26 March 2012

#Scintilla Day 7: Parental Personhood

(I'm playing catch-up with posts from Thursday and Friday of last week.)

Scintilla prompt for today: Talk about a time when you saw your mother or father as a person independent of his or her identity as your parent.

I'm not sure I can say that I've seen any of my parents as a person independent of their identity as parent, as it has been the trappings of that role - their responsibilities, their actions, and my expectations of them - that have shaped my ideas of them as people. Looking back, I feel like I've mostly seen them as people, most of my life. There are moments, memories, where I can point my finger and say parent, and that word encompassed everything they were for me, what they meant to me, what I wanted and needed them to be. Not really the other way around. Oddly, I feel more connected to them as my parents now that I'm a little older. Perhaps that's the universal experience of moving out of the immediacy of adolescence and into the adult ability to appreciate both hindsight and future possibility. In any case...

I didn't have what might be seen as the ideal or typical family structure as a young child. My parents were never married. I have no memories of my mother prior to our reintroduction when I was 13 or so. My older brother did, but it's all blank for me. My dad married my stepmom when I was little. I don't remember what age, exactly, but it was before I was old enough for school. If I count back based on when my sister was born, I was probably three or four years old. She's always been mom to me, never Regina, never "my step-mother." My younger sister and brother were never anything but that - half anything was never, and will never be, a distinction worth noting in our family. My mom mom came back into the picture when I was in middle school, which was a rough, awkward, strange, miserable time for me all on its own, without even tossing family into the mix. Family made it even crazier.

Maybe it's because I was a middle child, or because I'm an introvert, or who knows what else, but it was easy for me to see the inner workings, if you will. I was quiet. I watched. I analyzed. I thought. A LOT. I could see the aspects of personality that informed the words and deeds of those around me, my parents included. I saw them as clearly as strands of floss woven and coiled into intricate beings that I called mom and dad (or sister, brother, friend, etc.)

When my parents argued with my older brother, I saw those strands flailing, clashing. I saw the missed connections, the misunderstandings that only led to more clashing. For the life of me, I couldn't see the parenting in many of those situations, only the people acting in what I can only assume was the best capacity they knew how. That's still how I see it, thinking back.

When my parents argued with each other, or with my sister, or (much more rarely) with me, I saw people, and personalities, and the family ties were only relevant on the surface. It was the stubbornness, or anger, or ignorance, or self-righteousness at work, overriding whatever bit of parent was there.

When my dad used me as a shiny example of what he wanted my older brother to be more like, completely oblivious to the way it only made both my brother and I feel like shit and tarnished what should've been a more solid sibling relationship, there was no parent there. When my dad and my (birth) mother spoke negatively of each other, to me, as though I couldn't see the faults on both sides of my DNA chain for myself, there was no parent there. When my parents made comments about my mom making up for lost time and buying her way into my and my brother's lives and hearts, assuming I couldn't see that for myself, or that that was somehow counter to what I needed and wanted (because really, for a shy, introverted teen girl with no memory of her mother, gifts of what she thought/hoped I wanted said things, taught me things about her and I, and went farther toward building a relationship than my words ever could at that time in my life), there was no parent there.

Despite the proclamations of concern and just wanting what's best for me (or my brother), my parents were utterly absent in those cases, replaced by people. Scared people. Angry people. People who had been hurt and mistreated by life, by people from their pasts, and maybe even by each other, and who desperately needed that pain to be acknowledged and validated.

It's almost funny, when I think about it. I could already see the hows and the whys behind the "lessons" my parents were trying to teach me (or prevent me from having to learn). As people, sometimes we don't realize that our baggage isn't his baggage, or hers, or anyone else's. We assume that because this heartbreak handbag and that suitcase of cynicism have taught us and guided us and served us well (or not), then surely other people would do well to know the things we've learned from our baggage. But it doesn't work that way. Sometimes we forget that. We're only people, after all. Parents are no different. Maybe that's why I can't separate the two in my mind. Maybe that's why I've always seen the people behind the mask of my parents.


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