My earliest memories of family, not tied to photographs, of my family are 2 mental images; one is the 1950’s living room furniture in our house that was like a showroom, not a LIVING room. (Well my father was in the furniture trade!) The second is when my sister and I were both sick with measles or chicken pox and my father still wearing his overcoat carried up a pile of board games for us to play to relieve the sickroom tedium.
My mother will tell the story of how she left me in my carriage, outside one of the shops along the main road, a block walk away, and she walked home only realizing [when???] that she’d left her baby. There is also the family story of how I got lost on the beach in Atlantic City and a mother grabbed me, knowing my mother would find her and I. At the time I was about two years old. So this happened 16-18 months after the first incident.
Growing up, if asked about my family I’d mention my parents, who both seemed distant, and my grandparents who meant the world to me, and my 2 sisters [mixed feelings]. And I should mention Catharine, an African-American woman who cleaned our house, ironed tablecloths [and whatever else], and walked me to school and back in the early grades. She and my mother watched As the World Turns on our black and white television each day about lunch time. And her husband acted as bartender when my parents had parties. All this was confusing to me, perhaps because Catharine was not a family member but took care of me and I felt her caring.
There are tangible things I took from my years in my parents’ home and determined to NOT do these as I became a parent. I would not punish my children with a hairbrush or a belt, or by locking them out of the house. I would talk to them; explain anything and everything. I would talk to them about sex, not the mechanics so much as dating and partners and intimacy. And about money and careers and choices. Through a work conference I learned about choice-making and how to encourage children, so that they can grow to be autonomous human beings. (Autonomy: independence, living by one’s own laws, from Dictionary.com) Overnight I changed my parenting style and feel rewarded by the results in my adult children, and now my older grandson also being taught to make choices, and face consequences.
I wanted a large family with my spouse; and have 5 amazing children. And then I found myself unexpectedly divorced due to my spouse’s desire for greener grass, so to speak. The partner I married who soon after realized my family of origin was not very supportive to me, promised he’d always be my family. Well sometimes always is shorter than you think. And recently in the last 2 years I have cut myself out of my “family” of origin because I wanted to stop the cycle of hoping and feeling disappointed, hoping and disappointment, that occurred with these 3 remaining family members, who, like the girls in middle school; have formed a clique and I’m not part of it.
Yesterday the auto service shop owner belittled me and ridiculed me when I insisted that a verbal contract for the cost of the repair of my car [for $800.] should be upheld despite that he did not include sales tax in his estimate, since he gains nothing by collecting tax. Also, he did not anticipate 2 bolts needing to be replaced (2 bolts cost $12., imagine!) and some unexpected welding work. Instead he argued I would pay the additional 16%, or $130, because I owed him. And while standing there trying to remain civilized and adult– I had a flash of deja vu. This – this ridicule, this lack of acceptance of who I am, my honesty, my intentions in life, are EXACTLY why I stopped all communication with my family of origin.
So who is my family? I learned after the divorce, in those frantic days with 5 children the first year, then four kids for 4 years after that, etc, etc, that a dear friend could “kvell” [show pride] in my children’s accomplishments, and give me time to talk about them as I might if I had a co-parent. I learned that my friends, if I chose carefully, could remember my birthday, would call to check on me, invite me out for coffee or lunch, or help me work through a difficult problem or decision. My children are involved with me to the extent they wish and I don’t cross their boundary lines. And I’ve been trying to move geographically closer to my older grandson for 2 years because we have a bond since his birth in my living room 8 years ago, and I want to be more than a Skype Grandparent.
Not least in this summary is the place of my middle son; he who came into our family with Down Syndrome, later also diagnosed with severe speech articulation and now at 31 years of age wearing hearing aids so that he can hear properly. He was not supposed to live at home this long. It was not in my plan for his independence, but plans change. Divorce happens, poverty often occurs for women after divorce who are single-parents. I had the choice to go back to college, and felt a better choice was to work and earn money immediately to make ends meet. And Nato has been my roomie through all these years. With our next move he will perhaps have his own home, no matter how humble, and yet we will still be family; helping each other with practical matters, and watching funny videos together so we can laugh out loud like grinning fools.
**Card sayings from top: 1) Every child begins the world again… 2)Blessed is the influence of one true loving human soul on another. 3) Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong. 4) Sing out loud in the car even, especially if it embarrasses your children.