Jack, 12; Sophia, 10; and Chloë, 14
I've been thinking about this for a week.
One of my friends has embarked on a mission to ask a new question of her Facebook friends each day. I hadn't participated until Monday, the 4th, but that day she asked, "What is your proudest accomplishment?"
I didn't hesitate. The first one to answer, I wrote simply, "My kids!"
Her answer completely frustrated, shocked, and yes, angered me: " I knew that the moms would probably toss out kiddos! What's next on your list?"
Again without hesitation, I quickly responded, " After that, my 15-year happy marriage to Rob Odette - and counting!"
Apparently, that still wasn't enough of an answer for her.
So, I had to dig deep, think about it, and finally after a long while, I replied again: "I have had a full life, complete with getting a college degree and doing both very difficult and fulfilling work on my master's and Ph.D. degrees. I have traveled much of the world. I have experienced extreme happiness and profound sadness. This is all both separate from and BEFORE getting married and having four children. So I can still say that, as a wife and mother, those two things right there are the accomplishments of which I am most proud. What is this dismissive suggestion then, [friend] and other respondents, that this is not a worthwhile and legitimate response? I'm kind of offended by that, actually."
And you know what? The friend still doesn't get it! This friend is a married and a mother herself, which may or may not mean anything, but I have been chewing on that and the ensuing private conversation with her ever since.
If you don't get it, if you don't understand why I would answer that way, quickly and without hesitation even after thinking about it for a full week, then I am here to tell you something.
My existence is valid.
My answers are valid.
My life is valid.
My family is everything.
Without them, I am nothing.
No. I do not need to prove anything to you.
If you are a parent, and your kids are not your proudest accomplishment, then good for you.
If you are married, and your marriage is not your proudest accomplishment, that is fine.
But I built this family. I designed this family. Together with Rob, yes, and God, of course. But it was not an accident, and if these things, my kids and my husband, my family together, were not my answer, then I would seek to change things so that they would be the answer the next time the question rolls back around this way.
You see, I had a pretty shitty family situation until I graduated from high school at 17 and literally ran for dear life to get away from it, as far as I could go at the time. I left Syracuse, NY, and headed to Miami, FL, for college. I did not look back. I will never go back. Visit, sure, and I have... but back to that life, that situation, that level of awfulness? No, thank you!
No, my family is not perfect. I am the first to admit that. I make mistakes, Rob makes mistakes, the kids are learning how to people... Our house is a mess, I curse like a sailor, and there are things about myself I do not like.
But we have the one thing, shared amongst ourselves, that I did not feel after my mom died, in my growing-up family: LOVE. It's palpable, when you walk into our house. We are together. Always. We are a team. We do things as a family, we pick up the slack when one of our members weakens, and we support each other when we are working on improving something. We LOVE each other.
What is so wrong what that? Why is that not a valid answer? Why is that not good enough? Because I'm a mom, because I'm a woman, does it invalidate my existence to be proud of that thing that right now, at this point in my life, most defines me?
I do not think it does.
I think it validates me.
I have four measly years until Chloë becomes an adult, six with Jack - really closer to five - and hardly more than seven with Sophia. That's not enough time!
I don't want to look back, at the end of my days, and think, Gee, I really wish I had parented differently, or related to my husband better, and not FIXED that. Whatever was wrong, I want to fix it and make it good. Truly, really good.
You may not understand. You may not like what we have. You may not like what you have.
But it's ours. And it's mine.
And I am proud of it.