Parents

Out and about at lunch today with one of my associates, she asked me if I miss my parents. Second anniversary of her father’s death is Saturday and she is already feeling the oppressive sadness processing her ongoing grief.

At work, in most of my face-to-face life, I rarely think about much less mention my parents. When I do, it is typically in the context of their shortcomings. While I wish to be fair and balanced in my observations and remembrances, truth is there is not a lot of positives to talk about my childhood or my family of origin. There truly are few happy memories.

The simplest answer is no, I do not miss my parents. When I think of my mom, it is the last few months, and then only when M and I are doing something or are somewhere that she might have enjoyed. It is the reflexive part of me that wants to be kind, even to people I do not especially like as people. With my dad, it is more a curiosity of who he was, what he was like as a young man. All I know about him, really remember about him, is that he was drunk much of the time and seemed miserably uncomfortable during the periods of my life he was trying to get and stay sober.

My associate comes from a closer family. Her mother and twin sister live in southern California, and they talk on by phone or text every single day. Her vacations are spent with them or her boyfriend’s family. And right now, her ongoing grief over her father’s sudden death 2 years ago still weighs on her heart. I feel for her, yet wonder what that’s like. Tempering that grief this year is the eager anticipation of birth of her first niece or nephew later this year. She will make a wonderful aunt, and someday, when she has children of her own, I strongly believe she will be a wonderful mother.

She has good examples to draw upon.

Me, not so much. And I wonder whenever I depart from this life, if my kids will miss me and mourn my passing. Not something I dwell upon, but it is a point of curiosity that I will never know for certain. #relief

Despite not having good parenting examples to draw upon, I did okay. I own my mistakes – I married the wrong guy and had children with him, then divorced him and broke up a family. There are scars there, I’m sure. While I do not apologize for making a poor choice in their dad as a husband, I worked very hard to be a responsible parent and give my kids the tools they needed to grow up and successfully launch into independent lives of their own. In his own way, I feel equally certain their father did the same. My relationships with my children and their spouses are loving, honest, open. M and I am parents who respects boundaries and their sovereign adulthood, but if they need us, we would do just about anything to be there for them. And truly, I believe the same is true of them for us. Thankfully there has not yet been a situation that tested those theories.

Relationships change with time, because we have different experiences that alter our perceptions and beliefs – I believe they call it growing up. Does not mean we all grow up well, or evolve into better, smarter, more powerful or intelligent people; growing up to me just means we are not exactly the same people with the same thoughts we were the year before. Or such is my hope, anyway.

In the last couple of years – it feels like big growing up years. I started taking better care of myself, getting regular doses of exercise, learning how to use weight training machines and equipment in the gym, making better and healthier food choices. For most people this is just one tiny aspect of what they do in life, a hobby, but for me, it’s become The Hobby and The Gamechanger for most aspects of my life. I went from an employee working for an employer to expanding my side hustle (accounting) into a full-time, self-sufficient small business and back to full-time employee with part-time small business and now back to full-time small business owner. The impacts of these two things on my overall health – I went from insulin-dependent diabetic to well-controlled diabetic without any medication. I lost long-time friends along the way, people who perhaps felt threatened by a trimmer, healthier, freer, more financially empowered me. At the same time, I have made and added new friends that share my hopes and dreams, understand my health aspirations and mindset. Other relationships deepened, the bonds of our tribe strengthened and became closer. Both my kids, while living on their own for awhile, married their partners and solidified and expanded our family.

How does this all come back to my parents? Expectations. Or lack thereof, in my case.

I had no sense of my parents investing in me growing up. Go to school, get good grades, get a good job. Nothing at all against blue collar families, but my parents had no idea what was involved in getting into college, how much it would cost, how much – if anything – they would be willing to contribute for me to get my degree. So I was middle aged before I finally finished my degree. I got a job, got married, had a family, got divorced, got married, raised a family, and through it all got better, progressively more responsible, high paying jobs before I finally finished college. My success – I’m perfectly frank and honest that my parents did little to nothing directly to contribute to it. They had relationships with my children, until the kids grew up and into the initial stage of independence.

I did learn a few things from my folks. From my dad, don’t drink alcohol – you have no self control and will be an alcoholic. From my mom, don’t try to trade on your physical appearance – you’re not tiny, pretty like me, and learned helplessness presents more like a mental handicap than charming, attractive, rescue-worthy. And from both: we cannot or will not protect you from the predators of the world, so resign yourself to being a disposable commodity and expect everyone to steal your virtue, your dignity, and anything else you value.

There was such obvious favoritism between my sister and that it disturbs me to this day, yet made my adult life so much simpler despite that. The great hopes and dreams landed squarely on my sister’s shoulders, and when you are not expected to amount to much, the bar is set so low it is not that difficult to step right over it. It created this huge sense of resentment and distrust between my sister and I, because while accepting the benefits of being the golden child she resented the responsibility of being the older daughter and having to cope with the conflict of blazing her own trail. Me, I didn’t much care. Being viewed a the fuck-up (or the potential fuck-up) for having a mind of my own and speaking frankly has its benefits.

Because of that family dynamic, with my own children I have some very hard and fast rules about treating them equally. I do not see or sense the resentment between them that once existed between my sister and I. And I am very happy about that.

At the same time, I cringe and squirm in discomfort when I recognize my shortcomings and challenges that have been passed down from my to my kids. My bitter battles with food – C shares that. My hesitation and freaked-out-ness about school and education – I see the same sort of challenge with discipline and focus on topics and subjects of less interest with G. At the same time, I see a lot of good qualities that come from their father and I as well. They are both intelligent, have personal integrity, and are good citizens within their own communities. Far more than I was at their age, they are fiscally responsible and not buried in credit card debt, so they obviously learn from mistakes, mine as well as their own.

My associate and my friend, I am glad she loved her dad so much that she continues to process her grief 2 years after his passing. It’s moving to me that she tears up a little when talking about precious memories, that her family are people who express love in ways she could and can feel.

Breaking cycles, breaking family patterns – it may take generations to get to the right and more perfect balance. For me, it’s enough to come from my background and having children who grew up into balanced, responsible adults that I like as people well as love because they are my children.

My parents did the best they could, and their imperfect, flawed examples taught me to try other ways. My mistakes are mostly original and my own. For that, I am grateful. But I still do not think of or miss them much. That’s my character flaw to bear.

Courage, strength, being a “real” mom

I have mentioned my young friend more than once on this blog. She’s an absolute jewel. The past couple of months she has been working hard in training for and is now at her job as customer service rep, got her drivers’ license, and purchased a hideous looking but mechanically sound vehicle (1994 Honda Civic). Last weekend she moved from her rented room situation into a 1-bedroom apartment of her own. It’s basically empty except for the new bed she purchased, but furniture will come.

From being kicked out of the house at 15, she has finished course work to be a high school graduate, worked multiple jobs and lived with multiple roommates in sketchy neighborhoods while attending college to better herself, and found herself pregnant and carried the baby to term and gave him up for adoption. To say she has been through a lot in her years on earth (she is only 22) would be an understatement.

M and I are enormously proud of her and thrilled to consider her a full fledged member of our family tribe.

This afternoon she called me about the baby (given up for adoption) and his upcoming first birthday (August 9). She has remained close to and is very friendly with his parents, traveling to see them last year and staying in regular contact via phone, text, email, and Facebook. For the most part this has been a good and very positive thing.

There is an expectation that she will be attending the baby’s party over labor day weekend, and with her new job and working at stablizing herself, she does not feel it’s financially prudent for her to go. When she explained that to the parents, they generously offered to pay her expenses. After more thought and conversation, she feels close to this family, but not quite to the point of accepting this level of continued generosity. She loves the baby and looks forward to seeing him, yet it’s not now nor has it ever been a desperation to see “her” baby. She understands and has completely processed that she gave him up for adoption and is now part of another family, far from her day-to-day life. The bond they share is unique, yet she would not be especially hurt if excluded in his milestone events growing up. There was counseling associated with the adoption process, and she took it to heart.

I see nothing wrong with her thinking or her feelings. In fact, I think she’s very grown-up and mature to be able to articulate them so clearly, the natural boundary evolving between herself – the birth mother – the baby she delivered, and the happy family where he belongs and will grow up.

From what she said and the stress in her voice, there is some pressure and some guilting from the parents. I have not talked to them myself, but in this situation I do not need to know their thinking or feelings. I know they mean well; I know they are grateful for their child and caring toward my friend. However, I also know she is growing up, growing away and into her own life. Putting some distance between herself and this family seems like a natural transition from my perspective, the never adopted, not adopted, know no one else who has adopted this way. My thoughts and feelings are always for my young friend to take care of herself first and foremost.

On the phone she broke down in tears fearing she lacks maternal instinct, that she’ll never be a “real” mom because she does not feel that way about this baby. It breaks my heart when she says things like that; she has no idea how truly caring and courageous she truly is in so many real, tangible ways. I pep-talked her: her feelings are normal; she will be a fantastic mom when the time is right and she is ready for a child of her own; she’s come so far, doing so well, is strong and courageous and generous and so much kinder, nicer, better than she even realizes. Yet.

I got her calmed down, the tears stopped, some resolution to do what is best for her, and changing her mind was okay, too. No word yet on a final decision, but whatever it is, it will be the right one for her. Of this, I have unwavering faith.

Whatever quality it is that makes a “real” mom, I am certain she has it and look forward to watching it manifest and grow when she has children of her own. I am also sure I have the “mom gene” as well (despite my despising those who divide women into the have/have nots of the mommy class). And today, I am grateful to be reminded that I did and do okay (sometimes better than okay) with all my kids.

One event changes the balance of your life

In 1996, official records record this date as B’s official date of death. In the 19 years that have passed since that day, “March madness” has a deeply personal connotation to us that has nothing to do with basketball.

There are few days of note on my calendar anymore. Primarily the kids’ and a few close friends’ birthdays we celebrate annually. M and I got married on Valentine’s day and do not really care much about our own birthdays or go out of our way to celebrate; it is one of those events that come and go without much fuss. Fortunately or unfortunately B’s birthday and this painful anniversary loom large every year, and while I would not say it has become easier as the anniversaries mount, I will say it has become less impactful in the days that build to it. My sense of dread is not so profound, although I can feel the depressive, oppressive sadness nipping at my heels. It’s bearable, because the alternative of forgetting or having my memory wiped is simply unbearable.

For as crappy and down and lost in a crying-any-second fog as I am during this week, this month each year, I function and life continues, although a lot more chaotically and it more fits-and-starts than usual. It seems like part of my brain completely falls away – I am far more short-tempered and impatient than usual, I am hyper-sensitive and get sobbing upset over absolutely nothing, and I forget the most routine and basic things. It’s a troubling time, and I try to be more watchful and vigilant about my overall mood and mindset in order to maintain an appropriate level of self-control. It’s also absolutely exhausting.

But for the emotional roller coaster I am on right now, I have 12 years and 5 days of memories and stories and things I would not trade for another hundred years with this annual volatile spectrum. Our lives changed the moment she fell ill 19 years ago, and I know our world is a smaller place without her in it now. Yet for all that, life would be less interesting, I would be not quite as interesting and all positive things had I not had B, experienced her unique blend of me, her father, our families and the world surrounding all of us, loved and been loved by her in return. I think of her, I miss her each and every day, and I hope and pray that never changes. My life continues and has a continuously changing landscape; the happiness, joy, and contentment far outweigh heartbreak, sadness, and grief. Even this week, this painful, trigger-happy week, is overall a grand experience.

Today we have ducks in the pool, cats stalking them, visiting dogs barking. It’s a little overcast and the weather is cooler than it’s been all week, but perfectly fine with a light sweatshirt and jeans. All in all, just the perfect balance of happiness in the present and sadness for a past life-altering event. We have a good life, and we try hard not to take it for granted. That does not meant I do not fantasize and play the “what if” game of what I might be willing to trade for just a few more minutes to just be with B.

Rest in peace, my beautiful first child, my forgiving experiment in the parenting experience. You are always loved, never forgotten, until we are all together again.

Our responsibilities as parents

I spent the weekend being a couch slug with general malaise and still not feeling 100%. Allergies? Illness? At this point I am not sure, but I know that there has been way too much cough and cold illness exposure. Mostly I had zero energy and needed more sleep.

This morning I was trying to catch upon on my blog reading. Still more to go, but one particular forum there is an ongoing series of threads about school and communication with teachers, etc. One mother was extraordinarily frustrated trying to figure out her daughter’s progress with regard to continuing in a public school forum or pulling her out for homeschool instead. Without going into the debate of public school versus private school versus home school programs, it got me thinking about my own parenting experiences and dealing with kids, their teachers, etc.

As a caveat, I have terrific, imperfect children who had no real issues in school. Neither of my kids have ever been discipline problem children, and my daughter was a consistent above-average student. My son, on the other hand, started bringing home deficiency notices in junior high and would always do just enough of the work to keep his GPA high enough to stay out of trouble with band and athletics. I am not a nagging sort of person and most definitely not a helicopter parent, so I did not push them in school. If they wanted to do more, I would help them to achieve those goals. If they wanted to fail, there would be unfortunate and unhappiness-inducing consequences.

The forum poster mentioned above talks about trying to get answers to her satisfction as to what her child needs to do to catch up and be successful in the coursework. On the surface it seems a reasonable request. The teacher’s responses – your child has failed to turn in this many assignments and failed this exam – was unsatisfactory to this parent. Her follow-up as to what needs to be done to achieve passing status seems reasonable, yet when the teacher responds with completing all the missing assignments as well as additional work to make up for failing grades, the parent loses her mind because there are only 10 days left in the term. No way her child could complete this much work in this short period!

I sympathize with the parent. She wants her daughter to finish school, go to college or vocational school, become a productive member of society. How dare the school not tell her that he child was failing! The problem must be with the school system; she should put her into an indepenent study program and monitor her progress herself.

I am simplifying the discussion through multiple pages of posts and comments, but what I got from it is the mother’s fear of her daughter’s failing would impede progress to a high school diploma and eventual independence. Somehow this was partly the school’s fault, for failing to alter her soon enough of the impending disaster to correct it. I sympathize, yet I cannot help wondering if failure might not be a good thing in this case, a case of cause and effect and a long-term life lesson. But I don’t know. It is one person, one side on an online forum.

In reviewing my own parental history there are a lot of occasions I wish for a do-over, an opportunity to turn back time and surgically alter my behavior at particular points on the timeline. Thinking about it, though, I recognize the only thing it might truly affect is my feelings about myself and my performance as a parent. Yeah, maybe I was lazy or tired or not thinking proactively enough at the time, but it happens. I am a laissez faire sort of parent, and I suspect if I needed to be heavier handed I would have adapted and become so to see my kids through to the finish line and independence. I remain close to my kids; we chat frequently about the normal, day-to-day stuff as well as the big potholes in the road of life. If they need me, I am here, but I am certainly okay with it if they can and do manage their own lives successfully.

Now that I am a happy empty nester, I wonder again how much our personality and parenting styles dictate what type of children we create. From my own upbringing, I have come to regard life as a bit of crap shoot and the family you’re born into and raised with having a lot to do with the person you become, but it need not be THE defining quality. Had one of my children had special needs, I like to believe I would have adapted and been able to accommodate them and raise them to a enjoyo happy and fulfilling life. Perhaps the answer is we are given what we can manage in life, events and situations and responsibilities that challenge us yet provide for successful outcomes.

Very few things in life are black and right, with only one correct answer. I am thankful every single day my kids are okay, living their lives and still such a part of my own.