[an aha moment]

I follow a lot of Facebook pages for caregivers of kids with PTSD and attachment issues. It’s so validating and comforting to remember that my husband and I are not alone in our parenting struggles and also to gather tools for our bag of tricks.

Tonight I came across these words from Robyn Gobbel and was just floored.

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Not only was this such a good reminder, but holy shit if I didn’t do just this not 20 minutes earlier (anyone else a fan of synchronicity?). I found myself locked in a stupid power struggle with my 14 year old. There was an open house for the awesome tech program he was invited to for next school year and he was just blindly refusing to go. It was so flabbergasting…just yesterday he was going a mile a minute about how excited he was and now he’s telling me he doesn’t want to go and he never wanted to do the program in the first place. I mean…what the hell kid?? Why are you being so obstinate and short-sighted? What is the deal?

I was all but ready to send him to his room until he could make the right decision (or be forced to make it) but something stopped me. This was old behavior. Not typical of him, lately. What changed?

Ah yes, everything. He and his mom are working on their relationship in therapy in a way I haven’t seen in a long time. Suddenly things are unpredictable and out of control for him again. He doesn’t know if this is going to last, if things have really changed, if the bottom isn’t going to drop out again and he’s going to be left with that horrible pain. It’s so unknown. And what’s the easiest way to feel in control when everything is out of his control? Make a power struggle and refuse to do something. Aha.

I won’t lie and say he ran to me with open arms when I asked him if he was feeling out of control lately. It was a typical trauma kid response. He cast his eyes down and held the cat extra close and listened, not daring to make eye contact for fear of the vulnerability. I asked if he needed some one on one time to feel connected and if I could follow through on that for him after he followed through on his obligation. When he looked up at me, I could all but see his aching heart melt. Nailed it. When it came time to take his sister to gymnastics, he asked if he was riding with us or if we were coming back to get him. Problem solved (until I had to remind him a second time later on in the evening, but it worked then, too).

It’s not always so clear cut, but sometimes I wonder if it isn’t too easy to get so caught up in our own expectations of how we want things to go that we miss the obvious. Parenting a child who has experienced trauma demands that we constantly reevaluate where our children are at, constantly adjust expectations, if we want to survive. But I think there is something universal in this message. I’ve yet to see a young child not struggle to regulate at some point. Even we adults have our moments. It’s not about not obeying or not coping, it’s that everyone needs someone to slow down and help us see where the struggle is. It’s okay, here, let me help.

I won’t get all preachy and demand that everyone reevaluate their parenting but I will say, being a trauma parent has taught me more patience and understanding than I came by naturally and has made me a better human being. It takes a lot of work in the moment to slow down instead of just reacting. But wouldn’t we all be better by each other if we slowed down and tried to understand?

[teenagers]

One of my most favorite contradictions in my life just picked up a backpack when I asked him to clean up his cubby area and stared at me in disbelief when I told him he couldn’t just stuff everything in there. Why, always why, he demands. Can’t everything in life just be half-assed and bemoaned over later? (Lived that life, kiddo, don’t recommend it.) Fiiiine, fine, he’ll do it the right way. Except later, I will discover 3 books, a wallet, and two packs of gum shoved in the drawer in the bathroom.

My other favorite contradiction has her own cubby to clean when she comes over for the evening tomorrow. She’ll likely leave a trail of shoes and socks and backpack detritus in and around the entryway (a habit I had nearly cured her of until she stopped living with her dad & I full-time) but then charm me with an “oh yeah, I forgot” and her thankfully still innocent smile and do it all over again the next time she comes over. And she wonders why she can never find any socks.

It’s not even fair to call them contradictions really…well except for that fact that I’m pretty sure that’s the dictionary definition of teenager and, dammit, except for the fact that I am just barely 32 and raising teenagers. My uterus has sat dutifully, patiently, lovingly by (except for the occasional aching tug whenever someone announces they’re pregnant again, or posts pictures of their new baby’s totally eatable cheeks) while my husband and I have gone about the work of filling in the holes for the children from his first marriage.

I am wholly a mom these days, but I have never sat up in the middle of the night smelling my newborn baby’s head, I have never seen my toddler eagerly hold her arms up towards me, I have never wept in the car as I left my child at preschool for the first time. I can only tell you about parenting from about age 5 or 6 on up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m damn good at parenting (teenagers especially), but it will always be a little bit weird to be a childless mom. I will always be painfully aware of the gap.

And someday, when I am awake at 3am and nearing 40, I will wonder whygodwhy, didn’t I stop before I started? Because I will know exactly what is coming down the pike (pipe? Damn idioms.). Smart assedness, laziness, space cadetness. Oh, but sarcasm, hilarity, girls’ nights, goodheartedness underneath it all, too. There is some good there, even if I have to squint extra hard to see it sometimes.

So, to answer your implied question, teenaged son, we do things whole-assed around here because in and amongst the hard work, there is reward to be found. Not every day, not even close. I could just say I’m the stepmom, and that’s it, take the kids to Disneyland, fill them up with sugar, buy them $150 jeans, call it a day and leave the rest to my husband. But I don’t. I drive all over town, give up most of my lunch hours during the week, clap my loudest for the 10 minute part of the choir concert that was relevant to me, watch the most inane movies three times because they think it’s hilarious, get the blankets just right at bedtime, sign I Love You from the car at morning drop off just to rush to work and feel behind from the get go…and still plan to do it all over again someday.

Something tells me the work is worth it.

[the mess]

I have an addiction to those inspirational images that go around social media.I even dabble in creating them sometimes. If you are my friend on Facebook, you know that around 80% of what I post is just re-sharing inspirational quotes. (On an aside, I do have a reason for sharing beyond “Oh isn’t that nice,” but that is not what this post is about.) A week ago, this hit my feed, a repost from Panache Desai, and I knew what I had to do.

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I have been thinking about blogging off and on for the better part of a decade, when I packed up messylissa.com out of fear that it might somehow become courtroom fodder for my now husband’s custody case. I willingly took my light and hid it, because at the time it was the right thing to do. I’ve tried to pick up other pseudonyms over the years, blogging sporadically, but nothing ever quite fit right. I wasn’t sure what I should and shouldn’t post, everyone had a different name, nothing felt authentic and I always ended up abandoning the effort.

I’m so over that.

I am a writer and if this life has given me anything, it has given me plenty to write about. This is how I cope, this is who I AM. I have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing I want to hide. I am taking back my power, embracing the mess–my messy family, my messy fitness, my messy faith, my messy career, my messy LIFE–and it doesn’t matter to me who reads it. It is the messy parts of life that are the most beautiful and I am done hiding my beauty. I am a full-time mom, but I’ve never given birth. I live for the outdoors, but I’ve never not been overweight. I embrace tenets of mindfulness and Buddhism, but consider myself Catholic at my roots. I completed coursework and am still painstakingly plugging away on a thesis for a Masters degree in child development, but somehow ended up in the public sector doing data analysis. Everything is an imperfect contradiction of the life I thought I was working towards.

Bring on the mess.