Sunday, 30 August 2015

Refreshingly Insulting

When I was home in Canada this past May my brother gave me a brilliant book for Mother's Day.

An emotionally moving story about the beauty, sacrifices, and joys of motherhood you ask?  A deeply poignant narrative concerning the preciousness of the mother\ child bond?  A collection of inspiring tales illustrating the unique gift each child is and brings?

No, the book he gave me is called "I Am Better Than Your Kids" by Maddox.

The introduction begins:

"Several years ago, I was waiting in a coworker's cubicle when I noticed the drawings she had on display and I told her they sucked.  She gasped and said 'They were made by my four year old nephew!' So I elaborated, 'Well your nephew sucks at drawing.'  I decided then that kids had gotten a free pass for far too long.  So on my website, I proceeded to to grade a handful of children's art along with some pointed but fair criticism.  The response was overwhelming."

The entire book is children's drawings, graded and commented on by Maddox.  I sit down with this book and literally do laugh out loud.  I don't just quietly and insincerely "lol" inside my head, I laugh, I giggle, snort maybe.  It's no doubt very attractive.  This book is refreshing.  And offensive.  And refreshing!  After so much preciousness out there regarding the raising of modern children, that everything a child does should be affirmed, celebrated, cherished forever and ever and that children themselves should be protected, pampered, coddled and shielded from anything even remotely not sunshine and rainbows, this was just a balm to the soul.

It's hilarious, unique, and yes, most certainly, somewhat offensive if you are the sort inclined to take offense wherever you can.

But the man makes some thought provoking points.  More bits and pieces from the intro:

'The two most dangerous words in the English language are 'good job'.  It's a quick little lie that parents tell their kids to encourage them to keep trying.  Parents are afraid that if they tell their kids the truth, the will get discouraged and stop drawing.  So what?  Since when is every kid supposed to be able to draw?  Think about your own life for a moment, of all the people you know, how many of them are artists professionally?  How many of them do something even related to art?  For most people, that number is zero.

At a certain point, no amount of encouragement will make someone any better at art.  Just as no amount of encouragement alone can make someone an airline pilot, engineer or heart surgeon.  So why art?  Why is this the one discipline that parents feel necessary to push upon their kids?

All this superfluous praise is making the world a duller place.  The phrase 'good job' is the reason we don't have any Mozarts or Beethovens today."

Whether you agree or not, it's an interesting point of view and a challenging one.  I am definitely guilty of " superfluous praise" and I doubt that will change. :)  It's my nature.  I would never look at child's drawing and say it was crap, although it doesn't stop me from enjoying this hugely insulting book wholeheartedly.  I get a kick out of his candor.  

But I wouldn't want him critiquing anything of mine.

My son was late to drawing and because I do love art myself, I admit, I encouraged him to draw and I am so glad I did! This is a self portrait drawn by my son.  Obviously he has nothing to worry about.

 (If you want a good laugh, I recommend finding this book ASAP.)

Friday, 28 August 2015

Are You Good Enough To Be a Mother?

For a few years, during our second adoption process, I chose to step back from writing temporarily.

To go off the radar awhile.  I was tired, deeply weary, of having to defend and explain my choices and decisions at every turn to everyone.

After so many years of intense examination and scrutiny, I wanted to live a more private life. Although I share a lot when I write and occasionally on social media, I am always in control of what I share and therein lies the difference.

I think sometimes people find it difficult to understand that going through an adoption process shines a spotlight into every area of one's life.  Areas we haven't thought about in years.  Details we'd rather have kept private. Choices we aren't proud of, choices we are. 

As prospective adoptive parents we are allowed to keep nothing for ourselves. 

The gritty details and realities of marriages are laid bare, written down, and passed along through the ranks where they will be read by numerous discerning people who know us only by what they will read in the reports.

There are questions like: How often do you fight?  What about?  In what ways do you fight?  Slam doors?  Yell?  What do you wish you could change about your spouse?  What does he do that exasperates you? 

Then there the details of our lives before marriage.  Our childhoods.  Education.  Moral and religious beliefs.  Family histories,  Prior relationships.  Everything is held up to the light for closer inspection.  A professional person often meeting the hopeful adoptive parent for the first time, holding a pen and a clipboard, asking questions that really translate to: Are you worthy?  Are you good enough?  Are you fit to be a parent?   

Until we no longer really know.  We just sit there, smiling desperately at these people with all the power and hope they think we are good enough to do this thing that most other people are able to do without much prior consideration.

The fact is that after years of interviews with people from child services, lawyers, doctors and psychologists all watching our faces for signs of discomfort as we speak, all examining body language, the way we communicate with our partner, choice of clothing (yes, this was actually in one of our psychological evaluations), it is natural to begin to feel uncertain of oneself and ones abilities in a way most parents never do.

Biological parents are not asked to justify their desire to have a child.  As prospective adoptive parents, we are asked to justify this desire. 

Why do you want to have a child?  And our answer must not be selfish, it mustn't be anything along the lines of just longing for a child.  Nothing that simple.  I invite you to consider this for a moment. 

What answer could a person possibly give that would hold up in court?  Because in the case of adoptive parents, the answer we give actually must hold up in court.

I don't believe biological parents should be asked to justify their decision to have a child, that's not what I am saying so please don't misunderstand me.  I do think though about how different it would be if everyone had to do this.  If before having a child, people had to be interviewed extensively for years.  Anticipating every scenario.  Planning a course of action for everything that could possibly go wrong in a child's life and always aware that someone out there who didn't know you at all, had the power to say no, this will never happen for you based on any number of reasons.

I read a book about adoption explaining it like this (in my own words), that on paper, in order to be allowed to adopt, one must be perfect.  The perfect mother, father, couple...  

We are expected to know exactly what we would do as a parent long before we ever are actually parents.  We must ace the test.  Be perfect on paper, perfect in theory.  But how can anybody ever be that perfect in reality?

So when the reality of motherhood (or parenthood) is presented and we are naturally not perfect, we feel fear, guilt in an intense way because we promised, we begged for this chance to be a mother.  We fought and fought and fought for it. 

It is easy to be burdened by the pressure of being expected to be so flawless and many people are not aware of this, but post adoption depression is common as reality sets in and life with an adopted child is often not as picturesque and perfect as we've been led to expect and as we see that it is impossible to be as perfect as we have hoped to be.

I am a perfectionist myself which means I am under no illusion that I am perfect.  I am simply  trying to explain the way that one's confidence can be undermined and the way this can make a person wary of scrutiny and more defensive than one otherwise might have been. 

It can take a long time sometimes years, to recover.  To get one's confidence back.  To stop feeling desperate and defensive.  To stop feeling what we had to prove ourselves worthy for years of having, could be taken from you in the blink of an eye.

Adoptive parents need grace too.  It can take a long time to regain a sense of normalcy after adoption.

An understanding that we are both worthy and not worthy.  Just like any other parent out there.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

"Just Not A Dog Person..." Thoughts on the Death of a Pet

We stood in a barn, laughing as eager Border Collie puppies jumped around our feet.  I even laughed as one nipped a hole through the bottom of my new dress.  That sort of stuff didn't bother me then.  It wasn't hard for us to choose one.  We chose the one that hung quietly back from the others, the one who looked a little bit sad.  We took her home.  We called her Tia.

It was mid August.  We'd just returned from a scorching summer in Manitoba.  We didn't know yet how we would need this dog.  That just a week later things would fall apart.  Our lives would be disrupted in one of those scenarios that lead people to think in terms of before and after.  That all this would happen and we would be ultimately left alone in our suffering but that she would be there.

Just one week after getting Tia, we learned that we would not be able to have children.  Not maybe, not it could be difficult, but never.  And that word fell so hard and unexpectedly into our lives that for years it broke everything it landed on.

It felt like devastation.  And life a great waste land yet there in the middle of it all was this energetic, crazy puppy who demanded our attention.  She didn't take the place of child, that's not the way my mind works.  But she did something.  Over time, she helped us heal.

Tia was a beautiful dog, extremely gentle and loving but a typical puppy and I remember losing my patience with her almost daily.  Her rope would get tangled around the trees again and I would stalk out to the backyard angrily to undo her tangles for what felt like the millionth time.  She would race around the house, her nails scratching the floor and I would care.  I don't remember half the things she did that made my life so trying but I remember the frustration I felt even though I loved her so much.  Please don't imagine all this meant I didn't, I just found my patience being tried daily and I was the one who came up wanting.  Struggling with grief, anger, and this boundless emptiness inside myself, I felt I couldn't love her the way I wanted to although I did love her in my imperfect way.

I remember sitting with a group of friends saying ruefully, trying to be vaguely humorous, "We just got a puppy...and I tell you, she's no cat!" Sigh.  "I am just NOT a dog person..."

However, as time passed and she became better trained and calmed down and was a comfort in our lives.  She brought joy and laughter back into our hearts.  Even as this was true, I began to take her for-granted.  I began to put off long walks in favor of shorter ones so I could get other things done.  Unimportant things.  I began not to really notice her in the mornings as she waited at the bottom of the stairs for us when we came down from our bedroom.

The morning she died was one such morning.  I remember we woke up, my husband took her for a walk.  I walked into the kitchen to get a coffee.  I heard a crash and a yell "No!" and I ran outside and there was Tia lying motionless on the road.  I couldn't see through my tears.  It broke our hearts again.  We picked her up, stared stunned at the woman in the car who was crying too saying she was so so sorry, carried her to the car to drive her to the vet, praying somehow maybe we were wrong and she was alive.  I didn't care about the blood on my clothes.  I guess that moment I went back to not being bothered by stuff like that.

The funny thing is, in a bizarre coincidence, the night before she was killed, my husband and I watched "Marley and Me".  I lay on the couch and at the end said "Oh my goodness, that was sooooo sad!!  I am so glad we get to keep Tia for many more years!" (Because she was just two then.)
Tia jumped in my lap, something she never did, and I laughed and said "Quick, take a picture!  I guess she loves me!"

But the next morning I didn't even see her.  I walked right past her without noticing her.  A lot of things were more important.  Maybe like getting a coffee and checking Facebook.

And she died.  And the sadness was intense.  More than I would have ever expected.  And I discovered that for Tia, I was a "dog person".

I Can't Keep Myself Safe

August is leaving me.  Not with the richness of bright gold wheat fields, the ones of my childhood.  Not with the dense late summer heat and shimmering dry dust of prairie roads at summer's end.  Not with deep...unbelievably deep...low blue skies that hang over everything green and golden and already aching with nostalgia.

Instead it is battering my windows and doors.  Bruising the hollyhocks in my garden.  Sending everything running for cover.  Black skies and pelting rain, that sort that looks like it would hurt bare skin upon contact.  While I prefer sunshine, another, more honest part of me perhaps, doesn't mind.  Relishes violence and unpredictability in nature.

It's strange, isn't it? It's hard to understand. To know sometimes. Beyond a doubt, without question, that life...this a blessing, a gift, an undefinable thing. And we're often hopeless at it.

When I sit on a sun warmed rock on a cool fall day staring at the sea, feeling the noise of it pounding in my ears. Chaos echoing chaos. Chaos calming chaos. I know. I want to see the waves break against the rocks, I want to witness more power, and at the core of me, I want to see some sort of glorious unimaginable destruction. It would please would answer some sort of obscure question in me to see it all fall to pieces. It would help me know that things can break outside myself too. And this great hope. This great great great hope is that somehow, I wouldn't be hopeless at living.

These questions are my constant, life-long companions: what am I growing toward? Who am I becoming?

They are positive, strength infusing things. They keep me from running in circles, from stagnation, from feeling hopeless.

I want to strip away the useless, the negative, the fear and dishonesty in my life.  I want grand adventures and difficult pilgrimages.  I want to break apart and be forged back together with gold.

I think how it would be so much easier to physically set out on a spiritual journey. To visit a place of solitude and reflection. To take up a backpack and make a difficult pilgrimage across narrow mountain roads. To be taught. To pray and meditate and focus. To go away and come back changed.

It's harder to change in a familiar place. It takes discipline to get out of your own bed each morning and think "Today I am going to learn and grow. Right here where I am. Because this is the option I have open to me right now." Examining the soul is always challenging and often unsettling. It can certainly be unpleasant at times. The alternative is to go though life blindly, always distracted, never achieving awareness or questioning yourself. Never growing. (I believe there are people who go through their lives never growing or stretching themselves.)

This morning I read the words "tranquility and order" and it put me in mind of how our longings so often conflict. On the surface at least.  I pray for lives of "tranquility and order" for our family and especially for my sons as they grow.  I desire it for myself.  Yet I also fight hard against settling mindlessly for a socially acceptable way of living, fight against conforming for the sake of peace.  At the same time as I desire tranquility, order and peace, I desire newness, healthy destruction of concepts and ideas that are not life giving yet are often unchallenged.  I need a certain sort of challenge.  I need some fire and I always crave change.

In the end, I don't believe these things do contradict each other.  There is no tranquility in settling or never being challenged.  There is no peace in giving in or up.  There is no peace in agreeing with others under the false impression that agree-ability and niceness will safeguard ones peace.  There is no peace in quietly shutting the door on yourself, deciding no one will ever really see you, your heart, your passions, your fears.  There is no order in remaining safe out of fear of change.

There is no safety period.
I can't keep myself safe.
By conforming.  By fitting in.  By avoiding conflict.  By telling white lies.  By being "nice" (such a bland word).

And because I can't possibly keep myself safe, I must take greater risks.  I don't mean jumping off cliffs or running through traffic hoping I don't get hit.  The risks I mean are far greater..  I must risk being honest, must risk, not changing myself, but becoming myself fully.

At the core of myself, I know who I am.  I am worth the risks I'll take.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Visiting Graveyards

“Everyone in this house
has gray hair, walks with a cane,
visits the graveyard." -Basho

I pass it almost everyday as I walk in the evening. My eyes drink in the exuberant green, the first strands of color staining the spirit drinks this beauty in like it is parched.  It seems my soul has been asleep.  Been elsewhere for some time.  It feels as though the essence of me has not really been where my body has been...

Have my eyes been shut?  Why?  I shake my head and see.  And curiously, it dawns on me, I have looked and looked for so long but I have not really seen.  If we were talking about a color, I would pause maybe, try to explain that the green was so rich and so vivid, I felt like I should touch it, run my fingers through the feathery grass as I would have done if I'd been a child.  That the pink in the sky was soft and delicate, so delicate I thought the strength of it should break my heart.  Do you understand what I mean?  My eyes are parched and they are the window to my parched soul.  This all brings to mind the thought that I would move through these years like a ghost, if I could choose.  But I see you don't know what I mean...  I am all spirit.  I am all soul.  I am all color and yearning.  I am distant from myself, homesick for my own heart.

It would seem the remedy for this is a gentle falling backward, into forgotten things.  Forgotten things like the colors of the earth and sky, the cool fresh air, my thirsty eyes.  A graceful diminishing.  Late summer sweetness.  Autumn leaves.  The things I need.  The things I need...

I pass the graveyard almost everyday.

A quiet meeting place of memories and souls and once beautiful people who never imagined growing old.  Secrets buried with broken hearts, the placing of dirt over hopes and dreams. A turning to.  A turning away  The knowledge that nothing can ever stay.

Ah, here you are, your face, my heart.

I am young.  I've been younger.  I visit all sorts of graveyards after dark.