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I wrote this post a few years ago on Facebook and it truly still stands, so I’m reposting it here, where I’m going to go back to owning my own words.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, mother figures and all those who hope to be a mother (because I believe your child is waiting for you).

I read a post from Ann Lamott on the fact that she doesn’t believe in Mother’s Day because it imbues mothers (parents) with some sort of special allotment of love and caring traits, when there are plenty of mothers who don’t measure up to that and plenty of non-mothers/childless-by-choice folks who have it in spades. It stuck with me and yes, there is truth to that. But whether or not you are a “good” mom or just a human one who wants to be your best self for/with your children, one who no doubt experiences plenty of fails there, it is a special thing to have the responsibility of caring for a tiny human from as early as whenever they enter your life, loving these wonderful beings fiercely in spite of themselves and their horridness sometimes, and then allowing/helping them to become functioning adults outside of you. (Yes, fathers do that too, and that’s why they have their own day.)

I woke up today to news that a friend’s wife passed away yesterday and his young daughter lost her mother. He is such a good man and I know he will be amazing to this sweet girl and with their extended family she will be lovingly embraced in the years to come. But my heart breaks for her and the ache she will have. I can’t explain that mother/child connection. It just is. Whether your mother has passed away or you have a contentious or broken relationship with her, there’s often an awareness of what’s missing that’s akin to phantom limb syndrome. (If you’re one of those who has beat that, share the secret.) Days like today, with everyone taking pics as they fete their awesome moms or as they’re treated by their darling kids, will only exacerbate that feeling. And for those going through that I have always prayed for peace and comfort. And as we get older we can better understand and forgive (or work toward forgiving) those “bad” mothers for their choices as we accept their humanity.

And while one day to celebrate mothers may seem trite or like a Hallmark/flowers/chocolate cartel holiday, and the appreciation should also stretch through the other 364 days of the year, can it be so wrong to single out this one unique relationship for a little attention? And then maybe extend that loving spirit to everyone around us?

–Feeling sappy

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Sometimes I wonder, what if I’d been older when I had my kids? If I’d worked through my hella long list of issues before I became their everything? Would I have handled a marriage ending and the dizzying onslaught of solo parenting better? Would they be better off? Or are we exactly where we need to be for the journeys we’re meant to take with the specific strengths we’ll need along the way? 

I wish I could say it’s easy to stop looking back and to have faith that you’re where you’re meant to be at the moment while acknowledging you’re not where you’ll end up. But it isn’t always easy. It takes work. Daily reminders that the now, your present circumstances, is not all there is. And even when the now sucks, there’s joy to be had, optimism to find, and the you you wish to be can shine through. 

For many if us that requires a combo of faith, prayer, and mindfulness. I’m wishing you success at it today and every day, even as I work at it myself. #faithwalk 

625450_10151331300703111_1403634286_nDespite my penchant for trials of physical endurance, I haven’t been especially fit for most of my life, primarily because I let life get in the way and I don’t stay consistent with healthy eating or exercise. But I’ve always felt the strongest and most vital when my body was of use. My pregnancies, while riddled with unpleasant side effects, were healthy and I often drew strength from the visualization that I was helping to create another being. Delivery was made more manageable by the thought that it was finite and there was a point to it, something wonderful in the end.

That thought came into play this week when I underwent a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) harvesting procedure in hopes of saving an unknown cancer patient’s life. It was not the surgical option many think of with bone marrow donation. There were none of those risks to be concerned about nor that kind of recovery. But the PBSC is no walk in the park. Five days out donors begin daily shots of neuprogen, which helps stimulate the growth of stem cells in the blood. Because of that the bones and muscles become extremely achy, like the worst case of the flu you’ve ever had. But a good acetominophen regimen and lots of water makes that manageable. The procedure itself involves having a rigid needle in one arm drawing blood into the closed tubing of the machinery, where it is spun in a centrifuge, separating the layers and extracting the stem cells. The remaining blood is then returned to your body, with accompanying extra fluids, via a needle in the other arm. And that goes on for 5-6 hours.

It was uncomfortable and sometimes straight painful (because you still have those achy feelings). And so hard to sit through by the end. But damned if I didn’t still feel amazing. There was a grand purpose to it all. And I love everything about that feeling.

Five years ago I didn’t think I could exist without the man I’d married at age 20. His personality and force of will dominated my world and colored every decision I made, to the point where I questioned my own decision-making abilities. Since then I’ve run a half marathon, hopefully helped save a life, kicked my career up a few notches, moved into my own place, and embraced the rollercoaster ride that is raising two teenagers — without a partner. I’ve screwed up quite a few things along the way but I’m closer to understanding that that’s just a part of being human and not a defect in me. I know I am strong. I know I am powerful. I know I have a purpose.

 

Sitting here on the couch this Saturday morning, watching Melissa Harris-Perry and her guests discuss the crisis of the children crossing the Mexican border. My 13-year-old daughter is sitting in the other corner of the couch, iPad in hand, probably filling online shopping site carts with things she’ll later ask me to buy. And while that impending mini-battle already annoys me, I was feeling pretty good because in one of the first segments of the show, which was about the chokehold-by-police death of Eric Garner, she had been more actively paying attention and making conversation with me about it. And as I wrote that last line, she looked up and asked a great probing question about immigration, which I attempted to answer without getting too long-winded (my usual struggle).

I’m filled with hope and joy that I can add MHP to my weekend education toolbox. For the last few years, my CBS Sunday Morning habit has provided some interesting teachable and bonding moments between me and my kids. They’d always be doing something else in the living room or near there and something from the show would seep in and engage them. I took those brief spurts of conversation as glimpses of the erudite adults I hoped they’d become.

There is such a thing as too much information for kids. The world is terrifying for even adults right now. And seeing too much of what’s going on out there can make a child feel like they are not ever safe and cause them anxiety. But I think for teenagers in particular, who are inclined to deep deep self involvement and who can have an outsized sense of their needs and wants, understanding what’s going on in the larger world is very important. And even as I despair at the ratchet music or shows they are almost obligated to be attracted to as teens,  I hope that these toe-dips into my TV world complements the education they get in school during the week and continues to foster conversation between us here at home.

Why is it that when we see someone doing the right thing we instinctively feel the need to praise them for it? Shouldn’t it be part of the human experience that we always endeavor to be kind, to ease the suffering of others, to try to be the best of ourselves that we can be? Is it because we see it so infrequently that we need to call it out? Or is that because all the unkind, awful things in the world have such weight to them that we must spend more time shining light on the moments of humanity that make us feel better? Isn’t that the reason for the popularity of  Upworthy and videos like whatever latest viral video of something heartwarming that just popped up in your social stream? Restoration of our faith in humanity.

I’m preparing to donate stem cells and because I’m a writer/sharer at heart, I can’t help but share moments along the way on social. But I’m increasingly uncomfortable with people praising me or telling me they’re proud of me. A huge hope of mine in sharing has been to encourage others to register for marrow registry by showing how little of your time and effort it takes to possibly save someone’s life. And it’s an interesting adventure to me. I want people to talk to me about it and ask questions and yes, maybe be a little geeked out about it like I am, but not to look at me like I’m doing something extraordinary. There are people who do that. Who give something it’s risky for them to give.  This is not that.

But maybe that’s just what they need to say. And I need to be okay with that.

 

This morning I read a funny, poignant parenting piece  on the Huffington Post that pretty accurately conveyed the constant state of doing and being one feels as the parent of a young child. After smiling my way to the end, remembering being there last about 13 years ago, I wondered why there just aren’t that many similar parenting blogs/posts from parents of teenagers. I mean, the kids are still funny, complex, exasperating, all-consuming creatures. And there are whole worlds of new firsts to be experienced, joys to revel in, and lows to withstand. But I think those lows are why most teen parenting blogs are more in the vein of how-tos and self-helps.

We see our babies in these almost-adult bodies, still possessing every amazing quality you cherish, yet also poised to make some ridiculously bad choices. Or they’ve been replaced by your child’s doppelganger, who you really dislike them for long periods of time, and you live for those all-too-brief flashes of the person with whom you enjoy spending time. Or you find that you now live in a household filled with moody, easily offended people who you have to coax into letting you help them unravel the offense and let it go. Or you fight with them constantly because you haven’t figured out how to calmly do what you need to do to teach them and keep the peace. And all of that shit is scary. And we want to fix it. We desperately want to the magic bullets listed in an easy step-by-step. (And to you folks’ whose kids have unblemished teen years, mazeltov. And stop judging the rest of us.)

And yes, there’s also the fact that older kids have something to say about you sharing information about them but there are ways to do it while respecting their privacy.

It just feels clear to me that whereas over the last 10-15 years we’ve created an open forum for parents of young children to feel comfortable sharing their foibles and finding support in a community of other parents who can admit they’re learning as they go along, when you have teens somehow you are expected to be experts. On some level it feels like, well you’ve had this child for 15+ years, you should know exactly what to do. And if you don’t, go ahead and feel like a failure. But if you haven’t tried to rear a teenager before, it is still new. (They do say it’s just like having a toddler again but since you didn’t have to deal with possibility of your toddler having sex and any ensuing pregnancies, I’m going to go with no, it’s not exactly like that.)

Yes, you have layers of skills built up and you have a great understanding of your child but their changes and changing needs are all new and once again your parenting choices can feel like very much like well-educated guesses. And as terrifying as that is, that’s okay. Because more than likely they will be fine,  they will leave and they will be on their own. And then, a whole new set of worries and concerns will set in. Because it never ends. But how about we prop each other up in that realization and laugh our way through it all? Whenever I get to talk to another parent of a teen and hear that they are dealing with the same thing I am, there’s an insane measure of relief. Because I realize, especially as a single parent, I’m faking the funk half the time and hoping I’m getting it right, alternately patting myself on the back and doubting my strategy. So yes, finding another working parent who asked her teen to text her a pic of the clean room/empty garbage/finished project they claimed to have taken care of before they could leave the house can feel immensely gratifying. Let’s try to do that for each other more often, okay?

It’s a lovely and disturbing thing the way the mind is able to bury things, memories and such, only to recall them to the frontlines with such stunning clarity. Lovely because it reminds you of the awesome power and intricacies of our minds. And disturbing because, well, dammit, sometime memories are buried for a reason.

I just finished reading a new YA novel called Good Kings, Bad Kings by Karen Nussbaum. It’s a powerful book about a fictional facility for disabled children and the everyday horrors and indignities of those who live and work there. One of the characters is named Yessenia. She’s a badass who’s had a tough life and you cannot help but root for her. Yessenia’s a poorly educated Puerto Rican teen and since all of the chapters are written from the point of view of different characters, her first person-narrative reads shockingly familiar to someone like me who grew up in the very, very Spanish parts of the Bronx. That resonance and the name itself forced me to think of my own Yessenia for the first time in ages.

I met my Yessenia when my mother, sisters and my 13-year-old self moved into the basement apartment on a really shitty block after we left my father. When I say shitty, I mean almost as many empty apartment buildings on the block as occupied ones, alongside some abandoned lots filled with debris. It was rife with people using drugs and swigging 40 ounces. The multi-family house we moved into was the only non-apartment building on the block. Short and squat, it was dwarfed by the buildings around it.

Yessenia lived in the apartment building across the street from me. She was a spicy Puerto Rican chica. A tough girl who would often crack her knuckles. She had short silky, curly hair and dressed and acted a little butch, her broad shoulders, even at 14, draped in men’s shirts, jeans or kahkis and sneakers. In hindsight, the fact that she struggled to hide her body and keep anyone from stepping to her speaks volumes but at the time she was just so very different from me that I was fascinated and quickly became enamored with her. I cannot remember how we became friends but we did and spent a lot of time together, both in her house and outside. I think my mother worried about our association, even once calling her butch, which was where I learned the word. I’m pretty sure my mother thought Yessenia was gay and would “make” me gay.  But Yessenia, who very fun and vulnerable in many ways she showed me, also became my protector. It was probably clear that I was too soft for the neighborhood. Hell, too soft for her building, which required navigating past various drug dealers (lookouts?) as you climbed the stairs to her apartment on the second or third floor.

Even when my mother moved us away a year or so later (we moved every couple of years like someone was chasing us, but always to someplace just a little better), I would still go back to visit Yessenia and her family. I think I craved the sense of closeness they seemed to have despite their crap situation. I loved how they welcomed me into the fold, even while they made it clear that they thought I was destined for something more than their lot, teasing me about all my reading. I was a visitor but a welcome one. When I was 14 and Yessenia was 15, she got pregnant. I never knew who the father was. And she kept the baby because for her family an abortion wasn’t an option. A 15-year-old stuck in the ghetto with a child living in a 2-bedroom apartment with her mother, stepfather and sister was fine but an abortion was a problem.

When I was 15 I let her 30-year-old uncle visiting from Puerto Rico, who’d been sniffing around me that summer, have sex with me in a public park. I know technically it was rape but I remember feeling so grown-up and on my own that I still owned that action and every emotion that came with it. I’d been having sex with my 55-year-old pastor for two years already by then, and I wasn’t thinking of that as rape or abuse then either. In my mind I was just making grownup decisions and those decisions said a lot of things about me that I didn’t like. But I stopped going to see Yessenia, for many many reasons. And to this day the name Yessenia alone conjures up echoes of the muddled feelings of shame and self loathing that were once my daily companions.

Side note: My life today is fine. I am in a happy place, dating and feeling self fulfilled. Which is why writing about things like this now is actually cathartic.

It’s amazing how one simple moment can mark so much more than the passage of time. Years ago, if I were reading a vivid description of a rape it would have poked and prodded at my buried memories, churning up a wellspring of emotions. I would have gone to my own dark place, simply allowing myself to relive those primal feelings of fear and shame alongside my own specific details. But today, 27 years after my own nightmare began and 15 years into various therapy stints, I read just such a passage in the amazing start of Alice Sebold’s Lucky while sitting on a crowded train and it tapped into an entirely different part of me.

My first instinct this time was not to embed myself in my own memories, reverting to that small, helpless girl I remember being. This time, I felt it from the point of view of my daughter. I felt the fear as she would, that bubble of panic that signals inescapable danger. And what I felt concurrently was fury. A fury that I have often had trouble accessing for myself whenever I’ve been under assault–be that physically, mentally, or emotionally. Yet when confronted  with even the fleeting idea of such a violation happening to my darling, I was ready to lash out at the first person I deemed a possible threat. It was so powerful an impulse that I was sure I had perceptible waves of rage radiating from me for everyone on the train to see.

This is how I know that I am no longer the person I once was. That that little girl may still be within me but the grown-up mother is way ahead of her. And she is running this show.

This morning I am simply grateful that an hour into my day I am following my plan. This is the plan that had a good chance of keeping me healthy and whole. I have done minor housework, eaten, am dressed for the gym, am writing and will go work out before the rest of my kid/work day begins. I am grateful because if I can follow this plan with a good degree of consistency, I believe I can follow the rest of my plans for growth equally well. I can go about my life as deliberately as possible without becoming too rigid. And through insight I can have true control–the kind that remains even in the face of things outside of my scope.

It’s funny. I chose this pseudonym of Imani because it means faith, yet I had no idea how much I would need my faith to move forward. Faith in God, in myself, and in the belief that no matter what I will be okay. But I’m learning.

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