Where are the leaders?

Tonight I’m grateful my living children are sleeping safely. Today in the news, I watched a child get get pepper sprayed and an elderly man attacked. 

We’ve taught our boys to know police officers as helpers. The police in our town have been there for our family when we needed them. Not just a little bit. They were at the house in a blink when I called 911, one watched over us while it was happening, made sure the boys were safe, called our pastor, they all handled the situation with respect and grace. Later, an officer hand delivered a gift to our family from the police department. We talk about race, white privilege and our responsibility to speak up and use our privilege to create change, black history, … but not this, yet. 

Knowing that the police in my country will pepper spray a child, and attack an elderly man, let alone discriminate, harass, and hurt people of color, has me thinking of a new dialogue with my boys about the people who are there to protect us. How do I explain to my little boys that those events are happening here, not some far-away place we see on TV? How do I explain that the uniform doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good? That’s not right. Police officers are there to protect the people, not attack the people. I don’t have answers to these questions. I don’t know how to tell my boys any of this.

I’ve been posting on Facebook about cops on their knees. Now I see that brutality is overwhelming the peace. I try so hard, after all of my trauma and loss, to be positive–to listen to Mr. Rogers and look for the helpers. Today, the images of what looks like war, coming from all across my country, are spreading too fast and smothering anything positive. What I’m seeing is chaos. And pain. And confusion.

Black lives matter.

No justice, no peace.

Say His Name–George Floyd.

Say their names–which one?

Arresting a few cops does not bring justice.

Now, how is the policy change going to happen? How is the cultural change going to happen? How can we guarantee accountability? Where is the justice?

Where are our LEADERS?

My babies have been through enough. They’ve lost their brother, Covid-19 and quarantine added a new layer to our grief and trauma (which they’re handling like badass rock stars), and now the entire world is in even more turmoil. Of course, it’s justified turmoil. Overdue turmoil. Necessary turmoil. Painful, gutting turmoil. Righteous turmoil. If-you-thought-the-political-climate-revealed-character-you-should-see-what’s-happening-now turmoil.
But turmoil, nonetheless.

I’m feeling disheartened. And scared. And obligated to simultaneously protect my boys and educate them on what’s happening. We have a moral responsibility to stand on the side of justice.

But after all I’ve been through, after all we’ve been through as a family, we just want peace. Trauma survivors do not wish for more trauma.

The protesters are saying “by any means necessary”, and I get that… I mean, the best I can as a white person.

But, God help those cops if they EVER try to harm my beautiful children, no matter how old they are. George Floyd, a grown man, called for his Mama. As a mother who has lost a son, I can tell you that peace does NOT exist without justice. I don’t know if I’ll ever know peace until I’m with my boy again.

I truly hope that the protests around the world will put us on the path to justice for every mother who has lost a son to police brutality. I truly hope that the protests around the world will put us on the path to justice for racial inequality. I truly hope that from the protests around the world emerge true, worthy leaders for our country. I truly hope that we find this path during our lifetime, so that I can watch my living children grow up in a world of true equity.

And there I go, defaulting to that positivity.
That won’t bring change. Marching, protesting, persevering brings change.

Where are the leaders?

I can lead by starting in my home with my family, and take responsibility for learning the right ways to be an ally. I can lead with my voice. 

Maybe some are leading by attending rallies, and this inspires their neighbor to do the same.

How can you lead? 

Let’s do this now, because I can only imagine magnifying the pain of losing my son to suicide to equal the pain and grief black and brown people collectively and historically experience in this country. I’ve heard them say they’re tired. And I can tell you, as a grieving mother, they really are.

Radical Piece Protector

It’s a radical concept to some–I listen to my children. They are individuals with their own ideas, opinions, feelings, experiences, and perceptions. When one of them tells me he’s scared, I listen. When he says he couldn’t breathe and his stomach hurt at school, I recognize that he’s describing a panic attack. When he can’t sleep and begs me not to go, I hear him. I respect my children and believe them when they tell me their feelings. If they can’t count on me to trust and protect them now, how will they trust me with their hearts in the future?

Squishy is grieving, and he has severe separation anxiety. He’s now scared people will leave him. This extends to everything–pets, TV shows, and objects. When one of his mittens fell out in the car and he didn’t have it for recess, he wouldn’t use any others and ran away from his teacher. He ended up surrounded and secluded, and then had a panic attack. His brother died suddenly last year, but no hugs while he’s upset. No understanding that his mitten missing translated as everything being out of place and nothing would ever be right again. This is grief. I’ve been told they can’t help him with anxiety at school. Almost every day I pick up my baby boy with a face puffy from tears, and exhausted with worry about the next day at school. He. Is. 7. Years. Old. And so, we pulled him from school… for the second and last time.

I pulled him the first time in the fall for similar reasons, and because he was being physically restrained and secluded almost every day. I homeschooled/unschooled him for two months, and a lot of healing happened in those two months. He opened up about Tuna for the first time, and he relaxed a lot. He started to like learning. I thought that was a good amount of time for him to breathe and heal, so with high hopes for success, I sent him back to school starting with half days at the doctor’s suggestion.

My hopes were wrong. He was miserable. He hates school. Our family is hurting, and anything that adds to our pain (that we have the power to change) is now unwelcome in our lives.

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

When you lose a child to suicide, the person that was you becomes a shattered mirror, smashed to tiny shards, skidded and scattered– stuck underneath in the small dark places–impossible to sweep up. There are pieces of me that are lost forever. They’re lodged in floorboards and bare feet. They’re in a landfill with rinds and wrappers. They’re dust.

And there are just a very few pieces that I found and kept. I’ve tried to repair them–to put them back together–but they don’t fit now, so they just lay there, broken. Now, I’m searching for pieces that will fit where the gone-forever ones should be. When I look into them now, I see shifting fragments of the self I used to know. Where I’ll find the pieces to repair them, and what they’ll even look like, is a mystery.

But, there is one piece I keep apart from the others. It shows me the same piece of me each time I look. I’m protecting this one–giving it it’s own space. Every time I check to see if I’m still there, this piece shows me my boys.

When I only have fragments of myself left, and my two living boys are whole and alive, I will do ANYTHING to make sure that piece is protected. When I entrust anyone to hold that piece, and there’s even a slight chance that it could break, I’m taking it back. That means that if my boys tell me they don’t feel safe, the most important thing in the universe is to make sure they do. PERIOD.

When we still had Tuna with us, there was a lot more worry about the “shoulds”. I like to think that we’ve always been this way–fiercely protective of our children’s mental and emotional safety (We definitely ignored the “shoulds” more than most people I know)– but they did hold us back from the right decision more than once. Now, the things we thought mattered are meaningless.

Now, there are zero “shoulds” for us. There is no room here for anything or anyone that tries to impose on our fragile family well-being with a “should”, or a “have to”, or a “keep up”. If it’s a radical concept to anyone that we listen to our children’s voices, and that their mental and emotional health come first; I hope they may learn to unconditionally follow their hearts and guts. There is no time on Earth for anything else.

May no one judge the grieving in their process, only love and support them in every way, and forever. As trauma survivors we’re doing our best. We have no room for struggle. Zero room for trouble, unless someone threatens the well-being of that one whole, beautiful, fragile piece of me. Then, I will bring that piece back to peace and safety before you can say “should”.

Smug-Faced Bitchy McJudgerton

You know what I don’t do?  Fold wash cloths.  Or underwear. I don’t care if my 3-year-old goes out to swing in his underwear. I don’t exercise every day.  I don’t feel guilty when I tell Latefordinner that I have to get out of the house ALONE.  I don’t make my boys keep their rooms clean. I don’t keep my room clean. I don’t keep a garden.  I don’t take for granted that Latefordinner supports my need to get out ALONE. I don’t stress if I eat ice cream. I don’t like negativity. I don’t want to keep writing about what I don’t do….

Except for this one thing I didn’t do yesterday–I didn’t do what I swore I’d never do (stay with me), and that’s NOT JUDGE ANOTHER MOM, EVER.

I ran into the drug store yesterday for some things, and was deciding on which gum to get, when I heard a mom two aisles behind me say, “No, we have that at home.  Put it back.”  I heard  a tiny person whining, and then, “I told you to put it back.  I’m going to count to three, and if you don’t put it back you’re getting a spanking.”

Then I heard “Three, two, one.”…….Smack!

And the baby boy cried and cried, and said “Ouchie!  Owww!  That hurts!”   And the mom walked by, baby on hip, sobbing two-year-old in tow.

And you guys, I did the thing.  I did that thing that is so devastating to mothers everywhere:  I looked her in the eye and shook my head at her. And she looked me in the eye and I could read her mind, “you bitch, you don’t know me.”  I could have just minded my business, but I broke my oath to never judge a mother, and I judged. Openly. I’ve been given that look before, but not for hitting my kid.  I get that look when my kid is acting up, and I am not dealing with it the way the glaring woman would. I get that look for what I don’t do.

So, here’s the thing: she spanked her baby boy in a public place.  He was sobbing, and my heart hurt for him.  Why, after all my years as a seasoned mother, and firm believer in non-judginess, did my heart not hurt for her?  Maybe she didn’t know any better.  Maybe she thinks she’s doing the right thing.  Maybe she just doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing and needs to get her damn head on straight before she messes her kid up…uh, I mean…ugh,there’s the judginess.  She didn’t beat him, she smacked his butt.  She didn’t yell at him, she counted to three.  She didn’t look angry…and that’s the thing…why would you be violent if you’re not angry?

First: I don’t believe in hitting children.  It is psychologically damaging; and does nothing to teach, nurture growth, or effectively discipline.

Second:  Even though I don’t believe in hitting children, I have lost my temper and smacked a butt a few times. It very rarely happens, I’m not proud of it, and I have apologized to my children each time.  I have explained that mommy can make mistakes too, etc. Of course we also talked about his behavior, but a child’s behavior is just his way of asking for help.  It’s HARD to remember that sometimes, seriously, like when they’re being complete jerks and you just want to SMACK them.  But you don’t (99.9% of the time). Because you don’t believe in hitting. Because you are the grown up.  Because you want to lead by example. Because hitting hurts.

Third: I have never hit my child because he wouldn’t put something back on a shelf by the count of three. In a public place.  Or in any place. That’s just ridiculous.  Yeah, I’m judging.

BUT, Shaking my head at her probably just made her angry, and hurt, and probably did more to isolate her more than maybe she already is.  Shaking my head disapprovingly probably did nothing to help her. Judging her, even if I do disagree with her actions, does nothing to help.  Maybe she felt sorry, and helpless, and hopeless.  Maybe she needed a hug (even though I just wanted to hug that baby boy). Maybe she is looking for another way. Maybe no one is supporting her.  I wasn’t sure where this would go when I started writing, but now I know: What I don’t do is feel good when I judge.  What I don’t do is help when I judge.  What I don’t do is really know anything when I think I do.  What I don’t do is withhold compassion where it seems to be undeserving.  

Because those who need compassion are the ones who act out.  Because a mother’s behavior may be her way of asking for help. Looking again at her non-angry face, I can now see that she was just as scared as her boy.  She really didn’t know what else to do.

I firmly reaffirm my resolve to support other moms, even if I don’t agree with their actions.  I hated what I saw.  It broke my heart. But, I don’t know her. Who knows her story?

So here’s what I DO do:

I do yell at my kids sometimes.

 I do sometimes yell into the backyard like a redneck so the neighborhood can hear me.

I do follow through with what I say, even if I regret having to do it.  

I do not like it when Binker sticks his tongue out at me and runs away. Wait, that’s a negative.

Ok, um, I do feel helpless as to what to do with him sometimes.  He’s like a honey badger. Seriously.

I do feel helpless when Tuna loses his temper at Binker and tackles him to the floor while screaming in his face about making annoying sounds.  Binker silently provokes, Tuna loses his temper. Tuna gets in trouble. Binker gets reprimanded……and on and on until I sometimes lose my temper and send them to their rooms with no solid discipline or clear idea of how to handle it from there.  

And every mother feels helpless sometimes.  And every mother needs help sometimes. And sometimes that help is silence.  A nod. A smile. A hug. A look of solidarity, even if you know what she should do when she doesn’t have a clue.

What I don’t do is agree with that mother’s choices.  

What I DO do is have compassion for her.  

Because we all make mistakes in the great oneness of motherhood,

and I hope to receive that compassion when I would otherwise be judged by Smug-Faced Bitchy McJudgerton (me yesterday).  

Yep.