Let’s not Confuse Survival with Resilience

Resilience

Resilience

Sometimes I think we confuse “resilient” and “survival” at times.

The use of “resilient” may be especially applied when speaking about children (and others) in difficult situations.

I have often heard stated, “Well, you know, children are resilient.”

I have also heard “resilience” applied to abuse survivors, individuals who survive natural disasters, and so on.

I am not taking anything away from these individuals, or the positive sentiments implied by the use of the word “resilient”.

However, one definitions I found for “resilience” captured my concern about usage of this word.

It defined resilience as the “capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation…”

See, this is what I think we miss when we use the word “resilience”. To be truly resilient, based on the above definition, the body (or Being) RECOVERS its size and shape.

I have not found this to be true in those I witness suffering abuse or other traumas.

Certainly, individuals are capable of moving through these experiences.

However, the original state of the person is NOT RECOVERED, thus based on the definition I provided above, “resilience” can not be applied to describe these individuals.

The body (or Being) of the person does not return to its size and shape- it has been forever modified by the experience.

So, when I hear people speak about children suffering or others who are supposedly “resilient”, I often transpose their sentiments in my mind and use the word “surviving” in place of “resilient”.

The term “surviving’ conjures up an entire different emotional sense and awareness.

We can no longer absolve ourselves of our collective responsibility for those suffering, by saying “Well, they are resilient” (meaning: We needn’t worry too much. Those who we label as “resilient” will return to their original size and shape, as good as new, once this is all over.)

We should be saying instead, “Well, they are surviving”.

And with the word “surviving” we begin to capture the struggles, and perhaps, more importantly, give up the ideas that all will be “fine”, because “resilient” objects, no matter what they suffer, are expected to return to their original size and shape.

On the Edge of Darkness

Soul Fighter

Soul Fighter

In Your innocent Light, you
touched the skirt of Darkness

and now you know
and now you understand

to a depth only Experience
can bear

and came away aware

Your Soul touched Darkness
And now You Light the Perimeter.

I wrote this because, as we all sometimes do with things in our lives, I was questioning how I became to be a stepmom to children whose own mother treats them (in my mind) with such cold indifference.

And, I realized, after helping my stepson so much as of late, and he would say “But no one would believe me.” I kept saying, “I do. I do believe you.” And he asked why.

Suddenly, internally, I realized why I could believe him- I had “touched the skirt” of his mother’s darkness. I KNEW because I had experienced her coldness, blatant disregard and belittling.

So, now I stand with my little ol’ innocent Light – on the border of darkness, marking the perimeter so my stepchildren may be able to see what is good, normal, and right.

I do not want to make less of anyone’s experience with “darkness” in life. BUt perhaps by having your own Light brush up against that Darkness, you will safely mark the border for others.

Memory Tangles

Memory Tangles

Memory Tangles

This image reminded me, for some reason, of a person looking ahead trying to see the light, but behind them are those cloths that swish back and forth in a car wash- trying to wipe the memories clean.

When I created this, I thought of my stepson and others who have suffered at the hands of family and parents. One of his greatest overarching fears at this time is that no one will believe him.

He is wise to understand what is at risk here. His Mom will call and tell us that Henry will lie, before he has even said a word. His sister calls us and tells us that Henry is manipulating us. Let’s remember, Henry is all of 11 years old, but the effort to build the case against him and wipe out his own sense of experience is huge and complete.

As I was reading Lucille Clifton the other day (OUTSTANDING POET!(, I came across her profound poem – “why some people be mad at me sometimes”

they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
their memories
and I keep on remembering
mine

Well said, Ms. Clifton, well said.

How many of those who suffer abuse can relate to these words? The desire of the abuser to wipe your own memories away, while they replace them with their own.

How Brave Do You Become?

Love Myself

Love Myself

How brave do you become when the heart of another beats only so it may find You?
How brave do you become when the tears of another land on your Soul?
How brave do you become when the mind of another clings to the hope inside You?
How brave do you become when the Soul of another wants to dismantle and instead holds on to your hand?
How brave do you become?

—-
My stepson, Henry, having been with his Mom since Friday showed up on our doorstep bawling again last evening. We talked to him, we called her. And Henry returned to this Mom’s. And then we was back, bawling again. It was now after 10 p.m.

We called her again about Henry spending the night with us. She said, “No” she would rather he come back to her house. She asked my husband, “So are you going to walk Henry back over?” My husband said, “I can’t. We are waiting for someone to pick up the bed we sold at the garage sale. I need to stay if they need help.”

And she said, “Well, just have Henry walk over then.”

And in not one moment did it occur to her, “mother” that she is, that perhaps SHE could walk over and escort Henry home to make sure he was safe. No, she asked others and then could not be bothered herself.

And she wonders why Henry shows up in tears, at our door.

(My husband ended up walking him home, of course. )

Momma Lost Her Head and Found it Blogging

HeadLess

HeadLess

As some of you read in an earlier blog, Slings and Arrows, we have been experiencing a bit of family dynamics recently.

As I was messing around with some pastel fragments, a few shapes emerged on the paper. I saw a reflecting pool/water pool and standing over it a headless monster.

And I somehow resonated with that figure- in a good way.

After being told I was not joyous and made other in the family feel uncomfortable, I felt others saw me as this headless (meaning lacking understanding and insights) monster rambling through the house, leaving a wake of joyless-ness and uncomfortable-ness in her wake.

Children and others would run screaming in the face of this headless beast. 🙂

Of course, I am nothing like this headless monster figure, although it was fun to play with the idea. It made it less hurtful, more ridiculous, and a way to have an image of this absurd dynamic.

The reflecting pool in the image is my need to “see” myself clearly. Despite the labels flung at me recently, I don’t see myself in the ways others have projected upon me.

In the image, I am the monster heading towards the pool- because that is where I will finally “see” myself. My own reflections are what matters, not the strange distortions laid upon me by others. (For those of you readers with an analytical mind who are reading this and thinking, “How would a headless monster be able to see anything, let along a reflection in a pool?”, I have no answer for you. It’s art, it’s an image and it works for me- details be damned. 🙂 )

In some ways, as I looked at this headless monster and my role of stepmom in the family, I realized the reflecting pool, the place I was once again “seen” truly, was in the blogging world.

You have NO idea how much all of your comments, insights and support have helped me. Truly, you don’t. YOu gave this Momma her sense of self ( her head) back and enabled the monster to be seen for what it was- a figment of someone’s imagination.

I don’t know about you, but when I post blogs like I have in the past days, I am very worried about coming off as whiny and self-pitying. But the insights I received back changed this image I held about these blogs. They were messages to myself and others about finding one’s way in life.

It is not always pretty and yes, perhaps, some days, I am a bit monster-like when I am fatigued and overwhelmed- but headless, I have never been. This Momma’s got her head back.

Slings and Arrows

Sling and Arrows

Sling and Arrows

Do you ever lie about what you are blogging about? I do. Or, to be more exact, I choose substitute words for what I am experiencing. The other day I wrote a blog “The End of Innocence” about the internal saboteur and related it to a book proposal I was working on. It was a flaccid version of the truth. For “book proposal” substitute “family dynamics” and the story would be a bit more true.

I was recently reading the book Carry on Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton. The book is in some ways a compilation of her blog postings. During one of the earlier ones, she writes about a “lack” (my word) of intimacy with her husband. Later, she learned he had been having an affair.

In some ways, she realized she had been responding energetically to a situation, although she was not consciously aware (this is my interpretation).

I feel a similar experience (although not the discovery of an affair) in my own family. It’s as if radio waves have been circulating around me and suddenly I have them in tune as I see and hear what is happening.

Although I have blogged some about my husband and stepkids, being a stepmom 1/2 time in a dynamic in which both parents are not the overly-engaged parenting types is difficult. Add to that the sentiment since I stepped into this drama that they are all “fine”, while the rest of the world is just not up to par, and you have a recipe for blame and lack of awareness.

Sadly, I will now admit this- I had projected all feelings relating to my being judged as “failing” on my stepkids’ Mother.

As the background radio waves have come into tune, I realize I could not have been more wrong. My husband and stepkids frequently see me as the problem. Perhaps, “frequently” is not strong enough-how about we try “always”?

Just a few examples- my stepdaughter almost left a 425 degree oven on overnight. I expressed my concern and worry. I was told by her that “everyone forgets” and by my husband that I make everyone feel “uncomfortable”. Yes. Discomfort was actually a goal, because I thought it may stimulate the behavior to change.

Other examples have been: No one can relate to me. The kids are there one night and I ruin everything. I am always such a problem. And, finally, that no one can have fun with me because I am not joyous.

How convenient for them that they can sit and feel so confident and fine in themselves while I make others uncomfortable and am so un-joyous myself that no one can have fun with me.

And for those of you have lived in similar dynamics, I won’t recount the “set-ups” by them. Of how they won’t honor what I need, and then a countdown clock begins to wonder when I will lost it. Crazy-making at its best.

Slings and arrows…slings and arrows. I drew the woman above to capture how this feels. To her left, near her breast, is an orange arrow headed towards her. She is already off balance and ungrounded (my fear of what will be said to me next).

A blue stream pours from her, forming a spiraling pool near her lower let to the right.

We are all gifted in this life with our challenges and awarenesses. I don’t have any answers now, except the dream I had last night. Where the simple message was this: the love I bestow so freely upon others should find a home in myself.

I don’t post this blog as a “poor me” scenario nor to capture a sense of “Look! at how awful my husband and stepkids can be”. This is not my intent.

My intent is this- within every dynamic that is challenging, we need one simple prayer. “Give me just a sliver of space and light, dear God, so that I may maneuver into something better.”

We don’t need to change the world, we don’t need to change others, we just need that space, that bit of light, so that we reach reach towards it.

An Equal Measure of Love

cropped-yourlightshines.jpg

The things we do for love.
I found a soccer camp for my stepson to attend this summer. I had seen how much he enjoyed playing pick-up soccer in our neighborhood and thought to myself that this could perhaps give him such much needed confidence.

I contacted the director to make certain they would welcome a child who had never played before. ( I had visions of enrolling him in something that was over his head. A summer camp for 10-year-old mini-professional players or something like that.) The director reassured me that they welcomed all levels.

This information was passed to his Mom as he would be staying with her at that time. And, she signed him up! Often I am the one finding such activities for the children (guitar, piano, tutoring, baseball, flute lessons) while the parents are “confused” as to how I find all of these things and get them done.

I do not know if God (define that as you will) allows me to see some things so I would understand or if it is just fate or whatever. But on the first day of soccer camp, as I was cleaning the kitchen, I glanced out the window and there was my stepson riding his bike -alone- to camp.

Now, mind you, the camp is 2.5 BLOCKS away from our home. 2.5 BLOCKS. As it was his first day and he had never been to a sports camp before, I had visions of his Mom at least walking (driving??) him to camp to make sure he was signed up as expected (we have all had that experience where our registration was “lost”) and to help him get settled and cheer him on.

And…she was not there… at all….

I know he is 10, almost 11, but where is her involvement in his life? Had he been with us, I would have walked him over, chatting along the way, “I am so excited you chose to do this camp. I love experiencing new things and can’t wait to see you experience this. Do you think any of your friends will be there? You may even make some new friends here, what do you think?”

Connecting…feeling…supporting HIM and his life.

Later that day, as my husband was home, I suggested we walk the (apparently grueling) 2.5 blocks to see how my stepson was doing and cheer him on.

He greeted us (and well, also the dog, more so) with a big wave and hugs. He does love an audience, so we witnessed him “showing off” (in a good way) for us.

As I stood there watching him, seeing his joy and happiness, I could not help but send up a prayer “Why God, why would his Mom not come to see this? How can he know he matters when someone ignores his life so much?”

And the answer came, “An equal measure of Love.”

I don’t know how many of you are great cooks. I will go with my assumption that you cook way better than me. But there are recipes ( I believe 🙂 ) that call for equal measures of such things as sugar and flour or something.

And the answer had me thinking about ingredients and how when they are mixed together, the stronger ingredient will overpower the other ingredients – even if they are of an equal measure.

And this is the message I took. An equal measure of Love will always overpower any darkness.

Our love does not need to be over the top and of a huge magnitude. It simply needs to be present.

An equal measure of love overcomes any darkness.

The Worry of the Child

Parental Bird

Parental Bird

No one tells you about the worry when you have children.

The talk is of love, light, blessings- and so much of raising children contains these items and more.

The worry is the secret no one discloses when you hold babe in arms. People will “ooohhh” and “aaahhhh” and those who are parents will hold their lips in a sealed line and not reveal the legacy.

The worry…no one talks about the worry.

Growth. Development. Illness. Injury. The uncertainty. What is right? What am I supposed to be doing here? How poor can my parenting skills be and still be “good enough”?

You pray- “Please God, give me a resilient child, because I am pretty sure I am going to mess it up.”

You send your toddler off to preschool. The child looks at once so young and old to you as they run from your arms on their small legs in through that door.

And they will spend hours apart from you. Being free from the moment to moment contact does not free you of the worry.

The movement into school. More hours spent from home. More interactions. More possibilities. The child’s hopes and dreams begin to form, as you question, “Am I doing enough?”

A “graduation” marks the transition to high school- a sense of newness and hope ensues – while you also stand silently watching your child mingle amongst friends, looking SO MATURE.

And you can’t help, even while you hold a smile, to worry about what the future may hold. They are so much more on their own now, but they carry the mark of your parenting. Will it be enough?

The worry…no one talks about the worry.

Sleepless nights. Anticipation. Comparison. Prevention strategies. Proactive approaches. Coddling. Discussions. Hugging. Books. Holding. Seminars. Prayers.

A game to keep the child in your care safe.

The worry…no one talks about the worry.

You begin to understand this has been a secret all along.

The time between thoughts- when you are falling asleep, when you see them walking off to school, the time before bed when they disclose their heart ache and concerns- is when you understand wrapped in all the love, joy, and hope, the stone of worry has hung about your neck simply because you are raising a child.

I was reading an article in The New Yorker describing Edward Hirsch’s elegy for his son. And his words were the ones that alerted me to the silent secret so many of us hold.

How endless the worry can be.

My stepson is having some difficulties now and Lord, I tell you, I am weighed down.

Like any parent, I want to change it all for him, you know? I want to wrap it up, make it do-able, heal the wound and ferry him safely across to the other side.

They say worry is a waste of time.

I would say worry is the secret, silent, companion to all who parent.


The image is a play on this idea. I was thinking of a “Mama Bird” that must push here young out of the nest to fly, but perhaps even with their flight, she is never free. She continues to wear the weight of her heart and love for them around her neck.

It also plays with a reverse on the idea of an albatross around the neck and the image of a phoenix rising (the color of flames behind the bird.) Through our children, we are transformed and rebirthed in literal and metaphorical ways.

Contemplation- The answer to our Prayers

Contemplation

Contemplation



The Answering of Our Prayers

For some reason, this image had me thinking about my stepchildren and my one-on-one time with them.

My stepdaugther seeks being made to feel special during these times. As I have written before, she has not always gotten a lot of attention in her family, so when she and I are together, she seeks confirmation that, yes, she too is worthy of being chosen.

We have been blessed (God does hear my prayers) that often when I picked her up at school, a special event would have occurred- her report card, being selected for the play, and so on. And in these moments I was able to turn to her and say, “How lucky are we? We get to be here today to celebrate you.” Always met with a shy smile and a tilt of her head.

The refrain of my words, I am hoping, echoing in her head “You are special enough to be chosen and celebrated.”

My stepson is a different story. Our one-on-one time directed by his wanting to be heard for who he is. Our last adventure was again the local gas station convenience store and Wal-mart. I offer any and all possibilities for other activities alerting him to the fact he will not be a “bother” and can choose whatever he likes.

He stands firm in his choice. I think he finds the simplicity to be welcoming. We make our trip and on the way, I ask about his friend, Henry, who we had thought about taking with us.

I say to my stepson, “You really seem to like to play with Henry. I look forward to getting to know him better.”

My stepson asks, “Why?”

I tell him, “Because Henry is important to you. Henry becomes important to me.”

My stepson is silent for a bit. He thanks me for saying what I did because, in his words, his life has not been going that well. Funny to hear that from a 10-year-old boy. There is truth in the statement. Summer school did not go well for him and he is lost in the transition of awakening a bit, as all children do, and understanding who and what he is in all his different roles.

Perhaps the direct approach to our one-on-one time is a way to establish what he desires without having to please any one else. I don’t know.

But, I wonder this- I see in my stepchildren, despite the “same” activity, such different needs being expressed. I hope, in my own way, I meet these needs to a small extent.

I wonder if the God or Goddess looks upon each of us in a similar way. I wonder if somehow we don’t put out those signals, unconscious as they are in my stepchildren, of what we are truly seeking in our prayers.

Maybe our unspoken prayers are being met all along, we simply don’t know it.

Why do We see the Dark Side rather than the Love?

Woman

Woman

I had gone to my pastel papers with thought.

I wanted to capture what it felt like to be a stepmom in a dynamic in which the mother shows narcissistic tendencies.

I imagined myself as “Chicken Little, Narcissist Whisperer” and I wanted the paper to back this image.

“Chicken Little” speaks to my “sky is falling” approach sometimes in regards to the children- trying to warn others that this dynamic is not healthy for them. Some times I have been listened to. Some times I have been ignored.

“Narcissist Whisperer” because I have tried, in completely ineffective ways I might add, to get the children’s mother to engage with them in a more effective manner. Is this my role to fulfill? No. But that has not stopped me.

I approached paper and distributed the pastel pigments about, anticipating the form that would emerge to express this chaotic energy.

The moving around of pigments and waiting for a form to appear has been one of my more challenging artistic projects. You have to wait and wait ( I am being dramatic here. I am a Type A person. I get impatient waiting for automatic doors to open).

A light touch must be used as the conversation goes back and forth between eye and material, seeing what the material will give up. There is a spiritual quality to it, as if the form carries a message somehow that needs to be heard.

The colors swirled and I hoped for chaos. I wanted a form which fit my burdensome view of being “Chicken Little, Narcissist Whisperer”. C’mon, I was thinking to the paper, let’s show the world how difficult this has been!

And then a woman of quiet repose and strength showed herself. From her head area, a fountain of color appears.

And this is how my Spirit showed me as stepmother. I am not “Chicken Little, Narcissist Whisperer” running around in chaos.

I am a woman of quite strength, who has tried to look beyond it all to see the hope and growth of these children. I have turned the other cheek (note her pose to the side), while visions of light have poured from my head.

The light is my ideas, my approaches, my strategies employed to cope with this situation and help these children (and to an extent my hope for their Mother that she may eventually heal). I have read books, prayed, been proactive- all of this has poured out of me again and again.

And this is how my artistic Spirit viewed me- a beautiful woman of strength who has tried to share some light.

My Spirit did not bend to my silly, self-deprecating idea of being “Chicken Little, Narcissist Whisperer”. It saw through that old, helpless defense of let me make fun of myself and put myself down so you do not need to.

What is above us will not lower itself to us. It is we who must raise ourselves up.

Why do we see the dark rather than the Love? Why would I view myself in such a poor light, when, as my art shows, the sense of love as a stepparent has shown through for so long?

The art is a calling to me, and perhaps you, to not settle for a view which keeps you down. Your Spirit will not lower itself to such contrivances.

We win nothing when we place our own hand upon head to push ourselves down.

Spirit is only seeking resonance from your own view of Love – that you, too, would see yourself with such vision.

For when you see yourself and your Light, Spirit finally sees itself in recognition.