Missing Out

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“Why can’t I go?” I held the paper clutched to my chest. I’d earned a trip to a church summer camp for free. My ticket out of my own little hell for two weeks. I needed this. Never had I been allowed to go to camp. Up to that point I had been led to believe it was a money issue.

Please let her say yes, God. Please, please make her say yes. I promise to go to South America to do mission work when I grow up if you will just let me have this one thing!

My mother stood silently, her face turned away. 

“Mom! Why won’t you answer me?”

Her body stiffened. 

Finally, her back still turned to me, she answered:

“Because I never got to do something like that.” 

And then it dawned on me. My mother, my own mother, was jealous of me. Jealous of this opportunity. Was there more to it? Probably. But there was an undercurrent of envy and that was what I latched onto.

I judged her harshly.

How can you be jealous of your own daughter? What kind of person does that make you?

It struck me yesterday, listening to my son and daughter practicing on the piano, that I am envious of them. I am jealous that they get the opportunity to have piano lessons from a real teacher. I am jealous of my son’s spelling and math ability, how easily music comes to him. I am jealous of my daughter’s artistic creativity, her ability to easily make friends, and her extensive glitter pen collection. What I could have done with even a couple of those glitter pens back in the day… 

Even now I don’t understand all of the reason behind my mother’s refusal but I did learn an important lesson. I learned I could survive without church camp. I also learned, and a great big wave of relief washes over me even now when I think about it, that God did not *want* me to serve as a missionary in South America. 

Whew.

So where am I going with all of this?

Envy was a surprising emotion to recognize in myself and I find it embarrassing to admit. It snuck up on me. Since I am not a particularly unique person and I am living on this planet with billions of other not so unique people, I expect this means that other parents also experience jealousy when it comes to their kids. I wonder how many?

We all want to believe that we are somehow better than our parents, though, don’t we? 

And yet we aren’t.

I expect that maybe even more than my kids’ glitter pens and the piano lessons that I am most jealous of their youth…. those unexplored futures, the potential looming ahead of them. I wonder if this is simply because I am an older parent, or if younger parents feel this acutely, too.

Ultimately, I don’t intend for jealousy to motivate my saying “no” to things in the future… except maybe if my daughter wants to go out for cheerleading.

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The Scales

Communicating effectively with others is the key to success. I want my son to get comfortable speaking in front of others so this year I encouraged him to enter a speech competition through his school. 

He worked hard on it.

As parents we all suffer from delusions of grandeur regarding our clearly exceptional progeny but between the two of us, I had no expectations that he was going to win. I just wanted him to participate. I was fully prepared to just celebrate the achievement of his participation.

But then? He was given a red ribbon with “Excellent” emblazoned across it in gold letters. 

At first I was overjoyed. In my day, a red ribbon meant that you placed second. Excellent meant that you did pretty damn good.

Did he really do so well? 

During our practice he struggled with speaking too fast and was not making good eye contact. Was it possible that he listened to me? That he took my advice to heart? To be honest, that would have meant more to me than the ribbon itself.

Eventually I was given his judging forms. There were three judges. Apparently in this private school league they only score as Good, Excellent, or Superior and the kids are not ranked into places at all. Color of the ribbon? Yeah. Meaningless.

WTF?

Two out of the three judges gave my son a Good. Only one gave him an Excellent. From the judges’ notes, he fidgeted, stumbled, had to be prompted, and did not make eye contact. They gave him an Excellent ribbon for that. We worked on all of those things but it was his first competition and he is a first grader so I am not surprised or embarrassed or upset with his performance. I am so very proud that he was brave enough to get up there in front of strangers.

But how can I reinforce to my son that hard work pays off when mediocrity gets him an Excellent rating and a red ribbon? How can I make the point that he should listen to his mama’s advice about eye contact? How can I help him work through rejection and loosing and the unfairness of life while in the safety of childhood before he becomes a fragile adult who is devastated by the realization that the world does not in fact hand out participation trophies? And what about how this demoralizes and minimizes the kids who really did perform exceptionally well? They deserve to feel the full glory of their achievements, don’t they?

I just don’t understand. 

Traveling Through Time

Facade of Mission San Jose in San Antonio
I was not an only child, no matter how hard I prayed for God to take away my siblings. We did not have a lot of money so when we went on vacation all of us were crammed together into tight quarters in the family car. We slept on the floor with family/friends or in sleazy motels (think roaches and cigarette burned coverlets) and survived on McDonalds (you could get a sack of five burgers for five dollars). If we were super lucky, we got to take my grandpa’s motor home and ate hot dogs every day unless it was too wet for a fire, in which case we got spaghetti. 

Oh, there was bickering. Lots and lots of bickering…

Stop poking me!

Mo-ooommmmm! She’s looking at me again!

He’s breathing on me! Make him stop breathing!!!!

My father had a government job and my mother was a stay at home mom. As such, when we went on trips over the summer it was for 2-3 weeks at a time. I travelled all over the US learning things. I don’t think there is a place with educational merit in the continental United States that I have not visited except for things in the state of New York which I was told was “the den of sin and iniquity and the home of  those damn Yankees”. I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty something fierce but as far as my parents were concerned NYC in particular was not worth our time. 

I saw the VLA (Very Large Array) radio telescope years before the movie Contact made it famous. I learned about hydrology from the huge scale mock up of the San Francisco Bay Area complete with working wave maker built in the 1950’s by the Corps of Engineers. I learned about the Civil War at Gettysburg and Texas independence at the Alamo and Washington on the Brazos and fossil dating from Dinosaur Valley and the Petrified Forest. 

There were the obvious places like Yellowstone and Glacier and Mesa Verde. The contrasts of natural and man-made, like the arches in Utah and The Arch in St. Louis. And the obscure, like the Helium monument in Amarillo and what is left of Route 66 (no one cared about that back then).

I have so many good memories of those trips. For all of the bad my parents may or may not have done, they did get one thing right… those family trips. 

Well. Except for New York.

So now, as I am weighing an expensive trip to Disney World with my kids vs a cheap road trip with them somewhere more… interesting, I think about my own childhood. I have the means to make my kids’ dreams come true, if I wanted to, but do I really want to? I never did see Disney World but I think I ended up with something even more magical, an understanding and appreciation of where I came from… my own history and the history of others. That is what I want to pass on. 

So maybe Disney World is better left in our dreams and our imagination?

Hovering

Blimp in the sky
My childhood was tightly controlled. Every aspect of my life was minutely scrutinized and managed. 

I was not allowed to ever spend the night at a friend’s house. I went to a friend’s house once in grade school. Only once. My first sanctioned date was to a church to deliver fruit to shut-ins on Halloween night when I was almost 17. The guy who had asked me out was required to participate in a 30 minute interview process prior to being allowed to drive me less than five miles to the church. That interview ran the gamut from current grades, college plans, statement of faith, general health, etc. Physical contact with members of the opposite sex was strictly forbidden, going so far as not allowing me to give a male friend a platonic hug at his graduation. He hugged first. I guess I was supposed to run away screaming. My punishment for that hug back was to write 1,500 times, “I will obey my mother.” I was a junior in high school. My library books were prescreened before I could check them out until I was 18. I was not allowed to learn to drive until I graduated from high school. Dancing, ear piercing, and make-up were against the rules and the Smurfs were not allowed (Gargamel used magic doncha know). 

So when my kids started playing with the neighbor kids, I found myself hovering. It was suddenly necessary to inspect the yard for mushrooms. Rake leaves. Hunt for pecans. Maybe I’ll just wander around looking disinterested while spying on their conversations. 

What am I afraid of?

I’m afraid that my kids will do something offensive, something that will get them labeled as weird or bullied or worse. I am afraid that someone will hurt them, physically or emotionally or sexually.

But I am also afraid that my kids will be judged unfairly because they are *my* kids. That they will be used as pawns in an attempt to get to me. The whole doctor thing. I have been burned before.

Because of the control I experienced as a kid, it is exceedingly difficult to let go of control of my own kids. It is all I know. BUT as I commented to someone yesterday, I am not raising pets. I am trying to grow a couple of independent human beings. 

My kids make jokes about butts and farts and you find that offensive? Maybe it’s your fault for letting your kids play with mine. Your kids are going to pick on my kiddos? My son and daughter are very, very good at karate. You want our kids to make friends so you can say you hang with the doctor? Well fine. I cannot assume everyone has ulterior motives, can I? I will cut you off if necessary. 

So this weekend when they all started playing together again I forced myself to let it go. I went inside and busied myself making homemade marshmallows. I even closed the back door. 

And you know what? They did just fine without me. 

Move Over Childhood…

Trestle bridge through a car window
It happened, folks. 

My son decided that he does not want to wear his PJ’s to go into the donut shop anymore.

“Mom, someone might see me.”

A lump immediately lodged in my throat and has not yet let go. My baby is growing up, entering that self conscious stage where his life will forever be filtered through perceived societal norms. 

Next, he’s going to stop believing in Santa. 

I am not ready for this…

*Please note, I was not driving when I shot that photo and yes, the windshield IS a bit dirty. 

Say Wat?*

Cambodia 041

So, something that I have noticed is this:

Adopted people seem to often carry around a lot of baggage. 

Sometimes it’s obvious from childhood. There are times, though, they don’t even know it is there until they are all grown up.

I have seen this clinically and personally and throughout the blogging world. Even under the best of circumstances, with the best adoptive parents, there is a profound amount of baggage that accompanies adoption.

Who am I, really?

Where did I come from?

Why did she give me away? Didn’t she love me?

Now, let’s say it is an adoption situation where the child was adopted as a baby but the birth mother died and the father was never known. What would be the best approach? When do you tell the kiddo, who has only known you as a parent, about the death? 

It is easier in some ways to simply avoid the topic altogether, isn’t it? There is that temptation to not say a word about adoption and death, let that child go through life thinking they are 100% yours. Decades ago that might have been possible, but in the advent of DNA testing, these secrets never stay buried. I cannot tell you how many times I have had conversations with devastated patients about the seemingly innocuous DNA test done for fun that uncovered a few half siblings or even different parents. 

I have been thinking about this for some time. Maybe the point is not that there is a “right” way or a “right” time to have that discussion. There is no point in time that would make it all OK and would prevent subsequent life turmoil, so much as simply understanding that life sucks… sometimes it really sucks… and when you cannot make it better you just do your best to support them as they work through it all. Working through the grief and anger and abdandoment issues can be a lifelong process and that is OK.

What are your thoughts?

*This is a wat in Cambodia. A wat is a Buddist temple or monastery.

Passing Away

  

“This time of year, my mother’s birthday, I am always so sad.” She choked up and dabbed at the tears again. “My momma died ten years ago but I still just can’t get over it. We were so close.”

I handed her another box of tissues as she continued crying.

It was a strange mixture of emotions I felt sitting there watching her sob away. I hurt for her and yet at the same time I felt an odd guilt and jealousy that stuck in my throat and filled my mouth with bitterness.

How do people do that, get close to their parents? What would that feel like?

It has been six months since I have last seen her, my mother, despite the fact that we live less than 50 miles away. She hates to talk on the phone so I don’t ever call her. We play Words With Friends every day so there’s that, but I am not even following her on Facebook since I am not on Facebook in the first place.

I wonder how I will feel after she dies?

My mother and I are such different people. It strikes me that I can get along with a wide variety of individuals, mainly because I can give them the benefit of the doubt, open my heart, allow forgiveness. I can do that for a stranger, for someone I have never even met, but I cannot do that for my own mother.

Why?

Why do we judge our family, the people we love, so much more harshly than we judge the rest of the world? 

At this point, I don’t hate my mother. I don’t even dislike her. I simply don’t understand her. Allowing myself to try to understand her hurts too much. I have to take what I have believed about my own childhood and accept that maybe there is another side to things. Understanding her side may invalidate what I have come to believe about myself and about her and that prospect frightens me, as if it would be taking away part of who I am. 

Which then begs the question, who am I anyway and why does any of it matter to me in the first place?

Sometimes it feels even now as if I am a toddler on the verge of throwing tantrum, clinging to their crumbling binkie-blankie because they don’t want to let go of their childhood. 

It is all I know.

I want to ask her why she married my father. I want to ask her why she stayed with him even through his terrible emotional abuse. Did she love him? Does she love him now? Is she proud of me? But I am afraid of the answers. 

Maybe it is none of my business? 

Maybe I just want it to be none of my business? 

So I don’t ask….

In a Bubble

the

My daughter said this afternoon, “Mommy, do you remember when we saw that dead rat on the street and its stomach had exploded and its guts were moving? Why were its guts moving?” 

Um. I’m not sure it was guts….

That made for an interesting discussion with a five year old in the middle of downtown Chicago. She won’t remember the museums or the parks or the Sears Tower. She will, however, remember the maggoty rat in the street. 

No matter how hard we try to create good memories, the most memorable are the accidental ones. 

Wormholes

yellow flowers in a field in front of the Chicago Field Museum

It is strangely disconcerting, taking my kids around to places that have held so much power from my childhood. Their little feet where my little feet once stood, staring in awe.

The circle of life?

Somehow it feels as if I could maybe reach out and touch that little girl and tell her it is all going to be OK, there is a happy ending after all.

Except this isn’t the end. It seems more like a beginning. 

Or at the very least, starting over….

Charlie

old tombstone in Bostom cemetary

We were sitting in the dark after the bedtime story and prayers. I typically hold his hand and check blog stats or write the next day’s post while he drifts off to sleep.

“Mommy, I like dreams. They’re nice,” he said sleepily.

“I like dreams, too. Most of the time. Do you ever have bad dreams?”

“Yes.”

“Like what?”

“Charlie.”

“Charlie? Who’s Charlie?” Goosebumps rose on my neck and arms.

“Charlie is my bad dream.” He was matter of fact, no fear in his voice.

Charlie was my own bad dream as a kid. Terrified the hell out of me. I had never told this to a single soul.

“What does Charlie look like?”

“He has red eyes and no pupilaries. Like Deadpool’s but red and not black. He has a bushy beard and one eyebrow that stretches over both eyes. He’s old.”

How can it be possible for your child to have the same, identical childhood nightmare?

“Did I tell you about Charlie?” I asked, my heart pounding, hopeful that he would say yes and I had just forgotten.

“No. But he says he knows you…”