Growing up, my son felt his father’s and my marriage breaking. He noticed the nicks in my armor, and found my overreactions startling. Especially in contrast to Swenny’s collected exterior. My behavior confused him. Once he realized that my reactions were compensation for Swenny’s alcoholism, he made sense of it, releasing me from my role as villain to one of someone distressed. But determined to protect him and our family from the inside out.
Now a senior in college, he continues to process what it is to be the son of an alcoholic. He has established boundaries, and enforces them thoughtfully. When necessary, he is considerate with reminders that punishing me is never his intention, even though sometimes it is a consequence.
As the door swung open for him to go, my daughter came back through. Like her brother, she is processing what it means to be the child of an alcoholic. She, too, has boundaries, but like me, allows the edges to give way. Even after experiencing up close the chaos I have caused with my continual resetting of the boundaries I established, she gives: a testament to her generosity. To her grace. She makes time to share space with her father along the trails of an urban woodland near home where they exchange stories about the people of late who rest there while our dog determines the path they follow.
When she asks him to get help, he promises to. She believes he wants to, but has no expectation that he will. My son no longer asks.
Neither do I.
Monday is Swenny and my anniversary. For twenty-nine Novembers, I have considered us…the decisions we have made and those we have left unmade. I have considered the childhoods of our daughter and son, and the circumstances we allowed to frame them. Lately, I check my watch to see what time is left to tidy up before the troubling of their youth becomes the horizon that lines their future.
In tending the mess, I plan to leave in place what is best: parents in Swenny and me who love them. Who believe in them. And with acknowledgment of our own shortcomings, or perhaps because of them, are in awe of them. Most importantly, I will leave in place them. Their strength to remain firm. Their courage to remind us why when we lose track of how. Their willingness to accept, without condition, us.
Because that is what makes all our Novembers possible.
In the fall, we let you go your way. ~ Neil Young