Thursday, April 3, 2008

Be Careful

The thing is, it's not like I ever even expected to have easy kids, an easy go of grownup life. I didn't! I promise. When it sounds like I'm full of sour grapes, please don't think I was expecting some Crystal Stair. Mostly I'm a realist, or I thought so until recently. Maybe I'm really a pessimist. Whatever I am, if you've read any of my other posts, you can probably tell by my now that optimism isn't my strong suit.

When I met my husband, falling happened quickly, but I told him early on I needed to call the whole thing off asap if he didn't want a family. I knew with conviction that I wanted marriage, children. Without idealizing or fantasizing overmuch, I knew if I didn't at least try to have a family, I'd never feel content. I didn't assume that family would make me content, just that the absence of family would cause me regret. I don't do regret well.

The family of my childhood didn't have "happy" in its vocabulary, and I served as peacemaker, problem solver, stability manager for two adults and an older brother from the time I hit preschool until our family crumbled around the time I hit double digits. Then I took over managing my mother's upbringing as she brought home a series of alcoholic boyfriends in a period I think of as the advanced juvenile delinquency of her mid thirties (my current age). With no such thing as blogs yet invented, I wrote in my elementary school diary how I would never raise kids the way my parents did. I ached to live in a home you could walk through without pointing at the broken things and describing them like this: "this is where the chair missed my head but scraped the woodwork, this is from the coffee cup that she threw at him..." So this is why I say I had no grand or naive Brady Bunch illusions about First Comes Love...

I figured life would be hard, marriage would be hard, money would be hard, kids would be hard. I thought I'd been well acquainted with hard and spoke the language well enough to get by. I figured health would be hard, too. But the thing is, I've always liked working hard. I've always felt proud of rolling up my sleeves and using hard work to overcome the struggles, to come out on the other side. I've always been able to fight and work my way toward peace and tranquility, if that makes any sense.

Maybe this is where the naivete comes in though: I think I thought working my ass off, armed with love, I could mother, and that would be enough. That I'd teach my kids to work hard, too, to feel the enoughness, the satisfaction, that comes from working hard, and they would feel proud and happy too, no matter how we might all struggle. It's a "you-and-me-against-the-world" camraderie I've always yearned for in my relationships; I love to be on a team, a mushy team with credos and ideals and common goals, even when we come in last place. I love the process, the journey, the always being prepared, together. I would have signed up for Brownies or Scouts, but my mother said they made her puke.

I guess when I started my own family I made the same mistake so many parents make, assuming I'd have Mini Mes, kids who would similarly enjoy the process to struggle, conquer, overcome, revel in that success... I never stopped to consider that my kids would have anything in common with my own parents. I don't know why not -- I certainly always identified with my own grandparents, who often took over the parenting roles my mother and father didn't play.

It feels like a cruel twist of fate sometimes when I do battle against my kids to give them what they need, and when I have no other choice but to fight against them for their own sakes. I long for them to be on my team, but we certainly don't have any rah-rah team spirit yet around our house. I think rooster would have the same puke reaction to Scouts as my mom (the mom of the olden days; un the end, my mom grew up quite nicely, around the time I graduated college. Today she could practically be a Scout Leader. Who knew?)

Never ever for a single solitary instance do I regret having babies, these babies. They are hard, one clearly much harder than the other, but I love them in equal measures with every breath I breathe. The love is the biggest thing in our house, no matter how much hurt comes too. The love comes from all four of us, just in different ways.

But it sure isn't how I pictured. I guess I wanted to give my babies the childhood I did not have, and that maybe I selfishly hoped I could taste a slice of what I missed on my first go-round. I knew I would not put my children through the worst apsects of my own upbringing: hostility, rage, inconsistency, desperation, greed, yelling, screaming. It never occured to me that no matter what parenting I might do, that these things might find our way into our family by way of a suffering child. (Maybe I should have thought of my own parents as suffering children and it might have helped. I just didn't have the perspective -- I was, after all -- a baby, a child, too.)

My long-time dear friend, C, grew up in the family I wanted. They spent their weekends painting the house together, they played board games in the dining room, shared clothes, helped each other bake cookies. They were not perfect, they just liked each other's company from the word go. It was as simple as that. C's dad invited me to join in their family outings, where I stuck out like a sore thumb, but loved every minute of the hikes, treks, trips I stunk at. C's dad listened to my family angst and cautioned me not to wish my life away, and to be careful what I wished for. I hear his voice in my head when I remember how I wished to have babies, knowing that the deities would never let me have any easy kids, but believing that we could just work really hard and overcome anything.

Slowly I am learning that when my child rages, when it comes from his complicated suffering, I can try to help him find his way, but that I can not simply make it go away with super human effort. Sometimes the only effort that helps even a drop is the effort I make to be patient.

We do make steps forward once in a while, and things are improving in some regards. We are not entirely stuck. I love Peaches and my rooster with all of my heart, even though the family of my childhood dreams still looks like a fantasy.


redheadmomma said...

What a great post. It really made me pause. I think I'd say that with my own kids, they're constantly evolving, and I don't know where they're going next. So don't give up on the team aspect, something that you missed in your own childhood - I bet you'll find it in time.

gretchen said...

I think those dieties you speak of have a wicked sense of humor. No matter what we expect, they throw something different at us. And the biggest lesson of motherhood for me has been that these kids MIGHT NOT BE LIKE ME. I don't know that I'll ever totally accept that.

Niksmom said...

Interesting post. I think all parents go through some variation of the "I'll do it differently" dance. We also struggle with accepting that our children may NOT be like us in spite of our fiercest desires that it be so.

The gifts come when we are able to let go of the expectations and see the wonders unfolding in front of us.