I certainly have my own take on this issue, and plan to post about it soon. But for now, please take a minute to read what my friend Amy wrote about Jimmy Wayne, his walk halfway across America to give voice to the voiceless, and the battle that underlies every woman's daily life as a mother.
The REAL Mommy War, by Amy Bradley-Hole
I had the privilege of spending a little time this past week with Jimmy Wayne. Jimmy is a country singer who started the Meet Me Halfway campaign on January 1. What's it all about? Well, he's walking halfway across the country -- from Nashville to Phoenix -- to raise awareness about the issues surrounding homeless kids and teens who are about to age out of the foster care system. These kids are shoved into adulthood completely unprepared. They often have little education, few life skills and even fewer job skills. They've been abused, neglected and discarded all their lives, and then they're thrust into a very tough world with no safety net and no support.
Jimmy knows about these kids' lives, and wants to help them, because he was once just like them. He lived in abusive homes. He was in and out of the system. He was even homeless. I won't go into the details of his stories -- some of them are public, and anyone who can use a search engine can find out more. If you'd really like to know more about his background, in his own words, and also hear stories about his journey since he set off on his walk, I'd encourage you to visit his Ustream channel. He's been broadcasting live from the road and archiving his videos there. Start at the beginning and watch all the way through.
Fair warning -- you will need tissues. Like, a go-to-Costco-and-buy-in-bulk amount of tissues. His stories are graphic, uncomfortable and heart-wrenching. His conversations with the kids he meets, as they discuss their fears and apprehensions and histories, will make you want to scoop up your own children and squeeze them to bits. My favorite part is when he gets on his soapbox and becomes a real advocate for these kids, asking the tough questions that they often can't.
But I think what gets to me the most is when he talks about his mom. I can't relate to much of his life, but I can definitely relate to being a mother. Let's face it -- most of the problems he encountered when he was young, and a lot of the problems that troubled kids everywhere are dealing with, are brought on by mothers. And the relationship Jimmy had with his mother, though on the mend, was certainly broken for many years.
Women are always so concerned about preserving and perfecting relationships. I am no different. I have learned, though, that relationship failures are inevitable. I've failed my friends. I've failed my parents. I've failed my husband. I've failed bosses. Some of those failures have been tougher than others, but I (not always my relationships, but me, personally) have managed to survive them all.
But the one relationship failure I don't think I could handle would be failing my children. I don't think I could leave them alone for days on end. I don't think I'd ever fail to feed them. I don't think I could put them in a home with a man who's abusive and toxic. I don't think I could ever run away from them. I just don't think I could be that mom and fail my children.
But notice I said "think." Honestly, I'm not secure enough to say "I could never." I've desperately wanted to run away before. I've put my needs ahead of my boys' needs a thousand times. I've felt completely alone, terribly depressed, and utterly unwilling to care for my children for another second. Every day, I'm holding on by a (sometimes tenuous and slippery) thread.
You see, I think being a mother is like being a soldier. Raising children means going out onto the battlefield every day and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. Us moms are fighting so many enemies -- our partners, our lack of a partner, the media, our jobs, our joblessness, our expectations, our pasts and our personal demons. We're all waging this war every day, and unfortunately, some of us are losing.
Some are losing because they don't have the necessary equipment. They don't have a safe place to retreat to at the end of a long day in the trenches. They don't have food and basic supplies. They don't have the education and skills it takes to understand the logistics of the war. They are easy to identify, and, quite frankly, they're easy to help, if we just pool our resources and time. Most of us have a little extra we can share.
But some are losing because they don't have any support. They got cut off from the rest of the troops, left alone to fend for themselves. Or maybe they're right in the thick of things, right in front of us, but we don't see them. Instead, we stumble off the battlefield at night, and fall into base camp, where our support troops have a warm meal waiting for us and a tent already pitched. We find a bit of comfort and begin to bandage our wounds. We may take a moment to send an email to loved ones. But war is ugly, and soon enough the trauma of that day's battle begins to worm it's way to the front of our minds. We react by lashing out. We lash out at our fellow warriors for not breast feeding enough, or for breast feeding too much. We snicker about those who stay at home and raise their kids, and trash the ones who don't. We make fun of the uniform some of the others wear, or criticize how their bodies look. We question who's looking after their kids while they're away.
While we're so busy cutting others down, we fail, or perhaps choose not, to see those horribly wounded women who will not make it through the night. They will not survive this war. And when they break, they will leave behind their children.
They'll leave behind sons like Zack, a kid who went to a high school where I worked. His mom tried to commit suicide just after his 17th birthday, during his senior year. Other faculty and I fought for months to literally "hide" him from the authorities so that he wouldn't get lost in the system at such a crucial time in his life. During those days, he started painting to express himself, and he never stopped. Now he shows in galleries out west.
They'll leave behind sons like Joseph, whose family kicked him out at a fairly young age because he had severe Tourette's Syndrome. He often survived by raiding the trash outside local restaurants, until he one day convinced a kind restaurant owner that even a kid who seemed to have little control over his flailing arms could be a chef. It seemed the only time his hands were steady was when he was holding a knife, and he eventually became a damn fine Garde Manger at the fancy hotel where I worked.
And they'll leave behind sons like Jimmy Wayne.
They'll leave behind kids who will struggle, but who can do so much. Kids who, given the right resources, can succeed, despite having dealt with failure all their lives. Sure, you can say their moms failed them by not being strong enough, not asking for help, not fighting just a little bit harder. But we, by not acknowledging their mothers' struggles, have most certainly failed them, too.
So let's start paying a little more attention to our fellow soldiers, OK? And in the meantime, I challenge you to start helping these left-behind children right now. I challenge you to donate to Jimmy's MMH Foundation. Every time you write a blog post about how rotten your life is, click that link. Every time you comment on someone's blog about some hot-button motherhood issue, click that link. Every time you're sitting around with some other moms, gossiping about how so-and-so raises her children, click that link.
We may not be able to put ourselves in these kids' or these women's shoes. We may not be able to walk across the country. But we can start fighting smarter, and we can do a better job of supporting struggling soldiers. This battle's too important for us to leave anyone behind, ladies.
Children's lives are at stake.