Parenting: What we should have known…

“...it feels like the heart gets ripped out in little pieces, and somehow is supposed to keep on beating… and it hurts to breathe. And I think these honest conversations are generations overdue.
        Those were my words to a parent earlier today; a parent I have idolized from afar and wished I could measure up to. A parent who is hurting, grieving mistakes, longing for the best for their children. If you are a dad… If you are a mom… Most likely you understand this. We fail, and there are consequences. We misunderstand our children, and they misunderstand us. We don’t do conflict because it’s not polite to fight, and Christians just forgive quickly and silence the chaos and messy of conflict. So we ‘forgive’ and expect to be so easily forgiven, but scars remain on our hearts and one day those scars rip wide open and bleed years of pain, or they thicken the walls of our hearts so we cannot feel. The former is harder, the latter kills.
        I, for one, fear pain. I am terrified of relational pain. That’s just the truth. But I am learning, slowly, deliberately, to let the scars rip open. It is the only way to heal and stay tender… or become tender. And I’m sharing this because I have heard story, after story after story of parental grief in recent weeks, from professionals, from church leaders, from friends. Some just sharing a story, not knowing if I will get it. Some seeking advice… at which point I simply confess, “I get it. I blew it so often and am living in the aftermath of that” and the advice I have for them? Face it and hurt like hell, so you can heal; don’t run and die. Because you will die – something in your spirit will die – if you run. I came pretty close… and it’s a hard recovery.
        Why share this? Because it should have been openly discussed many generations ago. I never knew, and because I didn’t know, I was completely blindsided and lost more than I could afford to lose when I turned to survival. And I don’t want that to happen to you. So know this. I made early vows, and I mostly kept them. They were many vows. Vows of all the things I would not do, all the things that were not ideal in my story. I would not let a child molester near them if I could help it. I would not call them degrading names, or say they are useless and never amount to anything. I would never take their money; if they worked, they would save up for school and their future. There were many things I vowed I would not do. But there were many things I should have done; things that I missed. And I expect, if you are a parent, you understand some of this.
        Parenting is the most beautiful, the most painful, the most rewarding, the most devastating and the most wonderful thing you will ever do. You will fail your children terribly. And they will fail you. And if you don’t talk and face the conflict, a day will come when it will cave in on you and you will have to stay and dig yourself out of the rubble, or you will outrun the debris, and lose everything worth fighting for.
        So start young. Start now. Face the hurts, the betrayals, the misunderstandings (on both sides… it’s not just them and it’s not just you) and fight for your family like you’ve never fought before. Fight *for*, not *with*. Maybe you think they hate you, maybe they think you hate them. Fight with truth, and fight with love. Fight against the hate and the darkness that steals relationship and joy. Fight resentment, and fight for honest conversation, and deep listening. Dare to go to hard places; don’t retreat in passivity and comfort yourself with being a peacemaker.
        That is’t peace. I thought it was. I hate conflict. I hated it when I saw my parents fight. I hated it when dad threatened to kill us, or mom threatened to beat us. I hated it when a parent and one of my siblings threatened one another, or when a sibling threatened me. I became the master of forgiving and letting go, of avoiding the conflict, and expected the world around me to be as ‘gracious’ and ‘forgive’ as easily; but it was neither grace nor forgiveness. It was a blend of fear and apathy. For me, more the former than the latter.. It isn’t worth it. It communicates dreadful things to our children. To my children.
        In the past year I have studied Conflict Resolution, Conflict Analysis, Restorative Justice, Negotiations (a lot of mediation focus), and have learned good ‘fighting’ (aka conflict management) skills. And I am convinced we Christians need to unlearn a lot of the passivity we have adopted and learn a new way of facing conflict, especially as I face the consequences of years of avoiding conflict. Avoidance – even with ‘cheap forgiveness’, as I call it, that doesn’t resolve the deeper story – kills meaningful relationship. Conflict, well managed, is a good and beneficial thing.
        So fight for your family relationships. Get a mediator or support person involved to prevent escalation if that’s something you can’t manage. Do it for them – especially for them, do it for you, and do it for the next generation. A cycle will continue; you choose which one it will be.
family conflict
        I promise you, avoiding the conflict isn’t worth it. Choose your pain; the pain of working through conflict, or the pain of feeling your heart torn as you decide whether you will run as far and as fast as you can, or stay and let your heart bleed back to life, as you face what you ran from in the past.

© Trudy Metzger 2017

Setting Back Time (literally), Cake Batter Disasters, and Other Mother’s Day Musings

How soon it was, after we moved to Canada, that my parents bought that old daisy clock for our kitchen, I don’t recall, but I was enthralled by it. In my little mind it was the prettiest thing on earth, just like the real daisies outside. I would have one just like it when I was all grown up. Mom liked it too. So much so that when it stopped working, sometime around my late preteens, she set out to fix it.  There was also the little issue of not having money for frivolous things so what Red Green’a duct tape couldn’t fix, my parents found a way to redeem. Whether it was lack of finances or love for the clock, now useless, mom took it upon herself to fix it.  She pulled it apart, every little piece, and put it back together again. And, sure enough, it ran again.  Backwards. We kids laughed and joked about that for a long time.

Now, at 47, I look at the picture of that daisy clock and think to myself, if but for a moment, how I’d like to take the ‘clock of my life’ apart and put it back together differently. Maybe go back and do some things differently with a second shot at it. Especially as a mom. That’s me and almost every other mom, with presumably a few exceptions.

Not because of Mother’s Day, but just because of mothering and humanity, this topic has toyed with my mind more than enough lately. My failures stare me in the eye, time and time again, and more so with age. I see who my children have become and are becoming and I am amazed by God’s goodness in spite of my failures, but the awareness of generational sins, cycles and dysfunction are pretty glaring at this stage. So, yes, if I could pull down the old daisy clock, reset it, and go back with all that I’ve learned and…

Truth told, Adam and Eve would eat the apple again, and I would fail as a parent again. And we mothers would look back with regrets, losses, and wonder how God will ever redeem the impact of our generation, and the generation before us. Somehow he just would. Because God is amazing that way.

So that old daisy clock, which looks much less appealing today than it did then, can keep moving forward and I will choose to trust God to be enough for this generation and the next, even as He continues to redeem our generation and the ones before us.

And I’ll take a step back and look at the messy parts with new hope. More like that cake mom made when I was around 8 years old. The old yellow bowl was filled with batter and mom stirred enthusiastically, trying to beat out every lump. (So help us God if cake should ever have a lump in it…) And just like that, having been a bit too enthusiastic, she sent the bowl flying and chocolate batter spread everywhere on the counter, running down the counter and onto the floor. The bulk of it stayed on the counter, fortunately. We were not wealthy by any means, and wasting a cake would never do! So, after much fussing and gasping and exclaiming – while her children watched in humour – mom scraped the batter from the counter back into the bowl, cleaned up the rest of the mess, and baked a lovely cake for us. We kids who witnessed it, and those who heard the story, laughed many times over that moment.

Life is hard. Really hard, sometimes. And we moms have a habit of beating ourselves up pretty good. We look at our failures and see only the batter running down the cupboard and the mess on the floor. We forget that the bowl with batter running down it’s sides still has much in it to give, and what is spilled on the counter, God will redeem and make something beautiful out of it. The spills, He will wipe up.

Mother’s Day is the hardest for me to blog about, or write about, and I pretty much never speak publicly about my mom. There are so many unanswered questions, so many pains left in limbo, so much loss that I must give to God constantly, that it would be easier to look the other way. That is true in my relationship with my mom, and it is true in my own journey as a mom. And I’m not alone. I hear story, after story after story. I’ve chosen to forgive even where the story has never been acknowledged. When I see mom I hug her and tell her I love her, but my arms feel empty even as they are wrapped around her, knowing some things have never been and will likely never be.  Mom is old now, and because she is still living, I carry the story quietly within me out of respect. It’s something I did for dad, and it’s something I will do for mom. And when she is gone, I will speak, but I will speak respectfully as I have about dad. I bless her as she lives out her remaining days, months, years, and possibly decades (in fact probably decades… she’s pretty stubborn, or determined, depending on point of view). And I trust she has made peace with her God. I hear it in her, and bless her. But there are scars that cannot be addressed. So I trust God to wipe up the spills, scrape up the batter that remains, and make something beautiful.

This Mother’s Day, if you grieve for whatever reason, I pray for you. If you are the mom who failed and feels beyond redemption… If you are the mom who never had babies, or lost them all, or lost any… If you are the mom who is unappreciated, abandoned, or used and abused… If you are the mom who is in the thick of the mess of those early years, or struggling through difficult teen years (not all are, but some are)… If you are daughter or son who is estranged, rejected, or manipulated and repeatedly wounded… This day you are worth being celebrated.

And, this Mother’s Day,  if you are the mom whose life is idyllic, beautiful and ‘perfect’…. You are worth being celebrated.

Motherhood is a beautiful thing, made up of more joy and more pain than any human can possibly imagine exists in this world. Nothing has made the miracle of God and the wonder of spiritual life more real than motherhood. Nothing has broken my heart in deeper places. And nothing has caused me to reach out to Someone greater and say, “I need You. We need You!” And I trust that Someone with my life, my children, my mother and our intertwined stories, to bring something beautiful out of all things.

Happy Mother’s Day!

With Love, 
Trudy

 

© Trudy Metzger 2017

The Emperor Spats with an Elder

(Continued from previous blog. And final dog episode)…

The first dog to enter Kaiser’s oversized personal bubble was a giant, well filled out, tan and black German Shepherd. He had the straight back and full body and a general look of authority and confidence. Kaiser is lean and slanted with a bit of a wolfe-like face and mane area. Especially when his hair flares in aggression. And it did.

This shocked me.

Kaiser lived with seven or eight other dogs at camp, I was told, and did well. He went to obedience training and spent time with other dogs. He did well there too, I was told.  So when he bristled at the sight of one old, unconcerned Shepherd, and looked like he was ready to slaughter him for lunch, I gulped. And I certainly didn’t know what to do besides pull back while he tugged forward, barking viciously .

The gentleman with the other Shepherd looked as unconcerned as his dog, and moved forward, even as I apologized for my dog’s behavior, which was drowned out by the raucous. At length the world was quiet, and before I could say a thing, the gentleman spoke.

“You have a pretty vicious dog there?”

I explained that I had owned him for all of under three hours, and still had quite a drive ahead, and I really didn’t know he was vicious. “When you look at him, does his face look vicious?” I asked him, because I couldn’t see my dog’s face with him pulling ahead of me like that, and besides, he owned a Shepherd. He was far more likely to know.

“Yes, he looks quite vicious, really,” he said.

“I’m beginning to wonder what I’ve gotten myself into,” I said. “No one mentioned any of this to me. I wasn’t expecting it.” I apologized again, this time without the racket, and said I would take him to another corner and figure it out.

But the gentleman encouraged me to stay. “Give them a chance. My old guy here can handle him. He’ll calm him down.” So, instead of moving further apart, we moved closer together. Nervously I watched as Kaiser barked and threatened, teeth bared, his bark carrying for miles around. And then he calmed again. We moved closer, letting both dogs move until they were face to face, and that is when I witnessed a most miraculous thing. Kaiser bristled a bit and barked loudly again. The older Shepherd returned a gentle authoritative bark, and kept walking. He walked right past Kaiser’s face, brushing gently against him–at which point the usual dog greeting ensued, which I shall not describe–and then the old fellow walked around to the other side and brushed right up against Kaiser again, ever so gently again. The barking stopped instantly, and Kaiser had a new friend. It gave me a shred of hope that I had not purchased  a dog that would maul anyone and anything that approached me.

The other Shepherd went and stood at his master’s side. Kaiser came and stood ever so slightly in front of me.

“Look at that! You have yourself a protector. He’s already bonded with you and will defend you,” the man said.

I wasn’t sure if that was comforting or terrifying, after what I had seen, and with picturing a family and neighbourhood of children back home, but at least there was a bond. It was a starting point. We chatted a while before we each walked our separate ways. That’s when other dogs came. Not one. Not two. But dogs. Plural, way too many, walking around. I wasn’t ready to drive with Kaiser, and I wasn’t ready to deal with his aggression. I opted for the latter and kept walking, trying to keep him focused away from the other dogs, but he was on high alert, and it started all over again. The gentleman and his Shepherd walked our way, the old shepherd walking between Kaiser and the other dogs, and again Kaiser settled down, only distracted momentarily, to bark, when a new dog came too near.

We returned to the car, after about an hour of play, and a drink–his drink, not mine, because I knew I had hours of driving with no break–and headed for home. He nuzzled close to my hand when I reached back each time he showed signs of distress, and calmed right back down.

About an hour from home I noted my gas tank was running low, and stopped at the last rest stop to get gas and rid Kaiser of more energy. I pulled up to the gas bar, opened the door and Kaiser again dove recklessly at me. And at that moment I stopped being his comforter and I became his master. I pushed him back into his seat with great determination, much like a kid trying to force a heavy spring loaded jack-in-the-box into its container, and closed the lid. I mean, the door. I waited a moment and tried again to open the door and get gas. Again he tried to bolt. So I belted myself in and drove  across the parking lot. And that’s when he figured out I don’t like his behavior. I talked to him like I would to any toddler in a tantrum, and knew he didn’t understand a word of it, but I felt better. And I was certain he understood my displeasure, because he whimpered and barked a quiet, sad little bark and then settled down when I told him, “No! You can’t behave that way and there is no way you’re getting out. You will learn to sit quietly and wait.” And he sat back in his seat in resignation.

We sat there for what must seem like ‘forever’ in dog minutes, especially a young one like him. And then I spoke to him before I opened the door. I explained that he needed to wait, and I would help him out on my terms. Amazingly, it went sort of okay. I wasn’t as ‘in charge’ as I wanted to be, but more than earlier, and that was progress. And all progress is good progress. This is what I tell myself daily right now.

We played for a good twenty minutes, after which I pulled back to the gas bar. I told Kaiser he would stay in the car, and I would get out without him, and commanded him to ‘Sit’. He sat. I held up my hand and said, “Wait”. And he waited. He watched me closely as I moved out of the car and filled up, but he waited politely.

I had opened the window a few inches and spoke before going in to pay–because of course the ‘pay at the pump’ wasn’t working. He sat there, all proper, and watched me. “Wait’ in Kaiser’s world means I will return soon, and you may move around while you wait.” He practiced in the next few minutes.

The guy in front of me was on a mini-winning streak, buying lottery tickets and spending the money faster than he was making it. He used his winnings and added from his pocket, before finally wrapping it up, whether due to boredom from not winning, or out of change. Either way, he shuffled along and I paid for my gas.

In the car Kaiser sat as properly as an Emperor should, in a fur coat and four legs, and waited, eyes on me with every move. I sat in with no lunging. He rose to his feet, kissed my shoulders generously, as if to thank me for coming back, and then settled down again.

The final stretch home was completely uneventful, until that moment when we pulled in the lane. Incorporating a German Shepherd dog with fear issues, into a family of seven humans and one other canine, is a very different challenge entirely.

It has been almost a month now, since getting Kaiser, and he has overcome most anxieties in the day to day. Nighttime anxieties still come and go, and, speaking of coming and going, that’s still not his favourite thing, to have changes to the household ‘pack’. So our last big hurdle is to have all of us leave him several hours a week, when the children return to school and I begin university next week.

Aside from this he has made himself at home enough to sneak into Tim’s chair, wear Bryan’s hat, and allow our 10-yr-old cockapoo, Akira, to visit his ‘house’. Keeping in mind that she despised him and would have had him for a snack if she wasn’t a quarter of his size, so some of that ‘allowing’ is her growth.


  


His favourite thing in the world is playing ball, of any sort but in particular soccer. And especially with our youngest, which has been a very good thing, drawing the youngest teen off the couch to play. I read that German Shepherds do their best to draw a family together, and that is accurate. His self-appointed job–because he is bred to be a working dog–is to engage the whole family in play. Everything from keep away, to high jump, to hide and seek, and whatever entertainment we can conjure up, he’s in. When playing ball we count down, “Three, two… play ball”, so that when our son randomly counts, he studies him closely, appearing confused as to why there’s no ball to play.

All around, I am glad I made that trip to Montreal four weeks ago, and glad that we acquired a dog of his intelligence, obedience and affection. He is a guard dog, however, so if you plan on ‘popping by’, call first and don’t walk into the house uninvited, or without an ‘inspection’ from the Emperor himself.

And now, having adjusted to life with a dog like Kaiser, and before I become the crazy dog lady if it’s not already too l, I will move on to a new chapter of life. Where the road will lead,  after my next two years of being invested in intense study, doing the University of Waterloo Master Peace and Conflict Studies, I am not certain. Still, I am glad I made that decision to move in a new direction even though I do not love the uncertainty of dramatic change. That said, I am confident it will be good and a step forward… it always has been in the past.

 

Love,
~ T ~

 © Trudy Metzger