Monday, January 28, 2013

Vignette: Time

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity
- Simone Weil

As far as I can tell, time is an important part of the equation of unconditional love. Without it, my mother would not have put together a special basket in her pantry labeled "DS" containing his own crackers and breads and snacks for whenever he comes to visit, or coconut-based ice cream in the fridge at her house on any given day for him so that he won't feel left out when everyone else is having ice cream that he can't have, or found a way to make home made fudge and fudge sauce for him. Without time, there could have been no thought given for saving our special childhood treasures so that we could pass them along to our own kids: my Where The Fern Grows books and Mortimer Snerd doll and Pee Wee Herman board game and music boxes that play beautiful but unrecognizable tunes and Quiga boards and Tarot cards and tigers eye rocks tumbled smooth by Dad. Time spent willingly then yielded miles and miles of memories, a road map of happiness through my past. That's what my mother and father have passed on to me: the gift of time. They gave me time and showed me how to give mine. I remember playing catch with Dad in the backyard for hours. No matter how much he sweated or how bad his knees hurt, he caught my pitches until I was done practicing. He never missed a game, even if I was on the bench. He played chess with my little brother, took my big brother to the rifle range, brought middle brother to the soccer field. He gave us his time.

Everywhere I look, I see it. Every memory I have, it's there. I remember one very specific conversation with my mother in which we discussed every single person in my family - each of their strengths and limitations, their dysfunctions and behaviors - including but not limited to ourselves, members of my father's extended family, all of my mother's siblings, all of my grandmother's siblings, and each one of my fifteen cousins. My mother remembers that conversation too. We think I was about twelve years old. It wasn't gossip. It was bonding over curiosity and truths shared. We talked that day for hours, just because I wanted to know. It certainly wasn't the only conversation we ever had like that, but probably because of the length of time we spent talking that day, it stands out in my mind as being significant.

My mother put all of her time into us, her children and her family. And that made her genuinely happy. I never doubted that as a child; that my mother loved being our mother. If she hadn't had issues conceiving, she would have had more children, which was why she adopted MB (Middle Brother). She wanted more children. And having more children never took away her willingness or ability to give each and every one of us what we needed. My mother could have had ten biological children, and I know I still would have felt the same. As it was, she had four children of her own and cared for dozens of others over the years.

My mother can do anything: she is clever and insightful and creative. DH has always been in awe of how much my mother is able to do. She sews and paints and cooks and gardens and builds things. She doesn't flinch an eye at picking up a power tool, or climbing a ladder, or driving a truck with wheels that are taller than she is. Once, when she was giving DH a haircut, he asked her, "Is there anything you can't do?" My mom paused, scissors in hand, contemplating. She started cutting again and said, "Well, I can't sing opera." Aside from that, I've always known my mother could do anything. Absolutely anything. She's the strongest person I know. I would trust her with my life. I would trust her with what is the most important thing to me in the whole world: the lives of my children.

Growing up, I knew several adults who came from backgrounds of severe abuse and dysfunction; they were contemporaries and peers of my parents, who said they had wished she could have been their mother. Some of my friends often said the same.

And what I always come up with is that the one thing that was always present was my parent's choice to give us their time, willingly and joyfully. My parents don't do much of anything without thinking about their children and grandchildren. They are selfless and kind and generous.


  1. This is lovely Jonsi.

    I remember being an annoyance to my mother as a child. We spent a lot of time together, but it was directed and dictated by what she needed/wanted to do (running errands, shopping, etc.) I rarely remember her doing anything with me because she wanted to spend time with me, being in my life (as opposed to me being in her life. Funny how with narcs, you are either in there life, or your not. There is no "sharing" of life). My mom would most likely say she gave a lot of her time to me and my sister: cooking, cleaning, picking up after us, doing things FOR us. But actually giving willing of her time with us, not so much. Dad wasn't much better.

    In fact, I can remember feeling often that I took up too much of my parents time. I chose not to participate in extra curricular activities or not go to friends houses, because I knew it would be an inconvenience to them. They'd have to find money for that sports uniform, or figure out how to get me home from practice, or go to my games. Even when my parents (well, really only my mother) came to my theater productions, I felt like I had put her out because she had to take time off work.

    At least, I know that I'm doing something right as a parent myself. I love to give my kids my time. To spend time listening to them, playing with them, teaching them, exposing them to new things in the world.

    1. I think DH's parents would say the same. They think they gave him time. But they really didn't. And I know that if that's what I was witnessing with DH as an adult, it's just an extension of how they treated him as a child. He didn't get their time or willing attention. He got obligation, and nothing more.

      I don't ever remember feeling like I was just a chore on my parent's checklist. And I can only imagine how terrible that must feel for a child.

    2. Same here, Jonsi. DH had much the same upbringing. I remember being shocked when he told me a punishment as a child for him was to go without speaking to his parents. I can't imagine that. Not being allowed to speak as a punishment to the family. My parents would never have dreamed up such a punishment- conversation about what I did as wrong was crucial to being punished. I was encouraged to talk to them. I can't fathom growing up in a house where it was discouraged as punishment.
      Another thing that sticks out to me was the face DH was molested by strangers as a child. The way his parents keep it a secret (it's THEIR fault for not being there for him in the first place)- and the way they brush him under the rug and ship him to therapy. Just terrible.
      They have never acknowledged what he's been through- but stifled him and silenced him lest his asshole siblings be affected by THEIR mistakes. It sickens me.
      It was always very clear to me no one in his family ever took the time to bond with DH- to understand him. To be there. It simply wasn't done.
      I feel this is incredibly common with ACoN's and yet it always surprises me at the extent some parents go to hide their own flaws. To do anything on earth NOT to talk about issues within a family.

    3. Uck. Dysfunctional families are the world's "best" secret keepers, in that they bury everything and refuse to ever talk about it and pretend it doesn't exist, even though it DOES exist and it all just sits there rotting. How horrible. And kids don't have coping mechanisms for anything, which is why they have to come up with unhealthy ways of keeping their emotional selves intact. (Which of course, they end up taking with them into their adult lives).

      What you describe sickens me too. It's painful to hear about, let alone to have lived it. I'm so sorry.

    4. Thanks, Jonsi. Some days I have to remind myself just how fucked up DH's childhood was to understand him better. Can't. Compute. Some evil knows no bounds.

  2. When I was teaching parents used to ask me for child rearing advice and I always said, "The best thing you can give a child won't cost you a cent. Give them your time."

    Not sure how to explain this, but my parents kept me isolated and frequently gave me their presence but not their "time".

    1. I get it Mulderfan. Anyone can be physical "present" but that doesn't mean they are giving you their time or attention.

    2. I agree! N's seem to love to 'gift' people with their presence. To them that should mean love to you. But it's not!

  3. This doesn't compute for me. I always felt like a big waste of my mother's time.

  4. My god - this is exactly what my parents DIDN'T give. no board games. No reading to us. No HOMEWORK, checking OR helping. No PTA meetings or good lord, ever BAKING anything. They never went to a school carnival. They signed us up for softball (Go, Kittens!) and then we had to ride our fucking bikes to the field all summer, they NEVER would have known if we didn't really go. A ride to or from the mall was a negotiation with a terrorist.

    Time, attention, affection. They are ALL missing with these people.

  5. Doesn't compute for me either. Psychob despised being a wife, a mother, a "Home Maker" and generally despised her life. As well as everyone in it. She made sure we were aware of these realities every day through an endless arsenal of "inventive" ways. She graduated Summa from the "Mommy School of Terrorism" and majored in Ambush Tactics/Hit and Shun.
    Fact Check: She had "Household Help." A new vehicle annually or semi-annually max which she drove like a wild woman and would rather hit the brakes on those powerful tanks and send me flying into the dashboard than hit a squirrel. She had a slew of credit cards and elevated shopping to a high art form as she meandered through exclusive shops buying what ever. There was never enough of any "thing" for her despite being Pucci-ed and Gucci-ed head to toe, had weekly appointments with the "Hair Dresser," boozy "luncheons" on her own if she was particularly pissed at Dad resulting in a face-down-on-the-bed "presentation" when I got home from school. Consistent with her preoccupation with all things "Au Courant," she was way ahead of her time with her "Time Out" Parenting Skills: She "Timed (herself) Out"/got rid of her kids frequently in some quasi-socially acceptable fashion, or just plain got rid of them and her "DH" at every opportunity even if she had to "create" the opportunity. The "Family Cross-Country Road Trip" when I was 4 and Nsis was 6 sealed my kid-fate for time with her for the rest of my life. (Or at least until I NC'd and then she just couldn't get (wreck) enough of me apparently. She never lost her terrorist skills.)
    Retrospectively, that probably was a good thing: Any more "Mommy 'n Me" time and I probably wouldn't have survived to adolescence.

  6. We came from such drastically different worlds.

    And yet. I know you to be such kind, loving, people. Proof that there are some really amazing people out there who have really shitty parents.

  7. This is so lovely! And yes, I wish too they had been my parents.
    Recently my elder sister remarked on how our mother has 'time' for our half brother that she never had for us. I questioned her as to why she thinks that is: her age (5 years between my sister and I, 12 between my brother and I)? That he was a boy and us girls? The father (as sister and I share a father, brothers father is my her now husband)? Our relationships with her? Our personalities? Learning from her mistakes? The whole time my sister just listened to my questions. Then she replied "I don't know. It's stupid no matter. But, I think it's just easier, and she hasn't anyone else so she has him trapped in her 'things' to the point he is afraid, we always had each other, and other family - he has no one".
    I realised, I want her to love me, but not the way she does love. Above all, I don't want to become her.