Today’s Up Close: Mothering post comes courtesy of Selwyn. She lives in Australia, where she inhales books and blogs, thinks too much, and constantly doubts her own sanity. You can catch more of her here.
Once I was a tree. A tree content, standing entwined with another, leaves open and happily fluttering in the wind, watching bemusedly as my seedlings sprouted and the sun shone all around.
Then a storm struck. I think it was a storm. All I know is that the tree I was wrapped around suddenly left, leaving my tender insides gaping open, exposed to the cruel air and weather patterns, and all I could bear to do was hunch painfully over my seedlings and pray desperately for sun and calmer days.
I was abruptly a single parent. By choice. Mine, because I could not and would not consider living without my children. His, because he walked away from our sons without reason or regret.
I had two goals in the aftermath of my disaster. To survive each minute, in order to look after my sons. “Breathe” became my mantra, my reminder, my internal time keeper. Breathe past the twisting mess inside, and hug the boys when I collected them from school. Breathe through the confusion, and cook a meal with two vegetables. Breathe when I realised after waking that yet again, this wasn’t a nightmare, it was reality. The leaves of my life had been stripped off – I had no time or capability for prettiness or indulgence. I had to conserve my energy for survival and the protection of my children.
Three months in, somehow I was adjusting to being the only parent. The single person with full, constant and unrelenting responsibility for two confused and energetic boys. Many things I did as a single parent weren’t any different. I still had to remind my sons to do their piano practise. I still had to remember to organise some sort of family night or it just wouldn’t happen. I had to sign permission slips, find library books and mediate arguments, just like I did before the storm.
Except now there was no other. No other voice reminding Hatro to pack his lunch. No other parent cautioning Wong that if he doesn’t stay in bed then there will be consequences. No other adult to supervise when I just need five minutes alone or I will go berserk. No other set of arms to give hugs, high fives, or hand out folded laundry. No other person to bounce ideas off, plan with, voice concerns to, or giggle with about the latest hilarious exchange between the boys.
Three to five months, as my hollowed out insides slowly scabbed over, I wasn’t having to order myself to breathe. But there was no time to stop, to heal, to try and stretch up to the sky. My kids were my priority – I chose what they needed. There was always another issue to address, a further task to be completed, an additional concern to be added to the list, yet another need I had to try to meet to build and teach and strengthen and support my too-serious Hatro, my emotional Wong. “I am stronger than I think” was my new mental message playing on repeat, as I faced the demands, worries, isolation, turbulent moods, responsibilities and decisions that hung solely and heavily off my limbs. Everything mine to do and bear, everything as yet undone.
I’m coming up to ten months of being the first, last and only parent fully involved in my sons’ lives. I have had the responsibility for everything to do with Hatro and Wong, from the appalling to mundane, frustrating to embarrassing, cute to unable to contain the contentment.
Suddenly, I am a bridge. A weather scarred, old fashioned bridge that stands with several wobbly areas, a course that does not follow the original plan, and an unknown dimension to span. I’m not sure I’m structurally sound in all places. Some areas are off limits. Other corners I have deliberately cut. I have settled into the ground, firmly anchored to rock unseen but undoubtedly present. There is no fragile gracefulness to me – my beams are thick and wide by necessity. I am hand built, braced by weird, improvised and hurried struts that have been whacked into place with hopeful determination and a flying prayer that it will be enough.
A particularly strong strut recently added reads “It’s not responsibility, I have the ability to respond.” I have chosen this path, and all the baggage and breathtaking vistas that go with it. I am living this new tale, the consequences of the actions and choices that have been made, trying to raise my sons the best way I can. The shape of my life is changing, and I am shifting with it.
But I am still standing. I will continue to stand. I will stand here. I have chosen this choice and this place – to stand as the constant in my sons’ lives. I may be a single parent, I do have the two most awesome boys in the world, but I have been a tree, I have survived unexpected awfulness and now, I am currently a bridge.
What noun/object/thing have you identified with, or felt like, to get yourself through difficult times? Which words have you repeated over and over and over to yourself? What choice have you consciously made, that defines your life?