As a young child I often heard my parents say “You don’t understand how lucky you are.” The comments weren’t always directed at me, sometimes toward my brothers, sometimes my sister, sometimes a random foster child that was staying with us. There was also, “We took you when no one else would”, and another perennial favorite, “If it weren’t for us, you’d have nothing.”
In my brain it looks like this.
A who’s who of the things I’ve wanted, but felt woefully unworthy.
I don’t know all the psychological ins and outs, but I know it has been as long as I have. Some might argue that I wasn’t born that way, but having given birth to three distinctly different children, I know we arrive with some characteristics intact.
And so, as a child, I listened. I memorized. I pondered. My little mind scrambled to give meaning to every word they said. After all, my survival depended on their continued good will. If there was anything my seven-year old brain knew for certain, it was that without them, I had nothing.
I understood. I was unworthy.
I was sure I could fix that. I could do everything right. I could make myself worthy of their sacrifice. I could make them so happy they’d never think twice about their choice. There was just one problem. Okay, there were a whole host of problems, none of which a seven-year old could fix, let alone fathom. I just didn’t know that yet. Hell, I wouldn’t know it for forty years.
In retrospect, I can be thankful for the lessons I’ve learned. I’m thankful for the million ways they’ve changed me for the better. The ways I continue to change. If it weren’t for this feeling of unworthiness, I never would have hidden in my own mind as a child. My imagination wouldn’t have been my closest friend, and my characters would have never grown to accompany me.
I can honestly say, if it weren’t for my lack of worthiness, I wouldn’t be in North Dakota, and happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve found my home. I’ve found my people. Those kindred spirits that take your hand, and suddenly you’re treading water as a lifetime of loneliness drains away. The sun comes out, and for the first time in your life you realize you aren’t alone. At first, it’s terrifying. I mean, these people are just like you. Ewwwww? But then, you see yourself in them, and you start to feel more comfortable allowing others to see you. You have a tribe. Homecoming. Acceptance. Love. Worthiness.
I’ve thought a lot about how much I’ve moved, about the trips to visit family that never felt like going home. I’ve felt guilty that my children don’t spend days with their cousins and sleep over every weekend with their grandparents. Then I realized that there’s a chance I gave them something even more valuable. I’ve given them the opportunity to grow up without comparison; no aunts or uncles, cousins or grandparents leveraging their expectations on defenseless kids; no family requirements of cooperation or attendance. I’ve gifted them with a head-start in finding their own tribes, not assumed they will always want to be in mine. Through the years of school, they’ve become adept at finding those who love and accept them. A fortunate by-product of having only your parents to hang out with?
Tonight I’ll snuggle under my quilt of a gazillion stitches and feel only thankfulness. Appreciation that mom spent so many of her last hours sewing a quilt for me. Content that I’ve found joy in a gift that, at one time, puzzled me. The blanket is a hug from her. She wasn’t perfect, but she wanted to be. She wanted things from me that I couldn’t give her. Despite our differences, and after half a lifetime of misunderstandings, I’ve realized what she was saying to me in her own language.
You were worth it.