How do you measure strength?

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STRENGTH.

There is power in that word, but without much of a definition. It’s subjective to interpretation, isn’t it?

How do you measure strength?

It’s an interesting concept…

How do others define it?

Physical strength may be among the easiest to measure, but even that is not black and white.

We’ve all said it, or at least probably most of us, at some point in our lives or another, haven’t we?

“I’m strong!”

Or perhaps we thought it.

Or perhaps you viewed another and deemed them strong.

Why?

What is it about them that makes you see strength?

What is it about yourself that makes you see strength?

Can you conceptualize it? Can you define it? Can you put it into words?

I went on a quest recently to understand this.

It originated because I heard:

“You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met.”

“I hope I can be strong like you.”

“You are so strong Christine.”

I heard this when I felt anything but strong. It made me mad to hear those words in the moment. I felt expectations were on me.  Expectations I didn’t want. Expectations I didn’t know if I could fulfill.

I didn’t feel strong. I didn’t want to be strong.

I know I can hear another’s story and measure what I view as strength. I can build on this strength with them. I can harness their strength. I can help empower, encourage, and promote growth.

But to put that into words, is tough.

Recently I started asking people: “How do you measure strength?”

These are some of the responses I received:

“…when life deals you the shittiest of hands and you’re still able to play the game.”

“…the ability to know what battles are worth fighting for. Sometimes it means fighting for what you want, while other times it means being strong enough to let something go.”

“…the strongest thing I ever did was forgive my sisters for what they did to me…they nearly ruined me…in fact they did ruin me. And I forgave them when they never asked for it…[that] was strength.”

“I think that strength is the ability to see the beauty in life regardless of the mountains we are climbing. I also believe that strength comes from the ability to view one’s own struggles in perspective of the struggles of others.”

“I think strength is being able to fight your battles, but knowing when to call for backup.”

“I would argue that strength is being able to view the mess of your own life in terms of feeling fortunate, rather than self-loathing.”

“Strength is the ability to be grateful when the mountain gets steep and we aren’t sure if we can make it over.”

“…knowing you’re going to lose the fight, but still standing up to your opponent and giving it your all.”

“…never giving up.”

“Strength is watching someone else do something, handle something, go through something, that you don’t know if you could do.”

“Genuineness.  If someone is honest and truthful that tells me they have a lot of strength because it takes strength to be vulnerable. I measure strength for one’s ability to be open and honest. Complete genuineness and vulnerability.”

“If people are able to work through tough times, do what needs to be done…”

“People that have endured hardships in their life and were able to get through it, making them a better person…going through bullshit and coming out of it with a positive outlook intact.”

Powerful isn’t it?

There are themes within.

Perseverance.

Endurance.

Forgiveness.

Wisdom.

Gratefulness.

Vulnerability.

What do you see?

I am hesitant to call myself strong. I know this. Seems the minute I do, life asks, “Oh yeah? What about now Christine?”

Life has a way of questioning our definition of strength. Or perhaps redefining or even refining our definition…

I’m still working through my own definition. I know for me, it is many of the things that others mention, but it is more. Truthfully, I think it grows with life experience, through hardship, through joys, through life….

To be continued…

© LifeasChristine, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A piece of my heart got out of the car and told me goodbye at 4:54…

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The time was 4:54 as I backed out of the driveway. I will never forget the moments and days leading up to the time.

A piece of my heart got out of the car and told me goodbye at 4:54.

About a half an hour earlier, she had finished packing up the car. She had one suitcase and a duffel bag. She had multiple boxes that were to be shipped out later. She came and told me she was ready to go. As I got into the car, she said, “Mom, don’t cry” I never responded. I couldn’t.

As I pulled in the driveway where she wanted me to drop her off, I put the car in park and pulled out the plastic baggy I had stashed in my purse while she was loading the car.  I had kept that baggy in my jewelry box for many years. It contained the diamond earrings from her great-grandmother who had passed away many years ago. I leaned over and put them in her ears one by one, telling her always to check the backs to make sure they are tight, not to take them out unless she gets a second hole and move them there, and never, ever sell or lose them.

I then handed her $100 and said, “If you ever get into a bind, you call me.”

She responded, “I will call you anyways Mom”.

She reached across the seat towards me. I grabbed onto her and lost it.

This surreal moment was happening. She was leaving early in the morning on a plane out to L.A. She was flying across the country.  She was going to a place I did not agree with and staying with people I am unsure of. She was going against my wishes. She was leaving school. She was leaving everything behind her. I felt like she was walking into the lion’s den and it scared the shit out of me.

She too lost it and she cried, “Thank you Mom. Thank you for everything. I know you still believe in me and that’s the only thing that keeps me going. Just thank you Mom. I love you more than anything.”

My heart broke in a million pieces in that moment. I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to lock her up in her room. I wanted her to finish high school. I wanted my little girl back.

I did not scream at her. I held her tighter in that moment that I had her. I was the last to let go. I knew from the first day she told me what this was going to be and how it would play out.

She told me a few months ago that she was leaving home when she turned 18.

Originally, I told her over my dead body. I certainly wasn’t going to make it easy for her. But in my heart, I knew what she knew. She was going to leave and I couldn’t stop her. I had to let go. And I couldn’t burn the bridge with her, nor did I want to.

No, I absolutely do not agree with her choice in her life right now. Out of everyone, she knows this best, and she knows why. But she also knows that no matter what I will always believe in her. I will always love her. And I will always expect great things from her. I expect her to dig deep. I expect her to remember her roots and all the lessons I taught her. I expect her to make it. I expect her to ask for help if she needs it along the way.

And I also hope that she finds what she is desperately searching for. I had a million dreams for her, but perhaps those dreams were mine. I still don’t totally understand all why she needs to do this. Perhaps there is a part of her that needs to understand herself and what she’s made of. She told me she feels “stuck” here in this small town.  And honestly, there is a piece of me that understands that feeling. I too have felt that before at a time in my life.

I hope she learns herself as she needs to. I hope that God will keep his hand upon her. I hope that she will one day return, wiser, still thankful, and with growth.

I hope she receives grace along the way and can fully recognize and appreciate it.

And more than anything, I hope she gets what she needs when she needs it.

© LifeasChristine, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

HAVE YOU NO COUTH? …

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“Hello?”

I was worn out; physically, mentally, and emotionally drained. It was a rough 6 months…hell it was a rough year.

“Christine, I just heard he died…Oh my God…Oh my God…” she wailed into the phone.

When I realized who it was, I wanted to scream,

“HAVE YOU NO COUTH? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

I wanted to unload on her. I wanted to put her in her place and tell her where to stick it. I wanted to tell her I never wanted to speak to her again.

I said none of that.

“Yes. He died.”

“How? What happened?” she asked through tears.

I gave her the blunt details as I thought about her last call to me a few months prior.

She had called me a few months prior, though I never did find out how she got a hold of my phone number. She was angry. He had hurt her and she wanted to get even. He left her; hooked up with one of her friends and went to Louisiana with her looking for work. I wondered if she was surprised, but I never asked. I knew she was hurting. She offered to help me. The irony of the situation was almost more than I could bare. I declined her “assistance”.

“It was quick Rachel. He didn’t suffer…” I went on to briefly explain what happened.

I gave her the facts. I knew she needed closure.

I hated being put in this position. I hated that she had called me. I hated that I had to be the one to tell her and that she didn’t think twice about calling me. I guess people only know what they know and to a degree, I knew where she was at and I tried to meet her there. It wasn’t easy I can assure you.

I took control of that conversation and ended it as soon as the details were covered. I was not interested in forming a comradery with her.

It was the 2nd phone call from her, but it wasn’t the last. She called me a few weeks later. She wanted to know about a necklace she had given him.

“Yes, I know what you’re referring to. It was given to me with his belongings after he died. He must have liked the necklace; he was wearing it when he died. His blood is on it.”

She gasped. I gave more than I should’ve and I knew it. I predicted her next words and I knew my response before I uttered them.

“Can I have it back?”

“No, I’m sorry, you cannot.”

She got angry with me. She told me she had his wetsuit and all his dive equipment. She threatened to sell it with justification of how much he ‘owed’ her.

“Rachel, you do whatever you need to do because in the end, we all do, don’t we? I’m not giving you the necklace and you can sell his equipment if it brings you a dollar and makes you feel better. That choice is yours.”

© LifeasChristine, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Live a good life: An open letter to my oldest son…

An open letter to my oldest son Jonathon…

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You called me the other night and forewarned me, “Mom, this is deep, but important and I want an answer”.

I heard you out and finally responded, “I will get back to you on that”.

Roughly a half an hour after hanging up the phone with you, I received your text, “Don’t forget!”

Remember what you said?

Remember how you justified it?

A few months ago you said, “Why would God give me this mind if he knew I was gonna question. I’m probably not a good follower because I question too much. But didn’t He know I was gonna be like this?”

You know how I sometimes grab my phone and start typing in the middle of conversations? It’s usually because I’m making a note and quoting words that I hear because they hit me profoundly and I want to remember them. I want to think about them later, long after the moment has passed. I made note of that remark.

First off Jono, you don’t need justification for wondering about the things you wonder about.

One thing we definitely agree on is that it is curiosity serves as a catalyst for searching for knowledge, understanding, learning, and wisdom. The greatest of these is wisdom. I will leave it up to you to figure out the difference and why that is the most important.

I know that you have thought about death from a young age and all that it entails. I think most of your siblings have experienced this as well. As I believe that the majority of individuals who experience death of a loved one start to grapple with the concept… what it means to live, die, and all the stuff in between.

You never needed to justify your question to me. I know you well.

WHEN YOU DIE MOM, I WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU WANT US TO LIVE OUR LIVES. AND IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN IF WE ARE HONEST. AND HOPEFULLY YOU DIE BEFORE US, BECAUSE THE ALTERNATIVE WOULD BE TRAGIC FOR YOU AND AGAINST THE NATURE OF HOW THINGS SHOULD WORK. I WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU WANT US TO REMEMBER YOU. I WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU DEFINE A GOOD LIFE. I WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU WANT US TO CARRY ON WITHOUT YOU.

First off, Aaron knows this part, but maybe you should be aware as well. If given a choice, I want to be buried in the back yard. If the back yard doesn’t suffice due to obstacles – find me a field, close to a river bank, or babbling brook – someplace weeping willows thrive. Do not spend money on a cemetery plot – that’s just plain weird to me and I don’t want to be buried in a cemetery full of people I never knew.  Having experiences with funerals, NO ONE is to buy me a $7,000 casket. I don’t care how pretty it is. I want you all to gather together and build me a pine box. It will give you all a chance to laugh, grieve, and work together as a team processing through stuff together. What you do with it and how you all make it, is up to you guys. Flowers can be picked from a field. Plant a willow tree over me. Years later, when the willow is strong, hang a swing, build a tree house, or do both. Don’t forget the hammock.

I want music – all the music that drove you guys nuts while growing up that reminds you of me that you begged me “Not this again”.  Let it be, Roll me away, I need a hero (you will all laugh remembering me yelling ‘Wooo” at just the right moment), Tiny Dancer, Lose Yourself, Runaway Train, etc.

I want food. Lots of good food – no chicken!

And at the end, I want you to blow off fireworks (if available). There’s just something about fireworks that I have always loved. They remind me that I am alive. They bring awe to me. I want you guys to remember that you still are here and to see the beauty in the darkness. I really want fireworks – just make sure you warn the neighbors, in the event that one may be experiencing PTSD.

I want lots of stories, lots of laughter, lots of hugs (good hugs – not those crappy one-handed-so-called-hugs), sharing of memories from those you don’t know, and honest eulogies. God, do not put me on a pedestal. Be careful, because sometimes we do that when we lose those we love – I’ve not only done it, but have witnessed it occurring from others.

So how do I want you all to live your lives after I’m gone? The same way I want you to live your lives while I still breathe.

I want you to question things your taught, not defiantly, but critically thinking things through. Never feel stupid for asking what others say are silly questions. Ask whatever question you need in order to come to the answer you need. But, know that sometimes you can ask all the right questions, and there is no answer. There are some questions in life that you will never get answers to – or the answers that sit well with your heart. When that happens, learn to LET IT BE. There are just some things in life that we will never know answers to. Maybe it comes down to “I don’t know”. Maybe it comes down to faith. Maybe it comes down to acceptance. It may be a combination of factors, but regardless, you all have to be okay with unanswered questions, because they can and do happen throughout life.

Remember when you were little over at the house on Durfee? Remember when we were coloring? I told you when you color, you didn’t have to stay within the lines. You could color outside the lines and you could use any color you wanted, even if it didn’t make sense (i.e. pink elephants, blue flamingos). You were not limited. I want you to understand there is a time and place for coloring outside the lines. It was not a metaphor for going against all rules or lines set before you. It was a lesson that coloring was a time for flow. It was a place and time for you to lose yourself, while gaining yourself at the same time. It was art therapy and never, ever underestimate the value of it. Some do this by yoga, some by running, some by weight-lifting, some by hiking, some by boating, some by music, some by gardening, etc. The means differ, but the results are the same. There’s a mental balancing that occurs. Find your yoga… whatever that may be. You all will need this many times throughout life – life demands balance.

Evaluate your values. Every single one of them. Take an ethics class (you will struggle mentally, but it is so worth it)! This will help all of you really get to the nitty gritty and decipher the difference between ethics, moral, and values. Your values are things that not only I have taught you since you were little, but things that experiences taught you. Critically think and evaluate them. In order to stand for something, you need to understand why you’re standing. Also, remember your values can change or shift throughout life – they are not always set in stone.

When you find yourself selling out, remember your values, and back-track. It’s okay if you screw up, you are human and you are gonna falter, but recognize it, and remedy it – ASAP.

DON’T QUIT!

God, please don’t quit! Life can get very challenging, even down-right hard, do not quit. Get oxygen when you need it, but hang on and don’t you quit.

Understand what your meaning of success is. Personally, my meaning of success does not equate to society’s standard. I’m okay with that. You need to each figure out what success means to you and go for it. You do not need to defend it to others – just live your lives accordingly. Obviously, don’t be idiots with this and look for justification where there is none. Don’t hurt others for your own gratification, etc.

That brings me to the next thing… at the end of each of your lives, will you be able to say you learned through your mistakes? Will you be able to say I did better when I learned? Look up the poem “The Man in the Glass”. I gave it to someone once and it was one that made a big impact on me – around the time when I was where you are at – questioning my life and what it meant to live. At the end of every day, at the end of every mountain climb, at the end of our journeys, it all comes down to us. Every choice and decision we made – are we okay with our choices? If not, turn around, or side-step. Whatever you need to do… do it. Doesn’t matter if we had the perfect story or not, we create the ending…make it worthy!

Never strive for happiness. Happiness is a fleeting emotion that comes and go. Strive for content. You can have a shitty day and not find happiness in it. However, you can have a shitty day and still be content.

Be a shelter for your siblings, family, or friends that need it. Light the way and bring them home if they get lost. Do this for each other because it matters. This is written metaphorically, so you will need to read between the lines and apply it appropriately. Follow your heart when it comes to this.

Which reminds me… listen to your head, but follow your heart – with almost everything: Relationships, marriage, parenting, friendships, strangers, career, etc.

Say what you gotta say. Even if it doesn’t end the way you want it to. This isn’t a free pass for being hurtful or rude, but don’t let things fester. Throw it out on the table and go from there. Sometimes you will have great conversations, sometimes you may be misinterpreted, and sometimes it may end badly. Say the words on your heart – and Jonathon, don’t let alcohol consumption alone enable this for you. Work on that one. Being vulnerable is strength, not weakness.

About vulnerability…. It’s scary as hell – I get it. But those ‘perfect’ people who never show vulnerability… they are a freakin’ mess and as unreal as they come. Maybe you are particular with who you show vulnerability to – that’s okay… but don’t run from it. Denying it leads to a host of issues… In the quiet corners of ourselves, we are all vulnerable and it’s what makes us human. For the love of God, be human – don’t try to be a super hero or stoic!

In regards to stoicism, ask for help when you need it and it’s okay to cry. There will come a day when you need help with something – nobody is good at everything. Drop your defenses and just get help with what you need help with. And if you need to cry – CRY. Scream at the corn if you need to. Ball up in a corner and give yourself a hug if you need. Point is, don’t stay there – refer back to ‘don’t quit’ and go get assistance. Whether it’s assistance with getting a mortgage, having a baby and being scared out of your mind, marriage, a lousy job that you question if you made the right move, or a fight you had with someone, etc. – seek wisdom and guidance always. Never be too proud for this. And listen, mull it over…

Moderation. Everything in moderation. Enough said.

Find and understand faith. This I cannot spell out for you. It has to make sense to each of you or it’s moot.

Always give grace – especially when it’s hard. This is especially important for it has been grace that has sustained me when all else failed. I hope you all come to understand this concept for yourselves and recognize what it is and the value therein.

Forgive – even the unforgivable. This isn’t about them – it’s about you. It doesn’t matter if they ever admit to wrong doing or hurting you – forgive them anyways. There will come a day in each of your lives when you will be standing at a crossroads – forgive or not forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to be an idiot and subject yourself to being hurt time and time again, but forgive those that do you wrong. Because honestly, you’re going to wrong others too – and we need forgiveness from others as well. If you don’t forgive, you will find bitterness growing in your hearts. We have spoken about bitter people in the past. They distance everyone from their lives because their bitterness takes over their hearts and lives – do NOT become bitter. Learn to forgive. If you don’t, you will grow old alone and… well, bitter. Miserable. Figure it out and forgive.

There are probably a million more things I could come up with Jonathon, but honestly it boils down to each of you. I believe we are ultimately responsible for our own choices (past a certain point in life) and we have to be okay with the choices we made. Not being okay with our choices – well, therein lies depression, anxiety, etc. And I’m not saying that you need to live perfectly without screwing up. My God, you’ve already screwed up – all of us have. The point is to learn as you go and make those lessons mean something. You know?

Live a good life.

You will each come to decide what a good life is and what it means to each of you.

And this answers your question.

I want each of you to live a good life.

What does that mean to you?

Figure that out.

You know the lessons I have taught you. You know what matters to me, but I am not you and you are not me.

We have to each come to this on our own.

It’s our own unique journey – this gift of life.

You only get one shot.

Make it a good one.

PS – I love you. And I’m proud of all of you. You all got this – this thing called life. You know what you need to do, even when it’s hard. Even when it’s challenging. Even when you have questions. I believe in all of you.

Love,

Mom

 

© LifeasChristine, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

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‘Gazoola Bird’ and ‘Hairball’ were used most often…

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My father once told me when I was young that I was looking for love in all the wrong places. I remember exactly where I was standing when I heard those words. I remember the circumstances. I remember the feelings.

I never told him then what I thought about his words, though I had a lot of thoughts on that idea. After many years, my thoughts became clearer.

The men I have dated and/or chosen throughout my life were not all shining examples of what fathers would want their daughters to date or choose. Growing up, my father had many synonyms; though ‘Gazoola Bird’ and ‘Hairball’ were used most often. You see, my father didn’t swear when I was growing up, nor did he use vulgarities in his vocabulary. I heard him say the word ‘piss’ once when I was a teenager. Maybe it was a result of his chosen vocabulary that he used creativity to express his disdain, I’m not sure.

There were quite a few ‘Gazoola Birds’.

I often wondered if I saw what he did not. But there is another angle to it.

He is not so unlike most of them.

I wrote a story once about how I judge all other men on the value I hold of my father. And to some, this may seem… judgmental. Perhaps. I try very hard to remain without judgment, but truth be told, as a human being – I question if that is possible. Most human judgment lies in human error, a lack of understanding many angles. And we often criticize what we do not understand. Even I am guilty of this, but that is a story for another day.

I have heard the stories of his youth. I would not be surprised to learn that other fathers were leery of him dating their daughters when he was young.

I have heard the stories from others, I have been a witness to mistakes, and yet to me he remains a diamond in the rough. Some see this. Others do not. Perhaps it is what we choose to see.

I have known many diamonds in the rough. To see beyond a rough exterior and search a heart is not always easy, but I do find worth within.

I disagreed with his statement so many years ago.

I was looking for love in many places, but I don’t believe they were in all the wrong places. I was trying to understand what love was. Many touched my life and contributed to my learning and understanding of what it is and what it is not. I have chosen some that others considered unworthy. And yet, I wanted to understand why. What makes one more worthy than another? Who casts the ‘worthiness’? If I saw what another did not, did that make it untrue? Who among us can decide worthiness?

I went on my own journey to understand what love was. It’s not always been a pretty road, but it did give many lessons and a lot of understanding. And honestly, I don’t believe I am done understanding this. I believe love is a life-long lesson.

© LifeasChristine, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

We had childhood magic to find…

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He was in a wheelchair explaining to me why we couldn’t spend the night in the gazebo.

“Your legs don’t work, but you’re not dead!”

I threw our sleeping bags on his lap and wheeled him out there.

The gazebo was a magical place where all the world was right.

We played and camped out in that gazebo for a few summers– wheelchair and all.

When my brother got sick my world stopped. He was my one constant in a sea of crazy.  When he came home from the hospital after a lengthy stay, I would be damned if that wheelchair was going to stop us.

We had childhood magic to find. In a land of chaos, I think this brought us both balance.

We found the magic of childhood, despite the presence of hurricanes.

There were late night Star Wars battle ships with beeping sirens and glowing lights that we passed between our rooms in the hallway.

There were camp-outs in the dining room with the table pushed to the side and a tent smack dab in the middle of the room. There were camp-outs in the gazebo. There were camp-outs in back yards. I think we both found peace with the simpleness of stars.

Chairs became banks, turned backwards of course.

We played the first official video game – a blip on the television screen that bounced from side to side.

We went sailing down hills in winters on an old toboggan found at our grandmother’s house.

We drove snowmobiles once. He even let me drive…until I landed us into the pricker bushes.

We played games for hours upon hours, though I admit I was a sore loser.

There was a tanning contest one summer – who could get the darkest.

He is one of the most resilient people I have ever known personally.

Recently we had a conversation about life. I told him I was proud of him. You know why?

He never let hate win. He took so much on his on shoulders. He has been pounded by life and he never turned to mush – his character is built from what he has endured and what he learned. He is the definition of a ‘Good Man’.

No, he’s not perfect, but come what may, he never gives up.

That doesn’t mean he is a cold soldier marching on. He has felt the short-end of the stick many times in life. He has gotten down and he has cried. He has some really bad days and found himself wondering what to do and had to figure things out. That’s some of what I admire about him.

He has seen the face of death comparable with that of a combat soldier and it has not hardened his heart, but freed him in many ways.

He doesn’t just survive, he thrives.

He is my brother.

© LifeasChristine, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all find what we need, when we need it…

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I wonder, what did she tell you about me?

Did you hear that we were estranged?

Did she tell you it was because I didn’t get along with the second husband?

I’m not a fan of the word estranged. It implies that at one time we were close, an affection previously experienced.

It’s true that I didn’t get along with the second husband. She married him when I was about 6 years old.

Yeah, I didn’t get along with him too well.

Have you ever read about attachment styles?

I learned about them in undergrad – fascinating stuff.

I learned to self-soothe at an early age.

Yeah, I was a thumb-sucker until 8 or 9. I gave up my blanket around 6 or 7.

I was a lip-picker too, always my top lip, until about 5.

I remember her coming home from nursing school and showing me pictures of little girls with lips missing. I remember being terrified.

I quit picking my lip and sucked my thumb harder. Pushed those front teeth right out of place.

I never told her this, but I was molested by a group of boys in my first/second grade class, a combination classroom. It was every day at nap-time, like clock-work. She never noticed.

Years later she and husband #2 bought their second home on a quiet street in a small town. On those really hard days when I wished she was there, I would go into the bathroom where her bathrobe hung. I cried into her bathrobe and found comfort of the scent of her that lingered on the soft fabric.

I heard that your mom left you when you were younger.

Mine left the state when I was about 14/15. I had been living with my father for a few years. She packed up her house, sold it, and moved the remaining family to Virginia.

I always wondered if it was hard for her to leave a child behind.

I went to visit her for Easter one year. I was 17. I made some poor choices on that trip. I showed up at her door about 6 in the morning. I was covered in bruises.

She grabbed me by my hair and screamed that she was late for work. I never told her what happened that night.

She visited New York many years later. I was a grown woman with children of my own. We were sitting in the living room, her and me.

“Do you remember that night I came home at 6 am?”

She knew what night I was referencing. I got out the words, “I want to tell you what happened that night. I was raped…”

She cut me off, stood up, and left the room saying, “I can’t handle this.”

I have four children, did you know that?

She never made it to a single birth.

You may have seen pictures of them at her house. They’ve been there a couple of times.

Does she ever ask about you?

Does she ask what’s going on in your life?

Does she know when you are sad or happy?

Does she know your story or where you’re at?

Does she know your dreams?

Does she know your fears?

Does she reciprocate?

I remember a phone call once. I tried to tell her what was going on in my life. It was a rough time. She yelled at me to shut up and let her talk.

I didn’t attempt that again. I let her talk.

When she calls now, she runs the conversation.

I admit, I don’t always answer.

I have tried for many years to understand her. When I became a mother, I understood less.

You remember that thing I mentioned about attachment styles?

If you’ve ever read about them, perhaps you’ve read that they last for a lifetime and they affect all relationships from there on out. Most articles don’t mention substitutes. Substitutes can alter these attachment styles – at least other relationships that one forms. I know because I had a substitute mother.

I don’t really know what happened to her in her life. I’ve tried to ask. I’ve tried to understand. Whatever it is, I suspect it happened long before I arrived in the picture. I will probably always wonder.

I honestly hope that she finds what she wants and perhaps you can help her with that. I don’t think I can give her what she wants because she never gave me what I needed so long ago. Maybe she can give you what she wasn’t able to give me. Maybe you can provide that for her too…what she needs. I hope so.

I am not angry that you are my substitute. I honestly hope that you both find what you need. I was blessed to have that in my life and without that, I’m not sure I would be where I am today. I know that was a good thing for me – a needed thing for me. And truthfully, we all have needs. A wise woman once told me that we all find what we need …when we need it…

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