I am a bit under the weather and don't really feel in the mood for a trip to the past and my earliest memory. However, inspired by Alexandra's post, I have decided to share this today.
When my parents divorced when I was a freshmen in college, I went to therapy. And I stayed in therapy throughout my four years of college. When my therapist asked me to talk about my earliest memories involving my parents, a not-so-delightful memory came to mind immediately. I greatly appreciate that there are people who come to this page who know my parents, and I won't share all the details here out of respect. At the same time, this is about my journey, not about blame. After a conversation over the weekend, I have realized that I have moved through more of my feelings about my parents' divorce and relationship than I thought. I also honor that this is my memory. The other people there would remember this differently. This is how it goes; this is what memory is.
I am three or four and we are sitting at the kitchen table. We always sat in the same seats. My father across from me, my mother to my right. Always the same. When Matthew was born, he sat to my left. We never changed this seating arrangement, ever, the entire time they were together. On this afternoon, after the meal begins, there is an argument about asparagus not being clean. I remember watching them like a tennis match. The yelling. The plate of asparagus ends up getting thrown over my head smashed against the wall behind me. (No one was physically hurt.) My father storms out of the room, the garage door opens, and I hear the car backing into the driveway. My mother cries. She and I pack a suitcase. I remember her saying, "go get seven pairs of underwear." We head toward South Carolina to my grandparents house. About 30 miles down the road, the car begins to make noise and we turn around and go back home. I am sure there is more to the memory, and there are pieces I have chosen not to share. But this is it. A quick understanding by a young child watching the argument develop back and forth. This is how it is to be. An understanding.
This is one piece of an early memory. Other pieces include:
My father reading to me at night. As I get a little older, we begin to take turns reading chapters from The Little House on the Prairie series. I remember the night I tried to use phonics to sound out mosquito.
My mother teaching me to bake chocolate chip cookies. During one of these afternoons, she receives a phone call and I stand on my "kitchen stool" and proceed to eat quite a bit of cookie dough. She doesn't get mad, just laughed.
I remember them each holding this big, red, plastic apple as we would work on me turning my head to look at things because my left eye did not turn to the left. I honor the way they both supported me when they realized my left eye was not "normal." The way they took me to wonderful doctors and never invited me to feel differently, in fact they insisted I was not different. (I wrote more about this here.)
I honor the memories surrounding school and the way they both taught me that reading and writing and thinking outside the box were all important tools to my growth. I have memories about these ideas from the time I started preschool at three.
When I was in therapy, I learned that I had been given a beautiful gift. My memory was that overall, my childhood was a good one. Even though my parents' marriage had its challenges and they would eventually go through an ugly divorce, I knew I was loved. A blessing in the midst of a bit of hell.
Now, I navigate the waters of an adult relationship with my parents. After challenges and miscommunication and hurt feelings on all sides, I am able to separate my relationship with each of them and honor that we all do the best we can.
My father was always "larger than life" to me. When my grandmother died last year, after my mother called to tell me, the first person I called was my father. I just wanted to hear my daddy's voice. And even though she was my mother's mother and they hadn't particularly liked one another, my father cried with me on the phone. Throughout my journey across the country to the funeral and the few days I was there, he checked in with me to see that I was okay. I glimpsed a side of him I hadn't really known. He had lost his father and the grandmother he was close to when he was younger than I am now, and his brother died of cancer in 2002. He knew this journey of grief. I just never knew he would be the one to give me support during those initial days of shock and deep pain. Writing here has given me a new dimension to my relationship with my father that has been an unexpected gift. He is able to see a side of me that I didn't share with many people over these last (almost) thirty years.
My mother and I can have some incredible conversations that have given me insight into her journey. In the last year, I have had this somewhat obvious realization that as children, we were once all attached to our mothers. Literally. This has given me some space to realize why mother-child relationships can have so many layers. She was my age when I was born. This blows my mind a bit. And I recognize that she had hopes and dreams for herself that probably did not involve my brother and me. Just as I am on a journey that does not currently include children, she was once looking at life just like I do now. I am blessed to have moments when my mother and I can talk and she gets it.
As I navigate the waters of an adult relationship with my parents, I am reminded that I am blessed. All the memories, twists and turns on my path, have brought me here to this moment. Something wonderful is afoot in my life. A change that I cannot quite articulate yet. I would not be here without all that I have seen, heard, lived. This is where I am meant to be. So I invite a letting go of any guilt from all sides. Take a breath. And live in your life. We are all in the place we are meant to be. We just have to recognize that.
Link to other bloggers earliest memories here.