You have been duly warned.
This morning, amidst the chaotic getting ready, as I was slinging cereal into bowls and ushering my girls to the table, Emma asked me a question. She didn’t ask for cut up bananas, she didn’t ask for the Strawberry Shortcake bowl, she didn’t even ask for some juice.
She asked me, “How young were you when you stopped living with your daddy?”
Time halted for a few seconds as I processed this question in my addled brain. “I was eight.” I could see the wheels turning in her mind, the fact that she’ll turn seven in just a couple of weeks. I felt the need to expound a little. “You see, my daddy really liked something called alcohol and when he drank that all the time, it made him into a not-nice person. So after a very long time, Gimma took us away from him to protect us.”
Emma responded, “So you really left him.”
“Ummm, well he left our house.”
By this point I was kind of shaken. How do you explain all this to a six year old?
*Aside-this is one of the hardest parts of parenting in my opinion. Having to explain the ugly parts of life to my children. I remember the first time I had to explain to them that strangers could be bad people, and that’s why we don’t tell them things about us, we don’t take candy from strangers, etc. I remember once trying to explain in a gentle way that there were children who had been taken away, kidnapped, and some of those kids were never returned to their parents and that is why listening to mommy and daddy is so important. Their little eyes were wide open, glued to mine. I felt horrible, like I had just shrunk the world a little, some of the majesty and glory had been taken away. When Emma was five, I was tucking her into bed one night and she did one of her ninja-shock-Mommy-with-a-question. “Mommy, why do you call Gimpa Joe and not Daddy?” I answered, “He’s not my daddy, he married Gimma after I was born.” Which naturally led to “where is your daddy?” In my mind was a snide answer good question but outwardly I said, “Well, my mommy and daddy got divorced when I was little.” And there it was, a new word -divorce. Which led to explaining what divorce was. Which then led to reassurance that Lance and I were not going to divorce. Emma calmly told me that now she understood that Gimpa was not her real grandfather. To which I responded that even if he wasn’t actually related, he was still her Gimpa and loved her.
So back to this morning. My mind is whirling away, trying to find just the right words to say in the few minutes we had left to get ready and leave the house. I go over to the table to wipe spilled milk and Emma leans over and hugs my leg, squeezing me and says “You’re the best mommy in the whole world.”
Sometimes I’m amazed at the differences between my childhood and my kids’ childhood. I had an amazing mother and grandmother and grandfather. Their roles in my life almost negates the crappiness of my father. And while it’s not something I dwell on, his absence in my life is still there. He is in this world, walking and living and breathing, and yet he knows almost nothing about me. He doesn’t know what kind of movies I like, what my beverage of choice is (hello, Diet Coke), he probably doesn’t even know my husband’s name. And that is so strange to me. Because my husband is such a fantastic father. He knows everything about my kids. He’s so patient with them, lets them wrestle with him after a long day’s work, will sit and read with them and tells them everyday how special they are. And my girls eat it up.
Once, Lance and Emma were sitting on the couch and Lance was hugging Emma, her face turned my direction. She had her eyes closed, a small smile on her face. Lance was telling her how special she was, how proud he was of her, all kinds of sweet things. Her smile got deeper and deeper and you could practically read her face, how happy she was. I went in my room and cried. I cried because I was so happy that my girls had such an amazing father. That already, in their short life they’ve had such a great relationship with him and you can tell they feel secure in that. I wasn’t crying for me, I was crying in joy for them.
Occassionally though, maybe once a year, it hits me that I’m 32 years old and have lived most of my life without a father. My dad lived with us until I was 8. My sister was 1, just a wee baby we all fought over holding when he packed his bags and left. She has no real memories of him. I wonder, is that better? Is it better to have memories of someone who has walked out and chosen a bottle of cheap liquor over you or to just have a void of memories. What’s better?
I wonder, too, if I met my father today and had a conversation with him, would I like him? Would we get along? Would he annoy the crap out of me? Would I hate him? I don’t hate him now, at least I try very hard not to. There was a time in my life when things began to define, and he happened to call me. In that phone conversation, I told him that I forgave him of any wrongdoing he had ever done to me. I was forgiving him because I wanted closure from all that pain and anguish and I was now in a relationship with God, who was now my Father, my Daddy. Two weeks later, my father locked himself in a house and set it on fire. He was drunk of course, and he made it out ok. We haven’t spoken since.
So here I was, wiping up spilled milk and all of these thoughts were whirling in my mind. Emma went back to eating her Shredded Wheat and chatting with Addie.
It’s so interesting to me how well I know my kids, and yet there is so much of me that they don’t know. Isn’t that strange? Emma has to ask me how old I am. She doesn’t sit and watch my favorite movies or read my favorite books. She never met my grandfather, who was my hero. And I have no idea if she’ll ever meet my father.
What a weird Wednesday!