I had a pretty magical childhood. I grew up going camping, swimming in lakes, playing with my Barbies in the woods, reading mystery novels, watching scary movies, playing hide and seek with my cousins, catching fireflies, taking bike rides, dance classes, shooting guns and learning archery and throwing tomahawks, helping my parents cook, playing with our dogs and cats and rabbits, playing with my sister, exploring our attic full of antiques and toys, building forts, catching frogs and fish, and going on countless adventures that only children can truly appreciate. I am reminded of my childhood daily and I am always grateful for it. But none of it would have been possible without my parents. My amazingly cool parents who opened the world to their children and ushered us bravely through it.
So when I think of my innate desire to remain childless a part of me is sad and disappointed. I have so much to offer a child. Qualities that my parents passed down through example - imagination, creativity, carefree spirit, a desire for fun and adventure, bravery, an open mind, acceptance. Along with my exceptionally intelligent and logical and hilarious husband, we would make some pretty remarkable parents. But here we are, in our mid-thirties, and there isn't an ounce of longing in either of us. So instead we socialize and drink and stay up late. We collect toys and cats and play in bands and write novels. It's a good life. A great life. And I wouldn't trade it. But sometimes I'm reminded of the family life that I grew up having and I sigh and say, Yep, I'm missing that gene.
The day before I was to leave to fly back east to be with my family my mother called me with news that my grandfather had been moved to hospice care. I needed no explanation of what this meant, I knew that hospice care was the last stage and that his 85 years of life would be, at any time, coming to an end. I started to worry that I wouldn't make it in time. I had had to wait two days between deciding to go to Michigan and actually catching my flight there and I was hoping that those two days weren't going to cost me and my sense of urgency tripled.
A few months ago my mother called me with news that my grandfather had fallen ill. Unsure how long she was to be staying in the lower peninsula my mother packed her Toyota Rav with half of her closet and the contents of her bathroom and then was on her way, driving 550 miles south to rush to her father's side as he lay in the hospital. He was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and congestive heart failure, but despite this bleak diagnosis no one had any firm details on the immediate severity of his condition, if there was hope of meaningful short-term or long-term recovery, or how long he'd have to remain in the hospital. As the weeks passed my mother remained diligent. She helped my grandfather prepare for the worst, getting the details of his estate and finances and Medicare in order, meanwhile still hoping for the best. She stayed at his side, talking to nurses and doctors and offering her love and support. She ran errands, cleaned his house, met with relatives, made phone calls, paid his bills, and tended to his every desire. She shouldered the majority of this responsibility as she was the only one in the family that is retired or not raising a family. The rest of the family - her brother, sister-in-law, aunt and uncle, nieces and nephews, helped out when they could and visited often, and yet after nearly five weeks of constant care and upheaval, my mother began suffering from fatigue and exhaustion and a heavy spirit.
I've never had a close relationship with my grandfather. We loved each other, no doubt about it, but I think we also annoyed each other and that got in the way of our being friends. My sister and I, and our cousins Bobby and Billy, spent a lot of time with our grandparents when we were kids. They lived in a house on Bennett lake in Michigan and we would spend weekends there or sometimes entire weeks, either during summer vacation or a holiday or sometimes just when our parents needed a break or a vacation by themselves. My cousin Bobby (my mother's brother's youngest son) was about my age and we were both the younger siblings of our respective sister and brother. From the time we were babies we were inseparable. He was the brother I never had, my best friend, my partner in crime, my champion, my cousin. I loved adventure but was wary of all things creepy and crawly, dank and dark, gory and gross. But Bobby was fearless and he shared his bravery like bubblegum, forging ahead when I hesitated to prove that I had nothing to fear (or proving that I had everything to fear). When we were both staying at the lake house he and I used to take the paddleboat out into the channel and go fishing and catch turtles and frogs. We would spend entire days in the water sitting in that faded red plastic paddleboat, wet and dirty and smelling of swamp water and of everything that lived in it. They were days to be unrivaled by anything else in our young lives.
When my parents and aunt and uncle were there, when it was the ten of us, we would take the pontoon out and spend the day on the lake swimming and tubing and eating salami sandwiches while the men drank beer and my grandmother smoked herself into an early grave. Back at the house we would play a game of Wiffle Ball, BBQ on the deck, ride our Big Wheels down the hill, play with the Weebles Tree House, and spend even more hours in the channel in front of their house.
There's a price to pay with growing up and growing old, I suppose some would say that there are many prices to pay and depending on how you look at it those some would be right. But so far, in my expiring youth, I try to take my punches as they come, the tedious responsibilities and minor protests of my flesh and bones seems par for the course and can be managed with knowledge, information and the right frame of mind. But my personal price, the price that is at times so high it seems unfathomable, is paid in the currency of a heart breaking under the weight of a thousand small cracks, like a pane of glass slowly shattering one spiderweb fracture at a time.
Childhood, for me, was your typical fare of pleasure and pain. I was a pretty happy kid, I entertained myself with barbies and books and rarely had a need that wasn't met twice over. School was difficult for me and I hated it but home life was full of love and adventure so there was a balance that seemed to work itself out. My mother was wonderful and adoring while my father was hilarious and hard as nails, again, it was a harmonious balance that taught me feminine qualities whilst forming my tough outer layer. Our home was warm and beautiful, our things were works of art both created by my parents and also carefully hand-picked and purchased. Evenings, weekends and summers were spent playing games, watching movies, reading books, playing outside in our woods, going camping and spending time with each other. They were formative years to say the very least and sometimes they play through my head like a favorite movie I know by heart. But when I started dating at the age of 16, my world shifted from home and family to Me and Him. Everything else faded into the background and the only thing in focus was my new found self and what that meant in life. Meanwhile, my family was slowly coming apart and two years later, while I was living with my boyfriend and completely self obsessed, everything that I grew up loving and believing in scattered to the winds forever. It was like leaving your house for the day and coming home to a property devastated by a natural disaster, you never got to take one last look, never had a chance to say goodbye or save your valuables. I never got closure with my childhood, my family or home, which may be why at the age of 32 I am still weighted with the loss of them.