Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust. Creating A Childhood.


My mother was raised by an artist and a military man. She was the lone daughter with two, older brothers. In her family, the men were praised and favored and, while she was loved, the rigidity of her father and his unprocessed childhood of abandonment as the son of an institutionalized mother, he was unsure how to be a father to a girl and far less sure how to raise a woman. There was always underlying anger. Abandonment by a mother is always a gaping wound. Though she was loved deeply by her mother, the overpowering possessiveness and need for control of the household emotions by her father left her a stranger in a strange land. A female in a male favored home with parents who struggled to find a place for her. This, I think, left a theory of feminism where self-love should have resided. An anger and passion fueled by inequality instead of a well groomed seed of self-acceptance. This also left her with a lack of self-understanding and a struggle to define herself. After a short, tumultuous marriage to my father that produced 2 daughters, they divorced and she quickly remarried a military man. A possessive man. A controlling man. A man who needed to control her, us and the emotions of the household. And, there were two more daughters.  She birthed four women. After living in a home that did not favor women. Living in a home where she struggled to find her place. Living with a husband who was possessive, controlling and terribly dark. Some cycles are hard to break.
There is a beauty in our cycles. There is opportunity for change. This is about the stage we set for our children. As artistic directors, the roles our childhoods play in painting the scenery, building the props, channeling the emotion and revealing the final product on the stage or foundation we’ve built for the fleeting years that make our children’s childhoods. It’s about creating what was lost, found or, in some cases, creating what never happened. Pulling the bunny from the empty hat. It is about acknowledging the gifts of the past to better set the scenes of the future. It is about responsibility, decisions and choices. It is about honestly acknowledging failures. It is about everyday redemption.
I am an imperfect parent. I struggle with balance. I struggle with patience. I struggle with guilt. On some days, I struggle with gratitude.  I struggle to find the teaching moments in difficult days and I struggle to find the learning moments when I fail. I am doing the best I can. Some days my best is not good enough. On other days, my best redeems the gnawing guilt.
I am the product of a home with alcohol. A home of quiet, unending fear and failure. A home where what was said made for surface ambivalence and what was not said could fill the pages of sets of encyclopedias. And, now, I am the encyclopedia salesman. It is my job to take what is broken and to piece it together into something worthwhile. Something beautiful. Ashes into Zuzu’s petals.
As I set this new scene for my own four children, I am acutely aware of the parallels drawn. Mother of 4. Mother of 4. Mother of 4. I find that simply having the same number of children as my mother causes an internal panic I can not shake. Does likeness turn to sameness? Will I follow in muddied footsteps?
I often look around my yard and home at the pieces of the childhood we are creating. Library books, dolls and pirate ships. Swimming pools, sand and swing sets. Popsicles in July and fireflies at drive-in movie theatres. And, I wonder…do they know that I am creating a childhood of fantasy and wonder that was not my own? That I can not empathize with the normalcy that I have worked so hard to create? That I am a fraud. Looking at pictures, the ideas of loving families in books and on screen. The burned in my brain childhood stories of others, I am simply weaving a tapestry of childhood – Andy Griffith, pieces of my husband’s idyllic Vermont childhood of exploration and independence and my love. My big love. Some cycles are hard to break. But, I am the creative director. I am the Sheriff of Mayberry. I am Ramona’s mother, packing their suitcases so that they are too heavy to run away. I am George Bailey looking for heavenly gratitude and redemption so that they can say, it’s a wonderful life.





Three of my four – ankle deep in wonder.




Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Reading this was incredible view into the past… I lived a few of those years with you and lived through your mother’s stories for many more. Your mother was torn in many directions and the only reason i can see she has dropped me from her life is her confusion between those who love her and those trying to concrol her. You are not your mother.
    I am so very proud and in awe of the woman you have become.
    Life is what you make of it, there are always valleys but there are always peaks as long as your heart is open to them. I do not believe you are faking anything…I feel your written words leave you open and honest and in that I would say you are a strong woman born of a woman who had many challenges she was not able to face openly.
    You ARE weaving a taspestry….and it is beauiful!

  2. This post is filled with such a beautiful honesty–thanks for sharing! The thing is (and what I keep telling myself)–we can leave our own legacy for our children. It can be so hard to override the one we were given–but we do have the power to do that. And day by day, we do! Keep at it, Mama!

  3. Simply beautiful! Thank you for your honesty and transparency. We absolutely do have the power to break those cycles of negativity! It’s not always easy but when we fail we rewrite and edit the script and make it better!

  4. This is so raw and beautiful and honest. I totally get it. My parents are both miserable, dysfunctional people – narcissistic, controlling father, bipolar mother. No alcoholism, but not a happy childhood. I have to work so hard to be loving but maintain firm boundaries with them, and to avoid re-enacting negative patterns with my own children, because after all, our first instinct is to do what we know, right? So we do our best to know better. Being honest about where you’ve been is a huge part of that. It takes courage and strength to do that, and that’s what your children need. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Incredible.

  6. You know how often you read a profound post by someone and you want to comment but you don’t know what to say? This is one of those times.

    Your post speaks to me…

  7. This was….beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

  8. Tears. I am so moved by your honesty. I am in such admiration of your own self-knowledge and your effort to create something different and better for your own children.
    Just because your artistic direction isn’t based on recreating what you experienced for yourself does not mean you’re a fraud in any sense!
    You are so talented, Bethany.
    Once again I am grateful for Facebook so that I can get this insight into you.
    But it’s also breaking my heart that our children are not (yet?) part of one another’s childhoods.
    xoxo

  9. I think all you can do is learn from where you came from, weed out the bad, keep the good and try to put it into practice in your own marriage and family. I wonder about a lot of the same things, but I just try to promise to be the best that I can be and go on. But I am starting to sound like my mother. And if I say one more thing like, “I’m not talking just to hear myself talk,” I might just have to check myself..oy. Great post, Lady!

  10. Beautiful words, beautifully spoken. The facts that you are so introspective, that you question the past, that you live the present with purpose – these are the things that ensure we don’t blindly stumble down a path that started in our own childhood, but instead make our own way in the world. You’re doing an awesome job – don’t change a thing.

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