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The View from a Bridge

gundagai-bridgeToday’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?

19 thoughts on “The View from a Bridge”

  1. Selwyn, I love that you now see yourself as a bridge. You write beautifully about your experience, here and on your blog. The words you write will also provide a bridge for others as they work through similar heartache and pain. I am currently experiencing the pain of divorce, at the exact moment that my youngest is leaving for college. I recognize the blessing of the timing in so many ways, as it will give me the freedom to return to college myself and not to have to face the day-to-day challenges of parenting alone. But a curse in other ways, as my life feels suddenly solitary…empty nest, empty heart, empty arms. Hold your precious seedlings close, and shade them with your branches while you can. Thanks again for your powerful voice.

  2. I am capable.

    I tell myself that every day. Just to remind me. I consciously choose happiness. Because there are just too many of us that are sad.

    Thank you for your lovely writing.

  3. A recent idea that has lodged in my mind is that the entire tree, every leaf, branch, twig, root, and the entire trunk, every atom of a tree…it's all contained within the tiny seed. I like to picture it as already formed inside that little seed. a microscopic thing of magnificence. a miracle of living majesty, fully-formed and waiting to emerge.

    And then i remind myself that i am like that seed. Because it can feel at times like you have nothing to hold you in place, yet all that is truly you is, and always will be, safely in tact. It's all inside there.

    I am still cutting my way to a clear path of congruency. There is much to celebrate in finding a new you, and I'm proud for your courage as you move along, finding joy in the journey in this life you're creating. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! ♥

  4. Thank you for sharing your experience so candidly and poignantly. I think that we are all a lot stronger than we think.

    Some thoughts that have reverberated within my heart and mind are that: 1. God didn't set me up to fail. 2. Success isn't always the way the world defines it. 3. I've been given all the tools I need to be able to tackle the challenges I face with myself and with my children.

  5. Uprooted – timing is a curious thing. I'm looking forward to being able to look back and see the whole picture clearly. I'll think of you when I'm back at college too – I hope you soar!

    Justine – "I consciously choose happiness. Because there are just too many of us that are sad." Perfect!

    Blue – thank you for your seed idea. It's really resonating with me. Beautiful.

    Jenny – thank you, and I hope so!

    Tiffany W – it's the thoughts that reverberate within us that give us the strength to do what is difficult when we're most weak. I think the "tools" we have are often overlooked or forgotten. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Selwyn, when I became a single parent, I too missed the relay race parenting where you could tag off when you knew you were too exhausted or sick to be sane or patient for one second longer. It is tough to be the only runner in the parenting race.

    I went to graduate school as a single parent with little kids. I discovered I was a better student as an older single parent than I was as a young undergraduate. I was more focused and motivated. I knew that I was responsible for three little souls and I actually received an award for having the best GPA in my graduate program. The Lord helped me find good childcare, adequate housing, scholarships, and amazing job opportunities. I was worried about sending my little kids to visit their dad who had left the church and had a prescription drug addiction. I got a priesthood blessing where I was told that I shouldn't worry. They were His children before they were mine and He would provide angels to protect them when I couldn't be with them. Sixteen years later I can testify that the Lord keeps his promises…

    Thanks for sharing — you are a wonderful writer!

  7. I enjoyed reading your post, Selwyn! I grew up in Australia (in Emu Plains, N.S.W., at the foot of the Blue Mountains) and I miss it. I loved the images you used in your post—your writing is lovely! I wish you blessings in raising your boys—they will turn out just fine.

  8. I have returned again and again in hard times to two symbolic ideas. One is the feeling of being in the ocean, and how sometimes I rise and fall with the swells, but when a large, scary, overwhelming wave comes up, I duck and let it crash over me. I get water in my nose, and maybe some sand in my swimsuit, but I can take it. If I fight the big waves, I'm knocked down, but if I let them crash over me, I'm left standing at the end.

    The other is from running. When I started running, I couldn't have believed that 10 miles would seem easy. It was one foot in front of the other, even when I thought I couldn't continue. I realized I could do anything for five minutes, survive anything, any pain, any overwhelming emotion. So I take my hard runs five minutes at a time, and sometimes I take life five minutes at a time. I can do five minutes. And then five more. And then five more.

  9. I have been reading your blog since you asked Jenny or the recipe – thanks from all of us! I am very fond o reading – you are a very good writer and you have the ability to make us feel deeply.

    A stone.

  10. Michelle – the voices are what I love about Segullah. So many different voices, shared in harmony, giving strength, increased awareness and compassion. Love to you too!

    Kathryn P – I'm studying in order to go back to uni next year and I'm SCARED. Thanks for your reassurance and reminder about getting a blessing (I keep forgetting it's an option at any time in our races!)

    Melissa M – Australia IS a great place to grow up. It's one of the blessings I'm thankful for on behalf of my sons.

    Kerri – great images. "I get..maybe some sand in my swimsuit" made me laugh. The unmentionables in your unmentionables really brings home the full extent of your situation =) Oh, and isn't running excellent?

    Traci – I counted getting Jennie's brownie recipe as both a huge gift for myself and my act of service for the week! You've got me thinking about the stone…

  11. I think it's important to keep in mind that things can be fine and good without being perfect. Things rarely turn out how we were planning, but that doesn't mean that they'll turn out badly. Just differently.

    I love the metaphors. I've been thinking about that idea all day. I guess I feel like a willow tree. It seems really wispy and blowsy, but when you get to the middle it's strong and not going anywhere. That's how I feel. Plus everybody just likes a willow tree.

  12. Beautiful Selwyn, thank you for sharing your journey. Your example helps me to know that even when things seem insermountable there is progress in just making efforts each day.

    Like Traci I have felt like a rock, able to weather the storms and stand strong with the waves of change passing over me. I've written about it on my blog in the past.

  13. Thank you for your beautiful message.
    It seems that we're each also threads in the great tapestry of life. Each of our lives touches others'. We can bless and strengthen each other — or do the opposite.
    You've blessed all of us; especially those of us who are also single parents! (We understand each other more than those who haven't experienced it do.)
    Thank you and Bless you!
    Heidi A.


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