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.

Photo Takers

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Photos capture memories. They isolate a moment in time, almost as future proof that those 5 seconds existed. Photos will own the heart of those who see them. That may mean the swell of your heart at the warmth of that passing piece of the greater collage of your life. It can cause your heart to strain against the scars of previous breaks; to be reminded of the pain of that day, or simply to be reminded of someone or something no longer appearing in your photos. Your heart can beat faster with anger and anxiety at the sight of a much deeper story gone untold, or simply seeing another person in pain.

But have you ever gone further? Looked at a photo and looked beyond it. Tried to find the reflection of the person taking the photo in someone’s glasses, and their part of that day. The mystery of who took the photo and what part they played. What happened to the subjects of the photo before and after that moment in time was captured. A photo of a couple; do you look beyond what you see at first glance. Do you look at their eyes, notice pain or love. Maybe the photo was taken by their child interrupting a fight with fear for their parents love fading and they pulled it together in that moment only to fall apart later. The pure, raw beauty of a family with a new child, oblivious to the snapshot of their joy being recorded. The pain in a man’s eyes who has lost his way, not noticeable to anyone else than those who knew him and could see beyond the smiles of himself and those he loved. A child laughing, the epitome of simplicity in finding happiness.

I take a lot of flak from time to for my number of selfies. And while I can agree that some selfies are overdone, to me they’re always more. The advent of the forward facing camera was my saving grace in capturing emotions. I’m not going to lie, there have been some shallow ones taken on my part. To see if I really am pretty. To see what other people see when they look at me. Or just because I’m having a good hair day. Emotionally though my selfies have projected a smirk in response to someone’s sense of humor; conveying desire for another person; shown my annoyance with a situation. My selfies have been a cry for help, only visible in my eyes which tend to say far more than I ever could. Some of the photos I’ve taken of myself have been gut wrenching to see again. Knowing what happened right before that; what’s gone and what’s left and how much pain I was in at that moment, that day.

My last 18 months have seen so many moments captured purely in photos of myself. A photo taken during a deep depression where I just needed to find my way. A photo taken when someone has made me happy; feel joy. A moment when I did feel pretty; felt like enough. As mentioned in previous writing, it’s not exactly been a delightful existence this past year and a half. I’ve experienced a divorce, wrought with emotion and involving two young children whose lives were briefly turned upside down. Which meant holding it together for them. Walking against the wind, smiling the entire time even if forced or completely and totally inaccurate for what I was feeling. I’ve seen debt so severe, there were days I wasn’t sure we’d keep a place to live and when, in order for my kids to eat, I had to limit what I did. Having your best friend buy you groceries is both an amazing and devastating feeling; a reminder that you’re a 33 year old mother of two, who can’t even properly provide for her children. The death of two loved ones; whom I loved in very different ways. The deaths also much different; one an end of an era and the other proof that while you can love a broken soul, you can’t save them and you can’t keep them here if their connection to this plane is non-existent. I felt grief that tore me apart inside. Pain so intense I sometimes could only sit and look at the wall and not move. But the whole while, I needed to function. I needed to be a parent, alone. The stress of the two hours of week nights at times would take me down to either complete numbness or monumental breakdown by the time I sat down for the night. No one could know except those I told. I needed to present a strong front. I faltered some times, embarrassingly. It makes me angry that I’m embarrassed because we’re human. Feelings are something taken for granted and emotions dismissed as weakness. While I stand strong on my opinion on that, I also know I can’t change societal stigmas, and even while fighting against them, I have to comply to fit in and not make others uncomfortable. These life experiences are merely just the tip of what this past year and a half has been like. I’m not sure I would have the time or dedication to pinpoint them all, at least right now. All of this while fighting the same depression, anxiety, panic attacks and multiple forms of self-destruction I’m prone to, simply because I’m so used to pain, it’s nothing to cause myself more.

And now, I face finding a new job. Another new start and a new beginning. In a job market that’s tough as nails and I come at having only had three jobs in my life (the first for 13+ years and only ended due to my decision to stay home with my children, which was job 2). I may fake some of my bravado and cockiness; but I know that my skill set is expansive and rich. I excel at my strong suits. But due to starting my career directly out of high school; that piece of paper, the degree they all require isn’t there. As always, I try to find the positives in this. This is another new start. A chance to begin a different version of my life. One that will hold new images in those photos taken. New emotions in my infamous selfies. So when my glasses break, as they did today, and I have to figure out how to get new ones, can I really complain? Have I earned the right to bitch about what are seemingly miniscule blips in a grander roller coaster of what has been my life? Maybe I’m just not comfortable complaining. Even with what I’ve been through, I still question whether I’m justified in wallowing or even making these situations a big deal. Things could always be worse. There are people fighting much larger and more painful battles than I am. I wonder if I overemphasized first world problems just simply because my emotions are as grand as my personality.

I bounce along, chipper and smiling even despite facing yet another hurdle. I can dedicate time to my writing, take on some volunteer positions and utilize my time the best way possible. I can find the entire silver cloud and not just the linings. Truth be told, though, I’m still facing the remnants of the past, additionally. There are still memories that can take me back to the pain, the bittersweet times, happiness and complete defeat I’ve felt which just accumulates on what’s ahead. Photos that remind me what happened that specific day which cause me to relive those moments, clear as day, in my head. Over and over again. There’s a last call I’ll never forget. The pain of seeing someone gone while still there and knowing my life was about to change drastically. Seeing a photo of an old house and remembering the days where I was able to find enough goldfish crackers that I could have some, too. Guilt in days where I simply have to turn on the tv so I can keep my kids entertained. Sadly, there are times I falter in keeping it together. Where I can’t help but fall apart in utter fear of what’s happening and what else could possibly happen. Paralyzed by the realization that I have no choice but to keep pushing against that wind I’m seemingly always walking against. At some point the weather has to change is all I can tell myself. I can find the positives in these difficult experiences, whether they’re simply lessons learned to apply to my future to knowing I served a purpose in someone’s life that will never be forgotten. I meant something. I was a mom, a friend, a girlfriend, a daughter, a professional and a bundle of energy and determination that has the raw force to drive me forward when I can’t.

There are going to be thousands of photos in my life, even metaphorically. They don’t necessarily have to be onscreen or saved anywhere to have their effect. If someone catches a moment of sadness, their reflection in those glasses will remind me that while I hurt, I had support. Pure joy can be seen in the selfies I’ve taken with my memory. Progress in that framed image of two happy children who have love and while some day will have to face every emotion possible and situations possibly even worse that what I’ve seen; have parents who try to ensure they don’t always know what goes on behind the scenes. What brings me the most happiness in life, though, are the photos of others and my place in their brief snapshot. A photo of a friend with happiness in their eyes, simply because they knew I was there, unfailingly and unconditionally. The picture memory of a hug that saves someone from crumpling. If I take anything away from all of this, it’s that in the end, you have to smile, put those rabbit ears up behind your life and say cheese.