You guys. You guys. You guys. I'd like to calmly tell you that I'm terrified. Not this second, not really. But I'm so scared sometimes. So scared. My heart races. My palms sweat (ok, they do that about 72% of the time anyway) but this having and loving and adoring and raising a kid business is gut wrenching, and ridiculous, and lovely, and so so terrifying. I'm scared in a way that I never knew before.
I have a tendency to borrow trouble sometimes. Neurotically thinking too far ahead. Overthinking about things out of my control. Fearing things that haven't happened yet, because I read some article or someone told me that we might want to anticipate this type of issue in the future. But how do you not worry as a parent? Biological parents worry. Adoptive parents worry. I don't consider myself a particularly anxious person. But the fear and anxiety of raising a child is something that ripples underneath my consciousness all of the time now. And it's not the kind of fear like walking through a haunted house or when a surprise spider lands on your forehead because the idiot built a web right across your front door, or a potential cancer diagnosis after a weird lump appears. It is different. It feels like a new organ in my body. Like my muscles and skin are stretched out over this thin, thrumming transparent layer of concern and vigilance that hovers right over my bones. It is always there. It is me now. Joe and I first hugged this small,brave dark haired boy while standing in a library in West Texas, and I felt this new sinew starting to grow. And the pain and joy of my expanding heart, and this new vigilant organ growing over my bones has been challenging over the last two years.
I'm not saying anything new here. I'm not saying anything revolutionary or unique. I'm just writing about being a mom. So common that I'm basically a stereotype just sitting over here. I'm saying it and typing it and sharing it because I want to. Because I feel compelled. Because I have to remind myself I'm not the only one out here scared. Worried about what the world will bring for my son. Worried about yelling too much. Or my often frayed lack of patience. Or maybe I'm not giving the right advice to my son about how to make friends or talk to girls or finding creative ways to get him to actually consume a vegetable or making sure he is wearing his helmet every single time he climbs on his bike to ride down the street to jump on a potentially deadly trampoline with his friends whose parents I've only met once. And what if they have guns in their house and I never asked? Or I'm not making him read enough or his day isn't structured enough or he doesn't feel loved enough or like he belongs or we don't help him connect to his Mexican American heritage as often as we should? Oh, stop me. Good lord. It's too much.
What if we're screwing this up? When would you even know? There is no easy way to tell if you're doing this right is there? I guess you could look at certain immediate markers like kindness to others, empathy, grades, friends, not setting pets on fire, but long term, no way. Some days I think we're ok. I think we're great actually. I think we're experts at knowing how to parent our kid. It feels right and good and happy. And some days are HARD. HARD. HARD. Our situation is different since we adopted our kid at age nine, and sometimes I feel at a disadvantage because I don't know if our issues are universal with stubborn eleven year old boys or if we're struggling harder because we've only had our boy for two years and he's been burdened with this shitty history not of his making, or all of this. It's guessing it's all of this. All of it.
We have an amazing family therapist. And by amazing, I mean this kind of warm, realistic, educated, open, experienced woman who says what we need to hear exactly how we need to hear it. She reminded us yesterday that all of this parenting is truly a crap shoot. Of course, she's classier than that and didn't call it an actual crap shoot. But pretty close.
She has watched us parent our son and talked to us about parenting for almost two years. She has seen the ups and downs, the chaos, the meltdowns, the struggles, and she said bluntly to us both, that we're doing exactly what we should be doing. We're doing it as well as if not better than almost anyone she works with. But we will still have no idea how this kid is going to turn out. But either way, his life is going to be better because he's with us. Well, fuck me. That's what I needed to hear. Read that again. Honestly, I need to hear that like every single day. I should have asked if I could record her saying it, so I could just play it on repeat when I'm feeling like drinking all of the wine in the house while simultaneously eating all of the salty and sugary things in a three mile radius. And of course I immediately started crying once she said it. In fact, I'm goddamn crying now just remembering her saying it. I felt the tension in my shoulders oozing away like a thick fog when she said it and when I repeat it to myself. She says this and my constant fear of failure evaporates enough that I can literally feel it falling away inside my gut. And then I sat with that thought for awhile.
That thought feels ultimately freeing and a little futile too. She said it to be honest and clear about how parenting, and specifically parenting the kid we are parenting really goes. Children with significant trauma from the abuse and neglect that many kids living in foster care have experienced, and the frequent mental health diagnoses these fragile, resilient, amazing kids often struggle with, tend to make their outcomes damn near impossible to determine. But then again, is anyone's outcome from child to adult all that clear? There are so many variables. A sea of variables that come into play. And for me, the only thing that makes sense as we navigate that sea is making sure that we are his life boat, his life preserver, his life vest, all of the flotation devices he might possibly need during the biggest storms and highest seas that are to come. We will ride it all out together. Not matter what.
But now I get to cut myself a little slack too. I feel released a bit. I'm parenting to the best of my ability on any given day. It varies. Sometimes there's more yelling. Sometimes there's more, "Skip the homework and veggies, and let's watch Napolean Dynamite on a school night complete with a floor picnic of pigs in a blanket and salsa and chips!" But I'm doing my damnedest to think before I speak. To hug so often it's almost irritating. To rub that kid's back until he feels smothered with my affection. To read to him every single night until he moves away to college if he so chooses, to discipline in a way that heals and gives structure and builds trust, to manage my anger and frustration when he's using his super powers to push our buttons, and push them fucking hard. I'm also trying to leave more room for myself to feel imperfect, to feel flawed, to feel like I made a mistake, and move along. Move right along. Because either way, his life is better because he's with us. He's where he belongs. He's healing. He's ours. And I think every single day, he starts to believe that more and more.
Photos courtesy of the charming Joe Sands, except that bottom one.