Here is the story of my family,
Once upon a time I lived alone in a small two bedroom townhouse and my closest friend was over a hundred miles away. The company I had devoted my life to for a year and a half .Com and went. I found myself staying up late surfing the Net, watching television, and smoking cigarettes while sipping at Super Big Gulps and wondering if my happiest days had passed long ago. I woke up late in the morning and spent the remaining daylight hours applying for job after job.
I spent a lot of my time talking to people on ICQ, an Instant Messaging application that allowed me to chat in real time with people from all over the world. Most of the people I actively talked to were out of state or out of country and were reasonably articulate. We talked about all manner of subjects including but not limited to friendship, relationships, our lives, our cultures, religion, philosophy, politics, history, hobbies, and the like.
It was about this time I met someone online who has become integral to my life. For the sake of anonymity I will simply refer to her as Vipasanna.
I'm not sure as to the specifics of our first meeting (I no doubt have our first conversation archived on CD-R somewhere). Maybe she saw my ad on Match.com which I'd completely forgotten about as it had been on there for years and no one ever responded to. Maybe she did a search on ICQ and found that I was interested in philosophy, paganism, or Buddhism. Regardless, we met and chatted. She wanted a relationship but I didn't.
There we were.
Vipasanna lived on the other side of Portland so it wasn't too long until we met. We hung out several times a week, usually to grab a bite to eat, drink coffee, and smoke cigarettes. For me this was a way to spend some of my evenings after a day hitting the pavement looking for employment, she was still interested in more. We kept to friendship, though, and life moved forward.
She, my only friend within a hundred mile radius, was a single mother of a beautiful little girl that had just turned six. Her daughter was a joy to spend time with so to get more experience with children her age I took her to a park one day. Her and my friendship started out as a very simple one.
Although Vipasanna's daughter was wonderful most of the time-at other times she was having terrible problems. Her daughter threw tantrums on a daily basis, tantrums where she would scream, break things, and hit anyone that kept her from getting what she wanted. There was only one word for it: spoiled.
So here I was thinking hey, 9-11's completely dried up the job market, I'm one month away from loosing my unemployment checks (and therefore 2 months from either living on the street or having to move over a 150 miles to live with my parents-no way I wanted to do that!), and I have a two bedroom townhouse that's going to waste. I preferred living completely alone but on the other hand I had to be realistic.
One night Vipasanna and I were out at our favorite restaurant eating, downing coffee, and sucking down cigarettes when I suggested she and her daughter move in. I explained that I needed the help until such time I found a job and got my footing again and in return I could offer my experience and knowledge of child psychology to her. "I'll have her tantrums taken care of in no time," I told her with a wink to which she responded with a measure of doubt. I also knew this would work for her, she'd been wanting to move away from her parents house for some time as their failing marriage was causing her a great deal of stress and I thought this would be a good change for both of us.
I made this offer and left it at that, though I did reinforce it a few times before backing completely off. I continued to stay up late, chain smoke, wake up late, hunt for jobs, go to job interviews (when I got them), watch tv, and go out for coffee every now and again. I'd more or less written the whole thing off a month or so later and was going over what entry level jobs I might take up until I found my next big gig. You know the jobs, delivering papers, convenience stores, grocery stores, restaurants, video rental stores, you name it, I thought about it. Was it within walking distance so I didn't have to spend money I didn't have on gas? Would it be something that would allow me to continue looking for other work? Would it pay the rent? The electric? Would I be able to afford to eat?
It was about then that Vipasanna said she was ready to take the plunge and I thanked the Goddess, it would give me at least three, maybe four more months to find a job. And while I was looking I planned to work with her and her daughter to get past the tantrums-and that in itself would become a full time job!
She and her daughter moved into the bigger of the two bedrooms and I cleaned out the smaller bedroom which had, until that point, been used for storage (to be honest I didn't really use either bedroom all that much-most nights I fell asleep on the couch watching History or The Discovery channel). And that, as they say, was that.
Helping with the tantrums was interesting. I remember the first one, her daughter screamed and yelled and it was hot in the apartment so all the windows were open, the whole neighborhood must have heard and although part of me was simply embarrassed to have gone from a quiet household to a screaming loud one it was time for action and I'd pledged to be the one to take it. Both her mom and I attempted talking to her, telling her exactly what the consequences would be if she didn't stop but nope, she wouldn't have it, and eventually she hit her mom.
Time to get serious.
The first time I went into action was the hardest, not only due to the emotions that this little girl was flinging about but also the pain her mother was going through trying to cope. I know what I need to do but mom's still not sure. To a large extent this "beautiful" girl can become a monster wrapping Vipasanna around her little finger like an emotional puppet. And so I do what we planned, I pick up her daughter, carry her upstairs, and put her in the corner.
Of course this little six year old isn't going to put up with any adult's "insolent" attitude. She's all smiles and giggles when I take her to the park or share some ice cream but how dare I touch her, how dare I carry her, how dare I tell her she can't have her way!
So she isn't about to stay in the corner and I'm not about to let her cross this line, especially after demonstrating not only disrespect for adults but physical aggressiveness towards others. So here I am physically holding her in the corner and she's banging her head on the wall, doing everything she can to hurt herself and I keep saying, "When you stand here calmly, I'll let go."
Inside I'm an emotional wreck. This isn't easy as I'm so sensitive to other people's emotions (more on that some other time). Fortunately after fifteen minutes she calms down and I let go. She falls to the floor but remains in the corner.
The next day she throws another tantrum. It might have been about her dinner or that she didn't get candy for a snack or that she couldn't watch TV or that she couldn't use the phone I don't recall. The point here is we reminded her about the consequences, she ignored us, I said, "Okay, I'm going to carry you again"-and the look on her face said it all. I was the first adult to draw a clear line in the sand and to call her bluff with any consistency. As I walked over to pick her up she got extremely frustrated, yelled, then crossed her arms and headed upstairs.
She still had to work on standing in the corner and for the first few months she didn't quite get it (she'd try to take toys with her or sneak into her bedroom if we weren't within eye shot) but after the first two weeks there was no more physical violence and the screaming tantrums were no longer a daily occurrence. Six months later, they were few and far between. Today? A small tantrum every three months or so. Sometimes a big one occurs a few days after she visits her grandmother. And that's it.
I'm very proud of the young woman my daughter is becoming. Through some early difficulties she has learned the value of honesty, integrity, doing her best, and having a strong character not defined by others. She saw her mother and I engage in a short relationship that fell quickly to pieces and watched as we both worked to build up a stronger friendship and relationship as parenting partners instead of throwing a tantrum regarding "what could have been". She has watched us both date, give our hearts, get our hearts broken, and she understands that being an adult isn't easy and that some day she too will have to learn that grown ups lie, cheat, steal, and will do anything but take responsibility--and that she shouldn't forget who she is or what her values are when this happens.
I am amazed how much she has grown as a human being these few years. I will be blown away by the woman she will soon become.
Today we live together in a small 3 bedroom house. When people ask her about her parents she tells them who we are, maybe that we're just friends, and that's it, it's not a big deal to her because she knows what's imporant. She knows who she is. She knows she can count on us. We all know we can count on each another.
Maybe that's not how most American families are built. Maybe we're a little odd and arguably couragous to take on a lifestyle that is so far removed from the norm, a lifestyle which means we have to sometimes sacrifice our own dreams, wishes, and desires for the well being of one little girl.
I call that loyalty, honor, and integrity. I call that love.
And that, my good friends, is the meaning of family.