It happened again. The innocuous email of assignments due at school. Only two days in and there is the assignment…”Personal history timeline” which is to include where you were born, major moves, family additions and losses, key dates. An assignment to help the teacher get to know her students. My chest immediately takes on the weight of this and I wonder how my not quite 15-year-old is going to tackle the assignment. How vulnerable will he choose to be? And how exactly do you timeline things like “at seven I went into the foster system when my dad got put in jail.” I check in with him and he says he is fine to do it. But it is yet another reminder that our story doesn’t always fit into the box but also I can’t help thinking that with hope, his story will be a testament to healing and resilience.
I spent the latter portion of my summer talking incessantly about childhood trauma. In addition to my current full-time job I launched my consulting business and the first training I was hired to do I titled “Trauma-informed 101”. Trauma-informed is definitely a buzz word right now but has become a “passion” of mine with the combination of lived experience with the boys and a background of serving the vulnerable in my non-profit work. In this training we talk about ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and what childhood trauma physically does to the brain. We talk about how our own histories influence how we move in the world, how we relate to people, how our physical health can be affected. We talk about how working with and responding to and parenting these kids is vastly different than with kids whose needs were taken care of as babies. The first day of training was tough and with some feedback from the staff I decided next month we will talk about resilience (which is a different blog post to come!) Simultaneously I was also fortunate to work closely with a dear friend and a former colleague on a paper she needed to write on the same subject. We talked about the discouraging statistics of childhood trauma and the need for adults, particularly those who work with kids, to understand that trauma changes a child: physically, mentally and emotionally. We talked about the hope that if more people understand this then we can keep from kids being unintentionally re-traumatized. We discussed that programs to work with “foster kids” look great to a Board of Directors but unless the staff are trained the program is set up for failure. We shared a big vision of what we wanted to do with this information. One of the things she asked me to contribute to her paper was “What do you wish people knew about childhood trauma in light of your boys?” And so, in free-form fashion this was what I wrote:
“Let me frame this by saying that NONE of the teachers or administrators I have worked with have been intentional in re-traumatizing my boys. In fact, once I have brought things to their attention, they have thanked me and apologized and worked very hard to make their classrooms work for my boys. But to those of you who already have made huge sacrifices in your chosen field as teachers, in retrospect, I wish I had told you that the baby picture you keep asking my child to bring doesn’t exist, that trauma looks a lot like ADHD but the response to the behavior is very different, that trauma also looks like non-compliance but really is a broken spirit, that the family tree project created an angry, tearful night in our house, that when he is acting out he is dysregulated and the logic part of his brain is not working. I would tell you we are working on healing, but that his needs were not met so often as a child his alarm system flips into survival mode at something that may seem innocuous to you. That he thinks he is broken and if he acts out enough, he can ensure that you give up on him just like all other adults have. That you may not see his healing, but you can help change his script by your interactions with him. That my son, who is so quiet that he appears rude, is moving through this world in the only way he knows how to protect himself. That he is slow to trust but fiercely loyal if you earn that trust. That they are both incredibly smart but hadn’t been given the chance to learn and that sometimes traditional learning doesn’t work for them. That for one of them group work incited panic and for the other he is certain you will figure out that he is stupid because he was told that so often, so he would rather act out than admit he doesn’t know the answer or risk that his answer will be wrong. And that yes, I still expect them to be respectful and kind and honest in all of this but that the way to get there may look a little different and be a lot slower than with a kid I’ve had since birth.”
I recently heard a pastor use the phrase “the Grind of Hope”. That statement really struck a chord with me….my grind, the daily ups and downs of single parenting, a house and yard to keep up and having two jobs to catch up and anticipate our growing needs. And yes, even on the toughest days I know I am blessed. A home, a car, food in the fridge, water out of the tap at my beckoning and electricity with the flip of a switch. After three weeks in Uganda I realize these things are not something that I can take for granted. But if I am being honest, I have to admit that the daily grind can get me down. I don’t even like saying that out loud because I never want to even hint at playing the victim, or garnering attention because things can be hard. And I really don’t like myself when I am not being my positive cheerful self that most people see. My personality tends to see things in black or white. Either the daily grind or some random setback taking me down a rabbit hole of discouragement has me feeling completely defeated internally or I feel I need to be joyful and positive day in and day out. And in my head, if I am not feeling positive and hopeful then I am not living out my faith or being an example of salt and light in a pretty dark world right now. But the reality is, that I can live in hope and the daily wins and still admit that some days are just hard. Right now, it seems that a lot of days are hard with a 13-year-old hormonal, strong-willed, disrespectful at times 8thgrader who is trying to find his way and assert his independence. But in sharing, my steadfast man tosses my own words back to me, to remember that this is just a season. And I also need to constantly remember that the battle isn’t mine. Even when my circumstances don’t line up exactly with God’s promises I know I can focus on the hope of those promises and not on the grind.
And so, we start the school year with reason for hope. That even in what seems like a grind, I can choose to focus on the hope and not on that real or perceived grind. That it is ok to feel defeated at times but to also remember that I have been given the job to heal these boys and with that, hopefully the opportunity to share our story with others. I don’t profess to know much on a daily basis but this I know, that God’s promises remain true, despite my mistakes at parenting, and my sometimes lack of faith, through the tough school assignments and an argumentative teen, in spite of the trauma and the grind of hope. And that I can live with.