I have a bowl of “Angel Cards”: cards with inspirational words. The premise is that we all have angels watching over us, and they will guide our hand to the card we need that day. I don’t know if that part is true or not, but I do know that whatever word I pull out is usually a word that provides inspiration in that day. Often, the word leads me to insights, many of which I hope have changed my life for the better this past year.
Yesterday, my word was Freedom. If my recall is correct, which it might not be, this is the first time I’ve ever pulled this card. I spent the day, and the night, befuddled by this word. There is so much I am not free of as I say goodbye to 2015 – my ex, our business, our house, my cancer, my diseased lungs and immune system, my fear over what is to come, my grief over what I have lost. What could that mean, to have Freedom? I spent the night as I have the past 25 years – watching my children and the rest of the world ring in a new year with joy and hope, celebrating with family and friends, while I sat, waiting for the noise to quiet down, feeling alone and tired. There was nothing “freeing” about it.
During the past week. something happened that perhaps holds the answer. My 19 year old son shared dinner alone, after another knock-down, drag out fight with my 14 year old over schoolwork. As has become my youngest’s go-to phrase he screamed at me “I’m going to live with dad”.
Before I say what I’m about to say, I’d like to be clear that I adore my children. They are good boys, they have brought me tremendous joy, and I can’t imagine my life without them. Quite frankly, though, when he says “I’m going to live with dad” there is a part of me that wants to shout back “go!!! I could use a break”. I never do, and I hope I never will, but there are times I envision my life without them, and it’s pretty good.
That night, I asked my 19 year old why it has been so difficult for me to get all of them to take school seriously. Why have I had to harass each of them, check all of their homework, nag, threaten, and punish them to take care of their basic responsibilities? I hear from other parents that their children take school so seriously they get stressed about getting their work done. All of mine, though, couldn’t care any less about assignments, tests and grades. I was particularly curious to get his take on the issue, because I had followed the advice of others and left him alone through high school. As a result, he ended up at one of the lower end state schools and feels like a fish out of water, because he has no intellectual peers there. He’s transferring out next year, and he seems to have learned his lesson, in that he now does his work and gets mostly A’s in the hardest classes. I asked him why this was such a struggle for us, and he gave me the 1st possibly accurate explanation I’ve ever heard. He said that in most families children do a lot of things they don’t want to do. Not only do most do more chores then mine, but they also do more family oriented activities. They go to the mall together on the weekends, they have extended family dinners and events on occasions other then holidays, they have family leaf blowing weekends, they take vacations together, they operate as a unit, moving and flowing together. In doing that, children learn that while they might be annoyed at having to do some things, there is a pay-off. They have the sense of love, belonging and security that comes with those forced family activities. While they engage in those things they didn’t want to do, they learn that to get to the good stuff, you have to wade through the trying stuff, the stuff you’d rather not do. They learn that there is always a price to be paid and, more importantly, paying that price (i.e. homework, studying) leads to a pay-off.
When he saw the tears welling up in my eyes he assured me that he had a good childhood, as did his brothers, and they were all okay and would be okay, our family was just different.
As I look back over his words I realize that I have spent my children’s childhood, as well as my past 25 years, waiting. I’ve been waiting for those moments when we are a “regular” family. I’ve been waiting for those times that my ex was a true husband, an actual father, a real member of our family. Any of you familiar with love bombing might understand why I waited so long. I’d get intermittent reinforcement. Every once in a while he’d step up and be a real partner. Those times that he was there for me and the boys were magical. They were always enough to tide me over through my next period of waiting. As with any narcissist, he could sense when he was about to lose me and he’d bomb me again, beginning with the “make-up”, during which he’d make a dramatic entrance, most likely after having left a girlfriend, and he’s declare how things were going to be better. In an ironic twist, I clearly remember now what his actual words were during those moments. He would say, after apologizing for being “difficult”,“I know you love me”. It is only now, pathetically, that I understand the magnitude of these words. Even in his proclamation of being a better husband and father, he was saying it was up to me to love him enough to keep our marriage together. If you are a Star War’s fan, what he did was the same as Han, as he’s about to be frozen and Leia says “I love you, and Han responds “I know”. Remember how we all cringed at that? Yup; that was each of his “apologies”.
What does any of this have to do with Freedom? I realized that as the year grew to an end I have found myself increasingly willing to give up waiting. I understand intellectually, and now feel emotionally, that no amount of waiting will salvage our family. In December I made the promise to myself to stop waiting for everything I’ve yearned for – a “real” family, a decent husband, an apology, honesty, love, respect, fair play. Even simple household maintenance is no longer something I can wait for him to do. I am free of waiting.
I know a woman who has raised two children alone for many years. They have a dad, but from what I understand he is much like my ex; just not available, certainly not interested. She and her children are extremely close, so close in fact that at first I thought it was a bit creepy. As I’ve watched them, though (granted, on FB where we all put on our best face) I realize how she created such a close knit family: She Never Waited. She knew from the minute her ex left that it was up to her to make a family with what was left. Hell, she might have known that before he left, I don’t know. Her’s is the family I want. She and her children (19 & 17) spend New Year’s Eve together. They have family dinner every night. They are enmeshed in a way that I no longer believe to be pathological; I now understand they are enmeshed as families are supposed to be. The family provides the strength to each individual to go out and face the world. The family is the home base, the citadel for which each can return after bad days. The family enables each member to try, make mistakes, work hard and reap the benefits.
As I start 2016 I am doing so Free From Waiting. It is up to me now to make my family what it should have been. It is up to me to build the citadel that will insulate us all from some of the harsher realities of our life. It is up to me to reinforce our bonds and build that family shield around us; that protective wall that says to the world “don’t mess with us; we’re too strong for that”. Unfortunately for them, I now see that part of that process will be family chores. Fortunately, it will also involve family dinners, family game nights, family shopping trips, family vacations.
Starting today though, it’s family chores. Bummer for them; sweet for me!
Freedom from Waiting in 2016.