Above: Back in the day, a blissful afternoon helping mom mow and rake the grass.
Left: If only I could have seen this picture back then.
You might call it our very own version of the American Dream. Looking back, it seems as if our family's tough luck was first set in motion when my grandfather, at 91, on his early morning walk, was killed by a young drunken driver. "Flattened" as one of my young nephews innocently put it at the time.
On the heels of that, my brother-in-law was severely disabled by a brain aneurysm. My devoted sister has cared for him ever since.
Then the flood gates seemed to burst wide open. Over the years, between my extended family and my own, we have experienced depression, divorce, single-parenting, cancer, stroke, alcoholism, disability, layoffs, bankruptcy, foreclosure and suicide. I hope that covers it. I'm pretty sure there are entire years I lost in fatigue alone.
But never fear, for whatever our house might have lacked in serenity, it totally rocked in love. (Caution: do not use the above photo as evidence.) We held tight to one another. In fact, I've always had a perfect picture of it: I see myself driving my girls at a steady speed, in a car with a perfectly running engine. It's just that the wheels are octagons. A bumpy ride, but by god, we got there.
I'm still traumatized, however, by one particularly low moment in my domestic esteem. With two in high school and one in middle school, I was awakened by my youngest, in the hall, hollering to her sleeping sisters, "Who has the towel?" The towel.
Anyway, when life is so full of disaster and distraction, it elicits an instinct to disengage. To recede from the world. To turn away help. Somehow as it was all unfolding, I just couldn't share it. Maybe I couldn't even see it.
I lay awake at night beating myself up, wracked with remorse. My own parents were married more than 60 years and never paid a single bill late.
I just kept telling myself, "Once I get things together, then I'll be able to do more in the world. Then I'll breathe. Then I'll connect."
But I've since come to understand that nothing is ever really solved. It just gets better. What makes it better is the realization that it's the crap in life that composts empathy. Germinates compassion.
For years, I made the mistake of being ashamed of my mistakes. I guess now I figure, whatever side it's on, the grass doesn't even have to be green. My daughters aren't just strong and deep despite our struggles, but in part, because of them.
Sure, my life is still a mess by certain standards. But from here on out, I'm enjoying the ride. I figure if we drive long enough, those wheels are bound to wear into circles.