I wrote this one sentence at a time with as much as 30 minutes between sentences. (Sometimes as little as a few seconds.) It’s been that kind of day. The house is still chaotic due to my office and the boys’ playroom being flooded out. Toys, books, and folders everywhere. The boys haven’t been sleeping well due to illness and, I’m pretty sure, some sort of toddler union thing. We hosted 13 people for dinner the other night. Plus the boys’ great-great auntie passed away the other day. The house has not been the haven I like it to be. I don’t know who is whinier, me or them. Probably me.
This is a draft. It needs to be edited with a gentler eye…
One of the most painful final transitions into adulthood is having clear enough vision to see your parents as fully realized, flawed, whole human beings. I’m not talking about the almost-automatic rejection of authority that comes with puberty. This comes after, once the hormones have settled somewhat. It is a vision of parents-as-people that can be blurred and distorted by the constraints of the child-parent relationship and highly personalized memories of youth and the horrors we all suffered at the hands of parents who made us eat canned vegetables.
Once the haze of childhood clears (or blurs, or sharpens) enough, many of us are fortunate enough to blink and see, really see our parents. Like many, I’m thrilled and proud of what I see. Certainly enough to forgive them the many times they’ve given the Monkey Boys battery-powered Vroom Vroom Plinka Plinka toys that never stop chattering, singing, or mooing.
That clarity, or at least perspective, also gives some glimpses that are less than wonderful, that stray far from any Norman Rockwell painting or Folger’s “It’s Jimmy!” commercials.
My parents moved here to Illinois from New Jersey about five years ago. The readjustments and tweaking to our relationships have been ongoing. Difficult at times. Often what feels one-sided. They are wonderful grandparents, and I am grateful for that.
My whole life, my parents, most notably my mother, have been do-ers. Givers. Volunteers. As we grew up, they were lauded and loved for all they did for everyone else…
What often happened, though, is that they sacrificed at the expense of family time. It’s hard to resent parents you are proud of. It comes out in weird ways. My siblings and I saw my mom working long hours at her job and then squeezing in another 8-10 hours a day volunteering for groups she increasingly resented. There was definitely scope-creep in her volunteering. It never was enough. For years, she would wake up at 3 or 4am to complete the responsibilities she took on…and took on…and took on.
Family suffered….but not as you’d think. My parents were there for us, at all of our activities, shows, graduations. They were tired, snappish at times, frayed. They have a “NO” problem.
Many lives have benefitted from their work. I know I am a better and more sensitive, (and also more cynical) human being.
My dear sweet mother, I have learned from my adult perspective, has no internal sense of okey-dokey ness. There is nothing in her that tells her she’s good enough. That what she does is enough. That she is enough. Not in a special snowflake way, but in a human BEING (not DOING) way.
She needs to hear that yes from outside her heart. Fortunately, those “yeses” for her come from positive sources, unlike many others who get the yes from more destructive places. Drugs, sex…depression.
As time goes on, though, those yeses cost. Time, energy, health (she’s been hospitalized for stress-related ailments three times and is now chronically ill), self-image, family structure. My siblings and I, instead of bonding together, learned to fend for ourselves in those days and evenings my folks were out working for others.
We all saw my mother’s exhaustion, her anger and resentment…expressed at the system, intended for her Self. She never left projects or committees until the committee disbanded. She “gives her word” and agrees to help things that are beyond her, that she doesn’t want to do. That she feels obligated to.
Her friendships felt much the same way. She never seemed to enjoy her friends, and certainly felt they kept score if she said she wasn’t up for commiserating. In reality, she was keeping her own score of her own activities. She created elaborate scripts and Choose-Your-Own Adventures, spending a lot of energy figuring out what XZY would say if Mom did ABC. It was F-ed up. Exhausting.
In many ways, her relationships are another external “Yes” for her. She’s established relationships with my friends and in-laws…relationships that make me uncomfortable…that make me feel left out…small and unheard. I’m working on that. Working through that.
I do the same thing.
I have few friends because it is hard for me to shake that mold, that friends are more a pain in the ass than a blessing. That you *have* to do certain things with friends a certain number of times a month…or they get upset. That they expect too much.
It’s wrong. I’m 38 and need more gal pals in my life. It’s been fun, actually, trying to grow some relationships. I know some damned fine women.
So I spend a lot of time thinking about the SFD. I do them. Pretty much every day. It makes me feel that I’m making a small dent in the planet, even if it’s just taking care of my more Creative Self.
I think, though, that there is something off about my posting what I do for other people. It seems self-serving. Obnoxious. A sad cry for someone else to affirm me with an appreciative “Yes.”
I will “Yes” myself. I will work my SFD more stealthily. Otherwise, I feel hollowed out, that I’m repeating mistakes for another generation. I get joy out of what I do. I am SFDing on a micro scale, usually. I never want to resent it. I never want to literally lose sleep over it.
One thing, one SFD, of course, will be to try to support my mother more. One other SFD will be to edit this essay, with a kinder eye and a more compassionate explanation of my parents.
Stay tuned for the edits.
I may share the more internal SFDs, but those geared towards others? That’ll be between me and them.
Unless it makes for a great story.