In Search of Symmetrical Stick Figures
This is the fifth post in our What is Family? blog series in honor of the season. Your favorite bloggers write about what family means to them.
FLAW: A defect in physical structure or form; an imperfection or weakness and especially one that detracts from the whole or hinders effectiveness
I come from a typical family. You know, the kind with more than one dad contributing to the creation of the children but less than one dad sticking around to raise them. Typical. Flawed.
I grew up aware that there was a defect in the physical structure of my stick figure drawings. My family only had one peak. We were lopsided. One adult. Three kids. Two hands for guidance. Six hands for mischief.
It turns out that families like mine weren’t as rare as I perceived them to be. In recent decades they have become even more common. But, the general demographic trends hadn’t reached our corner of suburbia in 1985 and the one block sample size that defined normal for my childhood years said our family was anything but typical. The official diagnosis was “broken.” I was from a “broken” home.
Even as a kindergartener, I knew broken was not the desired state of anything. Broken crayons were inferior. Broken toys went to the dump. What did you do with a broken family?
Our family was broken. Other families were fixed.
Our family was shattered. Other families were intact.
Our family was in pieces. Other families were whole.
My family didn’t look like the others on our block and for years I let the differences define me.
I wasn’t just a kid working in the yard. I was the kid without a dad to mow the lawn or trim the hedge.
I wasn’t just a kid enjoying a backyard BBQ. I was the kid who had to ask the dad across the street to open the pickle jar.
I wasn’t just a kid making a Father’s Day card to deliver with this year’s bottle of Old Spice. I was the kid whose dad didn’t fit in Hallmark’s box.
I was the kid who had to save up fourteen days of greetings for a man who pulled into the driveway every other Saturday. Sometimes he arrived with a new truck. Sometimes with a new girlfriend. Sometimes with bourbon on his breath. Always with a cowboy hat and a pack of unfiltered Camel cigarettes.
Every other Saturday I hopped into trucks of varying colors hopeful that an eight hour visitation would scratch the itch. Satisfy the longing. Fill the void.
And when my mom inquired, I pretended it had.
I pretended to be satisfied by an afternoon of John Wayne movies in a cramped apartment filled with secondhand smoke. I pretended not to care that another little girl was getting the daily greetings from my dad that I so desperately craved. I pretended it was funny he couldn’t remember my birthday. I pretended sixteen hours a month was enough.
I became good at pretending.
I pretended not to notice the signs for the Daddy/Daughter dance in the high school hallway.
I pretended to be satisfied with a prom send-off from my brothers.
I pretended it was enough to have my mom cheering on the sidelines.
I pretended not to notice the “S” on the campus parents’ weekend flyer.
But then I stopped pretending.
I met a man I loved and told him about my deepest desire to have a symmetrical family. I told him I was worried that a broken home had broken me. I told him my fears of messing things up for another generation.
And together, against the odds, we built a symmetrical family.
My kids draw stick figure drawings with two tall people. My kids never have to cross the street when they want a pickle. My kids enjoy a highly ritualized nighttime routine of daily stories, piggy-back rides, and back rubs from their father. My kids wake from nightmares and call out for “Daddy” with no trace of doubt that their calls will be answered. And, when they hear the word “camel” they think of an animal with humps.
I’m not as smug as that comparison makes me sound. Parenthood is a great humbler and I have been humbled in more ways that I can count. I’ve also learned a lot about love. I understand now that love between parents is a bonus but has nothing to do with love between a parent and child.
My kids are deeply loved.
So was I.
Love can be lopsided. Love can be imperfect.
Symmetry is overrated and perfection is unattainable.
When you think about it, making a family is a lot like knitting a holiday scarf.
Sometimes pieces need to be unraveled to fix a fundamental flaw. Sometimes flaws can be fixed by stretching the piece into shape after the fact. Sometimes flaws can be camouflaged with a button or embellishment. But sometimes, you have to make a choice. You can either start over or embrace the flaw as proof that the scarf was made by a real person.
Sometimes families need divorce. Sometimes families need therapy. Sometimes families need permission to laugh at their quirks and failings. Mostly, families just need to embrace who they are and get on with life.
The family I come from is full of real people. People with flaws. People with addictions. People with dreams. People who left. People who stayed. People who loved.
Mostly, just people.
Kristina Cerise is a Seattle writer, editor and mom trying to find meaning in the madness. The mom she planned to be often shakes her head at the mom she has become. She caffeinates daily, blogs regularly (www.definingmotherhood.wordpress.com) and tweets occasionally @DefineMother.
To read all of the essays in this series click here.