Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Family California

I raised my children in California. Most of them are gone now. It's hard for me to imagine why. Who wouldn't want to live here? Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised. After all, I fled Tennessee to come to California. It was mainly my father I was fleeing. I loved him, but he was a bit too much. Maybe my children have been fleeing me. I'm not my crazy father, but I admit to having a clearer idea than anyone what's best for my children, and like me, I'm sure they would prefer to figure it out themselves.

It was more than my father I fled when I was twenty five. My mother was sad and anxious and I didn't know what to do about it. I didn't know my brother and sister that well. They were much younger, and I was so egocentric I was functionally an only child.

I was divorced when my first children were teenagers. That didn't help my credibility with them. My father had died and my mother was struggling. My brother and sister each had problems of their own, but somehow we never got the knack for helping one another. Maybe they resented my acting like the crown prince; no, of course they resented it.

Then a funny thing happened: I moved back to Nashville (to which I had sworn I would never return). I got to know Mom all over again. Because of her I had much more contact with my brother and sister. I tried to help her. I tried, in my know-it-all-way, to help them. We had some ups and downs, the four of us, my mother, brother, sister and me. After she died, we retreated from one another a little, but lately we’ve been extending olive branches. My brother and I are in a new bromance. My sister has moved near her children in Virginia and seems happier than she has been in years. 

One thing I learned from Mom when I was with her as an adult was that she had infinite patience for her family. Her niece was a complete mess, for instance, with the kinds of persistent emotional problems that you read about and thank your lucky stars you don't have. Despite her niece's repeated slips and falls on the black ice of bad choices, Mom kept trying to help her, giving her money when Mom had too little herself, even letting her live with her for a while. I should have known Mom had patience, but in my own case I probably thought I deserved it or had given no cause for it to be exercised.

Lately one of my children has been having a rough time. She gets in situations that are hard to get out of. When I try to help, I don't do it well. She gets mad. We don't speak for a while (days or weeks, not years). Then one of us calls the other and all is well again. Rinse, repeat.

I find that in the repeat cycles, as long as there has been a brief period for recharge, I'm fresh and ready to go again. It's not like touching a hot stove, something you never want to do again. It’s more like drinking too much: you forget the hangover. Talking to her is entertaining, even when the subject is tough. I like it. Sometimes I hate it. I like it.

I moved my family to California but I could not keep them here. And yet I have kept them near in other ways, nearer lately than ever. Maybe that means I'm mellowing. Maybe it means I'm getting old and toothless. Or maybe it's what the Eagles said about roadside accommodations in the Golden State. The Family California: You can check out, but you can never leave.

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