Bully

High school.  Senior year.  Everything was set.  Friend groups, cliques, who was cool, who was not.  The order of things was already in place.

I trusted you.  With my friendship, with my secrets, with my heart.  That must have made it so easy.

No warning; complete blindside.  One morning: silence.  From all three of you, simultaneously.  I was invisible.  I was not even worthy of an explanation.  I was now outside the circle.  I had no idea why.

I had to cover; save face.  I couldn’t react, not in public.  I cried in private instead.  I kept my head up.  Came to school every day.  Pretended I could cope.  Eventually, found a new order of things to exist in.

Little did I know you weren’t done yet; the silence was only the beginning.  Then came the side glances followed by whispers and laughter.  The prank calls.  The crude writing on the side of my car — at my work.  Eventually, it stopped.  But not until you’d left your mark.

It was one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me.  Damaged me then, damaged me later.

To this day, I still don’t know the reason why you did it.  I do know that I don’t trust women easily, even now.  I can count on one hand the number of female friends I have actually let in.  I am cautious with my heart, with my secrets, with my friendship.  I learned.

I learned to protect myself.  I learned to keep my head up.  I learned to rely solely on my own power of will that I could make it through the next hour.  The next day.  The next week.  I learned to be strong.

You did not break me.  You did not win.

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What Do You Do?

What do you do — when your child is hurting, but you don’t know why, or how to help?

What do you do — when her eyes plead “help me“, but her mouth screams “GET AWAY! DON’T TALK TO ME! LEAVE ME ALONE!

What do you do — when the girl you carried is now taller and stronger than you may ever be?

What do you do — when your solutions fail you, when your words are not enough, when you feel like an impostor in maternal skin?

What do you do — when the path is unclear, when the road signs vanish, when you both are so lost and can’t find your way out?

Love.  You love.  That is what you do.  You love, and try, and fall, and get back up, and love, and try again.

A Moment

GirlShe held my hand today.  We were hugging and being silly, then she held my hand as we walked into the kitchen.  This closeness is a rarity; a gift.

Often she is aloof; too busy becoming the teenage version of herself.  She is occupied with friends and music and YouTube shows and sketching and anime.  She is focused on feeling empowered; being the ‘funny’ one; sharing secrets and texts and songs.

She is my little girl long gone; she is my adolescent wonder.  She is more familiar to me than my own heartbeat, and yet an ever changing creature I must meet anew each day.

She is my heart.  And today, she held my hand.

Cornell

If I should be short on words, And long on things to say 

Could you crawl into my world, And take me worlds away 

Sonic imagery.  So vivid.  It pulled me in long ago, and kept its hold for years.  The timbre of his voice and intricately crafted lyrics soothed my heartbreaks; salved my rage; sparked me to live at my highest octave, full of life and energy and sound and light.  He had a knack for laying his struggles and imperfections out bare; I could listen to his words and voice and identify my own labor and loss in life.  It made me feel less lonely; less weird and fucked up.  I had a companion in my pain and struggle, with whom I could sing and wail at the top of my lungs out loud about all of it.

His music was the catalyst for many significant events of my life.  Meeting people that shifted my world; my way of thinking.  Introducing me to other artists who, quite literally, changed my soul.  Leading me, eventually, to the man I would marry; through whom I gave and received love, including three amazing stepsons and the creation of an extraordinary daughter.  And afterward, softened the blow of an unexpected path taken that led to new chapters.

His imprint on my world, like his music, will remain; in my heart, in the fabric of who I am.  I will miss what could have come next.

Why doesn’t anyone believe, In loneliness

Stand up and everyone will see, Your holiness

I Will

I have disappeared.  It was not sudden.

Today in the shower it hit me like a boulder.  I have spent 20 years of my life trying to be someone I am not.

Eight of those with a boy-man who did not deserve my love, yet I threw it at him as if my life depended on it.  I started the journey with him so head-strong, confident (sarcastically so).  I ended it not knowing if I was worth being loved.  He broke me down to my most insecure parts.  Why?  I don’t think it was intentional.  He was unfaithful, but parts of him cared for me.  I stayed through it all.  I lost my spine.  I convinced myself that my only salvation was for him to love me.  I shut off all the pieces of myself that made me true.

I spent a couple of years after that relationship bobbing in a sea of numbness.  Uncertainty.  Edging towards healing.  I did not give myself enough time nor credit.

I spent fifteen more years with a man who loved me dearly.  He had a good heart.  He was a good father.  But I was still an imposter in my own head.  I tried (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to be a good wife, a good step-mother.  I don’t regret the children and family I loved then.  I do not regret the lessons I learned.  I regret least of all the beautiful gift of a daughter we made together.  I DO regret that I was still so lost, so far from myself.  Towards the end of the relationship, I started to find myself again; oddly, with chronic pain as the catalyst.  I had no more room for pretense, for hiding, for glossing over.  I became raw, and ran towards my damaged parts to cover and protect them.  I broke his heart, unintentionally.  He broke mine, unintentionally.  I pulled the trigger to end it, because he never would.  I made the decision to save us both.

I am now foggy.  I still haven’t found my way back to my soul.  It is hovering below the surface, protecting itself from – well, from what I don’t know.  I am still healing.  I am still learning.  I am working my way back up.  The mountain is sometimes so tall.

I will get there, I think.  I will not get there, I fear.  I will put one foot in front of the other.  Every god damn day.

Teach

individual

My child works hard.  Every day, she works as hard as she can to manage the world, all that’s in it, and her related reactions.  At times, this is difficult for her; she feels things differently than others do.  More heightened, more visceral.  Sometimes it’s hard for her to control, but she’s learning.

At the same time, she’s working hard to become HER.  She is learning what she likes and does not, what makes her comfortable and does not.  She’s trying to find her space in her own skin.  I see it in her choices and actions.  Short, edgy haircut.  Preference for blue clothes.  Aversion to frills and dresses and pink.  The request to be called by a name of her own choosing.  She is diligently working to be individual.

She is also in the first year of junior high where, at times, ‘individual’ is often seen as: ‘different’, ‘strange’, ‘outlier’.  And still she powers forward, making every effort to be who she so desperately wants to be.  This causes a lot of internal conflict; I see it on her face and in her emotions.  Working to be unique and true to herself, yet consistently hitting the wall of others’ expectations.  It’s tough to watch, as her mother; I guide her as compassionately as I can.  I also reinforce for her that whatever she chooses to do and whomever she chooses to be is HER choice.  But a mother’s opinion only goes so far when you’re wading through an ocean of peer judgment.

This year she’s garnered some new friends at school.  There have been some missteps, but for the most part it’s going well.  Yesterday, however, she told me something amazing.  Well, both not amazing, and amazing.

The not amazing part was that some of the kids at school were giving her a hard time.  Because of her chosen moniker and her style of hair/dress, it seems some of the comments are that she’s “trying to be a boy”, instead of a girl.  (This is compounded by the fact that last year, her core group of friends were all boys, and she’s still close with them.)  You can imagine that this is a hurtful calling out for someone who’s just trying to be true to herself.  I could see that this really bothered her when she shared it.

As adults, we know that hair, clothing style and friend choice don’t determine who you are in your core.  And, for the record, I wouldn’t care if she chose to be a boy, a girl, or a frog, so long as she felt comfortable and happy in her heart.  But kids her age aren’t often that seasoned, nor that open.  So ‘difference’ carries a lot of weight.

Now here is the amazing part…  When these comments were made, she was with one of her newer friends, also a girl.  This friend – this amazing young lady – looked at the naysayers and said (per my daughter’s retelling), “Well, I don’t care.  I like her anyway.”

That.  THAT.  You should have seen the look on my daughter’s face when she told me THAT.  It was like joy and relief and gratefulness mixed all into one and lit up her being for the world to see.  She told me that after her friend said that to the other kids, my daughter hugged her until she couldn’t breathe.  I did my best to give her space to share without stepping on her story.  But inside I was jumping and screaming with joy at the top of my own (silent) lungs, just to see her face in that moment.

These things are taught:  Acceptance.  Compassion.  Inclusion.  Yet they are so hard-won and fleeting, particularly in the maze of the junior high jungle.  But when they appear, they shine so brightly as to provide a beacon for those who are struggling.  They light the way.  Teach them to your children; make them part of their world.  In turn, they will teach others.

Our Village

Most people are familiar with the saying, “It takes a village…”  Well, it’s not untrue.  And this year, as my girl navigates her first year of Junior High, our village just expanded in a big way.

Instead of one main teacher all day, she now has seven.  Plus one behaviorist.  That’s EIGHT contacts.  This is a huge shift for my kiddo for whom change is sometimes hard.  Needless to say, this was also a big change for Mama who works hard to partner with the school in the best interests of my girl.  The prospect of now having eight checkpoints instead of one was daunting, to say the least.

I recently needed to check in with her instructors to gauge how things were going, and address a snack situation (she needs to eat periodically during the day).  So I emailed them all as a group, hoping I’d hear back from a few.

The response, however, was much more extensive.  I heard back from not just a few, but ALL of her teachers.  And not quick little replies, either.  Fairly thorough missives about how she’s been doing in class, and any issues they see popping up.  They were so genuine and detailed; it was absolutely heartening.  Many thanked me for reaching out, and asked for strategies to employ with her in some areas.

The conversation had not only begun; it was flowing openly, and WELCOMED.  This. Is. Huge.  I know that, on the whole, teachers advocate for their students.  But when you have a child with challenges, it’s not uncommon to worry that the extra work and communication needed from them may be seen as a burden.  To have such an involved response is a huge relief, and helps me be more secure in the fact that they have her best interests in mind as she learns with them.

I am ever grateful for this village of ours.