Under pressure

A day-to-day parent has the luxury of time. Time every day, be it five minutes over breakfast, time in the car on the way to school, a few minutes before / during / after dinner, or those precious “tucking-in-time”.

I don’t.

I don’t have the luxury of moments during the day.

What I do have are days or weeks at a time, free of work stress, housekeeping chores, traffic rush or the like.

I see K +- every 12 weeks, as I have done since 2013. Before that, I had decided to leave my ex, and subsequently had to face the stark reality that as a single mother, on a teacher’s salary, there was no way I could support myself, much less make and sustain a home for my son.

The plan was to take him with me. Then initial court proceedings altered the plan to “he’ll join me in a couple of months”. Then the vast chasm between my financial resources and those of my ex and his family resulted in a long, drawn-out battle. Personal circumstances (I had to acknowledge that I’d been the victim of a violent assault in the very place I had been arguing would be in his better interest to be raised) meant that we were better off leaving things be as they were (with K at my ex’s house, me visiting every 12 weeks, mostly for 10 days at a time, and in the summer for +- 5 weeks).

I have been able to complete a Cambridge post-graduate diploma in teaching, and a Trinity College London post-graduate certificate in teaching young learners. I have been able to establish myself in a posting in the Gulf. Aside from great future career prospects, I am able to pay K’s very expensive school fees which guarantee that his teacher/student ratio is never more than 1-10. He’s been able to join private robotics classes, visit a cheetah rehabilitation centre, and get the latest technology as requested by his school,  I have taken him to see snow and snowboard in Switzerland. We have gone on a 3 week overland camping trip through Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. We have visited the penguin colony near Cape Town. We are planning a 3-week Sri Lanka holiday this summer.

Yet, I know that all of the quality time experiences, all of the educational perks, all of the opportunities that my working in the Gulf afford him, cannot replace morning cuddles, school runs and chats in the traffic, bath-time conversations and tickles and tucking-in at bed time.

DSC_0615.jpgWhat breaks me is that I know my son has been left living in the home of my emotionally abusive, manipulating and gaslighting ex. His narcissistic personality disorder is not a figment of my imagination, or a label thrown around by a woman scorned…it was identified and documented by independent professionals during our court-ordered socio-psych evaluations in the initial relocation/custody proceedings. Their findings, though not enough to convince the judge that my ex is an emotionally unavailable parent figure, did finally validate my experience of abuse (when the abuse is emotional . psychological and inflicted by a manipulative narcissist at that, no one believes you …. until eventually you yourself begin to doubt the authenticity of your experience – I did so much so that I ended up in treatment for psychological stress twice during our marriage).

I got away from that man and his emotional belittling, pressure and manipulation. My little boy, however, is still there. He has to endure and withstand this treatment every day.

The moments that he should have every day would be a tickle to wake up in the morning, maybe a joke over breakfast, some banter in the car on the way to school, earnestly sharing the day’s experiences over dinner, and lovingly shared story-time and tucking in for bed.

This is what he has, with me, when I go home to see him every 3 months or so.

Why am I so conflicted right now? Well I have just come back after a 10-day break back home with him. During this time, I got married to my long-time partner (who K respects and adores). K walked me down the aisle, cut the cake with u, and was generally part of every stage of the celebration. But what with wedding preparations, the actual day (ceremony and reception), and the subsequent holiday with friends and their kids in lieu of a honeymoon…I feel like what has always been a week of purely K and mommy time, this time had to be shared.

In our run up to my leaving for the airport, I apologised for the lack of “just us time”, and my K was gracious, and understanding and oh so wise beyond his years… saying “Mommy, we need to understand and forgive people, because nobody’s perfect. But you were great this holiday anyway”. … I crumbled at his words – I know it’s amazing that he is so insightful, wise and empathetic for his age, but I also know that these virtues spring from a sadness, longing and loneliness that no little boy deserves to experience like he has had to.

And so here I am, 4 am, listening to music, headphones on, reminiscing, crying, longing… on the whole dealing with this situation so much less wisely, less maturely, less proactively than my 10-year old K…. I bottle up my fair share, yet despite the adult-fully-aware-bottling-up, I manage the residual emotions far more destructively than my brave little warrior …. He braves the tides, he navigates the whims of emotionally compromised parent figures at home, he  adjusts his emotional responses to ensure the path of least resistance in his dealings with the narcissist father figure whose care he is in day-to-day, he does his best to comfort and reassure his self-effacing mother. He does all this, whilst remaining a cool, calm and collected youngster, who shows an interest in school and studies, displays motivation and dedication to his participation and progression in his karate dojo, and most all of the time responds with empathy and love to creatures, people and his natural environment,

My little guy, for all of his 10 years, and notwithstanding all the challenges he’s had to, and has to navigate every day, is a champion. A warrior. A compassionate, caring companion. A companion to me, a companion to one and all who find themselves lost or alone on any given day.K is a champion for the  rights of those who may feel, however so slightly, or however completely, disenfranchised. He rises to every occasion. He listens, he asks, he endeavours to understand, he hugs, he nods and smiles, he is the most ideal confidant. He’s a little boy who has so much emotional understanding and comfort to offer – and he doesn’t even know it yet. But the depth and breadth of his empathy, compassion and emotional strength continue to grow. I am reminded of a Camus quote …

In the midst of winter, I discovered within me an invinsible summer.

MY K IS an invinsible summer – he is light, he is bright, he is warm, he is open, he is pure sunshine. Given the winter after winter of loss he has had to navigate, from our first separation when he was only just 5 years old…, the endless summer he has recognised and experienced within himself, and expressed and shared with the world around him, has shaped him oh so positively….

…into a young man who comes across as profoundly wise; one who is excep99tionally attuned, adept  and emotionally connected; one whose demeanour and interactions are clearl evidence of a human being for whom life, loveliness and hope and desire is all about,

 

I am here…. any time for a chat, (might even need one just as much as you do, or more)…

xxxxxx I love you , K

your Mommy 

Back to School

Today, K started grade 5. I wasn’t there.

I couldn’t wake him up with gentle tickles and breakfast in bed. I couldn’t talk him through the fears and uncertainties he has about the new year, with its new challenges, ahead while we got ready to leave for school. I couldn’t pack him a special lunch. I couldn’t drive him to school, sharing interesting events in history (when I am home, and I do drive him to school, he loves our little rush hour history “lessons”). I couldn’t help him get his bag out of the boot. I didn’t have the privilege of waving, not hugging (because that’s not cool at school!), him goodbye at the gate. I wasn’t there to wait for him at the end of the day, to reassure him as he shared his experiences of his first day back.

I wasn’t there for much more than just today. The stationery list came out late, and although I was at home with him until the 3rd of January, there was no time to go out and buy his books, and cover them with him. I wasn’t there for his end of year concert of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I wasn’t there the day his 2017 report came out, to hug him and congratulate him on his efforts. I wasn’t there when he came home from school, hurting and confused because a boy he had considered a friend suddenly turned into a bully. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there.

These are the thoughts that occupy my mind so often, so overwhelmingly, so destructively. They stop me from being proactive, they stop me from appreciating the good and the beautiful (because it does exist), they stop me from being the best mother I can be.

So, I try, and succeed (not nearly often enough, but I’m working on it), in stopping these thoughts in their tracks. Stop, breathe, and look, really look at the positives.

Notwithstanding all I miss, what am I there for?

This morning, after his breakfast, while he was waiting for J to drive him to school, we had a ten minute conversation on the phone. Probably, no definitely, the only real conversation he had this morning. A conversation unclouded by rushing around getting ready to leave the house, a conversation not hindered by me stressing about the traffic, the day ahead, my work stress. A conversation in which I was 100% present. I was the adult who listened to him. Who responded fully, honestly and with zero distractions. See, those ten minutes were the most important ten minutes of my morning. He got to speak to someone whose absolute priority was the conversation with him. As a teacher myself, I doubt many children get ten minutes of undivided attention most days of the week.

We had another ten minutes before dinner tonight. Again, the most important ten minutes of my afternoon. He was frustrated and sad and confused about new rules at school. He goes to a small private Montessori Primary school, so compared to the mainstream alternatives, the kids have it pretty good at his school. His main gripe was that teachers seemed to be disregarding students’ feelings and preferences. And I know, without a doubt, that all afternoon, since being picked up, the adults in his home were doing the same. Rushing around to get out of traffic, to get dinner on the table, to get the toddler in the house settled, to tend to after-hours work calls etc. But then he got his ten minutes with me. On the phone, thousands of kilometers away, yes. But, fully present, listening attentively, truly concerned with him, his feelings, his experience of the day. Again, I don’t know that many children get that. My son does.

Because he knows that he has my full attention, and genuine interest in what he has to say, he shares so much more with me. He really talks when he has a concern. Questions I’ve been asked are “how do you show a girl you like her?”, “how can I tell my teacher I don’t agree without getting into trouble?”, “how do I know what I want to be when I grow up?” etc. I don’t have all the answers, and I tell him that. But then we have an honest discussion about the situation, we share our thoughts, feelings, fears and questions. And he knows I have his back.

One benefit of being a distance mother is that I take my relationship with his teachers very seriously. Every three months, when I go home, I meet with them, and/or the principal. When he raises concerns or problems at school with me, I email or call them. This has led to me being able to sort out a number of situations, even from far away. So today, when he expressed his unhappiness with events at school today, and I promised to look into things with the school, he said “I trust you mommy”.

That is priceless. We might not have every day, but we have trust. We have a real connection. We have love.

Guilt, or moving on because I have to

A short post. …. Almost daily I find myself conflicted. Do I wallow in my (ever present)  sadness, or do I overcome, do I succeed nonetheless, do I choose happiness? Society will, and does, tell me to be sad, forlorn, less-than-whole, because I am not a day-to-day parent. But somewhere I read that as much as we love to see our children grow, they love to see us grow. It is my responsibility to let me son, K, see me growing, not just despite adversity, but especially because of adversity. I owe it to him more than to myself, to be happy, to make the most of every day. If it is to be, it is up to me. If he is to see a real human being being happy despite, and because of her circumstances, it is up to me. I might not be able to change what he has been exposed to up to now, I might not be able to change the narrative that is his history…but, I am 100% in control of what I choose every moment from now on. And these are the choices he will see his mother making. So, I choose life, I choose love, I choose light, I choose freedom. I choose to show him a life lived openly, trustingly, lovingly.

Your resilience amazes me

My darling K,

Tomorrow it will be one week since our last parting. How many times have we said good bye over the past five years? It never ceases to come as a heart-wrenching, physically painful shock. No matter that I know the day of goodbye is coming from the moment I first arrive back home. No matter how much I prepare myself for it. It always hits me like a ton of bricks. When you were younger, you seemed to manage the actual goodbye better. I think because you hadn’t quite learned how to anticipate what was coming.

In the past year or two, you have also shown signs of knowing what’s coming in the lead up to the goodbye. Usually a day or so before my departure you have your first realisation, and with it some kind of reactionary mood or behaviour.

On the day of, I am always the one to break down crying first. You used to not cry, but you do nowadays. I always feel for you so. See, once we have managed to tear ourselves from each other’s hug, and I get in the taxi or uber, heading to the airport, you have only your grief, and whatever you manage to distract yourself with. At least I have a few hours of having to navigate check-in, security, passport control and boarding. Later, when I am, for the first time, alone with my emotions without anything to do, sat on the plane, I have had some time to absorb the initial emotional shock and pain. I can cry and grieve with some distance already existing between the brutal good bye and the remaining feelings. Not that this is easy for me, or any less unpleasant, or any less painful. But easier to process, make sense of, go through.

You, on the other hand, are left standing at the door, or in the driveway. There’s just the goodbye. All the emotions are there for you to bear at once. With nothing new, or no prospect of anything different, ahead of you. Everything just the same, only without me there. The emptiness and stark contrast must be unimaginably difficult to bear. And for such a young person, with so many fears, such need for his mom’s support.

Yet, you are incredibly brave and resilient. Tough as those initial moments and hours most certainly are on you, within a day or two, you have bounced back. You most certainly carry the longing, the missing, the incompleteness and the heartache with you. But, you manage to carry on. You manage to get back to being you. Wonderful, strong, excited, happy, engaged, beautiful you. And soon. So much sooner than me.

I return to a life you are not missing from, because you have never been a physical presence here. You are of course always missing from me, and I miss you and who I am with you, intensely and unceasingly. But in my daily life here, unlike yours there, exists no gaping hole where you were just a few short hours or days ago.

You deal with all the heartache, grief and longing for me that I do for you. And on top of that, you deal with facing the gap where I was.

And you do so like a champion. Despite all you face and all you carry, or perhaps because of it, you remain and continue to grow more caring, considerate and thoughtful. Your empathy and insight far surpass that of anyone your age, and indeed many adults, I know.

You are an inspiration to me.

Making meaningful conversation

I am very lucky in that I get to speak to K pretty much often as I want. I phone every morning before school, and every evening, just around bedtime. Of course every so often, I find that suddenly it’s 10pm, and I have missed the window, for whatever reason (flat phone or traffic usually, but I admit that there has been the odd night where I’ve been out for dinner or the like, and just don;’t realise the time. Until I do, and the disappointment I feel in myself in those moments is awful).  Point is, our phone calls are the two highlights in my day.

The length of our conversations vary from as little as a minute sometimes, more than half an hour on occasion. These long chats are incredibly special. They just seem to spontaneously develop into the most engaging, meaningful interactions.

Then there are the other times. When all I get out of K is yes or no, some one-word answers, and one or two sentences, if I’m lucky. I get it, sometimes when I call, he is busy with something else. I’m quite happy to share a quick “I love you” and say bye.

But often, our conversation doesn’t flow because I’m not asking the right questions.

Did you have a good day?, only requires a yes / no answer.

How was your day?,  is a slight improvement. But it can still just be answered with a single adjective.

Tell me about break-time. What games did you guys play?, is much better. Open-ended questions invite a longer response,  I also try to ask about a specific incident, or person, or time of day, but I have found that, if I go on to ask to many where, when, why, how follow-ups K feels pressured and we end up right back at one-word answers. Bringing up a topic, as it were, but without pressing for any particular details, plants the seed of something to share with me, but on his terms. He can then say as much or little as he recalls, or as he feels like.

I am slowly getting the hang of how to make meaningful conversation with my 10-year old, and it is a wonderful change from the old days when at times we both felt like we were participating in an interrogation of sorts.

I also found a list of suggested questions to use as starting points for conversation, and have been adding / editing through trial and error.

 

 

  1. What did you eat for lunch?
  2. Did you catch anyone picking their nose?
  3. What games did you play at recess?
  4. What was the funniest thing that happened today?
  5. Did anyone do anything super nice for you?
  6. What was the nicest thing you did for someone else?
  7. Who made you smile today?
  8. Which one of your teachers would survive a zombie apocalypse? Why?
  9. What new fact did you learn today?
  10. Who brought the best food in their lunch today? What was it?
  11. What challenged you today?
  12. What would you rate your day on a scale of 1 to 10? Why?
  13. If one of your classmates could be the teacher for the day who would you want it to be? Why?
  14. If you had the chance to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?
  15. Did anyone push your buttons today?
  16. Who do you want to make friends with but haven’t yet? Why not?
  17. What is your teacher’s most important rule?
  18. Did anyone make your laugh today?
  19. Does your teacher remind you of anyone else you know? How?
  20. Tell me something you learned about a friend today.
  21. If aliens came to school and beamed up 3 kids, who do you wish they would take? Why?
  22. What is one thing you did today that was helpful?
  23. When did you feel most proud of yourself today?
  24. What rule was the hardest to follow today?
  25. What is one thing you hope to learn before the school year is over?
  26. Which person in your class is your exact opposite?
  27. Which area of your school is the most fun?
  28. Which playground skill do you plan to master this year?
  29. Does anyone in your class have a hard time following the rules?

 

 

Five years, and I still feel much the same

Nov 21, 2012 –

It’s 3am I must be lonely

Well, technically, it’s 2:25 am, but there’s no song with those lyrics, (matchbox 20) plus I figure it’ll be 3 am before I’m done…;)

Insomnia, having left me in peace for a week, has paid me a visit once more. To be fair though, insomnia is really only the result of my unable-to-let-go-and-just-accept-what-is mind. Sometimes, I realise, I am far less being, and much more human.

I miss my Kingston. I miss being close to him. I miss intimacy. I miss touch. I miss being his mother. Much as I despise all these security-blanket labels we identify ourselves with (I am a teacher, lawyer, activist, husband, wife, daughter, sister, friend, parent), I am a mother. And I miss all the things that go with being a mother. It feels like a massive chunk of me has been ripped out, and I am left with this gaping nothingness in my soul.

I miss hugs. I miss tickles. I miss holding him in my arms. I miss ruffling his hair. I miss bedtime. I miss packing school lunches. I miss seeing him off at the school gate with “What’s your only job today?” and his reply “To be awesome”. I miss feeding the ducks. I miss going for fishcakes. I miss spraypainting everything red (his favourite colour). I miss giant chalk drawings on the paving outside. I miss “art-ing”. I miss mixing and making pancakes. I miss picking up sticks. I miss making fires. I miss seeing the world through his eyes. I miss uncovering wonders in the tiniest of things. I miss explaining things to him. I miss reminding him that there’s enough for everyone. I miss watching him make his way through the marvel that is each day. I miss his fascination. I miss his enthusiasm. I miss his intensity. I miss his little hand in mine.  I miss him so much.

And man do I feel conflicted. Because I love being here, and every so often, actually, quite often, I am able to be here-now, and I love it. I love my new surroundings. I have fun. I am happy. I do awesome stuff.I meet awesome people. I am blissful. I think I owe it to my Kingston, and to me, to be awesome. Otherwise, how can I even begin to justify this separation? What is all this missing for?  (A means to an end – winning this court battle, getting him back, getting him here with me – sure. And in order to attain that, I need to be awesome. I need to kick serious arse at this. I need to excel. What is a unarguably true and clear to me – that Kingston is better off by my side than anywhere else on earth – should become undeniable to the powers that be. ) But, every single moment of awe at where I find myself and every single moment of awe at what I find myself experiencing and every single moment of awe at who I find myself being and becoming, is filled with equal parts delight and despair.

My monkey boy would love this all just as much, more even, than I do.

I try to read my favourite book, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”, at least once a week. Mainly for this quote:

“Can miles truly separate you from friends….If you want to be with someone you love, aren’t you already there?”

And then I do all that I can do from where I find myself, so far away from him, I behold him, in my heart. And I take in all my surroundings, and I embrace every experience with extra wonder, on his behalf too. All I can do is live by what I have taught him: “Don’t forget to be awesome”. But sometimes, at 3 in the morning, I’m caught off guard and I forget to be awesome. And I cry. A lot.