Up, Up, And Away!

tailbiter.png Who is this child?! Where did she go?! Oh right Tanzania, Africa…on a safari…at 13. Now, mind you it was with other girls for her Girl Guides trip, but still wow! I have been all over the U.S. and to Canada, but Africa? I think it is just phenomenal and I am so happy she was able to go! When we found out about the trip a few years back, we tried to prepare her the best we could, but in all reality, we had no idea what was going to take place until a recent meeting with her troop. So let me get this straight, a 21 hour flight, not to mention a whole new culture to learn from? Where do we start with this process? A whole slew of what ifs came to mind, and once again being the outside person, I had to step back and just wait it out with faith that things would go smooth. So when the day arrived, and she announced she was at Mt. Kilimanjaro, it put things into perspective of the distance at hand. I took a deep breath and let myself feel excitement and joy for her instead of fear, and that was enough for me.

This whole roller coaster ride of me not being the parent, but still kind of parenting thing is hard! It’s another individuals life that I have to try to navigate around with quiet knowledge and patience, and as much as I wanted to control the safety issues with this particular adventure, over the years I have had to come to terms with the fact that there really there is no preparation for something of this magnitude at her age.

I wish I could give her a book on all of it: love, death, and all the transitions that come with growth, but I have come to realize in the last few weeks I can’t take the experiences from her to make it easier because it won’t. I have had moments where I want to shout out, “listen, I can make this so much simpler!” but I know no matter the words I use she won’t intake them, and who am I to keep her from these experiences? So when Africa came up, I knew I was way out of my comfort zone, and this was something she would need to have and cherish, this was her adventure to bear.

Fast forward the 10 days and she is once again home safe and sound, with many stories to tell, and it’s so weird to me when I think back on all the worrying that was done that was of no use. I look at that image of this tiny child, and now all of a sudden I am face to face with a almost fully grown young lady and I have moments where I want to turn away. The whole process of her in my life has been beautiful and agonizing at the same time, because I have had to face parts of my life that I had no desire to relive or even think about, talk about uncomfortable! But I also know it is necessary, and I can only hope that the wisdom she has unknowingly delivered to me, I can return to her one day when she is feeling the pinch of discomfort of being human.

 

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The In Between Spaces

I realized tonite how long it has been since I had written in this blog. The time seems to go by much faster now and the blurry teenage angst of M has set in. I remember it all too well for myself, the awkward feeling of not understanding the weird growth I was going through, and feeling stuck somewhere between not being a child anymore and not being a young adult. I remember many times sitting in a room with familiar faces and feeling out of place. I never really understood how to communicate with them, and I remember feeling envious, wanting to understand those side comments that one would make to the others just out of my ear shot that made everyone burst out with laughter. But most of the time I just wanted to be left alone, because in those moments of my awkward feelings, it was easier to just be away from the world.

I see this now in M, the weirdness of not knowing how to say, “please just leave me alone,” and her being too polite and unsure of herself to say it. Adam and I as well as many others, see in her that part that thinks, “no one understands.” When in essence we have all been though this, and for some, as adults we still do. She has a air of mystery about her regarding who she is becoming and where she is heading. And in these recent months, Adam and I are both so perplexed as to how to help her, that we have moments where we just let her be, because funny as it is, we are just as confused as to what to do to help her, as she is. We have expressed ourselves on many occasions, concern about her happiness and health, it seems at times we have to just wait this one out, until she either comes to us with concerns, or we see something we cannot just let lie. We can visually see she just wants to do her own thing, and her phone has seemed to replace human contact for the time being, so we let her focus on connecting with her friends. And of course at this point, she does not understand, that like her we are also in limbo and waiting. She is not little anymore, cartoons and cupcakes don’t make her smile like they used to, but yet we can’t introduce her to more adult type situations that would help us relate and connect easier with her, so here we wait.

I can say though, she is a lucky girl having the father and family that she does. Adam is patient, and goes above and beyond to help her with anything she may need, and I want to be able to support her as well, but at times it can be very challenging. Being the outside person, in most cases, I just have to watch as things unravel in her life, and as much advice as I give, I can’t help her, I can only be there if she needs me. I try to remind myself that I was once that little girl, and being patient with her is key. She is still very young, and much like myself, she will not come to realize the significance of advice that only those with seasoned lives are able to gift. I look forward to the day she begins to understand and see, so she can learn to navigate through those views that are still jaded with scars from their own experiences and begin to create her own ideas from hers. These pieces will be her learning curve, to work through the puzzle (hopefully with grace and patience), undoing and redoing those lessons in a fashion that fits her brave heart.

 

 

A Brief Glimpse

I think I can state with confidence that teenagehood is the worst isn’t it? I suppose for some it may have been quite lovely filled with dreamy days, parties, and sweet thoughts about growing up. For others the teenage phase was not that wonderful, and mine seemed to reflect all the worst aspects of it, from the pimples, to the bad perm, to the total awkwardness that comes with growing into your own skin (yikes!). That weirdness that enfolds you as you begin the transition from worshiping your parents to hating any lifeforms that aren’t your friends. Being a teenager was particularly bleak for me and I loathed all the moments I had to spend from 12 to 15. And I have to laugh because there is such a discomfort for me now as I watch M grow and start this transition, part of me wants to avoid it altogether so I don’t have to relive that period of my life!

She has not come to stay with us for quite some time now due to all her numerous activities and to be realistic, last summer was the beginner course for us all of what is to come. She is hitting that point in her life where she is beginning to think for herself and starting to express her desires, but still looking around for a hand being held out for her to grab onto if need be. She has been taking more responsibility for her swim meets, school, even down to packing her things (including lunches), and for that I am thankful she is being taught those skills she will need for later on. The road ahead of her is long and I am sure will be filled with moments of hurt, confusion, and heartbreak, but it will also hold even more moments of sweetness, kindness, and smiles. And I have to take a step back as I witness the growth she is embarking on. I want so much to coddle her and protect her from all that is coming, but I know I cannot do that for her as it will not honor this beautiful part of her life.

As much as it makes me cringe, I smile because in all this discomfort for me there is a deep wisdom, and I have to laugh at the irony of it all. She has forced me to relive my childhood, as well as facing the pain I incurred growing up. And now once again without her knowledge she is making me face the discomfort I felt as a teenager, and as hard as it is, through her I know I can heal more of the old wounds I have stashed away. As I look back over the last six years, the time is flying by faster and faster, and I suspect that soon her once loved visits to the U.S. will be replaced with friends, the mall, and more typical teenage behavior as she begins to learn to navigate through the process of self-discovery. And once again without her knowledge, she will start another cycle for all that know her, the transition of learning to let her go so she can spread her wings and become the beautiful soul she is intended to be.

 

 

 

The Depth of Silence

Children don’t just know how to process feelings, they don’t just know how to say, “this is making me uncomfortable please stop,” or “I don’t like that.” And as adults it is our jobs to show and encourage them to speak up when they are having those moments of discomfort. It is also a parents job to help them navigate their way through this sometimes very tricky path called life, to help them make the right decision that suits their needs, and come out on the other side of the obstacle feeling much more confident and some what at ease from their fear. I wish this was the standard behavior for all families, but this is not always the case. There are many adults I know that struggle to find their way through their own obstacles, and since these individuals have children, they then pass this anxiety onto the child, leaving the small one to fend for themselves in this big world.

Our weekends seem shorter as the days grow longer, and as I sit at my kitchen table watching this now once little girl turning into a full grown young lady I often wonder what it is that goes on in her mind. Her face is contorted, filled with focus, her hands that were once not big enough, nor co-ordinated enough to hold a game controller or a knitting needle are now working furiously as she creates something and sometimes destroys (if she is playing a game). Even with the back ground noise, I can see there are so many more moments of silence now from her, and even though I know inside she is screaming at times, the fact is she may not even be able to realize or acknowledge it yet. I find it heartbreaking and at the same time so interesting to witness her pure frustration when she has her moments, because I see her fear of expressing her true feelings, and I know this stems from a place of wounded behavior. There are conflicts in her home in the North that combat with her growing up, between the adults she lives with, and these conflicts spill into our lives down here with every situation that seems small to us, is the end of the world to her.

I see and feel her discomfort because in some ways I was her at one time. The awkward 12 year old not quite starting to become who I would be, and yet still trapped in the what was expected of me time. And even though we ask if she is OK or needs help, in most cases she says, “yes I’m fine,” or “no, I don’t need help,” and I often wonder if this is just a product of her not wanting to be a burden or get in the way. I have to at that point stand back and let her know that I or Adam are available to help her and hope she takes it to heart. I have began to come to terms with the life that comes with having a step-child, and in reality only she can tell us what is going on inside her mind and heart. The waiting is hard, especially when we know she is in distress, but in the mean time, even when we feel vulnerable because we cannot help her, this process teaches us patience, compassion, and acceptance, three things that are so invaluable, that we can pass on to her when the time arises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking The Lead

snowman2As tweenhood has come to stay in our home, we are facing the fact that M will soon be going out with friends, going to school games, and living in her bed room so we have been readying for this change. We know this is just part of the process, and we want to help her prepare not only to leave home when it is time for her to go, but also to be as ready as she can for that transition. M is very blessed with the fact that she has a lot of people who go above and beyond for her and in some ways this is wonderful because it creates a loving, supportive environment she can feel safe in. But on the darker side to this, it can cause a child to not take initiative, or gain a sense of responsibility, because they know someone else will do it for them so Adam and I are beginning to make some changes in this department.

We recently started getting M horse back riding lessons and she has fallen in love with this activity (this assumption is based on the level of smiling we see during the activity). Her first lesson went great and she expressed her interest in returning. We came to pick her up from her second time and found the trainer watching with close eye as M walked the horse out on her own to its stable. The trainer informed me that she felt confident in M’s abilities and I trust the trainer fully so I did not object. I was taken back by M’s boldness because I have always been a bit fearful of horses, so when I saw her taking the reigns of the animal, I wanted to run up and be near her to protect her, but I did not. I was impressed with her demeanor because M is a very shy soul, she doesn’t display assertiveness in our normal goings on around here, and so I just chose to not interrupt and observe. As we followed her into the other barn I could see the look of focus and awareness as she trekked into the other building, then put the horse right in it’s stable with no hesitation.

With that being said, I have to reflect on this whole process of watching M grow into a young lady and I must say it is surreal at times. There are moments where emotionally she is still very small, so I naturally want just jump up and help her at any turn. But I also am aware that, that kind of behavior will hurt her in the long run so I have decided to take a different approach to helping raise her. As we have seen with the horse back riding lessons, there has been an increase in her confidence, so we are also now having M order for herself, pay on her own, and allowing her to make bigger decisions to help grow her self-esteem and learn to trust herself. We aren’t jumping in the way to help her make a decision, or telling her what to buy or eat, we leave it up to her to make a healthy choice (which she does most of the time). And our hope is that with each experience we see her not only carrying that beautiful smile, but also growing more confidence in her own choices that will help her continue to bloom.

 

 

 

 

 

Who They Aren’t

Imperfection is a gift that people are given to create the best, most unique version of who they are as they progress in life. Our own individuality is a precious gift and as I age I am able to see this uniqueness much easier in the people I come in contact with, which makes me appreciate them that much more. I work in an environment that requires me to be supportive of a child’s personality regardless of what my natural instincts are telling me to do. I have seen all shapes and forms from the child who mixes up items just to see what the outcome is, to the perfectionist that analyzes everything going on around them and wants to keep everything in order. There is no right or wrong for these tiny souls and for an adult to try to correct that behavior instead of allowing the child to just be who they are is in my own belief system, not needed. Now mind you, if the child is in danger, or they are deliberately doing something that will be harmful for others, then my job is to step in and help guide them to a more grounded space until the moment has passed.

I was raised with a hard working mother, she was the observer, the care taker, and I learned my work ethics from this woman. I also picked up along the way, a bad habit of not allowing things to be. Because of my history, I have always had some need for control, so for a very long time I was in a survival mode. I would pick up on small things, ready for changes or possibly a threat from some unseen force. This transitional space I have been living in since moving is forcing me to take a new perspective on life and how I approach my loved ones, especially M. She has always been a messy girl, she never fusses over small things like where a picture might need to be, or if a trash can has a bag in it. She just enjoys herself and goes about her day never thinking about those things. Multiple occasions I have reminded her that the bags need to go in the trashcan, or her shoes need to go to their proper places, but I stopped and thought, “this isn’t her, this is me.” We demand our loved ones to conform to what we want, how we want it, when it’s just us, not them. And I get it, it’s my house right? My rules? But the reality is, she doesn’t care about that stuff so who am I to impose my own belief system on her? If I want the bag in the can, and I’m the only one who cares, is it really my place to force others to do this task?

So many generations pass down their fears, obsessions, and values forcing it down the throats of their children, when in fact, it’s not the child’s burden to bear. M comes from two homes, one of which I know for a fact doesn’t care about where the shoes go, so imagine the confusion she suffers every time she comes to my home trying to remember what she can and can’t do. The last few weeks I have had to look at this and dive into the need to have these things where, “they go.” I have had to self-introspect and I have come to the conclusion that perhaps my values and beliefs aren’t for her. Just because I think things need to be a certain way does not mean that it honors M as her own individual person and by me forcing my ways of living on her, does that not create in her self-doubt about who she is, if she isn’t innately the same way I am? So often I see children being scolded (at far too young an age) for not acting appropriately to the parents standards, or the parent correcting the child but not instilling the VALUE of why the child must do what they are being told, and then the child looking confused and frustrated because what they are told doesn’t feel right to them.

With that said, I now see a fine line that I try not to cross as I realize and accept my own fears so as to not pass them onto M. And if I spend my time now observing and allowing her all the space she needs to bloom into the young lady she is becoming, it will allow me to spend less time worrying about where her shoes are, and more time honoring who she is as a person.

 

 

 

Learning To Speak Up

After a lot of thought and weighing out options, Adam and I have recently moved into a much smaller living space to experiment with having less. Now with that small space comes not only new and varying adventures, it gives way to really getting to know your roommates (if you have them). M also has watched and participated over the last few months as we held a garage sale, painted, and packed up our 1100 square foot home and downsized into a 300 square foot residence. To our glee we have much less to do in terms of domestic chores which leaves us more time for relaxing and focusing on more creative and fun time together. We also made sure M has a space for her things, so she has not gone without in this transition. With this move, I have witnessed a new discomfort rising up in her and without having a room we can each retreat to none of us can really hide. We are all having to really look at one another as individuals and see what works for us as a team instead of just escaping to another section of house.

Now in the past if M were bored she would just go to her room and get on the computer or do some sort of project, but in this new space she cannot, so it is now our job to help guide her into comfort of this newness until she is able to steady her own self. As I sat at the kitchen table watching the snowflakes dance around outside I felt small eyes staring in my direction. I gazed over and she quickly reverted her attention to the window. I asked if she was ok and she nodded, but did not speak up. Now I know this child well enough that I could tell she was bored and as hard as I know this is (even for me at my age), there has to be a certain point where she needs to take initiative and speak up about her needs, or simply just do what she feels is right or fun without us telling her. But M has been conditioned over the years to wait for others to preoccupy her time, tell her what to eat, what her schedule is, and Adam and I do not feed this habit, so it is hard for her and I can see it. It is also incredibly hard for me as well, because I understand the discomfort. Most of the time I want to just take her and keep her busy, but I know that will hinder her further so I kept quiet. She finally asked if she could play a game on our console and I nodded yes. As soon as it came on she became a babbling brook about what she was doing and building and the tension in the air cleared up and I could fully relax without worrying about her being uncomfortable.

We have had to look at this move as a unique “experience,” and embrace it day by day for all it is. Living in this small of a space makes you have to be aware of what everyone else is doing, (or needs to be doing more of). I am proud to announce that the last day of her weekend visit, she did not say a word, just got up and made her soup, so for me that was enough. I can see she is making progress through this strange experience and for that I am thankful. The steps of learning to express what you need are hard to develop, and in a larger space, it is easy to be out of sight, out of mind. A family can easily lose themselves by just “going in the other room,” and the connection grows weaker as you allow this to continue. By living in a smaller space you will find that yes it’s uncomfortable, yes it makes you see all the flaws and unsavory parts of the people around you, but it also makes you more tolerant, compassionate, and stronger. It also makes the individuals stronger because you choose to embrace those parts that they may try to hide. I have no idea if this is going to work long term, but I am at least going to try because if anything I will have learned so much more about those I love, and that for me is priceless.