A sweet melody joined by an equally captivating harmony fought together, a small army, lifting their battle cry in an effort to break through the roar which filled the sky surrounding their safe house. Each one singing as though their note, line, was the headliner meant to steal the show. Together they formed a formidable force to be reckoned with and yet, unheard by all, save two. These two having honed the magical power of tuning out all sound that dare combat the notes high and low – on key and off – which began no more than a whisper and grew no greater than a gentle breeze – this was all their ears could hear. Soaring through the wind above, around and under tree branches. Diving low to the soft soil turned and watered in hopes seedlings would take root and nourishment would spring forth. Ears pricked by sound, their mission cut short, they retreated. The volume increased by intensity as the tiny army overtaken by impatience heightened by the need for sustenance hit a crescendo. Beaks open wide – a gaping hole exposing the need coming from the very pit of their stomachs. Satisfied, filled, as warm juicy sustenance was lovingly passed from mama and papa to babes. The nest grew still as the sweet sound of silence gave way to the hub-bub once again filling the air around their home.
I sat in my office in front of my laptop, facing the screen listening to the voices coming out of the speakers sent magically around the world through the air no less, on what is called wireless or wi-fi. Two voices came from Edmonds, WA, another from Portland, Oregon, and yet another from all the way across the United States of America in a small town in Virginia. I, here in Seattle, could also be heard when it was my turn to speak. All of our voices sounding as though we were in the same room together, talking, sharing, commenting, laughing, and sometimes catching our breath, our hand at our throats, our head shaking as we tried to convey the grip what had been read had on our hearts.
The pocket door that separates my office/writing room from the rest of our home rattled as someone on the other side slid it open. They were hesitant, not rushed and I could tell they held the hope that they were not disturbing me. My head turned to find my sweet son, a smile upon his 9 year old face with his father close behind so that I could see the apology in his eyes for their interruption. The corners in my mouth already turning up and I hoped they could see the sparkle in my eye as I watched them slide their feet across the hardwood flooring without a sound. My attention went back to the laptop as one of my fellow writers once again was speaking and I thought I heard my name.
It was my turn to share my thoughts on the second piece submitted to the group for critique, unless I wanted to defer as they had all just critiqued mine. Maybe a moment to let their words dissipate was a good idea. I jumped at the chance to go last, muted my microphone and turned back to where my son and my husband were donning their jackets. Michael, my sweet little boy, mouthed coupled with a very soft whisper, “We’re going to the mall so I can shop for you for Valentine’s Day.” His father behind him raised brow, lips moving without sound, “He insisted.” I nodded and waived a good-bye before turning my attention back to the group waiting for me. Having not heard my acceptance to go last they awaited my thoughts, I fumbled to pull up the word document and forged ahead.
Drawn into the Galapagos Islands and the adventure my writing partner was on, my thoughts held no room for what the boys were off doing. Easy for me as I am not one to try to figure out or guess the gift another may be giving me. There is something in not knowing, not expecting, that makes a gift that much more delightful to receive. I find myself unwrapping what the giver wanted to portray in the gift rather than the item itself. At times it is where they went or what they went through to find and purchase the gift. The place they chose having meaning from our or their past. Other times the gift itself reminds them of me, something I have said or expressed an interest in, or so they thought. Then there are times that there is no real rhyme or reason, it is just that, a gift, purchased and given. And yet, without expectation, even these gifts bring a joy to fill the space within me that had opened as my fingers removed the tape or tissue that held a covering over the item inside.
Our online group came to a close with the promise of two more pieces to be submitted via email by the morning for our critique meeting the following week. I savored the final sip of my soda water and rosemary vodka as I lingered in my chair, comfortable with the cushion beneath my bum, the aroma from the diffuser continuing to waft through the air around me, and soaked in the silence of our quiet home devoid of the usual hustle and bustle. A light rap on the side door window pulling me from my thoughts. On the other side out in the cold of the now dark evening, stood my sweet boy who had knocked with restraint we often think he knows nothing of. I leaned to remove myself from my chair then settled back in as my husband, Tom, approached the door key in hand.
“Hi guys. Perfect timing my class is over.”
Taking in the relief in Michael’s eyes, I turned my chair towards to the door and sat watching him remove his shoes and jacket. Pushing himself up to his feet, Michael grabbed the bag which held his gift to me. Standing there across the room from me as his body wiggled, feet shuffled, and his eyes danced.
“Come on Mom! I’m giving you my present right now!”
I got up out of my chair, turning off my computer and essential oils diffuser, and gathered my things to shut down for the night. My back turned to him I said, “Oh no, honey that’s okay. You should save your gift to give to me tomorrow night when we have our special family dinner with Sissy. Besides tomorrow is Valentine’s day.”
I have this thing about gifts. First I am a not a huge fan of them, I do not need gifts. Not a true minimalist, but a follower of the idea that I only want to have things I actually use. Not a collector of things, I have a hard time giving gifts as much as receiving them. If you are going to give me a gift though that is meant for a particular holiday, anniversary, birthday, I prefer to receive the gift on the day or at least at the event in honor of the day. Not before.
“No, mom. I won’t hear of it. I am giving you your gift now.”
My back still turned, the small voice inside of me spoke. ‘Let him give you his gift. It’s what he wants to do. Don’t squash his excitement and make him wait. We don’t always have to wait for the right time, the right place, do the right thing, do we?’
“Alright, let’s do this.” I smiled overwhelmed by the feeling welling up inside of me, this was right and for once I was going against all things me and just letting the moment unfold as it may.
“Yes! Okay, come into the living room. Come on dad, let’s go.”
Michael hurried into the other room, whether from excitement for the gift he was about to give or to be certain I would not change my mind or his dad would not step in and decide that we were in fact going to wait until tomorrow, I do not know. As I stepped through the doorway into the living room I caught sight of Michael already on the sofa, one hand holding the bag from Macy’s the other patting the seat next to him.
“Here mom, come sit here next to me on the couch.”
“Okay, okay, I’m coming”, laughter bubbled up in my throat as I went to sit next to him.
“Dad, tell her the story.”
Tom chuckled before responding, “Well, I have to say I tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was set on what he was going to get you before we ever left the house. I tried to get him to go to Ross or Fred Meyer but he wouldn’t have it. We got in the truck and he said he wanted to go to the mall. To Macy’s in fact. He was resigned, wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say, so I said okay. You can tell her the rest buddy.”
Tom looked at me once again with those eyebrows raised. I’ve come to know that look from him when it has to do with Michael. It’s the ‘Hey, I tried to talk him out of it but you know how he can be when he has his mind made up about something’ look. The corners of my mouth remained turned up as I soaked up the excitement radiating from every pore in Michael’s body.
“Okay, Mom, I went to Macy’s and got you this. Here open it. Then I will tell you what happened.”
He handed me the white paper bag with large red star on it. Not a wrinkle in sight the only fold being the one at the very top, the sales lady having turned the top down and creased the fold tight before handing his purchase to him to bring home. I sat holding the bag for a moment, my hand stroking the smoothness before unfolding the top and reaching inside. A receipt slipped out and fell onto the couch as I pulled out the square box inside. I raised my hand to my lips and glanced at my son as he picked up the paper.
“I’ll show you it in a minute.” His eyes sparkled as he held onto the receipt and looked at me.
Savoring the excitement he was feeling and the joy I was receiving, I held the box before lifting the top off. There lay the most exquisite silver chain on a pillow of white batting.
“Feel it mom. Isn’t it heavy?”
I picked up the thick rope chain. It was heavy with a coating that made it smooth as silk to the touch. Breaking up the monotony of the rope chain were round circles snug on the chain every two inches or so. The clasp. also unique, was a larger circle on the one end and a bar at the other.
“Put it on mom! Do you need help?”
I held the two ends in my hand and they met behind my neck as I put the chain on. My right hand positioned the bar so it would go into the circle and through, then releasing it perpendicular it was held through the circle so the necklace would stay put. As I did, my mind flashed back to another necklace that I have upstairs in my closet with the same clasp. It was my mother’s. A bit flashy, layers of black beads that hold a charm that hangs in the middle of chest. The charm is a clear glass square that has several diamonds, fake, the gems float in the square that is edged with diamonds all around it. I have worn it a few times with a cocktail dress, otherwise it stays hanging in my closet.
“Do you like it mom?”
Without waiting for my response he goes on.
“Look at the tag.”
Ignoring my thoughts that want me to explain how it isn’t appropriate to look at the price of a gift nor is it appropriate to tell someone the price you paid for the gift. I instead listen to the small voice that is telling me to do as my son is asking of me. Grant him this moment. I pick up the tag and look at the front and then the back. Eyeing my husband who once again has that look on his face followed this time by raised hands of mercy hovering just above his lap, I tell me son the sales lady covered the price with a return sticker. I explain they do this so the gift recipient doesn’t see the price of the gift. Then I hush my own voice reminded by that small voice that I am saying too much.
“Oh, okay, well here, look at the receipt.”
My eyes grow big and my fingers caress the thick chain laying against my neck. I look at Tom, a look of disbelief as he nods his head.
“Oh honey! You spent sixty dollars on me? Wow! That is so very generous.”
“I tried to talk him out of it. In fact, even the sales lady who wasn’t all that, let’s say good-natured with kids, she even tried to persuade him to buy a different necklace that was on sale for less. He made his choice.”
My fingers remaining on the chain, I handed the receipt back to Michael as I looked into his eyes. I saw a flicker of hesitation.
“It wasn’t all of my money. I still have over seventy dollars. The sales lady did show me another necklace after I found this one. It was a silver chain also. It was more dainty. I had her get it out of the case so I could look at it more closely. It was real pretty. And it cost forty dollars. Even the sales lady said the other one was more fancy, special. She said this one was more ‘every day’ kind of chain. That’s what I wanted, something you could wear every day. And I didn’t spend all of my money. I still have plenty.”
His eyes looked at me as he finished his last word. My heart caught in my throat as I removed my fingers from the chain and reached out to touch his leg.
“Hey buddy, I want to tell you something. I completely get what you are saying. You want to know what this makes me think of?”
“Two things actually. One is a very special necklace that I have upstairs. It is a thin dainty silver chain that has a heart on it made of tiny little diamonds. One year before Mother’s day a radio station ran a contest and asked listeners to call in to share a story of why their mom was the best mom. The stories were on the radios web page for a few weeks where listeners could go and read them again. Then people would vote on the story they thought was the best. The winner would receive this beautiful necklace to give to their mom for Mother’s day. Well, your sister called in and told a story about me and she won! I love that necklace and every time I wear it I think of what she did for me. It is fancy and dainty and I wear it now and then with special outfits.”
“Wow, that’s cool that she won it for you.”
“Yeah, but you wanna know what other memory this makes me think of?”
“Well, several years back before you were born, Mother’s day was coming up. Something inside of me really wanted to buy my mom a pair of diamond earrings. I had never bought my mom anything extravagant like that before. I wanted her to know that I loved her more than anything, wanted to give her something out of the ordinary, different than say your typical Mother’s Day gift of flowers or a candle. The only thing was, I was a single mom at the time and couldn’t really afford too much. I asked my boyfriend, your dad was my boyfriend then, what he thought and he said although it was genuinely a good thing to want to do it, my mom knew how much I loved her and didn’t need diamonds to express it. I believed what he said was true.”
Love threatening to spill out and poor down my cheeks welling up inside of me, I squeezed my son’s hand and smiled before telling him the rest.
“I spent time with my mom that Mother’s Day and gave her a card telling her of what I had wanted to buy her but hadn’t. My mom cried silent tears and hugged me close, telling me she knew how much I loved her. We sat and enjoyed lunch together on her couch until she was tired and needed to go lay down and rest. A month later my mom died. We didn’t know at the time that she was that sick. I didn’t know it would be our last Mother’s Day together. The thought never crossed my mind. What I did know was that I had wanted to express to her in a tangible way, a gift, the love that I held inside for her. To this day, there is a part of me that wishes I would have thrown caution to the wind and purchased diamond earrings for my mom. Not because she needed an expensive gift to know I loved her that much, but because I wanted to give them to her.
It means so much to me that you wanted to buy something very special, and spend your money, no matter the cost. You knew what you wanted to buy me and you did it. Thank you my sweet bugaboo. I love this necklace and I will wear it all of the time. There is a time to be frugal, to buy things on sale, to not buy gifts when we can’t afford them. And then there is a time to go ahead and be generous, be extravagant, and buy what we want for the one we love.”
I reached out and drew my son close to me. Wrapping my arms around him I felt the love from him that I so longed to give to my mother on that Mother’s Day so long ago.
And then my son, being the nine year old that he is said,
“Okay mom, now you have to put the necklace back in the box. Tomorrow at dinner I am going to give it to you again and you have to act surprised. Just like you are right now, you have to do all of this all over again for Sissy. You have to tell her the story you just told me and everything, okay?”
The small voice inside of me spoke once again, ‘Do it. Give this to him, it’s all part of his gift. Let him have all of this as silly as it seems.’
“Okay, honey.” My eyes met with Tom’s one more time, it was my turn to shrug my shoulders and raise my palms up in open willingness.
Michael took my necklace and placed it back on the cloud of batting, closed up the box and delicately returned it inside the still perfect, without wrinkle or crease, white paper bag. He folded the top down as the sales lady had and placed it on the dining room table where it would await the re-unveiling.
I remember when my daughter was in the sixth grade almost as though it were yesterday. That year was monumental in so many ways for her, for me and for our family going forward. I’d like to think it had a lasting impact on her teacher as well. In the middle of her fourth grade year our little family of three broke apart. Up until that time I had home-schooled her and she had attended what was known as Edmonds Cyber School or the Edmonds Home School Resource Center. As much as I loved teaching my daughter it was not purely for the love of teaching that I had home schooled her for that long. We were stuck in an abusive relationship. One where he controlled most everything that I did and reminded me on a daily basis that what I thought and said did not matter, unless of course I was agreeing with him. Ironically he thought I was very good or at least adequate at teaching his daughter. He was insistent that she not attend public school. His position was that public school would teach her horrible things and she would turn out to be a delinquent. And so I home schooled her year after year at his insistence.
When I ran with my daughter I had to work full-time in order to provide for us. That meant enrolling her in the local public school. My daughter was happy for the change, at first. She had longed for daily interaction with others her age and had a desire to learn whatever she could. School provided endless opportunity for both. The second half of 4th grade went quite well. Going to school each day was so new and wonderful. Thankfully she made a couple of great girl friends right away. As we rolled into 5th grade more changes had happened for her and I. The newness of being just the two of us had worn off. I began dating which had positive and negative effects on my daughter. As much as she longed for her mother to be happy and to be loved she also longed for these feelings for herself as well. The first man I dated was a very kind man who treated me very well. While he was very different from her father and in no way abused her, it became very clear to her and to me that he didn’t love her. Once I realized this it was very easy for me to end that relationship. One thing I had made clear when I took her and left was that going forward we were a team. Any man in our lives either loved both of us or they got neither of us. Crazy? Unrealistic? Maybe, but that is how it was going to be.
My daughter started 5th grade with a renewed confidence that she was in fact mine, 24/7, 365 days each year, and I was good with that. At no time did I wonder when her father would take her for a weekend or a holiday. She was not a burden to me nor something I needed a break from. She was my world, and nothing or nobody was every going to change that. Not now, not ever again.
As the newness of being just the two of us wore off and we settled into our day-to-day routines, along with it came the idea that her father did not want her. No matter how many times I told her that it wasn’t about him not wanting her, but more accurately him being incapable of being who she needed and wanted, the feeling of being unwanted settled into her heart and her mind. Having grown up myself feeling cheated of what a little girl deserves in the daddy-daughter relationship department, I understood these feelings all too well. And yet, I also had to acknowledge that my life was not her life and hers had elements, both good and bad, that mine did not.
Her 5th grade teacher happened to be a man. When I first became aware of this my heart skipped a beat. Would having a man in charge over her on a daily basis stir up the feelings of fear and pain that she had lived with and through? Would she be able to ask questions, raise her hand and speak out in class, or would she turn inward and return to being shy and quiet. It wasn’t long into the school year when the phone on my desk at work rang with a call from the school nurse. My daughter was not feeling well and needed me to come pick her up. I did, only to find no sooner were we home and she was fine. Her spirits lifted, the tears dried up and she wanted to play a game or go on a bike ride with me. This happened several times over before I realized a pattern was setting in and we had a problem that was not health related, at least not physical health.
I decided to set a meeting with her teacher to check in with him on how things were going. After sending him an email he set an appointment and suggested the school counselor join us for the meeting. As the three of us chatted I shared with them what my daughter and I had lived through and what had brought us to this school. Then I shared with them what I saw was happening with her in needing me to come get her more days that not. She had also started to cry in the mornings begging me not to make her go to school. Not long into our meeting it became clear that it had little to do with school or the teacher and seemingly more to do with being away from me. I shared my concern with the teacher about him being male, but assured him that honestly I felt she liked him as her teacher.
Together we made a plan of action we hoped would help get her through this difficult time while assuring her that we were all there on her side, helping her as best we could, however we could. The teacher suggested that each day when I brought her to school that I bring her into the classroom right to her desk. He would then come be by her side as I left assuring her that he was there to support her. He would also let her know that at anytime she could come to his desk to talk to him or ask him to go to the office to see the counselor. The counselor suggested that I come to lunch for a while and eat with my daughter. When it was time for me to go back to work if she struggled I was to bring her into the counselor’s office for the good-byes and she would then transition her back to class after I left. We worked together! It took several weeks of this plan of action, and I nearly fell apart more than once wondering if it would ever work. Through our efforts and seeing an outside therapist as well, my daughter gained her confidence in us and in her self to overcome this fear of separation. Together we showed her that she was our priority. I was so thankful for how they both came along side me, as a mother, and helped me help my daughter. To this day that teacher is my daughter’s all time favorite teacher.
During that year I began dating another man. This time I was even more cautious, even giving him a list of the Nine Things Required of Dating Me. Seriously, I did! Again, I had friends who told me I was crazy to think I could ask for so much. Number 9 was simply this: A man who would love my daughter as his own. One who would be a role model of what a husband, partner, father, friend should be so that she would know what to look for in her future mate. I told him if any of the items on my list, especially number 9, scared him, then we should not proceed with dating. He assured me they were not scary and for him, doable. That year and as time went on my daughter and I learned that we had found the real deal. A man with a heart bigger than any we had ever known. One who loved my daughter as his own, something we both longed for. And she and I both found that we loved him right back.
Sixth grade rolled around and my daughter settled into her new classroom at the middle school next door to the elementary school she had been attending in the Edmonds School District. The past year had ended so well, she found she was still riding the wave of excitement in learning the previous teacher had help her re-ground herself in as she kicked off the new year. Many days after classes ended she would walk across the campus and waltz into her 5th grade teacher’s classroom to say hi, check in and spend time before I picked her up or she caught the bus home. Life was moving forward, the pain of the past was healing and we were happy. My daughter was once again thriving in school and I was breathing more easily.
One afternoon she sat in my office after school working on some homework while I finished up my end of the day tasks. She had come in from the bus with a scowl on her face and her lower lip in a pout. Not wanting to get into it at work, I had given her a quick hug and sent her off to the kitchen for an after school snack. I had caught her peeking around the corner at me a time or two vying for my attention. A knot began to form in the pit of my stomach as thoughts of the previous year wiggled their way to the forefront of my mind. I shook them off like rain drops off an umbrella refusing to give way to the notion that we were heading back down that spiral again. I wrapped up my work, gathered my things and called to my daughter that it was time to go.
We both settled into the car and buckled our seatbelts before I put the car into gear and began the short drive home. The silence was palpable one stop light after another. Without turning to look at her I asked what was on her mind.
She inhaled and the air caught in her throat as she swallowed back a sob that was determined to escape. My head snapped to glance at her and then back at the road. Giant alligator tears were spilling over her lower lashes and rolling down her cheeks. I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car.
“Honey, What in the world is going on?”
“My teacher said I can’t write about Tom.” [Sob, inhale, sob]
“What are you talking about? Of course you can write about Tom! I mean, why are you writing about Tom?”
“Our assignment in writing class is to write about our family. I started mine the other day. We had to turn in our rough draft for her to take a look at. She called me up to her desk and said that I can’t write about Tom. When I asked her why, she said because he isn’t my family. She said I have to write about my real dad! Oh mom, I don’t want to do that.”
“Okay, hold on a second. Let me get this straight, the assignment is to write about your family, is that right?”
“Yes, but she said I have a dad so I have to write about him.”
“Family is who you live with, who is raising you. That may be your mom and your dad, it may be just your mom or just your dad, it could be your grandparents, foster parents, adopted parents, or even friends. Who is she to say who your family is?”
I have to insert her that I was growing more and more livid by the moment. After all the two of us had been through up to this point in our lives, after what we had lived through for the 10 years before I had taken my daughter and ran, after what we had overcome during the previous school year alone, I was not about to have one teacher’s view of what is and what is not family set my daughter back to square one.
“Hey sweetie, take a breath, a deep one. Okay, now another. Yep, that’s it, How about another? Good. Now, look at me. This is going to be fine. Just fine. You are going to keep writing that assignment and you are going to write about whomever you feel is your family, be that me, Tom, The Gallaughers, The Carrolls, Auntie Dawn (who is not biologically her aunt).”
“But mom, she said I couldn’t! I don’t want to fail the assignment.”
“You are not going to fail the assignment. I will go meet with your teacher tomorrow at school. She and I will have a little chat about the assignment and about family. Don’t you worry, everything is going to be just fine. We’ve got this!”
I reached over and gave my girl a quick squeeze letting her know that was that. Then I put that car back into gear and headed home to have dinner with our family.
The next morning I called the school and requested a meeting with the teacher. I told her I was available to come over to the school that day at anytime. I was invited to come early that morning while the kids were in music. Not wasting a minute, I jumped in my car and headed to the school. I parked my car in the parking lot, took a minute to breathe calmly and said a quick prayer for composure, patience and grace, before heading to the classroom for my meeting.
I walked in and found the teacher sitting at her desk with a chair opposite her waiting for me. I greeted her with a smile and thanked her for seeing me on such short notice. We shook hands and sat down.
“I wanted to check in with you on an assignment the kids are working on. A writing assignment about Family?”
“Oh yes, the students are supposed to write about their families. I know your daughter is struggling with this assignment, but I have made it clear that the requirements are quite simple. We will have time for creative writing as the year goes on, but this assignment is simply about the students family, their heritage so to speak. It’s a good way for us all to get to know each other and for the kids to follow the directions about keeping it to the topic at hand. I do it every year with my students.”
“Uh-huh, I see. Okay, well actually my daughter doesn’t have an issue with the assignment. She is completely fine with writing a paper about her family.”
“Oh great! I am so relieved to hear that. I didn’t want this to become a big deal. She’s good student. I’m glad to hear she will be able to complete the assignment after all.”
“Yes, she will. In fact she is nearly done with it. I looked it over last night with her. She has done a terrific job of sharing who her family is, myself, Tom and her have a wonderful family home life and she looks forward to sharing that with you and the class.”
“Oh, I’m sorry there is a misunderstanding.”
“No I don’t think there is.”
“Yes, there must be. You see this assignment is to be about the student’s family. It is only to include, their biological parents, their mom and dad, siblings, grandparents, etc. It’s just about family. In the future she will have a chance to write about other things, but this one is quite specific.”
“I see. I want to be certain that I am hearing you correctly. My daughter is writing an assignment about her Family. And you have determined that she and the other students may only include themselves, their biological parents, siblings and grandparents in what they call Family?”
“Yes, that is it. I know she is fond of your boyfriend, Tom, but he is your boyfriend. He is not her Family.”
“Uh-huh. I see. In the way you see Family, he is not her Family. I can see how some people might say that. Those who are closed-minded to think that Family is made up of blood, and only consists of the people you are related to by birth. I can’t help but think there are so many other situations out there. Not all children are brought up in a home where there is a father and a mother and a kid or two or three. Homes and the families that live in them vary greatly. I wonder what would happen if a student had let’s say, two mothers and no father at all and wanted to write about that. Would you have a problem with that? Would you tell the student and their two mothers that they were in fact not a family? Or what if they had two fathers? Would you look at those two fathers and ask them to choose which one of them the student could write about as their family, because surely one of them was not actually the student’s father and thus not their family? And if you did in fact state that to such a family, er I mean couple raising one of your students, how do you think they might respond? I imagine they may decide to have a conversation with the Principal and quite possibly the District about your definition of what is what is not Family.”
“I didn’t mean that couples raising a child together are not in fact a couple.”
“You didn’t? Because it seems to me you did when you told my daughter who she could and could not write about as her family.”
“I just mean, she has a father, she should write about him.”
“I am going to let that go. That is an entirely different conversation and one that quite frankly, I am not having with you. The assignment is for each student to write about their family. My daughter is very clear on who her family is. I wanted to come here today to make sure that we are all on the same page on what family is and the fact that it varies quite greatly. If we are not on the same page then we will need to have a further conversation with the principal in order to resolve the issue at hand.”
“Oh no, I think we are fine here. I think we can agree that families vary.”
“Wonderful. Just so we are clear, families vary and my daughter will be writing about her family as she chooses and determines them to be. And she will not be graded in a negative way if and when the structure of her family does not meet the scenario that you had laid out in the required dynamic of the family as you see it?”
“That is correct, she may write about whomever she would like.”
“Wonderful. I appreciate your time. I’m glad we had this chat.”
I stood, shook her hand once again and left the room. As I walked down the hallway, I saw my daughter in a line of kids coming towards me. I gave her a wink, a wave and a smile that said, ‘I told you we got this.’ She smiled back at me as she skipped into class and took her seat.
In no way did I plan to fight all of my daughter’s battles for her. As the years went by she found time and time again when she needed to stand up for herself. And other times she found herself facing the consequences of her own actions or lack thereof when it came to school assignments. But in this case when the battle was greater than what the average 6th grade child should have to face, when it was something that struck a personal cord with all my daughter had been through in regards to family, and due to the fact that I felt this teacher, this adult, had a small and closed-minded view of just what a family is, I felt it was my job to step in and square things away. Honestly, I felt I did the teacher a huge favor! Here I was, a single white mom with a boyfriend that my daughter considered family. No harm, no foul. If our situation had been different in one or more of the ways I had challenged her on she may have received a lot more than a simple parent teacher conference. Stepping off of my high horse, I truly hope that it opened her eyes to the students around her then and in the future that may not fit her old school mold of what family is. Just as my daughter and I were growing and changing, I hope she was too.
My post yesterday has been running through my head. I am in the process of writing a memoir. Part of that process is reading other people’s memoirs and articles about memoirs. One interesting point that has stuck out to me in my reading went something like this:
“If a family consisted of four siblings and all four siblings wrote a memoir about their childhood, you would most likely end up with four very different books. ”
That leads to the question, Who is lying? The article went on to say that quite possibly, none of them are in fact lying. They each have their recollection of what their upbringing was. Each have cherished or not so cherished memories, a different perspective or point of view of holidays celebrated, family vacations and daily life. Who’s to say that one’s perception or memory is more right than another?
Over the years I have shared different parts of my story. Sometimes in private conversations with friends, or with strangers when the opportunity arose, or in a group setting such as a teen girls group or women’s group. Each time I have shared the response has been positive and taken me by surprise. More than once a woman has come to me after to share her story or tell me that what I ha to say has inspired her to move forward in a direction in her life that she had been contemplating but lacked confidence or the strength to go ahead, take a risk on herself. Often I have been asked, why haven’t you written a book?
Years ago, I contemplated writing a book and even began the first few pages. As the words hit the paper shame clouded my view and covered my head. The heaviness overwhelmed me. Through much counseling, soul-searching and heart healing I came to a place where my past no longer brought on shame, nor did it bring on anger, instead it filled me with confidence. As powerful as that felt it was also intimidating. Where had this inner strength come from? Was it there all along, only stifled, pressed down, hidden under the pain and shame? Or was it new? A result of overcoming all that had suppressed and oppressed me over the years of my life. Whatever it was, and however it came to be, I welcomed it with open, albeit reserved arms.
No sooner had I come to grips with who I was and who I was becoming to be when I found my body had succumbed to cancer. Just as I had welcomed this new-found strength I welcomed the cancer within my body. That may sound strange to you. For me, it seemed right. Cancer was a way of slowing myself down. After an abusive childhood, I entered an abusive marriage at the young age of 17 1/2 years old. It took just over 10 years to admit, come to grips with and then find a way out of that relationship, not only for me, but for the small innocent child we had brought into the world. Then it took years of living life, going to therapy, and plenty of conversations with myself and God to bring to the point of self forgiveness and empowerment to use my past to help others if at all possible.
When cancer hit, I thought, “Okay, this is the perfect opportunity for me to take some time to rest, reflect and write.” Little did I know that there would be much rest, a great deal of reflection and little to no writing. The writing I did do, centered around cancer and how I was doing. There were days that this brought me down. I battled with my brain as I wanted to use every minute of this ‘down time’ to the best of my ability. I’d love to say I learned quickly, but honestly it took a good portion of my treatment to get through my thick skull that this was to be a time of rest and reflection, a time to soak up the love and affection of friends and family, something I always had a hard time doing. That alone was therapy for me.
As my treatment ended and I saw the light at the end of rest tunnel, I became afraid. Had I really wasted the time that had been given to me? It seemed as though I had. I had nothing to show for it in the way of evidence of having used the time wisely. Thankfully, many good friends, my husband and my daughter told me over and over again, I had done with the time as I should have. I had cherished every moment with them, allowed my body to rest, spent time with friends new and old, near and far, sitting, chatting, listening and soaking in their love and affection through word, food and deed. I have come to accept that my time of cancer, treatment, surgeries and healing was for more than physical healing, it has also attributed to my mental and emotional well-being as well.
As I have returned to the ‘real world’ or life post cancer, of work and family activities, I do so with a renewed heart and an even greater balance of life. I love my work in real estate, I love my time with family and friends, and I love my time writing. As I write I wonder at times what life would be like if we were more real, more honest with who we are. If you know me well, you have heard me say, “Did I just think that out loud?” The idea that my honesty, my truth would come out of my mouth and not be held in, in order to keep the peace or be politically correct. I am not referring to saying things that are hurtful to others without filter or compassion. I am speaking of saying the things that are held back when they should be said, seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly. Stand up for what is right. Speak up when an injustice is occurring rather than watching silently, shaking your head as you walk away. Or sharing your mistakes, your past, your failures as a parent, or wife, mother or father, sister or daughter in order to help another realize they are not alone.
And so it is with that heart, that I write and I share. Not to shame anyone, but to help others, whether that be to help them find an answer, or help them realize they are not alone. I am here. Real. Raw. Living. Thinking. Writing.
A hard reality I have had to face, I am more like my father than I would like to be. Many times I have told myself in one of the many conversations I have had with myself over the years, I will not be like my father. I will parent differently. I will show compassion, unconditional love, patience, forgiveness, empathy, tenderness in the most difficult of moments, and so on. And while I have parented in a very different way than my father, I have at times been just like him. So much so, that as I stood there looking into my child’s eyes consumed with rage I have seen myself, the little girl I once was, looking back at me.
It happened today. My son stood there looking back at me, his nostrils flaring open and then closed as he sucked in the oxygen around him. I was fuming, standing there towering over him, daring him to not listen to me. His eyes locked with mine. Click. I saw myself looking back at me, and yet I knew it was my son. In that moment I knew exactly how he was feeling. Part of me, the part enveloped in anger, the part that felt all-powerful, wanted to keep going. It wanted to turn up the faucet of over flowing verbal sewage that was blasting down on his head. The other part of me, the little girl who knew what this felt like, the part that knew he had done nothing wrong, nothing more than any child might do, and knew that this struggle was over control and power. That part of me inhaled the oxygen that would flood my brain with common sense, compassion, patience, and clear the stupidity that was clouding my judgment.
Our eyes still locked, I exhaled. My body moved towards my son as my arms wrapped around him and drew him in for a hug. Tenderness from my body spread to his and he melted against me. His arms encircled my body as his head rest on my chest. We two became one. I held him there for many moments allowing what had transpired to be healed and washed away.
“I love you buddy. I’m sorry I was angry. It’s really no big deal, you just need to go back outside and ask your friend nicely not to do to you what you did to him. How would you feel if he had thrown show at your head? Go out there and talk to him. I’ll watch and if it doesn’t go well, I’ll come out and help you. I think you can take care of it.”
“Love you too, mom. I’ll go try.”
His hands released me as I gave him one more squeeze. I watched as he headed back outside. The door closed behind him. Cautiously he walked towards his friend, “Hey, I’m sorry I hit you on the head with that snow. I didn’t mean to. Are you okay?”
“It’s okay and yeah, I’m fine.”
“You want to play lazer tag instead?”
“Yeah, let’s go!”
Off they went, problem solved, friendship reunited.
I turned back to what I was working on breathing a sigh of relief. For a few moments I had been him, just like him. Zero to 100 on the anger scale, with no room for compassion. This time, like others in the past, something came in and took over bringing me back to reality. As much as I don’t want to be like him, I need to remember him and how I was when he was like that to me, to help me be the person I wished he had been. One day, one moment at a time.