Friday, March 13, 2015

What I Learned On The Way To My Life

This happened on the way to my life.

My eleven year old daughter is quirky, bubbly, math genius, and champion fighter of all things chronic illness. She plays the cello, guitar, is a chess whiz, sings, can out-build anyone with Legos, and is my last child. She is the reason why I took a ten-year detour through my product and brand marketing career to discover so much more in the world. She has allowed my world to expand and grow by her presence and her courage.

Her sister, my thirteen year old, is equally as remarkable, focused, quietly intent, socially conscious, writer, budding fashion maven, expert texter with her friends, and lover of animals. She is a student leader, honor student, violinist, someone who will need a personal assistant to hang up all her clothes, and the greatest conversationalist on world issues. She welcomed my parent challenges and strict codes, while also challenging me to trust her judgment. She is my twin.

These little girls, after a houseful of boys, have changed my world in more ways than my morning latte flavors. It is through them and in sacrificing to be one-hundred-percent available to them, that my advocacy, activism, and voice took shape.

When I had my sons, I thought I was conquering the world as a working mother, one who took the sons, lock-stop-and-barrel, off to graduate school with me. I put my graduation cap on the middle son and dubbed him the future scholar. He is now a married man with a son on the way, head of security for a major downtown hotel, former Navy man, and still a scholar. He and his brothers, the artist and lyricist and the opera major, were both part of my growing up. I wanted them to see me as strong and capable, despite my divorce and lack of child support, I wanted them to know that nothing was impossible with a determined heart and thoughtful budget. In them now, as men, I see a lot of the same dedication and discipline that I had to use as a young divorced mom.

My girls have changed my life in so many ways. I was on my way to my life when I first became pregnant with child #5. It had been years since I had been in that state, I was remarried, in my dream home, in a great position, and breathing after years of disciplined order. We were not spend thrifts  by any means, we just could breathe, had it to give, travel, and give the boys things I always wanted them to have.

The girls, however,challenged that perspective when their existence and my corporate exit were also met with a child with chronic illness and a couple job changes for my husband. I began to examine my assumptions of what it all meant to have it and what would it take to keep it.

My husband and I intentionally avoided the housing lust for more square footage and dressing rooms than we needed. Both of us knew that it could be fleeting and something could change, we wanted to be able to live on just one salary. We chose our newly built home on one side instead of the other, an up-and-coming suburb with land enough for acreage and affordability in a  great school district. We got the square footage we needed with a large and growing family. The five bedrooms were all used and still more felt like it was needed. Yet, we wanted to make sure we could eat more than noodles if one of us stopped working.

Our children laughed and joked in that house we called home. The girls were born there, the boys had friends over, learned to cook in my big kitchen, and simply be in one spot for several years. They mowed the lawn, raked the leaves, shoveled the snow, and knew the home would be there.

When my husband took at job across state and the middle son graduated from high school, we had to make a decision. Do we continue being a highway family, like so many are doing now, and keep a strain on defining what it meant to be family? Or do we walk away from our beloved 3500 square feet and re-establish ourselves somewhere else?

The move to the new city was traumatic and opportune. It was ideal for my youngest son, now a junior in college preparing for his opera recital, all on scholarship, at a university he loves.  The girls found friends and have now been here for as long as the boys were there. Each set of my children has different memories of what their childhood was like and where they place home.  My middle son returned to the country to move about fifteen minutes away from the home he left as a new recruit. My oldest son lives about thirty minutes away from there. Home carries memories and it is so different with each one how they determine place for themselves.

My girls and I are preparing to visit the youngest son for his big recital and are anticipating a week of spring rest. In our packing and selecting, we invaded the son's room for space to spread out. We now live in a 1900 square foot townhouse that my New York visitors thought was huge and my St. Louis friends think is small. The girls, husband, and I strike a delicate balance of space, with my fussing about their junk. It was in that fussing that the girls wanted to find out if their brother was coming home or not.  When he said he wasn't going to be home for spring break or the summer, the girls lit up like it was Christmas and started pulling out the design books so they could redo the space.

The news shocked me and reminded me. I raised my sons to be independent of me and to go out into the world and be all they were intended to be. When I was younger and harried, I couldn't wait for them to be "eighteen and out." Now, at the middle stages in my life, I sometimes wish we homesteaded and lived close by. I miss the sound of noise in my home and secretly entertain my middle son's request that I move back closer to him.

Life is a cycle and the ebbs and flow are what makes it worth it. In the middle of devastating news and challenging assumptions, sometimes it is family that reminds us of what it is all about.  I may never live to see the changes I advocate for, may never see the day when my future grandchild, a mix of cultures, won't be otherized because he may end up with his great-grandmother's walnut coloring instead of his grandmother's café au lait or his other grandmother's olive native skin. Genetics like life is random and a gift of wonder. I wonder about this little person, that I am alive to see my son's son is a thought I cherish as he is being developed in his mother's womb. The thought makes me smile and makes me hope.

The thing I've learned is that mistakes will happen, children don't come with instruction manuals, everyone is different, life is still worth living, the adventure is worth it, and lattes are amazing.

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