Saturday, July 25, 2009

In the Beginning

All stories have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. I certainly know what Kelsey's ending was, and there is plenty of material for the middle portion, but what was the beginning of her tale? Her father would answer that it was ninth grade cheerleader tryouts, I tend to begin the story on the day of my 40th birthday when she had a meltdown at the dinner my mother made us go to, but truthfully, neither is exactly right. I think we would have to go as far back as when Greg and I got married, 25 years ago this December, and decided to intertwine our genetic destinies. But is that even right? Just because we both brought something to the table that contributed to our children's overall mental health (and, of course, we now know my genetic makeup is a mystery) did not necessarily mean our daughters were pre-destined to struggle the way that they did. The nature versus nurture argument is an intriguing one and applies here. For me, and trust me that I have put a lot of thought into this over a lot of years, Kelsey and Marissa were the result of both nature and how they were nurtured. And even more than that, things just happened. A person met here or there, a party attended, a drug experimented with, a hateful remark overheard in a school hallway, all of those things contributed to Kelsey's path in life and the decisions she made. If one thing had happened even slightly differently - had we not moved when we did, had we bought a house in Georgetown instead, had I not gotten the job I did in 1995, had I refused to let her go out a few times - things may been completely different for this family. You can go crazy thinking about such things, and I learned long ago that it is not wise to roll around in the mud of one's past too much, all you get is dirty. Nonetheless, when your oldest daughter just paid the ultimate price, it's hard not to.

However, I digress. What has struck me about all of this is that Kelsey died just one year shy of how old I was when I got married. Within a year I was pregnant with her. Granted, Kelsey and I were in different places in our lives. I had lived on my own since I was 19, working and going to night classes. I had been dating Kelsey's father for three years. I thought I was the poster child for responsibility, and we thought this was a good match at the right time in our lives. The problem with me is that I was convinced I had it all figured out at the age of 24. What I have since come to believe is that if you think you know everything, you in fact know nothing. My pregnancy was unplanned, but once I got over the initial shock, I plowed ahead, sure I could not only do this, but do it well. And I did. I was a great pregnant person. I took fantastic care of myself, because I was a vessel for this person growing inside of me. But, as much as I would not have been open to this statement when bent over with morning sickness, being pregnant is the easiest part of being a parent. And, caring for an infant is physically taxing, but not all that hard either really. It is easy enough to stimulate that tiny mind while changing those smelly diapers. An infants needs are constant, but not that hard to meet. The rest of your life may be chaos as a result; trying to work on four hours sleep, trying to maintain a marriage when you're asleep before your head hits the pillow, not to mention how hard it is to feel attractive with spit up stuck in your hair, but your baby doesn't care about all of that and will flourish. Once they take those first steps and their journey toward eventual independence truly begins, it gets a lot more complicated. I thought I'd figure it out as I went along. Now I can't believe that I approached the most important thing I will ever be allowed to do so casually. I was flying by the seat of my pants. And I think that was the beginning. Do I think I approached parenting much differently than most of my peers? No. I think I probably pulled off at least a good a job at raising my kids as a lot of parents do, but Kelsey and Marissa had special requirements, special anxieties and issues that caused them not to be able to shrug off the shortcomings of their parents and grow up reasonably well adjusted. I look back at that much younger, cockier version of myself and think she played a large part in this. And what specifically did I do or not do as a parent? Oh, stay tuned, there's a list.

So, what can I do about it now? Nothing. All I can do is offer up my story so other young parents can read and maybe learn. Maybe if I'm allowed the privilege of having grandchildren someday, my true chance for redemption will come then.

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