by Conlee Ricketts
I'm not sure if it is fake, false, pretend, or just plain award-winning acting, but I have appeared far more courageous when my child is watching than I really am. I have kept my shit together so my child would feel calm and safe while on the inside I was screaming or crying. Each illness, bloody knee & nose, or broken bone (mine), I plastered a calm “everything is going to be just fine” smile on my face. I'm certain this has helped me grow as a person, but at the time it was exhausting.
I can pinpoint two events where my courage was 100 percent fabricated! One event was a temporary kind of “hold it together” and the other was more of an ongoing “holding it together.”
Short term holding it together: Eleven-year-old daughter
Walt Disney World: Animal Kingdom; Expedition Everest ride: (Spoiler Alert; read at your own risk).
I had never been to Disney World before and I had done all that I possibly could to save for this trip. I wanted my daughter to enjoy a last hurrah before "stay at home mom" became "working mom" again. We decided to be brave and ride the roller coaster Expedition Everest. We waited in line, read all about the Yeti, finally got buckled in and we were off!
The roller coaster was chugging up to get ready for its first big hill. I’m laughing and enjoying my daughter’s screams of enjoyment. Then all the cars came to a slow stop as we reach the peak. I’m cool, sometimes reaching the top of that first big hill a coaster slows as it clicks its way up, so I give my daughter a confident smile.
Something is wrong, we have stopped for way too long. Suddenly the cars chug and slip and we begin to start flying backward down the track. My daughter grabs me and screams. I look down at her with a giant smile glued to my face while trying to memorize her face in the last few moments of our life together on Earth. I was certain we were going to die and I wanted to remain calm for her. Inside I was scared shitless. Period. Convinced we were going to die on this %#*ing roller coaster.
It took me a few moments to notice that the scenery was different; we were no longer outside in the sunshine but inside the Yeti's cave. The damn ride was supposed to go backward! I was unaware. Not being a “Disney Pro” I had no clue what this ride was about.
I never told my daughter I thought we were going to die that day until last month and her "high schooler" response, “Oh my god! Really Mom? That’s hilarious and so sad!”
Long-term holding it together: Six-year-old daughter
The year my marriage ended and I lost our house was all about fake courage and putting on a brave face—for my child and basically for the entire outside world.
I had to schedule time to cry. Hiding my sobs and screams locked in my car alone in a parking lot, or on the front porch at 1 A.M. while my daughter slept. She was so young, and while I have no problem letting my daughter know that emotions are healthy and that crying is okay, this type of raw emotion from me was not something a six-year-old would understand.
I am the “Mom” and moms take care of shit, moms are protectors and problem solvers, and moms, dare I say it, are magic. We can kiss it and make it better.
All the details of my life at that time were all very grown-up problems that had absolutely nothing to do with my child's health and happiness. I refused to burden her with my grown-up problems and emotions. All she needed to know was that we were going to move into a very cool new apartment, life was still going to be great, and that I would take care of anything and everything. Nothing to worry about.
Looking back that’s exactly the way it turned out and everything was fine. I survived it all, and for the most part, I did an okay job at keeping my shit together. I wasn’t perfect and I’m sure there are a few scars that remain for my daughter from that period, but I was as courageous as I could possibly be.
I think trying to help our kids feel safe and protected creates many opportunities for this “courageous parenting” which feels like a giant game of pretend. I'm not sure if others will agree with my choice to schedule time to cry or putting a brave face on things to get through them, but it’s how I have chosen to help my daughter enjoy childhood. I don’t want her to feel responsible for me, or my problems, or my happiness. She is the child and I am the parent, and I’m supposed to be able to handle all the bullshit tossed my way. How I choose to handle the rough stuff helps her see how to deal with her own future struggles.
Right now, she just needs to enjoy her childhood. And truth be told, after twenty-seven years in a classroom, I could re-write this entire essay for teachers. Teaching=Fake Courage. Years of illnesses, bloody knees & noses, fire drills, tornado drills, and every lock down, my face must display the similar “everything is going to be just fine” face that I’ve mustered for my own child because I’m protecting someone else’s child. This is one of those rare skills that actually translates very well to the classroom.
So, as our kids head back to school we put on that all-knowing face of courage for our kids to let them know everything is going to be just fine. And if it isn’t? Well, as the grown-ups in charge, we need to work to support our children through the “not fine” in a calm, all-knowing, and courageous way—whether we feel that way or not.
If you enjoyed this please share and leave a comment! And you may also like:
My Morning Coffee or Understanding Longfellow
I laughed when I searched “single-minded.” The Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary gave me these fun words:
· determined, devoted, tenacious, having only one purpose, goal or interest
BUT scroll a bit more and it says that “Related Words” are:
· bitter, cocksure, hardened, pigheaded, and rigid
Talk about words for some self reflection!
The phrase “single-minded single mom” came to me in a flash and for some reason I liked it, even though I have problems with the two halves separately--together they are me.
The phrase “single mom” has always rubbed me the wrong way, and—being brutally honest here—I have never used it once over the past five years—ever—probably because I felt that using it somehow publicly announced a failure on my part. So I have stubbornly refused to describe myself this way. One reason was because of my previously mentioned “failure” announcement feelings. The other reason is a crazy self imposed belief that people would perceive my using it as way of screaming “poor me” while subtly asking for support, or pity, or a pat on the back for “making it work” all alone in the world, and I didn't like thinking that people might assume I needed pity for my “struggle.” My view has always been that everyone has to “make it work” and how you do it has very little to do with a marital/parental status. In fact I may even be struggling less now than during other chapters of my life.
But I love all words because of their beauty as descriptions not labels so I knew I had some thinking to do. Yes—I am a mom; I am unmarried; therefore I am a single mom.
So in the past I resisted, but I’m okay with it now; it describes me, it doesn't label me or define me.
What about single-mindedness? Yes, I’m determined to find my way. I’m devoted to my growth and my child. My interests are happiness, creativity, and love in all the varied forms they show up.
Whoa—what about those related words? Believe it or not this required less inner work than “single mom” did because I accept my truth; I humbly admit to personifying each of those related words at one time or another.
When I am rigid it’s because I’m afraid.
When I am pigheaded it’s because I’m afraid.
When I am bitter, cocksure, or hardened, it’s because I’m afraid.
Each of those results from a much larger fear that rests inside. Excavation, exploration, and honesty are my only tools to provide comfort for these fears. Working with these tools is where I am today. The quest for happiness and joy is my path.
Choosing to be happy takes practice after years of old habits of self-loathing, feeling broken, lost, and inadequate, but it’s possible, and I am “determined” to walk that path of happiness, creativity, and love.
My daughter popped this conversation on me about a month ago and it really made me reflect on my choices while I walk this path, because I want my daughter to walk this path too before her path might harden with inner negativity like mine already had. I know that my choices influence her life by my example and my words. Thinking before I speak is a skill I sometimes forget to use, but thankfully at moments like these I speak slowly and choose my words carefully.
“Is there something you want me to be?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you want me to be anything?”
“Oh…well…as corny as it sounds, all I really, really want for you is to be happy.”
“Oh c’mon. Parents always want something from their kids. A lawyer, a doctor, or something for them to be in the future.”
My daughter clearly thought I was bullshitting her; although she would never actually say “bullshitting.” She’s not so thrilled to have a sailor for a mom.
“Well, I have to admit when you were younger I wanted…or thought maybe that you would be an artist of some kind because of the way you use your hands and the way you draw. But I've changed my mind—now all I want is for you to be happy. I want you to choose whatever it is that makes you smile. I can tell you what I don’t want though.”
“I don’t ever want you to stay in a job that makes you unhappy. I don’t ever want you to stay in a relationship that makes you sad. I don’t want you to make a choice that feels uncomfortable in your belly. Don’t let anyone make you feel less than you know you are, or stay where you feel unhappy, unloved, or uncomfortable. Long story short—I want you to be happy.”
I wish someone had said this to me when I was eleven.
So I have decided to embrace the title A Single-Minded Single Mom for me and my blog, and I am forever grateful for the phrase making itself known to me.
I love noticing the crazy things my mind hangs on to. It’s really my ego that clings to certain notions, but I find watching what “she” does humorous. That’s why I enjoy sharing it. Perhaps we all do this sort of stuff, but understanding how my mind works and processes the difficult days is what makes me tick—and laugh—at myself.
This past month when I fill the coffee maker I keep reflecting on how my mind acted when my husband left—what rules I had for my behavior during that difficult transition. I’m sure my mind has gone here a lot lately because I’ve been thinking a great deal about all my relationships (past, present, and future) and my place within them.
After my husband left I would come home from work and clean the kitchen—a lot. It was the only area of my life at that time that I knew I could control. The very first night I knew he wouldn’t be returning I was very purposeful in my evening coffeemaker preparation. We had this awesome coffeemaker that ground the beans and started brewing before we woke up. Bean grinding had become my alarm clock.
I remember carefully measuring out beans and water for only half the pot. I told myself that there was no way in hell I was going to forget that I was alone and mistakenly make 12 cups—coffee for two. I though the ultimate punch in the gut of loneliness would be to mindlessly pour two mugs of coffee and then realize I was alone. Duh.
I search myself, my past, and my heart for the answer as to why in the world I was so hell bent on not letting myself slip up and fall into “married mode.”
All I know was I think I didn’t want loneliness to sneak up on me and surprise me. I wanted to keep it at bay—controlled—on my terms. Feel lonely at the appropriate Conlee-pre-approved moments—no other times. I had a daughter to take care of after all—her Kindergarten year to finish up—my group of 6th graders to teach—I was too busy to be lonely and stupid enough to forget that he was gone. My ego had it all under control and no amount of coffee could convince me otherwise. I was so funny.
The reality is that loneliness snuck in anyway and ironically—or not—it was usually in the wee hours of the pre-work morning while I drank my coffee—alone. My ego told me that I was okay though because feeling lonely was much easier to handle than forgetting I was alone.
This memory is over five years old and has resurfaced to teach me a lesson. Not about marriage or divorce because just last night the whole gang was here—me, daughter, her dad, his girlfriend (one of my closest friends) all watching Frozen, eating, talking, supporting each other, and laughing—a lot. It’s teaching me that surviving my difficult moments involves looking closely at my feelings and letting myself feel them, but to do that I have to let my ego play along by letting her set some of her ridiculous rules. I’m learning to keep her busy while I explore the new tidal wave of emotions that splash through my mornings over coffee.