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Thursday, April 24, 2008

No Running to Report

Yet. I hope to go this evening, so maybe I'll update after that. Until then, I have some other stuff to jibber-jabber about. Wanna stay? Great if you do (but I caution: I feel long-winded today). If not, no hard feelings; I'll check ya later!

So, for the stayers: I'm reading this book to the left, "Beautiful Boy" by David Sheff, and it's really good. It's non-fiction and it's about a father (Sheff) and his experience with his son's drug addiction. Personally, I love a good addiction memoir. There's probably a reason for this, but it would take money and time on a therapist's couch to figure out. Anyway, this book is unique since it's from the father's perspective, so it's not the typical addiction memoir written by the addict.

What I find particularly compelling about the narrative is how Sheff addresses his divorce from his son's mother and their joint custody of their son. This is compelling to me because this resonates so closely to home. While I've read lots of stuff about growing up in dysfunctional homes, most memoirs of this nature often focus on extreme circumstances; so, I can sometimes relate to aspects of those people's lives, but I can't fully relate, because by many measures, my childhood was stable and secure.

That's why I find Sheff's discussion so interesting: his divorce and his custody were both as smooth as these things can be, yet he discusses the strain this put on his son, no matter how hard he and his ex-wife tried to avoid creating such anxiety. So, finally, I have someone who's telling a story that I can fully relate to -- it's the story of a "good" divorce, with a "good" custody, but with children who still end up feeling alienated, anxious, and angry.

So, reading this has had me thinking a lot lately (always dangerous territory, especially since I haven't run in days and days and running is often my therapy) about my own childhood. Thus, my compulsion to share:

My parents divorced when I was 3, and they shared joint custody of me and my younger brother. Their agreement was that we spent the school year with my mother, spent every other weekend with my father, split holidays and rotated each year (this included birthdays), and spent the summer with my father. Later, when I was 11, my father moved from Denver to Washington, DC, so we spent the school year with my mom in CO, and spent half our holidays and all of our summers in DC.

This is probably the best agreement a divorced couple can come up with, yet joint custody is a fucked up situation for kids, and I'll tell ya why: You develop parallel lives. My parents each re-married and each had more kids; this made my brother and I's existence, within this framework, even more duplicitous and precarious. My parents were trying to emphasize that we had "two homes" and "two families" but it really felt like we had "no home" and "no family," and that feeling of not belonging lingered with my for a looooooong time. In the book, Sheff writes that his son says, "I'm always missing someone." And that very adequately describes it. Except for me, I became a little more hard-hearted, and could probably have said, "I never miss anyone." I got so used to going back and forth and being apart from one parent and one family, that I simply got desensitized to it. So that when I went to college, I literally could not relate to those fellow students who, in those first weeks of freshman semester, were missing their parents so desperately.

Needless to say, I was an angry teenager, who frequently found ways to rebel (which were clearly cries for attention). This anger truly lingered until I was in my early 20s, and I don't think I even started to grow up until I was about 25. I think I was upset for a long time partially just because my parents, particularly my mother, couldn't grasp why I was so frustrated. I think my mother felt that she'd done the best she could (which is very true) and that she and my dad had given my brother and I very good, stable lives (which was also certainly true), but what she failed to understand, and what I think she still fails to understand about that childhood, is that despite their attempts at making it as normal as possible, it was still abnormal, and this abnormality felt even more exaggerated by their attempts to insist upon its normality.

Thankfully, I did have my brother, and I wasn't alone in navigating the scary chasm that joint custody creates for those lone children who float between homes, and he and I remain very close. And ultimately, I no longer blame my parents for the situation. I truly believe they did the best they could, and I'm lucky to have parents who cared about me so much that they both wanted custody of me. And in many ways, I believe it made me a better person (despite the petrifying fear of having my own children and potentially fucking them up for life). Partially because I was the oldest, and partially because of how my parents raised us, I have always been very independent and have always been very self-assured. I've always done my own thing and made my own choices (suffered the consequences of some very poor choices), and this has been in part due to the self-sufficiency that was a necessity for me since I can remember. And, thankfully, I've never been a drug addict like Sheff's son in the book.

Today, I have what I consider to be a regular relationship with all my parents: I love them, we keep in close touch (I generally try not to let more than two weeks go by without communicating with one or the other), and I know they are proud of me. But there certainly aspects that we all fail to understand about one another, and some subjects which we never bring up or discuss. Thus, we have seemingly settled on comfortable, but slightly superficial territory. At this point, I honestly don't wish for more. Maybe when I was a kid, I wished for the picture-perfect family that posed easily for studio portraits, but now I regard such childhood whimsy as pure fantasy.

Now that I'm 30, I've been thinking a lot about what I've experienced and learned in my lifetime, and one of the best lessons I think I ever taught myself actually came from running. I learned that everyone has baggage (even the most seemingly perfect people), and people have one of two options with that baggage: You let it weigh you down and you become burdened by the heavy load, or you choose to carry the baggage and shoulder the weight of it. On the surface, the second option seems more difficult, but actually, the longer you carry it (instead of allowing it to carry you), the stronger you become, and after awhile, it's not so heavy, and after an even longer while, your endurance and strength don't even remember that it was burdensome to begin with.


*jen* said...

I really liked your last paragraph on "baggage". It's very true.

Also, Sheff's son wrote his own memoir: "Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines". I'd love to read both sides of the story.

ws said...

David Sheff wrote an article for the NY Times Magazine a few years ago which was excellent though I haven't picked up the book yet.

I either have nothing else to say or a whole lot. I'll opt for nothing. Perhaps one day I'll write something long-winded on the blog again.

Hope you get out for a run later. I plan to leave soon, though I expect it to be hot for a few more hours.

Lisa - Slow & Steady said...

I can kind of relate in that i had a messed up messy childhood with divorced parents (although my situation was very messy, yours seems pretty straightforward).

Running isn't what allowed me to let that baggage go, but I do find that long runs allow me to work through things and I'm not picking up new baggage now.

Anonymous said...

I am going to have to add "Beautiful Boy" to my to-read list.

Thanks for sharing your story. I think you always have to look for the positive in situations. We all have our issues, it is just how we choose to deal with them that sets us apart.

RunnerGirl said...

Love your post. I've been wanting to read both books - the father and the son's perspective. They are on my "to read" list - its about a mile long right now!

Marcy said...

Ok so I'm going to sound really SAHMish but was that dude and his son on Oprah? Because you know Oprah is a SAHM's God :P I caught the last couple minutes of that show and was mad that I didn't record it.

On a more serious note, thank you for sharing a bit of your life :-) I can't fully relate to what you've said, since my parents are still married. But it has made me see another side to the "good" divorce. One that I didn't know existed.

P.O.M. said...

I love addiction stories too. But I think I know why (lots of close relatives with issues). I get exactly what you say about the superficial/comfortable relationship with parents now. That is how we do it and, like you, I honestly don't want to be any closer with them.

Great blog! Thank you for sharing in such an articulate manner :)

Bri said...

thank you for your openness.

chia said...

Beautifully put. It almost makes me wonder, who really is the better off of the two: the couple that splits and makes it "comfortable" for the kids or the couple that stays together for the kids despite the horrible "interpersonal" living conditions. I felt similar feelings of detachment and alienation being raised in the latter situation so it's really interesting to hear the same about someone on the flip side. Thank you for doing this Jess, you're too cool!

Laura N said...

Thanks for sharing, Jess. I really respect how you have grown from your childhood in such a positive way.

My parents separated for 3 months when I was in 2nd grade, got back together, had pretty much a horrible marriage (my dad was pretty anti-social and moody, and my mom wasn't, and they basically lived separate lives), and finally divorced (my mom left) when I was 30. I have no idea what my life would be like if they'd divorced earlier, but I can say that it sucks to have divorced parents when you are a grown up. The crap of it is, my dad remarried a troll and my relationship with him is really strained. He basically wasn't even in my life when I had my first child (which was within the 1st year after their divorce), b/c he couldn't bare to be a grandpa without my mom. It sucked.

You will be a great mom if you decide to have kids one day. And you will screw up your kids, someway or another. I know I'm messing up mine, even though I love them to pieces and am trying to do my best. But I am a flawed human being who had a flawed upbringing, and I am under no illusions that I am a "perfect parent." And I'm sure my kids (esp. my daughter) will hate me for a while then they'll realize in their late 20s that I did my best and they'll love me again. That's what I did with my parents (they screwed me up a lot, even though they stayed married), and it just goes along with the territory of reproduction.

Sorry to ramble!

J~Mom said...

I kept this post new for when I had time to fully read it and I am glad that I did. I love the last paragraph...it's perfect. My parents were also divorced and I only got to see my dad every other weekend. As a result I have probably never been as close to him as my mom but I chose to accept it and make the best of the situation. I have a pms post that I started a couple of weeks back but haven't finished. The jist of it is that through running I have been able to let go of parts and pieces of a bitter past. One of these days I will finish it.

Ted said...

I guess I am the only one from a true functional family. Alright, that was flat out lie. I come from a classic dysfunctional family with all kind of loaded baggage. I do really like the last paragraph. One of these days, I will have a long winded blog to post.
*Thanks for being so open.*

The 311 Boys Mom said...

very open & honest. I love that about you. The book's been on my list & I think I'll get it, as i have nothing to read right now.

my dad adopted me when I was 18 months, after my birth dad split & signed off. all was perfect. then when I was 7 they had my brother & my whole life changed, 3 yrs later my sister came. Its like they were a family & then there was me. I was 29 before I wasn't so seperate & I went through addiction, very abusive relationships & all kinds of crap to just try & find something, maybe it was to find me. (I didn't have that at home, my parents don't drink, smoke, say the 'F' word; pretty beaver clever)

Now I've created the same situation for my oldest (2 seperate families), as hard as I tried NOT too, I can see it happened. Difference is he's just mine & his dad hasn't been in the picture in 15 yrs (even when Brandon was dx with cancer)....I donno.....

but thanks for sharing.

Maybe I can start working through some of this crap again when I hit the track. Running really does help things get sorted out.

Mendy said...

Jess, Thanks for sharing with us! My childhood was challenging and for me and my brother, it would have been better had my parents divorced earlier on. They divorced when I was 19, I think.