As the world of writing about oneself goes—be it memoir or blog or personal essay or even fiction very close to home—part of people’s response is to you, not just writer but person. There are nearly countless ways to push buttons (some of them, I really cannot write about, but trust me, I know more than I can say about that topic). Who you are, what you reveal, what you think… any of these things can be grounds for, let’s say, reaction.
Every once in a while, it so happens that something I write really pushes buttons, smacks of something distasteful, hurts someone’s feelings. I guess that’s part of the experience of being a person in the world putting oneself out, in whatever way (in my case, by writing about my life and my observations). As the writer and the person whose life it is being written about, it stings to hurt someone’s feelings or offend. Almost always, the offense is unintended, although sometimes, your own truth is offensive to the next person and in the end, you kind of have to say to yourself, something along the lines of so it goes and move onward.
It so happened that my short essay about enjoying a brief window time as solo parent to two children rather than joint parent to four, struck a reader as offensive, as in entitled and yuppie and not in any way about the reality of single parenthood. Obviously, there is no way that a brief sojourn into parenting one-on-however many is anything like being a single parent. My parents are divorced, and so in my bones I know that to be the case; in fact, many years into my own life as a parent, I realized that I unconsciously keep track of how much time I’m spending with my kids, as if their time with me and mine with theirs is parsed out between me and some imagined other household? There’s no other household, but I worried about the concept of “enough” time as if there was another place they had to go, I’d so absorbed my own upbringing, and a sense of scarcity that I must have felt very sensitive to, on my parents’ behalf.
Anyway, I think my essay was, just to put it out there, a little musing on the way that changing things up sheds new light on one’s experience, or did for me, in some surprising, personally sweet ways.
The other truth my essay revealed—not the first time in my writing by any stretch—is that often unspoken issue of privilege. The person commenting on my essay felt that my worry that my husband and two sons were en route to Greece was pretty un-universal. It’s pretty unusual for us, too, but there’s no denying—even after the market crashed—that in the scheme of things, my life is a privileged one.
Money is one of those taboo topics, and although I was raised in a wealthy—and in some circle well known for its wealth and all that comes with that—family, I was pretty unaware of this growing up. I have plenty more to say about that subject, some other day. To the extent that the blog form can be a conversation in snatches, I’m going to leave the issue of privilege (for now) at this: my own awareness about how privilege plays into my life began toward the end of adolescence and ever since, I’ve tried hard to figure out how to live with the odd, silent, mantle of coming from the family I came from (which is the story for all of us).
As all of this was going on, I left with the littlest two kids and met my mom in Florida to spend a week (admittedly, it’s a chilly week, thus far) at a condo by the beach. Getting to hear the ocean is a complete and utter gift, a bit of nectar. I realize that I haven’t really taken time “off” other than at Thanksgiving (when I went with my family to my mother and stepfather’s house and got sick as can be—spent two days in bed and then went back home) and then Christmas (which just isn’t off, exactly) for a year. It’s a huge relief to have this respite.
The book I brought to read first is an anthology* called Gravity Pulls You In (edited by Kyra Anderson and Vicki Forman). The essays and poems are about raising children on the autism spectrum. These tales are so insightful and moving and resonate closely and yet so often are talking about experiences I have not had and realize I can’t quite imagine, even as I’m reading and nodding and, in places, universalizing. The things I take for granted—that my kids make it through the school day without incident, that my kids know how to make and keep friends, that my kids can answer my questions—well, my entitlement as a parent is great. Isolation can come from not being able to count upon things your peers—neighbors, children’s classmates’ parents, or siblings—can count upon.
Halfway through the book, and in the midst of these related/unrelated musings, I am—along with all else—taking in the fact that nothing, even something we so often assume is universal, like parenting, really isn’t, at least not exactly. Part of what we have to hold in that whole not assuming it’s the same paradigm is how privilege plays in, all sorts of privilege. So, perhaps what I’m saying is this: privilege is another of those topics to put on my write about this list I keep in my head at all times.
*I will be writing more about the book. For now, partway through, I will just say this: I highly recommend reading it, because there’s such a fresh, unflustered honesty to the pieces and regardless of your personal situation, I think this is one of those sheds-lots-of-light books that could help us all in our shared quest to find more compassion for one another.