Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mother's Day Evolution

Did you have a nice Mother's Day?

I'd say mine was pretty good.  My kids were all (eventually) home and my husband prepared a delicious, home-cooked meal.  But it's different celebrating Mother's Day now, with kids coming and going, compared to when they were younger and Mother's Day was filled with sticky kisses and homemade cards.

Things were just a whole lot more simple then.

I miss those days. 

The Mother's Days when the only emotion du jour was joy.

And I know I'm not alone.  I see the Facebook posts celebrating such tremendous losses of mothers and grandmothers.  Of babies who were born straight into eternity.  Of children who are separated from mothers for all sorts of reasons.  Of those who wait with empty arms.  Of mothers who can't muster the expected energy for the day.

And I find myself in a little bit of each of those mothers.

But I also find myself celebrating with the mothers who are called to the task of mothering motherless children.

Many years ago--many much more idealistic years ago--my perspective on this type of mothering would have been focused solely on attempting to help soothe the loss in our kids' hurting hearts.  Thinking of ways to remember and honor the memory of our orphan children's birth mom would become a mantra for holidays, but especially for Mother's Day.

We were sooooo smart.

And sooooo naive.

Because while it's true that adopted children have memories of their birth moms (yes, even those kiddos adopted as infants will have--or at least create--those memories), not all of those memories will be good ones.  We never knew such fierce love could be entangled with so much anger.  That it could be possible to miss someone with your every waking breath and simultaneously hate the very mention of her name.  To refuse to allow any one to every replace her and yet to never allow her betrayal back in to your heart.  Leaving you completely and utterly alone.  Perpetually motherless.

And that was a surprise.

And it became more surprising as more unpleasant memories were oozed out of blistering sore places.

Why didn't my mother want me?
I wish she was here.
Why would my mother do those things to me?
I remember every single thing we did together.
Why would my mother allow those things to happen to me?
I sure miss her.
Why did she choose everything else over me?
No one will ever take her place.
Why didn't she stop the people who hurt me?
All I want is to just be with her again.

Happy Mother's Day indeed.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Safe Place

Do you have a safe place?

You know, a place where you might go when disaster strikes.  A storm cellar.  The southwest corner of the basement.  (I have been in the Midwest a long time, haven't I?)  You get the picture, it's that place of retreat when the storm nears.  A physical safe-haven to protect yourselves and the ones you love the most.  Yes, even the animals.  (Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get a cat to follow a disaster plan to the basement in a timely manner while her owner wails out of concern for her beloved pet? No? Consider yourself lucky.)  Peruse any emergency kit planning guide and you'll find reference to a "safe place."

It stands to reason then, that our hearts and minds, as well as our physical bodies, need somewhere to take refuge when times are hard.  A good friend of mine shared this idea with me about five years ago, right after the second inpatient hospitalization with our eldest adopted daughter.  In a classic case of "had I known then what I know now," our limited understanding of our daughter's needs enabled us to come up painfully short when helping her put this idea to good use.

Us:  So, it would probably be a good idea for you to have somewhere safe to go when you feel all the feelings you seem to have so often.

Her:  I guess.

Us:  Okay, good.  Let us know where you choose.

When I read this to myself, I cringe at my perception (worse than the reality, but still…) of what the conversation sounded like.  My mind reassures me that we did the best we could with our beginner-level skill set of parenting a kid from hard places, but my heart aches that we couldn't understand that those very typical, warm, fuzzy feelings that most other kids feel, when enveloped by their safe place, were all but absent from her repertoire of emotional safety.

She couldn't make a safe place. She had never seen one before.  

Unfortunately, we determined that all of the years she had spent with us, living in a safe place, should have erased all of that old, unsafe, traumatic memory and replaced it with, you know, new, happy, safe ones.

But that's not what happened.

What happened was that although she learned our home was a safe place, the constant replay in her head of the living nightmare that was her childhood didn't disappear.  This made for a really bad combination of feelings under one roof.  Her hellish memories bubbled and simmered to the surface until she got to a place where she could let them all out.  Her safe place.

Our house.
Our home.
Our safe place.

Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, it's very plain to see.  But at the time. Well, not so much.

I read an article the other day about how a person can become a "safe place."  The article stated:

This is the hard part of relationships: entering into marriage and parenting knowing full well that you’re going to be someone’s safe place, but not knowing what that really means until one day when the jolting realization is upon you. It’s an honor that some people go their entire lives without experiencing. It is the rawest part of the human experience, holding another person’s hand as they navigate through difficulty.
When you finally see it for what it really is, rather than thinking that this other person is just trying to make life hard for you by being angry or sad all the time, it changes things. This person feels safe with you. They need you to help them make sense of something that is bothering them. It is beautiful, this unfiltered, real love.
And I want so badly to end this story by saying that our daughter has finally found her safe place.  And that we have been thrilled to have the "honor that some people go their entire lives without experiencing."

But neither would be true.  At least not entirely.

Although, I can honestly say that we continue to hold out hope that one day our daughter will find that place that makes her feel safe, and that we will look back on this opportunity with time and wisdom at our sides and see the beauty in the ashes.

Maybe tomorrow.