This post is both a confession and a request; an exhausted moment of surrender and a prayer. It’s also just a flawed human, trying to work through her own feelings of inadequacy and anger.
We are fortunate to belong to the YMCA. And they have a program for kids with special needs called Full Circle, which hosts a summer long camp. Every Monday through Friday from 9-1pm.
James is not particularly found of camp (except the swimming part) so our morning drop off is usually a mix of bargaining and wrestling covered in frustration.
This morning, it reached an all-time low, or high I suppose, and I was losing.
I gave James an extra “five minutes” to agree that it was time to walk into camp. And then another five minutes, and then another. Finally, out of options, I tried to give him a piggy back ride to the picnic table.
Somewhere in the struggle, he thrashed himself with enough force to get out of my grip.
His head slammed against the hard plastic of the wheel well, with a very loud thump. I gasped, then grabbed his arms and in a voice, I didn’t even know was inside of me said, “James you MUST walk into camp NOW!” He stuck his lower lip out. I checked for blood. And he walked in.
It scared me how quickly I went from zero to sixty.
But then again, did I really? Or was this a very slow build up that’s been happening for months and just now decided to blow, like lava out of a active volcano. As I cried on the way home, what I felt was fear and grief. Fear that I will not be able to physically handle James as he gets bigger and stronger, and grief that I will even have to worry about such things!
I wanted to break into Maggie’s Moo’s and devoure the Cotton Candy Ice cream,
but I have to play at the Beirhaus tonight so I didn’t think getting arrested was a good idea. So, I did the next best thing. I called a friend. As I cried, she said, “Lynn, parenting is hard and you need to get some new tools in your tool belt to handle this next stage of James’ life.”
I got to thinking about Handy Manny. Manny is one of James’ favorite characters. He is the “Mr. Fix-it” guy for his tribe and he has an arsenal of tools that help him fix anything that might come up. He’s not ashamed to ask for help. He’s not worried that the job won’t get done. He just gets the RIGHT tool for the task at hand. And he and his tools go to work on it. In the end, the broken bridge or the impossible situation is fixed and able to be crossed.
I have a friend who’s struggling right now with a very hard codependency issue. From my perspective, she doesn’t yet have enough tools in her belt to take care of herself. She needs therapy and support and more knowledge than she has at the moment. From where I sit – I see exactly what she needs in order to be able to move forward, without getting more bruised. And my friend on the phone this morning, well, she sees the same thing with me and James. She sees my inadequacy’s and knows I need help.
Why is it always so easy to see what someone else is lacking, but not what I’m lacking?
So, I’m tool shopping today. To those who have walked my journey, I’m all ears! Because I’m humbly saying,
“I’m tool-less and I could use a little help.”
(This is not to be confused with being ‘toothless’ of which I also was this week!)
Life is hard. Parenting is ridiculously hard. And codependency may be the hardest thing of all. I’m sad that ice cream cannot be a tool, and neither is fear or sitting and wishing the problem away.
James has a bruise on his head. It will heal. Painful things always do; they just take time and tools.
We drove to Memphis on Monday to take James to his first week-long over-night camp at Camp Conquest. That was the easy part. Getting him out of the car, into the cabin and comfortable in his bunk is a whole other story, that involved everything from coaxing to carrying to crying.
As we drove away, the camp leader said,
“Ma’am, in five years we’ve never had to return a child.”
This didn’t calm me like I think he hoped. We left James in the hands of five male camp counselors and I knew that James was going to be pushed and pulled to the max – to be asked to live for one week – outside of his comfort zone. I didn’t realize how much I would be too.
As I worried and texted friends this week for comfort, I’ve found myself at a new place,
one that has asked me to trust more than I ever have,
pray with more sincerity and truly have faith in the choice we made. When we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, being pushed beyond our comfort zone, it also brings a new space to discover more of your true self within.
Every day the camp posts photos on their website of the day activities. And every day I would wait with baited breath to see a photo of James, laughing and running and playing. And each day the photo didn’t come. (They sent this one saying, “we got James a wagon to move him in!”)
I was forced to admit that, even eleven years later,
I still mourn the loss of a typical child, I still very much dislike the combination of Autism and Down syndrome,
and I probably always will! When dreams don’t come true, they just don’t automatically go away from our desires. It’s like a wound that never completely heals. I broke my toe during one late-night polka party in the 90’s, and last week I stubbed it on my chair and it instantly brought back all the pain. You can’t deny it.
The only thing you can do is accept and surrender all over again.
And that honesty pulls you into the present and pushes you to what is real. (Just for the record, I hate that this is the way works, but it is!)
So, what do you do when you find yourself out of your comfort zone? What do you do when your job, your relationship, your world asks you to be stronger than you feel? For me this week it came down to very simple things; daily hikes in the park, honest prayers – allowing myself to admit how scared I was – and lunches with dear friends that included dessert!
It’s Friday, and I survived. And James survived. I feel slightly stronger. When I hold him in my arms tomorrow afternoon, only then will I admit that all this pushing and pulling was the best thing that ever happened to us!
To all those who may have lost their mothers too soon, who are spending this day with one foot in joy and one foot in grief… you are not alone.
I was seventeen. She was fifty-six. And the doctor said cancer. Back then, it was a death sentence. And two months and eight days later, she was gone.
I have spent my entire life with mixed emotions about this day, and today is no different. I am honored to be James’ mom and I celebrate that gift! But this morning, as I sit here alone in the quiet, (James is spending half this day with his beautiful Grandmother) I am a bit sad and angry about the way it all went down. Okay, a lot sad and angry.
But this day, and every Mother’s Day, calls me to acknowledge that pain and recognize the beauty in the loss of her and who I am because of it.
Those of us who lost our mothers young, we were challenged to handle the milestone moments in our lives with a big gaping hole announcing her absence. We walked down wedding aisles with our fathers, to look and see no one sitting where our mom should have been. We tried to duplicate recipes, and ended up with things that were “not quite right” because of the one secret ingredient she didn’t write on the index card. We took graduation photos with only one parent. We birthed children, held them in our arms, and for the first time understood how much our mom loved us, even though she wasn’t there to tell us.
But I choose to believe that she grieved alongside us for each of these moments as well!
(Okay, except maybe in regards to the recipe, I think she’s probably laughing her ass off that I still can’t make her Slovenian Cucumber gravy just right!)
But she did love us.
She DOES love us – with all her life-giving heart.
And she lives on in our spirits. In our smiles. In our determination. And In our resilient, grief-birthed strength. Strength that was forged in the pain. We are sad today, because she left us. But the loss of her has made us a much stronger version of ourselves then if she was still here to be a Grandma to our children.
If you’re like me today, with one foot in joy and one foot in grief, know that you are not alone. I know she’s right there with you.