Recently, I found myself telling a friend that I agreed with his post but did not comment for fear of reprisal. Were those words really coming out of my mouth? Where did I get the filter to not comment? And since when did I care about reprisal?
At first blush, I think I was just tired. I have worn the tiara of ‘crazy’ for years. Not in the take-medication-and-lock-your-self-up kind of way, but in the way it happens when you are a mother in suburbia who dares to step outside of the ‘norm’. In my suburbia that meant letting my kids stay home alone and telling the school when something seemed awry. These actions are ‘crazy’ because the norm here is to hire a babysitter until your child is 13 or 14 (seriously) or do their laundry until they just can’t carry it all home from college. Noting a misbehaved teacher means your child is ‘marked’ (and only a foolish parent would draw attention to their child that way).
The kids have survived being left home alone and being ‘marked’ and rarely are in need of my defense or support in such direct ways anymore. So now I am wondering, was I able to be so bold only when I was fighting for them? Am I becoming cautious when the expression of my opinion is simply ‘for me’? It seemed so much easier when it was ‘for the kids’.
In light of the above, I responded to a rather controversial editorial in a trade publication. I supported the editor because I believed his argument was fair, despite knowing that the emotional nature of the issue would make it too difficult for most readers to even hear his logic, instead judging his audacity to look beyond the emotion.
I wrote, deleted. Wrote. Deleted. And then took a big breath and wrote until I finished saying what I wanted to say. Even though I wrote anonymously, I could feel myself shoring up for accusations. Did I care that complete strangers might bash me for taking an unpopular point of view? It was only moments before I found the answer. Imagine my surprise when I read “Does SH(how I identified myself) stand for SH…T head?” and instead of cringing, I laughed.
I can’t hide behind my kids anymore. It’s time for me. And time for me to be BOLD. I have opinions and they can be shared. Maybe they will enlighten someone. Maybe that someone will be me.
As a mother of children whose dad walked out on all of us I over-related to the characters in the film “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. You might be wondering what I related to. Well, my friends and I often joke about which is better, ‘dead or divorced’? This refers to the sudden disappearance of a family member. (Yes, we can indulge in very dark humor at times.) My friends who have had their spouses die and my divorced friends all have agreed that if the divorce is because of a complete ‘walk out’ then dead is better. Either way the parent has ‘disappeared’ and the pain of that loss usually takes a lifetime to deal with for the affected kids.
If the parent dies the kids can remember the good things, fantasize about the ‘perfect’ parent, believe they were loved. If the parent walks out the kids can remember the rejection, fantasize about the enormous ass of a parent, believe they did not matter much. Which would you choose for your child?
Of course, none of those things, under either scenario, may be true. But these scenarios are where the pain of loss resulting from a disappearing parent often lead. Unless, of course, you are the unfortunate parent who simply gets the wrath of all the child anger and the death or divorce is declared to be “your fault”. In which case you might wish you were dead or could walk out.
You might say, “What about ‘people change’ and ‘time heals’?”. Well, people don’t change in real life as much as they do in the movies. And although it’s been known to happen I’d rather the giant monkey wrenches of pain that periodically get thrown in front of my children stop. Then I could stop attempting to clean up the ever-increasing pile of debris left from the damage of those monkey wrenches while we await supposed impending ‘CHANGE’. Time may heal but the number of scars left can certainly cause a disfigurement.
Oh! And then there is the ever-so-helpful “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Admittedly, we hang our hats on this one when things look particularly dire. But who really needs to be that strong? I’m thinking we are all OK with the above average, run-of-the-mill strength that keeps us independent and fighting. I really don’t need to rule the world. Let’s save that kind of strength for the person who wants to rule the world. Please?
But we don’t get to choose ‘dead or divorced’. We don’t even get to choose to have neither. We get what we get. And then we watch a movie to remind us that either way the pain of loss that we try so hard to protect our children from is just not avoidable. If we support each other and clean up the debris along the way we all get a little bit stronger.
I’m still voting for dead.
So this is us on our last ‘mandated’ family vacation. Ben heads off to college in August. Unless the money fairy miraculously visits us
and we are able to squeeze in a summer getaway within the next 3 months, every trip after this one will be because Ben has been ‘invited’ and he ‘wants’ to come with us. The following year Jacqui will join the ‘invitation’ ranks and then the true test of whether or not spending time with us is appealing will come into play.
To be fair, we most often ask their opinion before planning a vacation and they both say ‘yes’. This trip included. To be extra fair, if either were to say ‘no’ we all know I have the ultimate veto power if I believe it’s important enough. Of course the common question in these situations is “Important to who, Mom?”. OK, so I have the mother gene that says “It’s important to me so I want it to be important to you.” I try really hard to fight that urge. But sometimes it is just what a mother has to do.
Is there something wrong with feeling a little family obligation? After all, there is always going to be something shinier out there. And if you won’t do what is ‘right’ for your family, will you do it for your friends? Will you do it for your children when you have them? For your spouse? We can laugh about my control issues around family time, but this is a serious matter. And a really tough balancing act.
Jeff and I have a phrase we use when we have to attend a function or social gathering that is important to one of us but feels like a poke in the eye with sharp needles to the other. We call it ‘because you love me’. It works well. We both acknowledge the pain we are putting the other through in order to satisfy our (insert rational or irrational feeling of the moment……’I don’t want to be seen alone’…….’My boss expects you to be there’………’He’s one of my best friends, I’m sorry his wife is a complete lunatic’….you get the idea). And yet we each put ourselves, with a smile, through the pain trusting that the other would not ask if ‘going it alone’ was an acceptable solution. We don’t question the other’s motives. We just go and make the best of it.
I want my kids to have that same level of trust and understanding. I don’t want to ask them to attend something ‘just because’. I want us all to want to be there. As a mother I get to direct that for a while. My ‘while’ just ended with one of my children and is about to end with the other. Let’s hope I taught them well. Let’s hope we are ‘shiny’ enough that going on a vacation with us, ‘the parents’, will still be fun when the choice really is their’s to make. Let’s hope that when they make an alternative choice I am proud that they are able to make their own choices and we will have fun anyway. Maybe they will join us the next time.