When my three children were young and I was the secondary breadwinner in the family—immersed in the daily intensity of tending to their needs—I wrote a poem entitled “The Pie Chart” about my relationship with my husband. In the lines of the poem, I imagined myself “vanishing fraction by fraction” as the slice of the pie chart representing our time together grew and the slice that was my independent life shrank. I worried that giving myself over to caring for my family would erase “me”.
Later in the poem, however, I used the metaphor of intersecting orbits to describe our marital relationship, allowing the liberty to venture out into space, with the reassurance of gravitational pull back to crossing points. I believe that those intersecting orbits are fundamental to healthy family relationships.
My children are now at various stages of exiting the nest, and I am struck daily by the oppositional forces that pull them away at one moment and reel them back to us the next. Money, of course, is one force–each of them has a different approach to earning and spending, resulting in distinct dynamics of how they ask for help. But the need for affirmation of life choices is equally compelling.
Megan, now 24, is midway through a sentence of 3 years probation for a misdemeanor conviction stemming from entering a corporate-owned battery cage egg farm and removing injured chickens from the facility. She never dreamed that the corporation’s power over the judicial system would disrupt her future plans for years to punish an act stemming from empathy and outrage at inhumane treatment of animals. She has used some of this time to care for her dying grandfather—demonstrating empathy and selflessness that have astounded both the family and his medical team.
Joanna, 21, just sent me a paper to edit entitled “The Human Ecology of Fear: Investigating the Cultural Significance of Supernatural Phenomena in the Oral Traditions of Newfoundland”, the culmination of a recent trip to the island. As I read her thoughts, I was transported back to sitting in the anthropology office at Wesleyan University in the wee hours of the morning listening to a the man who has now been my husband for almost 29 years steal my heart with his ramblings on language and culture.
Quinn, 19, is busy pulling away from his parents with as much vigor as he can muster, but I’m not worried. I trust that his orbit, too, will lead him back toward the intersection with ours—and then send him back out again.
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