Rising from the Ashes

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I’m sitting in a cafe, tears streaming down my face.

I’ve just finished ‘Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who’s Been There‘ (Cheryl Strayed). It is a hauntingly beautiful and redemptive collection of advice ‘columns’ written in response to heartbreaking letters to ‘Sugar’, the author’s pseudonym at The Rumpus.

My tears are for Brandon, the boy at the center of the response entitled ‘Ten Angry Boys‘,… and for myself.

A mother with a chequered family history of her own writes asking for advice when she witnesses herself flying into uncontrollable rages at her two young children. Echoes of her past ring in her ears, despite her best efforts to craft a childhood experience worlds away from her own. She begins to despair that the change she hopes for will never eventuate and that she is doomed to become trapped in the generational cycle of pain.

In reply, Cheryl recalls her experience as a Teen Advocate, running Tuesday dinner nights for angry, ‘at risk of expulsion’ teen boys and their families. It is heart-rending and brilliant.

I am ‘Helpless Mom’ at times. So horrified by my failures to be the mother my children deserve. At risk of defining myself as the ‘angry mum’ or hey, even the ‘Very Cranky Mummy’. Flying off the handle over something trivial and ludicrous. Except that at the time it seemed to hold crucial and exceptional importance.

And yet. If I allow myself to become defined by these failures, I become Brandon’s mum instead. Believing that we are helpless to an irreversible fate simply pushes the story in that direction.

To another reader, Sugar writes: “The narratives we create in order to justify our actions and choices become in so many ways who we are. They are the things we say back to ourselves to explain our complicated lives”.

“When it comes to our children, we do not have the luxury of despair. If we rise, they will rise with us every time, no matter how many times we’ve fallen before. I hope you will remember that the next time you fail. I hope I will too. Remembering that is the most important work as parents we can possibly do.”

These words are now reverberating in my heart.

I really doubt that anyone feels qualified or prepared for this crazy, exhausting, beautiful, shattering, heart-melting, mind-bending role that is parenthood. I sure as hell do not. But we have to keep picking ourselves back up, dusting off the debris of failed decisions, and trying again… and again. The alternative is simply not an option.

“Parenting is serious business. It brings out the best and the worst in us. It demands that we confront our brightest and darkest selves.” 

And when we do choose to participate in that confrontation, the beauty that is formed out of the shattering of the ‘false’ self is breathtaking… and so completely unexpected. 

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