Someone told me yesterday that I have beautiful kids. Well, of course I do!
But I think it’s more than looks. It’s attitude. I think it’s that they’re happy kids. They are secure.
I believe that there’s a confidence and a joy that comes with knowing that you have a quiet, happy, love-filled place to go home to at the end of every day, and that you’re not going to walk in to World War 3…or something worse. A house that’s full of people, and completely empty at the same time. A house that silently strangles you with dread and fear every time you walk in. Like a coat of pain, that’s zipped up so tight, you can barely breathe.
There’s a simple joy in stability. I think, I hope, that you can see it every time you look at them.
I am not trying to say that I have some magic formula for happy kids, or that you shouldn’t make the changes that are best for your family. I’m just saying that my kids haven’t had to experience sadness. Not to such an extreme that it’s darkened them.
Sometimes I worry that this is bad. That when sadness comes, and it will come, they won’t know what to do. They won’t know how to deal with it. They watched me (and continue to watch me) go through losing my mom, and I fear that, because of the situation, because of my relationship with her, they haven’t witnessed a healthy grief. Whatever that looks like.
The home I walked into every day, for as long as I can remember, wasn’t happy. There was tension. There was an unspoken sadness. There was an inexplicable fear. I felt dread every time I walked into that huge, heavy, black door with the brass Dexter deadbolt. It was like walking into the unknown every single time. My dad said he would never divorce my mom, and that was it. No matter what kind of crazy stuff she did, or how she hurt him, or me, he kept his word. He quit good-paying jobs to stay home with me, and be there when she was. He took terrible jobs, with terrible hours, so he could be there for me. He did everything he could to make life bearable, and it did. Mostly. He tried to keep his promise, and keep me happy and safe at the same time.
There was an incident when I was in third grade. I only have vague recollections of it, but I remember it being bad. So bad, that he and I moved to California that Summer, and I spent the Summer in Camarillo, California with my grandparents while he found a job nearby and my mom stayed in Arizona. I was told that the only job he could find was in Ventura (12 hours from my home), so he could stay at my Uncle’s house, and I could stay with Granddad and Suze.
Of course, this was quite an adventure for me…a whole summer! Swimming, and going to the beach, and volunteering at a hospital…it was awesome! I don’t really remember missing my mom. I got to talk to her every week on the phone, while my dad was in the room, and then I would leave the room and he would talk to her alone. I had my 8th birthday that summer. I remember him asking me if I wanted to go home or stay in California when the Summer was over. I don’t remember feeling the weight of that question like I do now when I think of it. Had I been any older, I wouldn’t have chosen to go back to her. Only a couple of years later I was fully aware of what it was like to live with her, and how I hated it.
I only ever doubted the “only job I could find” thing after the last phone call I ever had with my dad. It was the day he died…only about an hour before, in fact. He said something about taking me away, but not being able to keep me away. Not being able to break his promise, and that’s why we went back. That a girl shouldn’t grow up without a mom. It was years before I put the two together.
That choice, going back, made me who I am today. Every decision he made, made me who I am today. For better or worse. And isn’t that all we can do as parents? Make the best decisions we can for our kids? Do what we hope is the very best for them, every day, and pray that they don’t get too screwed up in the process?
That’s all I’ve done. I believe that the best thing, the glorious ideal, is for every mom and dad to stay together. Barry and I have had to work very, very hard to do that. There’ve been times…for both of us…that it seemed like too much. But we tried again the next day, and the next, and eventually it all settled out again. There has been so much forgiveness, and letting go, while still holding on to each other. I have found that it’s impossible to hold on to the person and their faults at the same time. You have to let go of one. If you choose the person, you cannot hold on to all the crap that comes with them. If you choose the faults, eventually your clenched fists are holding on to their faults so tightly, that the person you love slips out of your hands. <—Read that part again. It’s the key.
I am not naive. I am completely aware that sometimes it just won’t turn around. It just cannot work out. I have so many friends who’ve given all they had, and it wasn’t enough. I have other friends who’ve stayed too long, and that did more damage than good…especially to their kids. Still others have been broken and damaged in the most painful ways, and have somehow found the courage and strength to forgive and go on. To let the “stuff” go, and hold on to the person.
So here are my questions:
How long do you stay in a situation that is worse than leaving? How long do you stay when you fear for your safety, or that of your kids? How long do you try before you realize that you are broken, and your kids are damaged, and that leaving really is the only option? How much hurt do you endure? How much can you take and still, somehow, stay and fight for the one you love?
Am I damaged? Yes. Have I been broken? Yes. Should my dad have left? I have no idea. I don’t know what it would have been like without my mom. I only know what it was like with her. I know the reality of having two parents that stayed together “for better or worse, in good times and bad, until death parts us”. And death did part them. But sometimes, I think they were parted long before that. Back when I was turning 8 without my mom. Back when I was having such a glorious adventure, and learning to swim, and getting to know my grandparents. I don’t think it was ever the same at home after that. My dad later took a job that got him out of the house regularly, but when he realized what leaving me with her for days at a time meant for me, he quit that job, and took a terrible, smelly, dirty job in town. But he was home every night, and he was the first one the school would call if they needed to.
Sometimes protection is love. Sometimes, when you’re not able to walk away, all you can do is wrap your kids up in your arms, and hold them tight through the storm. Storms still come when you stay. They come and they pound you with all they have, and you get battered and bruised, but when it ends, and the sun is shining again, you pick yourself up, dry yourself off, and go again.
Stability comes in all kinds of packages. Sometimes it comes in one parent at a time, rather than two who aren’t really there at all. Sometime it comes in Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Guardians, Foster Parents, Adoption…
I can only write from my own experience, only from my side of the story. I can honestly say, that I believe Barry is much easier to live with than I am, so, most of the time, I think he got the raw end of this deal. But he has stuck with me though it all. And I with him. We have held on to each others hands, rather than our faults.
You don’t judge me, and I will never judge you…I will celebrate you for doing what’s best for your kids…no matter what that looks like.
Here’s to real life. To not being glossy and polished, but being dirty and real. To being strong. To being faithful. To forgiveness. To letting go, and holding on tight. To being the best that you can be, for yourself and your kids. *clink*