Dear Dad…

I’m so sad tonight. I wish I could pick up the phone and call you up and tell you how I’m feeling and let all my frustrations out. You would probably listen awkwardly because I’m a woman and I’d be crying, and then you would tell me a story that hardly seems related, but somehow makes me feel better anyway. I would put down the phone feeling all cried out in the way you normally can only be when you’re by yourself, but in a good way, instead of this lonely aching feeling that I’m left with right now.

You never met R, so I don’t know how you would deal with his visual impairment or his and our frustration at his speech delays. For all I know, when it comes to his medical history, you would be just as unhelpful as my remaining parent, not knowing what to say or do to help, or how to be supportive in the way we need. But I do know for certain one thing, when it comes to his everyday life, you would be here.

You would take me to appointments when I needed the company, you would be phoning off the hook every day to see how we both are, you would hug me when the terrible two’s were driving me mad, or there wasn’t anything helpful left to say. I can’t imagine a day going by where you wouldn’t want to see us both, to hold your grandson, to sit with your daughter, and just while away the time with us both.

You would probably tell me that it’s her depression and the years of being alone, but you’ll have to excuse me for insisting that it is still not normal for a parent to not want to see their grandchildren. After almost three weeks of no contact, it is not normal for a parent to have to be bullied into spending some time with their daughter and grandchild. And yet that’s what happened today. And I don’t know why I bothered. After an hour and a half of sitting on my couch watching him while I played with him, a large portion of that spent with her eyes closed, she left. My mother hadn’t hugged him, kissed him, read to him, or even touched him. She hadn’t even moved from her spot on the couch to go down to his level and join a game.

It’s true- I might imagine you being here through the tragically rose coloured glasses of knowing you never will be again. But it’s not the fact that you’re gone that tells me you would hardly let R go if you had the chance, it’s just fact. Because somehow, with one parent who told me she had to ‘learn’ to hug me when I needed it, I still grew up affectionate and loving to my friends and family. Even though I’ve been told that I’m loved the least out of her children, I’ve somehow got a sense of self-worth and belief. And I didn’t give myself those things, you did.

So I know, with the certainty of really knowing a person, the way I’m coming to believe I never will know my own mother, that you would be cuddling and playing and singing with my little boy every chance you could get your hands on. You would call, probably too much, to find out how we are and to tell us you care. It wouldn’t be a chore, or something you needed to be reminded to do or argued into.

I don’t worry about R, the way I sometimes worry about myself. He has two parents that know how to make him feel loved and special. Thank God, he doesn’t need you in his life to make him feel supported and worth something.

Sadly however, I sometimes think that I still do.

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War, apparently.

Can anyone think of something more passive-aggressive than a parent secretly hiding  ice cream in her child’s freezer, and then not mentioning it, when they are both on a full on diet?

While I’m aware that this is more amusing than pure evil, suggestions for an appropriate retaliation would still be great.

Four’s a Crowd

Me and my mother don’t really argue any more. We have ‘near-fights’ instead. They are similar to how women generally argue, ie: it doesn’t seem like we’re fighting, but we are. Women can be smiling, laughing, talking in an un-serious tone, and yet be having a huge fight at the same time. It’s all about the subtext. So it is with the two of us. We’ve got really quite good at not ignoring each other, or storming off in a huff, or shouting in public any more. But we still say mean things, or start a controversial topic knowing it wont end well, or say things in a sing-song happy voice which we know will grate on the other’s nerves. All part of the process, we’ll get there eventually.

Today we had a ‘near-fight’ about something which I think people will have  opinions over. So I’m going to throw it into the public domain and see what I get back, even though I know some people may disagree with me.

While out and about running errands together, I mentioned what we’d done at the weekend. By we, I mean myself, my husband and our 1yo. We went fruit picking. I didn’t say anything else. My entire sentence was “We went fruit picking at the weekend.” I’m not sure what I expected as a response, maybe “That’s fun-where did you go?” or “How nice, what did you pick?” or “Did R enjoy it, was he old enough?” etc. Basically I was just starting a conversation, and sharing-as I’ve heard people do with their parents once they’ve left home and lost the teenage secretiveness. Maybe I wanted to tell her how we went home afterwards and made strawberry ice cream together, or how the blender woke up R in a frantic state and it took an hour to get him settled again.

I didn’t get to say any of the above however, because the response I got was so negative. “Oh…. I would have loved to go fruit picking.” 

What can I say to that? Should I have said I’m sorry? Should I have said “next time we’ll invite you along then”? Should I have ignored the comment entirely and just carried on with the ice cream part?

Obviously I did nothing like the above, I got irritated and asked why she would answer like that, (putting her on the frightened defensive) and told her how the 3 of us rarely get a chance to go out as a family together (making her feel excluded of course) and that it’s not like every time we go out the house I think how lovely it would be if my mother joined us (making her feel like I dislike her company) and gave her a list of answers she should have said instead (making her feel condescended to). Her response was “you have so many lovely outings, and I have nothing.”

I did all the wrong things, and by the time we parted company, things were stilted and awkward, and ‘near-fight-like’ and no progress had been made. But I don’t think I’m wrong for the underlying point. Surely it’s fine for C and I to take our son out for family day-trips or outings just the 3 of us, without worrying about her not being there? It’s not our responsibility to invite her along every time we’re doing something she might also enjoy.

It’s not that we don’t ever want our parents with us. We spend lots of time together, and I told her that it would be lovely if she thought of something fun to do, and she phoned us up during the week asking if we wanted to do that on the next available day we all had. (she never would.) But nevertheless, if we make a plan, and carry it through, and have some much needed ‘the three of us’ time, I’m not going to feel like I have to keep it a secret because anyone else may feel left out. Especially when it is something that can so easily be replicated again anyway.

I know that at some point in our lives, our parents are meant to stop looking after us, and we start looking out for them instead. For some, it starts earlier than others, and certainly some of the older generation have more of a ‘life’ than others and so need it less. But I think we can only take responsibility for them so far, even if we do empathise with their loneliness. If a person chooses not to ask for what they want, or not to find the means and drive to do the activities they enjoy, it’s not up to their children to do it all for them. And it certainly doesn’t seem fair to make your kids feel bad for having that ‘get up and go’ which they themselves lack.

The Loss of Something that Never Existed

What is it about our parents that make us regress to the most childish versions of ourselves? I’ve said before, that the main difference between friendship and family is the wise old truth, you cant choose your family. Character traits and faults which we would never put up with in a friend are forced upon us in siblings and parents, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Or is there? My mother and I have been in counselling for almost a year now. Some days it feels like we’ve made giant leaps towards a better understanding of each other, some days I wonder why we didnt do this years ago, and some days I can tangibly feel a hugely bright future for us as mother and daughter.

Today is not one of those days.

As I sit here thinking the last hour over, how it went from friendly to angry in two minutes flat, how we both went from conversational to irrational, and how smiles switched to tears and anger and slammed doors, I wonder how we will ever make it work. That primal relationship that so many of my friends take for granted, that most of us form in the first five seconds in this world, just doesnt exist for me, and I feel bereft and alone.

It’s not about talking everything through and walking in each others shoes any longer. We’ve tried that, and even with a newly gained perspective into each others actions and thoughts, we still end up back here. And each time I’m more angry with myself for letting it happen, and I feel like more of a failure as a daughter. And yes, I feel like she is more of a failure as a mother also.

The saddest part of it all, is that I actually think that despite all the talking and attempts to move forward, we are less close than we were before we began. We spend less time together, ostensibly so that we fight less, and I certainly feel less of an attachment than I once did. And as hard as it is to admit to myself, I just don’t want to sort it all out anywhere near as much as I did this time last year.

Because if I am really honest with myself, and I go to that place inside us all that we tend to ignore more often than not, I dont think I believe that things will ever be normal or okay between the two of us. How tragic that ‘okay’ is my goal in the first place. But even that mediocre ambition feels so far from my reach, that I’m not sure why we bother putting ourselves through all this pain time and time again.

All I know is, that with such an incredible community of friends, and such a stable and happy home to live in, I still want someone to look after me and out for me the way I try to for my own son. And I’m starting to realise that however far we manage to stagger, beaten and bruised when we get there, I will never have that from this relationship. I have my own home, my own husband and my own child, about as grown up as it gets. But as the tears splash on my keyboard, I do wish my dad was still here to give me a hug.

On Divorce, and All the Trimmings

I am what is known as the product of divorce. As melodramatic as that sounds, it just means I grew up with my parents in two separate homes. I wasn’t the victim of endless screaming matches and custody battles, although I believe there were both. I’m not scarred from being caught in the middle or being unduly spoiled or missing out on quality time, although I believe all those things have been true at one time or another. The truth is that the divorce and its trappings were over before I was old enough to remember that any of it was happening at all.

As a kid in primary school, we had a bit of a club. The divorced parents club. And it wasnt sparsely attended, lets put it that way. It never occured to me that it was something to be sad about, to lament in any way. Just as some people had rich parents, or some people had strict ones, some people had divorced ones. When I got to high school, and started visiting other friends houses, I suddenly realised for the first time that having a family structure was something worth having, something to be proud of,  and yet something I didn’t and couldn’t have.

Compared to others, I was lucky. My folks could bear to be in the same room together, could have a decent conversation which didn’t only include the times I was being dropped off or picked up, and much to the surprise of my fellow club members in primary school, could take me out for the day together, and we’d all have a really nice time. I nearly got my membership card revoked. In fact, while I never remember actively wishing they were together, it took me until age 14 to work out why they were even apart.

At that age, I started wondering for the first time why certain things were different for me, and tracing them back to the relationship between my parents, a thought I’d never even entertained before. In many ways, I felt like I had two different lives when I was with each of them. They even called me different names, something which I hadn’t and haven’t seen in any other ‘product of divorce’ then or since. My mum had her secrets I wasnt allowed to share with my dad, and although far more serious than the usual “dont tell your father how much these shoes cost” of a regular household, no one ever taught me to feel uncomfortable about hiding the truth, and so I started to keep my own secrets and lies. The arguing and ignoring was by no means constant, [as I said, they usually got on well] but when it came, it was harsh and brutal, putting me in a frightening place I didn’t want to be, perhaps all the harder for the unexpected and sporadic nature of their fighting.

I got on with life in 1 and a half houses, finding my own family and friends to escape to, reminding myself that one day I would have my own home to build the way I wanted to. That I had a choice to treat marriage and family with the sacred language and actions that I saw others doing seemingly effortlessly, everywhere I turned but home. But it took me until my year abroad after high school to accept and open up about these issues which I didn’t even really know were affecting me.

Since then, and after I lost my father in 2006, I no longer ever feel like the product of divorce. It got devastatingly overtaken by my new title, That girl who lost her dad at 19. Not coincidentally, the timing also fits with when I started dating my husband, and began building that home I always dreamed of.

Nowadays, I try and take whatever bad feeling is left about my parental situation and channel it into being a better wife and mother at home. And I just hope that R is as surprised as I wasn’t, the first time he comes across a friend who doesn’t have both loving parents at home with them, as they deserve.