Thursday, September 16, 2010
Posted by Maggie May Labels: Babies To Teenagers
* title appropriated from my current reading material
I struggle to find the words for what is happening in our family right now. I owe deep and careful consideration to each of my children, as a writer here, for how much I reveal about their lives in the light of my own. As they age their need for privacy becomes more paramount. Writers over time have handled this differently, some with a dismissive efficiency and brilliantine lighting and others with complete avoidance. Ryan over at Pacing the Panic Room decided to stop blogging about his stepson completely once he hit a certain age- but Ryan is not a writer born and lived, but primarily a photographer- this is how he captures the world and brings narrative to his inner life. Writing is how I do that, and writing TO someone is imperative. I spent most of my life writing for my own eyes only; since elementary school throughout middle, high school and my twenties I wrote feverishly and prodigiously for my eyes only. Now? I am not a closet novelist. I brandish my sweltering poor novel begging to be born like a sword, sharp and swinging through the crowds, inviting attention and commentary.
This blog is the same creation. I write here about my life and often end up enlightening or calming- or admittedly embarrassing or startling- my own self, letting the cracks of light shine through where the broken parts are. It is in honestly sharing my life- the truth of it- that matters to me. My children are the heart and bone structure of my life. What comes during birthing Ever will be as fundamental and meaningful to me as what comes now with my son Dakota, at 16, as things are not all right, and Mr. Curry and I are working the murky waters of parenthood with a water blistered map and shaking hands.
As many of you know, I was pregnant with Dakota at 19, recently broken up with his Dad, living with my mother and sister in a one bedroom apartment, recovering from my life so far, completely unmoored- not passionate or moved by anything but the obsessive love and thoughts I had for an ex-boyfriend, J. I had Dakota and my life began. I woke up. Literally I do believe that my brain woke up during my pregnancy and delivery. I had been in a coma beforehand, a protective skim and skin that kept me safe from the complete and total and terrifying ' awful rowing toward God ' that my soul had been doing. I asked people to repeat themselves frequently. I thought slowly and often, stupidly. I had no hobbies or passions outside of my private writings and reading. I moved carefully and clumsily. My self esteem was non existent and every expression and communication I reached out with carried that void. I felt slow. Suffocated. I could drive by the same pink house for months, years, and if someone mentioned it as a point of reference I would ask What pink house?
So when this miracle happened to me- one of the truest miracles I know of, the daily miracle of new life- and Dakota was born, I shook myself like a wet dog nearly drowned in the river and headed toward home. Home was my son. I built who I am today by imagining what I needed to be to be a great mother. I began with the foundation of all writers- the books I had read and adored up until then with the ideals about human life contained. I read every parenting book that could offer even one idea that would be worth knowing. I began- and continued for years- serious therapy. I took up exercising for the first time in my life, as a way to teach myself discipline. I enrolled in community college and started bankrolling the A's. I prayed, I meditated, I fought my demons- which were terrifying. In my mind there was nothing that could touch us, my son and I, because my love was pure, unconditional, and fiercely protective of my son- not myself, not my ego or insecurities. I had no desire to protect myself anymore. I wanted the self that I knew stripped, rubbed raw and like a burn victim, built anew from within. If my entire life until then had been about fear and survival, this new life would be about the selfless bravery of love. Not perfection- I wasn't expecting I"d never yell at him, never snap, never say anything I'd have to take back or apologize for, never make a mistake or hurt him. I was expecting that what I did, how I parented- the AP, the nursing, holding, gentle discipline, open discussions on emotion and being a living example of how to handle difficulty, the structure firm enough for stability but open enough for unique personhood, the years of barely surviving to pay for private school- all my carefully culled ideas and actions- that they would protect my son from some of the very things he is feeling and thinking and experiencing right now.
I based this one one belief: that the emotions, suffering, pain and agonies of my childhood and youth all came from my troubled parents. Without the abuse, trauma, conflict, I didn't know what I would have been, but surely not a pot head, a drinker, a girl who carved SLOP ( smoke lots of pot) into her arms with a pocketknife and at 15 spent weekends in the local house of drug dealing men in their twenties. Surely not a girl who hated herself, who didn't know herself. Surely not a girl who flunked school, who cared less what happened to herself as long as the party never ended and her friends were close. Not a smoker since 15, not unusually- even for a teen- preoccupied and terrified every breathing second of what everyone thought of me, and not passionless and drifting. Not a girl who screamed at her parents, slammed doors, refused chores and ran away from home at 15 until she was caught and dragged home.
And now that belief has been unearthed and shaken by the neck and flung to the floor underneath my feet. I don't know what to make of the swirling vortex of responsibility and blame and confusion and theory that eats me alive as I try to comprehend what I missed or did wrong to bring my son into his pre-teen and teen years so unhappily. I don't know what the rules are that I am to follow here on this blog as I walk through one of the hardest times of my parental life while preparing to bring new life into our family. I don't know how to find faith in myself as a mother or a person when the oldest leading the pack of our children is not all right. How can I trust that what I did was right when it's ... not? I see as the days go on how uncertainty is beginning to shadow me again.
The small choices that you make as a parent that can have such looming consequences, choices based around discipline ( hard lines are too hard, make room for age, personality, circumstance- or is the hard line what keeps them safe from the void when the teen years fall and their own lines are too blurry? ), expectations ( accept each child as the best they can be, C's are OK if that is the best- or does that attitude lead toward a loss of faith in ability and eventually a lack of investment? ), priorities ( support and encourage all interests to build personal esteem and self knowledge- or is that simply supporting self absorption and momentary fancy instead of hard work and perseverance, so essential to success in most any aspect of life? ) and time ( I must write this novel to model self investment and hard work to my children- or must that be set aside because we have chosen to have a larger family and the children need me to focus on them? ) . Not black and white, of course, but in the moment, the decisions must be made, and they are often black and white, and the learning curve is incredibly steep.
Dakota and I have always been extremely, even unusually close, but I knew the dangerous and unhealthy dependence that can form between a single mother and her son, so I was careful not to put my adult needs on his small thin shoulders. I had friends, and a boyfriend, and my mother, and my therapist and prayer and my writing and books. But mostly, day to day, it was he and I. He came to work with me until kindergarten, and his complete confidence, preternatural emotional communication and polite ways brought compliments everywhere we went. I still have the note from his preschool teacher ( he went a few mornings a week at 3 ) saying that he was the most well adjusted, polite and happy child she had ever taught. But despite the external validation, I watched Dakota to tell me how well I was doing my job or not. I listened and watched and supported and guided and every sign said I am more than OK- I am exactly who I am supposed to be in this world. You know, not a Buddha, not a child prodigy, not anything or anyone but just perfectly himself.
Every picture I have of us over the years reveals the love and trust between us, taken for granted every moment by him, and not a single one by me. As it should be. And now I cannot reconcile the two. The past and present. I do not have the answers but I have, as always, the absolute and complete conviction and love guiding and motivating me to find every answer under every rock in every secret room, even if it is to my detriment, even if it scrapes away the burnt layers of skin I have carefully cherished as my own all these years. So without the needle through thread, the detail of the shape, I give you the outline: a very young, very sad, very adrift mother has a son by herself, and raises him the very best that she can, and for a while it was beautiful and all was well, until one day it was ugly and nothing felt right. And then she called every number and knocked at every door and banged down every Google lead until she found the right places and people to help. Because that I still know: If you are a mother and you don't know what to do, you find someone, anyone who does.