I genuinely like the humans I created. I’m not sure that’s a goal of most parents when they have their first kid. If most people experience what I did, that was the furthest thing from the forefront of my mind. I was terrified of the commitment to this little human being, the length of time I’d be responsible for his care, whether I could keep him alive until he was old enough to do that for himself when I didn’t yet know I could keep myself alive long enough to raise him. And then we settled into a rhythm, the ebb and flow of life, surfing the tidal wave at times and serenely floating along a lazy river.
The vast majority of the time that I was raising my kids, I was under such a high level of stress over one thing or another. Money was the most frequent stress but there was a ridiculously toxic and dysfunctional relationship, one parent completed suicide, injuries requiring stitches and staples and tetanus shots and casts, moving across the state and moving across the country and moving back across the country, work, school, my grandma’s final years of life, sports in rural Eastern WA (which meant sometimes traveling 150+ miles round trip, sometimes 300+), school projects and kids forgetting they needed special supplies (the night before, in small town USA, with extremely limited options, only to remember at 5:30pm at after-school care pick up), a teenager leaving (running away, being kicked out, or just leaving and all of the above are true) and turning to drugs and doing petty crime and going to jail off and who has/had pretty severe depression. Most of the time I was just trying to survive, to keep myself alive, and to keep my kids alive.
I absolutely tried to intentionally instill positive values and morals and present them with as much opportunity as I had access to and tried to introduce them to things I never had or had limited access to. I kept drugs and druggies out of their lives. I tried to be the parent who they could turn to when they were in trouble, the parent they wanted to talk to about the difficult stuff, the parent they could count on. I tried to instill in them a sense of belonging, belonging to me and their dads (not in an ownership kind of way, in the way that grounds a person and lets them know they always have a home and their people), belonging in the spaces they occupied (even as I had no idea how to foster that for myself), belonging to themselves (here, I mean ownership). I wanted them to always be safe and I did keep them safe from so many things that had happened to me at some point. As a result, I broke two multi-generational family patterns. I raised two kids who were not sexually assaulted as children and both of my kids are over 21 and still haven’t parented children (my grandma was 17 years 3 months old when my mom was born, my mom 20 years and about 6 weeks, I was 20 years 7 months).
My hopes were to raise two kids who had resilience, confidence, were happy, kind, generous humans who would love and be loved, treat other humans with kindness and respect, approach the world with love in their hearts and a curiosity in their souls. And I did what I could to foster that. And there were many many many ways in which I missed the mark, where I failed, and sometimes failed miserably and in ways new to me. Even in trying to make change, create something new, interrupt family patterns, new dysfunctions are introduced. Some created by me, some by others. Because of that, my kids have as much or more things they’ll have to work through as they go through their lives, some things will always be a presence in their lives that gives me pain for them now and their future selves. But through it all, I hoped that I was creating a new family dynamic, a new way of being but I didn’t know how to create or build.
Without getting too deep into my own childhood, I’ll say some of it was pure magic and some pure trauma. I was deeply deeply loved by my family. At least that’s what I felt until I was 10. Much of my childhood was hard at home or at school. I attended 12 different schools in 10 years and was the one (or felt like the one) Black kid in a sea of whiteness until I moved to a school on an Indian reservation; then I was just one of the many brown kids. We moved when I was 10 which was instrumental in my anger and grief and my changes in behavior for years. And poverty was the huge theme of my childhood. In fact, from as young as 7 or 8, I started telling myself that when I had kids, they’d ALWAYS have store bought 2% milk. Not that government milk, not powdered milk, creamy, delicious, real milk we didn’t have to mix up that was always too watery, too funky tasting, and never cold enough no matter what you did to it – extra powder, a little bit of sugar, mixing it with the real milk, freezing. While not a regular thing, violence in my home was present and violence within my communities was common. That was my childhood.
When I learned I was pregnant with both of my kids, primarily my first, I vowed to do things differently for them and build something different for us. When I say I didn’t know and repeat that, it’s because I had absolutely no idea how to do much of what I knew needed to happen. I was literally throwing darts in the dark, not knowing which direction to aim. The only thing I could do was take data by observing others around me and do the one thing I knew was a positive step forward and not detrimental to my kids and I, school. I tuned out the external noise of much of the outside world at times in order o do what needed to be done.
Somehow, in all that messiness that is my life, I’ve raised two humans, kept them alive through to adulthood and I actually really like them. I love them both to the moon and back, to infinity and beyond, beyond the beyond, with every drop of blood in my body. They’re my kids after all. But, I LIKE them. I like talking with them. I like being around them. I love spending time with them. I miss them when we’re not together. I enjoy our conversations. I’m proud of the humans they are and are becoming. The missing them used to be so deep, it actually felt like my heart had been hollowed out, a deep deep pain. For my son, it was just pain and fear when he was no longer living at home. With my daughter that pain was a grief and a little terror, apprehension, pride, joy, excitement, relief, and freedom. She was walking a path that I hadn’t walked so I had little guidance to offer her. That hollow in my heart eventually shrunk, it’ll always be there a little bit but it’s not crippling anymore. I do, however, sleep better when we’re all under one roof. Still.
The humans I created seem to like me pretty well too. They tell me pretty much everything in their own ways. We can talk about absolutely everything, even when it’s uncomfortable, and often times do. I can talk with each one of them one-on-one or the three of us together and it’s pretty much the same, honest, open, sometimes uncomfortable conversation. I can tell them anything and they can tell me anything. We are our own little ecological unit. We’ve been through a lot and survived a lot together. We work to support one another – helping each other move, being there for the big moments, helping out and lifting up when and where we can. My kids are the first people I turn to when I’m scared, stressed, sad, mad, whatever and I am usually the first they turn to when they are going through the shit. I’ve grown up in different ways raising them both and they’ve grown up while being raised by me.
I don’t know if or when I’ll have grandkids. I hope it isn’t for a while because I really like my kids as adults and would like to spend more time with them before they become parents themselves. And I think they need a bit more time to lay their life foundations. I hope they’ll both come home at least half the time (I’m willing to share with their in-laws as that happens) for major holidays, that I’ll be able to see them from time to time on theirs or my birthdays, that we can take vacations here and there together as a family. I hope to spend more time with each of them individually, with their significant others, and the three of us together, and all of us together as our family grows and changes.
So, I guess I’ve broken another family pattern. I like my kids and they like me. There’s been a weird thing about the mothers in my family and their children for generations – since at least my great-great-grandma and great-grandma’s relationship. A lot of animosity, resentment, anger, broken relationships. The relationship I have with my kids is the brightest spot in my life, my North Star. It’s magical. I really cannot think of a more pure or sacred relationship than that between parent and child. And as hard as our struggles have been, I’m thankful I have these humans in my life. I’m glad we survived.