Little White Maybes

I've found that, as a parent, there are days when it becomes very important to be able to plainly, sincerely and most of all honestly lie my ass off to my kids.

Today was one of those days.

It wasn't so much that Christmas is four days away, and it wasn't so much that my grandfather died before I was born and I never knew him, just like my kids' grandfather did. It wasn't just that my other grandfather had some twisted, weird relationship with my father, and didn't really have all that much of an interest in us, his grandchildren, and he died with that being the only thing I ever really knew about him. It isn't exactly that my father and I have that same, weird relationship, or that he hasn't seen or spoken to me or my kids in four years and three weeks. It isn't even that he's had, I'm pretty sure, four open heart surgeries in a decade, and I don't know how many times the human heart will let you look at it before it melts your face off all Raiders-style.

What it is, I think, is that I have this thing for birthdays.

I didn't care that I never had Christmas. I rather enjoyed laying under our car, waiting for the kids in the neighborhood to come egg our house because we didn't give out trick-or-tricks, and grabbed their ankles right before they could toss their eggs at our windows, which scared the holy fuck out of them and made the whole lack of candy thing totally worth it for us. I always cared about the birthday thing, though. I always wanted to celebrate everyone's birthday. It seemed like something that should be a big deal, something note-worthy at the very least. When I stopped being Insane Fundamentalist Judeo-Christian Girl, which is so totally a superpower, birthdays were my first indulgence in pure, unadulterated sin.

Turns out, there were funner sins to be had, most of them adulterated, but I still enjoy a nice birthday. And today was my father's 60th.

Thirty years from now, when he's long gone and I am the 60 year old, when I have grandchildren of my own and am staring down the business end of a life-span, what is ultimately going to matter to me? That I was right? That I made my point? More importantly, what is going to matter to my kids? What story will they carry with them of their grandfather, who is, in his own right, just maybe not so much as a parent but still, an amazing slice of human being? Will they tell their children that their mom's dad just wasn't that into her after all, and that he died before they could know him?

Do I want to pass on these cycles in my family, in my babies, or not?

These are things easier said than done. I preach about breaking cycles of abuse, of perpetuated victimization, but here I sit creating the exact same story that shades my past. I can say I'm "protecting" my kids from some mythical man who lives 3,000 miles away and never saw them much anyway, and I can create the memory of him that fits that, or I can realize that either way, it's a created memory. Either way, your grandparents are not the people they are in real life. Grandparents are superheros. They wear big, red capes with G on them and they fly into your life and heal wounds with tea and beat off monsters with books and build bridges to your past out of the ether.

So today, I knelt down in my kitchen and I lied to my kids.

I told them that my issues with my father have nothing to do with them, that we're both stubborn and old and dumb and that's why he hasn't called in four years, but that he's 60 and there really couldn't be any better gift to give their grandfather than them. That is was the right thing to do. That they didn't need to stick up for me, because I'm just being an asshole anyway and this is all going to work itself out soon. And then I dialed his number and handed them the phone.

And then I smoked a pack of cigarettes outside while they talked to him inside.

The boys talked to him for almost an hour. They talked to him about what hot copy of what movie he's got his hands on this week, about girls at school and the weather, about video games and new bands, and as I listened from the other room, I was 12 years old, sitting on my living room floor, talking to that same man from 3,000 different miles away about those exact same things all over again. He hung up without asking to talk to me, which stung, but he hung up with two very happy grandsons who smiled the entire night and planned what they were going to text him tomorrow, and bragged about his band, and giggled over his jokes, just like I remember doing some lifetime ago.

Today, I gave my father the greatest gift I could ever give anyone, the most precious thing to me in the whole world, for his 60th birthday present. Today, I gave my children permission to create their own stories and their own memories of their grandfather. Today, I gave our family a maybe. We'll see where it goes.