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The Heart Grows Fonder

11 · May · 2004

The first time I left home I was 19. I went a whole 30 miles north of my parents house to attend university. This wasn’t far enough for me to experience homesickness, but I was too young to understand that. I thought I was made of steel, that I was above wanting the security of family. After that I moved around quite a bit: Tulsa, Nashville, Romania, England, Birmingham. Oklahoma City was always the pit stop in between, giving me just enough time to reacquaint myself with family before moving on to my next adventure.

It was always the plan to grow old in California, I saw myself at 50, living close to the beach, coffee, fresh fruit and granola always on hand, and a career that allowed me more travel and culture at my fingertips. I never saw myself at the age of 32 in California, missing my family, as I never have before.

When I was a teenager, in trying not to be average, I took a very average and common stance on what a life should be about. I would not marry, I declared. And if I ever, I mean EVER had a child; it would be as a single parent who adopted. This was my way of rebelling against my family. Being the youngest of three children, it is not really surprising that I took on this way of thinking – that I had been wronged far more than the average girl, and God as my witness, I would never do to someone else what had been done to me.

My generation as a whole grew up with no positive illusions about marriage, but we do have some negative ones. We became very good analyzing why couples get divorced and what the effect a broken home has on our own ability to commit. This is a step in the right direction to rebuilding the family institution, however it is only a first step. At this point in our psychoanalysis, we stand dumbfounded as to where to go from here, so many of us do what I did – we refuse to participate. It’s sort of like saying “ I don’t know how to win the game. But I do recognize the stakes are extremely high. So maybe I shouldn’t play at all.”

Sometimes I think that what my generation needs most regarding Family aspirations are two things: someone to tell us to not give up so easily before we have even begun and someone to tell us why. We are a generation of habitual avoiders and I have led this club into the pits of apathy. But what works against this attitude day after day, (thank God) is our own desire to love and be loved, the knowledge that the security of home has little appeal without the feeling of being needed there, and that tiny voice within us that says, as songwriter John Mayer sings “Something’s missing”. How awful it is to believe all our lives that the odds will always be stacked against us! Defeated, we assume, before we even begin to fight. This inward struggle between our desire for love and our commitment to avoid trouble that many of us have is a purgatory of confusion where so many waste our precious youth.

So what then, would make us even think of continuing what most consider a vicious cycle? What reason can I give you and myself to take the necessary steps to create a healthy relationship worthy of marriage and family? Having ended one marriage myself, I admittedly, have a point of reference regarding the “woes” of marriage and my ability, or lack thereof to successfully participate in the institution. But I want you to know, whether you are married or not, I personally believe- even after everything I have seen and experienced, that marriage and family are worthy of every ounce of effort needed to be a part of such beautiful chaos. I believe this mainly because of the same four people who I once thought had sent me running from traditional union in the first place – my own parents and my brother and sister.

You see, while my family may wonder if I have gone too far away this time, I cannot help but marvel I have finally gone far enough to look back and see the roads I have previously traveled – in all their heartache and glory. Trying to make a life for myself now in California isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be. And being all the way out here on the unfamiliar west coast in a neighborhood where I am surrounded by laughing, singing, (it’s true) soccer playing, lively Mexican families from dawn to dusk, I catch myself feeling rather pathetic at times. I listen to these families through the thin walls of my apartment on A Street and I cannot help but remember nostalgic, yet true fragments of my own family in our heyday on Willowbrook Drive.

Like too many people I know, I used so much energy counting the cost of the family life – what I assumed it would take from me and my dreams of travel and freedom that I did not stop to fully consider what that life could bring – cookie coated kisses, an arm around me when I am scared, a team of unique personalities to cheer me when I need encouragement and humble me when I am vile. I have finally realized after all these years that what I want most is not merely to “correct” all my own family’s mistakes, but to build upon their strengths something of an even grander scale – a family in which I am the mother and wife with all the trouble and joy that suggests.

For all of you reading this who stand somewhere between wanting to turn the tables on the mockery of marriage and family and a panicky habit of running from a hint of danger, I say this: You can do this. You have so much to gain. And for those of you who are in the thick of the beautiful chaos of marriage/family: It is time you stopped reciting the cost to anyone who will listen and start spreading the word regarding the parts of your marriage and family you would sacrifice your life to protect. The ball and chain attitude is no longer cool and it was never helpful.

It’s hard to pursue dreams like mine and simultaneously reassure my family that our ties can never be broken, that they have been and always will be the most important people in my life. I try to find the words to express my gratitude for all the things they did exactly right, but I cannot. I once read a line that celebrated poet Merritt Malloy used to describe her affection to her children “You are more important than any door bell that will ring, any phone call I will receive.” This is true of my feelings toward my immediate family as well as my six nieces and nephews. This song, written in the country style we know so well, is for my family, who just by being themselves, have made me want to continue what we started way back when.

Where My Life Begins

My bike is on the front lawn
The family’s in the den
I’m just a kid in Oklahoma
And this is where my life begins

Mamma is the strongest one of all of us I know
She held her tongue at work each day and again when she was home
Her greatest gift was sacrifice for we ungrateful three
But what I recall most of all is that mamma did love me

Ali was my enemy as sisters all too often are
While she was soft and beautiful I worked to become hard
When she left home I felt somehow that she’d abandoned me
But when I look back, I’m sure of it, Ali did love me

My bike is on the front lawn
The family’s in the den
I’m just a kid in Oklahoma
And this is where my life begins

Jim was my first hero ‘cause he rebelled against the rules
While I doubted his choice in girls, I knew that he was cool
When he took on a wife and child, he left behind his poetry
With or without, I’d never doubt my brother did love me

Daddy wore a uniform, pants so creased and shoes that shined
Our childhoods were lost to him, but we forgot in good times
There were planes to catch, fears to chase and Star Trek on TV
But what I recall most of all is how daddy did love me

When I think back, I am not sad
I savor every part
Of this family tree, I’m glad to be
Loved right from the start

My bike is on the front lawn
The family’s in the den
I’m just a kid in Oklahoma
And this is where my life begins

Penny Rene’

Posted by Penny Rene at 03:07 PM | TrackBack