How did you get to be so strong? How did you get so capable? I get asked these types of questions all the time and I rarely think about them. But today I did. My son was bugging me about pancakes, or the lack thereof, in the house for breakfast and it made me think of how my mom would have reacted to this whining. It wouldn’t have been pretty, I can tell you that. My parents’ methods of child-rearing were completely different than my own, for better or worse. They were all about being independent, self-sufficient and handling your own shit. At any rate, roaming down the random thoughts highway I remembered this question and today, I’m going to give an answer.
About 14 years ago, my mother inconveniently died. I say inconvenient, because it wasn’t actually my idea and I had plenty of questions that I had neglected to have her answer so I’m stuck wondering what my mom thought of everything related to her kids and their lives while growing up. Actually, she was an English teacher and just the previous run-on sentence was probably enough to kill her. At any rate, she died. And within two years my dad died too. Just to add to the greater joy in my life, in the midst of those two deaths, my son was kicked out of pre-school and then diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism.
I was floored - shocked actually – that all the idiosyncrasies that were my child weren’t “normal”. I wanted to cry on my mom’s shoulder and rail against the world but she wasn’t around. My dad wasn’t either so that only left Kevin, my husband, but when I turned to him he was crying too. So what do you do? When everything around you is falling apart and there’s nobody left to lean on, what do you do? YOU BECOME THE STRONG ONE. There’s no choice. You’re there, with three kids, a husband and a pretty difficult situation. Someone has to be Atlas and in this situation, that someone was me. So you pick up your burdens and you CARRY ON. It’s not that my husband wasn’t on board the situation, he was, but he already had a job to do and that job didn’t allow a lot of extra time for treatments, research and intervention ideas.
It’s always amazed me that people view that as incredible. I mean, what other options did I have? Things needed to be done. Life needed to go on. Methodologies needed to be researched. We had a MAJOR problem to deal with and someone (that someone being me) was going to have to step up to the plate. I’ve always been amazed that people ever think there’s a choice. There’s not. You just do what you have to do.
Over time, the more often you step up to the plate, the less scary the plate becomes. It’s that mentality that has enabled me to deal with my many family crises, as well as many situations that my friends have found themselves in. Calmness in the face of the storm is a trait that is very beneficial to have. And that trait can be honed, sometimes not by choice, but by necessity.
When I was growing up my older brother was hit by a car. It was a terrible accident, and while I won’t go into details, he ended up blind in one eye with a surgically reconstructed nose and years upon years of craniofacial surgery. He was 10 and I was 7 when it happened. It was a traumatic even that shaped my childhood and the ripple effects have never ended. I once asked my mom how she dealt with such a situation as well as two other small children at home. Her reply was “you deal with the situation you’ve been given. You can’t just drop everything for the one child who needs you because then you create situations for the other two children who are left behind. You need to find balance and it’s not easy. You just do what you have to do.”
So the next time you find yourself in a difficult situation, don’t think of it as a burden. Think of it as a way to spread your wings, show yourself that you too can be a pillar of strength. Believe me, it will change your outlook on the world.