Posted by: Tara Aarness | January 3, 2010

The Clearing Just Beyond the Woods

Out of the woods and into the clearing is where I find myself. Occasionally due to school vacations, my stepson Henry (not his real name), comes to stay with my husband and I for a length of time. During one of our visits, he came to stay with us for a little over a week; which per the parenting plan, was from the Friday school got out until the Sunday evening just prior to the beginning of school. For those of you who are parents, raising children can be challenging, at best. And for those of you who are step parents, you know all too well the trials and tribulations that can occur.

The first Saturday Henry was with us, we once again laid out the ground rules for each of us to abide by. All the normal things you would expect your child to do – be respectful, pay attention to what others are saying to you as well as what you are doing, change your underwear daily, use soap when bathing, and so on. This Saturday, though, we added a new rule – no discussing or talking about Henry’s mother and the family she and Henry reside with, the drama that accompanies them, and to speak positively, especially when it is challenging. We each had to promise to abide by these rules and there were consequences if we did not. There was effort made by Henry, but it was little.

The following day, we went on a hike in the snow clad woods with friends of ours who have two children that attend Henry’s school; Stephen is a year older than Henry and Tibalt is two years younger. Just prior to our trek, we stopped at the only spot that offered food for twenty miles and lunched, laughing and enjoying our day.

Our hike was challenging enough to let us know we were working off our meal, yet not enough to dampen our spirits. Tall, thin snow covered trees with no undergrowth lined our path and it is here that trouble struck. Henry’s meal was disagreeing with him and since there weren’t any restrooms to be found, he used the nearest cover, while the rest of us walked ahead. After a few minutes, Henry caught up to us, red faced from embarrassment as he pulled his dad and I aside to tell us that he had an accident. Suddenly, Henry’s and my differences were put aside as I helped him become presentable again as my husband distracted our friends. Reassuring him that this happens to everyone and that no one will make fun of him, he calmed down a bit. As we walked back to where everyone else was resting, he and I talked openly and honestly for the first time in many years. The rest of the afternoon was enjoyable and carefree with little or no concerns for us all. Henry even found the strength to poke fun at his situation and the bonds between him and his school friends grew stronger.

The week that Henry stayed with us was filled with many more days filled with friends and activities, offering little time to focus or seek the negative. When the rare quiet moments came, Henry was happy to engage his dad or me in conversation, animatedly discussing his interests and laughing easily at silly jokes; something that has been considered unheard of in the past.

On the Sunday that he was to go back to his other home, we were coming home from yet another event with friends. Henry sat next to me in the car and opened up to me, speaking thoughtfully. He told me he knew the rules but wanted to say this anyway, so I agreed and prepared myself for what may come. Making genuine eye contact, he told me how happy he is that we initiated the new positive rule. He then went on to say how this week has been like a vacation for him and he feels like he’s loved, valued and able to say something without fear of recourse. Then he gave me a strong hug, the best he could considering the constraints of the seatbelt, and told me he loved me. With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I croaked out that I loved him, too, and promised him that I would work very hard to ensure that the positive rule remains in effect. Once home, Henry’s body language proved what he had said in the Jeep; he moved about the house for the first time knowing that he belongs and that we truly love and accept him for who is.

It wasn’t until Henry went to his other home that I fully realized the importance of what happened that day out in the woods. As he and I buried the evidence of his embarrassment, we also buried our differences. And upon leaving the woods, he and I stepped out into the clearing together, hand in hand.

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