Fitting IN

Continued from Growing & Going Deeper

“The best feeling in the whole world is watching things finally fall into place after watching them fall apart for so long.” ~unknown

Our work on the shop progressed with buckets of sweat and dozens of late nights. We worked side by side, each of us with our tool belts on, attempting to decipher who would be the chief over which project. He was better with the construction pieces and I headed up the painting and design elements. We realized that we worked together well – managing to iron out the kinks when they arose. Some of our first major disagreements happened over that project but for the most part we calmly and (most importantly) respectfully – broke them apart to understand where our communication had lapsed.

So many things were different for me in this relationship – we both came into it aware. We were self-aware, which I find to be a full one-third of the challenge when attempting to address problems. We both had a good idea of the baggage we had accumulated as a result of our prior relationships and the distorted ways of thinking that were generated in various parts of our childhoods. We were pretty typical in that there were some combination and degree of control issues, abandonment, trust, self-perception, self-esteem, self-worth… the same kinds of things that are common in adulthood throughout our culture – varying only by extent and juxtaposition. For the most part, we were conscious of how those elements played out as we interacted – how the defense mechanisms were triggered – and how we consequently reacted.

Knowledge is great but we both had developed some habits that were harder to break. I was quick to shut down – to withdraw and go silent. That had been the best way for me to cope for a lot of years but now, it wasn’t effective. When I used that technique, it spurred a different reaction in him. We had a lot to learn about this dance that we did – it was early in our relationship and our starry eyes often provided cover for the growth that was ready to sprout. It was a wonderful beginning and we both felt it.

My brother was getting married and the construction was not yet complete. We really needed to open for business when we returned from the Caribbean and so we handed the project over to an extremely reliable and trustworthy contractor (extended family member). The five of us (all three girls, Harlan, and me) boarded a plane and made our way with taxies, boats, and rental cars – eventually arriving at a three bedroom house we rented on the island of Vieques – just off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. It was one of the first times that Harlan and I openly shared a room within open sight of my daughters.

I had talked to them about it when I booked the house. They knew he stayed over from time to time and they knew we traveled together but it was still a bit awkward having a full-on relationship with a man who wasn’t their dad. They thought I was weird and gross for ‘wanting’ to sleep in the same bed as him but it was a turning point for us and the environment was supportive of the change. Our house was part of a larger complex but small enough to feel intimate and it sat right on the beach – overlooking the ocean with the British Virgin Islands off into the distance.

Vieques used to be occupied in large part, by the US military and so there is a major portion of the island that is still raw and undeveloped. It is accessible by jeep and there are some incredible, unspoiled beaches if you are willing to drive slowly and patiently across tough terrain to get to them. We rented a jeep and explored the island for a few days before other family members arrived. It was almost like a honeymoon – well, maybe not a honeymoon considering the girls were there and I still cooked dinner most nights… but it was a getaway.

Our time on the island felt like a family vacation. Harlan got along amazingly with the girls even though they were hesitant about his presence there from the beginning. He had a special way of being supportive when they needed it but allowing me to be the parent. He never tried to be that to them, recognizing that they had a father. He did want to offer confirmation or affirmation when it was called for – he went to swim meets and concerts, was open to talking with them but rarely… expressed criticism or attempted to discipline. It was as if he knew their limitations and demonstrated respect for them.

One afternoon, while we were all enjoying some beach time and the older girls, were getting surfing lessons from a couple of other teen boys – a great pick up play – I noticed some quick movements in the water and then saw Harlan holding Emily in his arms. It seems that she got hit by a wave and went under – apparently in a way or for long enough that it was cause for concern so he scooped her up; bringing her into the safety of strong arms and fresh air. Since then, it has been a ‘remember when you saved my life?’ moment memory.

This man protected my child. Any parent out there knows the depth of feeling… is it gratitude, appreciation, satisfaction, or acclaim?? When someone ‘cares’ for your child. When they put the needs of your child above their own – it’s as if they are on your team – automatically – partnering with you. I saw that in Harlan that week. He looked out for my girls in a way that allowed me to know that he had their best interest at heart. He had demonstrated that before – when he let them know that they had to be happy with my choice in him – but this week he cemented it for me. I was madly in love with this man.

We ducked out of festivities one afternoon, leaving the girls in the care of the family who had finally arrived in preparation for wedding festivities and drove out to one of the secluded beaches. We kept driving until we found one that was deserted. We wanted a bit of alone time. We didn’t have our suits or towels for that matter as we had been at a barbecue – a ‘get to know one another’ for both of the families that were there. We pulled up to this Caribbean cove of white sand and aquamarine water. There were clusters of palm trees in each direction and a soft breeze that seemed stimulated by the waves crashing on the beach. It was warm and the sun was intense.

We stood in the shade – on purpose – while we observed the incredible absence of human intervention and appreciated the exquisite beauty. Harlan stepped out onto the beach as I looked around to make sure that no other human being was in sight. I took a deep breath and stripped off the limited amount of clothing that I could tolerate in this island heat, leaving every stitch in a pile and ran across the sand, buck naked, right past Harlan as fast as I could into the safety and protection of the crystal blue water.

The Fam

I am the oldest child. We have an ecellectic family.  Here’s how it goes:

My mother had five children, my father had five children. I am the oldest of seven. My two little brothers and my two little sisters are not related however I have a sister related to all of my brothers and a brother related to all of my sisters.

If you figure it out – message me.

My parents each remarried within a couple of years of divorcing and I became one of those kids having to ‘adjust’ to step-parents. It was obvious, much to my chagrin at times, that they were happy and better with their newly chosen partners. Although I perceived that they were perfect for one another – in the beginning, they weren’t all that great for me.

My step dad reminded me of Sergeant Carter on the 60’s television show Gomer Pyle (see the YouTube video I linked). He was ALL Army. My recollection is that he would come home at lunch and change uniforms so that they were fresh and crisp. He demanded perfection. He was younger than mom and had been a confirmed bachelor before meeting her. I believe she was his queen.  Until his dying day, he attempted to make her life everything she dreamed. At any time if I – a typical teenager – failed to be completely and totally respectful to mom – he generated consequences that were foreign and in my own mind – completely unjust. He grew to be a hero in my mind. He battled cancer with a dignity that I didn’t understand but hope to model if I am ever called to.  His death was at home surrounded by all of us and if death can be beautiful – his was.

My stepmom – well she wasn’t my mom. My dad was different when she was around. I think one of the things that was particularly hard is that Mom left – she joined the Army (another blog post entirely) and so Dad was the person we needed for stability and he just wasn’t emotionally there for us as he was falling in love.  I know he tried. He was a great dad. I don’t blame him but as a 14 year old I was unable to have any perspective about the falling in love process so to me – it felt like he left too – at least for some of the time. I imagine that I could have been pretty demanding in the attention department so it is entirely possible that no amount would have FELT sufficient. The end result was that I developed resentment toward my stepmom. Life with her was culturally different than it had been with mom. She was more religious, more stern, more educated, not as soft, not as playful, not as tolerant. She was secure and patient however and we plowed through our differences until respect and friendship developed. She was a trooper for sure!

I want to say that today – 40 years later, she is a friend. She is the only parental figure left in my life and I count on her wisdom, insight, and love. Today I am aware of what it is that I didn’t know then. Many times, the information we don’t know – is imperative to  the development of compassion and understanding. Yet – we don’t know – we are mostly unaware – of what we don’t know. It is later… down the line after we learn, grow, and mature, that we are able to develop perspective. Knowing this – I am sometimes impatient to know. I’ve learned how powerful insight can be.

My step parents taught me. Not just the parental stuff but about change, differences, and acceptance. Don’t get me wrong – as a teen – I was awful. I was unaccepting and demanding at times. I was obnoxious and unrelenting. It wasn’t until I fell in love, until I experienced adult relationships, until I had children of my own; that I was able to explore a more realistic idea of what life offered back then.

Those years significantly molded elements of my personality, some might say scarred it. The changes in family dynamics were only one aspect of immense upheaval. I attended 3 different schools in the 8th grade as my dad moved us back to his California homeland from Pennsylvania and settled into a new life. Halfway through the 9th grade I felt that I needed to live with Mom so I moved to Germany where she had been stationed. Then – she got sick and they transferred her back to the states where I started 10th grade – and when she got settled it was in a different school district. By 1976 her health conditions made it necessary for us to live with Dad who was living in a yet different West Coast city so I started my 5th high school as I began my Junior year. I graduated from that school. I took more Greyhound busses and United airline flights than any other kid I knew.

I can’t imagine my life without all of these players and I experience daily gratitude for their presense through the years. I may not have understood the universe’s intention as the havoc and chaos developed but I am so thankful to have loved them.