September 23, 2013

I'm Not Stealing My Own Joy This Time Around

Years ago I went to see this therapist.  If you've been reading here since the beginning, you may remember this as the therapist that I went to see where I sweated through my spanx and then puked in the parking lot.  It was a super good time that day at therapy.

There was one thing that I took away from that session though.  As I was telling this therapist about how we unexpectedly had Sadie approximately six minutes after saying "I do" and how Noah screamed for the first two years of his life and how Miles was supposed to be a little baby when we adopted him and then he was really 2 years old with all kinds of issues she said to me, "Megan, it seems to me that you've never had a positive birth experience."

I had never thought about it before.  Every time we had a child or added a child into our family, I felt blindsided.  I internalized this as simply being my inability to cope well with change and being easily overwhelmed.  But the more years that have passed since that therapy session, the more that I realize how each time a child came into our family, my expectations and the realities never matched up- and that was something that I could change.

When Sadie was born I was young and stupid and broke.  And raising a child (even though she was an angel baby) was not a situation I expected myself to be in when I was 22.  Everyone else I knew was starting these exciting careers and taking weekend trips with their boyfriends and I was sitting at home with a baby stuck to my boob watching infomercials all night because we couldn't afford cable.  I don't even think that I was self aware enough then to realize that I was having an identity crisis.  But I just couldn't figure out what life was supposed to look like.

Then Noah came along.  We tried to get pregnant for a while and after having one baby already, I thought that I knew everything.  I thought that this baby was going to be just like the first and sleep and eat just like Sadie did and I would know just how to be the perfect mom this time around!  Boy, was I wrong!  No one told me that all kids are different and those schedules the books tell you to go by go right out the window when your child has special needs.

And then we decided to adopt a baby.  And sweet, tiny, little Miles that we had a referral picture for was supposed to be around 9 months old when I went to Africa to pick him up.  And then I got there and he had all of his teeth and he could run and he was so much older than I thought and I tried frantically to shift my mental picture of what life was supposed to be like and I just couldn't make my brain make the shift.  He had a whole lot of problems- emotionally and physically.  It seemed at the time like no one else's children who were coming home had the same kind of problems that Miles was having and to be honest, I felt jipped.  I felt like I was robbed of his infancy.  And I felt like I couldn't figure out how to grieve for that without seeming ungrateful that I had this beautiful little boy.

And looking back, I see how each time, my own expectations (of the situation and of myself) robbed me of so much joy during what was supposed to be a special time in each of my kids' lives.  It hurts to realized that you've robbed your own joy.

But this time?  This time I got a do over.  Maya Angelou once said, "When you know better, do better."  So when Scarlett joined our family I wasn't going to let myself steal my own joy with my unrealistic expectations of her or of myself or anyone else.  To be honest, I expected this child to do nothing.  To love no one.  To hate everything.  And to wreck everything.  I decided that instead of aiming high for how this was going to go, I wasn't going to aim at all.  In essence, I decided we were going to pee all over the wall with this one.

And much to my surprise, she has exceeded everything.  I took Scarlett to therapy last week and the therapist said, "We can totally just cut back to once a month.  I don't really even think you need me."  After having Miles in therapy twice a week for almost 18 months, taking a child who was much older and who has been through a disruption and needing therapy only once a month floored me.  Bonus.

She completes our family in some of the strangest ways.  After years of having no one in our house who liked the individual packs of Cool Ranch Doritos in the variety pack- those are Scarlett's very favorite ones.  The chips all come out even now.  Bonus.  I'm not sure that in my previous high expectation world that I lived in that I'd have even taken the time to recognize something so seemingly insignificant as who likes what chips.

And with this one I realized early on that there was no point in grieving that I missed out on her first steps, words, lost tooth, first day of school, yada, yada, yada.  I don't know why, but I felt completely okay with that.  Bonus.  I do grieve for the losses in her life- not for me, but for her this time.  With Miles, I got it all wrong.

With my other kids, I felt like I expected a fairy tale.  It took me four tries, but I think that I've finally realized that raising children is not a fairy tale.  It's hard work.  It's rough some days.  The kids don't always get along.  And sometimes you screw it up.  And some days you don't want to do it. But the little moments make it all worth it.  I think that so many times I missed those moments because in my head they were supposed to be bigger, grander, more profound.  And because of those expectations, I missed out on so much.  Always thinking about what was "supposed to be" stole the joy in what was.

***

Every single time that I have to correct Scarlett or remind her of a rule in our house I tell her the exact same thing:  Even when you make mistakes, I'm still going to love you and I'm still going to be your mom forever.  If nothing else I ever say to her gets through- I wanted it to be that.  I wanted her to start to understand permanence.  And then the other day, I mixed up the kids lunches at school.  I put the wrong sandwich in the wrong lunchbox.  After school she came up to me and told me about my mix up.  She grabbed my hand and looked me square in the eye and said, "It's okay that you messed up.  I still love you and you're still going to be my mom." She wanted to reassure me that she wasn't giving up on me.  Never in my wildest dreams is this how I expected this to go.

And in that very moment, I realized how very few of the other things that I've always put such high expectations on with my kids matter.  In setting myself up to fail and always feeling like I was doing it wrong and stealing my own joy in mothering my kids- I was robbing myself of these moments- the moments where they show you that they get it.  That they get what all those teachable moments are about.  This is what matters.

I think that I'm just thick in the skull or maybe I just have too much of my mother's stubbornness in me.  But it took a six year old child who has been through the unimaginable to make me realize that as long as they still love me and know that I love them, that the rest is just fluff.

I'm not an expert on anything but my own story.  There were so many times when I wanted to strip away all the crap and this finally feels like the time that I'm actually making it happen.  I'm not letting myself steal my own joy.  I expected nothing and got everything in return.  I'm not one to sugar coat things- as if you couldn't tell by all the freak outs I had when we adopted Miles and during our foster care experience.  So this just all feels like a bonus.  I know it's going to be hard.  But I can do hard things.  Instead of fighting them or wishing that the hard things don't exist, we are just working through them and coming out stronger.

I stopped putting pressure on myself and those around me to make things and relationships perfect and for once in my life let those relationships grow at their own pace and in their own way.  It's what I wish I had done when we adopted Miles and how I wish that I had been fostering sibling relationships all along. Surprising things happened when I stopped trying to control it all.  It happened as it was supposed to happen and that was better than what I could have mapped out for how this was all supposed to go.  As a recovering control freak, I know that I'll slip up and screw this all up again in the future and that's okay.  But this fourth time around?  It's finally my positive birth story and it is so wonderful -flaws and all.  


Scarlett and I spent the morning one day making little movies about how awesome she is so that she can watch them if she's feeling insecure.  Most of them were of her filming me talking about all of her good qualities. Then I turned the camera on her for a few seconds and this one blew me away.  

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