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Family

Family

I have a picture from my childhood where I am on the front porch with my grandparents, who look as if they may be auditioning for the Beverly Hillbillies. The picture is hilarious in its own right, but my mom once joked that it looked like the Steve Martin movie, The Jerk, in reverse, which makes it even funnier. As a child, I loved visiting my grandparent’s farm. I didn’t really know that running around barefoot, shelling peas on the porch, and riding around in the back of my PaPa’s old, red pickup truck made us “country as a dozen eggs,” as my friend Sylvia would say. I also didn’t know that my grandparents, who seemed to think I hung the moon, were racists. I’m sure if either of them were still alive they would recoil at me describing them this way. The fact is, though, they liked that their small town, for all intents and purposes, remained segregated long after the Civil Rights Movement ended. And while there were many reasons for them to dislike my dad on his own merit, the fact that he was black was enough for them.

I never talked to my grandparents about race or my identity or how strange it felt to be non-white in a white family. I would like to say that my presence in their lives changed them in some way, made them more tolerant and accepting of others. And in some ways it did, I’m sure, but when I look back now, I think my race was overlooked more than embraced. My grandmother once told me about an encounter she had with a cute child in Wal-Mart. She told me the little girl was black, then she said, “No, she wasn’t black, she was about your color.” I wish I would have asked what she meant by that, but I think part of me was afraid to hear the answer. I was too afraid to ever ask either of them anything about race; I couldn’t risk hearing from the people I loved most in the world that there may have been something they found unacceptable about me.

This past week I was in Illinois visiting my cousin. We love each other to pieces, although our experiences of growing up could not have been more opposite. The thing we did share in childhood was our intense love for our grandparents, a love that was returned to us with such fervor that it almost feels like it couldn’t have been real. When my cousin and I are together, we can’t help but talk about our grandparents. We talk about how sweet and quiet our grandfather was and how our grandmother never stopped talking or cooking. We love laughing over the absurdity of our grandmother’s “green room” that was added onto their home, its sole purpose having been to provide space for her deep freezers, shelves for all of the food she canned, and her enormous collection of Harlequin Romance novels.

Just as I avoided discussing race with my grandparents, I don’t talk about it with my cousin. This time, though, it’s not out of fear so much as it’s feeling like I just don’t need to. My cousin accepts me wholly and completely and doesn’t care at all who my dad is. I am aware of how differently things could have gone with my family. They could have rejected me outright and I am grateful they were better than that. I like to think my grandparents could have done better on the racial front, but I believe they probably did the best they could and I suppose that’s what matters most.

 

 

The Gift of Restoration

The Gift of Restoration

I am a reluctant groupie. I do completely nonsensical things, along with my best friend, in order to see our favorite bands live, and I have a hard time owning this fact about myself. About a year ago my friend told me she was going to make a trip to Seattle to visit a friend, but she was waiting for our favorite band to announce new tour dates so she could also catch a show while there. When the dates were announced, I decided that I might have to get in on it too. This would not be the first time we have gone to such extremes and it’s probably not even the craziest thing we have done.  As luck would have it, I had enough airline points to fly for free, and even luckier the concert was happening during a three-day-weekend.

When we made these plans, I didn’t yet know how much things would be changing in my life. I didn’t know then that I was on the brink of having my world turned upside down. When the time came for me to actually go, I couldn’t muster up my usual level of enthusiasm. I’ve been stuck in a loop of sad-mad-scared-stressed and this trip was starting to feel like a really bad idea. Did I really need to be flying across the country to go to a concert with everything else I have going on in my life right now?

The answer was most definitely yes.

My time in Seattle was completely restorative. I was without my kid so I got an extremely rare break from being Mom. I got to go to an incredible show, which is my most favorite thing to do in the world. I got to see Kurt Cobain’s guitars and read pages from Jimi Hendrix’s diary at the EMP Museum. (Where else would groupies go on vacation?) I got to sit on a rooftop patio with my bestie, sipping cocktails and gushing like high school girls over the musician we had discovered the night before. Going through with this trip meant that I gave myself something I wasn’t even aware I needed.

I thought I had been taking pretty good care of myself. I have been reaching out to friends. I’ve been trying to be extra patient with my kid, knowing that she is also hurting. I have been listening to music, making time to write, and treating myself to ice cream a little more than usual. I have been taking the high road even when it has hurt like hell to do so. What I haven’t been doing is giving myself time to just step outside of my world. It’s a hard thing to do when I’m low on resources on all fronts. This past weekend, though, I was reminded of how good it feels, how necessary it becomes to allow time for escape, to allow room for nothing but those things that bring me joy. Obviously, I can’t just board a plane whenever the mood strikes, but I’m going to commit to giving myself permission to “check out” more often. If those times happen to coincide with a concert, well, that’s even better.

Saying Yes

Saying Yes

I said yes to brownies. You’re probably thinking, “Who doesn’t say ‘yes’ to brownies?” I am a chocolate junkie, it’s true, but in this case, the brownies were a gesture of kindness from someone, a little token to say, “I am thinking about you and I care about what you are going through.”  They were made by someone who is a kinda-sorta friend, someone I know because we have friends in common, and we see each other around a lot. We have the type of friendship that exists in the way that only the internet makes friendships possible- somehow both genuine, yet not quite real. Recently, I ran into her after a meeting with my minister who had just told me to widen my circle of support.  This made my encounter with her feel serendipitous. She offered support, so I said yes. And a couple of weeks later, when she texted me, wanting to do something helpful, I said yes again.

When someone offers their help to me, it is really hard for me to say yes.  I so seldomly accept help, that I usually don’t even bother to think about what is being offered. I instantly go for, “No thanks, I’m fine.” Something within me automatically assumes the offer was just a courtesy; I’m convinced my acceptance of it will be burdensome. The thing is, though, this doesn’t really make sense. When I think of this in reverse, when I am the one doing the offering, I sincerely mean it. I don’t offer because I feel morally obligated. And I wouldn’t offer at all if it were really going to create a problem for me.  Surely the same is true for everyone else?

These past couple of months I have been overwhelmed by the amount of support that has come my way. I have been telling myself to accept it because divorce is too big to go through alone. Yet I still find myself saying no far too often. I know this issue is not unique to me,  as I know many women find it hard to accept help. There have been countless times when I have offered to help a friend and have been given the “No thanks, I’m fine” answer. I am not certain why so many of us struggle with this, but I suspect it comes from all of the things we say (both directly and indirectly) to little girls: Look pretty.  Be polite. Decorate in pink. Be smart. Don’t get angry. Be quiet. Only play with toys that are pastel colored. Smile. Try to look like that girl on TV. Don’t eat anything that will make you fat.  Dress sexy, but not too sexy. Your feelings don’t matter as much as everyone else’s.

I am willing to admit that personality may be a factor in my discomfort with accepting help, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that this is a cultural problem, not necessarily a personal one. I have come to believe that so many women don’t accept help because we have been conditioned to think we shouldn’t. We are so focused on how it may inconvenience others, so worried about how we may be perceived, so uncomfortable going from the nurturer to the one in need of nurturing, that we end up saying no to the things we really want or need. This is such a disservice. Aside from preventing our loved ones from meaningfully demonstrating their care for us, we deny ourselves the opportunity to receive that care. Excuse me if I sound melodramatic, but everyone deserves and needs to feel cared for. Every one of us is worthy of that.

As offers of help keep coming my way, I am going to try my best to feel less awkward in accepting them. I am really, really glad that I said yes to the brownies. They were truly the best I have ever tasted.

The worst part

The worst part

I don’t exactly love my life right now. I try to be grateful for what I have (too much, always), but truthfully, things kind of suck right now. Last week was exceptionally hard as it was our first week in our new life. Simi and I live in our home now. And it suddenly feels empty and…not right. OK, I’m going to be really glad to never have to do another load of that man’s laundry, but that’s somehow not enough to make me feel better.

My girl is a stoic one. I’m careful about what I share about her because she’s pretty big on privacy. Yet, I’m finding that the “motherhood voice” has been talking to me a lot this week. You, moms, know what I’m talking about, right? It’s the voice that tells you how you are doing everything wrong, immediately after it told you that you were doing everything right. In short, I’m finding myself at a loss for how to work through all of this emotional fuckery with her. Do I force her to talk about stuff? Let her go on acting like she’s perfectly fine? Let her eat as many cookies as she wants so I know there is some pleasure in her life? I really just don’t know.

There have been so many awful things to deal with- or maybe just a few but the enormity of their awfulness makes them feel like a lot- but the worst was having to tell our daughter the news. I can’t imagine anything about this divorce will be worse than that. There’s nothing like shattering your kid’s heart to make you feel like a real winner in the parenting game.

I wrote this letter to Simi, well, to myself, before we let her know about the divorce. It says it all, really.

 

Dear Daughter of mine,

Tomorrow I will wreck your life. I will sit you down and tell you how this safe, nurturing home, this life of love with our cozy, little family is over. Alongside your father, I will lie to you. I will tell you that we decided this together, not that your dad just decided to quit. I will tell you that it’s OK to be sad and afraid. I will tell you that we are still your family and we love you more than anything. And we do love you more than anything. I will not be honest, though, because I am going to say these words to you: “Everything will be OK.” You will not know that while I think that things will be OK, I have no idea how to make it so. I won’t tell you that I am really terrified and angry. I won’t let you in on my secret: that I am broken and shattered. I worry that you may have to give up your home. I worry that we won’t make it on our own. I worry that even though your dad says he will provide for us, I’m still scared he won’t.

My own parents divorced when I was two years old. I have no memory of it so I don’t know if or how it hurt me. But you are eight years old. You are eight years old and you love your dad beyond measure. You love reading comics with him. You love teasing him. You love making popovers together. You love when he comes home every evening. He does not know that you ask me every single day, “What time is dad coming home tonight?” He does not know, does not want to believe, that his leaving is going to be your first heartbreak, perhaps one from which you will never recover.

I want to tell you I am sorry. I do not now how to make this better or easier for you, and believe my, I have tried. I don’t have any desire to see that face you make- the one you make when you are trying really hard not to cry. I don’t want you to feel rejected, abandoned, or unloved, but I know you may feel all of these things. I know there may be times you will be furious with me, even though I tried to stop this from happening. And I want to tell you that you have my permission to be as angry with me as you want, for as long as you want. To allow you that is the very least I can do.

Your dad is a good dad. He respects your feelings completely, and he has an unyielding level of patience. I have often watched you together and been so overcome with emotion, so overcome with joy, that you get to have the kind of dad I always wanted for myself. Nothing in this world has brought me as much pleasure as witnessing the love and connection that has grown between the two of you. I don’t know what his leaving means for your relationship. I don’t know what your future with him looks like. I want you to know that as I write this, I know he loves you deeply. You have changed him for the better.

Dear, girl of mine, I am your mother. I don’t know what kind of mother you think I am. I don’t know if I’m any good at it, or if just maintaining my regular level of mediocrity as a parent is enough. But I do know this: I will always, always do everything in my power to remind you that you are loved. I know you may never get over this divorce. I’ve read the research and I know this may mess you up in ways that stay with you for your entire lifetime. I don’t know that I can do anything about that. I only know that I can go forward, loving you, keeping you safe, and trying my best to give you what you need.

Although I don’t feel like I am worthy of it, I hope that you can someday come to forgive me. I hope that you can someday come to forgive both of us. You are a gift to me. You are more than I could have ever hoped for and you are certainly more than I deserve. I want you to thrive in this world. I want you to feel like the opportunities for joy are endless. I want you to love this life so much that you feel like it could never be long enough. I know this divorce, for a while, anyway, will keep you from feeling like you can be any of those things. Happiness must feel far away from you. It feels far away from me, too. But I promise I will do my best to get us there.

Love,

Mom

Getting Older

Getting Older

Tomorrow is my birthday. It will be 41 years since I was born, my birth being the one visible sign that my parents, at least at one point, really loved each other. It will be 41 years since my grandmother while away at a Baptist retreat, rushed back to town with equal parts joy and annoyance that I arrived early. It will be 41 years since my dad and grandfather made their peace with each other, my grandfather having to surrender to his immense love for me, whether my mom should have married that black man or not.

It’s incredibly heartwarming for me to think about how my family must have been at the time of my birth. I know how I felt when my own child was born and it amazes me to think that there were people who probably felt the exact same way about me once. I can’t help but feel loved when I think of what that moment must have been like, and it saddens me that none of those people are in my life anymore.

I know it is common for women my age to complain about getting older. (I’ll withhold my comments on patriarchy.) I do not, however, have a problem with aging. OK, so I do have more aches and pains than I used to. If I stay up past midnight I am a complete mess the next day. And the day after that. I don’t think I could lose weight if I was wrapped entirely in Saran Wrap for a week, eating nothing but celery and lemon water, permanently affixed to a treadmill. And even though I tell myself that I am going to accept the gray hairs because I refuse to be vain, I just can’t help but yank them out sometimes. The wonderful thing about aging, though, is that the level of just-don’t-give-a-fuck goes through the roof. (I hesitated to write the word “fuck,” but I felt like doing so illustrates the point beautifully.) I’m not sure why it took 40 years for me to get to this point, but I feel pretty confident in saying there is nothing better than feeling comfortable in my own skin.

I will admit that sometimes I think it’s strange that we celebrate birthdays.  I mean, is there anything more egotistical than throwing a party just to acknowledge the fact that we were born? Do we really need to feel that special? Then again, who doesn’t like a reason to eat cake? I realize, of course, that what birthday celebrations are really about are telling the people we love how grateful we are for their lives. It’s hard to take a curmudgeonly stance with that in mind.

It is true that for every birthday of mine, I feel a little pang of sadness. Birthdays make me miss my family pretty badly, and it’s hard for me to not think about what I have and haven’t done with my life.  This year, with the impending divorce, there is a whole different layer of sadness. I am again having to accept that birthdays are going to be a little different from now on. Tomorrow, though, I will spend the evening with dear friends, eating good food, and hearing live music. Saturday, Simi and her dad are going to attempt to make me a cake. I know there will be phone calls and Facebook messages, and I am going to feel like people are grateful for my life. Really, how could it not be a happy birthday?