Back to Work (who am I again?)
I went to work for two days this month, the first two days in ten months of being a stay at home Dad. In October I start work again full time, so how will the experience of being a parent and more specifically an adoptive parent, inform the direction of my work and the insight that I bring to it?
The short answer is I don’t know yet but I know that it will. The last ten months have been the most challenging, exposing, intense, disorientating and wonderful ten months of my life. Getting to know and falling in love with a three year old, who isn’t yet sure whether he wants to form a reciprocal relationship with me, or at least whether he can trust me to keep him safe, has provided me with learning the full depth of which I may never be able to put into words. Although I have started to make sense of it through making.
As an artist working with people to help them deepen their understanding of their relationships with their environment (both ecological and social) my work is all about connection. When you bring a birth child into the world, that child (ideally) grows and develops with a complete acceptance of you as their parent. From being a physical part of you to developing an increasing sense of autonomy through your love, support and guidance, you carry out an ongoing dance of attachment.
An adopted child has become available for adoption because they have experienced a range of traumatic events, events which have prevented them from experiencing such a reciprocal, loving, supportive bond with their parent. The connection isn’t fully there, or at least it isn’t healthy, it is dysfunctional and can lead to a range of issues for that child as they grow up, due to attachment difficulties and developmental trauma.
As an artist I draw on my work with children to inform my work with adults. I draw on my own artful explorations of self and environment, to develop ways of supporting others to do the same. I explore the negative effects that estrangement from our earthly body and mind can have, and I offer experiences that seek to dig down and dust off an innate sense of connection. So how now will my experiences of being a parent inform all this?
When you run a workshop, you go in as prepared as you can be for a 2 or 3 hour, or a day long slot at a time, conscious that at the end you go home to your own space to reflect, process, learn and move on to the next step of your journey. As a parent I don’t have that space, at least nowhere near as much. Life isn’t chopped into bite-size chunks, and there isn’t a designated adult to provide discipline and support when needed. When we are together it’s largely just him and me. I am on my own.
He sees me as I truly am, not the composed, well researched and prepared me, but the tired, eating, sitting on the toilet me. One thing that I have found incredibly powerful and revealing is when my son pretends to be me. “I’m Daddy James and you are me” he says, and then I wait to hear how he sees me and what he has absorbed of our times together. And he sees/hears it all, or at least the bad bits, the words that have slipped out, the frustration and anger. I hope somewhere inside he has logged all the love, patience and playfulness too.
So, again I ask myself, how will this inform who I am at work, how will I share this experience with others?
The easy answer is that I have done a LOT of reading on child development, on attachment, on trauma and its impact on the brain; the lifelong impacts of not having developed a close and enabling connection. That’s something that is easy enough to tell others and add to the c.v. But it’s so much more than that. I’m not who I was any more. I have lost my old self, expanded to make room for another. I offered up my heart to him and he has crawled inside, bringing with him all the anger and grief of a little boy who needed love and understanding, but found pain and rejection.
I started this post to say “Yoohoo, world of work out there! I’m coming back, this is what I’ve learned and what I have to offer. Who has got a juicy project idea to pass my way?” A gentle-ish reminder that I’m still here and available for work, with appropriate links to relevant references and previous projects, that make me look clever and employable. But it’s not turned out that way, its morphed into something different, as I have over this last year, and this is what it needs to be instead.
So yes I am still here, and I am still available for work (October onwards), and I bring something more now, a resilience that I didn’t have before, an understanding of parenting that comes from living it, an appreciation of the biological and psychological need for connection that goes further than any amount of reading and self reflection has ever provided, and an enlivened sense of what is needed and important in the world.
Because although in practice it’s a lot more complicated, the underlying principle is love; the provision a supportive environment within which we can each become our fully creative, interconnected, seen and valued selves. Because when that happens, you tap into a system that you didn’t realise was there, that you were a part of, and all manner of wonderful things can follow… So here I am world, ready for wonderful things.