No longer a family…
It’s a funny thing, this parenting journey. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but, then again, who does? I hadn’t planned my entrance into the world of motherhood when I found myself pregnant, but I was certainly old enough and financially capable enough to start a family. And so I did. And, oh, how it rocked my world.
Having a child gave meaning to so many previously understated phrases…. “my heart burst with joy”, “I never knew I could love someone this much”, “if I lost him I would die”. I had, with the birth of this little man, joined the ranks of humanity lost in the adoration and unfathomable love of tiny little hands and feet. He was my world and I was happily caught in the vortex. My life was forever changed in ways big and small, in how I lived, how I felt, how I saw the world around me.
Those things I once felt were so important fell to the wayside as insignificant – my career, sleep, showers. All I wanted was those precious hours with my child, to hold him, feed him, watch him sleep. I had never felt such a connection with another human being. It was my drug of choice. And so it went. Me and my little man, marching through the years, hand in hand. We were an inseparable duo. I was his provider, his protector, his champion, his biggest fan. We faced life’s hurdles together, at first the little ones, and as he got older, some tougher ones too. Bullies, bad teachers, broken bones, girlfriends, his sisters birth and his parents divorce. He was a relatively easy child, no issues with drugs or drinking, and very little drama. Until high school. And that is where the first little hairline crack began that would, in time, take him further away from me than I could ever have imagined.
High school is where he met the “love of his life”. Over the course of his junior and senior years of high school, they would have the typical on again off again high school relationship. Puberty makes for a lot of emotional turmoil all on its own, but ignite that flame with some good old fashioned first love and you’ve got all the material you need for a great love story. Or not. Her parents and I had so many conversations over those two years. We tried, from both sides of this sometimes sweet but often twisted duo, to guide them away from the unnecessary and hurtful drama. When they broke up for the who-can-remember-how-many’th time in the middle of his senior year, we all thought, well, that’s that. He had been accepted to his college of choice and was beyond excited. He wanted to start over, he told me, and be somewhere where people didn’t know his past.
That summer, we made so many plans for his future, made the trip back east to move him into the dorms, shopped for all those dorm room necessities at the local Bed, Bath and Beyond. I was the happiest I’ve ever been. Here was my son, realizing a dream, and starting a new chapter in his life. It did not last long. Mere weeks later came the phone call. His high school girlfriend was pregnant. Unbeknownst to me, the two of them had been spending time together over the summer after his graduation. Well, they were doing a little more than spending time together. He was devastated and lost and full of uncertainty. He didn’t want this. He hadn’t wanted his past to follow him, but of course, he had only himself to blame. I hurt for him, for his mistakes, for his lost future, for the life he had planned for himself.
The next six months brought a lot of anxiety and worry. But in the end, my son decided that he wanted to be a father to this child that was coming. He would come home and he would step up. I should have been proud of him. Instead, I was angry and devastated. I confess, I handled it very poorly. I railed against it and fought to keep him where he was. It did no good. I would not accept that the child was his without proof. I asked for a paternity test and she complied. There was no question the child she bore was my grandson. By then, I had put so much distance between us, hurt my son with so much of my inability to accept what he had chosen for himself, that I widened that gap between us with every step.
At some point there, I knew I had to reverse course. I apologized for what I had put them through, and I did whatever I could to help them make it as a family, providing both financial and emotional support. I wanted them to make it. I learned to love my grandson’s mother. She loved my son, that was clear to see. When they got married, I was there to cheer them on. I helped them to move into their own apartment. I was here when she called, in tears over some issue she and my son were having. I helped whenever and however I could. But in all that, I always felt like an outsider. We never got back the connection we had lost, my son and I. I tried to accept this as a matter of course, as a natural outcome of a son becoming an adult and finding a wife. But I think, deep down, I knew there was more to it than that.
A couple of years ago, I retired and moved back to my hometown where my son and his family live. My parents are here as well. In my mind, I thought I would be here for my folks in the event they needed me (they are both in their 80’s) but equally important, I would be here for my son and his family. I would do as my folks had done for me and be the daycare option for my grandson. I looked forward to the close relationship with him that my mom had with my son. But none of that would come to pass.
Not long after I’d moved back, they told me they had signed my grandson up for daycare at the local community college where my daughter in law would be taking classes. There was no discussion with me about why they chose this route rather than letting me care for him. I did not ask why. I found myself being the last consideration at holidays, even having to wait a full week after my birthday to see them because my daughter in laws sister was visiting. I was rarely asked to babysit. And then one day, it all blew up. It was like a train wreck that I, for one, did not see coming.
It wasn’t even about them. My daughter, who was miserable at her high school, wanted to homeschool. I had no issue with exploring this option. She was, after all, crying every day on the way to school and it was heartbreaking hearing that she was having lunch in the bathroom. She hated it. I talked this over with her father. We had been divorced for over a decade but, for reasons I will never understand, he still harbors anger toward me that clouds his judgment. He refused to discuss it. His answer was no. I dragged him to mediation. I needed him to talk to our daughter. He refused. My son, who had for many, many years asked not to be involved in matters between me and his father, decided, again for reasons I will never understand, to put himself squarely in the middle. He wanted a seat at the table. This time, it was I that said no. I welcomed his perspective, but he was not going to part of the decision making process. He was furious. That was almost two years ago.
In these intervening years, my daughter has flourished, first homeschooling and then in a modified charter school where she is allowed to work at her own pace. It has provided her with the flexibility she needs to be successful. I have seen my son only once, and only because I showed up at his work. He has not allowed me to see my grandson. I am cut off from his family. I have tried, over the years, to reach out to him to no avail. When I did see him, he blamed me for not showing up sooner, despite his lack of responses to me. When I tried to get him to talk, to go to a counselor with me to work out our differences, he sent me a list of demands that I must execute before he will consider talking to me. The list isn’t important. The fact that there is one, is.
His last communication to me was about choosing who is in his family, or more importantly, who is not. His message was clear. Our family is no longer. I can tell you that nothing in my life thus far has been as painful as this experience. And I am not alone. It turns out estrangement is a huge issue. I have found some solace in my friendship with these strangers. We all belong to this club that no one wishes to join. We all have our stories, but our grief is what we have in common, and there is plenty of it. We are all in various stages of shock, acceptance, sadness or hope, depending on where things stand. For me, I am trying to accept the unacceptable. There is little I can do. I don’t have the strength to keep hoping and I don’t have the energy to try again, at least not now.
As an act of survival, I took down the photos of my son and his family this week. It’s important, at least to me, that I did this not out of anger, but as an act of self-preservation. My parents did this same thing over a year ago. I remember feeling deeply saddened when I walked in their home and realized his photos were gone. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. The measure of how much you love a person could very well be the depth of pain you feel when you lose them. I cannot express in words how much this hurts, day in and day out. I have cried buckets of tears and I will cry buckets more. I have lost a part of myself. It seems a harder thing to me because he’s actually still here. He’s just not here for me. I miss him. I love him. But I have to find a way to move on.
If there is a lesson here, it has to be this. Forgive. The destruction of a family is a terrible thing. Even if, someday, we find our way back to one another, the past cannot be undone. The pain cannot be erased. The time lost cannot be recaptured. I can’t go back in time and watch my grandson turn three, then four. I can’t go back in time and be there for any of those firsts that have come and gone, and those that will come and go in the future. I can’t go back and celebrate holidays and successes, or be a shoulder to lean on when times are tough. This is too high a price to pay. Be forgiving. Be understanding. Be accepting. Be kind. These are the things I wish for.