“Where have you been?”
“We haven’t seen you in ages!”
“We miss you!”
These are all familiar phrases to me recently uttered by none other than my mom. And, to be honest, these are all fair because I haven’t been as “available” to my family in a little over a year. Some was my choice, but mostly it has been theirs. Let me explain.
My sister is older, closer to my parents and perpetually in a state of drama—with her kids, her husband, her life, in general. She requires constant care and attention from my parents and demands much of their time. I choose to stay far away from that chaos and in turn am forgotten and pushed aside. My kids are thriving, my marriage is successful and our family takes care of itself. I don’t rely on them for any support because I’ve built a solid support system around me. And, because of my not needing them to “help” me, they aren’t in my life very much, if at all.
Does this bother me? IMMENSESLY. I’m STILL here, living and breathing. My kids are growing up fast to be amazing young gentlemen and none of us get much attention because we are “good”. In some ways, we actually get punished for NOT needing them. Which to me and my kids is heartbreaking because if we have to get attention by “drowning” in front of them, well, we’d rather swim and keep swimming. And, so we swim and they constantly go out and try to keep my sister and her family from drowning and life passes by.
Amazing things happen and we celebrate them—sans grandparents, because they are still busy, in the deep end, trying to keep my nephews’ heads above water. My oral surgery happens—the one they said they would not only take me to, but stay with me and take me home from so my husband wouldn’t have to miss work—and they forget about it because one of my sister’s kids once again decided to go “deep sea diving without an oxygen mask”. They don’t check on me. They are too busy trying to rehabilitate a hard-headed young man from choosing to jump in and drown over and over again. Meanwhile, my face is swollen, I’m in pain and left swimming alone and barely noticed.
We occasionally get to spend time with them but only when my sister or her kids are unavailable. During these times I am told how missed I am and that they never hear from me. I’m told that they think I’m “so independent because of getting married so young”, never connecting the dots and not allowing me the chance to connect them for them. They don’t put together the countless times they’ve been too busy to notice me, too consumed to watch me “swim”. They don’t realize that years ago when they “wanted to bury me and had a fake funeral in their backyard” that I emotionally died to them that day.
They don’t see and they don’t really have the time to care because saving a drowning person, not to mention a whole family, is exhausting and they are too tired to care.
You see, while I’m swimming, what they DON’T KNOW is that their trying to save a drowning family is inundating me and mine with LOTS of waves—waves that make our path more difficult and treacherous so we collectively move further away for more peaceful waters. Swimming through life is hard enough without extra waves and splashes constantly trying to knock you off course. I am still a Mama Bear. I will protect my children at all costs and I know that a drowning person, can and will pull you down underwater with them if allowed, so farther away we swim. Farther, farther… “just keep swimming, just keep swimming”.
I’ve been told by therapists to leave and find new water, to walk away and never look back, and yet, I can’t. I can’t because deep inside I still hope that one day they will swim with us and notice how strong we’ve become. I want them to STOP trying to save a drowning family and enjoy the beautiful, salty water with us. I want to be seen. I want to be loved, and more importantly, I want my kids to be seen and loved.
But, the older I get and the longer I swim alone with mine, the more independent we all become and the harder it is for them to reach me. I KNOW, from experience, that if we meet in the middle, sooner or later, they will go back to the deep water to attempt to save those drowning all over again. I know that those moments won’t last and I will have to experience the disappointment and sadness all over again. And, at my age, I’m not sure that I want to continue to experience that. I’ve experienced it since I was 5 years old.
At age 5, my sister was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes. My life and well-being became secondary and the way my sister and I were raised (by the SAME parents) became completely opposite of one another. She was coddled, was only mean to me because “her blood sugar was low”, and was excused of any bad behavior. I was in the way if I had any problems and a burden to my mother. Sexually assaulted in 8th grade? Had to be my fault. How could I do that? Sexually assaulted at Church? Again…my fault. My sister gets broken up with because she won’t have sex with her boyfriend? Hero of the Year! Praise and adoration all around. Pure angel. God’s chosen daughter. I have dreams that come true? Demonic, wrong, evil Jamie. You get the gist.
Fast forward to what I like to call the “Years of Wildness and Debauchery” when my sister and I both went through a divorce in the same year and decided we like alcohol and men. She goes off the rails, gets drunk and makes a fool of herself at my husband’s birthday party (which my parents attend) and the next day I get a call from my parents telling me how disappointed they are in me (what?) for allowing her to do that (um, ‘cuse?) and told that she told them I never wanted to marry my then-boyfriend and how wrong that would be in God’s eyes (are you talking to me!?). And so it goes and continues to go and so we swim further and further away.
I’ll probably never get the love or attention I’ve always wanted from two of the most important people in my life. I’ll never be “seen” by them because if drowning is what it takes, I’m too strong of a swimmer and I hope to God it never happens unintentionally. In the meantime, I look forward and try to focus on my kids and marvel at their skills. I SEE them. I HEAR them. I want them to feel the love I haven’t felt. I want them to know that I will always swim with them— through the easy waters and over the waves. I’ll doggy paddle with them and attempt to butterfly with them, although, my old body may not let me always keep up. I hope when they wander off and make little families of their own, they will let us meet up and swim together some more—laughing and splashing each other in the warmth of the sun. And I hope to GOD they never feel like they are drowning because I’m trying really hard to teach them how to swim. “just keep swimming…just keep swimming…”