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.

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. )

The Narrative Gap

Seeing

Seeing

I am not sure how the above picture emerged but it relates to something I have been witnessing.
I think there are those who “see” certain dynamics in life. This is a gift and the sight is often clear and true.
The sight is not the problem.
The vocabulary, however, is.

In our lives and culture, there are certain narratives at play. These narratives may have everything and absolutely nothing to do with the truth.

The problem with the narrative is not that it exists, the problem is that it limits our experiences and our ability to relate our experiences as they are.

A couple of the topics on my blog push up against these “narrative issues”, one such topic being stepparenting. When you think about it, the only cultural narrative that we have surrounding stepparenting is the story of the evil stepmother.

This may be strikingly far from reality and a part of us may know this, but for the majority the relationship with idea of the stepparent begins with the “evil stepmother” narrative. Why? Because it is true? No. Because it is all we have.

What ends up happening, then, is the narrative drives the vocabulary and stories of all who come later. As a stepmom, I am well aware that when I engage in certain situations, I do not begin at point zero. The cultural narrative already has my score at ~ -812 based on the narrative starting point.

When I and others talk about stepparenting, the proverbial cat has our tongue, because we have limited language to pull from based on the cultural narrative available to us. We have to, in our mind, create bigger stories with more examples, and very precise words, to convey our experience, because there is no space for our experience within hte cultural narrative- other than the idea that we are “evil”.

These narratives, of course, are not limited to stepparenting.
They are bountiful and pervasive.

Ask someone who writes on child abuse how difficult it is to find the “right” words to express the experience. It is difficult to find the words, because our cultural narrative about parenting is that all parents are loving and self-sacrficing for their children, especially mothers. Live a life counter to this narrative and the vocabulary to express your experience is limited.

And, of course, we see the broader examples- the narratives associated with one’s skin color, gender, sex, sexuality and so on.

I guess what I think when I see this picture is that witnessing and seeing are powerful acts. In fact, they are the first step in change, because to dismantle the narrative, you first must see it.

Recognition isn’t everything, though.
We must create new narratives that more accurately reflect our experiences.

We must write, and re-write and struggle to find the “right” words, even when our word choices are limited, because that is how new narratives are built- one word at a time.

—-
Above is a self-portrait- sort of. Sometimes my art gets away from me. I request and it insists on being otherwise.
I had done some research about a leg injury and (you will love this) – the injury related to the bladder meridian associated with “Eastern medicine”. This is a “yang” channel-and so I thought I needed some more “fire” energy. Hence, the colors of my picture.

I, personally, do not like this picture, but my inner artist does. It refuses to have the same scale of judgment as the rest of me. I sometimes wonder if my inner artist even cares what the rest of me thinks- I think it is too busy creating its own visual narrative.

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.

What Children Show us About Possibility Thinking

Winged Flight

Winged Flight

As I have written before, this past year I picked up my teenage stepdaughter from school once a week and took her out to do whatever she would like. I did this whether she was at our home or her Mom’s. Our excursions were seldom spectacular in nature- a little Starbucks here, a bit of Target there.

Because it is summer and I am not teaching the load I normally do during the academic calendar, I offered to my 10-year old stepson that I would also like to begin taking him out for some one-on-one time. Perhaps not every week, but we could do it when we could.

When I spoke to him about this option, he looked at me with big eyes and said, “I have been waiting SO long for you to ask me.”

I was quite struck by this. I had been taking my stepdaughter out for some woman-to-woman bonding time. I had never imagined a 10-year old boy would be “waiting SO long” to spend some one-on-one time with his stepmom. I guess I was wrong.

On our first day, I picked him up from day camp and said, “The choice is yours, buddy. What do you want to do?”

He then listed, “Mini-golf, skee ball, Target, time at the river, and walking around downtown”.

I obviously overlooked telling him that one-on-one time included only ONE event per outing, not six.

So he thought about it some more and said, “I know where I want to go. Can we go to a gas station convenience store?”

What?

Well, apparently they had a specific lemonade drink he wanted to try. So we did that and then walked around downtown for a bit.

Then on our next outing, we were in Target (yes, we live in a small town). I told him that I often bought his sister a treat to eat, so he could pick something out. I suggested a bag of Starbursts to share with friends as my stepdaughter often did or really anything he wanted.

He chose ….the 1- pound family size Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese dinner.

And I realized in this moment, how if we give each other some space, the possibilities that may evolve. Children, especially, are still open to seeing so many possibilities and options (which can drive a parent crazy when it is time to decide and check out).

What I have liked about this one-on-one time is the opportunities for possibilities to emerge. When we are all together and there is some other agenda happening, the possibilities are never even discussed, let alone recognized.

I have enjoyed this time with my stepson. He has shown me how to think in new ways and to respect that we may never truly know what another person wants until we ask. He has also taught me to think in possibilities and potential for something new.

And, hey, who wouldn’t want a 1-lb family size Stouffer’s mac and cheese dinner now and then? 🙂

Does Love really have this Power?

I have You

I have You

The other morning things were not going well for my stepson which translated into a less than positive dynamic in our household. Things have been building for some time and it has taken all of my skills and awareness to match the level of his struggles.

After the crisis settled, my stepdaughter’s friend called and she was at an outdoor venue near our home. I grabbed our dog for a walk and told my stepdaughter I would walk over with her so she would not have to go alone. Plus I wanted to decompress after the “adventures” with my stepson.

As we were walking, I jokingly sighed and said to my stepdaughter, “Do you ever wonder with all that goes on if one day I am just going to quit?”

She stopped and turned to me and said, “Never. You love us too much.”
—–
Sometimes, I am not so confident with the stepparent/stepchild dynamic and it is an exhausting process on a mental/emotional/ and dare I say, financial level.

But do you have any idea how powerful it must be for a child to see love in his or her life so clearly displayed that they have no fear that it will be taken away or leave them?

In the fatigue of the day, in the wearing down of moments both large and small, you can wonder if your power of love is transcending you as you hoped it would.

Somehow my stepdaughter showed me on that day that my message of love (which I wished was stronger on some days) was getting through.

She has a love she trusts will never leave her. How beautiful is this?