I ran in the door, letting it slam behind me. My Mom was heating water on the stove for my bath that night. There were no lights on in the house, and I could tell by the draw in my Mom’s face that something was wrong. I didn’t have to ask what it was. There was a look to her face when a grenade had been thrown into our home. Her eyes tired with worry. Bags beginning to form with lack of sleep. The corners of her mouth pulled downward, as if she would never smile again. This was a pattern in my home.
This was my moment to shine. I would crack a joke, or compliment my mom in some way to help her find her smile again. Her nickname for me was “sunshine”. She said I was always there to be positive or make her laugh. I took it on, with everything I had.
I learned what her face looked like if my dad had lost his job. There was a difference you know……more anger was bubbling to the surface, masking fear. This meant my jokes might not work….wiser to go the compliment route.
I learned what her face looked like if a utility had been shut off. Worry masking fear. Her eyes were softer during these moments. A joke could make it in, but it might not create lasting happiness for the night. Better to have a litany of jokes ready.
I was a light in my Mama’s darkness. I knew this. I had the touch. I grew in my assuredness that I had the ability to help my mom through these tough times. I was the answer. I knew this at six years old as much as I knew that I loved Snoopy’s girlfriend Belle the very most in the Peanut series.
This was set in stone at eight years old, when my Mom asked me if she should divorce my Dad. I was sitting on the side of her bed. My gaze was set on the quote hanging in her room. I remember the quote that I focused on was “Children Learn What They Live” by Erica Jong. I would later write a speech on this very thing. But not that day…..that day, I channeled my very best inner counselor and discussed what my Mom should do. “Well, you guys do argue a whole lot”…..and ” how would you support us”? I remember helping her to decide what she might want to do for a living if she had the choice. We both knew she didn’t, but at eight years old, I provided hope. That was my job.
I grew up reading faces. I grew up temperature taking. What was the mood in the house, what would my day look like and what skills did I have to effect that?
I was skill building, and I was completely unaware.
I woke up in the morning with the belief that I could be positive enough to change my world and other’s. That’s pretty impossible as a child. I know this now. I see children everyday that can not create change in their own household. They can only create change in their own head. I teach them that this is their light and THEY have control over it. It’s the only thing we have real control over…..our thoughts. It is our thoughts that create how we experience our world, no matter how out of control it is.
A day came at fourteen years of age, that I was forced to sit in helplessness. I was forced to realize that I had no control over the mood in our household…..I never really did.
Knock knock knock. I rubbed my sleepy eyes and rushed to the door at 8:00 am on a Saturday morning. I was greeted by two police officers and the landlord of our current home. They simply asked me to get my Mom or Dad. I knew, this wasn’t a utility being shut off. I knew all of those unanswered calls we had been instructed to ignore meant something. I knew…….that our lives were about to change.
The people at the front door informed my Mom that we had twenty four hours to vacate the premises. Translation…..twenty four hours to get the hell out of the home that we had lived in the longest….five years at that point.
I could no longer reach her.
My Dad was conspicuously absent over that weekend. Forcing us to find help wherever we could in relocating to my Grandpa’s house. Our belongings would go into storage, and we would never see most of them again.
My precious Belle was in there, and I convinced myself I would see her when we moved to a new home. I gave myself a light in that belief.
A spiral of helplessness began. Jokes didn’t work. Compliments fell on deaf ears. At this point, I was either a part of the problem or I was a part of the solution. My childish way of fixing things no longer worked and was no longer welcomed. I floundered for years, not recognizing that much of the anxiety I was experiencing was due to lack of control. I had spent so many years being attached to the idea that I had control over other people’s moods and feelings.
This led me to take a closer look at an unhealthy coping skill I had been building for years.
Temperature taking is when we try and read everyone’s mood around us and be a force of change for the better. This doesn’t sound so bad does it?
The ugly side of this is when we realize we can’t control how other people feel and act.
If we do, it is only temporary.
That lack of control can create anxiety.
The real gift lies in the helplessness.
Inside of helplessness lies a beautiful light.
Helplessness renders us paralyzed.
Paralyzed creates a moment of pause.
Feeling allows us to pay attention to our thoughts.
Thoughts lead us to the light.
This light shows all of our flaws.
This light shows our intentions and our authentic values.
This light shows our inner ugly when we are faced with a lack of control.
This light forces us to feel our anxiety and be curious of the root.
Being a “fixer” dulls this light.
I would say it downright turns it off.
Fixing allows no space for helplessness.
In helplessness, lie our greatest gifts. The ability to just be. To not be attached to an outcome, but to sit in the feeling of doing our very best and trusting that the outcome will be for us.
Helplessness has allowed me to own my own moods and feelings, not taking things personally and not expect others to create my happiness.
Helplessness has helped me to stop driving my husband nuts with questions like “are you in a bad mood” and refusing to let it go.
Helplessness has helped this mom of a 14 year old and 10 year old to realize that many things I just can’t fix…..and that is perfect.
Helplessness has set this fixer free.
I am free to just listen and reflect.
I am free to be a space where you can find your own answer.
In that, it occurs to me that I am still helping.
Some things never change, always a helper….even in my helplessness.
Kerry Foreman is a Mindfulness Based Psychotherapist writing and speaking about the human condition, mindful parenting and more. To join the conversation and learn new skills, follow her @getgrounded or her blog at www.groundedblog.com.