Friday, February 21, 2014

To All the Lost Girls

I've been avoiding this post for a while, but it keeps welling up inside me, so I finally had to do something about it. It's a story of hope, but in order to get to it, I have to tell some of my personal ick, and while I may only have five readers, that's five more people than had heard this story as of yesterday, which makes me a bit itchy, if I'm honest. So, to prove that I'm not scared of you guys (lies!), welcome to my personal 12-Steps.

My name is Leida, and I'm a Lost Girl. You won't find the definition of Lost Girl in the Urban Dictionary or in Encyclopedia Britannica (unless Beyonce puts it in a song, in which case, it'll be common vernacular real quick). There's probably some proper DSMV category definition for people who fit the bill, but those of us who share the name don't need any of that. We know who we are, psychological reference book or no.

We're the ones who along the journey learned that the way to fill the holes that hurt us so badly was to compromise our boundaries. We've had at least one internal monologue that sounds like this: "I'm willing to compromise my boundaries in order to ...[]" fill in the blank. To be loved, to feel good, to avoid pain, to be seen or heard...and I'm sure you could each add to the list. We decided that we'd rather let a person or circumstance walk all over what we know to be best for us, in order not to feel badly anymore, even just for a moment. Then we chase the pain-free moments, stringing them together in a chain of bad decisions that chip away at our dignity, our personhood and our divine creation.

Lest you be reading this feeling like I'm killing you softly, describing your personal pain, please know you're not alone. Not by a long shot. My personal monologue has been for a long time that I'm willing to be treated any way, by any man, in order not to be abandoned. I'm the Lost Girl who always, always stays too long at the party. Let me explain.

My Lost Girl persona goes back a long way. I carry the last name of a man who didn't show up to the hospital on the day I was born, or for anything else in my life. Our interactions have been few, brief and perfunctory. He wouldn't recognize me if he ran into me on a street corner (this happened). On a conscious level, his abandonment didn't affect me--I had a wonderful stepfather who raised me--but even still, it left a mark--I developed a fear that I wasn't worth showing up for and that there was nothing I could do about it. From there, I learned by watching a string of men pass through my mother's life and the lives of her closest female friends, that men don't stay, no matter what you say or do. I also learned from the women's behavior that there were no lengths that a woman shouldn't be willing to go to get a man to stay--no matter how insignificant or ineffectual said man was, or how little he did to improve the landscape of their lives.

To my credit, it took a long time for this to become part of my personal story--I fought it. I remember the impotent anger I felt as a child, as I watched my mother accept the poor treatment of others--mostly men--in her life. I watched her return over and over to relationships and scenarios that diminished her, all because she believed having a man in her life, any man, made her somebody, and I hated it. Seeing this, I made a childish choice to avoid love, to avoid needing anyone, to avoid pain. Unfortunately, all that did was make me really unpracticed at relationships when the inevitable time came when my adult needs overrode my immature resolve. I dipped into the love/dating water a few times and failed. In my confusion, I fell into patterns I didn't even know I'd developed to cope. I unleashed my latent Lost Girl. Each time I didn't succeed at a relationship, I became more discouraged, taking each hit as a new abandonment. Since the guys weren't around to blame (not that they deserved to be--it's okay to decide not to love someone or commit to them), I turned my blame in on myself. My problem was obviously that I was too rigid, too closed off to what it really took to be loved by someone else. So, I gave a little, compromising the boundaries I'd set up to protect myself more each time (even the healthy ones), until the voice that chanted softly, do anything to avoid being abandoned, wasn't so quiet anymore. Instead of white noise, it became the soundtrack of my life. I was the best friend, filling in the spaces that a girlfriend wasn't currently filling in the object of my affection’s life with pseudo dates, covert make-outs, pillow talks, etc, until she did show up, leaving me relegated to the background, where, let’s face it, I’d always been anyway. Then I was a serial re-dater, returning to relationships that I hoped would get better, if we just gave it One. More. Try. What’s the definition of insanity? Yeah…

I lost count of the times I let myself be used, betrayed and lied to, all the while hoping that if I just held on a little longer, the Other Person would realize what a treasure I was and choose to do right by me. It never once occurred to me to do right by myself. Until one day, it did.

I woke up one day at rock bottom to see that I’d given up all my power. I’d been eating myself up with rage and feelings of betrayal against the forces that were conspiring to make me hate myself—forces I’d personally fostered. Anyone who's ever hurt me has only ever done it once without my permission. I’m the one who attacked her boundaries in order to control what I felt was out of my control. I let the shaming little voice in my head convince me that my bad decisions defined me and each time I believed that, the little voice won. I understand now that this is SO not true.

The distinction matters to me. As a Christian, I know that Jesus didn't wait until I quit my sinful ways to die for me, so that makes me pretty special, even when I continually mess up. The unconditionally loving mother in me knows that even when my son is the orneriest of the ornery, I still believe, hope and expect the best from him. I celebrate with him every time he succeeds and I grieve with him each of his failures, because he's worth showing up for, no matter how messy he is. I know that I still have principles, no matter how much I violate them, and that gives me hope to try again another day.

I am no longer willing to stay too long at the party, not when I’m not having a good time. It’s beneath me; beneath who I was created to be. And that shaming little voice in my head, trying to write my story? It's just plain annoying.

I guess that makes me a Recovering Lost Girl. See ya at the next meeting.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

F*** Valentine's Day

I used to be a wallflower in the dating department--always on the outside, looking in. A late bloomer, I didn't date much in high school, beyond the requisite school dances and I definitely didn't "go with" anybody, like a lot of my peers did. At least, not on purpose. My accidental 15 seconds of being part of a high school couple is a story for another post. Anyway, back then my experience with love was pretty much limited to yearly unrequited crushes on guys who barely noticed me. College and most of my twenties were exercises in confusion and frustration as I tried on love in its various forms, never finding a perfect fit for myself, and Valentine's Day always made it much, much worse.

From the other side of that plate glass window, it seemed so great. All around me in school were girls who inspired deliveries of carnations and stuffed bears to 5th hour and song dedications on the radio. And later on, my coupled female friends got breakfast in bed, rose-petal strewn walkways, moonlit seranades, expensive candlelit dinners, long-stemmed bouquets and marriage proposals, while I sat on the sidelines, wearing black in solidarity with my uncoupled compatriots for another year, maligning the tyranny of the Hallmark Holiday and hating that fat baby with his bow and arrow, while secretly envying those who had someone to make a fuss over them, no matter how contrived.

My expectations for the day have mellowed with time and experience, but I'll admit, part of me still holds my breath in anticipation and anxiety, even though I haven't had to celebrate one by myself in a long time. I no longer expect to hold hands across a quiet candlelit dinner for two, unless I'm willing to eat after 8, when my son goes down for bed (I'm not) or to pony up for a sitter and an expensive dinner out (um...I'm not). I no longer hope for late nights in fancy clothes, new-release movies or moonlit serenades (it's cold in February. I'm not that mean), but after reviewing my last V-Day, I'm inclined to think I don't have it so bad.

This February 14, instead of breakfast in bed, I woke up (early) to a surly toddler who I got to wrestle into antibacterial ointment and an Elmo bandaid (long story). After that cold shower of an introduction, the day continued on its usual trajectory of crazy--shower, breakfast, fighting said toddler away from the iPad, into clothes and out the door, while rattling off the checklist of items that needed to go with us (laptop, purse, keys, valentines, daycare party treats, PHONE)--then, we were off. And only 15 minutes behind schedule. Blergh...

Instead of sonnets, I got a quirky e-card emailed to me while I was at work that made me laugh and roll my eyes--my favorite from years past is the one where a sheep with my man's voice whispered sweet nothings to me. It was so creepy and it was perfect. I didn't get roses delivered to my office because I prefer lilies and he prefers to choose them and to gift them in person to see my reaction.

Instead of a quiet candlelit dinner, I got a meal at home without flaming fire sticks for my kid to knock over, that I personally didn't have to plan, shop for, or prepare (sweet bliss). The Buddy spent most of his time singing songs and spinning in butt-circles on the floor while we ate. Between circles, he ate a few bites. Those facts, plus the wine (yay!), made all the crazy worth it.

By 8:15, I was cuddled with my love, watching 'Midnight in Paris.' By 8:30, I was asleep. But before I faded off, I remember saying, "Happy Valentine's Day, babe," to which he replied, "F*** Valentine's Day. We get all this love every day."

Not bad at all.

Friday, February 7, 2014

We're In This Together. Really, We Are.

I love reading blogs, specifically parenting blogs of all kinds, and the reason is simple:

Misery loves company.

I don't mean I'm miserable. I love being my son's mama. I've enjoyed every stage of his short life more than the one before. Except when I didn't love it, that is. Because this s*** is hard, man!

I don't have enough fingers to count the number of times a day I second guess a decision I made, wish I'd handled a moment better, wallow in guilt over something I did or didn't do, or throw my hands up, thinking, "Am I the only one who doesn't know what the HELL she's doing around here???" Being a parent is one of the most isolating and crazy-making things I've ever done, so when I read about another parent in the slog, I feel better. This complete stranger knows how I feel because they've been there. They are there and it looks pretty much the same for us all.

That's why it bugged me to read Sydney Steiner's post on memes of kids crying. You can check it out here. If you don't have time to read it, to sum up, she finds cruel what she perceives to be parents laughing at the expense of their children and posting it for public ridicule. She thinks we should spend more time helping our little ones understand and deal with their very real emotions and less time making them feel bad about them.

You can see the heart and earnest care for children behind her post and I agree that yes, we have a responsibility to our little people to validate their experiences from an early age when they're too young to understand or control them on their own. Even their more irrational emotions. This helps them grow up confident in their inherent dignity so they know that how they feel matters, regardless of the circumstances.

I just disagree that it's unhealthy to choose laughter over tears to cope with this crazy-hard job every day. Her post, while well meaning and spot on in many ways, supposes that parents are laughing and shaming their children instead of engaging with them, mid-meltdown. To that, I say, I'm here. I'm in it, and I don't buy it--for myself or a lot of other parents. That's not what I do and I don't believe most other parents do, either. It's healthy to find the ridiculous in tense moments. It helps deescalate things. It's healthy for kids (even really young ones) to learn that while their emotions are always valid and real, they don't always accurately reflect a given situation, nor should they be treated as the center of the universe even when they do.

It's also healthy for a parent who's had it up to here with all the weirdo things that upset their child(ren) that day to step back, stop taking it all so seriously and laugh. That way, nobody gets yelled at, shamed or punished for no reason, no child is confused or frightened by adult anger, or heaven forbid, nobody is physically hurt in a fit of frustration.

Most mamas and daddies aren't sitting by with their phones waiting for the chance to catch their children helpless and upset so they can post it on Instagram to publicly humiliate their toddlers (who last time I checked, didn't have Instagram accounts, anyway, though mine might--at two years old, he's more tech savvy than I am). We're in there wiping noses, soothing fears, kissing away tears and trying to figure out some age appropriate way to demystify bath suds for a terrified toddler so every bath isn't so damned scary--for everybody.

We all need the benefit of the doubt and some grace from other parents who trust that when we upload pictures or "can you believe this??" posts, we're not making fun of the people we love most and work the hardest for in the world. We're reaching out for a lifeline of brother/sisterhood that helps us feel just a tiny bit less alone and crazy while we figure out how to do this (which, sadly, I hear we never do, completely). And we're doing it at 1 am, well after the kid's asleep, not during play/dinner/homework/bath/reading/night-night time, because we desperately need some alone time but would actually rather steal time from our own sleep than from our time with them, no matter how much they act like tiny nut jobs.

So, let's cut each other just a small break, shall we? I, for one, really need one.