Parenthood, Uncategorized

Mom of 4: Becoming Mama Bear β€οΈπŸ’œπŸ’™πŸ’šπŸ’›

“Mom, can I talk to you about something?” The text appeared on my phone late one night, sent from #4 who was safe in their bedroom. The year was 2016, and the child was 10 years old.

“Sure what’s up?” I replied.

“NVM”

“No you don’t get to ask me if you can talk to me then back out, what’s up?”

After a few more texts, offering to talk rather than type… #4 says I don’t want to talk, text is fine. “I think I’m gay” is the next line that appears.

My heart exploded with all kinds of emotions at once, but my intuition kept me calm and steady. My baby needed to trust me and feel safe so my response needed to prove that. I had learned that remaining calm and no response was the best way to react to children. I don’t know exactly what I said, but I know it was along the lines of “Ok. Let’s talk about that when you are ready. I love you always, no matter what.”

My baby boy was a surprise child. I had not planned to get pregnant again. My husband had a vasectomy scheduled at one point and had to cancel due to a work deadline. I was overwhelmed by life most of the time. Depression was a daily battle. God knew that I wasn’t complete yet. This child was God’s gift to me: the gift of Joy.

From the moment he could make sounds, laughter appeared. I saved it as my ringtone on a cellphone back then. It was pure and intoxicating when this child laughed. Playful, imaginative, and sweet. Sometime around the 4th birthday, this kiddo was begging me for a princess birthday party. The request was for a castle cake, tiaras, and magic wands. His invitees were all of the little girls in our lives. All he wanted for toys was My Little Pony. They were pretty colors and sparkling tails. He delighted in these things and his energy was innocent and happy.

This type of behavior continued with tutus and fairy wings, a love of pink and lavender, and always being surrounded by a group of girl friends. Being a mother of 4 boys in American culture, I can say this was not “typical” boy behavior. The others turned anything and everything into cars, guns, swords. I had sometimes wondered and worried if #4 would be gay. I didn’t know if these things would change as he grew up or not.

My biggest fears stemmed from a story that became headline news in 1998, the year my first child was born. He was a young college student, Matthew Shepard. He was violently assaulted and killed because of his sexuality. It was tragic and never left my mind. The world is mean and ugly. It’s already a scary place for kids… adults even. I was and still am worried for their safety. That’s part of being a mother. Now, I’m learning how to navigate the fears and not let them control me because I would not be able to breathe if I allowed myself to feel them all.

Over the last three years my #4 and I have had very open communication. We ask each other questions. I respect their thoughts and feelings and they respect my judgment calls when I say “No”. Coming out, gender dysphoria, being male and presenting as female are all things we are working through. Together, we are navigating what the appropriate boundaries are in our culture for a 13 year old. It’s not always clear and my answers are sometimes based on my gut instincts instead of proven facts. I am grateful that we share trust in these moments.

Everyone in our lives knows. We aren’t keeping secrets. What’s important to me about this is that #4 is learning to feel comfortable being themselves. They know without a shadow of doubt that my love is deep and true and a place for acceptance and safety. That is most important to me.

As I write this, I am reminded of my Christianity. There’s a question that came up in our talks at the beginning. It still pierces me. “Mom, if God hates gay people, why did he make me gay?”. This question came one summer after they had attended summer camp with a large Christian organization here in Oregon. They had given their heart to Jesus that summer and been baptized in the river. One year later, in all of the innocence of a child, they were questioning such deep and potentially dark realizations. There are so many schools of thought, interpretations of the Bible, different stories from experience and some simply based on fear. It could be a very messy and complicated answer. Instead, I choose to answer with the one thing that I know to be true and there is absolute resolve in the statement: God is Love. My child was and is a gift from God. My child is a child of God, and worthy of whatever that entails between them and God. I trust that God is all powerful and far more capable of taking care of, guiding, and teaching my children than I could ever be. So my answer is this: God does not hate gay people. Period. God is Love and because that is truth, God loves all of humanity. Each individual person, regardless of sexuality, race, even religion… will have to work out their own salvation, relationship, and beliefs about God. I do not believe the Bible was given to us to cause hate, division, and pain… but rather I believe God calls on us to Love each other. That’s pretty simple at the end of it all.

Over this last weekend, I was blessed to be part of my dearest friend’s wedding. We have shared all of life with each other over the last 18 years. There were many beautiful and God-ordained moments, most of which are for another writing session. But I want to close this story with two. My bff’s little sister who must be in her late 20’s, is also gay. She presents as more masculine. Baby sister was at the wedding with her beautiful girlfriend. The charisma and connection between the two was so endearing to me. I wished I could have just sat and watched and listened… not to be creepy but to observe what a same-sex relationship can be. To soak in the hope that I was given that the world, as scary as it can be, can also be safe and true and amazing when shared between two people with love and joy. I wanted to take a minute to watch how she treated Little Sister and observe if Little Sister could feel the joy that provided for the family around her. I took a moment to share with them a two minute snippet of our story. I knew that when they met my #4 that there would be a connection between them, between us. For me, navigating these waters isn’t always easy and can be awkward. I knew in the moment that God had given me some relief and support. I experienced love and gratitude from those two beautiful souls… and hope most importantly.

That night, I shared with number 4 about who I had met and what our conversation was about. I knew there was some anxiety about going to church, even for a wedding with his extended family. I hoped that there would be a measure of peace, knowing they were not the only one in a group of heterosexual christians. The rest of our evening was busy with wedding preparations. When it was time to sleep, we were sharing a bed… which I’ve learned is not a favorite thing for male teenagers to share a sleeping space with Mom. We divided up with pillows and had separate blankets. The lights were off and we settled in. I felt the little hand of a thirteen year old child reach out and grab mine. We held on until sleep came.

Love is love. Mama Bear.

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grief, Parenthood

Something about March 26th

On Tuesday, after putting in a couple hours of work, I decided to take a spur of the moment trip. Spontaneous road trips are my favorite. This one, we had pre-planned by a day or so. Once the kids and I were packed and ready to drive off, I had this nagging feeling that I was forgetting something. In my head, I visualized all of the things to pack and could not think of any reason to return to the house. I had everything we needed. I even remembered pillows this time. What was leaving me unsettled? I decided to let it go and forget about it.

As we drove over the mountain to visit my mother, I remembered my ex-husband’s mom recently moved to a town that we would be driving through on our way back home. It felt very odd to think we would drive by without stopping to see her. After a couple of quick text messages back and forth, we decided that Thursday morning we would stop and visit for a bit. This brings me to today.

This morning, as we turned a few corners down new roads that I had not driven before, we pulled up in front of her new house…

(Wait… one second before I continue my story. I need to back up a little first. My ex-husband’s mom, whom I still call “Mom”, is someone very dear to me. For this story, I will be referring to her as Mom, as to not disclose her real name. I have not asked permission for that. My own Mom always reads my blog posts. As I started to write, I began to feel guilty and uneasy. Rather than quit: I need to add a disclaimer: I love you, Mom! This is not written with any intention to point out anything personally related to you. I am grateful for who you are in my life and ALL that you have provided to me and to my family for the last 44 years. So, please do not feel bad. I am going to write this story because it is part of my healing process. If you (or anyone else) are feeling insecure or upset that I would choose to write about my relationship with my ex-mom-in-law, please stop reading now. Love you!)

We pulled up in front of the new house. It is big and pretty. The colors are inviting and warm. I knock on the door and am greeted with that so familiar face and tender hug. In so many ways, and for so many reasons, she feels like home to me… and I haven’t seen her in a long time. She gives us a tour of her house. So much is well-known to me even though it is all so new and somewhere I have never been. The red details in her kitchen, the organization and decor makes it feel so comfy. As we head up the stairs, I notice she has created a beautiful family picture wall. I avoid looking at it on the way up. She shows us each room. Each room has memories from my childhood/ young adulthood that were pieces of comfort for me. The plum colored accents, the lace doilies, more photographs everywhere, and damn… the quilt that she has been sewing since I was newly married.

I see colors and shapes and the early 90’s suddenly come rushing back to my mind. I can see the rooms and smell the aroma of her little apartment, where I first saw the beginning of that quilt. It is laid out on a table in her craft room. This large deep green quilt is nearly complete now, 25 years or so later. She has hand stitched most of it. I wonder for a minute… is anyone else going to sit and look at those stitches someday, years from now, and feel her spirit as they run their fingers over each one? I am imagining doing that as she shows me her work.

We move on towards the hallway and I can’t help but stop and look at the collage of pictures on her craft room wall. The father of my children is in each picture, at different stages of his life. I enjoy pointing to them and sharing my memories of each one with our 2 kids that are with me. It is familiar and fun and sad all at once. That was my life, and I am not in the pictures. Granted, these were specifically of Mom’s kids and nobody else was in these photos either. It still felt unnerving as I looked closely at each one. This reminded me of that nagging feeling from the beginning of this story.

It occurs to me… March 26th… 9 years ago… was the day I signed the divorce was final. (Today, as I write, it is the 28th) That is why the day felt familiar and why it felt like I was forgetting something. A few weeks ago, I had thought about the date coming up. It’s always an odd day, much like my anniversary. This is the first time it has come and gone without me acknowledging it. It took 9 years. NINE YEARS ago, we signed away our life as we knew it. I divorced my high school sweetheart, who I had fancied since the age of 13. When you divorce someone, the family inevitably changes too. It can’t be helped. Mom is not really my mom, she is his. As much as I know she loves me, of course she is going to stay close and comfort her son. I understand this now that I am a mom of boys. Today, I realized I am still grieving. 9 years has passed. I chose to get a divorce, for some ridiculous reasons. I did not fight for us to get better and stay together… and yet, here I am: remarried and a whole new life, 9 years later. I am still grieving.

Grief: Stages as presented by Elisabeth KΓΌbler-Ross ~ There are 5 stages, in no particular order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I am going to be really honest here. I have been deep into each stage. I could bare my soul and tell you all of the awful things I did while I was in the denial and anger stages. They lasted for years. I was mean and bitter. I said and did things behaving like an immature teenager. I have struggled with depression in ways that left me thinking my family and friends would be better off without me. My current husband has felt the brunt of a lot of emotional pain, without even knowing where it stems from. I have not reached acceptance yet. I know that as of today.

Today, I truly, genuinely, gravely, experienced regret, shame, and sorrow. There were no tears to show it. There will be no open expression other than this writing. There are too many people who would feel hurt and annoyed by my pain all of these years later. My kids have been thru enough. I miss my life. I miss Mom. I miss my husband and the father of my children. The things that we did wrong… and we both are guilty of them… they are things that could have been fixed if we’d have known better. I was always so stressed out about finances and angry at him for not providing. Now, I am married and financially very stable. I still feel depression and unhappiness. The things I once blamed completely on this person… are very much part of who I am and nobody’s fault. I know there is no going back, I am certain. This is the bargaining stage. It is confusing and very bitter sweet. I am finally able to remember the joy, the strengths, the beauty of our young and passionate love. I see him with love and not anger. NINE years has gone by. I am still not in acceptance. My life still feels out of balance and incomplete. My heart is still yearning for many of the things we shared when we made that covenant before God and our family and friends.

Many people in my life would not understand this about me… and be very wounded. That is not my intention. I am on a journey to heal. The truth about grief… that is undeniable… there is NO timeline and not a person in this world experiences it the same. I do not have control over when these emotions show up or decide to leave. Time does not promise to heal, as people claim. Healing comes from actually feeling the moments, memories, heartache, joy… as it comes, rather than blocking it out. There is a part of me that is fearful of acceptance right now, because I don’t want it to ever go away. I don’t want this part of me to be gone. This loss is part of me… and it is why I have not been able to recognize myself for the last 9 years. This is progress… slow and agonizing and messy, but progress none-the-less.

Parenthood, Uncategorized

Dear Teenage Self,

First things first… You are not fat! Your worth is not based on your body size. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way… I’d like you to know a few things that will prepare you for the rest of your life. I’ve learned these lessons the hard way and some we still struggle with very much. There’s really no way to prepare you for the future but you bet your ass I wish we could!

You are not fat! I already said that and I will say it again. You are going to spend the rest of your life battling this concept. Enjoy being little. Don’t be ashamed of your body or your skin. Your face is beautiful. Your smile lights up the room and your eyes are as blue and gorgeous as the ocean. Let it be. Accept who you are. You are worth it.

The man who took advantage of your sleeping 8 year old body… he was sick. Not you. You didn’t do anything wrong. It was all on him. He awakened physical feelings in your body way too soon. Your emotional well being was broken and confused. When this happens to little girls there are 2 common responses. Some will become afraid of sexual contact and awkward around the opposite sex. Many, having figured out that a male pays attention when sex is involved, will seek this out. You are going to choose one of these behaviors. Either one is, or can be, equally damaging. These are coping skills that you develop based on your life. Boys are going to sense your sexual awareness and you are going to seek their attention. What happened to you broke you. Sex is not horrible or gross or disgusting, but you are going to get this all confused. Do not beat yourself up for this. Forgive yourself and forgive the boys. You are precious and valuable.

You are going to give birth to a small team of boys. There will be many many twists and turns, which will be worth the surprise along the way. Stop. Listen. Pay close attention. Enjoy them while they are little because it will go by much faster than you can imagine. Don’t yell so much. Teach them by doing not just by demanding. Laugh more, much, much more. Play with them, your not too cool to play light saber wars as Princess Leia with your little Luke Skywalker. Read to them Every. Single. Day. Stop wishing your life away. It’s all going to be ok.

Having these little guys grow inside your body is going to physically change you. You are not fat! You are going to be tempted to throw in the towel and give up on your body. You’ll be grossed out by the transformation that happens. You are not gross and the fact that your body makes awesome little humans is amazing! See the positives and take better care of yourself! Your worth is not based on the exterior of you. Let the changes into womanhood be good and positive.

You are going to lose the people you love dearly. Nobody likes to think about this, especially as a teenager. You are not an exception to this but you think you are. Knock it off! Go see your Grandparents as often as possible. Spend time with your Dad. Be patient with your Mom. Life has been hard for them too. Ask them questions and really listen. Their time is very limited. You will wish you had much more.

There’s going to be a guy that shows up in your life. You already know him. Do Not, I repeat: Do Not enter into any kind of relationship with him. This turns out to wreck us. If I could turn back the time, this is one of the most significant things I would change. He will change you in many ways. He will open you up for a passionate love with no intention of ever loving you in return. It will take you years to recover. The shame you will feel from baring your soul will be devastating. The humiliation from thinking you were valuable and cherished when this was so far from the truth… it’s going to change the trajectory of your entire life. You won’t trust anymore, not like that. You won’t feel love like that again. It’s not worth it. When you see his name pop up in your email, delete the message and move on. Trust me on this one.

You are not fat! When the men in your life reject you, it has nothing to do with how you look. You will spend your life literally hating yourself and comparing yourself to others. Your hair, your skin, your size… none of it defines you. As you age, this obsession with yourself and the low self worth you develop… that is going to be your downfall. Thinking you are fat and hating yourself is going to make you miserable to be around. You will lose true friends, facebook friends, family. They won’t go away because you are fat… they’re going to go away because you become a downer. Fight like hell to overcome this habit. You are worth fighting for.

Friends are going to come and go. You will have seasons of plenty and lack. Be a better friend. Listen. Engage. Make plans and follow thru. Loving others will be a huge reward for this life if you let it.

Stay young as long as possible!

Oh, how I wish you could actually read this. Best wishes. Cheers to the future.