Trust Falls

“There is no way she will be able to go.”

Those were the words we kept tossing back and forth at each other as we did our best to assess the situation and plan accordingly. Decisions needed to be made, financially and otherwise, as to whether or not Bailey would participate in an upcoming out-of-state college showcase soccer tournament. It wasn’t the first time we were weighing health concerns and the sustainability of her involvement in competitive sports. In the previous season she was only able to play 60-75% of the time as the pain condition she’s been battling would knock her out of several practices and a handful of games. But Bailey would always echo what her team of doctors would assert – that continuing to play was an important part of her treatment. Using the body and remaining active can counteract the messages of pain circulating throughout the central nervous system. So she kept playing, even if there were frequent disruptions.

But this time was different. Following a rather severe pain episode involving her lower spine, she progressively lost the ability to activate the nerves in all of her extremities. In simpler terms – over the course of a few days, our active soccer superstar of a 15 year old daughter seemingly lost the ability to walk and move her arms with ease. After ruling out degenerative diseases like Multiple Sclerosis and any evidence of cancer or even benign tumors, she was diagnosed with functional weakness. Basically, there was a breakdown in the communication signals between her brain and several of the nerves that activate muscular responses. Neither Brian nor I could have imagined that she would be able to recover in time for the tournament. We decided to make the deposit anyway. “Just in case,” we said.

Here we are, seven weeks later, and I just dropped her off at the airport to travel with her team. She went from having to utilize a wheelchair and sleeping on our couch because we couldn’t keep carrying her almost full-grown body up and down the stairs of our two-story house, to fully functioning again just a few weeks into her rehabilitation process.

There was far more complexity and heartache and beauty and resiliency to those weeks than I could express on this platform, but watching her relearn or remember how to walk was a profound experience that continues to unleash new wisdom as we move beyond the surrealness of it all. I remember the physical therapist who initially worked with Bailey telling her that she knew she was scared of falling, frustrated with her brain and body, but that it was important for her to trust that her brain still knew what to do even if it was acting like it didn’t. She also reassured Bailey that if her brain faltered, that she would be right there ready to catch her.

Trusting her body has been hard for her. It’s been hard for all of us. So dropping her off to fly away to another state, to stay in a hotel room with teammates who don’t understand the near constant pain this kid deals with feels really hard today. Severe pain episodes are difficult to predict and we are unsure of whether or not the functional weakness will return at some point.

She is still working at and learning how to trust her body and brain. It’s a tricky thing because trusting her body doesn’t mean constructing an optimistic mindset and naively clinging to some false hope of smooth-sailing from here on out. Instead, we’ve been wondering about trust by way of surrender. Rather than using energy to resist and resent the pain, Bailey tries to surrender to the movement and progression of the powerful waves. They will eventually pass right on by even when it feels unbearable in the moment. She is learning how to trust by way of surrendering control. She is learning how to trust that her body is doing what it can to perpetually move towards healing and rehabilitation. She is learning how to surrender to her own spirit of resiliency.

As is so often the case, I am working at trusting by way of surrender right along side her. I have had to wrestle with my own sense of failure at not being able to remedy her pain. I can’t control it. I can’t predict it. I can barely even understand it. Surrender requires that I make space for it – for all of it – for the struggle and the recovery, for the suffering and the healing. I’m learning how to trust and surrender to that universal rhythm of all life.

And these life-stretching, heart-wrenching lessons are expansive as well. Of course this wisdom traverses into other categories. About a year ago, Bailey began to understand with greater clarity a few aspects of her own sexuality and in the recent months she decided to identify publicly as a lesbian. I haven’t written openly about this reality until now, primarily because it is not my story to tell. It is her story. And it is sacred. We have allowed her to lead the way in determining when and how to invite others into this part of her story. As we continue to learn how to honor her story and hold space for it in our family narrative, I imagine I will learn how to reflect more openly about my mothering experience as it unfolds.

Trusting by way of surrender has been much harder for me when it comes to this particular category. The truth is I think I have good reason to be cautious and guarded with humanity given our history as it relates to the care and treatment of any type of marginalized group in our society. I have no control over how people in varying degrees of relationship with my glorious daughter will respond to her and her sexuality. I certainly have agency and will go to great lengths to do whatever I can to protect her, to defend her, to advocate for her, but I know all of my efforts will fall short of completely shielding her from harm. Optimism is not my jam. It’s always felt too contrived. But maybe trusting by way of surrender in this category looks more like trusting Bailey’s ever-developing spirit of resiliency.

As a family we are practicing huge trust falls these days. We are trusting ourselves and each other mostly. Trusting that we are more able to catch ourselves than we sometimes realize, and that when we can’t catch ourselves the rest of us are right there ready and willing to hold each other up. We are trusting our own capacity to suffer and heal, to struggle and recover…together.

Continue Reading

Facing the Pain Together

There we were, the three of us sitting in Faith’s room coming undone together. A day of reacting, of crying, of hurting led us each to our own discoveries. Faith was the one first able to get at what was going on underneath the reacting, the irritation, the symptoms. When she started to name how different she perpetually feels from her peers, from the way things are or the way girl’s are supposed to be, and how she feels sick to her stomach when she thinks about such things, Bailey and I both found her there too. We were back in our own truth and in our own depth, instead of being relegated to our surface selves – the selves most notorious for revealing all the symptoms of the deeper wounds. The most common symptoms are exasperation and irritation at the world around us. Bailey echoed Faith’s sentiments on what we’ve come to refer to as high school girl culture and added her own disorienting and disillusioning experiences related to an event they both attended over the weekend.

Instead of trying to help guide them toward some sage wisdom or manufactured sense of empowerment in their individuality, I let my own tears begin to fall and do the painful work of receiving the greater truth that was coming to me in that raw moment. This was what I had feared most when I first wondered if I should ever have any children. How could I survive witnessing my own daughter(s) having to endure the torture that comes with being female in this world? Wow, I would think to myself, that’s a little dramatic, Shauna. And then I’d remember the darkest years. Years that followed the abuse. Years that followed the objectification and sexualization. The years of splitting. All the girl parts of me that were ever free enough to explore, to feel pleasure, to experience life subjectively were no longer allowed in public. And eventually they forgot how to be present in private too.

I swallowed whole some new illusions when I first turned to religion. I wanted to believe that I could somehow shield my children from the atrocities of a long standing societal system that perpetually objectifies one half of it’s members. If I could become godly enough, stay married enough, be the best and most holy mother to my children, gain wisdom enough, and heal psychologically enough to prevent the pattern of abuse from recurring then my children would be held together, protected somehow from the splitting I had experienced.

But here we were. Sitting together in the bedroom of my 16 year old feeling the impact. Because no matter how hard I have worked for the past 16 years at mothering to the best of my abilities, I could not shield them from the culture hell-bent on ravaging and devouring and splitting the lives of girls and women. And this fixation ruins boys and men too. But that topic is for another day, another post. Neither of my teens have stories of abuse. Neither of my teens have survived the complete fracturing of a family unit. Neither of them are even remotely as needy and starved for affection as I was when I was their age. I thought that if I did everything I could to ensure that they had very different stories from my own, that they would be spared from the pain. Relatively rational creature that I am, I knew they’d still have to encounter hard things, but I envisioned they’d be entirely unencumbered by the rules and expectations bestowed upon them the moment the doctor announced, “It’s a girl!”

But here we are. The truth is that my daughters, because of the sheer fact that they are in fact my daughters – descendants of this particularly hyperaware and ridiculously sensitive and perceptive human they call mom, they had no choice but to swallow the red pill. So they see life as it really is. They see all the rules. All the masks. All the denial. All the pain. Much of the horror. They hear the stories of blow jobs and anal sex from 15 and 14 and sometimes 13 year old girls who claim its their best form of birth control. They ask if it’s even possible for a girl to orgasm in either scenario and then they are even more confused as to why sexuality for their peers is about being objects and not subjects. They feel split too – between who they really are and who they would need to be to fit in with their peers. They feel the poison all around them and they see their friends drinking it freely because it’s all that they have known. They even know that some of the poison seeps into their skin because it’s in the air all around them. It’s on the walls of their high school. It’s even in our house because their mama drank from the poison for much of her early life and she’s 37 and still trying to purge the toxicity. It’s on their screens. It’s in their music. We are all choking on it all the time. And my girls and I…we know it. And it feels unbearable and overwhelming sometimes. We feel powerless much of the time. And it feels painful all of the time.

Continue Reading

16!

It’s true. We have a 16 year old in the house now. I haven’t been able to write much about what that feels like as a mama. The words are still trying to find their way to the page. But I wanted to share the words I was able to share with her this last week on her special day. 

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
Photo taken by Bailey Gauthier

You are 16 today. When I take in the breathtaking beauty of your now almost-adult-face, I see all of those earlier and squishier versions of that very same face too. I see the very same eyes that captivated a room when you first came out to greet us. I see the playful toddler who loved to dance and sing the Barney theme song (Lord have mercy). I see the three year old grin that could fill an entire room with it’s hint at mischief. I see the observant four year old who always took in everything and everyone around her. I see the six year old who’s heart broke when you discovered and then attempted to remedy how the world could be crueler to some than others. I see the nine year old that was profoundly impacted by the very human pressure to perform and be perfect. I see the 11 year old girl who started to recognize her own capacity as an athlete. I see the 13 year old who began to experience the complexities of relationship with the opposite gender. I see the 15 year old who endured an enormous amount of loss and transition all while facing the frustration of having a physical body that can be fractured.

And here you are at 16. I know you are as anxious as you are excited about approaching adulthood and the responsibilities that come with the freedoms. I know that when you look around the world today you are often confused and disheartened. But YOU, my daughter, are braver than you have yet to realize. And you bring more light into this fractured world than you have yet come to believe.

Lately I have imagined that there is this ticking clock looming in the background of our relationship. It’s as though a part of me believes that my time as your mother somehow ends when you turn 18. Yes, I know – it’s a little nutty. But I’m sure that’s not shocking. Maybe every mama feels this way while her heart is racing to catch up with the metamorphosis of her daughter rising into womanhood. Sometimes I think my relationship with time is more complicated since that day three and a half years ago when we all wondered if my clock had run it’s course. So I am daily reminding myself that what we have is today. And today you are 16. And we are both here to witness this moment right now. You know your mama loves words, and so I wanted to mark this day with some very intentional words. I want to bear witness to you and the woman you are becoming with each passing year.

Just a few weeks ago we sat together and watched the Democratic National Convention declare Hillary Clinton as the first female nominee of a major party for the 2016 presidential election 96 years after women won the right to vote. In one of the introduction speeches, actress Meryl Streep mentioned two characteristics that all notable women throughout history possess: GRIT and GRACE. You, daughter, know something of these words too.

GRIT is the stuff of fierce women. You’ve had it since birth. And thank God because you will need it still in the journey to come. Sometimes life is going to kick the shit out of you. I know you have seen this already – but I assure you, the shit will continue to fly. Harnessing grit isn’t about becoming hardened or learning how to fight back. It’s about learning how to still STAND even when life tries to knock you down. It is about toughness, but not the kind of posturing of strength we see so often today. It looks more like a sticky, grainy, gritty resolve than it does any form of violence. It’s about holding on to who you are and claiming your value in the face of a culture or system that at times will attempt to diminish your worth. It’s about always knowing and declaring that you matter because you are not because of what you may or may not ever do in this world. Grit is the stuff of real women who stand against a world that tells them they’re never enough. So grit is necessary to stand in your own two feet and fill up your share of space in the world.

GRACE is the stuff of honorable women. It’s about how you move through this life, how you see yourself and how you see those around you and beyond you. Grace is knowing that you are worthy and so is EVERYONE else. And I really mean EVERYONE else. Even those who live as though they’re not worthy. It’s about accepting your limitations and not believing that they diminish your light. Living with this kind of grace is as much about offering it as it is about knowing it deep within yourself. It is the place I’ve seen you return to time and time again. May you continue to know GRACE and be GRACE as you move through your life.

Beyond your GRIT and the embodiment of GRACE, there is something else that has carried your heart through hard times and planted your feet on scared ground. My dear, you’ve been able to embody a spirit of GRATITUDE. I first saw it in your four year old eyes as you would often take in the beauty of those Colorado sunsets. This one word, really this one posture toward the universe has been my own life raft many times over. Choosing to employ a lens of gratitude even when it felt impossible never failed to lead me to the well of a life force larger than any heartache I’ve ever encountered. And I’m not talking about a contrived, shallow, dishonest sentiment here. No. not. that. I’ve heard it said many times that when tragic things happen, we should look for the helpers. When dark things happen, look for the light. Not because the helpers remedy the harm. Not because the discovery of the light means the dark no longer exists. But we must hold space to see both the good and the bad. The practice of gratitude helps us see. all. of. it. I love that even as a young girl, you’ve always been profoundly moved by the beauty of this natural world. May that kind of awe extend always to all of life and all it’s complexity and creativity.

So on this day, your very sweet 16 indeed, I give you these words and reflect back to you the light you bring forth day by day. 

With love to infinity and beyond,

Mama

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
I had these words hammered into a lovely Thistle Stone necklace. Photo by Bailey Gauthier.
Continue Reading

Pilgrimage to Disneyland

IMG_2406We just returned from a long-anticipated family road trip that included jaunts to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Disneyland and Newport Beach. We also somehow fit two different soccer tournaments for two different kids within the span of our 10 day trip. We’re a family on the move through much of life, in case you hadn’t picked up on that detail already. This pace and determination to cram fullness into limited space and time is often a point of contention for many who find themselves in relationship with me. I’m notorious for underestimating the amount of time a project might take or just how much work a task will require. I always find a way to get it all done, at times at the expense of my own body and at the mercy of those who choose to love me anyway.

Deciding to tackle Disneyland in a single day was evidence that this pattern of mine is alive and well. We have actually done Disneyland on two previous occasions – also in single day excursions. On these previous occasions the kids were all pretty young (as were Brian and I) and we weren’t overly concerned about conquering the park. We knew then that even a taste of the experience would feel like magic for our girls. BUT expectations and desires shift when children morph into teenagers. If I’ve learned anything in this season of parenting two teens, a tween and a threenager, it’s that these years are about continual growth and change. “Duh!” you might be thinking (yes, I still use ridiculous sayings from the 90s). I am not, however, strictly referring to the surge of pubescent hormones responsible for the fairly rapid metamorphosis of their glorious bodies. I’m talking about the space between all of us as well – that relational matrix found within every family system. As our “big” girls are each transitioning from childhood to adulthood we are perpetually being asked to make more space for one another’s differences and separateness. We are expanding as each daughter discovers how she is different and continues to lean into her process of individuation.

IMG_2395

So how do you do Disneyland in a single day with a family as large as ours? Because these days I’m feeling how large we really are – not just in numbers, but in spaciousness with six different humans who all have their own expectations, desires and needs. I should add that it was also 95+ degrees and a gazillion times more populated than it had been when we last braved those crowds a decade before. We were a hot sweaty mess of a family that day, spending a larger portion of our vacation budget than originally planned and spending most of our time in lines feeling like it wasn’t quite what any of us had hoped it would be. But we did it. We bumbled and bumped our way through sorting out who wanted to do what and with who and how and where to meet up and reconvene. It was a day of some bickering and then compromise and deconstructing and leveling expectations, and ultimately making peace with reality and making space for each of our exhausted hearts in the end.

As the sun began to set and we found the relief we all needed from the blazing heat, we entered into the best part of the day together. Our tired feet and empty bellies led us all to the same desire – to eat and rest together before we would stake out our spot for the evening parade and fireworks show. It’s this rhythm of family I’m learning to embrace -the wrestling and sorting and pushing out and beyond that must take place so that there is enough room and space for everyone to gather within.

Later that night there was a moment of magic. I’m a sucker for fireworks put to music and it turns out each of my girls are as well. Just before the finale, Disney did what it does best – it made magic. Let It Go was blaring through the speakers and I couldn’t help but notice each of my girls singing along to a song we’ve listened to way too many times (it’s the threenager’s favorite movie). The three big girls were standing in front of me and Briella was perfectly situated on my hip and then it happened. The entire audience gasped as we all began to notice snow trickling down from above. I first caught Briella’s wonderstruck face and then each of my girls raised their hands into the air utterly delighting in the collective spectacle. I felt my eyes well up instantly with tears of such deep gratitude because this is the point of it all. Life is mostly about the struggle, the sorting out, the navigation of sometimes competing desires or needs, the individuating, the sweating and bickering and compromising. It’s the mundane and the messy. But then there are moments of magic. And it’s not that the moments of bliss make the rest of it bearable. It’s that the moments of reality make the magic that much more magical.

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

*All photos taken by Bailey Gauthier

Continue Reading