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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Journalists

Autumn does not know I’m a writer. I could tell her I’m a writer, but she wouldn’t know what to do with that information. I could tell her I like to tell stories and she’d probably respond by lighting up and begging me to tell her a story right then, one that involved a princess or a monster or both.

My father is a retired middle school science teacher. My mother currently works at a hardware store and spent most of my formative years working in a bank. Mom is the reader of the two, preferring biographies over anything else. My father spends his free time cataloging his extensive music collection and planning his annual trip out west. He keeps a journal during these trips, but the other 49 weeks of the year go undocumented.

Both of my grandmothers have kept diaries at one time or another, though from what my uncle says about Grandma D.’s diary (he peeked), she uses it to discuss everyone else’s transgressions. Recently Grandma D. gave my dad a journal my grandpa kept during his time in the army. This was during World War II and the journal was mainly a log of departures and arrivals, names of transport vessels and one brief mention of a young woman who kept him company during a furlough. There was very little mention of getting sick and spending over a year in a malaria camp in Australia. As my dad read the journal aloud to us, I couldn’t help but think it was a rather mundane account of an extraordinary time in my grandpa’s life.

A few days ago Autumn started carrying around a Post-It notepad and pen. She called it her notebook and I’d catch her scribbling in it from time to time. I told her she looked like a reporter. She had no idea what I was talking about.

“Do you want a real notebook?” I asked and presented her with one of the many little Springpad notebooks I brought back from BlogHer last year. She now writes in that and rips the pages out to give to me or Nathan. The most recent note was given to the dog and was lovingly placed on Molly’s pillow in the living room.

I had to take the notebook away from her last night. I found it in her bed along with her pen. “You need to sleep,” I said and placed the notebook and pen on her dresser. She was distraught but didn’t make any attempt to retrieve the notebook while I was in the room.

This morning the notebook was still on the dresser, but several pages had been ripped out and were strewn across Autumn’s floor and bed. I picked one up and observed the random grouping of letters she had scribbled on the page.

And finally it dawned on me that maybe I’m not the anomaly I thought I was after all.

We all tell our own stories in our own way.

Some people just tell them more often.

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Sunday was my father-in-law’s wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony and I’ve found myself already very fond of his new wife. I only just met her a few weeks ago but there’s something about her that says “grandma” to me.

I think this new wife is everything my father-in-law wanted wife #2 (Terrie) to be for us and for Autumn. She tried awfully hard but we could never get past her being the woman who was already spending nights with my father-in-law a month after my mother-in-law’s death.

Nathan and I never grew close to Terrie and because of that we never realized how much she meant to Autumn. Autumn doesn’t remember Nathan’s mom. To her, Terrie was the grandma she remembered and the one she lost to a heart attack last November.

Autumn’s feelings about Terrie’s death surfaced throughout the day on Sunday. She mentioned it a couple of times after the wedding, but it wasn’t until I put her to bed that night that she finally uncorked the bottle and let her emotions spill out.

She sobbed and said she missed Terrie and wished she hadn’t died. She didn’t want her grandma (my mom) to die,  she didn’t want to die herself and she cried for the grandma she never really knew. I held her close and tried to allay her fears, but I wasn’t at all prepared for the conversation. I explained that everyone dies sometime, some when they’re young and some when they’re old, but that we can’t go through life always worrying about losing people. We just have to enjoy the time we have with them.

The conversation left me feeling drained and I still don’t know if I handled it correctly. All I know is that she was grieving and seeing her grandpa marry someone new had obviously stirred up something for her. She processed a lot that day, from being in the wedding to meeting all her new cousins, that it’s no wonder she had a little freak-out. I’m actually impressed she held it all together as long as she did.

Someone told me these types of conversations will occur when you’re least prepared to handle them. She advised to figure out the answers beforehand so you’re not caught so off guard when they are asked. That would have been excellent advice to have received a week ago.

Have you ever had to tackle a tough subject with your very young children?  How did you handle it and is there anything you wish you had done differently?

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Que sera sera

I’m working on a presentation for work and was combing through the university’s online photo archives the other day.

The university used to publish yearbooks. The college was small enough that the entire student body could be encapsulated in a leather-bound volume not unlike the ones you get in high school.

In 1969, this guy was listed in the senior class:

Dad, 1969

That’s my dad. This picture was taken less than three years before I was born, but I don’t ever remember him being this young.  My earliest memories are of a man with a lot less hair on top. My dad’s still around and he’s the best grandpa I could have ever wanted for my daughter, but I don’t think the guy in the picture above was quite ready to become a father. I think he had more living to do, and yet he went right from college into a career teaching science to middle school students. It was a job he learned to hate and wound up retiring early.

I sometimes wonder what legacy I’ll leave behind. What will be woven into the tapestry of my daughter’s earliest memories?   Will she some day look at a picture of me and wonder what happened to the bright, smiling face of someone with more years ahead of her than behind her? Will she try to reconcile that early image with the one she carries with her of a tired, bitter old woman who never had the courage to live out her dreams?

Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.

But it would be so much easier if we knew the risks would pay off, wouldn’t it?

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Narratives

On the drive home yesterday I found myself telling Autumn stories about when I was a kid. I don’t remember the particular story that started it all, but as each story ended she begged for another, forcing me to search the recesses of my memory for something interesting.

One of the stories I told was how my brother and I would walk to school together in all sorts of weather and how, sometimes, I’d forget the house key and have to go next door to our neighbor’s house to borrow the spare.

My neighbor’s oldest son, who was forced to walk me to school before I was forced to walk my brother to school, did not like me. He did not like me knocking on the door or ringing the doorbell since his father worked the graveyard shift and was often sleeping in the afternoon. I was scared of him and only asked for the key if the weather was really bad.  Otherwise my brother and I would sit on the porch and wait an hour for my father to come home.

As Autumn and I pulled into the driveway, she asked a question that has popped up frequently these past few weeks.

“When am I going to have brothers and sisters?”

I have come to hate this question. I hate it because no answer ever seems to be the right answer. If I had the right answer she’d stop asking the question, right? But no. She has asked and asked again for something Nathan and I will not be giving her. She has expressed her desire for siblings to us and to her teachers and the guilt I feel for denying her that can be crippling.

This time, however, I decided to push the guilt aside and answer the question as I would any other.

“We’ve talked about this, honey. Daddy and I are not bringing home any more babies. You aren’t going to have any brothers or sisters.”

“But why?” she asked.

So I told her what I had told her before, that her daddy and I just wanted a small family and it is and always will be just the three of us.

“But I want brothers and sisters,” she said.

We were parked in the garage by then, so I turned around to look at her. “Why?  Why do you want brothers and sisters?”

“Because I don’t want to be lonely,” she said.

There it was. The guilt. It was coming back and trying to rip out my heart.  I’m not unfamiliar with the woes of only children. I know they can feel isolated and alone, but we’re talking about my child here, the one who makes friends wherever she goes. I do not see the threat of loneliness looming in her future.

“I don’t think you have to worry about being lonely,” I said.

“But who will sit with me if I get locked out of the house?” she asked.

Ah. So that’s what it was. My story had sparked some separation anxiety, so I told her we’ll make sure there’s always someone around to welcome her home.

I don’t know if she heard the answers this time. The question will come up again, but nothing I do short of providing a sibling will keep my daughter from feeling like a have-not in a world full of haves. Everyone she knows has a brother or a sister, even her parents, and I know how much it hurts to be told you’re not going to get what you want.

Our reasons for having just one child are complicated and she’s not going to understand them until she’s an adult. Maybe she’ll never understand. Maybe our reasons will seem petty and selfish and she’ll end up resenting us. Who knows?

I tried to soften the blow of the finality of my answer by telling Autumn she can have as large a family as she wants when she grows up. Maybe that’s how it works anyway. Your parents’ family planning subconsciously affects your own.  I didn’t have the best relationship with my brother, especially in our teen years, and it’s usually our worst moments that come to mind when I think of what I’ll be sparing Autumn by not adding to our brood.

But as I think of all the “good” stories from my childhood that I told yesterday, almost every one of them included my brother. So I know exactly what she will be missing, too.

Hello, guilt.

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Serial matrimony

It’s official. My father-in-law is getting married.

Again.

Nathan broke the news the other night. Apparently we aren’t the only ones who learned something from the second marriage. FIL and the wife-to-be want the family to attend the wedding this time. So instead of getting married in a parking lot in Ann Arbor (FIL and Terrie got married during half time at a U of M game), they have wisely decided to involve more than just their tight circle of friends.

They have unwisely decided Autumn would make the perfect little flower girl. More power to them, I say. I have no doubt she’ll adore whatever dress they pick out for her, but I can’t wait to see what happens the first time someone tries to touch her hair. Won’t that be fun?

Mommy will be amused.

Also? Autumn + audience = trouble. Shenanigans will ensue.

I’m going to put on my serious hat for a moment and say I have mixed feelings about this marriage. I am happy for my FIL because obviously the guy cannot survive on his own. We have vowed to be nice and not keep our distance for months at a time like we did when he was married to Terrie. We’re actually amused at how quickly he’s moved on. Again.

But I guess that’s also the problem. This marriage has become a punchline. Everyone I’ve talked to about it has busted a gut because it’s just. so. funny. that my FIL would be marrying again so quickly.

At least he’ll have waited six months this time. Last time he only waited four.

It’s hard for me to take the relationship seriously when my FIL chooses marriage over dating. It seems like just another social activity to him. He could be widowed a hundred times over and he would always wind up living with a new woman within two months of the last one’s death.

And really, why get married? Shouldn’t two people past the age of 60 be able to fool around without feeling obligated to stand in front of an official and bind themselves together for eternity?

Obviously I’m making these statements never having lost a spouse, so I don’t know for sure what I would do if I were widowed. I think I know myself well enough to know I’d be okay on my own. I do know I’d be a wreck for a long while. I’d be a single mom with a headstrong daughter and I’d be lonely as hell. If I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing with my kid now, I can’t imagine doing it all alone, but even then I also can’t imagine getting married again just to have someone take care of me.

Engagement Ring
Creative Commons License photo credit: dareppi

I’ll let you in on a little secret; my marriage to Nathan is his third. He was married and divorced twice by the time he was 25. I jokingly say he married the other two women because he hadn’t met me yet, but it’s true. They were completely wrong for him and he never should have married them in the first place. I didn’t know either of them but I know they were wrong for him because he’s completely right for me.

Nathan reaches out when I draw back. He bites his tongue when I speak out of turn. He’s judgmental when I am neutral and we both indulge in a shameful level of geekery we seldom come across in others.

So my standards are high and I don’t anticipate ever lowering them. And when I tell people our marriage is Nathan’s third, I never say it’s my first because that implies there’s more than one in the cards for me. But honestly, I think I’ve found the one and only man in the world willing to put up with my shit.

And I intend to keep him.

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Just one or just one more?

One day the husband of one of my co-workers brought their two kids to the office for a visit. I think this was back when their daughter was still an infant. All I remember was that she was new enough for people to ask how their son enjoyed being a big brother and the discussion eventually evolved into one about why the co-worker and her husband chose to have another child.

The husband said they discussed the pros and cons of having more than one child and ultimately decided it would be too selfish of them to stop at one because they didn’t want to deprive their son of a sibling. What this guy didn’t know was that sitting just a few feet from him was a woman who had decided to have only one child and who was offended by his implication that her decision to do so made her selfish.

Until this guy opened his big mouth, I never once thought Nathan and I might be selfish for limiting the size of our family to three. But for the past year I’ve started to ask why we had to stop at one. How could we have known we were done before Autumn was even a year old? Was this the right decision for us or are we suffering from the same fears that kept us childless for so many years?

For months I’ve been surrounded by women creating life. Earlier this year there were six pregnant women in my office, three of them with their second child, and when you’re in the vicinity of that many women walking around with their cute pregnant bellies and talking about cribs and diapers and onsies you can’t help but be touched by it. Growing a life inside of you is an incredible thing that you will miss if you know it’s something you’ll never do again.

Four years ago when I was pregnant, my best friend Marla was pregnant with her second child. Experiencing a pregnancy with my pregnant best friend was incredibly special and at the time I knew it was something that would most likely never happen again. She gave birth to her son seven weeks before I had Autumn, and while it only took me a year to decide I would not be having another, Marla never really got there. She filled a storage room in her basement with baby clothes and toys and could never say with certainty that they were done. She was very happy with the size of her family, but she wasn’t ready to decide that was all she wanted. At least that was the case until she lost her job earlier this year, leaving the family to survive on one income.

In perhaps one of the most ironic moments of her life, Marla visited her doctor last week to discuss birth control options only to be told she’s pregnant again. She broke the news to us Friday night as we met for dinner and I completely freaked out on her. As a side note, Chuck E. Cheeze is the perfect place to deliver that kind of news because the resulting squeals and surprised congratulations from your friends won’t attract as much attention as they would if, say, you delivered the same news at a more subdued venue like The Olive Garden.

So yes, it was unexpected news to say the least, but I am thrilled for my friend. I took her picture with my camera phone, hoping to commemorate the day she found out she was going to be a mom of three. I think there was a little panic behind her smile, but the good news for her, aside from being blessed with a new baby, is that she now knows without a doubt this child will be their last.

There are families that go on to have more than three children but Marla is sure that she’s done. She’s just as sure as I was when Nathan had his vasectomy and I’ll bet she will eventually mourn that end just as I have these past three years. After this last child, there will be no more milestones, no more transitions to solids, no more first steps, first words and no more potty training. After she’s done with diapers and bibs and high chairs, she’ll be done with them for good. What mother wouldn’t find that a little sad?

I don’t know if I’ll ever have answers to some of my lingering questions or if I’ll ever be completely comfortable with our decision to have only one child. Some days I just want the world to stop because I know we only get to do this once. I want to be Superman and reverse time so I can prevent the catastrophe that is a fleeting childhood. I want to repeat moments I’ll never get to experience again and when I think about only getting one shot at this parenting gig, I do think of the things we chose to give up rather than what’s missing from Autumn’s life. If that makes us selfish so be it, but when I look at my child I see a happy, outgoing girl who, so far, seems content to call a dog her sister.

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Therapy in less than 500 words

I’ve been wanting to write about my brother but don’t quite know where to start.  That’s usually how it is with him; there are just too many threads to follow that I can’t choose which of his irritating qualities I want to rant about first.

We recently exchanged a series of heated emails that will probably result in weeks, if not months, of estrangement.  As with most of our fights, this one started over something ridiculous and silly.  As with the other fights, I’ve been left with a sense of wonder that we actually emerged from the same womb.  The same two people who created me created him and I can’t see how someone who was raised in the same household with me, someone who was educated in the same schools and given everything I was given, can be so incredibly different.

I want to tell you how different he is, but I’m pretty sure some of you have one of these back home.  The sibling who lives by his own set of rules.  The sibling who will forever be the “baby” of the family and gets treated as such no matter how old he gets.  The sibling who makes bad choices, learns nothing from them and inevitably repeats them.

And you probably also have the parents.  The parents who raised you to be reliable and self-sufficient.  The parents who taught you to work hard and be proud of a job well done.  The parents who expected nothing less than good grades from you in school.  The parents who seem to be smart people except when it comes to their son.  You thought you might understand them better once you became a parent, but none of their choices make sense.  The free room and board.  The free car.  The free trips to the grocery store.

And you may realize you were already a parent yourself by the time you were your brother’s age.  You had paid your dues in years of hard work that included hours of overtime to pay car payments, rent and then a mortgage.  You earned the right to bring another life into this world because you could finally care for that life and give her everything your parents gave you.

And then you look at this sibling and how he’s not so far removed from your child and you get mad.  You look at his relatively easy life, a life devoid of responsibility, and you get really, really mad that everyone else is okay with it.

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