July. Seven days into the month.
I was a slow, relaxing first seven days filled with sun, water, and family. Not enough sleep and nursing some cold beer with good food. Fireworks with sticky shorts from messy little hand navigating a spoon and rapidly melting ice cream. Kids running around outside barefoot with their cousins rapidly accumulating mosquito bites. My little family officially found their summer.
Like all things, the good and the less good mix in to temper life. Happiness while you feel sadness intertwined in it all.
Miss M spent the holiday with her Father. Hours, hours and hours of talking through leaving, how she wants to stay with us, and her anxiety over how she feels about conflicts in his home all bubbled and brewed.
“I hate my new stepmother.” “Daddy doesn’t love me.” “If I was on a ledge and he could only save one of us– it’d be her.” “Daddy doesn’t even want me to come on my weekends– he said so.”
I have been hearing these rumblings since the spring when we moved to an every other weekend scheduled where she moved from staying one night to two. Followed by her not wanting him to remarry. But he did. Right after I started to ask questions about him moving into his future wife’s home she won in an an affordable housing lottery. It has gotten more and more specific as time marches on. A few weekends I felt she was adjusting, but they consistently end in calls to me, “I want to go home. Come get me.”
And so I have been trying. Trying to get us through this. But communicating with my Ex is not a thing I have figured out… and so teaching her how to is outside my realm. She’s struggling and hurt and confused and invalidated. But there is only one thing to do, really? Take each incident and try to give her what she needs to get through the next time. I keep trying different tools, holding her in my arms, and having conversations.
My conversations though… those keep changing. At first, I tried:
“This is what Daddy and I think makes the most sense. Your ready for more time at Daddy’s.”
“It’ll be great. Just give it a chance.”
“Well, Daddy has different rules. That’s every house. Just like when you play next door or at a friend’s house. I’m sure after a few visits you’ll know what’s expected.”
And three months in, her complaints ramped up. Her anxiety and distress were elevated. So I did things differently.
“Listen, it is just a few days and you have some good things there. Bring your journal. Try writing in it when things upset you first.”
“Miss M, I can’t come bring you back home because you don’t like a rule or how someone speaks at Dad’s. If your safe, you have to work it out with your grownups there.”
“I don’t have any say in what Daddy serves for dinner, baby. You have to keep talking to him.”
“Well, I am sure he said it because he was mad. People say things when they are mad that are not nice. But he didn’t mean it. He does want you to come on his weekends. It was just a fight.”
And when that didn’t work, I tired a more authentic approach. Hours and hours into repeated conversations and begging to not have to leave home:
“Miss M, you need to figure out how to talk to Daddy. I have a hard time myself and so I don’t have a lot of ideas for you.”
“The problem is you think Daddy is going change how he is. You have to kind of take him as he is.”
“Well, Daddy hardly ever apologizes Miss M. You need to stop expecting him to tell you he’s sorry. Worry more about if the problem doesn’t happen again. That’s an apology without the words.”
And here is the most important conversation I have had. I didn’t know it was happening. Late, after a full day, overtired and sun kissed, we sat together in a chair exhausted and her teary:
“Why can’t I stay? I don’t want new traditions. I hate it at Daddy’s.”
“You don’t hate it. Its just different. And hard.”
“No, I hate it. I always ends up in trouble and no one cares about how I feel.”
“Well, you and Daddy like things your way or no way. But Daddy’s the adult Miss M. Its gonna be his way or no way. You have to just learn that going on and on will just be an argument and you’ll end up in trouble.”
“Mom. I rather be in trouble all the time than to not speak up.”
And there is the thing. The thing that I makes me realize my daughter has what she needs in this life. That she has integrity. She is trying to integrate without losing things she values. She is not soft spoken, but soft inside. She knows somethings about her are integral to her being. She has some fight in her and she wields it. That she won’t accept things that she feels are not okay. That that lesson to make a decision and stick with it when you thinks its right regardless of the consequence is part of her.
It is a seed that’s not just a struggle with the feeling of disappointment. Nor is her issue manifesting as a tantrum. Nor simple unpleasant or bad behavior. While its stubborn, this is not empty stubbornness.
It is accountability. It is decision making. It is listening to her inner heart and her head. It is demanding what she feels is fair and just– regardless that it is unpopular, ill-advised, and will result in consequence. And I don’t want to stifle that.
I want my girl to stay on fire. I don’t want to put out her spark.
So, I stopped giving her advice to temper it. Instead I try to explain how not to waste her energy. Sometimes not repeating herself has its own power. Sometimes biding her time and coming back to things after reflection has value. Imperfect, but advice that held some promise:
“Well, how about this. Sometimes, you don’t need to repeat yourself. How about, in situations like your Dad’s, you say what’s on your mind once? Stick up for yourself once? Do what you need to and accept the consequence? And then, if you feel like you have more to say or disagree with the decision all you want, write it in your journal, or save it to talk with me, or maybe even talk to daddy again once the moment is less emotional?”
“Mom, I rather just argue and lose my iPad.”
I asked the universe, when I think about all the things I wanted for her, that when she is put in a hard spot, she’ll do what she thinks is the right thing. And take whatever shakes out of it as the lesson. That if she ends up with qualities from her circle, that she won’t choose to reach into the envelope of cash in the bureau in secret. That she won’t struggle to accept her Dad has problems, doesn’t need to fix him or share his issues.
And here we are. With my nine year old knowing something deeply about herself. She’s ready for her life as it is in ways I’m still learning to recognize.
She’s beautiful and made for her life.
And so, seven days into July, we’ll see how this weekend goes and try something else is we need to. We woke up today ready to do hard things.