Monday, December 12, 2011

Gives Praise

This is a reprint of a journal entry I wrote back in December 2010, reflecting on one of the 13 Clan Mothers of the Native American spiritual teachings. "Gives Praise" is the name of the Clan Mother who governs the 12th moon cycle (December), and so it felt appropriate to share this now.


So I was thinking of writing some really moving, life-lesson type of story, but then I decided to just write the truth.

One year ago, I was able to buy Christmas presents. We had money for food and a weekly babysitter so that my husband and I could go on our Friday date nights. My children wore new clothes without any signs of wear. I wore coordinated outfits from Talbots, nylons, and heels five days a week. I had an office downtown and fresh-brewed gourmet coffee right at my desk. My job involved time-sensitive work for huge international corporations, and my parents could brag about their daughter.

It was exactly where I was supposed to be. The child of two corporate executives, I had been raised to move in exclusive social circles. I knew where all the bathrooms were in the theaters we attended as season ticket holders for the opera, ballet, and orchestra. I could mingle naturally at art gallery openings and corporate parties. “Appropriate behavior” was something I could assume as easily as slipping on a coat; it was an automatic, ingrained response to social situations. Prolonged exposure was more difficult, however. Over time, my mask would slip enough to allow my true personality to break through, and these glimpses mixed with the camouflage combined to create an off-putting impression of intelligence and instability. Because of this, I fought showing my true self like a warrior.

One year ago, I was a wreck. My older son had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and anxiety disorder, in addition to his previously-identified ADHD. He was in the public school’s sixth-grade gifted program and was crashing and burning with spectacular consistency. My younger son was adjusting to kindergarten at the same time, his own ADHD fairly controlled by medication but still allowing for some upsetting “bad days” when the drugs could not completely control his symptoms. I was receiving nearly daily emails and phone calls from one or both schools concerning my sons’ behavior, and it had already become clear that my older child’s situation had reached a critical point. Despite the glaring need for more direct supervision and intervention, my job was a demanding one, leaving me neither the energy nor mental capacity to grapple effectively with these issues at the end of the work day. Similarly, the stress of my child’s situation and the constant communications from the school began to make focusing on my job impossible.

Still, I clung to what I thought I was “supposed” to do with stubborn tenacity. We had bills to pay, and although I neither enjoyed nor felt fulfilled by my career, I lacked faith in our ability to survive if I were to relinquish the steady income it provided. I needed to provide for my family.

Then, in January, I hit bottom. A huge mistake had been made at work, one that was directly related to my increasing inability to balance the demands of my job with the needs of my family. Suddenly, the money did not matter anymore. I chose my family over my career, resigning my position the next day. I discovered quickly that I had been doing a terrible job at both, and the relief at no longer having to grapple with an employer’s needs and expectations was overwhelming.

Gradually, I began to piece a new life together. Some things worked, some did not. As I sifted through my options and ideas, I was aware that it was the first time I had ever been given the opportunity to do so without any reference to other people’s perceptions or expectations. It was freeing, but it was also intimidating. There is no rule book for this, and my upbringing had not prepared me for this future.

This year, there are fewer presents under the Christmas tree. This year, I make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like it is my job. This year, I gratefully accept friends’ hand-me-downs for my rapidly growing boys and make sure to pass on ours to other friends. This year, I actually know what my children’s homework looks like and what they are studying in school. This year, putting food on the table often means feeding the boys while my husband and I do without. This year, buying a new book or downloading a new album means doing without a necessity. This year, little indulgences are out of reach.

I have never felt more blessed.

My children know their mother. They know I love them more than a paycheck, a nice office, or an impressive job title. They also watch as I show them that it is possible to be whatever you want to be, even if it does not fit the typical pattern of modern society. Most importantly, they have seen their mother overcome fear.

My husband and I actually interact. We feel like a team. I no longer let him down by being too tired or stressed to take care of household chores. He is no longer Mr. Mom with a full-time job. He has started playing his guitar again and experimenting with new recipes. He finally got to sit down.

I have found my own voice. I have said “no” to my parents and stuck to it. I have established my boundaries with the people in my life and have learned to speak my truth. I no longer apologize daily to the world for being the person I am.

I am grateful for my past. I know I was very privileged to grow up in a safe, secure environment, and I feel very fortunate for the opportunities and experiences that I was given. Likewise, I am grateful for the challenges that I have faced over the years, for each one taught me a lesson that I can draw from now. I am grateful for the people who have touched my life, for good or ill, because each one had a part in showing me the person I wanted to be.

Perhaps most surprising of all, I am – for the first time in my life – grateful that I got to be me. My life has had its share of pain, loss, and hardship, and I have often wondered “Why me?” Now that I can see where these challenges have led me, all I can think is “I’m so glad it’s me!”


Anonymous said...

What a moving post. Thank you for your touching story. It's nice to hear these things and especially at this time of year. Cyber hugs galore, my dear!

Lisa said...

Beautiful words. Often, as stay at home mom's we're made to feel less than other women, but I wouldn't trade my days with anyone. We saracfice for those who need us the most. Inspiring.