Lately, I've noticed that I've become more anxious, due to both my thyroid medication and the more mundane realities of middle age. I've always tended toward a slight and useful paranoia, but circumstance and hormones have tipped the balance and I am substantially more prone to worry than I used to be. Although I've come through a disruptive bout with thyroid cancer pretty well, it left me with the lingering feeling that if anyone were to look too hard, we'd probably find some more bad news. I don't get through the routine mammogram as breezily as I used to, and the other night I woke up from a sound sleep with the distinct thought that, just based on age and statistics, my life (at least the active part of it) was probably more than half over, which was not a soothing thought. I am sure I am quite typical of American adults in their forties.
I'd like to quell the emotional edginess of my newfound perspective (or lack thereof), and at the same time, I'm aware that it's a fairly frank response to reality. As the Buddhist Shunryu Suzuki Roshi once said, "Life is like getting into a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink."
My fretfulness does not make me a better parent, but it does make me more like T, who is a world-class worrywart. Just today, he walked into the bathroom and said with absolute seriousness "What are we going to do when I'm not here to remind you to brush your teeth EVERY morning?!" Yesterday, he told me three times "Do not forget to lock the front door behind me after I leave!" The day before that, while we were packing for a short vacation, he must have asked Tim and I a dozen times "Is there ANYTHING we forgot? ANYTHING AT ALL?!"
Selfishly, I find this relaxing and a little bit comic (my thyroid medication compromises my short-term memory, and I'm embarrassed to admit that his post-traumatic stress-induced hypervigilance works out rather nicely sometimes!). There's little likelihood I'll overlook some obvious risk, so vigilant is he in alerting me to life's potential hazards. But I feel for the guy. It's no wonder he has a hard time giving up his beloved marijuana!
We had a nice weekend trip with T and his bestfriend, with whom he shares a very similar life story. Together, they create an odd atmosphere, both innocent and mournful, but they love each other best perhaps because they let each other ebb and flow and never let a stormy mood interfere with their absolute loyalty to one another. I think they are a bit ahead of me on the path to enlightenment, as obvious as their struggles are. (In fact, I have often wondered that T must be a particularly advanced being, because the universe seems to have conspired to hurl at him an epic and ceaseless array of thunderbolts from the moment he was born, while all it's really dealt me was an ordinary midlife crisis!)
Listening to them chat casually about this childhood disaster and that one, I was struck by their advanced awareness of loss. The lesson I am learning now--that I can't control or predict the future, that inevitably, everything I have and love will be lost or change--took a long time to sink in. Dumb luck made me arrogant; I became accustomed to having and holding on to what I wanted for myself. But T and others like him knew the truth very well a long time ago; through no action of their own, they've lost their mothers and their fathers, as well as numerous homes, many friendships, and most opportunities to experience a "normal" childhood. (While we were driving to the mountains, T's bestfriend casually said to me "This is so great- I was never allowed to go on trips like this when I was in foster care, because I had to get permission for everything from my social worker, and if was up to her, nobody would ever be allowed to even talk to me without being fingerprinted first.") Yet they manage to get up every day and take the next shaky step on their path, and listening to them together, it's impossible not to notice their open-heartedness.
Which brings me to another bit of Buddhist perspective, two quotes from the writer Pema Chodron that, together, capture my thoughts about bonding with and parenting an older traumatized kid. She writes, "Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.
It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness
well can we be present with the darkness of others."
And further, "We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but
the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together
and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart
again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be
room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery,
I'd say that only a grasp of those two ideas is required to make a decent foster/adoptive parent to a traumatized kid.
Happy New Year!