Friday, July 24, 2009

A New Hope

At first glance, I would appear to be a kid's dream mother. I am in many ways just an overgrown child. The music I listen to, the way I prefer to dress, the books I read, the toys I cannot seem to resist, my love for chocolate, my love for movies where stuff blows up, and all my dogs. Everything adds up to a fun-loving parent. But of course no parent is perfect, and parents aren't in place to be a playmate to their children alone. There was a definite dark side to my parenting that, as much as I would like to pretend it didn't, played a role in the troubles my two girls went through. More than anything else, I think my adherence to what I believed should be my role as the breadwinner was a detriment to my two daughters that they suffered for greatly. As things in their lives heated up, I simply was not there. I loved them, and I think for the most part on and most days they knew that, but I can tell you now with absolute certainty that love is not enough. It takes a presence, both in the mind and body, to be an effective parent. I can also tell you, with no amount of self-pity at this point, that I did not often give my kids all of me. I may appear to be looking for some sympathy. Trust me, I am not. This is all subject matter that has been examined by various therapists in various ways. I have been laid bare and had my ego water boarded by the best. I have survived those experiences to say these things as a matter of record. I can say them now somewhat dispassionately because it doesn't matter how I feel about it, I have yet to figure out how to bend time. What was will always be.

But, as I work through my daughter's childhood toys and books, her younger years have been on my mind recently, and, maybe to give my tired, wounded heart some salve, I asked myself the question, "Was there ever a time I know we were all happy together?" I have examined that question for several days, looking at the answer that continues to come back time and again to make sure I believe Kelsey would have answered it the same way, and I know she would have, because she did talk about it during her last residential treatment stay. For us, we were happiest living in a time long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Star Wars made us happy. It was the source of some of our best times together.

I think the happiest summer we had as a mother and daughters was the summer LucasFilm re-released the original trilogy. A huge Star Wars fan, I had raised my two daughters on the films, but I was so excited for them to see them on the big screen, so we got the schedule down and planned the summer more or less around the releases, which, as I recall, were about a month apart. In the time before Fandango, we would get to the theatre as early as possible to buy the tickets, then hang out at the book store until it was time to line up for the movie. And we were not alone, the lines wrapped around the building for each release, with people queuing up hours before the movie began. Kelsey was about 11, her little sister about 8, so we had to find ways to amuse ourselves in line, so I took The Hobbit and read it out loud to them. I can remember thinking how deeply dark and geeky I was, waiting to see the ultimate fantasy nerd's movie trilogy while reading the ultimate fantasy writer's work to my kids, but we were happy. I can recall people in line near us smiling kindly at the mother and her two children sitting on the ground reading about furry-footed hobbits, trolls, dwarves and wizards. At least, if I was going to be a nerd, I was in the best of company. We had a lot of fun without much effort. And the memories remain. A number of times we told the tale of the Englishman who asked the usher that the sound be turned down during The Return of the Jedi because he had been at the other two screenings and they were too loud for him. He was booed into submission. One of us would begin the story and the others would chime in to help complete it, laughing at the memory.

Even Episode I has a place in my heart now, despite being less than great cinema. My daughters were still young enough not to really know or care that the movie sucked. It was Star Wars and we were together at it. We would sit there with a large popcorn and a bag of Twizzlers and be very content to watch Jar-Jar Binks. We did it four times that year. I to this day cannot see a Star Wars film without wanting a Twizzler. I cannot eat a Twizzler without the strong urge to put in a Star Wars DVD. We took entire shopping trips geared around the purchase of Star Wars merchandise. I have a house full of it still.

Art Rooney, Sr. may be the man I look to as the greatest, kindest businessman ever, but George Lucas is my parenting hero. Of course, I know it wasn't the movies, it was the time we spent together. It was so easy. Why didn't I do more of it?

Kelsey, wherever you are, may the Force be With You.

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