I suspect my family resembles most other families in that the members thereof possess varying levels of understanding and empathy and acceptance of differences. The bigger the family, the more the variance.
This week's writing prompt, "Things only my family would understand," first drew a chuckle then sent me down memory lane. It wasn't an altogether pleasant trip. In writing this article, I determined that understanding comes under "nice to have," while acceptance is the holy grail.
That said, I come from a very traditional family. A young child during the Women's Liberation Movement, I grew up quietly rebellious. For instance, when offered the opportunity to join the school's marching band in the fifth grade, I requested a clarinet and received the response, "No, band is for boys. You'll play piano in the orchestra."
I never showed up for orchestra class and quietly slipped into study hall instead.
In college while living on campus, I happened to see my mother at the local shopping mall. We greeted each other and she mentioned she'd been ill and that she wished I were home, because she needed someone to sweep the kitchen floor. "Mom, you have three sons living at home and they all have working arms and legs," I replied. She never considered enlisting my brothers for the simple housekeeping task of sweeping.
Yeah, traditional. Really traditional.
So, any ambition to do what my family considered unsuitable or futile met with disapproval. I never quite knew whether that disapproval stemmed from the assumed impropriety of a "girl" possessing ambition, a conviction that the task or activity itself was unsuitable or unworthy, or that they just considered me incompetent and wished to discourage me from the pursuit of failure. I never had the courage to ask.
When I married, a whole new set of expectations fell upon my shoulders. Then came motherhood. I put most of my ambitions on the back burner. The goal of showing, breeding, and training horses: gone. The goal of earning a graduate degree: gone. The practical responsibilities of adulthood took precedence. I took a long hiatus from writing. When I finally did resume writing, no one really understood. To this day, I don't think anyone in my family really understands. Or approves.
My children adopted that attitude of mommy being both strange and incompetent, whether to protect myself or them from the embarrassment of my inevitable failure I don't know. But with their knowledge that I will do as I see fit has come resigned acceptance. They know I'm not going to stop writing, that I'm not going to suddenly turn into a social butterfly.
Now, when I venture into the company of other people--even when it's for a reason they don't understand--I receive support. For instance, I joined a mastermind group this year. "What's a mastermind group?" the younger son asked. My husband replied, "It doesn't matter. It gets your mother out of the house." "Good point," our boy replied.
The knowledge that I'm the family's screw-up--the weird one, the failure--just doesn't sting as much as it used to. Perhaps I've reached a level of maturity that eluded me before. Or maybe I finally decided to live up to my own expectations instead of everyone else's. It took me long enough to get to that point, didn't it?
I can't speak to the things only my family would understand, only to the things which they have accepted because I gave them no other choice. I'm a writer. I write strange and wonderful and oftentimes salacious things. This does not mean that I never fail to understand the ambitions and desires of others. I, too, have limits in empathy and comprehension, although I like to think that I can accept that which I do not understand and acceptance might come after a lot of kicking and screaming in protest.
I don't care whether anyone understands that. I only care that they accept it.