Love In Many Forms

My son and his wife of seven days (typing that just seems amazing) are somewhere in Jerusalem right now.  In Israel.  Yes, the one that is seven hours time difference from where they live in Alexandria, VA and where I live in Connecticut. I was pondering that the other day.  For my honeymoon, my husband and I went on a Carnival cruise.  We went to Grand Cayman, Cozumel and New Orleans.  It was the first time I’d been outside of the US save for Canada (because every good Detroiter has gone drinking in Canada).   My son has been now to Spain, to Croatia, and to Israel.  He’s passed through France for connecting flights, twice.  What a different life has than I did.

What a different life he has than I ever imagined for him.

At my son’s wedding last week, after he and I shared our emotional mother/son dance, I walked him back to his new wife and hugged her hard.  Then I went back to sit at my table, with my husband and our two much younger children.  Within a minute, there was my father, red in the face and clearly just as emotional as me.

Maybe more so.

“I remember the day he was born,” he struggled to tell me, tears flowing from the corners of his eyes.   And he was right.  Of the hundred or so people standing in this room with us, there were only three of us who were there the day Zach was born.  My sister, myself and my father.  My brother was in the Navy in basic training at the time, and met him about a month or so after he was born.  Everyone else in the room met him sometime later in his life.

It was hard, at that moment in time, staring at my son and his lovely wife in this gorgeous hotel ballroom, with everyone dressed in their finery, to imagine what those days were like.  My father had literally been there since the moment this boy was born; he’d been my Lamaze coach.  He’d watched this young man come into the world, take his first breaths.  He’d been ultimately supportive after his initial skepticism  regarding my “situation”.  I was 18 and alone when this little baby came into all of our lives, and life could have turned out very, very different than the moment we were all experiencing together.

But what was overwhelming all of us, as my sister had now come to join my father and I, both redfaced in the front of the room together, was my mother’s absence.  “She should have been here,” my father said next, putting his head in his hand.  “She would have been so proud of him.”

Seeing my father cry about my mother is truly a humbling experience for me. While my father has been with his partner since before my parents’ marriage ended, it’s clear to me that he truly did love my mother.  While the demise of their marriage was fraught with difficulty, fighting and anger, eventually everything settled in to the way things were supposed to be.  In fact, I always kind of thought that my pregnancy at 18 and my parents banding together to support me and my child truly was the last step of pulling them back together as a family unit, if not a married one.  And when my mother passed, my father was there to hold her hand along with us kids.  It was my father who helped us eulogize her at her memorial.  They had a clear and deep connection, and it is easy for me to forget that on a day to day basis.  I suppose I deal with my grief often about my mother, but my father likely doesn’t.  So it is in these family moments where it comes roaring to the surface for him, still raw and harsh, even twenty years later.

In some sort of awful way, it made me feel good to see him that affected by her absence.  That while his life is very different now, the affection he had for her was real and true and honest. I held him and told him about the wedding song, and how sure I was that she had a role to play there.  That I was sure she was watching all of us here, this night and smiling from wherever she was, happy to see her beloved first grandchild so successful, so sure of himself, so clearly in love.  “She loved him so much,” I said to my father and my sister, which gave them both a fresh set of tears, but gave me a strength and surety that stopped my own.

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Blame Game

Blame.   I just want someone to blame, sometimes.  And the older I get, the more I realize that often there is no one to blame, nothing to do, no choices to be made.

So what do I do then?  I blame myself.

The latest round of blame game in my head comes home to roost in a familiar place.  My son’s non existent biological father.  Sure, I’ve beat myself up for the last 24 years about how I must have done something to keep him away all of this time.  It’s one thing to have it going on in my head, alone, with only me to witness my own personal level of crazy self talk.

It’s quite another when I see the pain evident in my son, as well.  That brings a whole new round of it.

My son’s fiancee talked with me a few weeks ago about Z’s biological father’s family and their wedding.  It was a conversation I’d had with him a few months ago, when he expressed the fact that he really wanted a representative of that family there.  He hasn’t mentioned it since.  I had advised him to do a lot of self examination before deciding whether or not to invite the one member of the family he has contact with.  I told him he needed to be OK with any of the possibilities of her responses, and to be honest with himself about the whole idea being a longshot.

What I didn’t put on his shoulders was how awful and awkward her presence would be for me, and for everyone else who has been a loving and supportive person in my son’s life throughout his life.  It isn’t his burden to bear, and frankly, I know that we would all swallow any amount of bile in our throats to give him what he wants on this one.  He wants a connection.  He wants to know that part of who he is.  The parts that aren’t me and can’t be explained any other way.  It hurts me greatly, even though I know it’s not his fault and not intentional in anyway, so I button that up and move on.  Or try to.

So he spoke to his fiancee about the whole situation to get her thoughts.  And she was so disturbed by how upset he was, that she came to me.  She asked me what I thought could be done, should be done.  How could we make his biological father choose to be a part of Z’s life.  Because it is making him doubt that important part of who he wants to be:  a father.  How can he be a good father if he knows it is in his DNA to walk away and never look back.

He’s 23 of course.  When I was 23, I still believed such things to be true.  I didn’t realize that a lifetime alongside a person can change who you are, make you different than maybe other circumstances might have formed you.  And, being 23 of course, he still believes in things like miracles and happy endings and neat, simple closures to messy situations by the end of the movie.  He doesn’t have the years of the world showing you different tucked neatly under his belt like I do at age 42.  Hell, at 42 I still don’t believe that his father has stayed away all of this time.  I still wonder if a hangup call is him trying to connect with us.  Even after all of this time, I hope that he’ll make things right.  And if I feel that way, I certainly can’t blame my kid for feeling that way.

Even though, as I told this young girl who will be my daughter in law soon, I know that he has already chosen.  Z’s father has chosen every single day of his life.  He has stayed away.  Even though I lived for the first ten years of Z’s life in the same place that Joe knew.  Even though when I did move away, there was the Internet, and with my work online I was always easily found.   Even though I made a point of attending my 20th high school reunion with the hopes of finding him there.   Even though now his own aunt maintains an email correspondence with Zach.  If Joe really wanted to know his son, be a part of his life, he would.  He has chosen, very clearly.  We just don’t like what he chose.

I’ve been in a funk the last little while about this, mulling over what, if anything, I should do here.   Because I could, if I really wanted to, pick up a phone right now and speak to Z’s biological father.  In a fit of obsessive Googling and sheer dumb luck, I found some contact information a few years back that I believe may be credible.   Should I reach out to him?  Appeal to his conscience?   Absolve him of his 24 absent years?  Talk of what a credit this amazing kid is would be to him?

I think back to all of the things I wish I’d done differently back when I discovered I was pregnant and the ensuing difficult months where we ended up splitting up.  All of the lost chances to make this right, to be the bigger person, to think of my son before myself.  So many mistakes I made.  Could this be the chance I have to fix all of that?

Or is it just simply time for me to grow up and realize that I did the best I could, under difficult circumstances?  That my self blame doesn’t take away the fact that at the end of the day, Joe left his pregnant girlfriend to raise his son alone.  Without any financial or emotional help.   That sometimes people just are really awful, and that they only have themselves to blame.

I just don’t know.  I just don’t know what to do here.   I don’t know who to blame.  I don’t know who to be mad at.  I don’t know how to make this better or right or make sense.

 

Yep. I Called That One.

Here is the text of the voicemail that landed on my phone while I was out running this morning:

“Hello.  I just wanted to call and thank you for ruining Christmas, that was very nice of you, I appreciate that.  We won’t be going to Florida this year because (my fiancee) won’t come anywhere near you.  She is too mad at you for trying to bully me into going to (your son’s) wedding.  So, talk to you later!”

No matter that my father shared with me yesterday that my brother had already contacted HIM to complain about my reaction to the news of him not attending my son’s wedding.  No, that’s completely fine.  But I am a completely terrible person (once again) for going to my father to seek advice on how to handle my brother and his absence at my kid’s wedding.  I didn’t ask him to speak to him (in fact, I expressly asked him NOT to, but he did anyway).  I didn’t even tell him anything he didn’t already know; my brother had already told him about not attending and my father is aware enough to know that this would hurt my son’s feelings.  He’d already been trying to convince him to change his mind, and my email yesterday just gave him another push.

Whatever.

Having my son’s affection is something that my brother no longer deserves.  That’s how I feel.  And I’m fine at this point with helping him through the disappointment of seeing my brother (yet again) let him down, rather than having this type of animosity ruin what should be a wonderful, incredible, important day for my kid.  If my brother feels it is “bullying” to want him present there, then I don’t want him there.  I don’t want him anywhere near me or my family.  Because he doesn’t deserve us in his life.  Not if this is truly how he feels.  I’m over it.

Again.

UPDATE:  While I was writing this blog post, the following email arrived in my box:

After much discussion with xxxx we’ve decided to cancel our trip to Florida.  We are not going to go down there and try to enjoy a holiday with all the tension you have caused over xxx’s wedding hanging over everything.  It would be uncomfortable and awkward for everyone and I’m not going to spend my Christmas under that dark cloud, let alone ask (my fiancee) to and force (my son) to.  Christmas is supposed to be a joyful holiday.  Unfortunately it has all been soured and I don’t see any way to salvage it.

As I told Dad, xxx announced his wedding one month after we accepted Dad’s offer to go to Florida.  We can’t afford to do both.  Now, because of your wailing and gnashing of teeth, we will probably do neither.  You have upset xxxx and I both and neither of us wants to spend any time anywhere in your vicinity.  At least with the money we won’t be spending we can get xxxx an awesome wedding gift.

Family and Frustration (Again)

So, in a very strange turn of events, my brother and my son are getting married in the same calendar year.  I have known this for a while now, as my brother asked his on again/off again (but mostly on lately) to marry him nearly a year ago.

Now, in case you haven’t followed my blog for long, you may not realize that this isn’t exactly a warm, fuzzy relationship I have going on with my brother.  Long story short:  my brother, who has since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, reacted badly to my parents’ divorce when I was seven, and I spent several years being his punching bag (not figuratively, but literally his punching bag).  He was institutionalized several times before my father took custody of him when I was 15.   For much of our adult life, his focus on himself above all others has been a constant source of frustration and angst for me.  Click here for far too many posts about how my brother and I go constantly around in circles of either speaking or fighting or not speaking because we recently fought.

All that being said, it’s kind of a miracle that he is getting married, and I am glad that he’s finally found happiness.  The fact that they are still together after nearly a year of living together and being engaged is astounding, and I’d been looking forward to the wedding they planned for next November.

My brother called me a few weeks ago to ask for some addresses for the family for his wedding guest list.  I of course had them on hand from my Christmas card list and told him I’d send them along.  He lamented that his side of the aisle would be kind of light and asked for suggestions on who else he should invite to the affair.

I told him we would likely have the same problem, and that I fully expected that some people from the family would likely be forced to choose which of the two family weddings to attend this year.  I told him that I expected more of the people from great distances to choose his wedding over my son’s.

That’s when he dropped the bombshell.

That he was going to make that choice too.  That he wasn’t going to be present at my son’s wedding.

Now, this shouldn’t have surprised me.  My brother always has time and money for himself and what he finds important in his life.  But, he told me, he was busy saving for his own wedding, and couldn’t sacrifice the money that going to an out of town wedding would take away from his own special day.

If I agreed with him, if I truly felt that he couldn’t afford to do both, I would understand.  I would.  But my brother has a way of making sure he is able to go out for karoake and drinks with his friends once a week, buying the latest technology for himself, and smoking hundreds of dollars of cigarettes a month.  Tightening his belt is a foreign concept.  Why should he sacrifice his fun for a family affair peopled with people he hardly ever sees and doesn’t often get along with?  But he expects us at his own wedding.  He worries the crowd will be “thin” for him.

I think it’s the hypocrisy of it that really grinds my gears.  Well, that, and the fact that my son will be supremely disappointed in his uncle.  He has a firm grasp of the person my brother is, but I don’t think even he imagines that his uncle, who has always talked about how proud he is of my son, would not attend this most important day in his life.  I don’t think it has even entered his head.

So I don’t know what to do, here.  I know from past experience that I never win an argument with my brother.  Conflict is always my fault, always.  When he told me, in fact, I simply said that I was disappointed but would get off of the phone before we both said things we would regret later.  I don’t want to have my father (again) offer to pay for my brother to attend.  My feeling here is that my brother can afford it, if he chooses to make this event an priority.  But there is no way I can make him do that.

Yesterday, my brother sent me, my sister and my father his son’s Christmas list.  It was full of gifts that had a price tag of between $100-$200 each.  He plans on getting “several” of the items on the list himself for his kid.  It brought it all to the forefront to me again, this frustration that I have with him, that he is more important than any of the rest of us.  In a fit of frustration, I sent an email to my father about the situation.  I don’t want him to fix it, I don’t want him to pay for it, I just want some advice from someone who knows both my son and my brother; who they are and how to handle this situation in light of who they are.

I don’t know what he will say.  Probably, my brother will be angry with me for making him “look bad” to our father.  Maybe I’ve made a bad situation worse.  I don’t know.

I just don’t know.

I Knew It Was Going To Happen…

I knew it was going to happen, I really did, but it still gives me a knot in my stomach to know it is real.

My son is engaged.  He’s going to get married.  He’s probably going to BE married by this time next year.

Don’t get me wrong.  This is what we all want for our kids, right?  We want them to find that one person who they love completely and want to take on the journey of life together with.  We want them to be happy.  We want them to be moving forward and being independent and making their own lives for themselves.

Still, I worry.  He’s young, just having turned 23.  And having made a lot of Very Big Life Choices myself early in life, I worry that maybe he’s rushing in.  Why not wait a few years until his career is more established?  To allow himself time to travel and enjoy all that life has to offer before taking the family/marriage/parenthood route.  Something I never had.  Something I wish I had.  But of course, if I did have that time to myself, then I wouldn’t have him, and he’s pretty much the best thing I’ve ever done (well, tied with the other two kids, anyway).

Pretty hard to have the conversation with him about how I think he should wait, because if I’d waited, he wouldn’t exist.  Yeah, you see the dilemma.

Still, I just want him to be happy.  To be sure.  This is a life decision that will affect every single other life decision he makes.  And frankly, he still seems So Young.   I know he’s not, in my head.  I know that he’s 23, living and working and an adult.  He lives six hours from here.  He’s been on his own, really, since he left for college five years ago.  He’s done mostly everything right and well so far, why should this be any different?

It shouldn’t.  I just have to hold my breath and hope that he’s made the right choice for himself.   There’s no reason to think that he hasn’t.

My son is getting married.  I can’t even wrap my brain around it.  Somewhere in my head, he’s still that sweet little boy with the toothless smile, and I’m the young single mother who is just hanging on by a thread.  It still seems impossible that we managed to get from there to here.

But we did.  And now he’s older than I was when he was born, older than I was when my mother passed away, older than I was when I started teaching in the inner city.  He’s an adult.  He can do this.  And I’m fortunate, truly, to be able to be there for all of it.

Wedding

Things I Remember About My Wedding Day, 12/96:

I loved my hair, although with my roots my hair looked brown in all of the photos

I wish someone had told me about eyebrow waxing

No one was paying attention to my sister’s kids while we got ready upstairs, so her daughter never ate that day.  She threw up later as a result.

I wished my Dad didn’t wear his glasses in the photos (a lot of this is sounding petty)

I smiled the whole way down the aisle.  My sister cried and I always thought that was silly; you should be happy on your wedding day.  I loved looking out on everyone I loved as I walked and focused on that.

Our priest made a huge faux pas in the homily.  He was trying to be funny,  talking about pleasing the in laws, and I could see it coming well before he said it.  He said something about me and my mother in law, and then… something about R trying to please HIS mother in law.  It would have been a crowd pleaser had my mother had been alive; I’m sure he had used the line before.  I remember vividly forcing myself to keep a mask of serenity on my face, but I was furious.  An audible gasp went up from my side of the church when it happened.   It made the ceremony feel like he didn’t know us at all.

I got very choked up during the vows, and my portion were not audible to anyone but the priest and R.  I was full of emotion, on so many levels.  I hate that at other people’s weddings, so I was disappointed when it happened to me.  I should have practiced or something.

I loved the part of the ceremony where we gave flowers to the statue of Mary.   It was a nice break from being on display to the audience; we faced the congregation for most of the ceremony.

We went through the McDonald’s drive thru for the aforementioned niece after the ceremony.

My father had given an amazing speech at my sister’s wedding, and I expected something similar at my own.  I remembered it well; he’d started with a quote from Les Miserables.  Since my father and I shared a love of Broadway musicals, I expected some similar epiphany with a great quote at my own.  His speech was instead very predictable, generic and totally unlike him.  It struck me as odd.

My uncle, my mother’s brother (the one my mother waited to see before her death), gave a very beautiful speech on her behalf.  It was very touching; we are not very close, so it was a beautiful surprise.

My father in law, too, gave a very moving speech.  He talked about how the family was not only gaining a daughter in law, but a “bonus” with Zach.  My whole family was impressed and many of them were crying.

R and I were expected to speak, but again, I found myself speechless.  R made a comment too about “our new family” which was very nice.  At that point I was nervous about R’s family, which greatly outnumbered my own.  They were glamourous, European and I felt completely out of place in their midst, even at my own wedding.

My sister cried like a baby during the Father Daughter dance.  I did a bit too, so did he, but my sister was off the charts.  Everyone was talking about it.

The DJ played the wrong Celine Dion song, but I didn’t tell anyone that I was upset about it.  The one I had wanted, “The Way You Loved Me” reminded me of my mother, and that was really why I had asked for it.

The food and desserts were beautiful, except the tables for the wedding cake were not level.  This gave the cake a decided lilt, which we all watched all night to see if the cake collapsed.  It did not.

R surprised me at the end of the evening by having booked a hotel suite for us. We had originally thought to just go back home, where Z and my father would also be.  We weren’t leaving on our honeymoon for a week, to take advantage of my scheduled break at school, so after the wedding, it was back to Real Life.  I had been kind of irritated by the plan, but went along with it because it had seemed practical.   It was a perfect surprise, even though I normally hate surprises.

And after all of that, I was married.

The Day Before the Big Day

I lay there in my sister’s king sized bed, the bed she normally shared with her husband, wide awake.

It was the night before my wedding; I was spending the night at my sister’s house and getting ready there in the morning.   R was at my condo with Zach and my father, and would get ready with them both there.  If I squinted my glasses needing eyes just a bit, I could make out the enormous shape of my wedding gown hanging from my sister’s curtain rod across the room.   It was sheathed in plastic, beautiful I knew though I couldn’t make out the specifics of it in the barely lit darkness.

Everything was ready.  I’d taken off of work on Friday to run all of the myriad of errands that needed to be attended to the day before one’s wedding.  I went to the hall and gave them the final count; I picked up my gown; I checked in with the DJ, the florist and the photographer.  And of course, we’d had our wedding rehearsal and the subsequent dinner afterwards.   It was a loud, rowdy affair that we’d invited nearly everyone who came in from out of town to, in addition to the wedding party, R’s parents and my father.  I couldn’t even believe that it was all actually happening.  Three years ago I’d felt like I was in a tunnel with no hope of ever finding a path towards what I considered a normal life:  husband, house, job, kids.  Now, here I was.  On the precipice of all of it.

I knew why I was not able to sleep; I was a worrier.  And I was able to manufacture plenty to worry about, despite having planned every detail carefully.

I was worried about our third song.  The first song, R’s and my dance, would be to a country song that R chose, “I Can Love You Like That”.   The second song, for my father and I, was “This is the Moment”, a song we both loved from the musical, “Jekyll and Hyde”.  The third song I had chosen, for all of the wedding party to join R and I, was supposed to be Celine Dion’s “The Way You Loved Me”.  But I hadn’t been specific in saying which Celine song; I assumed he’d choose the song most recently popular.  But as I lay there, a nagging thought hit me that he might instead choose her other big hit, “The Power of Love”.  I was nearly sure the whole evening would be ruined if the wrong assumption was made and the wrong song was played.

I worried about the priest and what he would say during his homily.  We’d attended a few pre wedding meetings with the priest at our church, but I’d never felt a connection with this one of the three men who officiated at our church.   Was he going to say anything about me being a single mother?  Or how “kind” it was of R to take in damaged goods?  I was sure he wouldn’t put it like that, but still.  What if?

I wondered how I would get through the sign of peace.  I refused to let myself think too much about my mother’s absence on this so important day, but during the sign of peace, we’d arranged to give single red roses to the mothers; this had been done during my sister’s wedding as well.  Except my mother wouldn’t be there, so after we gave one to R’s mother, we’d be giving one to my grandmother.  I was sure she would be so proud and honored and touched; and I told myself to focus on that rather than who I wasn’t giving the rose to.

I wondered how fat I would look in my dress, if my roots would show, if Zach would be upset or excited, what R’s extended family would think of me, if my own extended family would think the treks they all made was worth the event we were putting together. I worried that my coworkers from school would be offended at the lack of diversity in the guest list.   Had I been specific enough on the maps to the church and the reception?  I worried about the cake, the flowers, the weather.  What if it snowed?  What if the flowers looked cheesy? What if, what if, what if?

All of the mundane details crowded out the bigger things I could have been thinking about; the weddings I had envisioned for myself with other people in years past; the pace and speed at which R and I had decided to join our lives, the nagging red flagged worries I had about R and some of his more rigid personality traits, my missing mother, whether or not I’d chosen the right person to help me parent my child, the lack of plans R and I had for the next few years.  But none of those thoughts floated in as I tossed and turned and marveled at how soundly the rest of the house was sleeping.

Finally, as the red digital clock turned a number starting with a four, I drifted off.   When I woke, it would be my wedding day.  The happiest day of my life, I reminded myself, as I felt the edges of consciousness finally slip away.

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