Friday, June 13, 2014

Talking About Grown Kids

Several months ago I asked my friends and family on Facebook what they thought I should talk about via my blog. My sister in law posted “grown kids!” A request made weeks before her youngest child, who had survived his older sister by twenty years, died of a heroin overdose. Yesterday, along with a picture of her son and daughters graves, she E mailed “This is what my life with kids is reduced to...tending grave sites. I can't stand it.” 
I’m going to write about grown kids, for my sister in law. Who will be tending the graves of her only children until her death. Who will face every mother’s day, every holiday, and her children’s birthdays with nothing but memories of them, and gravesites. I will write about grown kids because “there but for the grace of God go I”.   

Grown Kids 

People with little kids don’t know how those of us with grown kids are watching them. Watching them try so hard. Believing they have answers their own parents and their friends parents didn’t. Believing their kids won’t be drug addicted because mom is going to be home and not working, or working and not home. Because they are going to home school. Because they, unlike us, understand that you can’t spank or you have to spank or you need to let kids have a voice or kids need to be seen and not heard. Parents of children not yet grown are always going to do it better than we did.  

No they’re not.  
There are reasons why the person who is in and out of jail has a sibling who’s a healthy functioning adult. Because children are people to. They are individuals. They are affected by their peers, their teachers, strangers, neighbors, television, books, and most of all by their perceptions of the world around them.  

There is only so much a parent contributes to the life of a grown child.  

The parent of young children who is determined to not parent the way their parents did, has no idea how their children will respond to that. They decide to live in the same house in the same neighborhood for the duration of their child’s schooling because they moved around a lot growing up. Unbeknownst to them their child would have been better off in a different city in a different kind of school.  

I’m largely convinced that one of my daughters would have been better off had I not moved out of the low income school district we lived in when she was very young. She was at the top of the heap in that hood. With the nicest home, the nicest clothes, and parents who supervised her. It made her special. She needed to be special. We moved to a much “better” neighborhood when she was in fourth grade. One where less than 10% of the school received free lunch as opposed to the 80% at her prior school. In that neighborhood she felt “less than”. Everyone else’s houses were nicer, clothes were nicer, they’re mothers didn’t work, and they took trips to exotic places on school break. She spent the rest of her school years trying to live up to her peers and in her opinion, failing miserably. Go fucking figure.  

The things I thought I was doing right when my kids were little turned out to be either totally wrong or not that important to them in the long run. Neither of them followed my lead in regards to exercise, no cigarettes and healthy diets. Something I believed was incredibly important to their overall development and would carry them into adulthood. I might as well have just fed them hot dogs for dinner every night and chain smoked.

My husband and his ex-wife DID feed one of their son’s hot dogs with mac and cheese for dinner every night. It’s all the kid wanted and they allowed it, making a separate meal for the rest of the family. I’d have thought they were nuts and never ever allowed it. Today that kid is an uber fit sports competitor and healthy eater. Go fucking figure.  

There is only so much a parent contributes to the life of a grown child. 

I’m not absolving abusive or neglectful parents. I spent many career years trying to repair the damage parents can do. I’m not writing about those grown children. The ones whose parents were so bad they deeply scarred them in ways that other people can’t fathom. I’m writing about all the others.  

Over the years I’ve developed a theory. The theory: there are two types of parents. The really bad ones and all the rest. I have never known a parent, professionally or personally, that I would say is “the one”. The one that all parents should model themselves after. The reason I’ve never met them? It’s simple. The perfect parent for one child is not the perfect parent for another.  

I was the “put your oxygen mask on yourself first” mother.  Among many things it meant that when I realized my marriage was bad for “me” I left. One of my daughters barely noticed, other than how it affected things important to her. Like not being able to afford cable television. I can say with 95% confidence that her parents’ divorce did not affect her development in any direction. The other was absolutely devastated. For nearly a year after the divorce she carved broken hearts into walls and furniture. If she wasn’t carving she was tearing family pictures up. She didn’t smile for a long time.  

Had I known then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have left. Would staying have made her adult life any easier or better? I don’t know. Now days she can’t even imagine her father and I together. Seeing us for the people we are instead of just her parents.  

Those of us with grown kids spend a lot of time questioning our parenting then and now. I would suggest we stop that. It’s too late to change anything. Our “kids” are no longer kids. They are grownups. They have the same amount of responsibility for themselves that we do. They are not simply products of our parenting. They are products of a ginormous universe. A universe that includes DNA. A universe that with any luck, they will live in without us someday. They will make their way as best they can just like everyone else in the world does. Just like we do.  

Your adult child’s life will become what they make of it, not what you make of it. So give yourself a break.





Monday, June 9, 2014

Creating Your Life: Suburbs and Marriage

I hate the suburbs. At least the suburbs of Arizona. It’s difficult to find anywhere blander than a gated community in Gilbert/Mesa/Ahwatukee/Glendale Arizona. The houses are so close to identical it took me a year to find which street was mine without conscious effort.  If you’re a stalker trying to find my house let me tell you where I live. I live in a beige house in a beige neighborhood a couple miles from a strip mall. Good luck with that.
I like to walk, and you can walk in the suburbs. There are pathways and wide sidewalks. It’s safe. And like a lot of safe things it’s exceptionally dull. You can walk but where can you go? There’s nothing to see on the next block or the next mile that you aren’t seeing on the first one. That is not a symbolic statement. It’s literal.
I can walk to a Starbucks of course. I mean who can’t? If you live in China I’m pretty sure you can walk to a Starbucks. If you live in Seattle you can crawl to one. There is also a nail place, a Gymboree, a Jack in the Box, another nail place, a Panda Express and a Target.
Picture me rolling my eyes while making the universal “gag me” sign.
The worst thing about the suburbs is how lonely they are. I tell my family I’m starting a front porch revolution. I sit out on the front porch drinking coffee in the morning or drinking wine at night just hoping to see something. Anything. Over coffee I see people drive out of their garages and over wine I see them drive back in and shut the door. It confounds me to some degree. Isn’t anyone else bored or lonely? Doesn’t anyone else want to share stories on a porch and watch kids play in the street?
A couple of the neighbors have felt obligated (by sheer force of my will and smile) to come close to the porch and say hi. Later, as they come and go from their garages, they pointedly avoid eye contact.  Last week my husband and I stayed with a friend in Portland Oregon who lived in a real neighborhood. The neighbors talk to each other and have poker parties. She’s a new widow and just before we left one of her neighbors came over to say “hi”. They all check on her. The twin six year olds come tell her all about their day and she tutored their dad in math.
Is it me? Maybe I should brush my hair more often.
I’ve tried to create a neighborhood in our home. I invite people all the time. I encourage them to stay for days and even weeks. I’ve made one side of our home a virtual guest house, stocked with mini shampoos, magazines, and a separate TV for guests. I have stacks of towels sitting out by the pool and a full bar. If I can’t go to the neighborhood maybe it will come to me.
I’ve had a measure of success with my creation. Our home is the place for people to come. It’s full fairly often. A pale shade of what I really want. To live where there is color and vibrancy. To see some dreadlocks and/or purple hair at the independent coffee shop I walked to in my neighborhood. To never see an Applebee’s again.
In middle age I think a lot about the life I’ve created. How close is it to the one I want? Am I making too many compromises or not enough? Have I become lazy or apathetic? I’m not entirely sure what it says about me, that I live in the burbs, hate them, and do it anyway. Although in large part it says I’m married, and I want my husband to be happy to; and he loves the burbs. It’s his world. Everything all lined up in order, the HOA making sure no one builds metal sculptures in their yard or covers their house in seashells.  Nothing wrong with that. It’s his thing and we’re not the same person. I like metal sculptures and houses covered in seashells.
My husband isn’t forcing me to live in the burbs. If I made it a big enough deal he would live where I want to live. He’d do his best to ignore the homes where the weeds are prolific or the owners are “creative”. He’d tolerate my love for the murals he thinks are ghetto. He’d even suck up the extra hour to work it would take him. He wants me to be happy to. 
In creating the life I want I’m creating a life with another person. That means I don’t’ always get what I want. Which means defining where not getting what I want is okay and where it’s not okay.
I love my husband
I want us both to be happy
I hate the fucking suburbs
I love my marriage
Stay tuned