When I was 14 years old my family moved to a new state. This was a good move for me personally, as I had struggled both academically and socially where we were and it was good for our whole family. The town we were leaving was struggling, and as a result about half the town left that summer.
None of that mattered. After a moment of short lived excitement, I was mad, sad, confused, and scared. I had finally made some good friends and none of them were moving that summer. I felt like I was going to be left out of everything and, I was going to have to start all over in a scary and unknown place.
What I was completely unaware of was what this move meant for the other members of my family. I could not see that my mother was leaving behind her friends as well. That she had two sad and angry teenagers to deal with along with a new baby. My dad left on international business for several weeks just days after we moved in. And unbeknownst to me, my
grandmother, her mother, was very ill.
The house we moved into was huge, almost 4,000 square feet. It was brand new and not only did I have my own room….I had my own private bathroom, and it was huge as well. It was a 14 year old girl’s dream. But none of that mattered to me. What mattered to me most was that I felt like the off-white walls of my own private bedroom were making the room seem dull and dark. I wanted white walls. I wanted it bright white and if the walls weren’t white than I was never (insert tears and drama) going to be happy. Ever. And I made sure my mother knew about it too.
And do you know what my mother did? She painted my white walls white. She did it cheerfully. She too had just moved to a new town, had sad teens, a fussy baby, and a sick parent.
Yet, she painted my white walls white anyway.
She didn’t roll her eyes.
She didn’t try to logically explain why the walls were already white.
She didn’t try to make me see that in light of the needs of the rest of family that I was being ridiculous.
She simply painted my white walls white.
I had an ideal childhood. My parents loved me. My parents loved each other. I was never hungry or cold or without. And to the outsider I’m sure I looked like a spoiled brat making a big deal about nothing. But the truth is, in that moment I was in crisis.
I was scared.
It was my own mini-trauma.
And I wanted those walls white!
Years later I asked my mother, why in the world she did that?
Her answer: it was what I needed her to do.
It is a stand out memory for me and is one of the most unselfish things anyone has ever done for me.
Our children come to us traumatized. Even if we think they “had it easy” or “spoiled” in their orphanage or foster home, they have had trauma.
They are scared.
They are lonely.
They are confused.
Maybe their expectations of us, their new home – realistic or not – were not met.
Maybe they ask us more than once a day to paint their “white walls white”.
Ridiculous, off the wall requests that make no sense; but things they need from us in that moment.
Gracious, no. Is there anything more inconvenient than painting a room the same stinking color?
But when we brought these older children into our homes, we knew in our heads that it wouldn’t be convenient. We read and talked and prepared. But now they are here and our hearts are struggling to do what our heads thought we were prepared for. They are big and demanding and painting white walls white?
They aren’t cuddly sweet babies. They are teenagers. Traumatized teenagers who are asking us to prove we love them, to show them they are important, to help them through this trauma of institutionalism and abandonment and loss.
It’s just that sometimes those things come out looking more like asking for….
White walls to be painted white.
My prayer each day is that I can somehow be like my mother and with a cheerful heart give my daughter what she needs in that moment. Even if to me it is ridiculous and illogical. I’m not suggesting we bend to their every whim, just that we reexamine why they are asking and if we really can’t do it or if it’s just too hard, out of our routine, or just plain old inconvenient.
The long term reward for a few minutes or even hours of “hard” is immeasurable.
It’s been almost 30 years since that move…
I still remembered the settling in my heart….
As she painted those white walls white.
– guest post by Stacy