My 9/11 story.

Most people remember where they were and what they were doing when they first got the news of the 9/11 tragedies. I remember. One hundred fifty miles north of the World Trade Center, I was driving down the highway to train my successor for the job I quit a month before. I had no replacement job; my new title was Stay-at-Home-Mom. My sons were ten and fifteen.

I was starting a new life of hope and promise when so many others’ lives were shattered. That day made me realize how grateful I was to have woken up to my priorities before it was too late.

I quit my job because Matthew—my fifteen-year-old— was having a painfully slow recovery from the damage caused by his brain tumor, diagnosed four years earlier. I needed to focus on him, focus on healing our family, and focus on healing myself—physically and emotionally—from the ordeal. My career came last. Or it should have, but it didn’t always. 

My position had been Student Assistance Counselor in a K-5 elementary school. I taught lessons on feelings and problem solving and decision making, and ran support groups for sad or angry or floundering students. I loved the kids, loved the job, but the job didn’t always love me back. Too many needy kids needed me too much. After nine years, it sucked me dry. My sons and my husband got the dregs of my energy and attention, whatever was left after I gave at the office. 

It’s too complicated to explain here how this imbalance happened; someday, you’ll read about it in my memoir. Too many Americans have much harder stories to tell today, and I don’t want to grandstand.

Today, I hope we can remember to focus on our priorities before a crisis or tragedy strikes. And if our world crashes down, literally or figuratively, I hope we find ways to grow as we heal.

It’s a good day to remember. I will.

The irony of “Why I hide my truth.”

It’s ironic that my essay, Why I hide my truth, posted today at The Sunlight Press.

The irony is that yesterday, David and Goliath duked it out within me about that very thing–sharing my truth when I’m most vulnerable. Goliath fought to keep truth in; David fought for its freedom.

I’ve been battling chronic health problems now for over four years. Some days are better than others; yesterday was not one of them.

Most days, I’m able to offset the discouragement of my physical symptoms with the joy and purpose of writing, and simple pleasures like reading on my porch swing. Yesterday was not one of them. I was a hot mess.

I hate asking for help. I hate bothering people. I hate that I might be perceived as needy. I hate exposing my raw feelings, and yesterday, they were rawer than beef standing in a field, mooing.

But I know that this journey I’m on, to write the story of my difficult motherhood, made more difficult by my son’s brain tumor, is intended to help me to grow. The universe is challenging me to break free of my old habits. If I don’t, my pain will not have been worth it.

But old habits die slower than a hosta in poor soil. Yesterday, I scrolled through the contacts in my phone, and saw many friends I could call. How blessed I am. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reach out. So I put my phone down and cried even harder. Then I felt worse, because I knew what I needed, and it was so simple, but I was too afraid.

I knew The Sunlight Press essay would post today, and I thought, Have I learned nothing from this process? I understand better why I hide my truth, and writing is a wonderful outlet, but sometimes, Goliath must fall at that very moment, not weeks or months later. Sometimes, David has just one shot, and it’s now or never.

I believe our greatest fears are our greatest opportunities for growth.

So, with a deep breath and a prayer, I did it. I texted some friends, who called me right back. I cried, they listened, and I felt better. I even laughed. The physical pain remained, but the emotional pain went poof, like a cloud of dust in Golliath’s fallen wake.

New habits take practice, and sadly, I’ll have many more opportunities to learn. I expect each time I reach out, it will be a little easier. And each time, I’ll have good fodder for my writing.

 

 

Reframing my reflection.

Telling the story about my son’s brain tumor is the easy part of writing my memoir.

I first wrote most of the dramatic scenes over fifteen years ago, within a few years of his diagnosis at age 11. Had I not written them, I would still remember. The trauma created new neural pathways in my brain, and the memories travel them frequently.

I’ve shed so many tears over the years as I scribbled and typed away, there are fewer left now. It helps that Matthew is about to turn 32, and he manages his minor deficits so well, you’d never know anything had ever been wrong.

A mother knows. But that’s what mothers do–they know, when others do not.

During the three years that Matthew’s slow deterioration remained a medical mystery, I knew, deep inside, that something was wrong. But I didn’t listen to my gut. I didn’t stand up for what I believed to be true.

The hard part of this memoir is to tell that story: that motherhood exposed my flaws, and those flaws jeopardized my child.

At this point in my writing, I’m struggling to understand who I was as a mother, as a woman, as a person. I’m struggling with forgiveness.

Today, as I stepped out of the shower, an insight hit me like a blast of cold water, and I ran around in my towel, dripping on the floor, trying to find paper and a pencil. I scribbled my thoughts down; here’s what I’ve written:

I was a flawed mother, but I didn’t give up and I didn’t fail. I pulled my family through our ordeal, and we survived, not unscathed, but stronger and wiser. And by grappling now to understand who I was then, when my children were little, I’m coming to peace with my flaws, and realizing my strengths. What better example can a mother set for her children, even though they are now grown?

I looked in the mirror, and for years, all I noticed was the jagged crack running through the middle. Shards of glass occasionally splintered off, drawing tears and blood. Now, I have sealed the crack. It left a scar. There are some chips in the beveled edges, and the antique glass is wavy. Black splotches show through where the quicksilver backing has worn away. I see character. As an antique, the mirror is more valuable with its flaws intact. The cheap frame, however is moldy, and needs to go. I put a new one on, and it changes my reflection. I love what I see now, flaws and all.

If you are on a quest of forgiveness, for yourself or others, can you reframe what you see?