James and I talk about once or twice a year about our decision to not have kids. Just checking in, making sure we're both on the same page, making sure neither of us has changed our minds. Every time, the answer is the same for both of us.
So when the idea of having a 17 year old come live with us came up, naturally we both kind of freaked out and shoved the idea under the bed. In a box. And buried it under old cds and mismatched socks. Because no way.
And then about 2 months ago, we pulled that box out from under the bed and really started to talk about my niece again. And how we weren't prepared. And that didn't this count kinda sorta as "having kids?" And wasn't that a "No way?" And check out this 27 page list of all of the things that could go wrong! And what if, instead of being a positive impact on her life, we just fucked it up completely? And what if she really is a "bad kid" and we just don't see it? WHAT IF WE DON'T FEED HER PROPERLY AND SHE BURNS OUR HOUSE DOWN????
Basically, as lifelong non-parent types, everything we knew about raising kids came from a combination of horror movies and Gremlins. So obviously, since we were armed with all of that wisdom, a month later, she came to live with us.
For the 2 weeks prior, I read absolutely everything I could about raising a teenager. OH! And because we're crazy, we went the home school route as well. So throw in extra research about home schooling. And a room! We had to give her a room! So there was cleaning and moving and painting and consolidating. James and I stayed up late every night throwing what-ifs back and forth and coming up with responses. What if this happens? What are the consequences? What are the rewards? What are our expectations? What are hers?
I met with my niece and had a really honest discussion about what it was that she wanted and needed and expected and afterwards, went home and made up a household contract for all of us. We all met, we went over our contract, and about a week later, we had a teenager.
Like...for real. We have a teenager.
Apparently teenagers hug inanimate objects. I guess. I'm not sure.
We're about 3 weeks in and people keep asking me how it's going ...and the truth is, it's going really well. We take it day by day and so far, we all feel pretty good.
And of course, people wonder how we got here. Like...how and why did this happen? And that's a tough thing to answer. I would love to say that every time I answer that question, I answer it honestly and beautifully and respectfully and just...well. I answer it well. But I don't. Because the thing is, my family is dysfunctional. And I've never tried to hide that my own relationship with my family is strained and awkward and weird and sad and angry and confused. So when I'm asked exactly how it is that my niece came to live with us, I go through this huge internal struggle of trying to answer with grace and beauty and dignity and love and honesty while feeling awkward and weird and angry and sad and confused.
Because there's also the really big thing that I'm trying so hard to adhere to (and I fail more often than I'd like to admit) - it is not my place to tell other people's stories. And it is not my place to pass judgement. And I am less than perfect and have made an infinite number of mistakes in my life AND in the way that I have handled and loved other people. So the question of how it is that my niece came to live with us seems so simple, but in reality just sets off a tornado of epic proportions inside my heart and in my soul.
Of course, there are those who would say it's no one's business. And that's true. BUT....(but, but, but)...I live my life publicly. And I live healing and recovering and loving VERY publicly. And with my niece's permission, I've shared a small piece of her life here with us, on my social media pages. And with her permission, I want to share why it is that she came to live with us:
My niece came to live with us because somewhere along the way, her soul got trampled on. And her heart got smashed. The world wrapped up absolute garbage, tied it up in a pretty bow and told her that that was love. And the world told her that she was bad. And unworthy. And after hearing that long enough, she began to believe that it was true. That she was bad, and unworthy and that garbage was love. And she began to act according to what the world was telling her. And then the world was like, "see? I told you so."
And when my niece and I started to get close, I realized what was going on. Because I had been there. I had believed that story of being bad and worthless and that garbage was love for more than half of my life. And I had also acted accordingly.
But I also survived it and found all of the beauty and worthiness and love on the other side. And I thought that maybe James and I could help her find her way out of all of this ugliness and towards some light. And that's why she came to live with us.
So, I don't really know how we are at "parenting." But so far, I think we're pretty good at being loving and forgiving and enthusiastic and optimistic and challenging and encouraging and just doing the best job that we can of showing her that everything that the world told her was true was just flat out wrong.
She is worthy.
She is loved.
She is smart.
She is courageous.
She is capable.
She is good.
She is so much more than enough.
And she can have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after midnight. Because she's not a gremlin. But only on the weekends. Because bedtime. And school. And you can't have peanut butter and jelly everyday. Right? No? Yes? Maybe?