Parting with Anger

I’ve written about anger before …

In poems for my memoir ….

Anger’s Beginning

Anger itself is not violent, but when left to fester, it can become a hurricane sweeping through the Caribbean to Florida up through my home state, South Carolina. Those storms are never forgotten.

The reason I write about my experience with anger, just like my memoir, is to tell a story and maybe at least one person will realize he or she is not alone.

I’m not naturally an angry person. On my best days, I like to reach out to people. Sometimes I sit back and listen.

When I was younger, I was more naive and opened up to people more easily.

From where come my anger’s origins?

There are many experiences for which I have felt anger, but at its heart …

…. was the feeling of complete professional failure when my husband and I lost our     first home, and I gave up time …

with my son.

Excerpt from Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror

(Title Poem in Memoir)

“I never saw Jesus in the mirror. No blue-eyed saint from a Venetian religious piece on display in an art museum. People in my hometown, Peach Corner, said, ‘Isn’t your mom amazing?’ They would say. ‘She was my favorite teacher.’ I shook my head and said, ‘Sure.’  I thought about the times she’d come home after school and laid down. The only time I looked for her in the mirror was to see if I’d gained weight, or evidence of a weary face revealing the me who didn’t want to read anymore after reading to and with students all day. Hayes asked me to read to him ten times or more.

Bad daughter? Admitted.

Bad mom?  Admitted.

I never saw a preacher glance at her Bible from a pulpit and lower her voice for her final summation in the mirror. I never saw my dad in the mirror, but I walked behind him on the day when he first served the church.  He walked on the sanctuary’s blue carpet—the color of old hospital walls.  He pulled a vacuum out of the sanctuary closet, and began to clean the sanctuary floors.  That was 1997, and the day I discovered my second favorite hiding spot in the church when the youth group played the game, Lights Out.  (My favorite hiding place was the top of the commode in the boys’ bathroom sitting cross-legged.)  Dad joined the choir, and he was almost always the first person to shake the new pastor’s hand.

Choir ladies held my hand, and said, “Your father does so much for our church.” With white-gray bobs, the same women said, “You have a beautiful voice. Why don’t you sing in the choir with your father?”  They saw my dad as a hometown saint, and at one time, I had a scholarship to some small college for singing. One day, I stopped singing in public, and I shrugged my shoulders. I sing to my son, I thought.

I admit Dad became a certified family saint when he helped with my family’s rent because Ben’s paycheck still hadn’t arrived.   Mom and Dad took us in when we were evicted.  When I looked in the mirror, I saw a mother with a small log at the bottom of her stomach left over from baby weight, who feared judgment from old choir ladies and mom’s former students. Why? Because I would always be seen as a helpless; maybe hapless child who could not buy a house for her family. I admit I never saw Jesus in the mirror.

My Daughter and Postpartum

Since my daughter’s birth, my anger grew from postpartum depression because the anger itself was under the surface.

It is–and was–never my daughter’s fault.

The anger came from a storm deep within. Any person or thing that took more time than necessary from my children felt my furry. There are a lot of experiences I’m good at describing, but the absolute and total depression I felt when leaving my children during my internship and to drive 45 minutes away to my first teaching job was almost inconsolable. When my son told me a few months ago after I was already experiencing a difficult first year in my job, “Why are you coming home so late? I want you home”;

I thought my heart would burst. 

When a former, indirect adviser — from a different department in my college — told me I had to attend a mandatory meeting for teacher candidates over my son’s IEP meeting with about six teachers and a principal to determine whether or not to move Hayes to a different school because of his behavior, I exploded. I mean, plain out exploded in email at this person. 

How can youI thought, in an age where you’re competing with the University of Phoenix and other online universities to recruit working students and parents tell me I must choose this meeting over my son?

Rage, like a light rain, quickly fades. I regretted wording my email the way I did.

I also regret requesting that six teachers and a principal reschedule the IEP and decision because of the demand that I attend this meeting.

Yes, I was angry, but not all of the time.  Near the end of my first school year, I realized I needed to go back to therapy.

You know, it’s okay.

I take medicine.

It’s okay. 

I began working out and writing again. I took time for my kids without feeling guilty for not completing any job. 

I forgave others.

Then I forgave myself.

Not only did I start working out the whole body like I used to, I began eating better and keeping a fitness journal. In this fitness and health journal, I began writing Bible verses down. I had not done this since I was a teenager.  If I am going to be a good teacher, I have to take care of the tools. The first tool is me. 

Now

I have a wonderful education and background. I have two wonderful children and an absolutely, amazing husband, who has been through the thick and thin with me. I have a new job in a wonderful district to which I’m moving my children.

And…

I was told today.

“There is no reason your son should be on a modified education plan because he is high functioning and clearly smart.”

I cried for joy. I cried because someone wasn’t just going to throw my baby into a cage. Someone understood his specific needs, and they’re placing him in the exact class to help him manage his behavior and reactions.

When I tell you God held my hand today, I felt it.

When I tell you it is not easy to talk about my faith, believe me.

When I tell you someone saw my son as a person, and not his disability or demanded I take time from him; I will break down in tears.

When I tell you no, I never saw Jesus in the mirror, but I saw a hope for my son’s future where he wouldn’t just be a number or …

a date I had to change.

A special thanks to everyone, including my husband, parents, mentor teachers, and friends who took this journey with me. 

Longer Than Six Weeks: A Mom’s Journey

Life is not always avocados and protein shakes.

Or, as I tell mom, life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns.

An important experience I write about in Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror is the mother’s body .  From Hollywood, we—as women—sometimes see new moms who’ve gone to the gym. They lose weight in six weeks.

There is so much baggage that we—as a culture—fail to discuss, or are afraid to discuss, when it comes to being a mother. These struggles don’t end six weeks after giving birth. This baggage includes the expectation to be yourself again … whatever that means. Slim down …

Okay.

There is also the fear of: How will I work at the rate I did before? Will I be what I was before?

I was inspired by this woman’s recent video where she talks about her body and the peer pressure moms have faced. She had twins, and one of the ideas she discusses is: The motherhood body challenge doesn’t stop six weeks or even six months after your child is born. 

In my memoir, Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror, one poem written about an experience in 2011 states:

“I had hoped to lose all of the baby weight by then, so I could rub something in your face. Like a body snapping back in place after giving birth is really going to improve anything other than the fact I feel good Reasons Why, February 2011).

It took me one year to get back to my original size after my son’s birth. I’ve been one pants size from my prebaby weight with my second child for one year now. My daughter is two-and-a-half years old, and I breastfed her for two years and two months. It takes longer to lose weight when breastfeeding.

No matter how many times I felt like I’d failed, I had to remind myself I was doing the best thing for her.  

Sometimes, when you work and try to do what you did before your child was born, you feel anger. 

Anger for:

  • Not being with your baby long enough
  • Feeling like others are impeding on your time with your child
  • Unable to complete tasks you did easily before 
  • Trying to balance being a mom, wife, and your job

I went back to work as a graduate assistant four weeks after giving birth. In those four weeks, my newborn daughter had been in the hospital over Christmas with pneumonia We were scared we would lose her. I was mad at myself because I had to leave her toosoon. 

Sometimes anger in motherhood seeps in little by little, and we don’t realize it.

That is how it was for me.  I remember climbing the stairs to run errands when I returned to my graduate assistantship. These stairs are no joke. I went up three flights. I expected to go up like bad ass; like the reporter I once was with a notebook and pen in hand.  I nearly collapsed.

I wasn’t even supposed to work out for six weeks. I had to leave that day because I felt so sick.  I believe anger started that day. I had been diagnosed with depression when I was 14, but had controlled it well without medication for several years. Anger and anxiety began as a little snowball and then grew bigger. 

In my poem, Love with Vinegar, I wrote:

“In moments such as that, I saw a monster ripping away my job, degree, dreams, and ability to help Ben provide for our children. I saw the slip of paper being torn in my face. I saw two barefoot children on the street, so I sucked it up and dealt one more semester …

And, one week after the fall semester of graduate school had ended, I told Ben, ‘I felt as though I was fighting off wolves.’ Ben said, ‘You thought you were in an ocean with nowhere to swim and sharks surrounded you, except you were swimming with dolphins; not sharks. People want to help you.’ I laughed. ‘Only that one supervisor. She’s a shark. She smelled blood.’ ‘But,’ Ben said, ‘People forget even dolphins bite.'” (from Love with Vinegar, May 2016). 

How do we, as moms, deal with these issues?

I finally got help with counseling, and I kept writing. I just kept writing. I keep a fitness and health journal, a financial journal, and my regular journal where I write a lot of my poems. I began a fitness commitment, and just started my third week.  I plan to continue with it in the school year. I also wrote about my new nutritional plans.

This may not work for everyone.

I have had victories and defeats in my personal and professional life, but I think writing, eating, and fitness are helping me return to the more positive version of myself.

I read in Ecclesiastes 12: 2-4 about remembering God before dark times come, “…and the clouds return after the rain, in the days when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bent…” I wrote this in my fitness journal, because I had forgotten the walk before I journeyed into the challenging times.

 

What is “Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror”?

I took seven-and-a-half-years to write my novel, Sons of the Edisto.

Like a friendship begun in childhood, I have scribbled different narratives and poems about my journey from journalism into motherhood and teaching. It might sound mundane at first, but …

Some had to do with my relationship with my husband.

Some poems were about my daughter and breastfeeding.

Other poems covered the struggle of facing an economy indifferent to those who struggle with medical and their jobs.

A few covered the journey from losing our home to becoming a student and teacher.

Some dealt with the struggle faced with anger, alcohol, and food to move on to a place of peace.

Many poems deal with raising a son with autism, ADHD, and a developmental delay. I debated about what to call the manuscript for it, so I decided to name it Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror.

Last summer, I began organizing the poems into chapters beginning with the poem I read in last week’s blog. I chose to do them chronologically, and I am working to make them flow together. I found it harder to write a straight up narrative.  The more I write narrative poetry the more the story comes out.

I will continue working on it even as a I work as a teacher, mother, and wife.  I know there are different poems that go beyond me and show with what others have faced.

“Some Memories” Read Aloud

It’s been a while, since I’ve blogged. According to my last post, I have not blogged in seven months.  There are some reasons for that.

Son. Daughter. Husband. Students. Testing.

Writing is still at the center of my heart, but in my first year of teaching, I found that literacy became more important, simply because when you urge kids toread, it gets them thinking. They get ideas. And, who knows what they will do with their lives?

Instead of sounding completely like an old-school, the-world-is-beautiful Disney princess, I have been writing. I am still working on two book projects:  Adventures of Elliot McSwean and my memoir-in-verse, Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror. I’ve continued working on poems for Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror and editing them. Some are seven-years-old, the same age as my son, while others are newer.

This summer, and fingers crossed, later in the fall, I’d like to continue poetry read alouds. Just like when I do flipped classroom for my students, I  am not a fan of filming myself. I don’t even like to work out at the gym in front of people anymore. I created a picture video to go with my read aloud (see video) to go with the poem, “Some Memories.” I may post it later, but I haven’t decided.

If you’re not sure what a memoir-in-verse is, it is simply a memoir told in the form of poetry.  A few years ago, a high school student introduced me to Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey.  

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

c. June 2016, Some Memories, R.T. Dickinson

The Journey with Autism

Time flies by, as the cliché says, and your child transforms from a toddler to a little boy.

Being a mom of a child diagnosed with autism is a journey unlike any other because you never know if you’re going to be embarrassed, have your mind blown because your child thinks so much outside the box, or deal with a fit because he’s not ready to leave a place.

I remember calling my best friend when my son, who I call Hayes in my writing, was two. A doctor told me that he might have autism.  Socially my son was not where he needed to be, the doctor had said.

My husband and my journey with autism went from dealing with the quick rise and fall of any circle of friends Hayes might have due to some of his social behaviors to balancing our parenting with my school and our work. It felt like I went into a battle this time last year when it looked like I might not graduate on time or get kicked out of my program because I was required by my college to attend a mandatory meeting about requirements of teacher candidates on the same day as meeting with our son’s four teachers (including occupational therapists) to determine whether he would stay in the traditional classroom or go to a special setting classroom.

I fell on the sword and sent a heated email to one of the professors in charge who had demanded that I be there. It led to a Come to Jesus meeting, four teachers and an administrator having to move their schedules around, and putting the most important priorities first. The disconnect between this particular professor and I dealt specifically with the inability fully understand the priority.

I will never forget her saying, “We only give a degree to the best people. That is something we take pride in.”

My grades are straight A’s. I’ve given everything to this program, including the time needed for my son, I thought. What more do you want?

The answer was everything.

My priority always was my son from the time I entered grad school until the time I graduated, and slammed—not shut—the door on that part of my life.

Many parents battle professional vs. time for family.  And, there is a different type of challenge being a professional parent of a child with autism.   I constantly feel guilty being away from my son from the time I leave for work 40 minutes away until the time I get off work.

It never ends.

You never know what will happen.

I took my children to a children’s indoor play museum this past summer.  Hayes experienced one of his best days when a mom insisted he had hit her daughter. By no means am I saying my son is perfect. Far from it, but I know when he is truly guilty, and hold him accountable. In this moment, I said, “I will take care of it.”

Hayes would say to the girl, “Liar,” as she passed him in play not understanding the social skill of how to let go.

The woman approached me a second time demanding an apology from him or me.  Holding in the need to punch someone, I took a deep breath and said, “He’s not going to apologize if he thinks he didn’t do anything.”

I paused. “If you think he did something, then I’m sorry.”

I was ready to leave it at that, and she said, “My friend has a child with autism, and I always hate the way she uses autism as an excuse.”

It was time then to end the conversation before I was arrested for mom-on-mom crime.

Anger.  Since my daughter was born, I’ve dealt with it a lot, but I am learning to manage it. It is always there, but I try not to let it control me.  I have to accept that I cannot predict, as a mom, what will or won’t happen with my son, whether he causes events or not.

A six-year-old this year, he kicked and cried not wanting to go home with us when my cousin was home for a little while.  It’s embarrassing enough when strangers stare. I’m actually more comfortable with the stares of strangers by now than my own family members because I feel like I’m constantly being judged, and I know that there are certain moods of Hayes over which I have no control.

I turned bright red just yesterday when he said to a strange man, “Hey, big guy.” My husband said, “I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it.” He told my husband’s father yesterday to “move it,” and my dad, “What are you looking at?”

We took away TV.

We took away dinosaurs.

Now he is at peace with his sister playing with trains.

Peace. I’ve never been one to openly discuss faith that much.  I think maybe God chooses special people to become parents of children with autism.  I have accepted through my son’s life that God does exist, and that there are a lot of bad things going on in the world, but there is something so unique in mine and my husband’s hands.

I write some prayers. Sometimes I just think or meditate when I am working out by myself. I remember the great moments like when Hayes held my hands up with my husband’s and said, “Look our arms make a W.”

I remember a conversation with another parent of a child with autism knowing I’m not alone.

And, I know my heart isn’t red …

but painted blue.

More Reading:

“The Truth about Being an Autism Mom” 

The Not So Mundane

Take a look at what you write.

What is it that influences you the most?

I find I am inspired by the day-to-day actions of other people.  When I worked in a coffee/ sandwich shop inside a bank, I would analyze people by the sandwiches they ordered. You had the case of any number of stories.  Some people had to have the cheese melted on the meat, and others wanted meat, tomatoes, and then cheese. What made them chose that way?

In the midst of raising two children–one with autism–graduating with a Master of Arts in Teaching, being married, and beginning a teaching career; I still write. While I am not as active here and on social media, my writing still grows. I have worked on two projects: Elliot McSwean, my middle grades’ book, and my poetry memoir, now called I Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror.

While they are different genres, they share something in common. There are characters who have something interesting in the everyday world that becomes a part of the person in the book.  For example, Elliot’s parents are old school. He has to share a lap top with at least one of his three sisters. Here, I’m constantly inspired by kids.

Now, I’ve been reading Famous Last Words by Katie Alender as I prepare for teaching seventh graders.  She does two things I admire. She gets in touch with paranormal world–something I’ve never been comfortable with as a writer. She also writes some of the best, least repeatable comparisons to everyday life.  When the parents go out of town,  the character, Willa, has a cupcake for breakfast. I know teens who would do this.

In I Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror–the new title and the joining together of all the weird pieces of my family’s journey over the last few years–I touch on Mommy Wars. In fact, the poem I’m currently working on is called just that. I look at the question: How do we go from every day people to all of the sudden ready to take on another mom?  This is something that, while not every day, has become a new experience for my husband and I raising our son.

Luckily, those wars end with writing. Not someone getting arrested.

Look at your writing. What is something intriguing from your everyday experiences that finds its way into your writing?

When Dolphins Bite: 5 Things to 2015

I look forward to a new year.

As I told my son, it’s a new start in more ways than one.

  1. I’m almost finished with graduate school.

The end is in sight. It feels like I’ve been in college again for more than a decade, which makes me wonder how people go to school straight from earning a BA to a Master’s degree. (I had five years between my degrees.) But, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from what my husband calls “your semester from hell” is you will have reinvent and prove yourself again and again.

For the first two years of graduate school, I had no doubt my particular college had my back in all matters because I worked so hard and well with them. But, I learned with the other half of a different college on campus, my professional relationships were not as well-formed. I would have to prove myself – after I lost control of my anger and depression – to the one person who controls a signature on my degree, who lacks faith in me, and provides the certification to make me better at what I love doing

I had one picture that brought me back down to Earth for this degree.

My children, husband, and I homeless …

2. Postpartum depression is no joke.

So, why be honest about all of this information?

Because, as Elsa sings in “Frozen,” “Let it go.” Overall, I’ve learned to control and temper my depression and anger. I’ve written and worked out, but after the birth of my daughter, my body changed completely. Only recently with the gradual weaning of breastfeeding has my energy returned.

I experienced extreme exhaustion and health issues with breastfeeding and postpartum, but I was fortunate by the middle of the year to find a doctor who discovered the problems at hand. She got me back on antidepressants and special vitamins, so I could continue breastfeeding.

(And, then she moved away.)

But, I could not shake off the feeling in the fall semester of graduate school that I was wrestling with sharks. My husband says, “They’re really dolphins, but people forget that even dolphins bite.” I said, “One in particular is a shark. This one smells blood.”

3. Autism needs to be understood.

When I realized I had a chance to publish my memoir-in-verse, I split the project in two, so I could focus on the issues my family has recently endured, such as raising a family in graduate school while dealing with postpartum depression and a child recently diagnosed with autism.

Because I love what I do for a living, I will never write about kids I teach. But, I can say working with children who have autism is one thing, but it is a new journey when your child is diagnosed with autism. I have constantly battled trying to be there for my son during this past semester while meeting my commitments for school. When I wanted to attend his diagnosis, some were not happy about the look of even one absence, although it was made up.

Children with autism deserve the dedication of parents, teachers, and those in the community. They deserve for their voices to be heard. They deserve for their parents to make meetings, and for expectations to be set.

What do I have to do?

Let it go. Let go of anger. Learn to live; not survive with sharks, or dolphins that bite.

4. My children make me a better person and writer

I fell in love the moment when I first held both of my children, but when my daughter was born, I wanted to hang back. I wanted to stay with them a little longer. I wanted to hold her to my chest and stroke her black hair longer before it turned to reddish brown.  I wanted to dry my son’s tears because I had another night class. I could not explain to him that other people demanded time; time I  wanted to give back to him and his sister.

5. So, at the end of 2015, I got what I wanted … for a short time at least.

Admit weakness. Admit fear. These are the only ways to move forward from my experience. Then blow and let them go.

I didn’t realize how much I had changed. With the infrequent schedule of an internship, classes, and this due and that due along with commitments to the loves of my life, I transformed.  Since the semester ended, I have been regaining my strength. My husband has said, “I see my wife again.” My parents see their daughter again.

But, I also got to just be a mom, wife and writer.