Together, we are better

by Alicia on December 29, 2016

Life is…tough, right now.

I keep saying I’m overwhelmed, stressed, unsure- when anyone dares ask how I’m doing, right now.

And it’s all the truth. I’m all of those things, almost all of the time.

Tecumseh Vista Academy logoWe suddenly and tragically lost the Principal of my daughters’ school, Paul Bisson, on Christmas Eve. I say that from a personal perspective because he well and truly was the kind of Principal that made you feel like he was yours. To 1000 kids, he made each of them feel that way. He was instrumental in making me feel like a whole actively able person with an army of help at my immediate disposal when dealing with how to help Bella feel comfortable in and at school. He was empathetic and shared his own personal parenting experience, and shared his laughter, and made me certain this was a team effort. For a set of parents at the edge of what feels like a steep cliff? That hand to pull you back, with authority and kindness and depth? It means everything.

And then I read this article on how lonely being the Mom to a middle schooler is and I cried. Because dammit it IS lonely. And there ARE no blogs to read, no circles of parents sharing their ups and downs. We’re supposed to know it by now, right? But the truth is the truth gets less and less clear the more our kids age. And there aren’t absolute definitions of success. If I got my toddler to eat a celery stick, I had a community to brag to and a defined way I could share for others to replicate. Got my kid to sleep in her big girl bed? Share away! Look at my tangible accomplishment! And most of the time, persistence at those steps yielded similar results when repeated. It was the best feedback loop.

There’s almost none of that left in parenting my tween. Rarely can I try a thing twice and have her feed back the same response. That’s if I even get a second chance. No one talks about this stage, or the parts they talk about are the parts that worked out. It is incredibly lonely. And I want to say that I stopped talking about Bella because I wanted to protect her privacy, but some of the reason is I wanted to protect my own vulnerability. I wanted to not have to say: I’m trying everything and very little is working. I wanted to avoid having to admit: everything I worked for feels like it’s meant very little. I know the truth is not that simple and that many things I’ve done in our 11 year relationship has produced an incredibly close and bonded mother-daughter partnership.

But sometimes Bella is an utter stranger to me. And sometimes I don’t like the mother I’ve become.

Sometimes I barely like the person I’ve tried so hard to be.

Not all the time. But yes, sometimes I blame myself and the choices I decided to make.

I have told a few friends an absolute truth about myself, discovered painfully and recently: I encourage vulnerability in others, and loathe it in myself.

Paul Bisson had a motto: together we are better. It never meant much to me, I mean it sounded lovely for some baby kiddos he had to herd at his elementary school, but it really didn’t touch me. It’s funny how the universe shows you a mirror, because I have been broken down so far, so fast, so deeply and right to the very core of the person I thought I was. Of the mother I thought I was. And out of that depth I gained little lifelines from people, from all the corners of my life who came down to my darkness to leave me a flashlight. And they waited until I found my way to them. Those people waited in the dark and made a place for me, the place they could help.

And I let them.

It took a crash so hard that I cannot describe it, but dammit I let them help me. They poured into my cup so I can pour into my family’s cup. Without them, we would all be empty and wanting and struggling and in pain. And we are all still in pain. But we are feeding off the courage of others. Off the good will of our village. Off the kindness and small acts of big justice that people who see us are willing to do on our behalf when we just cannot.

Together we really are better.

And I will forget that time and time again. But I’m going to try and be here for this experience. For all the depths it drags me through and all the joys we reach, all the successes and challenges…I’m going to try not to leave someone else lonely, if I can help it. I’m going to try to be honest about the struggle, and plain about the worry. And maybe if I can leave some of it here I won’t carry it all on my fragile shoulders, and you can know that there’s a place here for you to leave your junk too.

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“Take care of yourself”

by Alicia on December 20, 2016

“Take care of yourself.”

That’s what they tell you to do. When you’re the parent and everything is going wrong.

“Take care of yourself. You need to have something left.”

But how?

How is that supposed to happen?

“You’re doing the best you can.”

True.

But not good enough. It’s not enough. There has to be an enough and we haven’t found it yet.

I can’t reach my daughter. I can’t find her.

I ask her what she wants, and she can’t tell me. I ask her what hurts, and she can’t tell me. I ask her how to help her, and she can’t tell me.

And we focus every moment of every day on the how, what, why, where of her refusing to go to school. When all the while we have two other daughters who get sick and have school concerts and want to tell us a story or get us to play with them, and all our energy is spent on Bella.

And all our energy is spent on Bella.

And all our energy is spent on Bella.

And still I can’t reach her.

She’s 11, and as tall as me. There is no forcing her to school. (Trust, we have tried. Physically.)

“Take care of yourself.”

When I struggle between HELP US and KEEP HER SECRET SO SHE’S NOT LABELED, it’s hard to remember me at all.

When the only time I sit is at 9:30pm, after all the doctor’s appointments, and chores, and “remember to fix this” and “get that box unpacked so the girls feel more at home” and alarms going off for medications and phone calls I’ve forgotten to make and sign this agenda and where are the fucking scissors I don’t even know this house and I live here what have we done…

And when I sit it’s all I think about and I cry so I have to get up and finish all the things that, if I leave them, will peek back out when I need silence.

“You’re doing the best you can.”

And our daughter has missed 8 days of school.

And we’ve used up every sick hour, vacation day, human resource we have at our disposal so my husband takes her to work with him while we worry all day about the consequences, long and short term, of all the work and the instruction she’s missing.

And she worries that her friends will not like her, which is two parts of the mystery of why she suffers debilitating anxiety.

“Take care of yourself.”

When the world of things you need to take care of moves at lightning speed all in competition with one another because you have to keep living your life in order to one day in the future have a life left to live. And every support you need seems to move at a glacial pace because every one of those people/ professionals/ pieces of paperwork is competing with other lives trying to get back on track. And you know that only you know how much more important your piece is, and you want to push but you don’t want to seem desperate, lest they label you and want to teach you a lesson through ignorance. So you struggle and you try to get through 45 consecutive minutes today without crying, but maybe you have to try that one again tomorrow.

“Take care of yourself.”

When the only time to get to the gym and work out some frustration is 5am, and you couldn’t fall asleep from worry so 3 hours of sleep is not enough.

“You’re doing the best you can.”

When you forgot to call the mom and invite the kid to your kid’s birthday party which is back-burnered for the other kid’s acute experience and you know you’ve been doing this for 2.5 weeks, putting Kid 1 over Kids 2 and 3 because Kid 1’s issue is taking over everything, but it’s not their fault and so you steel yourself and you tell yourself you’re going to put aside the Kid 1 thing for a minute but it creeps in (it always creeps in) and with it comes all the frustration and angst and questions and possibilities and stress and now you’re not even there with the kid who needs you now but you’re…doing the best you can.

“Take care of yourself.”

When you never put yourself over your child. And your child is clearly suffering.

And you used to be able to fix it. She’s always known that you could fix it.

And you can’t fix this. And all of your trust in the thing you built shatters more with every traumatic interaction.

“Take care of yourself.”

I can’t even find my Self to take care of.

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Listen To Your Mother 2016, do the thing

by Alicia on May 18, 2016

Listen To Your Mother, Metro Detroit 2016 cast- photo by monroefoxphotographyI’ve auditioned for Listen To Your Mother twice. In 2015 I wrote a piece I worked on for daaaayyyys. I edited it, I asked for feedback, I read it on camera to myself to hear what it sounded like. I didn’t get chosen for that show. It sucked. Not the piece, I still think it’s good. It sucked not to be picked. This year auditions came back up again and I got myself on the list quickly…then promptly forgot about it. I wrote my audition piece in the 48 hours before I met The Angelas in a coffee shop in downtown Detroit and mostly winged the whole deal. I’ll let you take an educated guess on which piece and which experience was absolutely more “Alicia”. I’m that girl- the one who plans a lot at first and overthinks and gets all jazzed…and then forgets about it for awhile only to pick it up later in the exact same excitement as I left it.

I tried to act nonchalant about the whole “being chosen” thing, but really all I wanted was to be entirely in to every event, every conversation, every piece of the experience I could possibly get my hands on. So that’s what I did. I lived all of it. I went to Busted Bra Shop on a Tuesday night, I spent a Saturday afternoon getting my perspective rightly adjusted at Cass Community Social Services, I made friends at rehearsals and chatted with them on email and Facebook between events. I embraced the whole thing, I took in the experience and I got excited about each moment I was in.

Fast forward to May 1st, show day and I wasn’t at all nervous. I had the best safety net in the form of strong, creative, humble and inspiring women. Each of them so willing to be human, to be vulnerable and brave and uplifting. I didn’t have to feel scared, we belonged there and we knew it. I felt inspired, shit I felt inspiring myself! There was a moment waiting in the wings of the stage at St. Andrews Hall where I remember thinking to myself, “Whoa, this is really happening. It’s right now.” Cause you know how you get all hyped up about something coming up and then it comes up and you kind of miss it cause you’re waiting for it to feel like that thing you’ve been thinking about only you’re missing the fact that it’s happening right now? So I took no pictures, except the ones in my head. I stayed right there and felt everything. And none of that was fear, and none of that was anxiety, or nerves, or inadequacy. It was completely awesome, basically. And I kicked ass. And I had fun. And I got real, genuine laughs out of the crowd, even.

My advice? Do the thing.

Do it and be fully in it and feel it all. It will change you. Maybe not immediately, maybe not a lot. But having followed the entire experience all the way through, you will gather pieces and parts from each pause in the journey. Some of those things you may not uncover until years later, stored neatly away for the right time to really need them. Trust that giving over to the exposure will not leave you bare. Trust that each feeling you have is genuine, but may not linger. Before you stop yourself, start.

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Listen To Your Mother, Metro Detroit 2016

Letter To My Tween Daughter

Alicia Higgison

I swear, if I hear one more sentence starting with the word “But” in a snooty tone, chin stuck out, eyes rolled up, hand displayed in a distinct gesture of yet-unfounded courage…I might just lose it. I will deny it to my core, but I was once very much like you. I don’t think all those ancient years ago they had a fancy descriptor like “tween”, but in those precious ages between single digits and the teenage years I do recall being quite…precocious? (That’s a term people use to be nice about saying I was a sassy smart ass with an over inflated sense of self.)

I argued, a lot.

I stomped off. I rolled my eyes. I scoffed. I complained loudly to myself in the hopes that others would bend to my will without me having to participate at all in the confrontation. I spent a good bulk of my time with my arms defiantly crossed in front of my body. This defiance may be a biological trait, perfected by each subsequent generation. Because you’ve got it down.

And real talk? I don’t actually know what I’m supposed to do there. There’s no handbook, no series of emotional depth classes you have to navigate before they let you bring your tween home. No one gives you a test and a license for raising a real whole person, when you may not actually be a real whole person yourself. I often feel out of my depth with you. I rarely feel prepared to properly handle the heightened emotional situations you bring to my place at the table. I didn’t know that I’d let you down while thinking I was protecting you when Blake died. I have to admit, sometimes I don’t even know what protecting you looks like anymore. It used to be easy: “don’t stick the thing in the socket”, and “no you cannot eat the peanut butter before your first birthday”, and “I’ll hold your wrist across this road if I have to sohelpme…”

You’re growing up, and sometimes I think I’ve stopped. Because you see I think adults, at a certain point, just grow older.

Parents are programmed to put so much mental and emotional effort into the first years, the formative ones. Afraid that every choice will have a lasting impact on the impending doom of when our little precious snowflakes grow up and away from us. We spend so much time consumed with bottle vs breast, vaccines or no, attachment parent, Moby or Tula, is it too early for my child to experience the joy of honey. HONEY, YOU GUYS. I blush with embarrassment remembering all those moments lost on whether my baby will suffer from botulism…and all the subsequent moments spent googling “what is botulism?”

The truth is, very few of the actual things I worried over even matter now that you, my daughter, are 10. Do you know what matters now? Our open lines of communication that let you freely bring me your stress over your friend being rude to you. The fact that I modeled the behaviour of “you can always tell me when you don’t agree”. And the fact that I love and take care of my body. Bella, you were once tasked with writing a reflective paragraph for class. You chose the phrase: “ways my mom and dad are equal”. And far beyond any trophy or perfect grade you’ll ever bring home, that my dear, made me swell with pride. It has nothing to do with whether you were formula fed from your moment of birth, or whether I co-slept with you out of sheer and utter laziness. You chose for yourself to understand a thing that I did not explicitly teach.

The fact is: you were always bound to grow up. Whichever choices I made, Bella, you were always going to get to the part where my choices for you came second to your own choices for you. And that happens without warning. With no preparation, you have to straddle the line between “little kid” and “teenager”, without the safety net of being just typically either of those. I am not prepped for this either, as it turns out. The title of Parent is always on top, but I naively didn’t address when the job description changed. I got to your 10th birthday, a decade into parenting, and realized I’m still kind of crappy at it. But, while you navigate you, and learn who you are…please know that I see you. I see you, Isabella. And I apologize that I’m stumbling along beside you still discovering and navigating me too. But I am so proud of all you’ve become all on your own. Can you just…I don’t know, keep your seatbelt fastened or something, cause I still feel like I’m making some of the rules around here.

 

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Feminism, and the Defiance of Daughters

April 21, 2016

Sexism. What a dirty word. What a list of cruel and ugly things it draws on your mind as you think it. There is a falsehood that sexism is only in the obvious and the overt- grabbing a woman’s ass, complimenting her new skirt as opposed to her intelligence, jokingly instructing a woman to get […]

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Why I love Windsor.

April 5, 2016

Occasionally still, I’m asked why I don’t live in Harrow anymore. Why I choose the city life, why I choose to live in Windsor when almost all my family lives in my hometown. The plain fact is: I love it. I love Windsor. I chose long ago to fall in love with it. To let […]

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