I had no idea that the gap that launched me into single status could possibly get any wider. I can see now, though, how inevitable it would be, for as I kept taking steps backward, slowly turning away from the disaster my life had become, and finally running like hell, my scenery changed, my viewpoint cleared, and my vision sharpened. I found myself standing in a place my ex would never understand. The rules regarding school work, curfew, healthy eating – the rules that united, albeit loosely, the ex and I together – soon became the mother of all disagreements.
Seventeen years ago, as part of my efforts to be the “perfect” mom, I adopted other women’s examples of what raising children “should be,” even if it didn’t resonate with me. Man, was that exhausting. I had rules up the wazoo and fought to keep them in place. And the boys fought back.
But eight months ago the blinders dropped to my feet and I found that I had forgotten to preach what I practiced. The solution was so simple.
Let them be.
Which is exactly how I prefer to be treated. I don’t want anyone telling me what to do or telling me what path to choose, so why should I do that to my boys? Sure, my body may be older, but my children’s souls are just as experienced as mine. These boys aren’t mine in the possession sense. From a spiritual point of view, I don’t have the right to put borders around their spirits and make them the exact image that society or even I believe to be true. I’m here to guide them, not mold them. They know who they need to be. Besides, what a waste of time when quite possibly after 18 years, they’re going to do and be what they want anyway. I know I did.
It is my belief that we come into this existence knowing what our life path is. The road map has already been printed up, although our free will sometimes overrides that map and takes us on some wild side trips. When we truly deviate off that path,though, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Don’t we feel the discord when we want to go one direction and someone tries to convince us otherwise? Especially if the only source of righteousness is in their own mind? Or what about compromising on something we truly believe in?
My mother pushed me to go to college because it was what I “should” do, yet all I did was spin my wheels, lost a lot of brain cells, and ran up a student loan that never should have been. Besides, halfway through the first year I realized I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. This is one area I won’t push my boys on. No amount of lecturing is going to make this the right choice for them. True motivation must come from them. Otherwise it becomes my job to keep them going, a burden that will have us both resentful.
In the months past, I’ve gotten a clearer view of who my boys really are. Without the shoulds masking their true source, I’ve been able to appreciate their way of thinking. I’m beginning to understand what makes them tick and why they don’t fit into the boxes I’ve been trying to put them in.
Sex, drinking, drugs, school, safety, curfew – those are issues I will never compromise on. Honestly, though, I have no control over their ultimate decisions on those topics, but I’ve made damn sure they know what the consequences are if they deviate from my “recommendations.” So, armed with that information, it’s their decision as to what outcome they desire.
Some may think this is the wrong approach or the lazy way to parent, but it is actually very difficult at times. To stand back and watch their actions put in motion a set of reactions (whether they be mine or someone else’s) makes me want to peek out from behind splayed fingers. It’s nothing short of a challenge to stay back and let them do damage control. On the flip side, when they are really thinking it out and the outcome is in their favor? It’s awesome.
It felt good to finally release the ties, because forcing the boys to do what they clearly do not want to do didn’t resonate with what I was all about – freedom of choice and independence. I’ve let my boys make choices of when to go to sleep (though the connection between late nights and being tired the next day still hasn’t sunk in), meals, what school classes to take, and friends. As long as safety isn’t an issue and they’re not hurting others, I’m good.
Which might explain why they gravitate to me and not to the “other.” That “coolness” factor I seem to have with the boys and their friends is, I believe, actually the elation they experience when they connect with who they are.
Think about the people we tend to gravitate toward – those who speak to and understand our souls. Not those who contradict or repress our fires, but those who stoke it, feed it, and encourage it to rise.
My boys’ path is their own. I’ll be there to dust off their knees, put a band-aid on a broken heart, give them advice on hangover cures, and I’ll give them room to fly, because they’ll need it to get over the Grand Canyon-size crevasse of thought that yawns between “the other half” and me.
You know what it is. Sometimes it’s hereditary, sometimes it’s picked up from the environment we’re in. It can be in the air, easily passed along from one person to another. A lot of the time we’re scratching our head wondering where the hell it came from. And it’s not gender specific. Both male and female can be afflicted.
Though there are a few people in the human population who are immune to this, like, say Mother Teresa, most of us are able to steer clear of it, but even the toughest ones can fall prey.
Like me, for example. I contracted a bout of this many years ago after being around someone with a similar affliction. It was short-lived, fortunately, but from that day on, I’ve been diligent about keeping myself free and clear.
What is this Nasty? Pure, undiluted Meanness.
The day it hit me, I had a slap-in-the-face reality check. After some particularly choice words from my ex over the subject of laundry, of all things, I came back at him with a line so vile, so below the belt, both of our jaws dropped. Neither of us could believe that I, one of the nicest people I know (okay, I’m in the top 100 of those I know), could have actually said what I did. It was so out of character, so…so…not me. All I could do was close my mouth and slink away. I couldn’t even say I was sorry. Because I had meant it at the time. That was the part that shocked me – that I was even capable of saying something so hurtful. Since that day I have kept my mind and mouth in check, because the look on my ex’s face will burn forever in my brain.
But what about others who do this on a constant basis? Earlier this week some friends, including “T” from Give Me A Valium With My Latte, and I were talking and the conversation turned to women who were nasty, bitchy, and just plain mean. We’re not talking about comments in the privacy of our own homes or amongst friends, but out-in-public mean – words intending to hurt, words that travel with such high velocity, they embed in others, compelling the receiver to “pay it forward,” or at least shoot it right back at the originator with intent to maim. It has a ripple effect and unless we’re skilled at dodging that bullet (which few of us are), many of us tend to get defensive, ball up our fists, and get ready to throw the insults right back.
That is an example of a short-lived case, sort of like the flu or a cold. As soon as the offending person leaves our orbit, we’re back to our sweet selves.
I see that situation on a daily basis with my boys. Separated, they are angels. Together, I’m packing my bags, ready for a Tijuana run just to avoid their energy. My oldest asked me once, “Mom, why is he so mean?” I wanted to shake him into next week and ask, “What do you expect when you treat him the same way?” But I didn’t. We’d had that same conversation at least one hundred times. There was no need to repeat it. My words obviously weren’t going to be sinking in anytime soon.
Some people, unfortunately, are raised in that nasty kind of environment, so when they step out their front door, they are ready to face the world with a frown and a bad attitude. They are the ones who suffer with chronic meanness. They are the ones who have no intention of entering rehab. They are the ones my friends and I were having a “discussion” about this week.
It’s sad, really. Friends and family are alienated from our lives because of the words they choose to utter. (My big brother and I, for example.) Cultures are separated because of the inability to reach for a positive or grateful thought.
I’ve never understood the concept of being mean to one another, to purposely set out to dig under another’s skin until they bleed. Perhaps it feeds the need to feel superior. I don’t know. Like I said. I don’t get it. “T” and I, along with many of my friends, prefer to live in a “no drama zone,” and I think that’s where I’m going to set up house. Not only is it easier on the body, but just think how much money we’ll save in Botox injections. Sheesh.
It never ceases to amaze me how diverse we all are as individuals, yet our experiences and emotional journeys are so similar. As in writing, there are no new stories to tell, no new plots that haven’t already been discovered, only new ways of experiencing them.
Over the years I have listened to fellow blogger and friend, Kathleen Mulroy, when she shared stories about life with her adopted daughter and how challenging it was when her daughter’s mental health issues sat in the driver’s seat of their lives. I asked Kathleen if she would blog about her journey and give us a glimpse into her heart during the years since adopting Katie.
I am happy to say that she accepted. Now I will step aside and bring you her story…
“I Love You, Mom.”
By Kathleen Mulroy
Once upon a time, my husband and I adopted a newborn girl. Naturally, we were determined that Katie would grow up healthy and happy. And I knew we would succeed because I would be the most loving, diligent mom ever to grace the planet. Failure just wasn’t an option.
“What’s for dinner, Mom?”
I turned to answer ten-year-old Katie as she came into the kitchen, but I was so shocked at her appearance, I couldn’t speak. Her lovely, long, thick eyelashes had vanished. She had plucked out every, single one.
I managed to choke out, “Wh…why did you do that, honey?”
Blank-faced, she shrugged. “I didn’t like my eyelashes. They tickled and they’re too curly. So I pulled them out.”
Katie removed her eyelashes for the next several months before deciding to let them grow back. But then she attacked her eyebrows, plucking them until almost nothing remained. She shaved her arms, complaining that they were too hairy. She picked at herself until she had permanent scars up and down her legs. And she became a cutter, once carving the number seven into her upper arm.
From the beginning, my husband and I adored Katie. We gave her lots of hugs and told her every day how much we loved her. We read to her each night. We took her to museums and plays. She and I participated in play groups and attended mom and child gymnastics classes. Her preschool was the best in town. But nothing we did seemed to make any difference. Katie’s mood swings grew ever more extreme; manic, then depressed. She had awful night terrors. She lied about little and big things. Sometimes she destroyed her personal property, even cutting up her clothes in fits of rage. Worst of all, sometimes she hurt her little brother, our biological son. I couldn’t leave her alone with him. Katie binge-ate and hoarded food. In sixth grade she attempted suicide by downing some of my prescription allergy pills. Several of her childhood friends started to avoid her, and she made new “friends” who – as we found out much later – introduced her to drugs.
Over the years we took Katie to three different therapists, as well as a neuropsychologist and a psychiatrist. She saw a speech pathologist for language deficit issues and an occupational therapist for her memory problems. Desperate, I read book after book on raising a “difficult” or “challenging” child, and at last came to the conclusion that Katie was probably bipolar. It was also evident she had severe attention deficit disorder. Our psychiatrist eventually agreed, but medications proved to be ineffective.
All of my love and diligence as a mother seemed to be in vain, and this apparent failure tore me up inside – literally. Over a period of ten years, I was hospitalized four times with life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding, and I began stumbling down the long, dark road of clinical depression. My husband and son suffered, too. Katie was increasingly verbally and physically abusive to all of us, and we were afraid of her. She gained emotional control over our household.
When our daughter was fourteen, my husband and I reluctantly took the advice of the “experts” and sent Katie to the first of what would be four residential treatment facilities. Each placement was punctuated by attempts to bring her back into our home, because we wanted our dysfunctional family to become functional. But things just didn’t work out, and we were devastated.
For the past few years Katie has lived elsewhere; sometimes with her birthmother, sometimes with a roommate or a boyfriend. An adult now, she still struggles with mental health issues and has a particularly difficult time maintaining good relationships. Yet, surprisingly, she calls us nearly every week to check in and even remembers our birthdays. Even more amazing is the fact that at the end of each call, Katie says, “I love you, Mom.” And I always say, “I love you, too.”
So, I guess my diligent motherly love did result in a kind of success, though it’s certainly not what I’d hoped for when I first gazed with wonder into my new daughter’s big blue eyes. But it will have to do, and I’m grateful for it.
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Kathleen, thank you so much for being a guest on my blog and sharing your story! What an inspirational story of love and your determination to make things right. Some things in our life are not ours to control, and we just have to let them go. You and your family are amazing!