Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Mother's Day Lesson - Being away from my son doesn't make me less of a mother

My son and I in 2006
"The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother's side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent." ~ Erich Fromm

Mother's Day has developed an entirely new meaning for me since leaving the family I had known for 14 years in 2009 for the third and final time. I knew that when I left that life to start a new one it was going to be difficult but I no longer had a choice; I was doing what I needed to do in order to save my life and subsequently my son's life to some degree. Little did I know that the moment I made that decision the universe would begin to conspire to make the death of my former life absolute and complete.

The most challenging trial I have had to endure was not homelessness or losing any kind of income and going to bed hungry, the most challenging trial was losing time with my child. Although my decision to leave his father was a very necessary one I made sure to sever our ties as completely as possible which meant no financial support so when I lost my job in 2010 I lost everything and my teenage son began to see less and less of me.

For the past three years of being unemployed I have remained tormented with the pain of being forced away from my son by circumstance. Although I remain beyond grateful for his father taking such good care of our son I have beat myself up for what feels as though I was abandoning this little person I was once inseparable from. For 12 years my son and I did everything together when I wasn't at work and he wasn't at school, our bond was a very strong and close one and then, after a year in my own place and sharing equal parenting time with his father it was all ripped away from me and I was left devastated and feeling lost and alone.

Recently I got a phone call from my now 16 year old and as our conversation ended he thanked me and told me that he feels like he can come to me with any problem or concern, he trusts me with virtually anything. In that moment I was overcome with emotion and I realized that even though my physical presence with my son is limited my influence and value as a mother are not. I have a teenage boy who texts me, is comfortable expressing his affection for the people in his life he cares for, and has learned to reason and analyze the things in life that matter most in order to have a deeper understanding of himself and his place in the world around him. I have a son who, despite any personal struggle remembers how to love and communicate appropriately depending on the circumstance.

My son's father and I may not have been a healthy couple when we were married but we have always respected one another as parents and that never changed neither during or after the divorce. Our efforts show in the young man we are both so proud of and for that I'm grateful. With all my worries and concerns over the past few years I was still a mother and the lessons I have been learning he has been learning also. My experiences and how different they are from his father's experiences have given my child a depth of wisdom and I can only hope that his struggles don't have to be as extreme as mine have been because of it; but if they are, I have no doubt he will learn and become an even better person when faced with trials.

This has taught me that even when we aren't near our children and parenting them as closely as we would like, that doesn't mean our influence and very being isn't playing a role in our child's development. We are allowed to experience hardship for a reason and finding that reason may be a challenge but it's always there and sometimes it's less about us and our pain and suffering and more about someone close to us who's watching, like our children. I worked hard at being a good example and respecting my son's father even if we didn't work as a married couple. I took responsibility for my role when things didn't work out then and now, I take my lessons and I keep moving forward. Every decision I make every single day affects my son and just knowing that and holding it makes me a good mother and the validation is in the sweet messages and phone calls I get from him.

So to all of you parents out there who are missing your children and to those children who are missing a parent today I want to wish you a very special and happy Mother's Day. To the parent, don't believe for a second that your presence on this earth isn't valuable to your child, value isn't measured in the quantity of time you spend with your child but the quality and willingness to be there for them when they need you, even if it's just a phone call. And to those children missing a parent today, trust me, they miss you too, even if they have a not-so-funny way of showing it, your very existence is evidence of great love.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

When is it altruism and when is it just showing off?

For Cinco de Mayo I took myself to the Phoenix Art Museum for the last day of an exhibit I was anxious to see, (an article about that will be posted next week on Examiner). As I sat in the cafe, Palette I overheard someone say, "Is it really a good deed if you tell everyone?" I love that question and I have been pondering it ever since.

Then on May 8 Charles Ramsey was interviewed for rescuing 3 missing women, two of whom were missing for 8-10 years and the video quickly went viral but it wasn't only viral because this man was deemed a hero but also because so many people were making fun of him including TMZ who makes its fortune on the misfortune of others... but that's another subject for another day. Here's the video and when you watch it, I'm curious what your thoughts are:

 Altruism has always been a tricky subject for me to wrap my mind around and it didn't help my confusion when I fell for a man who would do nice things for people and then talk about how he believes it's something he should do, almost to the point of bragging. It didn't matter what the opportunity was but when he saw the opportunity to do a good deed he would not only act on it but discuss it after the fact. There were enough moments of genuine goodness and kindness that he offered people to keep me hooked and he always recognized beauty in others and this was a reason I fell for him. The frustration I had with him lied in the distinction between feeling as though an act of kindness should be done based on what could potentially be gained for the act, external influences, societal views, who's watching, etc. or if it was being done because he wanted to offer a genuine compliment or do good solely for the sake of helping someone in need and the joy it brings regardless of whether someone else knows or not, free of expectation of any kind of return on the investment.

By its definition altruism is an unselfish regard for the welfare of others but by its very nature altruism can be so self-fulfilling and so self-nurturing that you want to sing it from the rooftops! Does this in turn make you selfish for enjoying the benefits? I suppose this is where intention comes to play; if someone's initial intention is more for the good of others; to be of service for a greater and higher good, then that is true altruism and the warm fuzzies you get after are an added bonus. The pleasure center of our brain responds the most when something is more pleasant than expected, more Dopamine is released in our brain, so it seems to me that if we practice altruism with little to no expectation we will literally FEEL better then if we do good deeds because we think it will make a good impression on others or we expect to gain something from it; we may still get the Dopamine release but it won't be near the level of pleasure as it would when we limit our expectations. This way we also leave little room for disappointment. I suppose the people who make fun of the happy altruist are the ones who don't truly know the feeling.

I took the volunteer orientation for UMOM and I'm really excited about helping other people who are homeless since I have experienced homelessness. Does my excitement make my intentions any less altruistic if I'm eager to learn more from that environment? I would like to think not, especially since so many people helped me when I was in that same position. What about you? Do you practice regular acts of altruism as a way of nurturing your spirit? Or have you been the recipient of a good deed?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lessons Offered in a Bus Ride

My Grandma Loved Motorcycles!
 A petite elderly woman boarded the bus today and for a split second I saw my grandmother. All I could really make out were soft but distinct lines around her mouth because just like my grandmother she was slightly hunched over, most likely from Osteoporosis, and she too took great care in protecting herself from the sun with sunglasses, a small straw hat, an ankle length loose fitted gray skirt, and a long sleeved teal top.

As the woman sat carefully in front of me I felt as though my grandmother had sat down in front of me; I was a little girl again and I was staring at her in wonder of her ability to always channel strength in the face of hardships. I remembered watching her, waiting for her to break out in giggles over pretty much anything; her face would squish up and she would have a soft cackle when she laughed which was often. No matter what was happening she always kept her sense of humor and even when she was angry she was controlled and smart about it. I felt a wave of emotion wash over me as the old woman on the bus got up to sit next to me at the next stop. Was it my grandmother's way of letting me know she still has my back? Or was it God's way of reminding me that I have her gumption and moxie? Or maybe both?

Grandma trying not to giggle when she saw me taking a picture of us this way. It was a new idea for her. :)

 I got off the bus and just as I began to cross the street at the crosswalk a woman in a Mercedes slammed on her brakes to avoid hitting me after turning a corner too fast. This of course startled me as I looked at the car and only saw the desert sun bouncing off her windshield straight into my eyes. As I looked away from the car to keep walking I realized I was laughing. I wasn't hysterical of course but I had a dismissive laugh with a dash of disbelief. I could look at this two ways, either the universe isn't done testing my resolve after taking so much from me or it is reminding me of the things that aren't happening to me, things can always be worse, I know this for a fact. Regardless of which perspective I chose I felt it was a fairly clear reminder of how my sense of humor has kept me going and I'm thankful to my grandmother most of all for that.

The point of this story is twofold:

First, I wonder how much our perspectives impact everything in our lives. I know we are told that our thoughts shape our world and science is proving this to be true but how often do we take the time to really  look at that possibility in our own life? Is that why I need to be taking a bus for now? Because taking a bus and walking really forces you to see things at a real and micro level and you notice and learn things you normally wouldn't.

Second, my biggest concern is my attitude regarding how many hardships have befallen me over the past few years. When my hard drive crashed the other day I was angry but I was almost more angry at how little it seemed to affect me. I have experienced so much hardship that one more thing that would have devastated me a year ago barely got to me. Is this because I'm getting comfortable with loss and hardship? Because that is something I REALLY don't want to get comfortable with. OR is it because I know that whatever happens I'm going to keep going? Is my perspective being tested? Is that why my treasured grandmother visited me today? To offer her moxie?

Food for thought, I suppose.