My family was perfect. We moved onto a beautiful white sand bottom lake with crystal clear water. We moved to the lake when my twin brother and I were 4. Our nana, mom’s mom, lived across the lake. I loved that lake. I loved the feel of swimming under the water and looking up at the sun shining down through the water on me. I loved how the green weeds on the bottom of the lake, out far past where you could stand, would also sometimes be touched by the sun. I had this dream once that I was swimming out in the lake and a dolphin appeared and at that moment the sun sent a ray right down on us and a million golden butterflies fluttered from the sun all the way down to us in the water. The water made me feel free. Even through every bad thing that happened on that lake, I would still go back tomorrow just to feel the water on my skin, look across the lake to my Nana’s old house and remember how it felt to be the perfect family.
On Sunday’s we went to church. Our neighbor’s through the woods were members of the church and the father was the minister. Those in the choir would wear robes. I loved seeing my mom up there, elevated, like they were on a stage, singing. I could pick mom and dad’s voices out. Mom was a beautiful soprano. Dad’s voice was always perfect pitch just like hers. I sat on the back pew with nana and my twin brother and I could still hear their voices. I heard a hymn today and it took me right back to church. The minister always had a special sermon for the children. We would go up in the middle of church for our special message. I remember feeling so special, being able to go up to the front, down the wide isle, and sit on the steps of the church and have a lesson right there in front of everyone. We had a prayer and then we walked out to go and do “children’s church” which consisted of a lesson and then playing on the church playground.
We had dinner around the table. My brother and I set the table with place mats and napkins folded in half. After dinner we helped clear the table, did our chores, did our homework, and were in bed by 8:30.
Dad worked hard and made good money. We did not want. We had all of the clothes we needed. As I got older I had the jewelry and the shoes that I wanted. I got to go to the hair salon and get whatever I wanted to get done to my hair and just put it on mom’s tab.
Once a month or so we would drive into town which is where I actually live now. It was 40 minutes away. We’d go to godfather’s pizza place, maybe go bowling, see a movie, or go to the mall.
Our parents involved us in theater, I was in dance, my brother in sports, and the whole family was a part of the ski team.
I got tucked into bed each night with a hug and a kiss.
We had the perfect family.
Until we didn’t.
When my parents divorced my dad remarried and he had a ready made new family. My brother always accepted the little time dad gave us after that. He still did last I heard. He would say that he’d rather see his dad a few times a year than not at all. Dad lives five minutes from my brother and my brother was okay seeing him twice a year.
Dad left. We saw him in small increments.
If you were to ask his new family that he gave his time and love to, they would tell you something completely differently than I would. Dad took in his wife’s son, loved him, cared for him. He adored his wife’s daughter and her children. I would watch them together on the rare occasion he invited us to his house when they were there. They bonded. They sat in his lap and called him cute little names and he them. He had a new family. They loved him and he loved them. They would tell you right now that he is wonderful. Parts of him are. They would say he is so loving. Parts of him do. They would say that he makes them laugh. Sometimes, when we saw him, he did.
When dad left and remarried he started his new perfect family. He left my brother and me behind. We were a broken family. He left it broken. He left me broken and never tried to fix it.
If you looked at my family growing up you would say we were the perfect family. Summer vacations in the mountains to top it off. Much of our life was perfect. Until it wasn’t. And no one knew what to do when perfect wasn’t perfect anymore.
My husband and I spoke today about our daughter. We spoke about how our love for her would always be the highest priority. If something ever happened to me or him, either of us would not try to make a new family. Our goal would be to make sure our daughter felt loved. That she knew above everything her importance would never diminish. Another person would not come before her. My dad knew I was broken and he knew who broke me, but he left and replaced me with something new. I am glad for his family in that they know what continued love is. But a father should not leave his daughter. My husband would never leave our daughter.
Our family is not perfect and I am completely okay with that. We don’t try to be perfect. We don’t give the illusion that we are perfect. We have challenges with our illnesses and losses. But we love continuously. We are devoted. We are loyal. We’ve made it past the times our parents marriages ended. Our table is not set, our yard is not perfectly edged, and currently I am wearing sweat pants I have had for 20 years. We are real. My daughter went to the hospital 31 times in the last few years, had hospitalizations, surgeries…I was sexually assaulted 10 years ago and am still dealing with the aftermath…and the man in OUR family did not leave. He stayed. He nurtured. He loved. He is loving the brokenness that my father left 30 years ago in me.
So what is the perfect family? I’d say now, one that has people who are striving to be better, striving to be closer, striving together to love beyond all boundaries. The perfect family is in the eye of the beholder. What looked like perfect on the outside for me growing up, was not perfect. Perfect MUST love through imperfections and brokenness or there is nothing perfect about it. Love cannot stop with an illness, an assault, a trauma, a loss. I most certainly had some perfect moments in the family I grew up with. Eating popcorn in front of the fire and watching bewitched. Sitting in damp towels while letting the ac blowout of the floor vent after the hot sun. I remember. I remember the perfect moments. But perfect moments don’t make perfect families. They just leave you some good memories to cherish when the perfect family breaks.
Maybe perfect isn’t the right word. Perfect family is not what I am looking for. Not in the sense that others define perfect. With my husband and daughter and me, I don’t need perfect, I need unconditional love, just a loved family. Right now, I am in the most perfectly loved family. There is no place I’d rather be. Love trumps perfect and always will. I feel loved. My daughter feels loved. My husband feels loved. Maybe perfect IS the right word for us after all. Perfectly loved.