These days I wonder where my words go. I wonder what direction they travel, whether straight like an arrow, or curving in a downward spiral to reach the most desperate of us at the bottom of a bipolar sea. Perhaps my words are a flower, each petal a fragrant, delicate wisdom blown by the wind either into someone’s waiting palm or to the ground, forgotten under dirt and other rubble. Even I don’t know which of my words to treat with extreme tenderness and which to forget. Of course I vainly hope my words are works of art delighting the senses of those who read them. Honestly these posts I write are my way to reach out across the void to a world I’ll only see pictures of. Reaching people who would otherwise never have known I existed.
Tonight my sons are on my mind. It was not so long ago I held them in my arms and felt the greatest love any woman can feel. I’ve had so many women tell me “Well, I don’t know how you do it, I could never let my sons live somewhere else for the entire school year.” They say it with an air of possession and just enough judgment. In the beginning I wasted my breath and my time explaining the legal aspects of it and my my promises to my sons not to attack their father legally over them. I waxed eloquent about how boys need their fathers and both of my sons had unresolved issues with their father that needed to be dealt with that I couldn’t help them with. I tried to explain that we are one big family not two competing but I would get these blank stares, more judgment, pity, and even anger. Yes anger that somehow I was failing at motherhood. I tried to explain that it wasn’t my choice to make. But it all fell on deaf ears. So now I don’t offer any explanation to anyone. If someone asks me about my sons I just say they live in Oregon with their father for the school year and with me for holidays and summers. And I leave it at that. Of course it’s so much more than that but I don’t owe those details to every drama desperate woman plaguing me with questions so she can feel better about her life. It’s sad, but we do that to each other. Women. Many women, not all women. We compare and contrast our lives trying to one up each other. Why do we do this? I truly have no clue. Life would be so much simpler if we didn’t.
It takes a mighty heart to love a child enough to let them spread their wings. To let them use their voices and really listen to what they need. My son Jaden was yelling as loudly as he could with his behavior. He had no intention of moving to Oregon. We sent him there because he was doing so poorly in Alaska. People hear that and they think “What?! You sent your child AWAY?!” Yes, yes I did. Because I would rather have a child I only see on holidays than a dead one. Elliott went to Oregon one summer and never came back. I railed against it at first and then I tapped into my mighty mother’s heart and loved him. I understood he needed his father. I understood he wanted his brother. And his behavior had been tanking too. I’d be lying if I said it isn’t hard. That it doesn’t ache that I’m missing so much of their lives. But I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that the moments I do have with them are so poignant, so precious and full of meaning that I can’t feel anything but grateful for the way things are. My sons are physically far away, but emotionally we are so close. We love each other with an intensity brought on only by distance. The four of us, their parents and stepparents have committed wholly to being a family. A real family. I’m actually taking my daughter next summer to Oregon and spending the summer with them. Because their stepmother is not only the best stepmother in the world she is my friend, confidant, cheerleader, mentor and most of all sister of the heart. We have worked very hard on this relationship of ours and it is built solely on trust. If I had one piece of advice I could whisper on a petal and blow into someone’s palm it would be that you cannot build anything beautiful with someone you don’t trust.
When you are a young parent it’s easy to forget your child is not your possession. That you do not own them. You are entitled to their raising and responsible for their safety but eventually they will individuate from you, they will crave their independence, their own lives. This is an inevitability. To rob them of this would be the greatest crime. My sons have taught and are teaching me how very true this is. Raising their little sister is a different experience because I know what it’s like to have teenagers. I know how a child stretches out, develops, unveils their adult selves in their responses, glances, the way they carry themselves. I know all too clearly how they remember what you say and use it against you as the case may be. When my daughter says she hates something with all her might I kneel down, I look in her eyes, I make sure she’s not just being difficult. I believe her. I let her know I’m listening to her, I can hear her. I do the same with my sons. They know I hear them, I believe them, I think what they have to say matters. And as tempting as it may be I don’t lie to my children.
My husband’s parents and his sister refused to come to our wedding. The reasons are obvious, I lack the right skin color, bank account and ability to play along in a sick family system. It was incredibly painful for both myself and my husband. In fact the pain they caused him raised a rage in me I didn’t know I had. Apparently they told my husband or he assumed they didn’t consider weddings important since they had a courthouse wedding without much ceremony. I always knew that wasn’t the reason but I chose to let it be. Fast forward almost three years and they’re flying up from Nevada for his sister’s wedding. In a sitcom it would be hilarious. In real life it’s disgustingly cruel. My husband is caught between feeling a duty to them as his family to attend and standing firm that since I’m not welcome and they refused to attend ours he will not go. And he certainly won’t bring our daughter while I stay home seeing red.
So often the families we are given are not the families we would choose. I have to let my husband make his own decision. They are his parents. She is his sister. But I will protect my daughter. A very long time ago I was in the same situation my daughter is in now, My mother’s family did not accept my father and although they allowed my mother to bring me to visit them, my father was not welcome. In an effort to protect me I was not told any of this until I was fourteen. I’ll never forget it. I was so angry I never spoke to my grandparents again. I don’t want my daughter blindsided and feeling lied to. I told her that her grandma and grandpa and Aunt didn’t come to her Mommy and Daddy’s wedding because they didn’t want Daddy to marry Mommy. But that we’ve worked out a lot of the angry feelings. I explained that she doesn’t know her Aunt because her Aunt doesn’t like mommy’s skin color and doesn’t think she’s good enough for Daddy. My daughter in her beautiful innocence said she has fire hands and she will fire her. I laughed and told her that wouldn’t be necessary. I said sometimes adults make silly choices and it takes them a long time to learn to make better ones. But we can be an example of love and not hate. Upon hearing that she cried out “I love you Mommy!” and gave me the biggest squeezingest hug that warmed my heart from the inside out.
I know this is not the end of the questions. Or even the end of the drama. But in my house we are safe, in my house we tell each other the truth and in my house we love our differences. When my daughter is fourteen she’ll already know the story. She’ll be free to make her own choices about who she wants a relationship with. All through her life, even when my husband’s parents’ said I was not allowed to set foot on their property I let him take our infant daughter to visit them. It crushed me every time. When she’s a little older and better able to understand I’ll tell her that too. I want her to know that I never came between her father’s family and her, even though they tried to make me into that kind of person.
I know not everyone would agree with my way of handling the situation but the beauty of it is I don’t care. I went through it and I know how it felt and what I wished someone would have told me as a child because I always knew something was wrong I just had no name for it. If anyone is reading this dealing with their own family drama I would urge you to be as honest as possible with your children because they see more than you think they see, they hear more than you think they hear and they know much more than you realize. Of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life I’ve never regretted telling my children the truth. Being honest with your children plants seeds inside them so that when they are adults and talking with others their words can become beautiful blossoms with petals of wisdom able to change the course of the world.