Sunday, November 21, 2010

What are you defined by?

As I drove home from work last night, I was thinking. I do some of my best thinking in the car, actually, although almost none of it makes it anywhere useful because I have a raging case of forgetfulness going on.

I can't remember what got me going on this particular train of thought, but somehow I found myself considering what people are defined by, what makes them "them", the first thing others think of when they hear a person's name.

It's easy to be defined by the things that happen to you in life. In fact, when I thought of what defined me, the first three things that crossed my mind were Eli's death, Seth's deafness, and my divorce. Those are the big things that have happened to me, the things that have shaped who I am.

They're also the negative things in my life. Who wants to be defined by negatives? I don't, but for some reason, the bad things seem so much bigger than the good sometimes. I don't want someone to see me and think of how sorry they are for me, or how my life is a big teachable moment of what not to do.

My son died. It sucked. I allowed it to define me for too long, allowed it to become the party line in every argument with my husband when we were married. Then Seth was born and his deafness became the center of our lives, the fight to get him cochlear implants. Everything else fell by the wayside. I felt like if I could help him hear, I wouldn't be failing him like I had failed Eli. Of course I couldn't have saved Eli, but as a mother, I felt like I could have and should have. Of course I couldn't have known about or prevented Seth's deafness, but it felt like I should have. I became single minded in my pursuit of his treatment, perhaps partly in response to the guilt I still felt over Eli's death.

It wasn't until Evany was born almost a year ago that I really understood that I had no control over Eli's death. I was in the hospital, two feet away from my doctor, when she began having the same issues Eli had, and getting her out in time was a miracle. I still remember nurses rushing down the hall to the operating room, pushing me on my hospital bed. If we came so close to losing her, when I was right there, with doctors and nurses all around, there really was nothing I could have done to save Eli. He could have even if I had been in the hospital already.

Learning that was very cathartic for me. Finally, I realized it wasn't my fault, and I was able to let go of guilt I'd been feeling for two and a half years. Being able to let go of that has let me come to terms with his death in a much healthier way.

Now Seth has been hearing for over eighteen months. He hears well. He is sweet and amazing and lovable, and I don't know what I would do without him. He is also incredibly stubborn and isn't where he should be with his language. I've had to learn to let go of that, too, to adjust my expectations of him and know that as long as I'm doing everything I can to help him along, the rest is up to Seth. He is deaf, but that cannot define him. He is a little boy who is amazingly expressive, has a great sense of humor, loves every sport we've taught him yet, and happens to wear cochlear implants. He, like any other little boy, it seems, will do it all when he is ready.

I guess the point is, while we can't exactly choose what people think of as defining us, we can choose how we feel about our defining moments. I don't want to be Ellyn, that poor girl whose husband left after her baby died and another one was born deaf. I don't want to be that poor single mother dragging all her kids around. I want to be defined as someone who is raising her children to love God and be kind to others, who has chosen to learn from past experiences instead of being beaten down by them, and who can tell a good joke and cook some mean spaghetti.

I know by altering my attitude, by making my life about what I'm doing instead of what I've done, I can affect other's perceptions of what my life looks like. Because to tell you the truth, it's a good life. I have five kids, four of whom I have the privilege of raising. They are loving and kind, and pretty darn good looking if I do say so myself. I was married to a man who, for the majority of our life together, was good to me, who was a great father. Even on his worst day, he was great genetic material for our kids. I am most blessed that we have worked through many of our issues, that there is no longer any animosity between us (usually...I'm not perfect!), and that I don't have to worry about whether or not I have done everything I could to fix my marriage. I'm going to school to do something I really believe I will love. We have a roof over our heads, a car to drive, and netflix. Seriously, that's pretty good.

No, we don't have a lot of money. But I'm learning that scaling back in certain ways is actually helping teach my children to be more grateful for what they do have, and the fact is, they are still ridiculously blessed. Watching less television has made more time for reading. Scaling back on toys means more pretend play. We're just like any other family, except the bad stuff is right out in the open for us, instead of hidden as it is in lots of other families. And truthfully? I kind of like it that way.

So what are you defined by?
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