Redefining, Two Years Later.

It has been two years since I wrote Redefining.

I broke one of the cardinal rules in my family. I spoke openly about them, and not in glowing terms. I knew as I was writing it that it would not be well-received amongst my Mom’s family, but I wrote it anyway.

You see, I wrote it, like I do everything on this blog, for me. I shared it with the world, but I put those words to paper for me. I knew in publishing it that it would shred the last bonds that held me to the people that have done so much damage to me.

Their response was everything I expected it to be. And some even shocked me. But it was typical for them, gaslighting and meanness and the toxic attitudes I grew up in.

Those responses proved me right, that I had to, at all costs, protect my girls. There was no one to stand up for me growing up, but I will not let my children share that same fate.  I have been driven, since I held Sprout for the first time, to give them a better life than the one I had.

In taking stock of things, I’ve realized how far I’ve come.

My excommunication from the family no longer stings. I don’t find myself staring at the phone, or wondering why no one calls. This is simply how things are, and after I burned every bridge back to my family down, I built a new Family. I have this hodge podge collection of friends and some blood family, who are amazing, supportive, caring people. The definition of what family is supposed to be is found there, not with my Mom’s family.

The girls have grown, and changed. Sprout no longer asks for the family she knew, but instead plays with her friends, and shares a bond so tight with her baby sister that you cannot get a piece of paper between them. There came a morning when I realized the girls had forgotten the pain of the past, and I took my cues from them. Go play in the sunshine and pick flowers; and let the memories of the past fade away like a bad dream. Pudge is 2 now, with blessedly no memory of anyone in the family that has caused any pain, or drama. They are true California girls now, growing tan and golden in the sun, with an entire mountain chain standing between them and my family.

I have built a small bridge with my Dad. I find myself calling him more, sending him pictures and letters more. I can see him now, not as the monster my Mother’s family cast him as, but as he is. Flawed, struggling with his own demons, but human, and someone who loves me very much. I see myself in the girls, and that means I see plenty of my Dad. There was a time when I would have hated that. But now? It’s a gift.

I am the better for all of this. Several times in the past two years, I have doubted my choices. I have considered writing letters, emails, making phone calls, and starting to repair some of the damage done. I still haven’t, and I’m the better for it. I’ve learned who to rely on, and who to consider fair-weather, and who to just let slip through my fingers and keep going. I’ve finally, at closer to 40 than I am to 30, learned to see toxic relationships for what they are, and walk away. If I had paid attention, and been willing to stand up for myself earlier, it wouldn’t have taken this long. But at least I learned it.

There is no one to explain myself to. I parent differently than I was raised, I educate my girls differently, I’ve made a 180 in many aspects of my life. And I don’t have to explain any of those choices. By putting so much distance, literal and metaphorical, between me and them, I have freed myself of the expectations, and freed my children of the same expectations. We can simply be who we are supposed to be, without having to explain ourselves to anyone.

It brought Hubs and I closer together. We spent so much time apart, those first years, that I had no idea how to be with him. He was always away, when the going got tough, and I always turned to my family, even as the family used what they learned during those hard times against me. I still had not learned to come to him, when I wrote Redefining, and for a few months, I was a little off-center. But now, I’ve learned his shoulders are strong enough to carry my problems, that he is brave enough to face off against my family, that he never backs down. The qualities that made him so attractive, when he was a soldier, are still there. He is oftentimes my shield, my hiding place, my safe harbor. He is the best father I could ask for, the best husband I could want.

Let me pause here, and say that I am sorry for any pain I have caused. I did not mean to then, and do not mean to now, cause intentional harm. But I also will not just play along with everything, and pretend that things are fine, when they are not. I do not lie to my girls, and I will not lie here. No one has made any effort to see what prompted Redefining, nor have they made any attempt to reach out to me (save one person); so I do not feel too bad about the uproar the post caused. But I am sorry for causing anyone pain.

There is peace being on the outside. Out here in the desert, it is calm, and quiet; I can raise my girls and live my life, and be happy. I think I’ll stay out here a little longer.

~Jennifer

 

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A Story

I want to tell you a story.

It is about a girl.

She was Rapunzel in a tower, except it wasn’t Mother Gothel keeping her there, but the weight of her family’s expectations. The goals they had set for her, the standards she was expected to meet.

There were times, when the wild spirit showed through. When she would disappear for a weekend and come home with memorabilia from artists in Austin. When she took off chasing thunderstorms across the Texas plains, and spent the night watching lighting storms in Oklahoma. When she went wandering into a club in Dallas, and learned that whips and chains were used for an entirely different purpose than what she had believed.

She dreamed dreams and made plans, different dreams and different plans than her family wanted. She slipped out from their thumbs to take pictures and pick flowers and watch movies and eat too much candy.

Her heart was broken. Her skin was bruised by a fist. She survived, and she was still wild.

But then, she met a soldier. She fell in love, into a safe, warm love, and suddenly found herself wanting all that she had said she did not.

She got married. They got pregnant.

And she settled down to a life of expectations. New expectations.

Good mothers do not go sky diving. Good mothers do not dye their hair pink, or blue.

A good soldier’s wife wears a dress without wrinkles. Her hair is perfect. She doesn’t have a pink stud in her nose.

Good mothers keep their house spotless, their children in perfect clothes. They put on makeup every day.

She smothered her dreams and hopes and wants in a layer of respectability. She learned to act the part, dress the part, almost be the part. But she was not a hot house orchid, carefully cultured and cultivated. She wilted like a wild flower in winter.

Listening to the opinions of others, she slid into roles she did not want. Said things she did not believe. She forgot the person she was, before, when she was new. She separated the part of her that created; that made blankets, took pictures, played music, from the rest of her. She surrendered to someone else’s idea of what a mother should be.

She locked herself back into a tower, this time of expectations of what she should be now. It was safe in the tower, it was what she knew. But it was stifling. She crumbled.

Her life came back to her in small pieces. Glimpses of the force of nature she had been. She picked up a camera again, dyed her hair pink, learned to play princess songs on her guitar.

And then… one night… in a shower so hot it turned her skin red and made her dizzy, she made a decision. It is better to be the person she is, than a Mother she is not. It is better to let her children run as wild as she did, without the weight of family. She could be the mother that let her children stay up late looking at stars, and still be a good mother.

She could have tattoos. She could have piercings. She could take too many pictures, play guitar too long, she did not have to do dishes before she went to bed. There was no harm in not folding the blankets perfect on the couch before she turned out the lights. It was more important to spend time with her family, than worrying about the cares of others.

To ignore the person she was, who she really was, when all the labels were stripped away, was doing her harm. And in doing herself harm, she was doing her family harm.

How does this story end??

I don’t know. Rapunzel came out of her tower and had a grand adventure with Flynn Rider.

It is time for me to come out of mine.

~Jennifer

Sick Day

It is not easy for me to take a day off.

My honeymoon, that first year of marriage where everything is sunshine and roses… wasn’t. Within months of getting married, Hubs was overseas on a deployment, and I was pregnant. Everything, every single detail of daily life, mundane or not, fell on my shoulders. To complicate matters, when we tossed out birth control, I did not think it would take us just a few weeks to get pregnant. But five days after I said goodbye, the lines on a pregnancy test turned pink.

Life has not slowed down since. I have lost two siblings to cancer, and taken on the care of my Mom, whose health has declined.

When the pregnancy test turned positive a second time, Hubs was finishing up his career in the Army, and we were planning a cross-country move. After we settled in the desert, I found myself homeschooling, making my own baby food, washing cloth diapers, doing it all again.

And then my health started to decline. Mood swings I could not explain, hot flashes, joint pain, and overwhelming fatigue. Nothing I tried made me feel better. I could not get enough sleep, could not get the house cool enough to be comfortable, even when my family shivered and ran for blankets in the middle of a hot summer.

All my passions, writing, photography, music, fell by the wayside. Weeks went by without me picking up my camera, I could not write even the simplest short story. My guitar sat alone in its case.

The doctor put everything together, and told me that I have Grave’s Disease. At first I was dumbfounded; I am never sick. The health problems that have plagued my family seemed to pass me by. It took days for me to really wrap my head around the idea that I was sick. And that no matter what treatment works, it will likely mean a lifetime of medicine.

But it meant something bigger than even medicine. It meant I had limits, and my body was at them. It meant that I could not stay up all night long, and then spend the day teaching Sprout, playing with Pudge, cleaning my house. It meant I needed to pay attention to my diet, lay off the caffeine, get more sleep.

I took some time to look for the lesson in this, what life is trying to teach me. It was a painful lesson, but one I needed to learn. I need to learn to take a sick day.