As a child, I preferred the small space. I spent a lot of my childhood alone despite a neighborhood filled with kids, a municipal park with a pool right across the street and two older sisters. I played soccer in 5th grade but then I joined the swim team at the community pool. Swimming is a solitary sport. Most kids either played soccer, Khoury league or optimist football. The girls played softball. The boys played baseball. I didn’t really want to play softball but I wanted a group of friends. My mom nixed that idea. I think she didn’t like the other parents. I was on the synchronized swim team but none of the girls went to my school. And you can’t really talked when you are under water.
So, I was an avid reader as a child, easily falling into books. My great rebellion was to go to the public library and check out books that were far beyond my 12 year old knowledge base. While the other girls were sneaking and reading Judy Blume’s Forever, I was reading Harold Robbins or Stephen King. At the end of 6th grade, I was given a pop quiz in front of my peers by the most popular boy. He goaded and mocked me to tell him the “bases”. And he wanted more than the base name. He wanted to know what it meant, how it was done and if it had been done to me. I hadn’t even gotten a peck on the lips at this point. I knew the technical aspects of French kissing, but I had no clue as to how or WHY people did it. Forget third and fourth base. Clueless. I never forgave this boy for the humiliation. In retrospect, had I been bold enough, I would have called his bluff and made him educate us all. It was an early lesson in offensive tactics with the opposite sex. But back then, I was a prude. I was as far from being a girly girl as you could get. I wasn’t the girl in the class any one of the boys wanted to go steady with. But I did have some of the best, most coveted “boy toys” on the block. I had a fantastic metal push pedal car. I had a crazy wheel. I CRIED when my mom put the crazy wheel to the curb for the garbage men to take. She said it was broken. Then some woman in a blue sedan pulled up to the side of the mail box and TOOK the crazy car. I was inconsolable. My mom kept saying, “But its broken. It’s trash.” I was unconvinced. I also had toy submachine guns; Santa Clause brought them several years in a row. They made noise and sparks came out the tip. All the boys on the block wanted to play with it. They didn’t really want to play with me, though. It was an early lesson in the bartering we do for acceptance. And as expected, the bartering didn’t get me much except a lost toy machine gun that was buried in the tot lot at the park, lost forever. I got punished by my dad for “losing” the toy. What a confusing message. They were always fussing about how we should share. Then, when I share and the other kid screws up…..I get knocked.
So, my observations of the adult world prompted my gathering of knowledge. It was my response to how illogical their world seemed. I did not have known at 12 that my parents were discontent in their marriage…put something wasn’t right. It wasn’t a happy home. There was no laughter or affection like the loud, messy family next door. I knew THAT family was different than mine….and I envied it. When I was 37 and and my parents divorced, I knew the point of origin was long past on some very distant horizon. I can see snippets of my mother’s face and hear her tone of voice. I see my father sitting numbly in his chair on Sunday afternoons. He watched football and drank beer in a can. She did housework. Their roles seemed easily divided and negotiated. It was an uneasy space, an unhappy space. They never fought. They never really touched. They had their mission (The Family and you kids) but it seemed like monotonous drudgery. And somewhere around 1976…..things started to shift. My mom joined the Catholic church. My dad bought a boat and vanished into the Florida Keys many weekends, usually without my mother or any of us. It was how they coped. And it was for what? The appearance? And plenty of kids’ had divorcing parents….but we were somehow better because our parents were still together. What was the point? They were supremely unhappy and stayed together for 44 years. The last 25 years were some shared truce meant serve the family. I wonder….I pay a therapist to listen, too…..how different I may have been had my parents had the guts to call it when I was 15. I KNOW the reality would have been a stinking, psychotic mess. I was in 10th grade. Not my best year socially. And so, we all spackled over the fissures and the cracks and kept moving. How things looked mattered immensely.
Bravery is having the courage to listen to your heart, know yourself and to act upon that knowledge. While being true to yourself may mean people around you disagree and judge…eventually, life and our hearts demand restitution. At 15, had my parents’ marriage fallen apart, I likely would have blamed myself. I probably would have fallen apart in a very public way. Instead, I soldiered on and kept the falling apart private and (I think) concealed. But now, at 44….I think the 25 years they spent “staying together” for us kids meant they squandering much of their lives. And I think it is partly my fault. My mess trumped.
Bad shit happens. We hate the mess. We hate the scandal. We care too much how others will talk. And so, we fake a reality that pleases them? For what end? My real hope for my own sons, is to show them I am real. True, I am messy. I am not infallible. I may make mistakes. I accept the consequences. I solve my problems. I will ask for help. I admit when I am incapable or incompetent. It ain’t always pretty. They may not feel secure. Its OK…I don’t always either. I am honest. And I am trying to figure it out. What promotes security and assurance in a child’s development: a childhood with all the appearances and structure of a “happy” family that crumbles apart when they are adults…..or a family that comes apart when they are kids? What I am certain of is that I love my kids AND I love myself. They are not mutually exclusive options. I want my sons to know themselves. I want them to be unapologetic about their choices, path and character. I want them to feel free to change and to grow. And I want them to know that the first step towards truly loving others is to love and accept yourself. And they have to be brave enough to get messy. Life is messy….a glorious, chaotic, bloody mess. It is complex and complicated. It is not linear, neat, simple or easy.