Tuesday, November 22, 2005
I Grieve The Things She Missed: Another Personal Story
In order to understand my parents, I’d like to talk about my grandparents. My dad is from Georgia. His parents were farmers. My grandfather didn’t get beyond third grade. He was an intelligent man, but he had to go to work. My grandma went through high school. She also got a teacher’s certificate. They got married – eloped. Her father told her if she got married he wouldn’t pay for her college tuition. His understanding: once women got married they just have babies.
My dad was born in 1932 in the middle of the depression. He was the oldest of three. He graduated from high school with 15 seniors. He was the only one of his siblings to go to college. He was considered different. My dad is a very smart man, so in some ways school was a pleasure for him. He was not interested at all in farming or athletics. He went to the University of Georgia. He didn’t date much because he said you need money to date. When he wanted to snack between meals, he would buy a bag of carrots. They were cheap, they lasted a long time, and they were actually good for you. He majored in journalism. My mom was the youngest of three. She grew up on a farm in Ohio. She was always sickly. She was really shy and introverted. My mom grew up as a skinny, tall, stringy kid with glasses, and the youngest of two kids. Just like my dad, she knew the farm wasn’t where she would survive and thrive.
I grew up with kids from the First United Church of Christ. We called ourselves the “Temple Clubbers”. I don’t have anything like that now. That was something I totally took for granted. For every holiday, there was a 'get together' – Memorial Day, Labor Day. There was always something being planned by Temple Clubbers. There was a core of them that always got together.
My parents were big readers. We always had books around. We had a bookshelf in the bathroom. I used to love to be read to. That’s really from my dad’s side. He had an intellectual curiosity. He is the master of the arcane fact. My dad is a man who can discuss anything – more or less. He can talk about the abstract. My mother lives by emotion. She busted me many times just by hearing the inflection in my voice.
My parents always made it very clear to me what was right and what was wrong. You don’t cheat. You don’t lie. You don’t hurt someone if you don’t have to. You don’t break the law. You don’t do reckless, dangerous things. In lots of ways they demonstrated what they believed in.
If we broke the rules, our parents would let us know in no uncertain terms and that they were disappointed. It was big because they were so deserving of respect. They weren’t much for corporeal punishment, although I had my fair share of spankings. After the age of 7, I don’t think the spankings were needed anymore. I never got grounded. You would just have to explain what happened. You felt like a fool with your lame ass excuses.
I have one daughter and two step sons. Blended families are devastating. I was a single parent for 10 years. My current husband is a wonderful father in many ways. My daughter is in a much better place now because of my current marriage. As wonderful as I think I was as a single parent, it is not the same. It’s a whole different thing having two adults in the house. When you are a single parent, you make all the decisions. It can make you crazy. There is no one to back you up. There is no one to support you. There is no one to play good cop to your bad cop. My daughter got exposed to more things than I would have liked. She got exposed to me dating. She got exposed to me grieving. I felt like I was at the end of my rope and I didn’t know if I could keep our heads above water. She is affected by the fact of the divorce. She deals with who and what mom is because of the divorce. No matter how you try to shield your kids, they are going to see you. Sometimes they have adult burdens that they shouldn’t have to share. It skews the relationship. There were times when I was like my daughter’s sister rather than her mother (when my daughter was 7). I would fight with my daughter the way I fought with my sister. My daughter had depression and anxiety that took a long time to diagnose. There were times I wondered if we would survive.
I have a fierce pride in having survived that. I had to be mom and dad. I had to be the breadwinner, homemaker and parent, and I had to navigate the 1990s and 2000s. I grieve the things that she missed:
- A neighborhood of kids (I lived in a condo of empty nesters).
- Two parents. For the rest of her life, events would be attended by one side or the other.
- She has no siblings – this goes back to connectivity and history. I never wanted her to be an only child.
I hope my daughter will realize how strong and smart and beautiful she is. I hope she will enjoy her life and be able to obtain the things that make her happy and fulfill her. I don’t say that lightly – you have to identify it to get it. She is exposed to my husband’s unpleasant divorce. I’m afraid she will reject marriage. My husband and I agreed that we would show our children what a relationship could be.