Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Friends of the Family

For the first time in many years, I cried when someone pulled away from my house.

When I was a kid, I cried every time we had house guests and they left. And every time we were house guests and we left. Goodbyes are hard for me; I can't seem to get over the "I miss you already" part to look forward to the "I'll see you again soon" part. As I get older and begin to lose more people from my life, I've also learned that, sadly, you can't take for granted the whole "I'll see you again soon" part. Goodbye is, sometimes, permanent.

In my adult life, we've had plenty of house guests who I've hated to see go. But the vast majority live a short drive away. I know that, in a year at the absolute most, we'll be hanging out sampling Kentucky's finest bourbon again. When my college roommate and her family pulled out of my drive Sunday, it was different. She lives in Atlanta; it had been seven years since I last saw her in person. We both have younger children and lives it's hard to get away from. It could easily be seven years again.

My tears Sunday night also came from the realization after spending a couple of days back in her company that my friends have become, especially in the two years since I lost Mom, my family.

When you lose that last parent, you so often lose the various threads that tie you to the body of your blood family. I have a sibling, but we are two very different people with nothing really in common except for the genes we share. In times of crisis, I now turn to the group of people who support me by choice, not chance. The men and women who grew up with me, went to school with me, pass me in the halls every day at work, share a side yard. These are now my people. My tribe. They now know me better than anyone else still living on this planet. We've shared laughs. We've shared tears. We've broken bread together at occasions of both great joy and great sorrow. We've climbed mountains and fought in the trenches. Our bonds are deeper than blood.

My college roommate's visit brought back a trove of good memories. Of course we talked about those. But not having seen her in a while, we also re-discovered each other as adults. Adults who, since our last adventure, have lost some of the people we held most dear. Who are raising children in an increasingly scary world. Who balance work, family, and our homes.

We've changed. But we've changed together in spite of the miles. And in just a couple of hours spent catching up on the front porch, we were right back to being two girls who shared a dorm room.

No matter what, we'll always have Danville.

And though we aren't connected by blood, I will always think of her, as I do so many others of my friends, as family. Family who have been there for me when I've needed them the most.

We weren't born to the same mother and father. But my friends are my brothers and sisters all the same.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Other Mothers

"I didn't know I had another mother."
"Of course you do. Everyone does."


Today being Mother's Day, I will, of course, honor my mother. She was a good one, and I owe so much of who I am to her. But I also want to honor my other mothers; those women in my life who had no genetic or societal obligation to me and my raising but who loved me, fed me, and cheered me on even when I was falling over hurdles/singing off-key/making questionable hair and clothing choices.

In this spirit, I want to wish a happy Mother's Day to Other Mother Jayne, my childhood best friend's mom, who did not freak out the first time she invited me over for dinner and I put cottage ham and green beans (the first time, but not last time, that I had that greasy-good Cincinnati specialty) onto one single paper plate which the cottage ham just sort of...dissolved.  God love her, she still didn't freak out later that same weekend when I ate an entire jar of Klaussen pickles from her fridge. Basically what I'm saying is there are a lot of times Jayne should have freaked out on me when I was at her house, which was almost daily. I was not big on social graces at the time. She gave me rides home from everything her daughter talked me into participating in and cheered for me when I ran the last leg of the girls' 4x400 relay in 8th grade, even when every team but ours had already finished the relay before I even started my leg, leaving me to do the loneliest 400-meter "dash" in the history of awkward athletics. She was always patient, always kind, always welcoming, and still looks out for me to this day.

I also want to say "Thank you" to the Other Mother who is, actually, my older sister. Eleven years my senior, she filled in the gaps that my mom couldn't or wouldn't. I didn't realize it until years after I left home, but my mother was borderline agoraphobic. Especially in those early years of our move to northern Kentucky, which must have completely overwhelmed her, seeing as how she had spent her entire life previous in rural small-town one-street-light Appalachia. My sister went to school open houses, spelling bees, school plays, parent-teacher conferences, and even visited my kindergarten class last-minute when my mom bailed on her plans to talk to us about her job for Career Day. (For what it's worth, my classmates were just as enthralled by my teenage sister's description of working the cash register and baking potatoes after school at Ponderosa as they would have been by my mom talking about giving wash-and-sets to ladies in their 60s.) When the UAW went on strike and Dad wasn't working, Joanie made Christmas for me, buying all my toys that year and asking nothing from my parents in return. My childhood would have been rather bleak without her in it.

And finally...Other Mother Kathie. THE Other Mother, from a marriage standpoint. She raised a good boy who turned into a good man who turned into the best father. She made me believe I was pretty--she was the first female I wasn't related to by blood who told me so, and sometimes this made me think it was possibly true. I learned so much from her, everything from the importance of spring cleaning to making milk gravy to grieving with grace. She and my mother were two very different people with two very different personalities, and each balanced the other's world views during my impressionable teenage years. Some women have mothers-in-law from hell and see their significant other's mother as the enemy; I am grateful that mine treated me as one of her own. Like my own mother, I miss her deeply.

The saying, "It takes a village to raise a child" has become more controversial than it should be, perhaps due to the politics of the person who most famously said it in a public forum. In my mind, it is absolutely a true statement. No one mother can be everything her children need. Sometimes you have to call in an assist to fill in a gap you either temporarily or permanently can't provide. I am lucky that I had women who stepped up for me those times and in those unfamiliar areas where my own mother couldn't.

After you have celebrated the fabulousness of your own mother today, take some time to remember your Other Mothers. They didn't care for you because you share half their DNA; they cared for you simply because they wanted to. Even when you ate all their pickles.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The force is weak with this one.

There are certain things we wish for our children. Health. Enough intelligence, initiative, and ambition to place them on a solid-enough career path to allow them to eventually move out of our basements and feed and clothe themselves. Self-esteem. Not necessarily beauty, but at least straight teeth. Braces, they be expensive.

Sometimes we want them simply to be a little like us. To share a common passion, to have our same sense of humor, to be good at something we're also good at. It helps assure us that while we can't be immortal in our own bodies, we can live on through passed-down traits from generation to generation.

Which is why it pains me deeply to say this today, on the eve of  May the fourth: my daughter hates Star Wars. Each word a dagger to my nerdy heart. Hates. It.

I have to believe that this hate has more to do with taking a stubborn stand against something the yucky-blucky boys in her class love than with the movies themselves. After all, we can't even get her to sit down to watch the first one. (And, to be clear, by "first one" I mean "Episode IV." I am a purist in this regard, and don't you dare try to Jedi-mind-trick me into believing otherwise.) She decided she hated everything pertaining to the Force several years ago before I even had a 31-inch Darth Vader gracing our hearth or displayed my lightsaber over the mantle. She hates it on principle and in theory, not so much in practice.

This gives me hope. A New Hope. A "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope" hope. Seriously. She likes Gandalf, she just may like old Ben, too.

She greatly enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy and is suffering, like the rest of us, through The Hobbit (she adores Legolas, so thank God he makes an appearance), so one would think Star Wars would be a natural fit. Her generation is also accustomed to dystopian fantasies and rebellious teens blowing stuff up; they cut their teeth on The Hunger Games. I can't help but think a girl who adores Katniss Everdeen will someday cheer for Luke to get that proton torpedo into a hole roughly the size of a womp rat. Luke and Katniss are cut from the same cloth, really--rural teens who find themselves fighting (and whining about fighting) against a vast and oppressive regime using skills they didn't know they had until called upon to save the world as they know it. Katniss even sports a very Padawan-esque over-the-shoulder braid. Ainsley has to at least feel some cathartic teen angst when watching these movies, right?

I plan to find out. I have been over the moon (I mean Death Star; that's no moon) ever since the fuzzy black-and-white picture of the cast of the new film was released this week. There's Carrie! And Mark! And Harrison! And the impossibly tall guy that plays Chewie! And OMG Andy-freaking-Serkis. My two geek worlds collide in that picture and I can hardly see straight.

So a proclamation went out last night over dinner. As a family, over the course of the next year, we will watch the original trilogy. Multiple times, if necessary. If we have to, we will watch the prequels. But only if we have to. I may not be able to make her love it, but I want her to at least be able to tolerate it. For we have a date. We will go, as the family unit we are, to the opening of the new film when it finally arrives in theaters. We will do this because the best memories from my childhood revolve around seeing various trilogy films for the first time--I saw Episode IV the night it premiered on HBO, I watched The Empire Strikes Back at a midnight showing with my Dad the weekend it came out, and my sister and brother-in-law waited in line for hours to get three tickets to take me to Return of the Jedi on opening night. I have to see this new movie. And whether she knows it yet or not, so does my daughter. If she's going to use her hate, she needs to know what it is she hates. And maybe, just maybe, there's more than a Sand Person's chance in Hoth of her letting her guard down and her prejudices go and liking this epic story of good and evil.

I can't just let her go to the dark side. The dark side being, of course, teen vampire romance movies.

I don't want to force my kid to be someone she's not or like something she doesn't simply because her mother loves it. But the cultural impact of these movies can't be denied, and I want her to at least know about them and make an informed decision. Then, if she doesn't like them, I will accept it. I won't like it, and I'd be lying if I said my feelings wouldn't be a little hurt. These movies were a huge part of my childhood and loving them is a part of my identity and embedded into my DNA. Not my midichlorians, George Lucas. My DNA. Leave the Force the mystery and ancient power it's supposed to be and quit explaining stuff you don't need to explain.

Wait, what? Where was I?

I would imagine that someday my daughter will have children of her own. And she will pass on to them some of her childhood loves--Phineas and Ferb, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent. They will either like it or they won't, and she will have to cope with that. If I am lucky enough to still be on this planet and not be a shadow-y, see-through apparition appearing at Ewok celebrations, I'd like my grandkids to ask their mother why Mamaw has a big robot-looking guy dressed in a black cape on display in the basement right next to a weird light-up sword (and, if dreams come true, an R2-D2 keggerator.) And I'd like my daughter to answer that question with something other than, "Because your Mamaw is a weirdo."

Ideally, her answer to why Mamaw has all these strange things in the basement would begin thus:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away...