When to Break the Rules and When to Make Your Own

I am behind on my blog ideas. The end of January is fast approaching which means that I need to write about my 30 days off of chocolate and my sister’s birthday. Writing about her is going to be hard enough, and since I’m not eating chocolate, I won’t have any false energy leftover to write about not eating it. So, I’m just going to write about both right here.

Sometime I will write about my sister’s death. But not now. It is her birthday, so I’m going to write about her life. Her life was about breaking the rules. Her default state was defiance. Now, if you’re an under-resourced, frustrated authoritarian parent who is lacking in useful information on parenting, and who was abused and/or neglected yourself, you’re going to think that your child is doing this to manipulate you or that they want control or maybe even that they are just bad. My sister was stealing by the age of five and setting fires by the age of six. She was a compulsive liar. She became a drug addict as an adult. But she wasn’t bad. And the only reason she was trying to “manipulate” everybody was because she didn’t know what she really needed let alone how to get it. She needed love.

She was born thirty-four years ago by emergency cesarean during a blizzard in Illinois. She was unwanted and unplanned. Our biological mother had tried to kill herself multiple times during the pregnancy – having to get her stomach pumped from overdosing on pills. By the time my sister was three and I was five, our post-natally depressed mother had succeeded in committing suicide. Suffice it to say that they never really bonded. It is apparent that my sister had reactive attachment disorder

She also received plenty of physical punishment abuse from our alcoholic, at-the-end-of-his-rope single father (and even later when he was re-married and sober). I can’t defend his actions, but he was a complicated person with many redeeming qualities. Then again I was a “good girl” and didn’t experience the beatings. His greatest frustration may well have been that my sister was often a mirror of his shadow – something that he found so unlovable in himself. I think things would have turned out very differently if he had known about this.

If you’re feeling like you want some chocolate right now, you’re not alone. Uncomfortable feelings can lead us to distract ourselves with drugs, food or even humor… But anyway – back to my sister. She didn’t feel very comfortable with herself as a human being. She was terrible at lying to everyone but very good at lying to herself.

You Should Meet My SisterShe was also very funny – the funniest person I’ve ever met. She wasn’t very witty. Just hilarious. I miss the way she could make me choke with laughter. I have some great memories of the times we had together. I also have some horrible memories. Years and years of frustration from having to take care of her – trying to “control” her bad behavior for fear we’d be abandoned again, and from the later years of tough love and strategising around her lies and being so enraged at her for what she was doing to her kids.

Oh yes, she had children…

The last time I saw my sister was about three years ago. I was visiting from Australia and was taking her and her daughter to the airport to fly back to Oregon from Tennessee. She was running really late and was very disorganised as usual. But this time it was legit as she and her 2 year old had been up all night vomiting. It was utter chaos. I tried my best to help her stuff everything into the suitcases. Her ten year old son also desperately tried to help his mother get to the airport even though he would not be going with her – instead staying behind with his dad, while she left him again…

So there I was barreling down the highway with my sister and her two kids, hoping they’d make their flight. I knew that unless we did curbside check-in that she wouldn’t make it. But they were already done doing curbside check-in. So I left the car parked and ran them all inside.

Somehow I knew this was it. This was the last time that my nephew and I would see her. And I’d be damned if we weren’t going to give her one last hug. After all, he and I loved her more fiercely than anyone in this world ever could.

And still, I was mad at her. Mad at this chaos. Mad at her leaving him again. Mad that her toddler had this messy good bye with her brother. Mad that I had to manage the whole thing and that I barely believed she was sick. I was even mad at myself for being mad. It never occurred to us that she shouldn’t be flying. We just all bought into the idea that she was bad and had no other choice. And still I did my best to try to show her my love and to make it okay enough for everyone. I didn’t have time to give a fuck about the TSA.

ILoveTSAjpgBy the time I exited the airport, there were several Transportation Security Administration officers waiting by my car. I was being detained for breach of airport security. They made it clear that I was in big trouble and that my attitude wasn’t helping. Unfortunately, I am not always graceful with authority figures. So, my nephew’s dad came to get him, and I sat there and tried to breathe and explain the situation.

It is really all a blur, but eventually they figured out that I wasn’t there to blow anything up and the higher-ups said I could go.

My sister died 6 months later.

Her children are lucky to have plenty of people in their lives who are helping them make their way through all of this (most importantly my adoptive mother who is taking care of them). I actually believe that my sister was (mostly) a “good enough mother“. Her kids are pretty amazing, and I’ve studied enough about attachment theory to know that she had a little something to do with that. She did the best she could do while fighting some brutal demons.

Even though she thought that I thought that I was perfect, I hope she can see now that I have my own demons too. I’ve just been bringing them out of the shadows long enough that they haven’t gotten out of control.

Speaking of demons, I wanted to break my own rule and celebrate my sister’s birthday with a chocolate cake, but then I noticed that after 28 days off the juice I am not having mood-wrecking PMS so I might just stay chocolate-free forever. Next on the chopping block will be my addiction to the internet/social media. I look forward to seeing what could happen when I find myself with nothing left to distract me from myself.

Truly loving ourselves and taking care of the people we love means that sometimes we have to set limits. To do that effectively takes steadfast empathy. With this limit I’ve placed on myself around chocolate, I’m finding that I’m not just a “good enough” mother. I have been a really good mother – all month long.

Sometimes doing the right thing means breaking the rules.

But not this time.

One Reply to “When to Break the Rules and When to Make Your Own”

  1. Happy Birthday to your sister – you’re are a shining example of breaking the cycle – facing the demons – being the good girl – being more than a good enough mother – and one who knows how to break the rules. I support you and give you big kudos and accolades and celebratory rounds of birthday love, chocolate-free. ~Davis

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