Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I Ran Away, And There I Was~ Sometimes You Have To Get Away From Your Life In Order To Discover Yourself

Author's note: I told my son about an essay contest I wanted to enter that had the prompt, "The best decision you ever made". He told me to write about being the best mom. I may not have won the essay contest, but I won an opportunity to share how I became my own kind of "best" mom. Plus, I got to hear my son call me the best mom! This is that essay.
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Despite being surrounded by support and praise, some people have an easier time hearing their own thoughts and discovering their personal style by disappearing for a while. I was one of those people, and this is a piece of my story.

It's crazy to admit that running away from my life, with my children in tow, was the best decision I ever made. Especially for me, the person for whom running away and avoiding responsibility has been a consistent choice, disappointing and proving to myself that I suck, time and time again.
Yet there it is. True and filled with personal history. Running away from Child Protective Services was the best decision I ever made. Of course, it wasn't my idea, it was mom's. As almost every strong, out-of-the-box, socially strange, right choice in my life has ever been.

Like so many little girls, I've always admired and aspired to be like my mom. She is beautiful and strange. She is loving and strong. She is very different from me, which makes her also mysterious and impressive at every turn. She thrives on responsibility, and is driven by an untamed passion to have more of it than would break most women.
When my sister and I were little my mom loved us almost too much. It made her emotional and intense; her love couldn't fit in our small family. She tried marrying a few times, but it's always been children that her love is best suited for. So, she adopted four mentally challenged boys and eventually two badly abused teenage homeless girls. My brothers and sisters were fantastic and loved. They were the perfect place for my mom to buffer the strength of so much heart and fight.
And boy, did my mom have to fight! With schools, social workers, neighbors, her mom, and herself. But we kids only felt love and had fun! My brothers blossomed with her belief in them and the strength she exampled. They constantly became more than professionals said they could. My mom's unconventional ways made folks uncomfortable (Family Comedy Performers; as a way for us to make money without needing babysitters) but also made my family strong and smart.
I wanted so badly to be like my mom. The problem is I'm not.

As a teenager I spent a lot of time alone, running away. I would skip school and ride the transit all over the city. Mostly happy, I enjoyed window shopping and spending hours in used book stores. Chatting with strangers and deciding who I was. Promising to meet people places, or go to job interviews, but then ditching them. Afraid that whatever they'd seen in me wouldn't be there the next time and so I'd hide away. I loved my crazy fun family, but was afraid that I sucked at taking care of them. My sisters and mom would look at my brothers and see people with challenges they could overcome, but I saw cute little unable people. And I was not proud of that.
I got jobs. At one point I had three jobs, and tried to prove myself responsible. My mom always had all kinds of jobs, but I couldn't handle it. I was overwhelmed. Yet I was afraid to quit a job, so I just stopped going and hid away from the phone calls. Later as a single mom I tried responsibility again. I was living on my own, and rather enjoyed it. My son and I danced and sang a lot. My pregnant belly grew and we talked about the brother or sister inside. But I was lonely for family. Plus, I lived on Mother's Allowance which is a beautiful gift that allows moms to truly give attention and teach their children, but is often judged as lazy. I'm not lazy, but I'm not my mom. So I began to wonder if I was lazy.
After my second son was born--with my mom there to deliver him before the ambulance could arrive!-I moved back in with mom and my brothers. My mom was excited by the idea of me living with her. She could be with her grandsons, and I could help teach my teen brothers more skills and hang with them when she had to go out of town for work. It was a win/win! I was also excited. Living with mom would be the greatest way to parent perfectly! After all, she has always been the best, so I'd feel compelled to do it right while she watched.
The theory is neat, but it couldn't work. After all, I was still trying to be like her. I wanted so badly to be like her that I wasn't taking the steps necessary to discover me.
My mom is supportive and non-judgmental. She never tried to parent my sons or give me any unwanted advice regarding my own style. So it took some mental gymnastics to feel judged when living with mom, but I am skilled! My floor show would gain tens from every single judge! Except the only judge was me, and I was in no mood to give myself tens.
I was inconsistent with my children. I was struggling to be seen as a good mom, a strong mom, a loving mom, a creative mom, and I was doing it without any true idea of what that really meant. I knew what it looked like when my mom loved us. But I could never grasp what it felt like to be her, and so I was playing a role that I couldn't understand. One I wasn't actually trying to understand because I was busy watching my audience's reaction and trying to play to that.
I got jobs, quit jobs, met a man, got pregnant again, left the man, lived with my family in an RV, helped some of my brothers learn to drive, moved with my family into a lovely run down home in the woods, met another man, got pregnant again, decided to get married, and then….
I was still trying to figure myself out. But I had learned that I love my sons and will do anything for them. That much is true of mom and me. I was beginning to notice my worth and feel the importance of discovering myself, because I was so full of desire for my boys to do the same. The man that I met and married fell in love with me when he saw how much I loved my boys. I knew I was doing something right. I just needed to know what, so that I could feel it concretely.
One day my sister was visiting us in our little middle of nowhere house while our mom was out of town. She was napping, and my then youngest son was asleep, so I picked up a book to read for a while. Some time passed when I noticed that the older boys were a little too quiet. So I headed outside to check on them. When at first I couldn't find them in the immediate yard I got a little worried. We have trails and a pond that they liked to visit, so I rushed to check the pond first. When I got to the water and they were not there I hurried back in the other direction, called out to them and checked the trails that they liked. They weren't there either. I panicked. We live on 67 acres of wooded property. Suddenly I knew they could be anywhere. I felt a fear so thick my vision blurred.
I woke my sister and the baby, and we hopped in her car to check the railroad track. There was no way I expected them to have gotten that far, but it seemed like the most dangerous possibility, and so I wanted to rule it out.
As we approached the track I saw my boys. The oldest was six and dressed in plenty of layers of ninja gear. The younger was four, and completely naked. Our dog stood tall and proud, keeping a loyal eye on my adventurers. There was also a man I'd never seen before, standing with them.
My first reaction was to hug and kiss my boys. But when I saw that man standing there I quickly scanned my brain for what would look like good parenting. For his benefit, I chose to yell at them.
The man gave me a lecture, I thanked him and nodded, just wanting to get home. In the car my son explained, "We were just going to Dairy Queen. I brought the dog so that we would be safe. "
It wasn't long before I got visits from Child Protective Services. I went to court and they told me, "We just don't like your kind around here." I'm not sure what my kind is. I didn't ask. Then they warned me, "If even one of your boys gets hurt out there on that property, we're going to take them."
I've never been so scared. I didn't know how to defend myself, because I wasn't even sure who myself was. For a while I became an even worse mom, so afraid of what people were seeing because it had been proven to me that what they see matters so much you can lose your kids. But there was no way to know or guess what they needed to see.
I love my sons. They are everything. And somewhere in that perfect storm of fear and love and stress a thought revealed itself. They are everything. The opinions of others aren't everything. The look of my parenting isn't everything. Even being like my mom isn't everything.
My sons are. And the only way I could be everything for them would be to know who I am. To stop slipping and sliding and not gaining traction on any of my own beliefs and parenting styles.
So when my oldest son broke his leg playing ball in the house, a decision had to be made. He had gotten hurt on our property, and I wasn't going to lose my children. When mom came up with the idea of me running away, spending months traveling while using her timeshares and visiting family, I first argued that running away was wrong. That it was a habit I was trying to break.
But she pointed out that it was just the opposite. That by gathering my children I would be stepping up and taking responsibility, and I could see that truth. After all, my mom is the queen of responsibility!
My husband didn't like it, but he agreed that it was smart. He supported it and ordered us phone cards so that I could constantly call.
I gathered my children and packed the car. I was quite pregnant at the time and feeling a strong desire to know my own self as a mom by the time my fourth son was born.
Armed with a mission, my loves, and the support of a wonderful family, I ran away one more time.
Those months with my boys, playing on beaches, snuggling and watching movies, teaching sibling care and finding my parenting self with passion were beautiful months indeed. My son was born while on the road. Family came and-once again!-mom was there to deliver another grandson.
While I was hiding from CPS, while my son's broken leg healed as he played with his brothers, while I sat listening to my children and myself, I learned to stop assuming judgments. I learned to stop fearing that I wasn't as good as my mom. I learned to stop needing approval from outside of myself.
I blossomed.
Turning the volume up on myself and heading home, I comfortably knew that my sons and I would be fine, as long as we choose to always be authentic.
Defending and being what you think you're supposed to be is uncomfortably wrong.
Defending and being who you are is beautiful and important.

I ran away one last time, and there I was.

Me, my four boys,
 and a seriously kick-ass awesome support network of family!!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)