Thursday, November 22, 2012

Changing the Family Tree

Little G and I were talking about her best friend the other day, and about T's parents. As we were talking, I thought about the friends she has, and the families she sees the most often, compared to what I grew up with.

T's parents have been married a little longer than My G and I have. They're fun, caring, welcoming people who seem to like my little girl nearly as much as I do. I love having T over to our house, too.

Little G also has friends R and B and E-- they, too, all have have families where Mom and Dad have been married for a long time, are committed to each other and to family, and who are raising their girls to be terrific people.

Then I thought a little bit more about my friends. I've been very blessed to have the most amazing friends, many of them for 20-25 years or more.

J and J have been married for 16 years. I know a lot of what they've fought through to get to this point. They are wonderfully committed, funny, loving, and they are determined to give their kids a good life and to raise respectful, thoughtful kids.

K and D have been married since she was a baby. No, really, they met in high school and they've been married for 20 years and together for (I think) 24. Their kids are super-smart, funny, caring, and individual.  I love this whole family.

R and N have been married for 22 years. Their son, C, is expected to be respectful and to be independent.  He's had some "stuff" to overcome, as have they, but no one in that family takes it as an excuse to give up. In so many ways, they are our Army Rock.

As we grew up, many of these same friends had few to no examples close to them of happy, healthy marriages or families. There were issues of divorce, abuse, trauma, and worse.

Little by little, we are surrounding our kids with examples of marriages and families that have what it takes to stay together. My G's parents have been married for 44 years, and his grandparents were married for 60+.  My own paternal grandparents were married for (I think) 50+ years, but the best and closest example I had near to me of a healthy marriage was in the family for whom I babysat.

Little G's family tree will look different from mine.  Sure, we share many of the limbs, but hers has a chance to keep those broken parts from splintering. Her family tree, and that of her friends, could create a forest. My G and I grew up during the divorce epidemic of the I'm seeing hope that we might be turning this around. And Big G and I are part of it.

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for that.

Monday, November 12, 2012

That Person's Gone

Yesterday was Veteran's Day, traditionally the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.  Also called Armistice Day, we honor our troops and our veterans and say 'thank you' for their sacrifice.  I love seeing my Facebook newsfeed filled with "I am thankful for our vets," and Youtube videos of the Star-Spangled Banner (which still makes me tear up) and flag-filled photos.

But I also want to call attention to something.  In theory, we know the sacrifices these men and women make.  In theory, we look at images of vets who have had to completely learn how to walk again, and we say we "understand".  We see vets and current Soldiers who tell us they don't sleep, or they are learning to control a hair-trigger temper, and we say we support them.

In theory.

Do we really get it, though?  Do we really?

Sitting with a friend and his little girl, we start talking about the work he is doing to help vets around our area.  He talks about how it is, to come home totally changed.  "The person I was before Iraq-- that person's gone.  He's not ever coming back."  He looks at his daughter and I realize she has no idea who her father used to be, how he might have been.  He has two other children, who are older and who probably knew both the "before" and "after" story of this man. Yet, he is one of the lucky ones, with family to support him and a determination to hold on.

We have a family friend who has gotten a recent cancer diagnosis.  Is it something caused by the burn pits overseas?  No way to know, right now.  It took decades for us to admit that Agent Orange might have forever damaged our Vietnam vets and I am certain it will take at least that long to admit we're making our own troops sick.

There are changes within our own family, too.  Concentration is much more difficult, and some things either take a little longer or they just don't happen.  Movie night together on the couch is a thing of the past. We are very fortunate.  He is healthy, we are happy, and we have had these days together.  But we both realize he's not 100% the same man he was before he deployed the first time, let along the second and third times.

That person's gone.  Not totally, not irrevocably, but there are things that aren't coming back and there are adjustments that are permanent.

The best way to take care of and care for our troops is to make sure that they aren't going to return home and be afraid for their jobs. We need to protect their healthcare and the services they have paid for so dearly. We need to let them know that their service is appreciated beyond just pretty words and yellow ribbons on posters.  We need to know that their story doesn't end the day they are finally able to come home.

Sweet Gabby, thank YOU.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

This Is For You

This is for you, sitting at the table with your spouse while your child screams bloody murder because you won’t give in.  You picked your battle.  You set the boundaries.  You won, and you understand that this is only the first of many but there will be sweet moments as well.  Good job.

I’ve been there, I know the looks across the dinner plates, wondering, “is this worth it?”  

Yes.  It will be.

This is for you, watching your child walk down the hall to their classroom every morning.  You know they can make it on their own but the sweet backward glances won’t last forever.  So you watch them.  Every step.

This is also for you, who drive your children to the door and give them a quick, air-blown kiss.  Your confidence in your child will help them stand strong.  Those sweet air kisses won’t last forever, either, so you cherish each one.  And you give them space.

This is for any parent who has cried over their children, desperately seeking answers.  Something feels wrong, something is hurting your child, and you aren’t sure where to turn.  You keep asking and calling and calling again—This is for you, who keep asking the hard questions of those who are supposed to help you when things seem impossible.

This is for any parent whose child seems like Super Kid.  Your battle is different, seeking to help your child achieve balance and define success in their own terms.  There are different pressures for you and yours, but there is still pressure.

This is for you, and you know who you are, as you daydream of a future where you can sit next to your ex at your child’s wedding.  The bitterness, the lack of communication, the stonewalling—over.  It will take a lot of work to get there, but you hold out hope even as you don’t settle for less than the best for your kids.

This is for you, Mom and Dad, who did it.  Despite the anger and the disappointment and the horrible sadness of a marriage lost, you were able to be at our wedding together.  And we saw nothing but smiles.

Parenthood is among the most difficult of jobs, because while we are in the moment we cannot see ahead to the results of our labor.  Will they learn?  Will things change?  Will the constant drip drip drip of love from us be enough? 

We think about those dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park,” that bumped against the electric wires, one by one, finding the weakest link until they escaped.  We know children are like that.  They test and they test and if they find a weak spot…they can go on the attack. 

Think, too, of the ultimate vulnerability of a newborn.  Eyes closed, defenseless and full of need, need, NEED.  Children are like this, too.  Soft and pliant, impressionable and growing. 

It can be so hard, sometimes, to decide which child we are dealing with.  Is it the defiant, dangerous dinosaur?  Or the needy, vulnerable newborn?  Or neither? 

And even as we raise our children, we do so with others.  The parent who is here, the parent who isn’t.  We deal as a team, or we struggle as foes. 

Each parent, each child has different battles to be fought and won.  Some will be lost, some will not even begin because you’ve carefully decided that this isn’t a battle to die for.  I’m not trying to imply that parenting is a war, or that there aren’t infinite rewards when it works.  Parenting is hard, though, no matter who your kid is.

The most important thing is that if we stand shoulder to shoulder, instead of pointed finger at pointed finger, we all succeed.