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.