dweller by the river

sojourner of earth attempting to understand the journey home

Tag: Shieldbearer

The Last Straw

Two days ago, Saturday, I had one of the shittiest afternoons I’ve had for a long time. The post that I had planned for Friday didn’t get written because I spent the day in tensed-up dread of Saturday, and I haven’t been able to write since Saturday itself because my emotions have been all over the place.

My father had asked to meet up for lunch after my weekly dance class, and I knew he would be bringing my mother. Until this week I had always tried to accommodate this because my problems were (as I thought) with my mother and not him. We had always had what I consider a reasonable relationship. He has never been really supportive of me, but neither has he been abusive. The older I got, the better we seemed to communicate, as well. And so, as was typical of such situations, I was hoping for the best while mentally preparing for the worst, and my mother didn’t disappoint.

She began by coming up to the dance studio where we were finishing up for the day, and insisting on “helping” by taking my one-year-old daughter away from me,  even though I have told her many times (and asked my dad to help get it into her head many times) that L needs to be within sight of me or E to feel safe and secure. I tried to politely get her back into the studio by telling her she could come in and see our new costumes and watch a choreography that two ladies were doing a final run-through of – it was a Christian piece and since she is always showing off how spiritual she is it seemed like something that would get her attention. I had to stay for a few more minutes so I didn’t want her staying outside, and my daughter was already struggling in her grip and whining.

She declared that my baby was restless and needed a change of scenery, and went downstairs. We could all hear L crying all the way out the door. I quickly went down. L was still crying. My father was trying to placate her, and failing. When she saw me, she reached out to me and the moment I took her back from my mother, she quietened. My mother immediately went into her usual “she is too close to you” spiel which I ignored because F, one of the dance girls and an old school friend who had been one of my bridesmaids, came down. My mother immediately went into her sweetness-and-light act in front of F, who, as it turned out, was happy to head where we were heading, so she rode with us in my father’s car.

L was perfectly happy with F – she’s fine with all my friends, though she is particularly fond of D (I can vanish for some time, e.g. to the toilet, if D is with her). She played with her and next to her and we had a good time catching up.

When we reached the destination mall (chosen by my mother), my untied mei tai got in the way of the car door so my father came round to hold L while I got organised. As he walked round to the back of the car I was still pulling my stuff together, and L started whining. My mother immediately started telling him to walk away quickly, and to make sure that L couldn’t see me. I bolted out of the car with my long straps trailing on the ground. As I was hurriedly getting them straightened out, my father suddenly remarked that he’d forgotten to close his door, and handed L to my mother, who proceeded to walk off.

I controlled my reaction because F was around, and gave my father a look. He knew what I meant, because I have talked to him many times about my issues with my mother’s behaviour and asked him to help speak to her about my directives concerning interaction with L, because she simply will not listen to me. She either ignores me or talks over me when I try to tell her anything she’s not interested in hearing.

Anyway, we caught up quite quickly. L was squirming and crying and looking for me and was immediately quiet when I took her back. My mother decided to start asking F about designer ice creams and persuaded her to take her to a well-known store in the basement, “just to make sure of the location”, even though we were late for L’s lunchtime and we had previously fought over my mother’s ignoring my statements that my baby was hungry. I put my foot down this time and said we didn’t have time for that, and thankfully my father agreed and said we could split up and get food for L first and my mother could join us later.

It was difficult finding seats in the crowded food court and by the time I found something that L could eat, it was way past her lunchtime and creeping into her nap time. Naturally, she was cranky and clingy and my mother showed up just as I was starting to try to feed her. L reacted badly and refused to sit in the baby chair (which my father had placed right next to my mother), which earned me more pointed remarks that L is “spoilt”, “overly attached” and “doesn’t seem to have been socialised properly; does she interact with anyone apart from you”? Then she went off to get her own lunch, and came back announcing that she’d bought a pumpkin dish for L since clearly what I was trying to feed her wasn’t palatable. She then went on to comment on every single morsel that I was offering L:

“It’s too hot, you need to wait for it to cool down.”
“Can’t you see the steam? It’s too hot, blow on it!”
“Are you sure she can eat that?”
“Why give her so little at a time? This is going to take too long. She wants to sleep.”
“She doesn’t want to eat, she’s tired.”
“She doesn’t want to eat that – I bought the pumpkin, aren’t you going to give it to her?”
“Let me mash it up for her since you’re not doing it.”
“She’s tired, she wants to sleep.”

Finally, L and I both gave up on her eating more than about a quarter of the amount she usually eats, and I began to put her in my mei tai. And despite weeks of telling my mother not to “help” with the straps, she insisted on doing it, saying that I couldn’t reach them, that they were dragging on the floor, and that I was taking too long. I gritted my teeth, finished the tie-off and walked out of the food court to calm my by-now screaming baby. She quietened within a couple of minutes and I thought I’d try going back and eating over her head; both E and I have done this several times, and this way, L would stay in the carrier, snug against my chest.

The moment I got back to the table, L started fussing again and – of course – my mother decided to interfere. She came around the table and stood over me and proceeded to tell me that L was uncomfortable, L didn’t want to be in the carrier, L was tired and needed to be put to sleep, I needed help putting L to sleep, there was no way I was going to ever eat anything if I insisted on “giving in” to L’s “demands”, and that she had kept some of her food aside for me since what I had bought wasn’t good enough and I had better let her take over so that I could eat it… and my father, who I had many times spoken to privately about the many problems I have with my mother’s behaviour, just sat there and said nothing.

I gave up. I shouldn’t have, but at that moment I gave up and untied my mei tai and handed L to my mother. Who proceeded to walk out of the food court. I sat there and listened to my daughter screaming until they were out of earshot. Then I exploded at my father.

Well, “exploded” is inaccurate. I spoke very angrily but quietly, and my hands were shaking. I told him this was exactly the behaviour I kept telling him was unacceptable, that there was no logic in my mother’s belief that it is somehow wrong for a child to be close to her parents, and that I didn’t think I was minded to keep excusing it for very much longer. Guess what? He told me to stop making a big deal out of things, that I was working myself up for nothing, and that I should just let it go and eat my lunch. I flat out told him I’d lost my appetite.

After a while he called my mother’s cell phone to find out her location and we went to look for her. L was quiet but leaning as far away from my mother’s body as she could while being held, and the moment she saw me she started squirming and reaching out to me. I took her back, wrapped her in the mei tai, and she was asleep within ten minutes.

The rest of the day was less pointedly unpleasant and in fact there were some laughs – caused by L being cute after she had woken up from her nap – but that lunchtime incident was the last straw for me. My mother is never, ever going to be allowed to be alone with my daughter again. We are already committed to a few other outings in the coming weeks, but once those are over, I am going to cut contact for some time. I may be shit at standing up for myself (I have a pathological inability to oppose my mother directly when I am the victim), but I am so done with her attempting to play games with my daughter. And who better to hold up a shield between her and her narcissistic grandmother, than her mother, who has survived the abuse?

I just wish it didn’t have to be like this.



This isn’t a homage to the blog Transpositions, even though it is a very good resource. It does draw on the blog’s use of the word, though.

I should have seen the signs, really. The world turns, and the seasons change, and my entry into the world of tillandsias marked a new season for myself – one that I really should have been more alert for.

About a month ago I accepted an invitation to a teatime meet with a fellow hula dancer. We’d been acquainted for a long time – a few years, in fact – but had never really had cause to pursue further relations. Somehow, in the course of my ramblings that afternoon, she told me that it was clear to her, at least, that I had passed from my Shieldbearer phase into the Life Speaker phase. I thought about it for a while, but didn’t pay much attention because most of the other aspects of my life hadn’t seemed to indicate any such thing.

It’s been especially true in the past few months: Crossed communication lines with important people were getting more and more tangled. Fatigue and weariness were beginning to gain ground on dogged hope, slowly morphing the edges into cold, brittle despair and apathy. And I lost a few plants, and looked set to lose a few more.

It occurs to me now that I’d forgotten the most important thing about these phases. One never goes into them prepared and ready to play the role. One enters with fear and trembling, knowing that hard lessons are about to be learnt. The phase is not so much about executing the role as about being equipped to do so. It’s not an elevation or a promotion, as such. It’s a transposition, a time of realignment, breaking, growing, and filling.

I’ve learned to fight defensively and to protect, and I’ve learned to hunker down and take a beating. I’ve learned how to return blows. But there’s a difference between taking a beating and taking a beating with grace. There’s a difference between refusing to die and refusing to let go of life. There’s a difference between defending (merely standing one’s ground) and protecting (shielding, while most likely advancing at the same time). There’s a difference between holding off an attacker and finishing him off so that he ceases to be a threat.

If you’re someone’s shieldbearer in battle, you’ve technically done your job – the bare minimum – as long as your charge suffers no harm; but you’ve not really fulfilled the call if your positions are stagnant (worse if you’ve lost ground) or if your attackers live to attack again. And you haven’t owned the position if your charge is emotionally/psychologically/spiritually hampered either. If you own your position, he’ll be advancing in the knowledge that you are there.

I’ve become hard and brittle. That’s not strength. In all the struggle to survive, I’ve forgotten how to live. And that’s the real revelation about the Life Speaker phase, isn’t it? It’s not this ideal place from which I am now qualified to dispense wisdom and edification, although that will surely be a by-product to some extent. It’s about learning to live again – speaking life to the death within myself.

But it’s true that when your eyes are on Jesus, the storms don’t matter. It’s true that when you seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, that everything you need will be added to you. It’s true that when you give, more is given to you, pressed down, shaken together, overflowing. It’s true that when you serve, when you wash another’s feet, when you feed their souls, that the Servant King smiles upon you, the Spring of Living Water deep within you is uncapped, and the Bread of Life you ingested long ago begins to multiply.

The past two weeks have been the hardest of the last 52 in some ways, and also the most joyous in other ways. I’ve been working through some issues, and I’ve also had the delightful honour of spending time with S (that hula sister); in answering her questions, with my focus on her needs instead of my own, I’ve walked the old paths by muscle memory and somehow found myself back in that place I thought I’d lost. The lamps are being relit and I can feel that old familiar passion building. It’s bubbling up, effervescent.

I tell you the truth – the principle of sowing and reaping is first and primarily meant for the na’au, the spirit man . Everything else is secondary, inferior, laughable in comparison.

And I know now, if just in a tiny little way, the holy fear that Jesus instilled when He cautioned against flippantly considering oneself a leader or disciple (Matthew 23:10, 12). I haven’t studied that section of scripture enough to know exactly what He was talking about, but I’ve read those verses before and felt like I should be afraid, but didn’t know why… and I’ve watched so many big-time church leaders seem to enjoy their positions, and wondered why I felt like it was somehow irreverent.

I know it because in some small way, by looking to me to help her see her path a little more clearly, S has put herself under my spiritual authority. And it’s scary. It’s terrifying. It is an awesome and holy privilege and also something that makes me want to run screaming. I don’t want to be responsible for teaching her the wrong thing. I don’t want any mistake in interpretation on my end to wind up being a wrong conviction on her part. I don’t want to have to stand before the Father give an account of how I led her astray, inadvertently or not.

But you know… one can’t escape the call forever. And as much as E has a prophetic call and a healing gift, I’m meant to teach. God, keep me focused and keep me real!