On Power and Autonomy and Working It Out in Unlikely Places

I sit on the couch, eyes red from crying, as she asks me, “So you’re wanting to take back your power?”

Jarred out of the sea of my emotions, I respond with an emphatic, “No! I don’t want power!”

Curious, she leans in, “Hmmm…why not?”

I tell her, “If I have power, then I am responsible. I am accountable. I am to blame. If things just happen to me, I am a sympathetic character. If I have power and want things and make choices and people disagree with those choices, they will blame me, not have sympathy for me. I don’t want that.”

Questions of identity swirl around in my mind these days. Who am I? What is most important to me? What am I doing with my “one wild and precious life?” Where am I going?

And the fact that I have choices – that I am a responsible actor, an agent in my own life – is an ever-present under-current.

Isn’t it odd that I’d lost sight of that for a time? I have this beautiful life, and I absolutely set myself along this path. I have always wanted to be good, and I have striven to live up to that ideal. I am a Christian wife, a homeschooling mom to four kids, two of whom are adopted, I have spoken at women’s retreats, and I am smart and I am kind, and I am generally good at most things that I do. And yet something has been missing for me, in me, along this path.

And I’ve wondered, as I’ve moved forward, am I a passenger, or am I the driver? I have sometimes lived as if I am walking out a formula, doing all the right things – not like I’m having an adventure in this beautiful world.

I realized recently that all of this is part of what I’m working out, what I’m practicing, in what is perhaps an unlikely arena.

I remember starting to ride horses. Miranda had a scary fall and was resistant to getting back up on her pony right away, so I rode him around for a little while before we got Miranda back up there. It was intimidating! It felt like I was so high up in the air (two years in, this is hilarious to me – he was just a pony!) – and like I didn’t actually have any control over what we were doing. But also? I had fun. And I took the risk of asking if it would be ridiculous for me to take lessons with the girls after that. It felt vulnerable to pursue something that I knew I wouldn’t be good at and something that would be just for my enjoyment. And then when Courtney said it would be fine for me to start doing lessons with the girls, I was both anxious and excited.

I’ve shared before about what I was learning through riding – about having fun, about being the learner instead of the teacher, about being vulnerable, about asking questions, and about persevering.

I’m still learning, but I’m finding that the lessons are different right now.

I’ve started jumping recently, and I love it. For a second, you’re flying. But it requires more of you as a rider, and there is more risk involved.

I’m learning that sometimes what looks the most intimidating ends up being the most fun.

I’m learning that the people around you matter. It helps to watch, to pay attention to what others are doing and to be able to observe and reflect. It helps to have a guide – someone on the ground who can tell you when you’re going too fast and when you’re pulling too hard on your reins and how to use your seat and what in the world just happened there.

But I think most of all, what I’m learning is that if you want to be a good rider, you cannot be a passenger – you are responsible for riding your horse. You cannot just sit there and expect that things will go well. Whether you take action or not, you are still responsible for the outcome. Where your horse goes and what they do along the way is, in large part, up to you. There are a lot of things you cannot control – but you are still responsible for working with what you have. You use the tools you have, you work on developing your skills, and you grasp at the glimmers of deeper understanding that flash before you. Even if you’re not the rider you wish you were, even if you don’t really know what to do, you are still responsible for doing your best and trying to make it happen.

Courtney tells me that I’m not as afraid as I should be. I’m certain that this is largely because it has been a long time since I’ve fallen. I know that another fall is coming, and I’m scared that once it happens, I’ll lose that willingness to try anything Courtney and Kris point me toward. I don’t want to lose it. This is where I’m practicing being brave.


Telling Stories to Work Through Scary Stuff

One of the hardest things for me, as a parent, is knowing how to help my kids work through hard stuff when they’re resistant to doing that work. I love my kids, and I know it’s best for them not to try to bury their feelings – but I also can’t force them to share with me or anyone else what is going on in their hearts.

Last weekend, Miranda had an experience that brought up some big feelings for her. Our two oldest girls have been taking horseback riding lessons for almost a year now, and Miranda had fallen a couple times before, but on Sunday, she had her first big, scary fall, and it really caught her off guard. She was scared, and she was angry, and it wasn’t until the very end of the lesson time that her instructor, Courtney, and I were able to get her back up on the horse. Courtney, thankfully, is amazing and was willing to meet Miranda exactly where she needed to be met and take extra time and offer the right mix of firmness with encouragement, which went a long way.

I could tell that, as Miranda walked around the arena riding Ian, with Courtney right beside her talking with her, a lot of the tension was dissipating, and I was so glad she was willing to get back up.

Miranda riding Ian with Courtney walking right next to her – I love this picture of encouragement and support and being right there with someone as they do hard things

But the big feelings were still there. Monday was a rough day at our house. I mentioned all of this to some friends, and one of them (Meghan Scanlan LCSW – if you’re in the Denver area and need a family therapist, you should probably look her up!) suggested that I have Miranda write a narrative about it and illustrate it and read and re-read and re-read it. That’s a strategy that can often help kids process traumatic events.

This is very similar to a strategy outlined by Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson in The Whole Brain Child – Name It to Tame It: Telling Stories to Calm Big Emotions, which you can read more about here, and I’d actually considered doing something like that…but even knowing what I know about trauma and its effects, I’d still debated¬† – did I want to bring it up? Would looking at it more just keep it all in the forefront of her mind and make it all worse? Would it ruin any possibility of us being able to get in another lesson and another positive experience before our beloved riding instructor moves 2 hours away for her new job? But no, it was clear that Miranda really needed to work through this experience and her feelings about it, and helping her to do that needed to be a priority for me.

Tuesday morning I told her that instead of having her doing any sort of regular Language Arts with me that day, I wanted her to work with me to write and illustrate a book about her fall off of Ian and getting back up again. She was a bit reluctant, but I agreed to be her scribe and write down all the words for her if she would just dictate, and she could do all the illustrating. I wasn’t sure how she’d do with giving all of the background information and sharing about the events leading up to the fall, talking about the fall itself, and then describing working through her feelings and getting back up on Ian again afterward, but with some gentle prompting, she was able to tell and illustrate the whole story.

And it was like a weight lifted off of her shoulders. She could talk about it without all of the emotion taking over. She decided she wanted to make copies of her book to give to some friends. She’s been reading through it multiple times a day, with no prompting from me.

And she’s excited to go ride again this weekend.

I’m so glad she was willing to get back up on the horse after she fell, and I’m so glad she has been willing to do the emotional work to process all of what she has been feeling. I want to help my kids to grow up to be adults who can get back up and try again after having a bad experience and who have the bravery and strength to do emotional work to process difficult stuff. I think Miranda’s journey this week has been a step in building toward that.

Note: This story has been shared with Miranda’s permission.¬†