24 November 2013

We're small, but mighty

As we lead up to Thanksgiving, each day I’m writing about something for which I’m grateful.
Today, it’s my family. I come from a really small one. It’s me, my older sister, and my mom and dad. Both of my parents only had one sibling each, with whom they weren’t close so I didn’t have the experience of growing up surrounded by cousins and extended family, etc. If we had a family reunion, we wouldn’t need a very big table. In fact, I’ve never been to a family reunion.
I never met my maternal grandfather and both of my paternal grandparents died before I was out of high school. I was probably closest to my maternal grandmother, who died when I was 24. As an adult, I met my first cousin, who lives in Australia and whom I love very much and wish I lived closer to, and also five of my second cousins, only one of whom is a girl, and whom  Jeannie and I have made an honorary sibling.
So you get the idea. 
Last weekend, one of my friends brought up that I seemed like a kid who always knew she was loved. That is undeniably true. Whatever issues I may have with my parents (and doesn’t everybody have some?), there are two things I absolutely know for sure and which I am endlessly grateful. My parents always made me feel extremely loved and wanted. I not only knew they loved me very much, I knew they liked me. My mom used to comment on the delight she took in considering me a friend as an adult and someone she loved spending time with. Secondly, both my sister and I were always made to believe we could do anything and were very encouraged in whatever we pursued. My parents weren’t so happy when I said I wanted to be a go-go dancer when I was six, but I still got a pair of white go-go boots from Payless. There are so many ways to fuck up a kid but calling her stupid has to be one of the worst and my parents always praised me and Jeannie and encouraged us to think for ourselves.  The older I get and the more friends share with me that their experience was not the same, the more grateful I am. 
After my parents’ health started to fail, they counted on me and Jeannie to make more and more decisions for them, both medically and financially. We have power of attorney over all their affairs and in some ways, they trusted us more than I think I ever could have...but that probably has more to do with my trust issues than with anything else (Come to think of it, after just writing about how great my parents were, I have no idea where those trust issues come from, but that’s another blog).
When my mom was dying in 2007, she, Jeannie and I formed a little pack. For the two weeks she was in the hospital, Jeannie and I traded off nights and days staying in her hospital room. One of us was always with her. Not only because anyone in the hospital needs someone advocating for them, but because we were all in it together. My dad’s health already didn’t permit him to travel to the hospital much, so it was just us girls. Like it had been so much of the time we were growing up. My father traveled during the week very often, so it would be me, Jeannie and mom. Jeannie and I still talk about the movies we saw with mom at the drive-in. She’d put us in our PJs and we’d watch the double feature from the back-back of the station wagon.
After mom died, Jeannie, dad and I created our own little tribe. Both of these triads operated very differently than the way we did as a quartet. I loved my father very much growing up, but I can’t really say I got to know him until I was an adult. Our relationship grew much, much richer the older he got and the less he concentrated on being a financial provider for us (also because that wasn’t need) and the more he focused on being there for us emotionally. Though for the last eight or nine years, whenever I leave from a trip to Raleigh to come back to LA, he hands me a $20 and says to use it to get something for Callie, my cat. Without fail.
Now Dad’s health grows increasingly fragile and I know that at some point our foursome will become a twosome. Neither my sister nor I have children, so our end of the Newman clan will die with us  (my first cousin--my father’s brother’s daughter-- has a boy and a girl so the gene pool will live on that way). I'd love to be a step-mom if I marry, but that won't carry on Newman line.
One day, it will be just me and Jeannie. In some ways, she’s always been like a mom to me more than a sister even though she’s only three years older. That may be because I look up to her to much or depend upon her so much, but we have an unbreakable bond. Over taking care of our parents for more than 10 years and making decisions on their behalf, we have never disagreed. And I know how rare that is. 
Like all families, my family is flawed, but love has flowed abundantly and deeply through us my entire life and sustained us through some horrible times and lifted us up. The pluses outweigh the minuses a thousandfold and for that, I am grateful beyond measure.
As I mentioned yesterday, for the next several days, I’m giving to food banks in the nation’s poorest cities. The second poorest city in America is Dalton, Ga., with a 21% poverty rate and an unemployment rate hovering over 11%. 
Dalton is very close to the Tennessee border. So much so, that it is served by the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, so today’s $10 goes to the Northwest Georgia Branch of the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, which serves Dalton.

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