I am very opinionated about Christmas tree lights. Flashing is not permitted in our house. Period. I wish I could also stop the flashing going on with the kids I work with at this time of year. Parties, treats, memories, disrupted schedules, past trauma, all combine to make the human equivalents of having left a bucket of kerosene soaked rags in the basement. One little spark and—boom! It’s a tangled mess of emotion, exhausted parents, and zipped up kids.
In a rare moment of contemplation that I wrested from the speeding train that is my life this week, I was overcome with gratitude.
Take my most recent addition to the client pool. Had you overheard the phone conversation, you might have choked on your toast. “She didn’t actually try to kill the teacher with the scissors? Or herself? And she’s fine right now? Doesn’t torture animals? Oh my gosh, we have so much to work with here! ”
My clients are nearly all families that contain children who have histories of attachment trauma. I just realized, duh, that they also contain mostly midlife moms. These moms did everything they could do get these children, mostly by adoption, but some by birth. We belong to a very exclusive club. Most of us consider what would have happened if we had been shown a video of our lives post midlife child, you know, like the Ghost of Christmas Future. Would we have chosen differently, backed out, run away screaming in the opposite direction? Well, this is what the club is. When asked, we hesitate. We consider. We weigh the question carefully. And, to a person, we are grateful we couldn’t see the road we would travel—at least for a while—because we now know how worthwhile it was to take the leap off that cliff into the abyss beyond our wildest imaginings.
In acts of what seemed at the time like love and hope and (sometimes generosity and faith), we were handed challenges we frankly didn’t know we were capable of dealing with. Our lives were flipped upside down and inside out like stomachs on one of those amusement park rides that I know better than to go on. Every one of us lost long term friendships, altered rearranged family relationships (including watching husbands walk out the door), seen effects on their career, pastimes, social life, and even health.
Whether we are past the insanity or in the midst of it, we wake up in the morning, putting one foot in front of the other, hanging on because we know that no one else can do it like we can. So, to the moms I work with, a tribute to the only flashing lights I will allow in my home and my heart.
You will probably never understand how much I love working with you and your children. There is nothing like seeing a genuine smile break out, simultaneously, in a quiet moment between a mother and a child who haven’t been able to connect before. I get a glimpse into something so sacred, there is no word for it. And you allow me to be there.
There is nothing so exhilarating as seeing a child let go of a fear that has been trapped in her body for years—an overwhelming sensation before she had words to define it; a feeling that has taken most of the energy and focus she could muster every single day since then just to keep it at bay.
I am grateful to be able to share in the struggle, to say without judgment that I know how hard these moms are trying, how it isn’t their fault, how they are just as traumatized as their children by the whole experience. No one who hasn’t been there understands how it feels to be discouraged in yourself, in your ability to love and give and parent, to have your whole image of yourself crumble. And because I’m now just one or two steps ahead of them, I have the supreme privilege of holding out my hand and saying it’s ok, you will get it back, and it will be so much better and stronger than before. You really haven’t lost yourself, you will find more that was hidden. Just as your children will. This humbling experience, this bucket of soaked rags in the basement, will eventually light up your life.
For now, the explosions are, for the most part unpleasant and uncontrollable. For that, I advise them all to pull back, cancel everything possible, nurture themselves and their children as best they can. But I smile inside, not only at the humor that bubbles from these women and their children under even the worst of circumstances, but in the fact that I get to share in the process of these flashing lights becoming steady and strong.