Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Magnificent One

                                                you are Magnificent....

Can we teach our children a lesson that we have never learned? That is a question that has plagued me since my magnificent child was placed into my certifiably inept hands...

Some people are a bit startled upon first glimpsing a person with physical differences. I imagine it is particularly hard for new parents who first learn of their child's unique body at the moment of his birth. I never experienced that shock with Angel; I have only ever known her exactly as she is, and I WANTED her from the moment I laid eyes on her. In my eyes she is true perfection.

But that doesn't mean that parenting a child with physical differences is never hard. For me the struggle with her differences lies merely in anticipating the pain they may cause her later in life as she comes to fully understand that there even are differences. At three and a half she does not seem to be quite aware that there is anything particularly unusual about her, though several children that we don't know have done their best to make her aware of it in various public settings...

She may be perfect in my eyes, but it is her eyes that matter. What will they see? As she gets older and becomes more aware of the looks and comments coming from strangers, will she grow to hate her body? What voice will resonate loudest in her ears? 
....the voices of strangers saying, "that is weird"?
....the ever present whisper of her mother telling her, "you are magnificent"?

I struggle with figuring out how best to lead, guide, and teach her to truly know her own value and worth in this world. Am I qualified to teach something I never really learned myself? I worry constantly that I am bungling the lesson. I can't seem to help but constantly declare "you are so CUTE!" It bursts from my mouth in astonishment many times a day. I just can't wrap my mind around how anyone can be so astonishingly adorable! But what if her mind translates that to mean that appearance is terribly important? Am I accidentally sending the message that I love her because she is cute? Will braces and acne and awkward teen years yank away her knowledge that she is loved and lovable? Of will it be done by a child who hesitates to take Angel's unique hand in their own during a game of Red Rover?

I hated my own body for years and years, though the only thing that made me stand out in a crowd was that I am very short. And yet I had no appreciation for the remarkable machine that my body is, for the healthy gift that it has always been. I was deeply struck by a point in the last Harry Potter book when Harry is facing what he believes will be certain death, and the thought comes to him... 

"why had he never appreciated what a miracle he was? Brain and nerve and bounding heart..."
And why did I not appreciate that miracle for so much of my lifetime? I feel downright ashamed now about the fact that I truly HATED my body for most of my life! It was not tall enough or thin enough. As a teenager I actually researched the possibility of excruciating and expensive limb lengthening procedures to add height to my 5'0" frame! It seems so ludicrous now to have obsessed so much over so minor a detail. Though no doctor has ever considered me overweight, I have in the past embarked on some mad diets that went way to far.

But I feel pretty confident that I will never again hate my body the way I once did, for I now see the true beauty in the design; the remarkably artful machines that all bodies are, in whatever form they take. That is not to say that fleeting thoughts of desired changes to my body don't crop up now and then, but any time the notion of wishing my body were anything other than what it is crosses my mind for even a moment, I think of my Angel girl. I remember how I yearn for her to know with utter certainty that she is 100% magnificent exactly as she is, and I realize that means that I must be as well.

A letter to my Angel dove...

Most Precious Girl,     
Moment after moment I am in awe of you! Of how beautiful you are, how cute, how funny and clever, how sweet and charming…it does not even seem possible that one baby could get such a HUGE share of these traits. I thought to myself the other day that the insane amount of adorableness you contain makes you a freak of nature. Then it dawned on me that someday, you may hear that very term thrown at you in an ugly way. My heart dropped as I realized that you might never know how MAGNIFICENT a creation you are.              
Few people can ever truly accept and recognize their own value and virtue. But will you, with your unique physique, someday be prone to under-estimating your own priceless value even more than most people sell themselves short? That thought boggles my mind. EVERYWHERE you go people adore you. The nurses at the pediatrician’s office pour into the hallway to see you, the nursery workers at church fawn over you… you had an entire CPS office adoringly watching you through the two-way mirror while you played at a visit! The ECI workers who came to evaluate you could not stop exclaiming “You are so stinking CUTE!” I know lip service, and this isn't it! They don't say these things for my benefit; they say them because they, like me, are astonished at the incredibly precious gem before them.
        All mothers think their children are beautiful.... Perhaps it is some evolutionary safeguard having to do with passing on one’s genes and continuing the species. Maybe it is tied to hormones and pheromones and the process of giving birth and creating a life. But how much credence can you really give to the opinion of someone admiring her own handy work?
        But of course, none of that applies here! You are not MY magnificent creation! My own genes are not displayed before me. Your priceless value does not in any way reflect or add weight to my own. I hope you will appreciate that this gives my love for and awe of you all the more credit, for it is entirely YOU (and not the part of you that is me) that I adore!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Love is a Battlefield (of flowers)-- my messy beautiful warrior life

All parenting is fraught with stress and worry. The categories of "difficult parenting" are truly endless. I know that I am in a very ideal situation compared to so many families out there! 

And yet....
There are those moments when I am brought to the brink of self-doubt, find myself choking on tears, and wondering why it must all be SO HARD.

We will all face many challenges on our parenting journeys... some of my own I have no way to for see, but others I know are waiting in the shadows....

One will be helping Angel navigate the world of being a child with obvious physical differences. 
One will be helping her figure out how being adopted fits into her view of the world and her own place in it.
One will be doing those things all. by. myself.

In adopting my daughter I entered single-parenthood differently than most do, in that I knew exactly what I was getting into and made the conscious choice to become a single parent, without experiencing any shock at finding myself in that situation, nor any sort of loss of a parenting partner. I count myself lucky for those reasons. 

But there have been a handful of times when I felt the weight of being a single parent. I have posted on Facebook about it a few times in the past, and have included those posts here because they were written in the very midst of those "how will I ever manage this" moments, and so they are better witnesses to that emotion than I can be right now, on an evening when things have run smoothly...

October 2012-- Angel was just over 2 years old
For the most part it really isn't that hard, but every now and then, being a single parent gets very heavy for a few minutes. Like the night when you are really tired, and are in pain because you stepped on the baby's toy on the hard wood floor, while carrying her, and your foot went right out from under you and you fell hard onto your knees and elbows trying your best not to crush the baby under you. And you were taking her to time out at the time, because she battled you when you would not let her wrap the toy's cord around her neck...but now you are so concerned with making sure she is okay from the fall, that time out doesn't happen. And she is fine, but you are bruised, so you limp your way through bath time, and then she wants to fight you while you are brushing her teeth (which she is usually really good about,) and you just want to say to your spouse "I've had it, you have got to do bedtime routine tonight." But you can't, because there is no one else. It is all you. And you can't just skip bedtime routine, because that wouldn't be fair to her, and she wouldn't understand why, so you manage to read one book instead of three, which still isn't fair to her, so you just come away feeling like a failure, and you turn off the light and hug her tight, and try to sing her songs for her, and you tell her over and over that you love her so very much, and in your mind you hope that she doesn't think your tears mean differently. (The tears that you managed to hold onto until the light was out, hoping to spare her, but for some reason she reached up to feel your face in the dark, which she never does, so now she knows.) That is when being a single parent is kind of hard

February 2014-- Angel is three and a half
You know those nights when you are stared in the face by the fact that you don't have a clue what you are doing... that you are definitely not qualified to build an actual person... that you are surely damaging this little package of beauty and light that God put into your hands, and that there is no ethics committee, no board of directors to make sure everything is being done right. It is on those nights that being a single parent is hard because there is not even one sounding board that is right there in the trenches with you to help you determine when to push and when to stop, when to excuse and when to insist, what is fair and what is harsh.... I was at some friends' home one night when their toddler melted down, and I watched one parent turn to the other and say "how do you want to play it?" And I thought "OH! THAT'S the thing my kid doesn't have! She doesn't get a second opinion." The hardest thing is knowing that I am all she's got, and that is far less than she deserves.

At times it is hard to juggle all the parenting responsibilities on my own, but for the most part I lament single parenting not for the trials I face, but for the cushion my child misses out on. There are many times when my capacity for patience and gentle guidance is maxed out and it would be best for my child to be handled by someone who has a few reserves left, but there is no pinch hitter at our house. My daughter gets left with the last dregs me. We just do the best we can, and I take my guilty anguish to my therapist, and some day my daughter can take her resentment over the exasperated parenting she received to her therapist (got to keep those people employed and off the streets after all.)

We are creating jobs over here people.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!
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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Mother's Dilemma

Which is the priority-- physical safety, or emotional health?

This is the complex conundrum I am struggling with at the moment. It takes some explaining...

When I arrived to get Angel from school today the kids had just come in from the playground. Angel's hair was wet, I couldn't figure out why she was so much sweatier than the other kids (she does tend to run hot, but still...)

An older child I did not know, an after-school-care kid, was sitting next to Angel on the couch and asked me "Are you her mom?" I said yes and she sort of stammered "why does she...." and seemed to be gesturing at Angel's "shoes." Angel prefers to wear her little stubbie style prosthetics which we call her costume shoes because she wore them with her cow costume at Halloween. They were ideal for that because they resemble nothing so much as little hooves.

I understand that a little "Pan" child is a startling sight for most people, so I am happy to explain to kids that these are just her special shoes, as I did in this instance with this little girl. But she pressed on, asking, "but why does she have to be different?" I answered "well, everyone is a little different from each other, and this is just the way she is." The child then pointed out "She sure did get sweaty...." At this point Angel hopped down and ran off to play as I called after her that we needed to go grocery shopping, and the other child quizzed me about what I planned to buy from the grocery store.

A few minutes later I noticed Angel's bike helmet on the table, and suddenly realized why her hair was so sweaty. Today I had brought a helmet for the first time and had asked that she wear it when riding the bikes on the playground. For those who have not witnessed the results of a head injury firsthand I may seem a bit paranoid, but I am a real stickler for wearing helmets whenever a person is on anything with wheels. We do this religiously at home and I had just realized the week before that at school Angel rides bikes on the playground without a helmet. Okay, so they aren't exactly bikes so much as tricycles, but there is a bit more to it. You see, with out knees Angel can't just sit on a trike and ride it around like any other kid. Honestly, I don't think I'd worry much about helmets if that is what she were doing. However, since she can't pedal the trikes herself she hops on the back and clings on for dear life while some other three year old madly drives the thing.

(Yes, my resourceful munchkin has somehow gotten all the other kids to chauffeur her around the playground, but that is part of a different story...)

But you know preschool drivers these days. they just aren't reliable! With Angel clinging to the back of a tricycle it seems entirely possible that she will fall off, or that the weight of both kids will flip the thing as it takes a corner and a wheel gets caught in a sandy patch.

My mom used to have a couple sayings about the hassle of things like wearing seat belts and helmets and all the other things we do to prevent those "it's-never-happened-before-so-what's-the-big-deal" catastrophes...

"It only takes one" and...

"It's not how likely, but how bad."

That's the thing that makes me crazy when I see kids riding their bikes, in the STREET no less, without helmets on. Just because they've never had a bad crash before doesn't mean they never will, and it only takes ONE to drastically alter the course of their life and yours as well. Go visit a brain injury rehab facility if you think I am exaggerating. Brains are the least mend-able part of your body, and smacking your head is not like breaking your arm. I have seen this play out and I know the full extent of what I am trying to avoid! (I really am not a helicopter mother, I'd be happy to let her have adventures that lead to a broken bone that isn't in her spine or skull. I'll have to tell you about how I already let her break her leg...)

So I was chatting with the teacher and I asked if Angel had the helmet on the WHOLE time they were out on the playground. Yes. I explained that she only needs to wear it when she is on the bikes, and can take it off when she is doing other things. The teacher indicated that, since kids are back and forth to different areas, that would mean helping her with it on and off, on and off, the whole time. I got the feeling that this was considered too much hassle, it is easier to just make her wear it the whole recess time.

When we got into the car Angel's hair was still quite wet, and I told her that she only has to wear the helmet when she is on the bikes. She said "but when I was not on the bike I asked teacher to take it off and she said 'no.'" I was feeling pretty bad about this, imagining my poor child running around on the playground for an hour with a bike helmet on the whole time, and suddenly the words of that other child took on a new meaning...

"But why does she have to be different?"

Perhaps this child was not referring to Angel's unique shoes at all, perhaps she wanted to know why my angel girl was forced to wear a helmet at recess when no one else was.

And here is where my true dilemma begins....

 Do I want to make Angel stand out more than she already does? Do I want her to not only be the kid with the "weird" shoes, but to also be the kid who has to wear a helmet just to walk around the playground?

NO! I don't want to subject her to anymore "one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others" than chance has already destined her to.

But do I want my magnificently clever funny child to struggle to relearn how to piece words together? Do I want to see her morph into someone who looks just like my kid but who has a completely different personality?

NO! I don't want her life's journey to be detoured by a head injury.

If I thought that I could count on the teachers to really monitor where she is on the playground, to jump up and get the helmet any time she heads for a bike, and to then promptly remove it when she moves on to the next playground thing, I would feel pretty good about a middle ground. However, I suspect that is asking too much of people who are paid too little to put up with the energy drain of 8-10 small people ALL DAY LONG.

I suspect this is an all or nothing thing here. Either she wears the helmet the whole time she is on the playground, or not at all.

So what is a mother to do?

Added 4/23/14
* I want to clarify that I do NOT feel the teachers are not doing enough in this situation! Having worked in childcare myself, and indeed knowing how draining it is to spend the day with one small person who is in constant need of attention, I cannot even imagine how the teachers do it all day everyday with 10-15 kids at a time! I do not expect them to be on helmet duty on the playground, which is why I have a dilemma in the first place. Either Angel will need to go without the helmet, or will need to wear it the whole time.... Although I am intrigued by this idea some have mentioned of modifying the straps so Angel can manage it herself. I have actually been thinking of getting several helmets to leave at the school so that any kid can use one (at this preschool age kids still often think it is kind of fun to wear a helmet, so the kids may actually opt to if given the choice.)