I spent last Saturday with my sisters, participating in the Travis County Walk to End Alzheimer’s and celebrating my birthday at an Austin restaurant. While we waited for our food order, GJ, the oldest of we three sisters, handed gallon Ziploc bags full of photos to MA and me. “These are just your personal pictures and things,” she explained. “They were in the photo boxes from Mother’s.”
MA acted like she’d been handed a bag of Skittles, ripping open the seal and gleefully dumping pictures on the table. (Thank you! THANK YOU! Look at me with my best friend! This is just wonderful. Thank you!)
I reacted like I’d been handed a bag of spiders, shoving the sack deep into recesses of my purse. (How…nice. Thank you.)
What the hell was the matter with me? I ask that question often, but this time it was on a different level. In the back part of my mind lurks The Critic. She doesn’t get to surface often in my sobriety, but she leapt out of the closet and started shouting answers to that question: Let me tell you what’s the matter with you. Childhood, adolescent, single mom, married mom, widow woman, married woman, alcoholic inadequacies became grey noise to the conversations around me until I woman-handled them back into my subconscious.
On the way back to GE’s house, I pulled out one and then another of the pictures. Bob gave me a what’s up glance and I explained what had been roiling under my skull. When we got home, I looked at the pictures slowly, playing a hidden object game with the facial expressions and glances.
There’s a saying: As far as anyone knows, we are a normal family. Scanning the pictures, we look like ordinary every day people. I recognize the ism’s that were rooted in us and the white knuckle effort employed to keep the secrets. There’s a shadow for every ray of light
We had older parents. WW2 delayed starting a family so they were well into their 30’s and 40’s when we came along. Older parents offered economic security and maturity. We had the original issue parents; divorce wasn’t on the table. I never doubted that they wanted us. They were articulate and talked to us like we were adults. They instilled a curiosity about the world, a sense of service to others, and a love of God.
I read somewhere that no two children in a family have the same set of parents. Parents grow and change, have learning experiences, health issues which impact the way they raise their children. There were three of us with me in the middle. I don’t know which parents my sisters had, but my take-away was that I was loved in direct proportion to my good works and achievements. That wasn’t true, but that was my childhood perception.
Looking at those photos gave me renewed love for the people who share my DNA and my secrets so intimately. I know how hard it is to raise children, how many mistakes I made and make still. How did Dorothy and David do it, coming from the Depression era to the Age of Aquarius? Pretty clumsily sometimes, like a rock star sometimes.
There was also sadness when I looked at young Margaret who spent so much time critical of herself. I wasted so much time wanting to be something I couldn’t ever be, looking for a mold that I could fit only to find that I didn’t need a mold at all. I am the mold. You don’t like me? Oh, well.
That’s not true, either. I still worry. But less. Much less.