It is Thanksgiving weekend and we are on a long road trip. During the drive there and back I am writing my weekend post. I am trying to decide which stories to keep and which to ignore. Ideas float around my head, each vying for my attention, hands up waving and jumping up and down saying, “pick me, pick me!” When they are all begging to be heard, it is hard to decide which one to choose. So I write until one becomes bigger than the others. I call this my rambling. It is a healthy spew of words that clutter the mind until I am left with something that has substance. Since it is Thanksgiving, I assumed I was to write about being thankful – but I ended up rambling on and on until a lesson began to appear. A lesson I needed to learn. This first paragraph of this post is actually the last paragraph of that rambling. I am learning how important it is to rewrite. Just because a paragraph emerges at the end does not mean it can’t be moved to the beginning. Birth order of paragraphs is not important as long as the story is told.
We are heading up north, 500 miles, to visit our families for the holiday. It was a last-minute decision to travel the great distance, but it has been a tough year for a couple of siblings and I felt they wanted us there. With each passing mile I can feel the tension build, like I have to put on my armor and re-enforce the walls. I can feel my emotions taking up their place, like solders, anticipating a battle. A text alert interrupts my train of thought. A dear friend sent me a text, telling me to read bible scriptures about God going before me opening gates and leveling mountains. It is as if she is telling me that I don’t have to gear up for the battle. I contemplate this with each passing mile and it becomes clear where this war starts. It starts within me.
In the car, my youngest’s seat is in the back with the luggage. It is his spot in the car because he is the baby of the family – he was at one time the smallest, but this is no longer the case. He has passed up his petite older sister, but yet he folds himself up into the cramped space. It is just assumed that he would sit there. It is his spot, just like I am in the passenger seat with middle children in the middle. Husband, of course, is the driver. Nice and neat and in order.
My daughter assumed I would let her borrow my car to visit her dad when we arrived at our destination. My first reaction was no, because she is stepping out of her place. A place I so neatly placed her. Her frustration is clear. She has been driving for a few years now and she is defiantly capable of driving herself, but I view her as not a “driver”.
I am also frustrated with my place within my childhood family. I am the oldest of four and the responsible one, setting the course for the others. I made many mistakes and feel that I am the failure of the family. Why do I feel like I am not good enough? Because I was the one who tried first, did first and failed first.
It was noticeably different this visit. I could sense the weariness and the strain. Personal wars have raged all year-long with a few members of the family. One was at a breaking point and the stress of hosting the meal crumbled what little stability that she had left. I remember when I felt the first breaking point during a major change. This was her moment and I understood. And it was then that I felt a true connection with her. I look at other family members who are facing their own battles and it is like I am seeing them for the first time. All that shame I have because I thought I failed, were now the battles they were fighting. My role changed from the one who has made mistakes to the one who has experience. I soon realize that I have the power to change my place within my family
We laughed, cried and broke down until our real selves emerged. It was then that real conversation and real bonding started. Each in a different stage of a major change, yet feeling that we were not alone, we had each other. Our children piled up in heaps on the living room floor, whispering in the dark as us grown ups sat around the table all night telling war stories. This is family and I was so thankful to have shared this time with them.
I did give my daughter the car keys and I also made her sit in the smaller seat and let her brother stretch his legs. I learned a lesson in being flexible and adjust as people change within the family unit and that birth order is not the only reason in determining where one belongs.