I was just a little girl when the first seeds of my real family dream were planted. The oldest of four in a very unhappy and fractured family, I was eleven when my parents divorced and things became went from very bad to much worse. Anxiety and fear were my constant companions. Certain that I wasn't experiencing what a real family was supposed to look like, act like, or feel like, I held on to the idea that someday I could do it my way. I'd have my own family and we'd be the happiest, most loving family ever. My husband would come home every night and he'd stay home. He wouldn't yell and we'd kiss in the kitchen. My children would be best friends, never pitting against each other, never forced to pick a side, mom's or dad's. Above all else, we'd be safe. I've been married for ten years now, and in many ways my dream came true. I married a good man, committed to our children and me. He and I are still in love and we rarely argue. I can count on one hand the number of times the volume of his voice has inched ever so slightly above a normal speaking volume. It has been rare. However, each of those few times, I have responded with complete brokenness, as if he had done the unspeakable. In those moments, it doesn't matter that he's the gentlest man I've ever known. It doesn't matter that he's never actually yelled at me, or that he certainly has never laid a hand on me. In those moments, my story follows me. When we started our family, like most parents, I wanted a happy and secure childhood for my boys. I desperately wanted them to have a real family. And while our family story doesn't have themes of abuse, it does have themes of developmental delay, medical crises, financial stress. I've had to make my peace with the fact that I can do all I can do, and it will still never be enough to guarantee they have a childhood free from pain or fear. Their losses will shape them in some way, just as mine did. Their story will follow them. I believe I'm telling my sons a better story. I believe they'll reflect on their childhood with happy memories and a sense of security. But I know now that a "real family" is the one you've been given. It's where we win some and lose some. It's where we learn about trust and love, for better or for worse. It's what teaches us about the things we want to do better, about the story we want to tell.
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