There comes a time in some lives where you must step back and reassess what you think you are – or thought you were – and readjust your inner compass, so to speak.
For the longest time, I assumed I was a less than positive influence on my family due to what I had always thought of as a rebellious childhood. As I mentioned in the Thursday 13 below, I grew up in California, in the 70s. To clarify, let’s just say I wasn’t a stranger to the sex, drugs and rock and roll scene…OK? I shunned the more conformist people – thought myself cooler, more superior than them. Then, fate made me lie in the bed I had made, but just when I thought I was destined to become another trailer trash victim of my bad marriages and lifestyle, along came practically perfect Downtown Dad! In an effort to shorten the telling of the fairy tale romantic comedy/melodrama that ensued… suffice it to say that we swept each other off our collective feet and have managed to live relatively happily ever after. I felt at the time that I was the girl from the wrong side of the tracks faction marrying into this Cleaver-esque family. Here he was, the only one of five siblings ever to have divorced and then to be marrying ME, a now twice divorced single mom, well – what ever would this family have to endure as a result of my influence?
Well, I finally figured out that I was way off base in my perceptions of his family as well as what they would think of me. Turns out we were all closer to normal than I had originally thought. Over time, a couple of his other siblings have now divorced, and a couple who should have divorced didn’t. So here’s me, the disillusioned preacher’s kid, who likes her liquor - alot, and makes no bones about speaking her mind, the girl most likely to NOT succeed – still married after 18 years to the one kid in the family who almost went to seminary school, who thought heavy drinking was packing away two beers, who is one of the 14 people of his age group to have never tried any – ANY drugs, and who has and still does make a living as a politician.
One of the things I feared in our marriage was how our kids would turn out. I expected them to follow in my footsteps, which is to say, badly. I assumed they would hate us as parents by about 12 and start drinking or using drugs soon after, and I fully expected my daughter to be pregnant by 14 or 15. As it turns out none of that has happened or is even remotely likely. How did I luck out?!
Which brings me to the point of this post.
Downtown Dad has a younger brother Rick. Rick fell in love with a girl and subsequently married her along about the same time as Downtown Dad and I got hitched. Rick’s wife, Michelle, always struck me as a bit of a floozie, but considering my own self-perception, I never really made any mention of it. So, time went on. Owing to the fact that we lived several states apart, Rick, Michelle, Downtown Dad, and I never really were close socially, although we did talk on the phone some. Amazingly, when I finally got pregnant, so did Michelle! Sadly, I miscarried, but practically on the same day, so did Michelle! After that trauma, we both managed to get pregnant again and lo and behold, both babies were due at the end of July!
Since Downtown Dad’s mother had previously only been blessed with grand SONS, she made it quite clear that if one of these babies was a girl, that girl would certainly be the PRINCESS of that generation! This set in motion the friendly competition to see who could have a girl and have it first!
Well, on July 28th at 12:10 a.m. I gave birth to Tessie Wee – actually about a week early, but nevertheless, the clear winner in the grandprincess race. Two weeks later, Michelle had Alexis, another grandprincess, but not the first! I must give credit to our families, because as much build up as I’ve given this, no favoritism has ever been shown for one girl over the other. In fact, at family reunions or significant gatherings both girls became fast friends as well as the twin apples of their grandparents’ eyes. Photos and home videos reveal not only their closeness in age, but also their physical similarity. White blonde hair, impish good looks, and an overabundance of personality.
It was a shock then this past summer, after a 6 or 8 year lapse in visits, to arrive at grandma and grandpa’s to see the now 13-year-old Alex looking very much like Paris Hilton. Too skinny, too cocky, and too old for her years. Tessie, on the other hand, having recently blossomed into a voluptuous, if not pimpled and gangly preteen, felt quite overshadowed. As Alex and her overbearing and just as unnaturally thin mother would flit about the house, lamenting the lack of a nearby Starbucks, and smelling suspiciously, of cigarette smoke, there were many stifled comments and surreptitiously rolled eyes. A red flag that was sadly, in the patiently polite, Midwestern way, overlooked.
Turns out, we should have said or done something. We just heard last night that Alex has been using Meth, and her mother has either known or if she didn’t know, has been enabling the behavior that we saw starting last year and that has now escalated into a life threatening addiction! Rick is just devastated and has just now shared this with the family after having dealt with it since before Christmas.
How did this happen? How in a family does this kind of thing start to grow, and how do you not see it? It begs the old nature vs. nurture question. How could these two girls, so alike in so many ways from the start, with parents not all that different from one another, wind up on such different paths?
I thank whatever it is, the powers that be, our parental wisdom, or just plain luck that it’s not my daughter in that situation. I also am fighting a nagging feeling of superiority. Where did we go right, where they went wrong? Was my subculture background a factor in recognizing trouble and steering our kids a different way? Did Downtown Dad’s boy-scout-ish-ness act as a role model for our kids to make good choices? Sure, there are a lot of factors involved, and this kind of thing does not crop up overnight, but considering the fact that we are all products of our own best thinking… what kind of thinking could EVER rationalize using METH?!?
So, I guess I wasn’t the bad influence I thought I was after all. I just hope it’s not too late to save the ones who were – and their victims.