The meaning evolved just as I did.
My poor kids,” I often said when it came to their proximity to me as their mother. They have gone through so much alongside me, tethered to my choices and subject to my evolutions.
I used to make this list and view it as a rap sheet, not the evidence of my agility and growth. I see this list now as a ladder.
I climbed out of each situation and pulled myself up; the kids were the attached witnesses.
They would tell you it wasn’t easy hanging on. It didn’t feel right, and often it was scary. Change isn’t always easy for kids, and some adapt to new situations better than others. Each divorce meant new socioeconomics and family dynamics. I can remember sitting them down and asking them each time to make a list of “what was going to be the same” and “what was going to be different.” It helped us all to see our specific relationship on the “same” list every time.
Growing up with my children
When I had my first child, I was a young mother, only 22, and knew little about taking care of tiny people. I was still a baby myself, and I had to grow up into the person I am today. That meant realizing I made mistakes in some of my partnerships, which meant making changes that moved us out of homes and onward to better spaces, even if it was painful at first.
All of the evolutions led to making choices that made me a better parent—one who takes care of herself so that she can then take care of her family. For me, that meant getting clean, and eventually, that meant embracing my identity as a queer woman.
I recently shared my story of sobriety and sexuality on a decently sized platform. I was used to being vulnerable in front of strangers, but it was a new experience to allow those I loved to read my most precious parts. I added detail to the list my kids knew well; I was worried they would feel betrayed by my truth. When I sent the social media and links to my teenage kids, my concern grew as I heard little in response.
Late at night, on the day it was published, I put away dishes in my kitchen with the lights off, ready to go to bed. Instead, the front door opened, and both of my kids burst through wearing big grins, full of unfamiliar energy.
“Who was that guy you went on that date with the last night you drank?”
“Where are we in the story?
“Can you write about us someday?”
“I didn’t know how hard things were for you, sorry, Mama.”
“I am happy you don’t drink and also that you write and that those pictures were nice, and also, my friends thought it was cool.”
The reaction blew me away. I expected an entirely different response, one that I would understand but that might still sting. But, instead, this was more than I could have hoped for, and it would give us opportunities to discuss important things—about me, about them, about the world.
Moments like this reveal so much about love
The pieces still haven’t all come together, but I don’t feel the guilt I used to have for providing an atypical life. If my children can see that change and redefinition are not only possible but positive, I have nothing to regret.
I can’t feel guilty for showing my vulnerability while still keeping them safe. As much as our lifestyles and situations changed, I never did—I was always their safe place; I was in control, imperfect, and stable. Motherhood meant I was a caretaker, teacher, witness, and guide. The meaning evolved for us over and over, and I suspect it always will.
Being a part of the queer community, I often witness the beauty in chosen family. The people we call ours when those we were born into reject or dismiss us. I am family to many who don’t have a home, a mother to those who feel misunderstood and have nothing to place on the “same” list in their lives. Yet, love inhabits adaptation in all families, mine-ours, and the like.
Like being a mother, queer, and sober, I thought the love in a family was one thing, and then it showed up as something else to prove me wrong — love is the unexpected connections, understandings, empathy, pride, and joy all together and mixed.