A dark-haired, lonely girl.

I'm the one on the rightI found a photo of my nineteen-year-old self, in a box of my cherished photographs.

I’m the one cleaning her glasses with her sweater.

I expected to find baby pictures of my oldest kids, from back before I had a digital camera. I expected to see images of people I used to know, younger versions of my family members, snapshots of places I once lived.

I did not expect to see the dark-haired, lonely girl whose smile seemed weighted in sorrow, or whose eyes look older than my eyes do now.

What happened to her? Did she find peace? Is she still wandering alone, reaching for a deeper love to sustain a long life?

I saw her, and I recognized her, and I realized that she is still me.

I am still lonely, alone, wrapped in silence and sorrow. There is no pain so bone-deep as the wounds received in childhood; unless it is the wounding of one’s own children before your very eyes.

I am also alive and bright with joy, my face and body changed after the children I have borne. The relationships I have formed, some official before God and government, some my heart’s fierce choice alone, have both wounded and healed me in new and lasting ways.

I smile more now than I used to. I’ve laughed and cried in the same breath more times than I can count.

I’ve wandered this bit of earth looking for love, and have found it more often than I have discovered its absence.

When I was nineteen, I wanted to find not just love, but meaning.

Low lightIn the seventeen years since, I can’t say I have found any better reason to keep looking, keep wandering, keep wondering, and keep searching.

After all, aren’t each of us here to find meaning, to marry an inclination to love with a reason to remain alive?

I’m still her, but I’ve managed to learn a few important things.

Loneliness is beautiful.

Pain is an amazingly thorough teacher.

There is always room for love in the space between spaces.

And the journey itself is often the best part of being alive.

This post originally published at rhiannonllewellyn.com

Let’s talk about consent

My kids are — right now — five, eight, twelve, and fourteen.

From the time my oldest was a baby, I was hyperaware of the fact that he was a whole new person, a human being, someone who needed to learn — from me — how to be a kind person and navigate the world safely and wisely.

(I used to say ‘a good person’, but I think that term is problematic.)

Even though I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home, which traditionally advocates for the submission of women and the headship of men, I have always known that all people are equal and deserve equal respect, equal treatment, and equal consideration.

As a parent, my focus became: how do I teach my children to be the kind of people who respect others, who ask first, who take no for an answer, and who do not willingly submit themselves to abuses OR become abusers themselves?

Obviously this is not something they cover in the Universal Parenting Handbook (which, by the way, must have got lost in the mail because I never got my copy). This is the kind of thing you have to learn by doing, and trying, and listening, and observing; and by attempting to behave like the kind of person you would want your children to emulate.

Right now, we are working on learning to embody consent.

Nick and an oak treeUntil my youngest and I started working with a therapist every week to help him through his difficulties around custody exchanges, I did not realize that I still had something to work on around consent and personal respect of others’ bodies.

My son Nick is one of the most effusively affectionate people I know.

He makes friends without reservation, offers compliments freely, and gives hugs with the intensity of a tornado. I’ve always loved this about him, but there are some problematic issues that go along with being an effusive, affectionate, trusting person who does not yet have safe boundaries in his mind.

Now, we have two rules — for everyone in the house:

1) Always ask permission.

To cuddle, to kiss, to hug, to touch. Ask first. I discourage surprise hugs and flying-off-the-couch cuddle attacks, unless permission was asked for and granted beforehand.

This might seem like an injustice to a child’s natural affection, but in fact it makes these encounters all the sweeter when permission is asked for and given.

For one thing, when I’m expecting the giant amazing hug, I can enjoy it even more in the spirit in which it was intended. And I can brace myself so that nobody’s mug of coffee or electronic device or favorite toy becomes a victim of exuberance.

I love hugs and kisses and cuddles with my children, and I cherish them even more when they’re a mutual experience. It has amazed me how happily my two youngest ask if they can give a hug, and how happy they are to accommodate a YES or a NO or a HOLD ON JUST A MINUTE.

Which leads to the next rule …

2) The only thing that means YES is YES.

The underlying meaning in “the only thing that means yes is yes” is a fundamental belief that what you want or need does not trump someone else’s wants or needs.

Not only that, but this is a perfect starting-off point to have more conversations about the importance of communication, and why we ask in the first place, and how we can express our needs and wants in words because we care about what people have to say. We care about each other deeply, and because of that, YES MEANS YES is a no-brainer.

There are times when I ask one of my kids if they would like a hug, and that is not, in fact, what they want OR what would make them feel better.

And because one of my other big Things To Work On is communication, we are usually able to have a conversation about what would make them feel better, or what we can do instead, if in fact something needs to be done or could be done.

Having these guidelines about consent has opened up amazing conversations about communication, about boundaries, and about personhood and human rights and gender equality.

I want my kids to have these tools while they are learning to navigate the world they live in.

I want them to have underpinnings of safety and wisdom in addition to the naturally deep wells of love and trust and kindness they already have.

And I want them to have a natural-as-breathing understanding of healthy boundaries and healthy relationships and when is an appropriate time to say no.

All in all, these four people are (in additional to being wonderful people in their own right) the embodiment of the best of me, because raising them has required all of my ability to learn, to adapt, and to love unconditionally.

This post originally published at rhiannonllewellyn.com – it has been lightly edited.

Blue, blue, my world is blue.

Hello, loverfaces.

These last several months have been a clusterfuckery of epic proportions, although my perspective is obviously 1000% biased.

The last half of summer and the beginning of autumn were jam-packed with life lessons, bouts of depression, and more than one situation that seemed a hell of a lot like it was much too difficult and painful to live through, let alone deal with.

I wore a blanket of numbing sadness, wandering through my days listlessly. I felt so full of Nothing (so full and simultaneously so empty) that I despaired of feeling any other feelings ever again. I believed a lot of bullshit because it seemed so entirely true. I doubted myself in so many different ways. I re-lived bad choices I’ve made, terrible things I’ve gone through, and all the mistakes I could remember making. I drowned in my sadness. My fear was overwhelming.

I’m not writing this to tell you I’m totally fine, because I’m not.

But I did keep waking up every morning, and I did take showers even though being alone in the hot running water made me want to sob until my soul shattered into pieces. I did hug my children and ask about their homework. I did ask for help, and take my vitamins, and I drank water and I ate food.

I bought school supplies and took pictures of my kids on their first day of school. I took my littlest to the zoo, just the two of us. I did my work, sometimes only a few minutes of it a day, but all the same I did it. I did SOMETHING. I managed not to suck as badly as I thought I did.

After weeks of blue-ness, the fog began to lift, just a bit. I started to remember who I was, which is who I had been the whole time. I remembered that depression does not break me. It doesn’t mean that I am less a person than I used to be.

I found myself through dealing with difficulty, when one particularly nasty financial problem showed up and smacked me right in the head and I was forced to be a grownup and face a scary, consequence-laden thing I’d been running from for seven years.

I found myself through owning up to my old stories about pain, and money, and responsibility; and through the gift of seeing, loving and understanding the part of me that had been protecting the rest of me from all the things I didn’t know how to handle since I was a little kid.

I found myself through the eyes of the therapist from community mental health, who comes to our apartment on Tuesdays and talks to my youngest and to me. She saw me and everything I deal with, and all the things I’m trying so hard to get right, and it all became a little less of a burden because of her compassion.

I found myself through the love and open arms of my boyfriend, my mother, my sister, my boyfriend’s mother, my children, my dearest friends online and off.

There is a lot more I want to write about the worst days, because I know so many of us deal with this and live with it and try to keep ourselves sane while we’re crying and cooking dinner or crying and driving the car or crying and writing or just fucking crying. And then crying some more, or maybe not crying at all because the pain in your chest and the lump in your throat are actually too big for the tears to come out, which just makes it hurt worse.

I want to write about waking up in the morning and feeling the tears well up again, having hoped that today would have been a good day, knowing that now I have to pull myself through it until bedtime and try not to be the worst mom ever, but all I really want to do is lay back down and cry myself to sleep.

But, even though I’ve managed to write this much so far, I don’t really know how to write more than that. It’s still with me, even though I know I am okay and I will continue to be okay.

One day last week, Nick said something funny, which is something he does a lot because he’s fucking hilarious, and I actually laughed. I felt the joy leap in my heart and my face crinkled up into a real smile, and audible laughter vibrated in my chest. And then I knew I was really going to be okay.

I don’t have anything else to say except I love you, and if you’re blue too, my darling, I understand. Here is a safe place to cry and be comforted.

This post originally published at rhiannonllewellyn.com – it has been lightly edited.

To let life change us

my sister and me and my brotherI’ve just realized, suddenly and with a rush of hot tears, that there is no magic time when life stops, becomes stable and static, and stays exactly as you want it to.

It changes and it evolves and it takes you with it, whether you will or no.

“And what would be the point of living if we didn’t let life change us?”

— Mr. Carson, butler at Downton Abbey

I have been struggling through this latest evolution in my own life: my brother was involved in a terrible, tragic hit and run accident in 2011, and was tried and convicted just last Thursday.

My heart hurts for so many reasons.

Each time I do something that I used to do without a second thought: choose a meal at a restaurant, flip the channel on the television, take a shower when it pleases me, or spend all day with my kids, I remember he can’t do this right now.

He will barely see his daughter over the next however many years he is behind bars. (We don’t know yet how long his sentence will be.) He doesn’t have the luxury of working for a living, taking a road trip, or even choosing the brand of toothpaste he uses.

And yet, I know this pain will ease somewhat.

I won’t forget about him, but it will hurt less. My life will re-orient itself around this new set of truths, and I will go on like I always do.

But I have to confess that I have been angry over this change. I did not want my life to shift again. I did not choose this.

In my anger is a seed of truth that I need to see and honor: that sometimes, change frightens me. When my life feels that it is not in my control, not even the tiniest bit, it frightens me.

And now the truth that life does change, and never stays exactly the same, does comfort me. Because this is not frozen in time. This story, right now, is not the whole of what will be.

I don’t know what else I am learning right now. Some hours of the day I feel fine, and other hours I just want to hide and cry.

All I truly know is there is enough love for me. There is enough love for my brother.

And I do not have to bear this alone.

This post originally published at rhiannonllewellyn.com