Ashley Torrent

It's Not So Quiet In Here



Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting...the question isn’t so much “Are you parenting the right way?” as it is: “Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?”
— Brené Brown

Mother of Dragons

My friend and I are having very different experiences of parenting.  She has a 5 year old girl, who is the same age as my oldest son.  One day not too long ago, her daughter and I sat together and discussed the movie Frozen.  She sat still in her chair, sharing her feelings about the relationships portrayed in the movie.  She didn't interrupt or pick her nose and she didn't raise her voice or become  impatient with my questions.  I sat there shocked.  I came to realize that these types of quiet, thoughtful conversations happen regularly between her and her parents.  I have never experienced anything like this with my son and it's not from a lack of trying.  Was it wrong that I secretly longed for this kind of interaction with my kids or that I envied my friend for having them?  It hit me, like Daenerys, I too am the mother of dragons.  I have given birth to two fierce, beautiful beasts whose energy and enthusiasm for life knows no bounds.    As romantic as it sounds, what it really means is I that am responsible for keeping these wild things safe and alive while teaching them to be mannerly, articulate, sensitive and thoughtful.  It's hard to do when they can't be still in mind or body.  Their kinetic energy buzzes through them all day, every day and it appears that my job is to help them channel that energy so my home doesn't become a combat zone.

I watch them eat and they are like Vikings who haven't had fresh meat in days.  They attack their food eagerly, my youngest jamming fistfuls into his mouth to the point of gagging; while my oldest chews with his mouth open, food dripping down his face and arms, finally using his clothing to wipe himself clean. Yelling is their inside voice and some days it feels like the only way I will be heard is if I yell the loudest.  My quiet, even temperament is tested constantly while my nervous system pinballs in response to the sound of sirens, car crashes, death star explosions, incessant fights and near hospital visits.   Booger coated fingers reach for my face while my breasts that nursed them are grabbed and pinched amid fits of giggles.  I sit in urine while trying to use the bathroom and step in a puddle, discovering too late a diaper has been ripped off.

Life is an endless adventure and their curiosity has no limits.  A walk in the park quickly becomes a battlefield and we are fighting for our lives, or a piece of dog poop becomes something we should pick up instead of admiring safely from afar.  I had no idea that raising boys would be like this.  They are sensitive, gentle, loyal and extremely protective.  They can be courageous and daring, scared and vulnerable or defiant and determined all in a matter of minutes.   I am grateful that I have developed the physical, emotional and mental stamina to keep up.  At night, settled down in bed next to me, their tiny hands wrapped in my hair and their legs thrown across my body; I recognize how much I mean to them and how much they need me.  I am their tree when the wind blows, I am their rock when they can't keep their feet on the ground and I am their boat when everything feels out of control.  I am the constant when nothing else is.  Loving them comes easy, living with them does not.

 Blue Heron

My relationship to my children is a pool of self reflection showing me who I am in any given moment.  It mirrors my presence or lack thereof, my mood, my creativity, my ability to be silly and most importantly my capacity for compassion.   I recognize the hold they have on me and keeping my heart open is a day to day challenge.  The vulnerability can crack me open at times.  Each new stage of their lives makes me feel afraid and totally out of control.  My heart aches with uncertainty and self-doubt.  This is the healing I have asked for.  In their struggles, in their joys, and in the everyday moments, I am forced to face the events of my childhood, my pain, and my demons.  My love for them is a tether to the present moment and asks me to show up for them and myself.  We can walk through life, unconsciously recapitulating our past and in many ways we are the victim who suffers the most.  When we have children, they become the victims of our unconsciousness and for those of us who were abused or neglected, this can be twice as dangerous.  When I look in their eyes, I see how safe they feel with me and how much they love me.  I can honestly say this time history won't repeat itself.

Armadillo Armor:  Learning to Let Love In

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My son is a cuddler and loves to sit with me, heart to heart, wrapped in my arms. For him, this is the best place to be, but for me, this kind of intimacy can send me into a panic. I don’t receive affection very well, pulling out of an embrace or eye contact before I feel swallowed up, swatting away a compliment or expression of love because I just can’t take it in. Sometimes when my son hugs me, I notice it feels like too much, I can’t breathe and my impulse is to run away or extract myself.

Instead, I sit there, pretending I am okay but wishing I was wired differently as my heart fills with pangs of regret.

My mother’s touch used to make me recoil. When she would hug me, I would hold my breath, praying it would be over soon. Her touch was so full of need or so full of rage that I began armoring myself against it, living in an imaginary cocoon of self protection. Over time, the armor became a part of me, no longer a defense I only used at home.

I have lived most of my life from the inside of that cocoon, never daring to experience much without it until now.

It’s not easy living with an open heart, no matter who you are. There are too many opportunities for disappointment, rejection and abandonment around every corner. You would think a life full of painful experiences would make one more resilient, that a heart would be so weathered by heartbreak that hurt would be a blip on the screen. When a child experiences repeated emotional trauma, what occurs is a shutting off, a distancing, doors closing.

The squishy innocence of vulnerability stays hidden behind disassociation, disintegration and withdrawal.

After all these years, I am so good at hiding my feelings that most days I can’t even find them and what I experience instead is a mix of nothingness, anxiety, confusion and frustration. I have become a master of disconnection, pulling away, and offering just enough that my loved ones don’t feel abandoned.

We all have walls and ways we protect ourselves. Some of us live our lives letting just enough in because it feels like too much might break us. What’s breaking me now is the realization that I am struggling to let the love in, the good stuff that would fill my holes and cracks with what fairy tales are made of, because in truth, my life is a fairy tale. Raised by the wicked witch, I ran off and found a lovely man who was strong enough to hold me while I fell apart and put myself back together again. We have created a wonderful life together, living how we want to live and doing what we love for a living. In some ways, my resistance to believing the fairy tale is hurting me more than all the pain of my past.

I have decided to take my armor off and with gratitude, bury it underneath the palm tree in our backyard. It has served me and protected me but I trust that I can navigate my life without it. I feel ready to soften, to inhabit that squishy place of vulnerability.

Now, when my son reaches for me, I consciously take a breath and step into the experience of hugging him, feeling the exchange of love and connection between us. Opening my heart to the love that is available to me is a daily practice and some days I handle it more gracefully than others.

There is a sweetness to my life I have never known before and although my children are too young to express it verbally, their smiles reflect the changes that I feel.

Copyright © 2015 by Ashley Torrent