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

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