We Live in Two Worlds

woman-1207671_1280The holidays have been hard this year. In reality, they have been hard for many years, but this year I am self-aware enough to realize that I am struggling, to understand why I am struggling, and to roll with it rather than get confused and worked into a tizzy about it. My mantra this year has been “I officially hate the holidays, but I will continue to wear my snowman socks in full faith that one year I will enjoy all of this again”.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the holidays can be a wee bit of a trigger for those that are in active addiction. So, having lived through many a holiday season with an active user has dampened my ability to experience the wonder and joy of this blessed season.

I actually understand that to be the reason for my holiday blues this year, but in years past, I have been confused by it and spiraled out into weird behaviors that seemed like coping but really only made things worse. Even with this year’s self-awareness, I found myself responding to things with more of an edge than I intended to have. I intended to have no edge at all in the things I have said, but the Grinch still found his way into my words or tone.

Despite all the grumpitude (the word we use in my house for grumpy with a side of attitude), the newfound self-awareness also let me really see the long view of my life. I have been able to understand how completely chaotic and awful things were years ago, how much better things are now, how much better I AM now, how I have really changed in about a million microscopic ways that make the pace seem slow, how much work is left to do on myself, and still how far there is to travel.

But having the ability to see the long view keeps me grounded in reality. Honestly, it is where my hope lives. Trauma has kept me shortsighted and focused only on survival for a very long time. To finally be free of it to the point of being able to see a future again is a huge deal. To have hope again is a blessing beyond words.

If you believe in spiritual warfare, then you will understand that this newfound hope has been under attack. I wish I could tell you that I have handled it like a warrior champion, but mostly I’ve learned that I need a thicker skin.

A few weeks ago, I received feedback along the lines of my “inconsistency, lack of structure, and chaos” is the reason for all my troubles and all my family’s troubles. I attempted to explain the trauma history and the progress made, but as is often the case, I was treated like I was making excuses and subsequently dismissed.

I chewed on this feedback for a long time, because there is truth to it. I know that healing from trauma takes time, and therefore, the chaos is still present even if it is there to a lesser degree. As I chewed on it, I recognized a pattern in my personality: nothing will light a fire in me like the opportunity to prove that I have been misjudged. I decided to recognize the huge gap in this person’s perspective of my life. This person only saw where I am now and clearly was not interested in learning about where I came from or how far I have come. I was not going to receive validation for the hell I had already conquered from this person, so I gave that validation to myself. And I used the fire ignited by the feedback to simply move myself farther along the path of self-improvement that I was already working on.

Then yesterday, as I was shopping for a few things to spruce up and help organize our house, my daughter started lighting into me. She has taken to lecturing me about how I should behave, and these conversations have often ended with me issuing one of the clichés of motherhood: “because I am the mother” or “because I said so”. But this time, she said something that was a true knife to the heart, because it was clear that she was repeating something that she had heard from someone else. She ended her little rant with “you need to start acting like a real grown-up”.

Having been somewhat prepped for this by my last experience with negative feedback, I chewed on this for only a few hours rather than a few weeks. Again, I have to remind myself that only I know where I have been, where I am now, and where I am going. I cannot expect everyone to see, understand, or validate my experience. All I can do is keep on going and doing the next right thing, understanding that the people who want to know the truth about me will stick around long enough to figure it out.

But, none of that did anything to satisfy my ever growing concern about the 2 worlds my little family lives in and how it is influencing my child. I often think about how different my daughter’s experiences would be if we were really living a life that was congruent with our resources and circumstances.

My daughter goes to a private school that I will never be able to pay for. She is surrounded by dual-income families with high-paying, professional jobs that have many more resources than I do. She spends her afternoons, play dates, and birthday parties in homes much bigger, newer, and nicer than our home. She has and is developing expectations of me and of our life based what she sees all around her. When she returns to our home and to the limited time and financial resources of the single parent, I do not measure up. And in her child-like honesty, she lets me know it.

It begs the question, would my daughter have a greater appreciation of me if we were surrounded by families that looked more like our family? If she attended a public school and was immersed in a community where everyone, much like her own mother, was creatively using their limited resources to put together a life for their kids, would she have a different perspective of what “a real grown up is”? Would she be more grateful and hard-working instead of demanding and entitled if she saw that there were a whole lot of other parents holding life together with their teeth and fingernails?

I don’t have any answers for any of these questions. Maybe I just needed to vent, because the pressure in this culture to live up to THE CHILD’S expectations is REAL. When did that insanity happen?! And I don’t want to sound ungrateful, because I know full well that we are supremely blessed by the people in our lives and the school my daughter attends, and I do not take that for granted even a little bit. Certainly, I don’t want to deprive my child of anything that is beneficial to her development. Yet, the truth remains that our reality is very different than the life we lead, and it is setting up some serious future conflicts between my daughter and I.

I’m really not railing at the problems in our culture, community, or families; I am railing at my own participation in what I know to be the less-than-healthy parts of our world. I have fed into “entitlement culture” as much as the next girl. But I have also come to a place in my life where I accept the fact that there is nothing in my life or happening in my life that I have not allowed. I have also accepted the slowness of the pace of my recovery in a world that keeps telling me that I’m not doing enough fast enough. Having lost the majority of my possessions to trauma, I no longer place any sentiment in things and am truly content with living simply. My child, on the other hand, is another story. My point being, I have accepted the fact that my life is going to look different to the majority of people and that I will always be doing battle with the ways people perceive me to be counter-cultural or “a little bit off”. I’m ok with that.

Needless to say, if a fire was ignited in me with the first feedback, then the second feedback has fueled that fire into an inferno. Things are going to change in this family. I can’t yet say how or when, but I know through prayer, the answers will come.

The Second Week of School, Oreos, and Rapunzel

A photo by Sonja Langford. unsplash.com/photos/eIkbSc3SDtI

We are two weeks into the school year, and I’ve come to accept some things about my daughter and myself. We are not highly structured women. Our free-spirited, gypsy souls thrive in the loose structure of summer days where schedules are flexible and planned activities are minimal. I am completely sincere when I say that it took the entirety of last year to feel halfway adjusted to the school schedule, but even during drop off of the last day I was thinking, “There has to be a better way to do this school thing”.

I was determined to have a better morning routine this school year, so I did some prep work during the weeks leading up to school starting. The long days of summer camp in the heat index of 110 concluded with my child losing her mind in the evenings; therefore, she slept in my bed quite a bit as it was a guarantee for a relatively peaceful going-to-bed process. Before school started, we worked on transitioning her back to her bed. We also did a little shopping on Amazon and purchased a Disney princess alarm clock that came with an impressive strobe light display. She loved it. She was excited about it. She popped out of bed like a Pop-Tart and cooed loving words to it.

We are now in the 2nd week of school, and the shine is off the apple. Twice this week, she has slept right through the alarm clock. I have let the infernal beeping go on for 7 minutes and 10 minutes, in hopes that it would eventually result in a child that was awake. It did not. Yesterday, I heard the alarm go off for 3 beeps and then it went silent. I waited and listened for the sound of child size 12 feet to hit the floor, but no such sound came to my ear. No child emerged from the bedroom with bed head and grumpy face. The battle of the morning time routine is rearing its ugly head yet again, my friends. Back to the drawing board!

I did try to get us in the habit of picking out her clothes the night before, and that worked great for all of 5 days. This week has been chock full of activities after work, and the outfit pre-planning has fallen to the wayside. The morning debates surrounding picture pants, princess dresses, P.E. worthy shoes and the appropriateness of wearing tiaras to school have added a considerable amount of time to our morning routine and created some less than stellar moments to start the day with.

Needless to say, the struggle with adjusting to a new school routine for May Lee and a new work routine for me has resulted in a consumption of all things Oreo that is unparalleled by all of my previous Oreo binges. It is a thing of wonder, really. It was during one such Oreo errand that I learned that I really might have lost my touch with the menfolk over the years. I ordered 2 Oreo milkshakes at a local drive-through, and please let me assure you that I did not eat both milkshakes. I had a partner in crime on this particular day. As I pulled to the window to pay for my order, a guy leaned out of the drive through window and gave me what I can only describe as his best Flynn Rider impression. You know the scene where he turns on the charm with Rapunzel? “You broke my smolder”? Yes, that is the scene I’m referring to, and like Rapunzel, my face must have reacted and betrayed my inner thoughts of “what are you doing? Is that, like, flirting? Because it’s kind of creepy…” I believe that my face must have betrayed me, because after he returned my change to me, he tossed a milkshake at me that did not have the delightful whipped topping that I had requested, nor did he provide me with a straw with which to enjoy my delicious treat.

I could have easily written off the neglected whipped cream and straw as a simple oversight. However, a young lady appeared with the 2nd milkshake, and the whipped topping was tall and proud and the straw was riding shotgun. The abrupt shift from the initial over-attentiveness to the curtness of the money exchange, the sloppy milkshake, and the young woman with the perfect milkshake had me convinced that Flynn Rider was a little upset that I found his awkward drive-through window overtures creepy. Also, can we discuss what a weird little power trip that is over some Oreo milkshakes? A girl doesn’t respond the way a guy wants her to, so he withholds small but noticeable portions of her order?

Maybe that’s just my trauma talking. Like my therapist said, maybe that is just my unhealed “wounds from being a woman” showing up, but it also wouldn’t be the first time that I would have experienced backlash from a male who didn’t get the kind of reaction that he was wanting from me. I’ve noticed that the more I accept the truth that this kind of thing has less to do with me and a whole lot more to do with what’s going on in them, the more likely I am to raise the situation to my standards. This means that I’m getting better at making sure that I don’t leave the interaction without what I entered the interaction to receive or what is due to me. I used to just run and hide and think awful things about myself and my worthiness, like I must somehow be messed up for someone to treat me that way. Now, I am much more likely to ask for what I need, to request that something be redone, and to expect respect in all interactions.

I’m far from perfect at this newfound boundary-setting skill, but I’m getting better every day. And no, I did not park my car, walk into the restaurant, and demand my whipped cream and a straw. That day, I didn’t have the mental or emotional energy to engage one more thing without completely losing my cool. But you know what, I know down to the bottom of my soul that if my daughter had been in the car with me, I would have done exactly that. It is really important to me that she is much better equipped to deal these situations than I was. I don’t want her to be in her late 30’s trying to recover her self-esteem like her mother is doing. I want her to be able to recognize when she is experiencing undeserved backlash and to be able to respond to it head on with a cool composure rather than reacting to it out of heated emotion. I want her to have enough insight into herself to be confident in her behavior when she is in the right and compassionate enough to extend grace to herself and others when their behavior falls short. Brene Brown discovered in her work, The Gift of Imperfection, that the most compassionate people were the most boundaried people, and that really sums up my goal for my daughter and myself quite nicely. Especially since we have a Rapunzel face that gives us away every time.