Adaptation

I recently read an article in “O” Magazine by Glennon Doyle Melton that stayed with me. She tells the story of the day her young daughter -upon hearing of the divorce of a friend’s parents – asks her: “Mom, will that ever happen to us?” Melton replies: “No, baby. It won’t You’re safe.” A year later, she and her husband separated.

I too, have fallen into the “No, never, that won’t happen, not us, no way!” parenting trap.

When we moved from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania three years ago, it was hard on my kids. Really hard. They were ripped out of school mid-year. They went from public school to private school. They went from wearing whatever they wanted to a turtleneck and itchy plaid jumper. They were blindsided.

Those first few months in Pennsylvania were really tough. The girls were sad, then angry, then sad again. The guilt I felt was intense. I called the school guidance counselor once a week to check in until she gently said: “Please stop.” I wanted to fix it, to give them some kind of solace, to bandage the wound and make everything better.

And because I was even more out of my mind than usual, I said: “I promise we will never move again.”

Fast forward 18 months and guess what we are doing? Moving again. That was a fun conversation. Talk about eating your words.

“We will never move again.” What’s in God’s name was I thinking when I said this? Am I Moses? The Great and Powerful Oz? Granted, I didn’t anticipate moving 18 months later, but how did I know we would NEVER, EVER move again? Because, what do we know, really? We may not plan to move, or get fired, or divorced, or get struck by lightning, or elect an orange-faced sociopath to run our country. But us thinking its not going to happen doesn’t always stop it from happening.

So what would compel me to make crazy false promises? The same reason I make many questionable choices: Fear. Fear of seeing my kids struggle, of permanently screwing them up, of failing at this one job God has entrusted me with.

To assuage my guilt, I tried to convince myself that maybe moving wasn’t as traumatic as I thought, and tried to back up this theory with some online research. I Googled “benefits of moving for kids.” Well, apparently there are none. According to Google, moving increases a child’s chance for mental illness, relationship issues, suicide, drug abuse, cystic acne, prostitution, foot fetishes, gluten intolerance, becoming a killer clown, you name it. I could not find one positive article.

But, research be damned, we did move again. And not only did my girls survive – they thrived. Take that, Google!

One day after dropping Phoebe off at gymnastics, I had some alone time in the car with Emma. She was in a chatty mood so I took a chance and asked: “Hey Em – do you think anything positive has come out of you moving so much?”

“Sure,” she said. “I have friends in two different states.”

“Good point,” I said. “How about you, personally – do you think you changed or gained some insights as a result of moving?”

“Yes,” she said, without hesitation. “It’s like nature and adaptation – like a rose has thorns to keep away predators… or a wolf has a heavy coat to keep warm. But those are bad examples. Because it’s not like I’m angry or scared of people or anything.”

(Proud Mom Moment: When your child uses discernment in her selection of metaphors).

“No, definitely not,” I agreed. “You are neither cold nor thorny.”

“The point is,” she continued, “is that I can adjust. I know now that I can make new friends or catch on quickly with academics.”

“Absolutely,” I said. “And you are brave. I still remember you holding Phoebe’s hand and walking into a new school mid-year with your head held high.”

“Yeah, well it’s not like I was excited about it,” she said, giving me a well-deserved hairy eyeball. “But I had no choice. And it ended up being great. So now I walk into every new situation assuming it’s going to be great.”

Maybe Emma should write the article on the benefits of moving.

The more I hit the “pause” button amidst the daily craziness, the more I learn from my kids, and the more I recognize how I underestimate them. Emma already understands what has taken me dozens hundreds of self help books to learn: She recognized her fear and discomfort, but chose not to focus on it. She didn’t give into it. She chose to feel empowered rather than victimized.

I think as parents it’s our default to anticipate the worse case scenarios, the potential danger and inevitable trauma that lurks behind every corner. And of course, some of that fear is real and necessary. But when I try to protect my kids with my fake promises and my illusions of control, I take away some of their power. I rob them of the chance to navigate their way through new and difficult experiences. Plus, I look like an idiot.

I’ve spent so much time thinking about how the kids were affected by moving that I never stopped to look at how it affected me. Three years of packing, unpacking, cleaning, selling, renting, and buying put me in survival mode. It was all about getting over the next hurdle. But with a little distance comes the realization that my neurotic-meddling-fixing-catastrophizing helicopter parenting style has never served me well in the past. So now, it’s my turn to adapt; let go of the fight or flight behaviors that no longer serve me, and move into this next phase of life.

I assume it’s going to be great.

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12 thoughts on “Adaptation

  1. So good you’re back. No matter the frequency, your posts are always a gift. Impossible to read your essays and not smile. Humor is so necessary these days with agent orange lingering in the shadows. My wife and I recently read a wonderful book of essays about family, raising children and marriage twenty years into the process. ‘Does This Volvo Make My Butt Look Big,’ by Annabel Monaghan. We’ve been buying copies and giving them out like glasses of wine at a tasting. The author will make you laugh until you cry. Each chapter is a few page essay or column that has appeared elsewhere. It’s the most enjoyable, diverting read we’ve come across in ages. This is so much more captivating than self helpers. Thanks for your post today.

  2. Hi Jessie, not sure if you remember me? I was at a workshop at the Jesuit Center. Great and humorous style of writing you have. I believe that to survive in today’s world we must keep our sense of humor. So no matter how many times you have to pack, always remember to take that with you.

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