|Parents: Only Human and Yet So Much More|
by Lindsey Staples, UPK Teacher's Assistant
Heritage House Childcare & Learning Center
December 2010 - During and immediately following my senior year of high school, the theme of my life was change. With my back facing towards what was to come next and looking apprehensively over my shoulder, I was balancing on only the heels of my shoes on the edge of my childhood. The rush of the fleeting summer destined me to graduate from high school, celebrate my eighteenth birthday, anticipate college classes, and slam face first into the thick dark storm of my parents’ divorce. Seven years later, the collapse and rebuilding of the foundation under my feet has granted me immeasurable and painfully beautiful life lessons that have and continue to bend, shape, and transform me into a well-balanced, strong and loving individual.
Although my three siblings and I were all on the verge of adulthood when my parents separated, we all still felt like kids, our parents’ kids. We were old enough to understand that life can be ugly, cruel, and unfair, but we were still young enough to be shaken down to the bottoms of our hearts and the pits of our souls. Before the end of high school, I thought I had made it through my preteen and teen years never to be touched by the infamous rebellious stage, but as I stumbled into my first semester of college, I watched myself fall from the pedestal I had been placed upon as a straight-edge, goody-two-shoes, honor student. My rebellion wasn’t an outward, loud scream for attention, but rather my parents’ divorce affected me in such a way that I pushed all my pain inward. I only let the anger and hurt bleed out onto the pages of my journals. Writing became my coping mechanism, and my journals became the places where my secrets could breathe.
My ability to write and the safety I feel when my pen meets the paper is so precious to me. I have learned that great tragedy inspires great writing. One of the many roses that have bloomed from the ruins and scattered remains of my parents’ marriage and the form of my family that has perhaps only slightly yet significantly changed is my writing and the reflections I capture on what it means to be human. When my parents divorced, I saw them as human for the first time. Up until then, they had always been Mom and Dad. She was the woman who would gently throw fresh sheets from the cedar chest in the air above me and let the cool soft fabric fall over me as she tucked me into bed and kissed me goodnight. He was the man who would scoop me in his arms, throw me high in the air, and place me securely on his shoulders so I could see the whole world. She was my teacher, patiently allowing me to toss in too much flour and pieces of cracked eggshells into the cookie dough batter and then still eat my cookies even though they came out hard and bitter. He was my quiet supporter, sitting a few rows back from the stage where I acted and sang in my first high school musical and then coming to me after I took my first bow to ask me for my autograph on his program. And then one day, I saw them cry in a way that I cry. I felt their hearts breaking the way mine was breaking. I heard them scream in frustration when they thought no one could hear them the way I had angrily screamed alone. I watched them walk in silence, empty and defeated the way I walked alone, cold and deflated. And slowly I watch them heal, fall apart, and begin to heal again as I mend myself and break and mend myself again.
With all the burdens both my mother and father have carried heavy on their hearts, I hope guilt for how their humanness has negatively affected their children is not one of them. Inevitably, my parents’ divorce has impacted me and continues to change me as I persist in putting this strange, complex, and beautiful puzzle together. The pain and ugliness of it all inspires me to encapsulate in my writing the incredibly difficult job it is to be a parent; to be only human, flawed and uncertain, capable of causing pain and destruction simultaneously to be the extraordinary, heroic, strong and safe, perfect image in the eyes of a your child. Perhaps the younger children are with divorced parents, the more guilt the parents carry for those children. Is it the parents’ decision to divorce that causes a preschooler to throw daily tantrums, kick and bite their friends, and mutate into an angry, hostile teenager who turns to the false comfort of alcohol, drugs, and unhealthy relationships that build in a marriage destined to fall in divorce? I would argue it is not directly that extreme of a connection, but some divorced parents feel that extreme guilt.
Stepping into adulthood, I learned my parents were not perfect, and they made many mistakes in their marriage to each other and in their parenting of four children. But it is not their mistakes I remember or hold onto in anger and resentment for they taught me that my mistakes are only human and can be forgiven. When I recall my childhood, the vivid memories embedded on my heart are bedtime routines that ended with hugs and kisses, visits to the playground and amusement parks where I had the best view, my face and hands and the entire kitchen covered in flour and cookie dough, and bowing center stage with a roaring applause fading to the sound of a pair of hands clapping for only me.