Saturday, January 5, 2013

Does Your Child Have a Refuge?

When things got overwhelming and pressures and frustrations got to be too much, Mom always knew where she could find me.  I had two hideaways to cry, mumble to myself about the unfairness of the world, and work out the confusion in my head.  

The first place and a spot I still use now as an adult was the barn.  There is always something soothing about the smells and sounds at the barn.  The warmth of the breath of my animals as they nuzzle my cheek.  The soft furry bodies snuggling up to me.  The quiet soothing sound of the horses munching on hay and the rustling of straw as they shuffle around.  The soft thump-thump-thump of the farm dogs laying patiently as I brushing manes & hug necks.  The throaty purring of the barn cat perched nearby stretching out for a rub.  
Whenever I was angry and mouthy or unreasonably emotional, my mom would send me off to the barn to do some chore or clean the stalls.  Some days I needed to throw buckets at the wall and the physical work of doing chores to work out frustrations as I cursed the world under my breath.  Other days I needed to cry into the soft fur of the farm dog snuggled on my lap in the pile of hay licking my tear-streaked cheeks.  Or sob into the neck of my horse while he steadily munched his hay and nuzzled my hair reassuringly.  Eventually, the physical exertion would burn out my frustration and I would begin to analyze the situation or the calm repetitiveness of the animals and their rhythmic habits would sooth my upset and allow my jumbled thoughts to begin to organize themselves.  
photo credit: reallyboring via photopin cc

But the barn was easily accessible to those around me and as I got older and the turmoil in my house grew, I needed to escape a bit more.  I was about 10 when we got our first dog, Dillon   He was about 10 and was a huge black lab.  He was very bonded to me and I was allowed to take him for walks.  That's when I discovered my creek hideaway.  About a 1/4 mile from our house through nothing but a corn field lay a small stream that was a drain-off from a local river.  This creek ran through a culvert under the road and was lined with small trees and scrub.  On our side of the road was pretty much nothing besides rabbit and woodchuck holes and a few big rocks to perch on.  On the opposite side of the road was a large rock pile on one side and a cow pasture on the other.  Both sides offered a few trees and bunches of brush for shade and to hide in.  When the corn was short and then later when harvested, the spot was in clear view of the house.  I could see who was coming and going and unless I was hiding out, they could see me if they knew where to look.  But I was out of hearing distance and out of arm's reach.
As my parent's relationship deteriorated ever faster, it became important to me to have this place to escape.  I only wish my brother had been old enough to join me there.  It was a place where I could sit and think and clear my head from the ugly words and drama that was unfolding.  It was a place where I could be removed as a potential target - no one could blame me or ask me to take a side or ask me to hide things.  When I couldn't be found at home I knew my mom always knew that I had escaped to the creek and I wouldn't be in trouble for it.  As long as I was home by dark it was OK.  Often once my parents were home for the evening to take care of my brother, I would take my homework, a book and headphones and Dillon and I would walk to the creek and stay until it was too dark or cold.  
It was important for me to have those escapes - especially as I got into junior high and high school where the pressures started adding up from school and our church community as well.  There were a few times as a teenager when my dad finally was moved out of the house when I had to call the police on him for trespassing and when I was fighting visitation orders that I escaped to the creek to really take refuge.  Had my dad known me at all I would have been very easy to find - the creek had been my escape for years by then.

I don't know how much uglier things would have been for me if I had not been able to get out of the heat of the moment.  As it was I did have a lot of issues with depression, self-injuring and self-esteem from the times I couldn't escape.  But when I was able to get out of that pressure-cooker, I was able to find that center of balance and remind myself that life moved on.  The animals continued about their daily routines and the creek still flowed and changed and shifted with the changes around it.  I was able to calm down and remember the values and the positive things I had learned.  I would remember the stories my great-grandma would tell me about the good in life and God's love for me.  I was able to sit and sketch and pour my feelings out on paper with drawings and stories and poetry and it helped. No one was around to judge my work or tell me my reaction to the things happening was wrong - I could just feel...  
Now as my daughter has been entering that age of truly desiring independence and have deep opinions and feelings not just on likes and dislikes and toys and clothes.  But as a fourth-grader, the pressures in her world are changing and growing and I recognize that need to have that refuge and escape.  Kids are mean and Mommy and Daddy can't always make it better like they used to be able to.  And we recognize she needs to learn to resolve and sometimes absorb those hurts and figure out how to move past and through them without us.  Daddy's don't like to see their daughters cry and sometimes that becomes a frustration and an added pressure when sometimes girls just need to cry just because.  And honestly, she is so much like me that we often butt heads without intending to and become locked in a battle of wills that we don't really mean to be in.  
So I am trying to learn to recognize those moments.  To figure out which meltdowns are defiance that needs to be addressed and which ones really mean she needs to escape for a bit.  And she is so like me - her escape is quickly becoming the barn.  Some days she stomps off with a snotty look and determined shoulders to shove around the hay bales and toss the buckets.  Others she runs off in tears to go snuggle in the hay with the dogs and the cat.  
The dogs lick the tears off her face and the cat tickles her nose with her tail.  She pets her pony and feeds him treats and brushes him.  She and the cat climb the tree next to the pasture.  
And she comes back with a happy smile on her face and a healthy flush to her cheeks and a giggle to share about some silly thing the goat did or a proud grin that this time she wasn't scared to walk up to the big horse by herself and give him a pat on the neck and a treat from her hand.
 And I can watch it all through the kitchen window and know that it is all a part of growing and finding herself and learning that no matter the problems and frustrations and hurts, life goes on.  This summer as she snuck out in the field to stalk a doe and fawn (and made it within 20 yards of them), I could see a glimpse into a couple of years when I imagine she'll be finding a favorite spot in the woods behind the house to traipse off with her dogs and take refuge from the world for a few hours at a time.

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