When Thankfulness is Hard

It is the first major holiday as a family of three.  The winter holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and New Christmas occupy a special place in my heart.  I love cooking and gifts and Christmas music and curling up under a blanket. I have approached this season with a heavy heart.  Knowing that it was this time last year that my my ex began a journey that would lead to him walking out of our lives, has made me rethink every moment of last year’s holiday season.  So, as today is the day we pause and reflect on what we are Thankful for, my thankfulness is often through the fog of tears.

Oddly, I am thankful that the decision to divorce was not left up to me.  I am now able to see with clarity that I probably would have never left my marriage, no matter how insignificant I became.  And due to the circumstance of how it all went down, the custody battle was non-existent, for which I am grateful.

I am thankful that despite everything, the boys and I were able to keep things somewhat normal.  We stayed in our home and they have the same schools and sports teams.  We kept our dogs, and even one of the cats made a strange journey back to us.

I am so very blessed that God knew what my heart needed and basically dropped a group of friends and an amazing church community into my lap when I needed it the most.  I remember crying out in prayer that there was no way I could stay here because I felt so alone and disconnected from my community.  It was like God stepped in and met one of my greatest needs

Lastly, I am thankful for the gift of my sons.  The journey to learn how to parent them alone has been hard.  We are in the middle of a challenging season with the combination of teen boy hormones, grief, and trauma.  There are days I don’t think I can or want to parent them.  But, guess what, at the end of the day, we are still a family and as hard as it is, they are everything to me and I am grateful for the gift of being their mom.

So, yes, being thankful is hard this  year.  My grief and joy are strange bedfellows.  I am trying to keep my expectations low knowing that we are all very raw this year.  But, Bolt, Messi, and I are showing up every day to live, to laugh, to fight, and to love.

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The Language of Family

When my sons came home from Ethiopia in 2009, they were four and five years old, thus they had years to learn to speak, listen, and communicate.  Immediately, we jumped into the challenges of parenting children who literally cannot understand what you are saying.  Quickly, I discovered that I had to simplify my language – I learned a few words in Amharic, but really, I began communicating through my arms and gestures and pointing at things.  One of the first things I remember is “ow, house owie” when trying to explain why “hurting the house” (i.e. coloring on walls, picking off paint, setting curtains on fire) is bad.  Messi acquired English quickly, Bolt a little longer.  Within the next 18 months or so, I could effectively communicate with my sons.  However, I still found myself speaking “simply” just to avoid trying to explain terms that are hard to define.

Fast forward to 2017.  My sons are in middle school, we are hurting, grieving, and surviving.  However, I feel the emotional “language” of our family never really caught up with the developmental stages of my sons.  We still use a lot of “happy, sad, mad, frustrated” when we all know that emotions are much more complex than that.  What appears happy may actually be confused or what appears angry may reflect sadness.

Over the past few months, as I have sat in both the therapist of my son and of myself, I find myself thinking about the language I use to communicate with my sons.  It is still simple, which can be useful, but the problem is that the language of being part of a family is not simple.  Families are messy and involve love, hate, grief, joy, contentment, safety, anger, frustration, and so many other feelings and ideas.  I have been trying to make a conscious effort to expand the language of our family to reflect on its complexities.

Of all the language I use, the one term that comes out daily is GRACE.  Give each other grace to grieve, grace to be angry, grace to laugh, grace to be annoying, and grace to walk in the moment.  As I tucked my son in tonight, on his first day of school, and he was being a punk, I had to take a step back and verbalize that “it looks like you need a little grace tonight”.  Of all the language, I use with my sons, grace is the one I want them to remember when they think of our family.

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