I haven't written online in a really long time. Blogging doesn't really work unless there's some measure of shooting from the hip, but that has the potential to get us, me, in trouble. I know it's time, though, to pick up where I left off and tell publicly a bit more of my story.
I want to tell my story partly because I hope it will help you tell your story. I believe how we tell our stories can change those parts of us that feel stuck. And I can feel stuck. A lot. But when I can tell my story and learn more about yours, I don't feel as alone. Sharing our humanity with one another can help level the playing field and then we know we're more alike than different. Hopefully, it equals less isolation. Does that make sense?
This morning when I woke up, I went straight to a place that adds to aloneness and that's what I want to write about today.
Like so many of us, I woke up, rolled over, and checked my phone. And I saw that a son of one of my friends had updated his Facebook status, which is rare, announcing that he was now in a relationship. Yay for him! And of course, I started digging a little.
I want to try and give some context without dragging you through every detail. But the important thing is, as you read, realize that how I tell myself and you this story affects me. It's a place that I feel stuck. Telling you and seeing it written down might help me get unstuck. So, let's give this a go.
Once upon a time, I was the overseer of my three children's education. They weren't in classroom school and we were having a lot of fun. We did reading, writing, and arithmetic, but we also had about several other families as friends who were doing similar things and we would do a lot of activities together. We hiked together, blew up gingerbread houses together (that was a fun one), cooked together, discussed literature together...it was a heady time. I pinched myself often that this was my peer group and my children got to be a part of it.
And I felt insecure all. the. time.
See, several of these families had A LOT more money available to them. A lot. But more than that, they had life experiences I had never imagined having. Yes, it opened my world. But it also came with an awareness that I had not had before. There are people who just get it (INSERT RIVER RAFTING STORY?). If they want to get their family baptized in the Mediterranean (yes, that happened), they seem to intrinsically know how to make that happen. I remember going river rafting with them. Even though I was over 40, I'd never been rafting before. Two of the families, at the time, were building beautiful, and I mean BEAUTIFUL, homes from the ground up. Our family, on a shoestring budget, was trying to remodel a historic home at the same time. The discrepancies between their knowledge and ours and their resources and ours felt overwhelming. They were so kind. They were supportive. But I felt the gap so profoundly and the need to hide, towards the end, led me to choosing some destructive behavior to try and manage the enormous feelings of inadequacy. And the relationships began to fall away.
So let's circle back to this morning's Facebook post from one of the kids from those days.
He's about the same age as one of my kids. And I haven't seen him in several years. He doesn't post often and I've only picked up bits of his post high school life. But I always have to squint a little when I see what's going on with him and some of the other kids from that time. Because, for me, the awareness of the gap and discrepancy between their lives and mine still stings a little.
So what did I see? I learned that they met in a foreign country. His family had (has) so many experiences overseas. I saw her beauty. But it was more than her beauty. I saw athleticism. And not just that she played soccer on the weekends, for example. I saw a beach body. I saw a picture with her family where she's in a bikini. AND SO IS HER MOM! And so I tell myself a story. I tell myself, there really are shiny happy people in this world and I am not one of them, even though I tried to be. But even more than that, *whisper* neither are my kids, possibly. Now, this is not their story, but I share that just to say, I put myself through all those years of such feelings of inadequacy, in large part, for my kids. I wanted them to experience what I couldn't have given them alone thinking it would help them have more opportunities as they got older. But at the end of the day, the story I'm also currently telling myself, is that shedding who our families are often can take decades, if not generations. It really does take more than a few years with friends who are different than us. Where we come from can be a hard skin to shed.
My family's (I use the word family as not as only the five of us, but as my husband's and my histories) reality is that we build lives despite and with mental illness and substance abuse. Our financial heritage comes from humble, humble circumstances and huge missteps that affected (the lack of) inheritances. This is not the whole story, of course. We also come from stock that works REALLY HARD with these realities and there have been wonderful, wonderful results. We come from Puritan ethics (idle hands are the devil's workshop) and those who worked the land from scratch. But at the end of the day, our resources just aren't the same as those we spent time with during those years. No matter how hard we tried to keep up, our day to day lives are just really different.
It makes me think of the classic story, "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen. Mr. Darcy is really quite undone about how he is in love with a woman beneath his class. As I get older, I understand his dilemma more and more. Love really doesn't always conquer all. Yes! Marry for love. But who we marry does matter when it comes to families of origin, friends, social graces, money, and how we end up navigating the dailiness of living. Mr. Darcy understood he would be marrying "down" and had to wrestle with the implications of that.
If you and I were sitting together over coffee, I would wonder what you thought. Is classism real? Can we be anything we want to be these days? And when we pick someone to create a family with, is there such a thing as marrying up or down? What do you think?
But most importantly, how can we tell a good story about ourselves even when we see young love and bikinis on foreign beaches?