Our two arms together say everything. So different and yet similar. Here she is at 16, tender skin with battle scars. There I am, with my semi-colon tattoo I got when I didn’t know what else to do, how else to support my girl when she didn’t think she wanted to live. I just couldn’t believe the story was going to end this way! Spoiler Alert: The guy doesn’t get the girl in the end. But I do. Get the girl. At least for now. For a little more time. And I’ll settle for that.
When I brought Lili home from the hospital at three days old, I knew then that I didn’t have a clue about parenting. How was I going to keep this tiny human being alive? I’m embarrassed when I see these photos of her first day home. The first one is of me crying, looking like a child myself, holding her. The second photo is me, back in my hospital gown (that’s right, I changed BACK into my hospital gown even though I was at HOME) and got right into bed. I wished I could have stayed at the hospital, where the nurses knew what to do and I was supervised at all times.
From the moment I knew I was pregnant, I loved Lili. That was the first thing I said when the doctor placed her on my chest: “I love her.” I look back at the early years of raising her and I ache over the mistakes I made – some big, some smaller. But there were also shining moments too, where my natural instincts to nurture and protect and supply entertainment were present. Parenting has been a humbling experience to say the least. One that has broken my heart open and brought me to my knees many times over.Lili was just three days into her 15th year when her dad and I made the impossible decision to sign custody of her over to strangers. Before he signed on the dotted line, her dad looked up at me, hand shaking and asked “Are you sure we’re doing the right thing?” All I could say was “I don’t know.” But I knew that we couldn’t keep her safe anymore. Lili was clinically depressed and anxious and her self-harming behavior had become extremely dangerous, and possibly life-threatening.
The year leading up to this decision to send her away, and the first several months of her being gone, were the hardest time of my adult life. I fell apart. I would see friends at the grocery store and turned away to avoid conversation. I sobbed when friends posted pictures on Facebook of their daughters dressed up for homecoming, celebrating “normal” milestones that we weren’t having.
I couldn’t make sense of what was happening in my life and I certainly couldn’t control it, so I had to surrender. I didn’t do it readily or gracefully. In fact, I was a wee bit rebellious at first. I was advised to “do my work” by the therapists at the program Lili was in and let her do hers. I hated when they would say that! I was sad. I was grieving. My daughter was gone. I was angry. I didn’t want to do any “work”. And truth be told, I was fucking exhausted. I needed a break.
I spent 3 months in Santa Cruz on the beach. I went to yoga, I spent time with my other kids, and I started to “do my work.” Which meant excavating some old territory that I really would rather not have looked at, like my childhood and my marriage(s) and mistakes I made as a parent. As a mom, I’ve had to sit in the fire of my own guilt and shame around choices I’ve made, even as I understand that I was doing the best I could. Rough terrain. Although there were many days of darkness, my mantra became: “I trust the universe” because even though my life seemed tragic (to me), I wanted to believe, needed to believe, there was a greater reason for what was happening.
While Lili was learning more about herself and getting honest, I was taking a long look at my life and noticing what was and wasn’t working in it. She and I are both at turning points in our lives. After 20 months of hard-ass work, Lili is graduating from her program and coming home and my marriage is ending. My divorce is final next month. I’ve done this as consciously and kindly as possible and I’m proud of how Andy and I have both shown up, with a few bumps along the way, but mostly, with open hearts, love and respect.
When Anna Yarrow said she had some sessions open for her Spirit and Bone project, I was excited to have a photo representation of this potent time. The words “Spirit” and “Bone” are strong – and sinewy and bloody – kind of like the past couple of years. Gritty. And Lion hearted. The hero’s journey down into the abyss and back up again. I have grieved what I thought I knew, who I thought I was, what I thought the future held. I am more open to what actually IS now, and I look forward to welcoming my daughter home – who she has become, what she is showing up as and beginning this new chapter in my life as well.