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This is a place for anyone who has felt the loss of a child. Treat this as a communication haven regardless of how or when you felt your loss. My definition of loss: miscarriage at any stage, still birth regardless of week gestation, infant death at any month, and loss of a child even if your child was all grown up. For me they all hold the same root of devestation. None are more profound or more "easily" dealt with than another.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Who Am I?

This is a question I have long grappled with.

Over the course of my lifetime I have been easily swayed by popular vote, by current trends, by the words and actions of another.

Until my early 20’s I was like a big, walking, talking blob of molding clay. Other’s qualities would attach, then sculpt a piece of me, much like a cookie cutter to dough. Without intention I found myself talking like someone after spending a great deal of time with them or noticed that my handwriting suddenly looked more like theirs. It must have been excruciating to watch me flail, or worse yet, to live with.

I cannot recall exactly when it happened, but I remember with detail the intense shock I experienced one day as I looked at myself. I mean really looked and saw the montage I had become. Which pieces are me? Which belong to others? What fits? What doesn’t?

I was forced to ask myself these questions. And, amazingly, just by asking them the process of self-discovery began. Once triggered, it was intense and quick. Of course, I wish I had started it long before that, but for a girl who consistently defined herself by other people’s expectations for the majority of her conscious life, twenty-one seemed a fair place to start.

Two years later Emma died and a far deeper, darker, more intimate internal makeover ensued. The result? In the past ten years I have discovered, and then ,re-invented myself.

Who was I? I rarely stop to think about that other girl. But when I do it leads me to hope and pray and hope some more that my current strong sense of identity is enough to save my girls from the dramatic rollercoaster that was, my childhood. In fact, I’m not sure I ever intended to go back there. I didn’t like that girl much. Oh, she was nice enough to everyone else: compassionate and giving, trusting and gullible. She was the ‘save the world or bust trying’ type. She was not, however, very nice to herself.

Two things happened this week that forced me back there.

1) This sentence from a parenting book I’m reading: “The times that problems arise are when children grow up feeling responsible for everyone and everything, squelching their own desires, in a constant hopeless search for approval.”


2) A bedtime request from the Comedian, “Mama, will you read me this book tonight?” She was holding my 8th grade diary.

You know how we often say that we should wear a sign around our necks identifying our status? I am an only child. Or I am a vegetarian. Becky Bailey has my early years sandwich-board written on page eleven of her book. I feel responsible for everyone and everything; therefore I squelch my own desires in a constant, hopeless search for approval.

Last night I read the diary, start to finish. It is a snapshot of 47 days in the life of a completely unassured 8th grader. As I turned each page, I felt mildly sick to my stomach with tears threatening on more than one occasion. I felt sad for that girl because written between the thick, sappy, attachment issue lines was approval from her friends, from her parents, from her teachers and support staff. She just couldn’t see it. How different her experience may have been, if only…

She did know one true thing. That fact could not be denied.

-Aug 19th, 1989
My name is Cara. I am 13 years old, going into 8th grade and infatuated with kids. The family I babysit for most are the G’s. They have four kids, ages 7, 5, 3, and 1.”

- April 7th, 1990
“…anyway at 2pm I went over to the G’s house and baby-sat until 10pm. While I was over there we did a lot of things. I played Barbie’s and loved it. I guess you just have to have the right state of mind…”

- April 16th, 1990
“I’m actually writing from our vacation house. There’s not much going on here but I heard that J and J, the kids I baby sat for last summer, are here too. So, maybe I’ll go see them tomorrow.”

- April 17th, 1990
I saw J and J today. At 11:30 I went to their house and we played marble madness or something like that. When I had to go J. wouldn’t let me and I had to pry her off of me. But, I took some pictures of all of us together so I’ll send her one.”

Clearly, I needed the kids just as much as they thought they needed me. But, tabling underlying issues, my love of children ran deep. Mothering was something I never had to work at, or work toward, or earn the right to do.

Parenting? Well, that is another matter all together, hence the reading of the book! But mothering, the simple act of loving another and meeting their every need; that comes easily.

And so, it seems almost fitting, albeit bittersweet, that my first child taught me the lesson I could never learn. Through the pain of losing Emma I learned who I truly am and who I strive to be. A lifetime won’t be enough to perfect the qualities I cherish in myself, but I thank my daughter for for clearing away the rubble and allowing me to see, my true self, and hopefully become the parent I always wanted to be.


Martha@A Sense of Humor is Essential said...

Beautiful post, the parent you Already Are, Dear Cara.

Goodness, gracious, here is my word verification for this comment, too funny!!


Michelle said...

Cara, this is beautiful. I think most of us struggle with wanting to be accepted by others, especially as kids. Being a kid is tough. But kids definitely have a way to make you think. they are so innocent and see things so differently ten us jaded adults.

I can't believe how young young you were when you lost Emma. I mean no means did I think you were old now but I guess I never really thought about you being only 23. That is hard way to learn about yourself. Emma has really brought so much to you! She is really your guardian angel.


Kristin said...

Cara...what a beautiful, introspective, eye opening post. I am continually awed and amazed by you.

Dora said...

Wow, incredible post. Emma has enriched your life, and you honor her daily. You are a wonderful mother to your 3 daughters, but you are also so much more. Big hug!

Bluebird said...

Beautiful, insightful . . .I love this post. Thank you for sharing it and letting us know a little more about you.

I hope you feel the pride that I feel *for* you just reading your words. I hope you realize how strong and beautiful you are. How you allowed so much good to come from a horrible situation (not that it was "meant to be" or any other such b.s.!) But I think you do :)

Oh, and fwiw, I dreaded 8th grade so much that I skipped it alltogether! Kids tha age are so mean to each other, and so hard on themselves.

Barbara said...

Wonderful Cara what a beautiful post.

It took me until my 30's to even begin to start finding out who I am and I'm still learning.


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