I met Helen during a pivotal time in my life. I had made a decision somewhere in between impulsively and well thought out to return to school to pursue a post graduate degree. I applied to only one school and the selling points included its particular focus as well as its distance from the ocean. I was definitely seeking something; a type of independence and education that abruptly ended soon after going off to college 5 years earlier. Earlier unresolved trauma prevented me from achieving much success in the independence arena but I did receive a pretty worthwhile education and I have Helen to thank for much of that.
I’m pretty sure we met in a class and I could tell she was a badass. Commuting 3 hours away each week in her mid 30’s to pursue a graduate degree in a field she had been working in much of her adult life. She was really smart, often pointing out the obvious in the most humorous and matter of fact way. She was also highly inappropriate at times while maintaining regard for what is traditionally viewed as “appropriate.” This was an irony I related to and still appreciate today. She was the ONLY person I met during this time who really gave a shit about me. During those 2 years as well as after I returned home, she introduced me to her family and often shared from her heart in ways I will never forget. She introduced me to psychotherapy before I had ever actually experienced it myself and she did it the Psycholobitch way; bluntly, quickly, and courageously.
I was a unique student having just graduated from college. Most everyone else had lots of experiences and this often became obvious in the classroom. For me it was perfect because I was a serious student and it helped to be surrounded by professionals trying to further their careers. I was still trying to find myself; hell I was horribly lost and trapped by so many insecurities. I remember once trying to come out of my shell in the classroom. I somehow offended a Canadian student who attempted to belittle my knowledge in front of Helen. She later told me how she defended me. Helen was always on my side. I was a mess and clearly chose others who were also a mess. Helen was nonjudgemental and loving but very aware of my gravitational pull toward fucktards. She met one of the “loves of my life,” once. She made it a point to belly up to the bar and really get to know him. She said something to me afterwards that let me know she could tell that he did seem to care about me but it was clear he was not a faithful man. She let me figure out those things were incompatible. I guess he was an earlier example of my fucktard repetition.
We met up last at the beach when my oldest son was about 3 years old. I had married his fucktard father and he was with us. Helen was with her husband and her then 7 year old little boy. It was cool to see her as a proud mother but at the time I did not appreciate her brute honesty about the fucked up relationship I had settled for. I was so desperate to make it work that I could no longer connect with anyone who challenged it or threatened the validity of this life I was making…..with a fucktard. During the next 7 years, I had another child, got divorced and decided 2 years later to move back in with the ex with a “coparenting agreement.” I had been through several career changes and still had not really learned how to live independently. I was scared to death of raising 2 boys on my own and the costs of that fear have been grave. During that same time period Helen experienced many losses including a father figure and her husband’s brother. She has faced gripping physical pain, surgeries, as well as a stroke. She started and stopped working in private practice and stopped working all together. She has also been pursuing and has almost completed her doctorate degree.
My heart has been particularly heavy the past 5 months since my oldest child got caught up in all my madness and has aligned with his father. I know underneath all his anger is an extremely vulnerable and fragile hurt little boy. I don’t know how to help him and forcing him to be with me does not appear to be the answer. The more time that passes, the more scared and hopeless I feel. Regardless of what others as well as child experts keep telling me, a part of me believes I have lost him forever. The truth is I have lost that little boy part of him that would never chose to be without his mama; the one who feels the safest and most secure with me. And just like my colleague mentioned in “Coparenting with a Fucktard,” rather than a co-parent, I have a hindrance to parenting. At times this makes things seem even more hopeless.
So when I received a call from Helen last week telling me her son was having major heart surgery, I felt it was a sign. I arranged a last minute vacation for me and my youngest son who is also grieving the loss of his brother who before now was a sidekick and partner in crime. While I knew I was visiting during a time when Helen would likely be at her son’s bedside in the hospital nonetheless, I wanted to be near her. I thought this might help access any badass potential I might have. My baby boy is starting 2nd grade in a few days and he has been living alone with me for the past 5 months. Although his father has chosen to make it difficult for me to parent his brother, he does not exert the same energy when it comes to parenting his other son. Although a fucktard, he is not stupid and I suspect he does not really want the additional responsibility. My baby boy seems unhappy most of the time and his love of screen time and sugar does not help with my growing concerns about his mental health. I wanted to give him a trip to the beach and now was the time.
Two days ago we spent way too long in the sun and his face became red and swollen. Determined to keep him out of the sun yesterday, we drove to visit Helen and her not so little boy in the hospital. We stayed only briefly because he was in extreme pain as they had only that day removed his epidural which allowed him to receive the constant necessary supply of IV pain medication. Helen’s son Thomas is a badass. Helen’s husband sitting in the corner watching his son in agony is also a badass. There is nothing harder than watching your child in both physical and emotional pain and being helpless to do anything about it. I wanted so badly to offer help or support in some way, but the truth is there is nothing I could do. They are a bunch of badassess and are coping the best they can; one day and sometimes one minute at a time.
Metaphors often help me understand the value of particularly rough patches in life. Last night on the beach my son easily flies a kite and quickly hands it off to me as he makes a mad dash for the ocean. I notice he has so much string let out that it seems like an eternity as I wrap the string and slowly and firmly return the kite to the ground. I heard once that parenting is like flying a kite and the key is letting out more and more string in order to give your child more freedom. As I notice how arduous and labor intensive it is to bring the kite back in, I’m struck by the symbolism regarding my own parenting situation. My eldest son is trying to fly far away from me and essentially I have no more string to let out. I am in the grip of a struggle to try and wind him in just a little so that I can still see him, make sure he is safe and try to have some influence as his mother. He keeps fighting it and some say I’m the parent it is safe to do this with. I’m the one who won’t go away. It feels likes such a game at times, but I have to keep playing. I have to keep flying that kite because as long as I’m flying it, I have him in my sight however far he may be. If I lose sight of him, I may lose hope. Hope is really all any of us have anyway.
My badass friend Helen held hope for me back when I was in the depths of my own pubescent crisis. At 25, mine was much delayed and subsequently more serious. She mothered me and had hope for me when I had none. I guess it should have been a hopeful time in my life but in actuality I was barely functioning. It was a time that could have been a jumping off point to a new and exciting life, but instead left me more vulnerable and powerless than ever. I was however, vulnerable, powerless and educated. I guess this was exactly where I was supposed to be.
After finally winding in my kite, I join my little boy in the ocean facing wave after crashing wave. I notice he is much better at simply allowing the waves to be and seems to move through each wave effortlessly. Sometimes he dives headfirst into them and other times he karate chops them just after yelling at a large wave, “how does it feel to be the next big thing?” My son is courageous and brave and funny. He understands and can express way more than I could at his age or any age for that matter. I suddenly realize he is a badass too.
So I’m thinking my decision to be near my friend in an attempt to channel some or her badassness may have paid off after all. Seeing her badass little boy escape heart failure due to his mother’s badass ability to give him the time and attention he deserves has given me back some hope. Perhaps this is the hope she has been holding for me all these years. Watching her stand by his bedside while simultaneously showing love and concern for my own poor little sunburned kid has officially sealed the deal on her badass status.
While contemplating this post, I kept thinking of the title “A badass was not built in one day.” My friend has been through so much and maybe without all her experiences she could not actually be the badass that she is. I also considered the title “Unspoken rules of being badass” as a way to explore the most important rule, a badass does not talk about being a badass……period. With that said, I am now wondering if being a badass may have a genetic component? That would explain Helen’s son but what about my little one? He continues to show me that he is indeed a badass so is it possible for the gene to skip a couple generations? His great grandmother was a bit of a badass, and anyone who knew her knows she would never violate any of the unspoken rules. This would clearly jeopardize and provide grounds for the revocation of her badass status.