I’m not part of a large family.
Both of my parents are (were) only children, and had acrimonious relationships with their relatives; we had spotty interactions with them, at best.
My husband’s family isn’t large either. By the time I joined his family his grandparents had passed away, and although he had, and still has, cousins, there is barely negligible contact with them.
As I kid I was always trying to create for myself, a “normal” family. Life at home was a precarious roller coaster, and I was constantly culling, from my circle, a new family.
My friends at school, student clubs, teachers, coaches and neighbors, everyone was a candidate. The thrill of the hunt for new family took the edge off the family life I had; it helped me keep a safe distance from that, and auditioning new family was fun. I was good at it, although the audition went, and goes, both ways. That added a shade of exciting serial uncertainty. How would it all work out? Tune in next week!
This story still stings; but had I figured out what it signaled, back in high school, I could have saved myself much time in therapy!
Upon seeing me set my “Sue Mars for Student Body Vice-President!” campaign sign down in the corner of her classroom, my English teacher announced to the class that she didn’t think I’d ever stop campaigning.
She called me out.
Thanks Mrs. Kemp, for pointing out that I was an emotionally lonely kid, looking for affection and attention, unsure of my ability to be lovable, to a class of eleventh graders.
That was helpful.
Still grappling with that one, not the story, but the moral of it.
It’s a seductive feeling to be able to attract new friends. The process invokes a sense of power and a sense of belonging. It’s electric, there’s that sparkly chemistry, but it wears off.
This knowing people, it’s not a walk in the park. Or, it is a walk in the park, that can morph into a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail if you decide to go there. Both can be lovely, both go one step at a time.
You know, in Karate Kid when Daniel’s mundane work becomes the teacher?
Miyagi becomes Daniel’s teacher.
He has Daniel perform chores like waxing cars, remember “wax on wax off?”
Daniel fails to see the connection between this work and karate.
Daniel gets frustrated until Miyagi reveals that Daniel has been learning defensive blocks in his muscle memory by performing those chores.
All the tasks he has been doing has transferred into karate.
So if I stay in authentic contact with the people in my life I am creating muscle memory for relationships. I can move between the swing set in the park and the arduously satisfying hike on the trail. The kind of trail that you might need those crazy ski poles to traverse and a water bottle.
Ugh! It’s so much more fun to be the life of the party with people you don’t know at all! So much more pleasant to be invulnerable and unknowable, carrying the campaign sign, or the martini glass.
So, I don’t have twenty-two cousins, I have seven nieces and nephews, SEVEN. Each with a big life. Each with complicated nooks and crannies to become familiar with, as in the dictionary definition of the word; well known from long or close association.
How would that would look? To discipline myself to make time for closer contact with those kids? Or closer contact with my other family and friends?
I sense a New Year’s Resolution coming on.
I am an integral part of a beautiful biological family with plenty (PLENTY) of fascinating, complicated people. I am related to young people who could use a model for vulnerability and compassionate honesty. I could continue my lessons in being vulnerable and honest.
I have an incredible extended family of friends whom I’ve collected along the way of my life. People who are safe to be vulnerable with.
Already I’m nervous. People with those hiking poles look so goofy.
The campaign is over.
May 2014 be the year that I dig deep into knowing what I’ve got.