Me And You And Our Parents’ Missteps
"Two kids with wet cement living down in their souls,
They say what gets caught when you're young.
Stays there when you're old"
We trip often in love. The first kiss had too much tongue, or not enough. The first time you have sex with someone new feels anticipatory and awkward, and you wonder about orgasms. The first time you forgo protection you think of whether this is someone you’d be able to navigate an unplanned pregnancy with. The first time you think of needing space from them you think of whether they’re yours to keep in the first place. The first time you walk down the street and another guy catches your eye, and you smile, and you feel your phone vibrate with a “Baby” you wonder if you just did something wrong. The first time you sit across from them at dinner and how to discipline children comes up, you look at them and start seeing a partner in parenting.
The first time you think of life with your someone, you look in the mirror, a day, a week, a month, later and you wonder if you’re on track to becoming the kind of person who can do life with someone else.
We ask all these questions — How selfish are you? Do you know to check up on someone if they’re sick? How selfish are they? How funny are you? Do you know how to make someone laugh on down days? How funny are they? How empathetic are you? Can you feel their pain without inheriting it as your own? How empathetic are they? How immature are you? Do you know how to stay when things get layered? Do you know the difference between layered and hard? Do they?
We trip often in love. We sit on the present, on the way it shows up, on the way “me and you” takes on new meaning and it’s your little family you’re building. You dream about the future, about dogs and kids and the apartment with too many (or not enough) pillows on the bed. But, we forget to look at the past. We forget to ask, to seriously consider, are we making the same mistakes our parents made?
Are we loving each other in ways that scarred us when we were younger. You know, when your parent told you that their love was dependent on you doing school right. Are you doing that to someone else? Or when your mom, a single mom, celebrated your book smarts, but rarely talked to you about feelings. Are you doing that to someone else?
Are we showing up only when it’s convenient for us, or when the list is checked off, because that’s how love was defined when we were growing up and for all the ways we said we’d never make our parents’ mistakes, here we are?
My mom was a single mom who loved me and who gave me all she could, but I was a feelings kid. I would have preferred a million hugs, to talk about why I was so anxious, than to get the Barbie beach house, especially because she’s been 6 feet under for 15 years now, I don’t know where the Barbie beach house ended up, and I’d love to know her thoughts on forgiveness.
I’ve navigated my adult life trying to show up for the kid I was. The one who didn’t know love that stayed because her primary source for it left to a hospital and never came back. The one who always felt smaller than others because her size was all that was pointed out to her. The kid who didn’t know how to trust consistency because no one had been consistent and trustworthy in her life. The one who was too afraid to hold others’ accountable when they did her wrong because what if they didn’t fight to make things right?
Before I thought about my own baby girl as a guiding light, I would think about a girl with tight curls who would lock herself in the bathroom just to not get her hair combed.
With every time that I invited someone new into my life, I wondered if I was doing that little girl justice. Would I be inviting more uncertainty into her life? Or would I be giving her a foundation of love to rest her head on?
To get disappointed in life is a given, it happens to all of us in different degrees. People we love let us down because they’re human and they’re trying to navigate life the best they can. I just never wanted to put myself, her, in the position of wondering whether her angering someone would lead to them loving her less because she grew up in that feeling and it drowns. It eviscerates opinions, locks down voices, makes it challenging to be unique. We navigate so much in life, so much that is anchored in who we were as kids, that it’s a disservice to not really tackle our futures from the perspective of looking back from time to time.
We trip so often in love. But some of the trips were foreshadowed in our youth. You pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed until your loved one’s only option was to walk away? Sit quietly, what event in your past does that mirror? Was it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Except. Consider this, did you actually choose right? Did they walk away? Or did you push them? Are they still there? But loving from a distance, like no one in your life ever has?
Then think about self-fulfilling prophecies — how often do we get to cut them at the source?
One of my biggest fears in relationships was whether I was emotionally capable to stay when things got hard or was I the child of a father I never knew? The minute the season was over and my shoulders dropped and the truth of how I was the furthest thing from my father was a neon sign pointing the way — peace and tears. Peace and fucking tears.
The pain of staying on days when it hurt more than it healed, it was visceral. The joy of knowing that I am not my father’s daughter, it was worth it. I didn’t leave. I didn’t use love like a carrot. I didn’t do a lot of things that were done to me because I didn’t need to use anyone else to prove my own worth. I’m worthy. My self-esteem is anchored. My heart is solid.
I looked in the mirror a few days ago, and directly at how the two circles on the necklace I got for Valentine’s Day overlap. I believe in triangles and the power of holding each other up, but when it comes to me, as an individual I believe in circles, in how we are and we always will be. Love is never ending and our decisions have lasting impacts. I looked into my eyes and saw the same big eyes that stare back at me when I look at a picture of me and my mom. Those eyes trust me with creating a life that is worthy of the kid I was and the adult I’m becoming. One day, those eyes, they’ll probably find their way onto a small baby who I’ll look at and just pray that I know to love her more than I scar her.
We navigate love like we’re the first people to ever experience it, like it’s an island we’re just starting to inhabit. We’ve lived on it forever. The minute we were born it became our habitat. It was nature and nurture. Our parents defined what ‘showing up’ looked like. Our friends taught us about belonging. Our families taught us about loyalty and privacy. Our first loves taught us about forgiveness. We are a compilation of how others defined existing in relationships to us, we are the embodiment of how we will define all those things to someone else.
“Be who you needed when you were younger.”
It’s such a simple set of words tied together into a sentence, but it’s the biggest ask that will ever be made of us.
We either turn into the people in our lives who are known for staying or we turn into those who others shake their heads at because it’s easier than you would think to point out someone who is drowning in fear. We either turn into the people we wish would have been surrounded and led by as kids, or we turn into the ones we promised we would never follow in the footsteps of.
It’s easier than you would think to know someone’s heart through their actions, no matter how firmly they believe the mask is on. I remember looking at my father in the front seat of a car, I was five. I remember thinking that this man would never be my dad, he was too lost in his own insecurities to ever be able to show up for someone else.
I remember looking at my mom, hand on his arm, asking of him. I look back and wonder if she knew too, that he wouldn’t be able to live up to her expectations of him. I remember my mom, how she lived to serve others and never got the chance to serve herself.
I show up and I'm learning to serve myself. I’m not my parents, but I sure as hell haven’t forgotten where I come from. I walk with awareness that relapse, even if it was their realties and not my own, is still possible. At times, even probable.
Intentionality, it’s the best guard against all that feels inevitable.