She arrived late to the competition. It wasn’t intentional. Or perhaps on some level it was. The last battle was long and wearisome and had taken its toll. The scars she had were not by her hand, though she took them on without complaint. That was part of the rules, was it not? But after the 25-year battle, she hid, healing the wounds with salve given to her by the Earth, ensuring others wouldn’t be infected. But she was ready, knowing what she offered was valuable.
Her eyes, though battle worn, were intent and aware as she surveyed the gathering of competitors. She cringed at the sudden feeling of inadequacy. How could she possibly compete? She watched the leaders selectively sift through the crowd, letting strands of hair fall through their fingers, cupping faces more youthful than hers against their palms. The young ones were eager, wide-eyed, optimistic, less willing to cast doubt or question their leaders. They were desperate to blindly follow, compromise their values, and become something they were not, in order to serve them.
Oh, she had made that mistake so very long ago. Never again. Perhaps that was her downfall, her own boundaries getting in the way.
But she couldn’t deny the shift that was palpable in every fiber of her soul. The confidence she had in battle now whittled down to nothing as, one by one, the leaders passed her over. What could they possibly want with a veteran who saw life through narrowed eyes? They looked for trainability, not one so set in her ways. The sudden rejection left her vulnerable and weak, her ego judging her worthiness based on their approval.
It occurred to her that though her body was strong and her mind stronger yet, the young ones were skilled in ways she was not, for while she led her own battle, she’d neglected skills she rarely used, and those had eventually withered away. She argued that she had different skills, stronger skills, life skills, skills the newcomers had yet to discover. She held up the weapons that were well-honed, time-proven, and sharpened with age and wisdom. She insisted that her youth was a shadow behind her maturity and calm, and that she could fight alongside them.
But none of that mattered.
Was that punishment for the years that she refused to back down?
She stepped away from the crowd, her spine straight and jaw set. She fought against the tears that spilled from her heart as she saw her future denied by virtue of her past. It occurred to her that she had her place, but it was no longer on the front line. Times had changed, and she along with it. But she had no idea.
Until now…. until it was almost too late.
The path had been washed clear a fortnight before by the season’s first gentle rains, and in the days that followed, the spring’s warmth absorbed any hint of dampness that would cling to her feet. She could find no fault with her path or her duties as Guardian, and though optimistic, she remained vigilant, anticipating what she could not see.
A sudden wind stirred the grass and an unmistakable rumble rolled beneath her feet. The ground shook and dread fell from the trees. Her pace quickened to match the beat of her heart, but where to turn, she did not know.
The shadow loomed to engulf her, the forewarning she knew too well. She did not have time to change her footing, as the beast came at her vicious and strong, tackling her from behind, forcing her to taste the harsh reality of her choices.
Not willing to relive yet another blow, she scrambled to her feet, but slipped.
Thick, oily, green-gray mud bubbled up from between the cracks on the once smooth path, through the seams she had spent years of her life mending.
The blue sky swirled with fear and darkened to a toxic hue, then unloosed its watery fury, pelting her with shards of wet, gleaming steel. Her shoulders hunched against the pain as each stab created divots in her armor. With cold and shaking hands, she swiped at them uselessly.
Footsteps approached. Some fast, some slow, but she recognized each one. They’d always been there, surrounding her, urging her forward. Never had they allowed her to falter or lose sight of her task. Normally she basked in their presence, but now she dare not look up, for she did not want them to see the uncertainty in her eyes. The need to run and claim to the menacing skies “Let me be! I am not as strong as you believe!” exploded from her cells, howling for release.
Wisps of light circled her, hovering only moments until she closed her eyes in surrender. Blue-white heat grazed atop her damaged armor, the depressions filling in and strengthening her with resolve. Tears spilled, but quickly evaporated in the knowing that the path before her, though flooded with sludge, was solid.
With each step her load lightened and the curve of her back disappeared. Instead of studying the ground before her, seeing only the small section of the path, she stood tall and faced the beast that now stood before her. She grasped the hilt of her sword, ready to strike it down.
Its eyes were rimmed with sadness, but could easily have been mistaken for anger.
She paused. The air stilled around her, quiet as the impending death, and with ancient eyes watching the slow movement of her thoughts, she drew her sword from its sheath and held it steady at her side. Her fingers twitched, anxious for a reason.
The great beast’s gaze slid down the length of the sword and held fast at the deadly tip. Its bristly hairs stood on end. It slowly raised its head, the sadness in its eyes replaced with venom that spilled over and trickled down its time-worn cheeks.
Her armor did little good when he looked at her in that vile way. She knew it was time. Time to leave the forest behind, lest he draw the light from within her heart that she held so close. One step back, one last look, before she turned.
“Why do you leave?” the beast roared, its pain-soaked voice ripping through the thin fabric that cloaked her soul.
She slowly turned, her hand once again tightening on her sword. Whispers penetrated her mind, a reminder of her strength.
“Why do you stay?” she asked.
“The forest is dark.”
“The meadow is light.”
They stood, face to face, bound together by time long past, a bond neither could break.
“I cannot go where you lead.” The words spilled from their lips in eerie harmony, entwining like the overgrown vines suffocating the abandoned forest they once shared.
She shook her head. There was no more for her there, and though she found a bit of relief, the sadness grew inside. Sadness for the beast who will never know peace. Sadness for herself, for neither will she.
I never thought it would happen to me, but there it was. I had known about it for six months, but assumed I could right the sails and keep the boat afloat. I got caught up in what many families are facing: The end to a well-paying, long-term job. During those six months, like a cornered animal, I got a tad cranky. I felt threatened. After 18 years of working in my bunny slippers, with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in hand, I had a wake up call. One I didn’t want to answer.
I was about to be thrown out of my comfort zone and into the world of *gulp* job hunting.
Which wasn’t easy. Especially in this small town where professional jobs are at a minimum and the lines are long for the rest of the jobs that open up. Small towns are awesome. Small towns create a sense of belonging. I love knowing everyone at the bank or the grocery store. I love the fact that one of our busiest streets really isn’t so busy after all.
But none of that matters when the well runs dry, when I’m faced with decisions, when I feel like a failure. A new plan was needed fast. The more I thought about it, the more I looked at the circumstances, the choice was clear. I needed to look outside of this town.
If I were to be honest, I’d been feeling as if my wheels were spinning and that I forgot who I was – still. I’d been talking about a finding new direction for awhile, but since I was swimming in my comfort zone, I had no reason to get out of the pool. Well, guess what. Losing my job was the kick in the ass that I needed to move forward.
What I hadn’t counted on, though, was that I would be going at this alone. The boys and I had been a tight unit and I assumed we’d move together. But ‘twas not to be. They wanted to stay with their father in Idaho for their own reasons. Reasons I understood, but still I felt I failed on many levels. Was I that bad of a mother that they didn’t want to be with me? Shouldn’t I sacrifice a few more years and stay here just in case they needed me? How much would this hurt them in the long run?
Infused with guilt, I spoke with my uncle who reminded me that, in the face of knowing we would miss each other, would miss the routine we’ve developed over the years, both boys made a very deliberate decision. Sure, they could have taken the easy way out and followed me, looking to me to handle things, but I’ve taught them to be free thinkers and to make choices based on what they felt was best for them. It had always been my intention to pass at least one morsal of something to them, and here I had my proof.
Feeling somewhat better, I chose to practice what I preach: Do something that is best for me. After putting my needs on hold for 25 years, now is my chance to follow opportunities that will further my choice of career. Opportunities I cannot find here in North Idaho.
I want to show my boys a side of me they haven’t yet seen before – the woman who waited patiently behind the mother. I want my sons to see me as a healthy and successful person, not the overbearing, overprotective mama bear who pushed them to realize heights I knew they were capable of, all while I was feeling frustrated because I wasn’t reaching my own potential. I want to be the best person I can be, to show them that my happiness is as important as theirs. My reasons for doing this, as painful as the process might be, will serve them as well as me.
And the timing is right. My job had allowed me to work from home for the last 18 years and over those almost two decades I’ve seen my oldest through to graduation and my youngest get through middle school. I’ve taught them as many life lessons as I have experienced myself, taught them social graces, and how to be kind to others. Now the rest is up to them.
Yes, I’ll definitely miss the little things, the daily routine, the chance to hug them when they’re feeling sad or happy, but through Skype, texting, phone calls, and Facebook, I’ll still be able to nag – I mean, guide – them through the trials and successes and celebrations big and small. The moments we share will be sweeter, the visits will be anticipated events.
The silver lining to all of this is that I will have the opportunity to discover who I am and what I need to feel whole, because when we become mothers and wives, so many of us lose sight of ourselves. It’s a continuous process, one I started two years ago. I have a very specific plan A, with no plan B, so there won’t be any falling back. Only forward movement. By expanding my horizons outside of this town, I will be able to bring more of the world to the boys. It’s the put-on-the-oxygen-mask-first-before-putting-it-on-the-children mentality.
My uncle also told me, “Go ahead and feel guilty if you must, but it would be a mistake not to try.”
So try, I will.
This song, The Reason, by Hoobastank, is for you, boys. You are my reason. I love you.
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.
~ ~ ~
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!