Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Being a Cheerleader

Chester-Hadlyme Ferry at Sunrise -- Connecticut River
I sat down prepared to create a post with some of the photos I took yesterday at the Chester Ferry.  I love sunrise.  It is so quiet.  It is soft.  It is relaxing.  I wanted to share that mood, that feeling with all of you.

But then I saw a Facebook friend posted something that said this:

Student says,  "I am very discouraged.  What should I do?"

Master says,  "Encourage others."

Then I knew what I wanted to write about today: my apparent purpose in life, at least for now.

I am chronically ill.  I cannot work (at a real job making real money -- you know, like drive somewhere, perform tasks for money, drive home and perform tasks for no money).

I struggled with feeling useless for a long time.  I did work part-time for nearly a year a couple of years ago but it completely drained me leaving me with absolutely no energy to care for my family.  And I am the only caregiver of my family.  I am the only one here day after day, involved, caring for my children, adult and minor alike.

Many of you know that I have children with labels.  Some of those labels include ADHD, bipolar disorder, borderline Asperger's Syndrome, depression, even physical illness.  Some of the other labels include genius, brilliant, creative, innovative, and special. 

Living with labels means that nothing is simple.  Nothing is easy.  Nothing goes smoothly around here.  

Living with geniuses means that nothing is simple.  Nothing is easy.  Nothing goes smoothly around here.  

Yep, those good and bad labels produce similar circumstances, an atmosphere of challenge, so to speak.  Or maybe I should say "positive" and "negative" labels.  Lots of people would love to have a child with a genius IQ.  Many parents start pumping that grey matter to inflate its capability starting when their children are babes in arms.  No parents wish their children were ADHD, bi-polar or Autistic.  

Parenting children like mine has molded me.  When I was younger I often bordered on the morose, so completely introspective, so withdrawn.  I saw a lot of darkness.  I didn't see a lot of light.  I knew it was there, though.  I remember finding good in nature, literature, and creativity when life was not so nice.  I have always had this capability.  I am an independent soul who enjoys isolation, thinking my own thoughts, and yes, doing my own thing.  

And then I had children.

Children demand our whole beings pay attention to them.  Usually we embrace this new paradigm for life, one in which the self goes to the back seat while the self-less emerges dominant.  Most of the time we do not complain (okay, sometimes at 3 in the morning when a teething baby was in pain and making her discomfort known so emphatically I complained a little).  As time goes on we are molded by our parenting duties.  We are molded into different people by the needs of our offspring.  

When those children have "special needs" this molding moves to a whole different level.  Those around us also mold us.  They often push us away.  We must be bad parents.  We must be doing something wrong.  We must have bad dna.  Whatever.  Isolation becomes a safe place.

Then something miraculous happens:  we meet other parents of other challenging children.  We begin to share stories.  We begin to open up a little.  We find that sometimes it is safe to be a parent of challenging children around others.  We also learn how to support our children while we are, for the first time, receiving support from others (yes, parenting a special needs child is not easy -- in case you didn't know).

I have been parenting for 35 years now.  Whew!  That is a long time.  And I am still parenting.  Not the 35-year-old: he has life figured out for himself, his wife and his daughter (as much as we can ever figure out life).  But I am still very involved in the lives of the other five ages 22, 20, 19, 16 and 12.  

When one of my children becomes absolutely and completely discouraged I become their cheerleader.

"You can do it!"

"Yes, you can!"

"You can do it!"

"I know you can!!!"

In the case of bipolar disorder discouraged can quickly spiral into suicidal.  Being a cheerleader in the life of a bipolar person reaches an entirely different level.  

In the case of someone with Asperger's Syndrome being a cheerleader usually means encouraging them to keep learning those pesky social skills.  I am not the best myself in the area of social skills.  I would rather not even need them.  Just leave me alone to think, write, take pictures, be creative.  But I do understand them and can use them when necessary. 

Parenting a musical genius who is chronically ill is my greatest challenge right now.  I am not doing very well at this point.  I am trying, though, and constantly reassess my skills and abilities.

I am not a warm and fuzzy mom after the kids reach a certain age.  I am more of a "get it together and grow up!" kind of person.  Yes, it is true.  I hang my head in shame sometimes at my lack of mothering instincts once kids reach the teenager years, but I have been raising five boys for a long, long time, and they do not invite warm and fuzzy.  [I did live with a lot of criticism of my parenting abilities throughout my marriage which I believe affected my mothering instincts, sadly.] My job is to teach my children to be independent, strong people who can handle anything life throws at them.  This is not a warm and fuzzy job.  It is, however, a job for a cheerleader!

I don't tell my adult children what to do.  I do try to encourage them to find solutions to life's problems.  One thing my children know: I love them and I am there for them.  Sometimes I do throw a little tough love at them, and sometimes I pull away a little, like letting go of your children when they are learning to ride a bike, and let them flounder a bit.  They might feel as though I don't care but the absolute opposite is true.  I care so much it hurts.  I cry for my children.  They don't see me cry, but I do.  Their struggles threaten to destroy me sometimes I feel their pain so deeply within me.  Sometimes Mama Bear mode kicks in and I could scratch out the eyes of anyone who threatens my babies, though this is an internal struggle, not one that materializes or is even obvious to those around me.

My children have not had it easy.  They have had it real hard as a matter of fact.  The last 6 years have been brutal. Many of the adults in their lives have let them down.  

Each morning I wake up it starts with a new day of cheering one after another of my children on.  And I have come to accept this as my role, as my purpose right now.  And you know what? That's okay.  I'm okay with that. 

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