Gratitude. I feel it as I sit in front of a softly crackling fire, enjoying the fruity-rich notes of my first cup of coffee as I gaze out on a magnificent Puget Sound seascape. I look forward to another day of adventuring on our last get-away before the school year starts. There is a palpable ease all around. The stresses of every day are suspended and everything feels right.
Not far from where I sit in reverie, my children lie in various states of restless sleep. They will awaken soon, and when they do, they will live this moment differently. What I find soul-stirring, they find overwhelming. The experience moves them in a different way. Dread sets in at the first sign of an open suitcase. My son is clear, “Mom, why do we always have to go on vacation?”
A holiday is a transition
Vacation plucks our kids away from what they know and drops them into something new. They cannot see the beauty or the adventure. The lack of familiarity feels unsafe. Yet every year I research, and plan, and pack. Like coaxing the last smudge of toothpaste from the bottom of an empty tube, I urge my children to experience vacation the way I do, with gratitude.
One week later, my 16-year-old daughter and I find ourselves driving home from her senior orientation, where she spent nearly an hour ion recounting to her advisor an abysmal summer break. Her siblings tortured her, the circadian prompt to rise and move about in daylight burdened her, and she suffered through hardships too enormous to recount. I work hard at encouraging my children to speak for themselves, to tell their truth even if it is not consistent with mine. Therefore, I did not challenge her. Biting my tongue, I stood, incredulous, beside her.
I try to focus on the road, but the swelling in my tongue distracts me, as does the drag created by the kayaks and paddle boards still strapped to the top of our car. The same ones in which the two of us had explored the turns of a lake together, just three days earlier.
Where does this girl live? Is she totally oblivious? Where does she get this stuff?
The rant starts in my head . . .
. . . but soon spills out of my mouth. I make a feeble attempt to signal curiosity–too feeble. My tone conveys self-righteous indignation. “Did you really have such a terrible summer? Do you truly see your life that way?” She secures her headphones over her ears. The conversation never starts, but my distress surges. It fills my body, then the space around us, until there is not enough room for both of us in the car.
I drop her off at home and go on to pick up school supplies. I toss ordinary pencils into the cart, not the refillable mechanical ones I know she prefers. A simple notebook. No extras. She won’t notice anyway. My effort hardly matters…
I stand in the long line of other unappreciated parents with carts full of last-minute essentials. These are my people. The wait feels interminable, so I take out my phone. Facebook greets me generously, asking for nothing but what is on my mind and offering me a memory from five years ago. I look at what 2014 has to offer. It is my Day One response to the Gratitude Challenge.
“I am grateful for a Universe that allows me to know wonder in every day . . . even if the only thing I wonder is why?”
It goes on.
“I am grateful for each of the five uniquely spirited children who call me mom . . .even when they put away their clean clothes at the bottom of the dirty laundry hamper.”
“I am grateful for a large capacity washing machine.”
It’s true. I do feel gratitude.
At the same time, I am incredulous.
And, right now, I am angry.
Emotions arise automatically. They come in waves and remind us where we’ve been. Whether we want them to or not, they connect us with the generations that made us. Through bodily sensations that surface beneath consciousness, they serve to warn us, to protect us, or to let us know we’re safe.
Feelings can only be felt through the layers of our experience–this is the lens through which we construct reality. My anger in this moment comes from all the times I’ve felt unseen. It is ancient history that persists as cellular memory–residue of a time when I felt unsafe. It has nothing to do with my daughter. Her actions only pushed the buttons that called it forward.
Likewise, our children’s reality is based on the totality of their experience. Intolerance, rigidity, indifference, pessimism, and rage all reflect the journey. My children’s aversion to vacation, my daughter’s lack of gratitude and unenthusiastic interpretation of her summer break come from something in their pasts that felt unsafe.
When we react to our children under the fallacy that they make us feel a certain way, we only reinforce their lack of safety and security. We do not teach them a lesson or alter their future behavior. We cannot make our children see the world as we see it or change what life has given them. What we can do is be there as they go forward, help them to know the healing of relationship. Nor can we change what life has given us. We can work to understand that our insecurity was not put there by our children, but long ago. We all have a narrative to rewrite.
I hope that one day each of my children will sit before a seascape and feel its exquisiteness. May they hear music that plays just for them. I hope they will know what it means to feel warmed from the inside and to be in oneness with the universe. Then, I will know that they have found safety.
For today, however, I am grateful for the journey, even when . . .
Carol Monaco is a parent of five children adopted through foster care, parenting consultant, writer, and accidental (but really passionate) advocate. she has a daughter in college, a son living in a residential treatment center, and a household that moves in the flow of the trauma current. Having experienced the depths of despair over behavior that she did not understand and could never seem to control, her work is focused on parenting with mindful self-compassion. She especially enjoy facilitating groups, witnessing the transformation that happens when we move away from blaming and shaming ourselves and into the space of acceptance and appreciation even as we stumble. She am a life-long learner with Master’s Degrees in business administration and psychology. Carol has training in interpersonal neurobiology, adoptive and foster family therapy, neuroplasticity and contemplative practice, children’s yoga, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Reiki, Hand-in-Hand Parenting for professionals, Emotional Freedom Technique, and crisis intervention. She uses it all, every single day.