31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Different Is OK!

Single with Children: Different doesn't mean less precious

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 11/27/02

Sometimes, they can drive you nuts. No matter how much you love them - and of course you love them - they can absolutely drive you to consider the possibility of a psychiatric consultation. It's not just the annoying habits, mannerisms and sometimes negative demeanor they exhibit. I've heard it said that consistency is a wonderful thing, but not when it's consistently an action that is fraying the very fibers of which your nerves are composed.

And then, of course, they can warm your heart like no one else in this world. With a simple action, gesture, word or even look, any range of emotions can be evoked, and you wonder how in the world you were so blessed to have wound up in this company of individuals. They can dazzle you with their quick wit and intellect and make you cry at their sensitivity and compassion.

Of course, I'm talking about families. It's that time of year again, and does anything conjure up Norman Rockwell-esque images of family better than Thanksgiving? If you close your eyes you can even visualize the scene that's supposed to represent this sacred American holiday. The family dressed in their Sunday best, smiling with wild (but appropriately contained) anticipation as they wait for Mother to bring out the Thanksgiving turkey, as Father is positioned at the head of the table, carving knife in hand.

I don't know about your house, but somehow I just don't think Mr. Rockwell would necessarily want to paint a portrait of my mother shoving one of our cats off the island in the kitchen or my son sitting down to dinner in his best (think ragged) skater shorts and T-shirt. I just don't see a work of art out of this scene, but then again, I'm not an artist.

Sometimes I can't help but imagine all of the changes in American society that have taken place since Rockwell touched his brush to canvas and created an endearingly, quintessential portrait of the American family. Hey, I'm not even certain that it depicted typical American life back in the 1940s or '50s.

Of course, today, that image might look dramatically different. With more than 52 percent of all American households headed by a single parent, it's up for grabs who might be sitting at the head of the table. We hear a lot today about "blended families" and nothing contrasts the changes in family life more vividly than who, exactly, is sitting at that dinner table. There could be, in addition to the children and custodial parent, a new husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend and quite possibly any children who belong to this new guest. I wonder how Norman's paintbrush would handle this?

But just because it's different, doesn't mean it isn't precious. Even though there might be a few new folks sitting in those chairs at the dinner table, it doesn't mean there aren't plenty of things to give thanks for and so very much to celebrate. One need look no further than the young faces, regardless of what attire they choose to appear in, or at what stage of development they might be working their way through, to know that life is good.

Holidays can be great fun, but let's be real; they can put an awful lot of pressure on everyone involved. At times it seems we're waging an internal battle with how we think we're supposed to behave, which might be at odds with who we really are. And as lovely a visage of the typical American family that might be, when the artificially created image doesn't quite meet up with the reality we live with, the head of the family - be it the mother or the father - can sometimes feel painfully inadequate. Accepting the fact that our family might not look as if it had just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting is a fine recipe for guilt.

OK, so maybe we appear as a patchwork now and again. Aren't some of the most gorgeous quilts made of different patches of beautiful fabric that can only be appreciated when they're all stitched together with other squares of material? They may not match initially, but with careful placement and planning, beautiful patterns artfully emerge. As a divorced mother, thinking in these terms creates sense out of what, now and again, feels like chaos. Is anything more warm and wonderful than a quilt? In fact, something is: a family. I love that concept.

So this Thanksgiving, my wish is that every one of you, whether you are a member of a nuclear, blended, work in progress or any other adjective that might describe the state of your present familial situation, enjoy and experience a very wonderful holiday. It is my hope that you remember that simply because your own celebration might be a little different from what tradition tries to dictate, it is no less meaningful and it most certainly is an occasion worthy of lots of "Kodak moments" that wind up in the family album and will, years from now, elicit smiles and fine memories from the people who were fortunate to have shared this wonderful holiday with you.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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