Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Weary, bleary, and teary

There's something to be said about the adage, "The night is darkest before dawn". Here it is, 1 am and I am blogging. Blogging because I know that once the morning sun rises, the feelings I'm having tonight will dissipate with the ray's light.

I want that. I want to feel this heartache burning away. But tonight, this morning, right now - I want to record these feelings and remember them when the pain is not so sharp.

Living in the past is easier to do in the night hours. Something about the bright of day, and walking into my children's room that snaps me immediately into the present. I guess it's just life and reality that does it. It's difficult to wallow in reflect on the past when the present is smack in your face! But once those young ones are put down for the night and all is still again...the past can sneak up from behind and jump right in front of my path. And it can hurt.

Thus it has been for me today.

I think it all began when I read an article on Segullah - an LDS women's site I frequent and enjoy. Today there was a reposting of an essay about being an only child. While I don't wish to take the time right now to share my experiences as a singleton, I do wish to write about feelings and specific events. I do this with the hope that I'll find some clarity through writing about these things.

Essential background info: My mum died when I was six years old. She was thirty. My dad was thirty-one. I was an only child, and we had moved to El Paso.

In thinking about the events of the years that followed the death of my mother - the first year, especially - I have come to the gut-wrenching realization that I was badly parented after my mother passed away. This is not an easy awareness to have, because I've rather prided myself in my fierce independence and self-sufficiency. My dad has often referred to me as a "survivor". Before now, little did I acknowledge the truthfulness of that title.

Yes, this post could easily turn into a rant. But I don't want to go there. Rather, I feel mournful, which is why I want to blog because I know that in the morning my feelings will be greatly diminished.

After Mum died, and after we returned from burying her deep within New Zealand soil, my recollections of life is a blur. While there is great clarity in my memory of the moment I arrived home from school only to find out my mother had died - until the funeral service when I sobbed myself to an exhausted sleep - the things I remember from the months after then are sparse and selective. Mostly, I remember spending summer months downtown at the YWCA, while Dad finished up his master's at UTEP in sociology. I was dropped off in the morning, and picked up again in the late afternoon. I was six years old, and on my own. I pretty much wandered around the center from one class to another all by myself, looking for something to do. I recall watching the teenagers dancing in the lobby, doing the Bump. I thought it was dirty.

In July, my seventh birthday was spent eating dinner with family friends, the Browns. I excused myself to use the toilet, and when I returned to the livingroom, everyone shouted "SURPRISE!" and I was greeted with a pink cake and candles on a tray made of cardboard and tin foil. I was very happy that someone remembered my birthday. It had been just over five months since I became a motherless child.

The remainder of the summer, I don't really recall. I imagine it was lots of days at the YWCA, and lots of nights eating Dunkin' Donuts with my dad. He was depressed. He would eat donuts and watch Hawaii Five-O - a favorite of his and Mum's.
I do remember that. Also The Rockford Files. Sanford and Son.
I would cry myself to sleep. Dad always said that bedtime was the hardest for me.
Funny how that hasn't changed. (*BING!!* A light-bulb just went off! THAT's why it's always at night!! I love blogging.)

Those months were very trying. We had many friends however, who loved us and I'm sure they were doing the best that they could to show that love and offer support to the two of us. I have very pleasant memories of Nadine Pratt, who made some dresses for me. My mother used to sew for me, too - so it meant a great deal that this young woman was willing to do the same for me. She let me pick out patterns and fabric, and presented me with three or four dresses, which I would wear with great fondness. It was a great act of service, love, and compassion.

Summer came and went, and in the fall when school started, I returned to my elementary school for second grade. I didn't really like my teacher. But it didn't matter, because Dad said that we were moving to Utah soon so he could start his doctorate at BYU, and I would get a new teacher. School photos were taken - but we left Texas before they were distributed.

We arrived in Provo just days before Halloween. I remember this because my first day in my new second grade class, I was really surprised that there were seasonal decorations everywhere. I thought it was still September! (Nastiness ensued from another classmate, but I'll skip over that part.)

You'd think that coming to Zion would be almost ideal for a young widower and his little girl. But it was not to be - and it is here that I realize that I was failed as a child. Failed by our church community. Failed by our neighbors. Failed by my school teachers. And I hate to say it - but failed by my father as well. Where was the Relief Society? Where was the Primary? Where were the home teachers?

These are strong accusations, I realize, so I feel the need to add a disclaimer. That would be that my dad didn't know any better, and he was drowning in his own struggles at losing this young wife - the love of his life. Furthermore, I honestly don't think that people in the 70's even understood child psychology and development like they do today - and I would like to believe that if this were to happen in 2008, it simply wouldn't happen. I tell myself that today, the communities would rally. A seven-year old wouldn't be dropped off at a strange school, and told to walk home alone through a maze of streets and alleys - on the first day. A second-grade child without a mother wouldn't be left routinely to enter an empty house alone, with no furniture or food. She wouldn't be ignored and ostracized by her school or church teachers. Not in Mormon-dom. Not in Provo. Not under the stewardship of an actively-engaged primary presidency. No, not in 2008. They would step up and embrace her - literally, and engage her, and help her to feel safe in a world that has turned upside down.

That's what I want to believe.

However....My feelings of failure and profound abandonment as a child, created what I would believe to be reality. They were my reality in fact, because I believed them. For years I would think myself a burden; my "keep" earned only by working and remaining as invisible as possible. I know that I've touched on this before now. It's a bit of a theme in my life, I fear. It's a challenge to work past it consistently, because as I just stated, it's been my reality for a long time. It can be tough to change things you fundamentally believe.

My father would marry again, one month before I turned eight. I would like to say that we all lived Happily Ever After, but this is not a fairy tale. Decades later, perhaps it is closer now to that endeavored ending - but it has been earned through desires for greater understanding, prayers, forgiveness - and the healing power of the Atonement. Growth continues, as the Eternal Plan provides. As I'm rearing my own children, I am grateful that my demons surface after their bedtimes. Usually. Having a family in co-partnership with my sweet mate provides a fresh slate, on which we can write our own family history. Our own family reality.

That is a gift made sweeter by the kind of clarity I feel now that I have blogged. I can put my tears to bed, now.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I never knew any of this. Sorry for your pain. Thank goodness for the mornings.