"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Parenting Confessions

Parenting is the hardest job I've ever done. I started with such high hopes and optimistic ideals, as I suppose most parents do. Now, 16+ years in, I often wonder why on earth I ever thought I was capable of raising another human being. What was I thinking? Me? The person whose life is hardly an example of wisdom and good choices. Good intentions just don't cut it when it comes to parenting. Wisdom, patience, compassion, time, energy, selflessness, a supportive network--a good parent has all of these things in abundance, and I sometimes feel that I'm lacking almost all of them. 

The last several months have been challenging for me and my daughter. Many in my life know the details of much of what I've been dealing with, details that I won't share here on such a public forum. I'll just say it's been an incredibly stressful, worrisome, frustrating, maddening, scary, and often tension-filled several months. Our house has not been a happy home for much of the time. I've wanted to run away from home. A lot. I fantasize about no longer being a responsible, concerned parent. I question every decision I make, wondering if the boundaries I'm setting are helping or hurting the situation. I wonder if complete indifference is the answer. Maybe if I stopped showing that I cared so much about things that alarm me, the behavior would stop. But, the thing is, I'm afraid to stop caring. It seems unnatural to ignore the red flags, step away and let the cards fall where they may, hoping for the best. And yet, everything I do is met with indifference at best, and harmful rebelliousness at worst. 

It's easy to get caught up in hopelessness, despair and blame. I know I've made many, many bad parenting decisions and my daughter has faced horrible things in her young life that have affected her deeply. Some days I want a do-over. I want to rewind the clock and have the life I planned on, the one where I have a happy, stable, successful marriage, sharing parenting duties with a loving, supportive partner. Together we raise a happy, well-adjusted, caring person. 

The reality is much messier and the issues we're facing didn't emerge overnight. There is no easy, quick solution. I recognize that I'm not well-equipped to deal with this challenge. I'm too emotional, high-strung, reactive, impatient, demanding...the list goes on. I'm worn out by 12 years of going it mostly alone as a parent, juggling the demands of motherhood, full-time work and life's many other challenges. The last five years have especially kicked my ass, and I know my daughter has paid a high price for my struggles these past several years. 

A mother's love is fierce. Is it enough? Can just loving her and ignoring everything else be enough to steer her from the rocky path she's on? Can I just love it all away--all her struggles and pain? Am I trying too hard to control the outcome? Should I stop trying so hard? Can I love my way to being a better, stronger, more patient and wise parent? I don't know the answers. I can only keep trying in my very imperfect way, seeking help and answers where I can, hoping that eventually the good I've done as her mom, and my fierce, endless love for her will outweigh my many mistakes. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Battle Scars

Original sketch by Gillian Chapman
My daughter, who is a talented artist, has been practicing drawing nudes. She showed me some of her drawings the other day and told me that when her teenage peers see them they have one of four reactions. The most common is shock that she drew pictures of naked people! The second is to ask if she's into girls, because why else would she draw naked women? The third (from high school boys of course) is to say the females she drew have hot bodies. The last, and least common, is to actually look at the pictures as art and mention the skill involved in drawing a human body. We laughed together at the small-mindedness of people and talked about the many famous pieces of art that are nudes. We also talked about how the human body really is a beautiful thing to behold. It's also not an easy thing to draw, sculpt or paint well, so it's fun to see Gillian taking her skill to a new level as she attempts to master the art of nudes. 

Last night as I got out of the tub and ready for bed I studied myself in the mirror, thinking about our conversation. Our bodies really are an amazing thing. Most of the time I only look at mine from a critical point of view, constantly monitoring the incremental signs of aging, wear and tear, and the results of exercise, or lately, my lack of exercise. Living with a 16-year old mini version of myself is a constant reminder of how much my body has changed over the years. My daughter is in her prime as I'm slipping into middle age. Our bodies change as we age. Like it or not, they're physical manifestations of our life experiences and choices.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding changed my body dramatically. Any woman who has nursed a baby knows what I'm talking about! Sure, I could have restored some parts to their former glory with plastic surgery, but I love my body. I'm comfortable in my own skin, even if it is saggy in some spots now. I literally sacrificed my body for my daughter, and I'd do it again. It was a small price to pay for the gift of carrying her, feeding her and being a mom. 

The small scar on my lower back is new. It's still red and very visible, a bright reminder of the pain I experienced last year and the surgery I had to fix my damaged disc and nerve. I'm still working on regaining the strength and flexibility in my back. It's a gradual process, just like the gradual way my scar is lessening and fading. 

My legs. My poor legs. I used to love looking at the muscles in my legs, reminders of the hard work I'd done, the result of hours and hours of running and working out. Those muscles aren't what they used to be, especially in my right leg. It too shows the evidence of the challenges I faced last year. My calf muscle is shrunken and small. I don't know if it will ever again be symmetrical with my other leg. The nerve damage in it may be permanent. 

My left knee has faint scars around the kneecap, the result of knee scope surgery years ago. They remind me of the pain that was once so bad I could hardly walk or sleep without discomfort. The pain still bothers me when I run, but I've learned to manage it over the years. I decided I wouldn't let it be an excuse to stop me from doing the things I want to, like running.

My belly button has two small scars, reminders of the brief period in my life when I had a belly piercing. Yes, I once thought that was cool! I was on vacation in Brazil and it seemed like the perfect souvenir from an amazing trip. The belly button ring is long gone, but the happy memories of the experience remain. 

On my front, left torso is my tattoo with the Latin saying Hinc Ilae Lacrimae surrounded by daffodils. The words mean Hence These Tears. They are a literal representation of the pain, loss and tears I suffered after Julie's death--with me always just like the pain of her loss will be. 

And then there's my face, especially my eyes. When I look at my eyes in the mirror I see how drastically the challenges I've faced the last five years have aged me. My eyes reflect it all, every last bit of pain and suffering. Some days it's more obvious than others. I'm always a little shocked at how old I look around my eyes now. 

As I scrutinized myself last night I realized that although my body will never again be what it was when I was 16, 25 or even 40, I'm completely okay with my body and what it represents. When I look in the mirror I'm reminded of the many very hard things I've endured in my life. The marks and changes some of them have left on my body are like battle scars, reminders of things that have challenged me, changed me, and in most cases made me stronger. 

"Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real." 

~ Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses