of life, though, isn’t it.