A friend posted this link (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-tian-dayton/the-child-next-door-may-n_b_4716179.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp) a few months back. I started to read it. Stopped. Went back, started over. I’m not sure how long it took me to get through the whole article the first time. I still can’t read it without crying. It’s been on my heart ever since then.
And today, a teacher friend posted something one of her students had written to her. She just wanted to go outside for recess. Because her father is gone. Because he was drunk. And that’s why she missed school. And she didn’t want to feel sad because her life is hard.
This is life y’all. This was my girls’ lives. This is so many kids lives. And it hurts my heart.
My girls didn’t act out to get attention. They were quiet when daddy was passed out. They stopped asking why he wasn’t going with us…anywhere. They watched me pour out bottles of vodka…and then go buy him more because I was too weak to say no…and because I was scared he would drive himself.
My girls stopped inviting friends over…except those few who lived in the same kind of home and would understand why they had to stay in their rooms and be quiet once Rob had been drinking long enough…Eventually their friends stopped asking why they always wanted to spend the night with them and never at our house.
My girls learned how to stuff their feelings. How to wait to cry in to their pillows until everyone was asleep. They shut people out, afraid of what people might think if they knew…more afraid of letting someone get close to them only to hurt them.
They learned how to “mother”…Because sometimes it was all too much for me. There were days…probably weeks…where I shut down…isolated, even from them. I left them to take care of themself…each other…me.
My girls never knew from one day to the next if that would be the day I would make their daddy leave. Or, when he was gone, if that would be the day I would let him come back.
My girls lived with a mom who worked more and more…traveled more and more…and sometimes with a dad who drank…more and more. They stayed with aunts who loved on and spoiled them…when I traveled…summers…a reprieve from the craziness that our life was.
A child’s home should be their safest place…their escape from a cruel, hard world. My girls had a home they needed an escape from. I know how hard it was for me to pretend our family was normal…I can’t imagine how hard it was for them. The careful responses…keeping people at a safe distance…carefully plastering a smile on their lips…not quite able to hide the sadness in their eyes…
Tori hating her birthday. From years where Rob wouldn’t show up…to years where he couldn’t wait to drink until after her party…until, finally, her 16th birthday…that she spent gathering the girls and their clothes to go spend the night at an aunts. Because I was out of town and he was out of control drunk…tiptoeing, careful not to wake him, but stopping long enough to take pictures of the empty — and not so empty — vodka bottles he had stashed on the top shelf of Alex’s closet. Because you see, by 16, she had learned his hiding places too.
Alex learning how to hide…everything. Her tears, her anger, her deep and unending hurt. Always trying to be in charge…at school…playing with friends…soccer…because home was so out of her control. So many times being left out…pushed out… of groups of friends because of her need to be in charge.
Savannah, finally finding that one person she allowed herself to talk to about what was going on at home. A Sunday School teacher that listened to her…wouldn’t tell her secrets…a safe person she could cry to, be real with. Never telling me…and then he moved away. And months later, softly crying, telling me how much she missed him. That she could talk to him…you know…about daddy. So quick to add that he was the only one she ever told.
20 months in to my husband’s sobriety. Life at home has changed. Things are better and getting even better.
But these 20 months haven’t erased the first 16…11…9 years of my girls lives. And the next 20 years won’t erase them.
They have begun to heal. But it’s a slow process. The words I can’t unhear are the same words my girls have echoing in their minds. The places that trigger memories…like the way Savannah has to remind me everyime she gets a tootsie roll… “We used to get these…at that place…” She won’t say the name anymore. We drove by it a few weeks ago… “It looks like they’re closed”…Is that a reassurance to her? That the place we used to go to buy alcohol isn’t open any more?
They are healing differently. Savannah talks to me about how she feels. How she felt then. Feelings and thoughts she kept to herself before it was safe to share. Alex is slowly opening up…but still so guarded, deep hurts only she can decide when to admit they exist. Tori…is Tori. She gets this look on her face if I try to talk about it. “It’s whatever.” She’s almost 18 and I can only pray the last 20 months…and however much longer she stays at home — 2 months or 5 years — is long enough to show her how a healthy marriage and family looks.
There have been people along the way…family…friends…teachers…church family…coworkers…neighbors…who have given my girls safe places…safe times…escapes…hugs…smiles…candy bars…family dinners…vacations…More people than I even am aware of I’m sure.
Some of you are reading this. You can’t know all you have meant to my girls. Some of you were a part of their lives for a season…some of you have been around through all the messiness our lives have been. You can’t know what your being there for them means to me. I couldn’t thank you then. I couldn’t admit they needed you…your home…your “normal”…your acceptance of them…How you knew Tori needed to not have to think about anything for a few minutes…Understanding Alex’s “bossiness” was her need to control something…anything…Seeing Savannah’s heart and nurturing and building her up.
My girls are who they are today because of so many things. Yes, growing up with an alcoholic dad and a barely surviving mom make up part of them. But so many of you make up the rest of their personalities. Their sense of humor…their sarcasm…their caring-too-much hearts…their fearlessness…their adventurous spirit…their love for others…so many of their individual characteristics were learned outside of our home. Because you chose to love them, care for them, be there for them.
Our girls…mine…my husband’s…yours…