To look at me now you might think all kinds of bad things about me, but I can assure you my beginning hinted nothing at what was to come.
Built on a new curved road with fresh brown dirt and bright pine wood, everything about me said potential. My genesis was unremarkably normal as far as these things go, but it was paired with a sort of frenzied hopefulness for the kind of place you can be proud of.
The suburban dreamscape of middle-class pioneers.
Plans and potential.
Hopes and fresh starts.
My walls were painted bright colors and covered in wallpaper with large bold flowers. My rooms overflowed with golden light and fresh air. Every inch in pristine condition—new and welcoming, surrounded by tiny baby plants taking root in the soft soil.
It’s unfair to erase it all as if it didn’t happen, but I see you crying and perhaps you can’t remember. The dark cumulous clouds have blocked out all the light and all you can see is the eye of the storm.
I’ll remember for you.
There was a swing set, a dollhouse, and a front-yard wedding. Kids ran through my halls, drew on my walls, and hid in my cupboards. There were bubble baths and birthday parties.
A pot-bellied pig rushed through my screens and a dog died on my doorstep. Doves sang caged inside a back room, while a parakeet flew out the front door. There were guinea pigs and kittens and fish.
I held you all, but you don’t seem to remember.
You look and see the end of things and it breaks your heart. You see the way the broken things left unfixed became hazardous and ugly. The holes in the ceiling, the torn mashed carpet with exposed sharp nails, the brown-tinged water stains growing larger each day, and the tangles of weeds pushing through the cracks in the walls.
You try to convince yourself it’s all for the best, but you can’t let go. I see it in the way you touch my textured walls and turn the lights on and off. You take photos of my doorknobs, but you don’t recognize me.
I don’t either.
Time has jumped ahead, and without someone to protect and sustain the old me, I’ve transformed into a living representation of the sadness I’ve held within me for the last decade.
It hurt to watch it happen. I could do nothing to stop it.
Oh, if I could have stopped it.
I want so much for things to be different, but we both know it’s neither of our faults and it can’t be undone.
Things break and things change.
You use a shovel to remove the garbage piled inside me into black shiny bags, an archeological dig of the past. I see you unearth a few treasures I protected for you, loading them into your van before you turn to say goodbye.
There’s so much we want to say to each other, but we don’t have to.
The love and memories we’ve shared are intact and unbroken.
We get to keep them and we don’t have to say anything.
I watch you take a pair of scissors and fight through the weeds to gather up the last of the spring roses, a fragrant bundle of pinks, yellows, and reds. Breathing them in, you trace the gold house numbers with a shaking finger.
You stand in the middle of the driveway and we stare at each other. I watch you fall off your bike and get a black eye, run across the street to play with your best friend, and kiss your boyfriend beside his car. I see the transformation of us both as if it’s happening in a blink before me.
It’s painfully beautiful.
Crossing your arms across your chest and squaring your feet, you seem unable to move.
I want you to go.
You haven’t lived here in a long time and neither of us are the same as we were. We’ve been looking back through a cloud of time, yearning for something long gone, but it must end.
It already has.
Release me and turn from here.
Go, dear child.
Don’t look back.
I’ll be okay.
There will be a new future for me and there’s nothing left here for you.
Author’s note: When I read this week’s prompt I was flooded with memories of my childhood home. It felt visceral and raw, a wound not quite healed. I wrote about the experience of letting it go a few years ago, but apparently, I wasn’t done processing my feelings around the loss.
My childhood home wasn’t sold but was foreclosed upon. My brother and mother lived there, both suffering from depression. The house had endured a long-drawn-out decay, breaking bit by bit, and by the end, it was a mere shadow of the place I grew up.
It was something about the final goodbye which brought about the contrasts for me of how it was when I was a child compared to what it had become. I wrote this week’s short story in a rush, a blend of reality and fiction that poured out faster than I could type. It felt cathartic and I cried as I typed the final words. Three years later, I think I’m finally ready to let it go.
Being a parent is like walking blindfolded into the wilderness. You have to use all your senses, listen to your natural instincts, surrender any idea you know what you’re doing, and you can’t call it quits.
Before the pandemic, my kids were involved in all kinds of activities and I felt the rushing movement like a giant truck I was simultaneously riding and driving. We would fight to get out the door and I’d yell. There were too many car meals, bathroom clothing changes, and exhausted tears. I felt overwhelmed and busy, but confident. I did my best, and at the end of the day, I felt good about the efforts I put in.
During the pandemic, all the things my kids claimed to hate but secretly loved, stopped. The life I’d helped them cultivate away from media and technology suddenly revolved around screens. I was here with them all the time, yet I felt like I didn’t really see what was happening. Our lives became a series of solitary moments in our rooms with our phones or computers, interspersed by nature walks and car drives to nowhere. It went on forever, yet it felt like a blip or a bump we’d get past. We expected it would return to normal, but it didn’t.
The pandemic has transformed me as a parent.
This is not what I expected my life to look like at this moment. I suspect some of you, perhaps all of you, can relate in some way.
For me, the fundamental shift is this; my belief my kids will be okay has been replaced with fear and anxiety.
I can trace how it happened.
Early in the pandemic, my son was in a skateboard accident. He got a road rash on his face and arms, knocked out his front teeth, and had a fairly serious concussion. Each first responder and hospital staff member took a moment to yell at him, and by extension me, for him not wearing a helmet. They rubbed it in thoroughly, and I felt their words chipping away the image I had of myself as a mother. I felt bruised and beaten as I nursed my son back to health in a dark room for several weeks, blaming myself for his accident.
A few months later my grandmother died of Covid. I tried to call her once at the hospital, but she was asleep. I didn’t try again. I was scared to talk to her. There’s was so much unsaid between us, and I wanted her to get better so I could say the things. The lost opportunity felt huge while bringing fears of Covid closer to home.
While I tried to convince myself my kids were strong and would fight Covid easily, I was terrified of unknowingly passing Covid onto my mom, who has bad asthma, or to my mother-in-law who is elderly and fighting cancer. Each time I had a tickle in my throat, I’d worry it would develop into something more, and I’d be one of those who weren’t so lucky to fight it off. It wasn’t a rabid fear, but rather a slow-simmering background of fear which chipped away at me bit by bit.
In addition to Covid, I began to fear how people were acting. The division of those who refused masks contrasted with those hoarding supplies and preparing for a sort of social war. All of these things made leaving my house feel risky and dangerous. I stockpiled dried beans, rice, and bottled water. My neighbor and I talked about his guns and how he could protect us; the conversation felt appropriate at the time.
I watched my kids implode in a way I didn’t understand, and still don’t. It wasn’t simply losing school and friends; it was a sort of reckoning of what kind of life they wanted to have. The trajectory of their accomplishments stopped, and they had nothing to be proud of. They had too much time to think about the world, to see all the ugliness of it, and it changed them.
Six months after his first accident, my son had a second one. This time he was hit by a car walking to the store to buy a soda. The police came to the door as I was doing the dinner dishes and I followed in a daze to the hospital. More scraps, another concussion, and a fresh batch of fears for me. The moments of that day play over and over in my head and it’s hard to let him out of my sight. I’m only truly comfortable when he’s home. I worry when he’s at school or with his friends. I obsessively track his phone throughout the day in an attempt to ease the anxiety. If his phone dies or I can’t get in touch with him, I panic.
My daughter, through the isolation from her peers and anxiety of the world, has developed some mental health struggles. I won’t share the specifics to maintain her privacy, but I missed the signs for too long. I felt another blow to my parenting ego, but worse; I felt a terrible sense I’d let her down in all the ways that matter. I had missed the big stuff. I felt selfish and scared.
All of this has changed me as a parent.
I find it hard to return to the way we were before because much of my mental energy has transformed into anxiety and fear.
My kids miss a lot of school and I don’t care about homework. I let them hang with their friends as much as they want, drive them to therapy and support groups. I’ve put thousands of miles on my car listening to their music and hoping they will feel better.
I want them to feel better.
I am also not requiring enough of them so that they can grow in the ways I know they need to. I’m scared to push and to hold them to the standard I did before. They are not falling short; I’ve simply grown fearful of requirements because I don’t want to lose them. I don’t push.
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I’ve been more worried about my kids dying in the last two years than I did the entire time they were little. I was all about letting them climb a tree, or take a risk. I thought it was good if they got hurt because it showed them a boundary and allowed them to grow.
I’ve lost that.
Now, I fear pushing them will result in dire consequences.
It’s a tightrope of wanting to require more so they feel proud of themselves and grow, but also holding back because I see them as fragile. I know they aren’t as fragile as I’ve made them out to be, but I am.
It feels perilous.
How do I become the right kind of hard while still protecting them and myself?
I don’t know.
There’s another component, a sort of social reckoning. What they have experienced has shifted the momentum of their lives. They see their life path, their goals, as something far different than I did at their age. It’s no longer as an individual, but rather how they will be in the world.
They are examining complex things: gender constructs, systematic racism, global warming. There’s a sort of punk rock attitude forming; a kind of new version of the “fuck the man” mentality. Instead of music and drugs, they want marches and social justice reform. They want the world to do better, to be better.
They aren’t going to sleepwalk through their lives, moving from one checked box to the next like I did; high school, college, career, house, kids.
I moved through each thing as if I had no say in the matter; as if all the decisions of my life were preordained and I was simply saying the lines written for me. After all the boxes were checked, I felt cheated and empty. I missed so much because I did what I thought was expected of me. I didn’t slow or pause to examine if the path was what I wanted or if the roles I’d cast myself in fit me anymore.
My kids aren’t doing that.
They think about the kind of lives they want, and although the images are still so unclear, I don’t think they will settle. They don’t believe the story my generation did, and they don’t want the same outcome. I see them looking at me and their father and shaking their heads at how much we don’t question things or fight for a better world. They check us on the language we use and talk about things it’s taken me over 40 years to recognize.
They are facing forward and not shrinking from it. While I see them as fragile, the evidence doesn’t support me. If they can look at the problems in the world with a sort of determined energy of change, how can I see them as weak?
I have hope that all this social awareness is leading to something amazing for their entire generation and, not to be too grandiose, the planet. This outward focus and the ability to accept and empathize with all kinds of people has to be leading to a better world for all of us.
None of this, however, makes it easy to be a mother right now. There are days, more than I care to admit, I wish I could hop into a time machine and do a better job of protecting and shielding my kids. I’d put them in a bubble and not let anything in.
I know that’s not actually true and it’s the fear and the pain talking.
It’s my desire for growth to not hurt, but that’s not how it works.
The story my kids are living, well…it’s their story. All the things they have been through are shaping and molding them. And they are incredible kids.
My challenge has become to support them, to love them, and to go slower. To continue to sit with them in the discomfort, to listen as they question things, and, most importantly, to see my fear as separate from their experience.
The last one has been the hardest for me.
I have to work on healing my own fears around losing them, and not let my decisions be based on either guilt for what they’ve lost or fear I’ll lose them permanently.
I’m trying my best.
Maybe the pushing will come when it feels right, but for now, I observe and I listen. I try and see the ways I can nudge and build on those. These kids have been through so much, and it’s made them strong.
They are freaking rock stars.
My daughter has started having friends over again and they laugh so much. She pours herself into her artwork. It’s for her, not for show or attention. She does art to express her feelings and she holds people accountable for their actions. She sets boundaries, even with me.
My son began working out at the gym and he plays basketball with his friends. He plays guitar in his room for the pure love of it, not caring to impress anyone or show off. He makes everyone laugh, can size up his teachers, and isn’t afraid to call them out when they are being unfair. He forgives me when I hold too tight or freak out, but doesn’t let me off without a fight.
My kids talk to each other all the time. It’s not fake. It’s not superficial. They talk about real stuff and lean on each other.
All of these things are beautiful and real.
My kids aren’t fragile.
I’m facing forward and I’m doing the best I can, and for that, I need to give myself grace.
No looking back.
I’ve come to realize, parenting doesn’t get easier, and maybe that’s part of the complexity of my own feelings. A bit of sadness my kisses and hugs aren’t magical anymore. A bit of the rose-colored glasses slipping as my kids enter the imperfect world-not the careful world of fairies and magic I crafted when they were little.
While this part of my life feels unsteady and hard, all I can do is keep loving them and trying to do better. As the Everly Brothers sang:
Love hurts, love scars Love wounds and mars Any heart, not tough Nor strong enough To take a lot of pain Take a lot of pain Love is like a cloud Holds a lot of rain
Sometimes my teenage daughter’s anxiety gets too big, and I pick her up early from school.
I know her education is important, but living through a pandemic has changed my priorities and perspective. When she calls me, I don’t hesitate and I don’t make her feel bad. I get her.
Last week I picked her up after a flurry of upsetting texts. She told me her mental health was bad again. It scared me. It scared her. She’d kept it from me for weeks because she didn’t want to make me sad. My heart broke she’d tried to protect me, and I felt I had to say the right thing.
“We face what is,” I said.
These four words felt important.
I repeated them.
“We face what is.”
This opened the door for her to share, and for me to listen. We made plans for her to get new kinds of help, and to pursue roads to healing we hadn’t considered before. I reminded her she isn’t alone, and I’m more interested in her truth than in feeling comfortable and happy.
The next day, I was sitting alone and spiraling out about my eyes.
My eye to be specific.
I’ve got one good eye and one lazy one. It’s been this way my entire life, and normally it’s not on my mind. But lately, I’ve had trouble seeing when I read, or when I’m on the phone. Things were blurry and I couldn’t read the instructions on a medicine bottle. I bought a pair of reading glasses, and it helped. This should have been the end of it.
However, my anxiety over the experience grew and grew. It became unruly, demanding more and more of my attention and emotional energy.
I’d convinced myself I must have some horrible disease, most likely brought on by my weight gain and laziness. I began to tally all the ways I’m failing at caring for myself. I don’t wear my sunglasses all the time. I spend too much time on screens. I don’t blink enough. I got bacon grease in my eye on Christmas morning, which was irresponsible and preventable if I’d paid better attention. I haven’t done enough research to see how to protect my eyesight. I don’t eat enough green leafy vegetables or omega-3 fatty acids. I’m going to lose my ability to see, and it will be my own fault.
As I sat still, berating myself, those four words I told my daughter came to me.
“We face what is.”
I looked up the number of an optometrist near me and made an appointment.
As I sat in the waiting room, all the anxiety and blame thick about me, I kept countering it with those four words. Whatever the eye doctor tells me, I will face. I have family and friends who will love and support me. I can’t face what I don’t know.
As I went through the exam, I made lots of self-deprecating jokes. I knew I had to keep the mood as light as possible, and I had to keep talking.
“Which is better? One or two? Three or four?”
Each question was scary. The letters I couldn’t see felt ominous, surely indicators of something serious. I kept trying to hear it in her voice, waiting for the bad news to drop.
My eye’s fine. I’m getting older. It’s normal.
She prescribed reading glasses, the same kind I’m already using. She told me I’m okay.
We face what is.
I have some other health things I have to face. I’ve put on too much weight. I have pains in my hips and back. I’m concerned I might be pre-diabetic, it runs in my family, or I could be putting too much strain on my heart. I’m taking steps to correct my health, which means facing things like the scale, a check-up at the doctor, and returning to the gym. All of these things feel hard, and damn, there’s a lot of judgment and guilt around them.
However, I can’t do anything without turning toward what is. I have to stop ignoring the truth for some pretend comfort. I have people who count on me, and I have a lot more I want to do with my life. There’s no reason to run from perceived scary things or to let myself build them up until they are monstrous. It’s far better to shine a light on them.
It doesn’t look like my childhood home anymore. It hasn’t looked like it in a long time.
The effects of depression hang in the air, tangibly thick, like the layers of neglect and random things. Peeling back each one we find plenty that’s broken, unusable, forgotten or discarded. There are cords, cigarette butts, bottles, worn-out blankets, unmatched shoes and boxes of stuff bought for a purpose or plan long since abandoned. As we shovel it all away, pile it to be taken to the dump, my heart is breaking for what is at the very bottom of it all, the thing left when you peel everything away.
My childhood home.
Skating in the garage. Homework at the dinner table. Christmas mornings. Biking around the court. Neighborhood friends. Mudpies. A summer wedding in the front yard. Nursing a possum back to health. Hiding in my closet. Buried pets. Ewok battles. Midnight Jane Fonda workouts. My dad at his computer. Microwave popcorn. Goodnight kisses. My purple room. First day of school pictures. Our pig running through the back and front screen door. Slumber parties. Dancing on my bed. Rosanne on the TV. Mom sewing at the kitchen table. Sandbags. Doves. Playing shipwreck. Daycare kids. Charles Chips tins. Yellow flowered wallpaper. Spacecat peeing in the entryway. Piles of leaves. Brown carpet.
None of these memories will be erased by this move. I get to keep them. They are mine.
Yet there is something profoundly sad about the way this place I grew up, this place I learned about myself and the world, became. It didn’t just get sold. There isn’t just a new family moving in.
The house was broken.
Then taken (foreclosure).
It’s violating. It’s as if a part of my childhood was left to rot and spoil in the sun, a dead fish in a pile of debris. It’s ugly and raw.
I don’t blame my parents. There is no blame to place anywhere. Sometimes families fall apart and ours did so at an excruciatingly slow pace. It’s been decades and there are still casualties. Piles of them.
Although it would be easiest to only look forward, to face away from what was, I find myself drawn back by the little pieces of history unearthed. I want to remember, to honor these feelings, to touch all the creases and cracks of the walls before they are no longer mine to feel.
This weekend we must say our final goodbye. We will take the last things off the walls. I’ll open the hallway cupboards and run my hands over the place the board games used to live. I’ll walk into my closet and shut the door and sit in the dark one last time. I’ll stare at the door to my parent’s bedroom, the one I couldn’t enter without knocking. I’ll look out my bedroom window.
I was lucky to have grown up in this middle-class suburban neighborhood. I know that. My brother and I had friends to play with, we swam in the gutters, got into fights, babysat, borrowed sugar, trick-or-treated, sold candy bars door-to-door, walked the dogs and slowly changed into the people we are today.
The home of those memories, however, has been gone for a long time. It was fractured by divorce, mental illness and time. Things broke and didn’t get fixed. Weeds became impossible to combat. Cracks too big to mend.
The park we played at has been fenced off, permanently closed due to gangs and violence. My car was stolen when I was visiting and pregnant with my first child. Most of the neighbors have moved and the new ones are not friendly. It isn’t the neighborhood of my youth, it’s as crumbling as the roof and as ugly as the butchered tree in the front yard.
Things don’t stay frozen in time. Erosion. Evolution. Transformation.
Leaving this home behind will be a new start for my mother and brother, a chance to wipe clean the wounds of the past that lay bare and bleeding. They can shed the guilt, the pain and the reality of a space no longer serving the purpose it once did. They can outrun the ghosts and the echoes of a life lived.
This is an opportunity to make things better.
It’s for the best.
I know all this, yet it doesn’t make it any easier.
I’ve never liked the end of a book or the goodbyes when someone leaves. I wish I could skip ahead to the time when the pain is a memory, but that isn’t how things work.
The pain is here right now, whether I acknowledge it or not. This is the hard part.
Once we pull away with the last load of things on Sunday, maybe looking back for one last glance of myself riding my big wheel around the court, the real healing can begin.