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Thursday, December 4, 2014

An Open Letter to My Children

Dear children,
I am sending you this with love, it is a story that I hope will shed some light on any dark corners of doubt you may have as to those yester-years of your childhood.

It all began on that stormy day in May in 1976. I was twenty-one and figured being born from a mother who raised eight kids, whose own mother raised twelve would somehow up-the-odds in speeding up the process in the delivery room. Wrong—fourteen hours later my first born learned to use his lungs LOUDLY. It was the 1970s where most of my peers were off to college or working at jobs listening to Lez Zepplin, The Rolling Stones and The Doors while I stayed home rocking my son to lullabys and nursery rhymes. Every woman in town, most of them strangers, offered me advice and even scolded me. "You better not let him sleep lying on your shoulder like that, or he'll get a stiff neck!" Somehow I managed to find my own way and Jake grew to become a happy young man. I remember those days when I was a mom with only one child, it was blissful. He was everything to me and my role as daughter and sister and even wife seemed to pale in comparison. Being a mother fulfilled a desire to give love and being loved unconditionally in return—well, that was something I was only beginning to learn.

It would be five years before my daughter Jessi was born. I remember feeling very emotional and filled with doubt. How could I possibly love another child? How could my heart stretch even further—Jake was my greatest concern. How would he be able to accept this new sibling? Well, shortly after she was born, I called to tell him the big news. I was met with, "I wanted a brother."
Soon he learned to accept her and although they were five years apart, they were good playmates. Their young lives were not born into a happy home and I was on divorce number two by the time Jessi was three. I was struggling with so many things. Trying to find balance in raising them as a single mom, was a daily battle. Meanwhile my relationship with my own parents was on the rocks.

I had exited my childhood home at the age of eighteen. My father was an alcoholic and my mother had lived with her own struggles. How could I turn to them? I was in my twenties in the 1980s and wallowing in self pity over trying to support two children—my mother had raised eight. Somehow I felt a huge gap between us, and rarely asked her for any counseling. How silly of me to allow the childhood anger that burned within me, cause me to miss out on her gifts. My own inability to recognize all she had to overcome, stopped me from seeing her wisdom. She was thirty when she had me and I was her fifth child. Why hadn't I stopped to realize all she had lived through, all she had accomplished? She was a beautiful, talented woman who chose to stay in her home and rise above any hopes, dreams or aspirations that women of today may have—and be the best mom she could. She wasn't perfect and neither was I, but my anger somehow turned inward and I began to live with a deep self-loathing. I battled depression and my diet consisted of one meal a day topped off with anti-depressants and sleeping pills. Everyone told me I looked better than ever,  and a modeling agency hired me after a few photos. Smiling for the cameras while swallowing my tears. Was this the image I wanted to show to the world? This is the home where my two happy children existed. I loved them beyond measure, but they could not mend my heart and those days feel like a blur to me. But, something happened to change all of that and it began when I faced my father. The father who had fought his alcoholic demons and won. Great, now he was the sober, fun-loving grandfather who read stories and played games with my children—somehow this felt like a slap in the face. Where was he when I needed him?

It was was Father's Day 1988 and I was about to turn thirty three. I was fiddling with some cards looking for one that held my sentiment, but all I kept finding were warm and fuzzy ones that said, "Thank you for pushing me on a swing." Did he?
"You were there to bandage my knee." Nope, I don't remember that either.
I stormed out of that store and drove straight to his house. The twenty minutes went by like a blink. I marched up the stairs and pushed through the front door. I startled my father as I found him sitting in the same place he was everyday at 3:30PM…in front of the TV watching Bullwinkle. He took one look at me and knew I was not making a social call. He clicked off the TV and stood there looking helplessly at me. “What’s wrong?” he asked. And so I told him. I had no idea he would be so open and willing to listen. We stood in his kitchen and cried together as he explained how those years of alcoholism were a blur to him and he truly loved me and ALL of my siblings. My parents agreed to attend a few therapy sessions and together we peeled back the onion skin of pent up pain, hurt and anger. What we were left with was a relationship that is indescribable. We all turned the corner and started to be more open, more trusting, better listeners and more loving. My parents became some of my closest and wisest friends.

This didn't fix all of my problems, I still had a lot of issues and one of them was self-disappointment in never pursuing my dream of becoming an artist. It was 1990 and I was commuting to an art school that was ninety miles from my home. Another failed attempt at a relationship had gone up in smoke and I was focusing on my degree to try an earn a living. It was my time to shine and shine I did quickly rising to the top of my class. But all work and no play can make a person miserable and so I began a new romance and before I knew it I was carrying another child. Art school dreams dwindled as I prepared another nursery. I had truly thought I was finished with diapers and strollers… my first child was in his mid-teens and my daughter was in the fifth grade. So began another brick in the wall of poor self-esteem as I knew I was being judged by my errors. But, how could choosing to bring a child into the world over what many would have seemed the perfect solution, a terminated pregnancy be wrong? It wasn't and although my parents had harsh words to say over this, they were rock solid with their support. When I went into labor my mother gathered Jessi into her lap as my father reached for my hand—slipping an antique silver dollar into my palm he said, "Give this to him, it's from me." I held that coin all the way there thinking of this kindness, this new and improved relationship.

My third child was born Saint Patrick's Day and oh what joy he brought into my life and indeed I felt lucky. A bouncing baby boy weighing almost ten pounds. He seemed larger than life and although I hadn't realized it, having him helped me perfect my talent as a children's illustrator. Seeing things through a child's perspective can open the door and if we stop and listen they can teach us more than ever dreamed. This child was born into a time when I was not on sleeping pills and anti depressants, no, this child was the one to remind me of my greatest achievement on earth—being a mom. He grew to a stature of over 6'4" and now I'm the one looking up.

It was through the connection of understanding my parents as PEOPLE and not only as my parents that brought me healing. They are no longer here but I have so many wonderful memories of them. We may have lived as a family unit for years, but the true "friendship" began the day I stopped and faced them. It could have gone the other way and he could have told me to get out of his home, but he didn't. His very words were, "I always knew that the day would come when one of my children would hold me accountable, I just never knew which one." It was me. Not because I am any different than any of the other siblings—they each had their own struggles, it was because I was willing to take that step. Some call it crazy, I call it LOVE. My mother and father remain with me and I share their wisdom and the life lesson they taught me and present it gladly.

Each of my children are following their own paths and I admire them greatly. As a parent we want only what is best and I can only wonder how many times my parents bit their tongues when they saw me stumbling. But it is in the stumbling that we learn. It is what we make of the situation that can bring about change and healing. If life were measured in how many times we make mistakes I would be way past the goal line! They are my offspring yes, but they are people with different ideals aspirations and goals and I respect the paths they have chosen. I rejoice in the fact that we can agree to disagree on things, have open discussions, laugh out loud and cry when needed. We make a great team.

So dear children of mine, as you can see I have written this to show you I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I fall down and I rise again. My world changed for the better the day I stopped looking at my parents as role models that were somehow supposed to be perfect and looking at them as ordinary, simple people. Wonderful, strong, intelligent, humorous hard working people. We are all on a journey and I am so honored to have been their child.  I have accomplished many things in my life. I worked hard and now I am a HAPPY professional artist/author and motivational speaker. It's been almost six years since I met the love of my life Dean and our work in comics leaves us laughing everyday. Will I have storms and will heartache meet me in the future? Perhaps, but I can tell you this…the love I hold for each of you is the energy that keeps me going. Being your mother is my greatest achievement on this planet. I was chosen to bring you forth as a gift to the world. A gift that can share this knowledge that in order to be the loving individuals who can move mountains to help others, it begins with self love. BE this love to the earth.

Blessings to all of you.
Love,
Mom