Ambiguous Loss

Who knew this baby would turn into such a weirdo!

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a strong family identity. I would do anything for my family, move across the country, drop everything I’m doing, and give them the shirt off my back. It sounds nice, except no one else in my immediate family shares this identity. Looking back, I wonder how I developed this strong family identity. When I was a kid, I asked my older sibling for a sweater that no longer fit them:

“No.” they said.
“But you can’t wear it. It literally does not fit you anymore.” I said.
“I know,” they said, “I just just don’t want you to have it.”

This is a good example of my family’s mentality. Don’t share, look out for yourself. Everyone will take what they can. This example was also repeated by my mother when I moved out for the first time and she wouldn’t let me take my bed. It’s now broken under a hundred pounds of fabric that she’ll use “someday”.

I moved to a neighboring state in my early 20’s, driving three hours round trip to see my parents once a month. They returned those visits twice in the four years I lived there. This theme continued for years, and I finally stopped asking if they’d visit. My parents and sibling don’t write, call, email, facebook or text me except on rare occasions. I once asked my mother how she would know if I was ok, and she said “One of your friends would contact us if something happened to you.” I recently told them (via email) that my partner and I are trying to get pregnant. My mother’s response was “What’s ‘IUI’?” and no one else replied. This non-reaction sent me over an emotional cliff that I didn’t even see coming. As a comparison: my partner’s parents showed excitement, wished us luck, and hope for more grandkids.

I’ve always managed to push down any disappointing family of origin behavior by reminding myself that as a child, you don’t pick your family and I know they love me (I do know this). But something is happening to me as I am, for the first time in my life, feeling like I am part of my own little family. I am finding it hard to accept my family of origin’s ambivalence about my existence. Do I want my kids to see that this is how families treat each other? I find myself wanting more from my family of origin. They don’t seem to care about my life, or want to get to know me as an adult. I’m lucky to have extended family members that fill that gap, and we make the effort to stay close (though I could do a better job there). But it doesn’t replace my parents; the very people who loved and breathed me into existence. As my friend recently said: “It is just difficult to understand how a parent’s profound love for their child doesn’t translate into action very often.”

So what now? It’s not as if I’ve been cut out of my family of origin. There’s no situation or event that I can point to, memorialize, or mourn. I can’t change them; I can only let myself grieve and try to heal in some way. I can be grateful and love my own family a little bit more. I can keep working to make our family strong and healthy and know that I’ll always be interested in who they are and where their lives may take them.

For Boston

Seems close, but we still only have the one stoplight.

I’m from Boston. Ok, I’m not from Boston. But if you grew up west of Pennsylvania, it’s just easier to say Boston rather than: “Just outside of Boston. About 45 minutes west. Have you heard of Hopkinton, where the Marathon starts? What about Framingham? Ok, well it’s right next to Framingham. No, I don’t have the accent.”

It just so happens that I took a loosely planned road trip with a friend from Minneapolis to pick up hir furniture in New Jersey (where ze is from) last week. With room in the trailer, we headed up to Massachusetts to get my drum set out of my parents’ house. We drove through Hopkinton to get there, and though we didn’t drive over the starting line of the marathon, we were very close – close enough to read all the signs store owners had placed in their windows for the runners.

The marathon falls on a state-specific holiday every year. Officially called Patriots’ Day, most locals call it Marathon Monday. My father ran the marathon nearly every year since I was a child until his Achilles heel injury in 2005. We would find a spot on the route, coordinate with extended family members about the time and place, make signs of encouragement, and bring snacks. The night before, we’d have a large spaghetti dinner so that my dad could carbo-load.

I can’t imagine that anyone reading this has not heard of the Boston Marathon bombings that occurred exactly one week ago. Feels like a lifetime. My friend and I were able to spend some time with my family-of-origin as we packed up some of my things on the Saturday before the Monday bombings. Several (agonizing) days of driving later, and we were home. I was setting up my drums in my basement Monday after lunch, listening to NPR, as the word came through that someone had bombed the finish line of the marathon. Of course there’s confusion at first, and denial that it’s as bad as they say it is. I was thinking “I was just there. I asked Dad if he was ever going to run it again. I was in Hopkinton two days ago.” I was glued to media outlets for the rest of the day week. All my family is fine, by the way.

It made me start to think about conversations with kids. No one talked to E about the bombings; she’s too young to notice and we left NPR off for the week. I realized that I feel mostly reactionary with kids. If they ask a question, I will answer it – or at least I’ll think about it and get back to them. But how do I bring up things that may come up for them? How do you help kids deal with potential danger while allowing them to be be kids while they can? After an extended Captain Planet marathon the other day, E asked me: “Are there like really real bad guys out there?” and I didn’t know how to answer that. Yes, there are. But they won’t be putting a force field around an island to heat it up; they’ll probably try to touch your genitals. Reality is a hard thing for me to wrap my own brain around sometimes. I can’t imagine a world where I’m not hypervigilant about danger. Balancing the weight of the good and evil in the world and making the best choices you can make each day; that’s all I’ve got. But how to explain this to a kid?

“The word is beautiful and shitty, kid. Learn to enjoy booze and your friends and you’ll make it just fine.” I guess that’s not going to make it into a kid’s book any time soon. Any tips on bringing up conversations with older kids? Can’t Mr. Rogers just raise our children for us?

Stay safe out there. #bostonstrong