Saturday, May 12, 2018

EVERY Child Deserves a Mother

On the cusp of our pending adoption of our newest blessing, I've found myself reflecting on motherhood.  Mother's Day is tomorrow and it is always a bittersweet day for me.  It tends to bring longing for what isn't as well as gratitude for what is.  As we completed our autobiographies for our most recent homestudy, I found myself digging deep to put words to why we've continued to foster kids and subsequently adopt them should the need arise. 

At nine years old my world as I knew it stopped.  My mother made the choice to end her own suffering, inadvertently magnifying mine.  Thirty years later, as I've worked through many of my feelings surrounding this time in my life I look back and I see a young girl who is lost.  She is burdened with worries and circumstances too heavy for her to carry, in an effort to make sense of what she is feeling, she simplifies things in her mind.  

You see, though I know my mom struggled with mental illness, I saw her suicide as my own failure.  Deep in the pit of my soul I longed to know why I wasn't enough.  Why wasn't I worth living for?  This set me up for a lifetime of fighting for my worth.  I've heard it all before, I understand mental illness, I understand brain chemistry and the agony of depression and anxiety, I am aware of the way trauma from one's childhood can haunt them all their life and that was for sure true of my mom, but as a nine year old girl, all I could see was that my mom did not love me enough to stay for me.  If she didn't, who would?  

I spent my childhood overachieving at most things in hopes that it might be enough to keep me from being an orphan.  I was painfully lonely.  My adolescence was much the same.  As time went on, I built a wall.  I'd fight to be worthy of love but I'd not allow anyone close enough to hurt me so deeply if they left.  My college years were much of the same.  I looked for love in all the wrong places and continued being independent enough to count only on myself.  

Two years into college, while home on break, I met a guy who stayed.  I was just looking for a fun time and maybe a few dates, but a few dates turned into him calling from the pay phone just outside my apartment nearly three hours from his home.  He was different.  He wanted to know me.  I was terrified for him to know me so I continued to maintain the wall as long as I could.  Eventually he broke it down.  He continued to show up even when he didn't have to and even when I didn't deserve it.  He made me believe maybe someone could love me without my striving to earn it incessantly. As each brick from my wall fell and he saw what was truly behind it, he loved me harder.  I'm sure I'll never know just why he fought for me.  No one had really ever done that before.

Howard and I walked through some tough stuff in the first years of our marriage and seventeen years into that marriage I am still a work in progress. Insecurity still sometimes gets the best of me. Here in our home I feel loved and safe, even at my worst.  I never really felt that as a kid, not because my dad and grandparents didn't try, but because I was wounded and that wound became a thick and callous scar and I didn't let them.  When I think of other kids out there, fighting for their worth, fully knowing how exhausting and agonizing that is, I can barely stand the thought.  The foster care system is full of kids just like me.  They feel abandoned and unworthy and seek love where they can find it.  That trauma begins often times prenatally.  It shapes our brain networking, and continues through generations unless it is dealt with and healed.  

It's taken me a long time to heal my wounds and I'll probably be a work in progress for my whole life, but every kid deserves a mom.  They deserve someone who loves them in spite of themselves, for who they are and not who anyone else wants them to be.  If I can be that mom for my kids, it all somehow seems worthwhile...all of the pain and suffering wasn't for nothing.  If I can use my pain to lessen the pain of someone else and be the mom I didn't have, that will be the greatest honor of my life.  I am far from perfect, but I am one hundred percent devoted to making sure my kids feel acceptance, love and belonging.  I need for them to know how valuable and wanted they are.  I want them to know, especially my kids who came to me through adoption, that while the default may be to feel abandoned and unwanted by their first moms, that was never ever the case, I will speak of their families of origin with love and respect and I will forever fight for them to know how amazing they are, just as they are.

Foster care and adoption requires a lot of hoops to be jumped though, hoops that aren't typically required when you birth children of your own.  It is a lot of work, it is exhausting mentally, physically and spiritually.  It is a battle, and frankly all kids deserve a parent who would go to battle for them, who would jump through every single hoop necessary and who won't stop no matter what.  Not all parents can do that.  Sometimes the trauma runs so deep that healing cannot happen quickly enough to not drag the child down too.  The first parents of my youngest three kids are amazing people.  We love them, we honor them, we speak highly of them.  They are still working on healing themselves.  It was never a matter of them not wanting their children, it was a matter of them not wanting to pull their children down with them as they fought for their own lives.  

I consider it a great honor to stand in the gap for a day, a month,  year or lifetime and help heal the cycle of trauma.  I didn't have that.  I didn't get to have a mom, but I sure do get to be one, and as long as there is breath in me, I will love and fight for each of my kids with all that I have.  

Mother's Day can get me down.  This year I am choosing to just see it as another day of battle.  I will  allow all feelings to be felt, I will miss my mom and some of my kids will miss their first mom, I miss Isaac and Asher deeply and I will be sad as I think of all that might have been, but I will also choose joy, and hope and grace as I get to do the most sacred job of mothering each of my children.  The mere fact that I've come far enough to be able to do that is enough.  I can't fight for my worth anymore.  I am tired and I am worthy and I am a mom.  Even a pretty good one.  ;)

The Basement

January has been a tough month for me so far.  It marked three decades since I've called someone mom.  That hit me a little harder than I anticipated.  75% of my life has been spent motherless and I am not even 40 yet.  I think back about my childhood and I have very few memories of my first nine years.  I've come to learn that growing up with and being cared for by a mother who is suffering from undiagnosed mental illness doesn't really lend itself to a ton of happy, picture perfect memories.

I've shared before that while my mom loved us, she wasn't able to really be present, ever really.  She was almost always checked out or cleaning something furiously.  I find that I struggle in making sure I don't walk that same road.  When I think of her marriage with my dad, I think of it as a nine year old.  I am not really sure what I was seeing.  I know that they loved each other.  I know that my mother struggled to love herself and that made her tough to love.  I know that my dad tried his best.  I know that for her, that was never going to be enough.

A memory that has been kind of haunting me this month is of my dad digging a basement.  We began life in a mobile home, and my mom wanted a house.  My dad made that happen.  He built on to the trailer as we lived in it, and you'd never know it was once a trailer.  Next she wanted a basement, I can remember them fighting about the basement and upcoming garage project.  There wasn't money to do these things, but my dad wanted nothing more than for my mom to be happy.  Maybe if he dug that basement, she'd finally be happy.

So he dug.  He dug, and he dug and he dug, under an existing house, he brought the dirt out by the wheel barrow full.  Every day he'd come home from work and he'd dig.  He would wake up on weekends and he'd dig until dark and then he'd park the car so that he could dig in the light of the headlights.  As a kid it was glorious.  There was dirt EVERYWHERE.  He dug the entire thing by hand until he could start hauling in the concrete and block, because of the existing house above all of this also done by hand and wheel barrow.  I can only imagine now as an adult his sheer exhaustion, I do recall them arguing, but I don't really ever recall him complaining.

Once the basement was done, he began the garage.  The garage was going to have bedrooms above it.  My sister and I were excited that we were going to get our own rooms, brand new rooms painted in our favorite colors.  Mine would be pink and hers purple.  Those bedrooms never got finished while we lived in that home because one night, my mom made a plan to end her suffering.  She sent us to the neighbor's and she walked the steps to that basement that my dad dug with his hands in hopes of making her happy.  She entered the ceramics workshop he'd built for her so she could spend her time doing things she enjoyed. She picked up the gun she had recently bought for him that he'd had out on the table down there for cleaning and she ended it.

She ended all of it.  EVERY bit of life as we knew it.  Nothing would ever be the same again.  She would hurt no more, but the rest of us?  We'd live with her choices for the rest of our lives.  She used the space my dad painstakingly dug in hopes of helping her to finally be happy and I guess in a round about way she found her peace there.

I try so hard not to harbor anger toward her.  I understand depression, I understand mental illness.  I wish she'd taken time to understand the scars she imposed on every person who loved her.  EVERY person who thought back and tried to figure out how they missed the signs, how they could have helped her, every person who to this day lives with guilt and feels partially responsible.  She doesn't suffer anymore but 30 years later we sure do.

I wish she understood the simple blessing of just showing up, of being present.  Her presence has been missed so deeply.  The truth is that there is NOTHING anyone could have done to make her happy.  Her unhappiness was rooted so deep, largely from her own childhood trauma that no one could reach it and in her desperate need to put on a facade of perfection no one REALLY knew.  I am only learning now that I knew.  She shared a lot with me, burdening my young heart with things it did not understand.  I carried her truths with me after she lost the battle.  It has taken me three decades to process most of the first nine years of my life, her trauma becoming my trauma in a dark and suffocating cycle.

The good news is that the cycle ends there.  I will not follow in those footsteps.  I will continue to be self aware and ask for help when I need it.  I will NOT be ashamed for taking medication that balances my brain allowing me to live a healthier life.  No one else is responsible for my happiness.  That responsibility is my choice.  Some days I do a better job than others and all days I struggle, but I refuse to allow that cycle that has been continued through generations to continue with my children.  It ended in that basement. I will fight with my every breath to do better for my own kids.

I know my dad beats himself up and punishes himself daily for what he perceives as his failure, for not saving her.  I hope one day he'll see that while he wasn't able to save her, and while he'll always ache for her, probably regretting ever even building that damn basement, I don't know because he won't speak of any of it, but her death in that basement may be what saved me.  Without her ever getting help, and continuing the way things were going, I am not entirely sure I would have been able to shoulder it all.  We can't change the past but we sure can do our best to know better and do better and I will continue that quest for all of my life.