Reinvention of Me: Releasing the Potentials

To my very many possible children never conceived,

I love you. I love the idea of you. Had you been conceived, I would have loved you no more than I do now. Part of you has been forged within me and stamped upon my mind, deep within the ancient code yet undefined, those neurons that would jump into excited preparations should you become.

At times I have longed for you, willed you, pleaded for you, dreamed for you. Before my firstborn and after – I craved motherhood. The ache I have experienced my whole adult life – this unassailable need for you all – abates today by my own choice, and you should know why.

I recently forgave my old selves and gave them to their past. Today, I give you to some past or future, as befits you, not because I must forgive you but because I must live a whole life in your absence.

Many friends and strangers may think this letter, these feelings, are silly.

I do not set this sense of absence on the same level as the loss of a conceived child, a born child, or anyone else. I do not pretend that I have suffered or suffer now.

The truth is, I don’t know when the soul is formed. I don’t know where it is formed. I do believe your soul is not taken from me in remnants. It may exist, waiting for a human to become. It may be formed alongside its human. This is a great mystery.

Your life was or is or will be potential energy. Your soul, I believe, bears a similar potentiality.

Go with me back to 2008, when Third was born. He was healthy and whole. I was a wreck. My body and hormones were wrecked from babies and breastfeeding for four straight years. Then my mind was wrecked from the hormones and depression and anxiety. Several months later, I sat for this picture, fully intending it to be my last.

And then my plan was preempted. What followed was a steady stream of depression, culminating in a diagnosis of conversion disorder in 2011. Our broader family changed much during this time due to growth and loss and trials. My connection with everything eroded.

Fast forward to January, 2016. I clawed my way out of some huge hole in which I had left myself. My first foothold had me transfer my boys from virtual to physical school. I cried to my mother and my doctor about my love for my boys and about my nagging fear that I had doomed them to a less-than sort of life with me, their anxiety-riddled, depressed mother. I love them and I want them still, as much as ever, and yet I could not release this overwhelming thought that I should not have been allowed children, that it would have been kinder to let their potential remain without my interference.


Other places I’ve written on this life stuff:


If that makes no amount of sense to you, you may be thinking any number of things now.

But if you have been or are there in that thought place right now, it is depression. Depression has colored my life. It has infected my thought process. It has required things of me that a healthy mind would never demand. That acknowledgement is step one.

My process of reinvention underway, I allowed myself (with some help) to think I might be fearless. I allowed myself to imagine a world in which nothing made my decisions except for me, a world in which my life was sufficient, a world in which I not only needed to be healthy and whole but wanted to be so. I wondered if I could let go of the depression and anxiety that had become my personality, if I could find a person buried beneath time and illness. I considered what my life today could be like if I let anxiety and depression make no more choices for me.

So I forgave myself, the me-army that held me to what-ifs and if-onlys. Now, I must let go the tether holding me to potentialities that depression told me could complete my life. That is, I must let go of you, my potential progeny.

Had you come to be (or if you come in the future), it would not have been (will not be) to complete me. My life and love would expand and become right along with you, but not toward my self-completion.

Depression lied when it said I was empty.

Depression lied to convince me more of anything would make me other than I am.

Depression lied when it told me to yearn for you and lied when it told me I was not good enough for my children fully formed and present.

Depression continually deceived me into believing that any risk was worth your existence, including the risk to my mental health and its impact on my family now here with me.

You would not have it so. You would have me full, as I am, in this moment.

So must I.

Not sadly. Not resentfully.

Peacefully. Present. Self-directed. Contained. Contented. Sufficient. Looking in the rooms of my heart already occupied.

If you come, you will be a surprise. And I will love you as I have always loved you. And you will join with us. And we will, to the very limits of our capabilities, be as healthy as you deserve us to be.

Another foothold that gets me closer to good health is this one: you all are released from my expectation, my longing, my great and terrible need.

Love, Me


Stranger Danger Doesn’t Cut It

For me, growing up in rural Oklahoma throughout the 1980s, stranger danger was meaningful. I mostly drifted within the sphere of strangers when I traveled with my family or once a year during our town’s Rattlesnake Derby. Our town of about 2,500 residents exploded to about 40,000 people during exactly one weekend a year. A stranger was a rare but existent occurrence and I could understand the danger.

For my kids, stranger danger is somewhat meaningless and outmoded. It’s not simply outdated. Our daily lives encounter or have the capacity to encounter millions of strangers every day. Our modes of transportation, schooling, research, community, play, and communication are fundamentally different now than when I was a child. I feel deeply inconsistent when I talk to my kids about strangers.

“Don’t talk to strangers.”

“Allow this nurse you may have only seen maybe once a year stick a sharp needle in your arm.” [Yes, we immunize. That’s a different topic.]

“Go to class with this lady/gentleman we just met five seconds ago during a mass orientation.”

“If you’re in trouble, find an emergency worker or responsible adult.”

“Don’t be afraid to make new friends today at the park.”

“But, remember, don’t talk to strangers.”

As the adult, I’m confused. These rules are no rules at all. As a parent, I consciously strive to hold my kids accountable to rules only if I can comprehend them. You go to school because it is the law. You do not bully because it is wrong. Don’t think differently of people with differences because all our differences are just DNA. Learn and obey pedestrian and bicycle traffic laws because they keep you safe.

I cannot comprehend stranger danger as a rule. It makes no sense to me, so I know I cannot reasonably expect to explain it understandably to my kids. And this is not like math. I cannot simply send my children to someone else to learn stranger danger. Or, at least in my mind, I shouldn’t.

Almost exactly two years ago I started teaching for Amridge University in the Criminal Justice program. I teach about public safety and security, terrorism, emergency planning and preparedness, and other related topics. Turns out, teaching these subjects has been a tremendous help to my anxiety disorder! When you teach, you learn new things over and over.

I could go on for days about safety and security matters, but I’m here to share just one strategy I use with my own boys to help them learn situational awareness. The state of the world requires us to be situationally aware. I plead with you not to leave your own security to the fates of national alert color schemes and freebie password managers, but I urge you in the strongest possible ways – teach yourself and your children the most basic concept of situational awareness.

The Boyd Cycle Chart is a modified rendering of the Boyd Cycle, credited to John Boyd. Mr. Boyd counsels that situational awareness occurs cyclicly with these steps: observe, orient, decide, and act. After teaching students in the military, emergency services, and private security careers, I have taken their input and modified the cycle’s steps to: observe, orient, decide/act, and assess. For the purposes of the chart and my kids, I added a fifth step, called begin again.

In any situation – at home, at events, at shopping centers, at the zoo, at work, with friends and family – I want my children to be safe. That’s given for most of us. But safety happens only two ways: 1) accidentally and 2) intentionally. Sometimes, all the intentional steps in the world will not keep us safe, but if we do not intend to be safe our chances decline rapidly into accidental ranges. The Boyd Cycle works equally well for a child or a military officer, because each uses it at her own level of understanding, scope, and responsibility.

In every situation, I want my children to observe their surroundings, orient (aim, adjust) their thoughts and behaviors toward their surroundings, decide and act based on their surroundings, assess their decisions, and reevaluate. I don’t merely want them to identify strangers. I want them to identify friends and emergency workers. I want them to be aware of the situation.

But let me write for a moment about applications beyond stranger-danger safety. I want my children to be aware of where they are or where they are being led. I want my children to be aware of who should be allowed to touch their bodies under very controlled and understood circumstances (for example, health and wellness). I want my children to be aware of safety hazards like deep water and weapons. I want my children to identify emergency exits wherever they are and to make a plan if something goes badly wrong.

Beyond my own kids’ safety, I want these boys of mine to be aware if someone around them is hurting physically or emotionally. I want them to recognize when they or others are having fun at the expense of someone else. If they are not aware, they can neither help nor get help. The Boyd Cycle empowers them to take stock. To aim their actions toward a specific outcome. To decide to stop or intervene or get help. To evaluate the situation so that a dangerous situation FOR ANYONE becomes less so FOR EVERYONE. This is “no means no” (which we also practice) on steroids. This is, if one person’s not having fun, no one is having fun. This is empathy and strategy and windows in dark situations.

I will use the chart to keep talking to them as they grow. They should gain capabilities in situational awareness age appropriately. Eldest is 10, and I don’t yet put in brutal focus ‘no means no’. Instead, we talk about a game of tag when one brother or friend says to stop chasing. No means no. Hear it. Aim yourself at compliance. Choose to stop chasing. Reevaluate. We talk about his rights to say no and to expect it. If anyone (even an adult, even a parent, even in good natured, ‘harmless’ fun) is doing a non-essential thing to him (think: tickling, chasing, sneaking up and scaring, or truly horrific things), he can and should say no and the adult can and should abide. As he ages and matures, the same cycle can be used to discuss any circumstance – high-risk, low-risk, and no-risk – that I can imagine.

I must entrust decision making to my little boys. And they are still little boys. They are not always with me. I cannot and will not make all their decisions for them. I can train them to use the Boyd Cycle, but I cannot guarantee they’ll make the best decisions with the information they glean from it. None of us is perfect.

But if we keep trying – all of us, old and young, every nationality, every religion, every DNA, every individual – don’t you think we have to get better at this thing called life sometime?

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