(Revised to add the last paragraph)
A fellow blogger (Southern Fried Chicken in Vegas) recently challenged her readers to expose the ugliness in their lives and write about it. Own it. Show it. Show everyone what our lives are really like and not just the “highlight reels.”
This is not an easy thing to do. We’d love for the world (or whoever happens to read what we post with the maybe-desperate hope that someone out there really is reading our stuff) to think that our lives are wonderful and that we are surrounded by prettiness everywhere we turn.
But life can actually be pretty ugly. It certainly has been that way this last week for the people in Boston and the community of West, Texas. And on a smaller scale, for me as well.
This week has been hard for me. Not because I had a birthday making me older, and not even because of the minor car accident I was in, or even the nasty storm that blew through our neighborhood and brought down trees on cars, power lines, and some homes. For me the ugliness was exposed in a few emails I received.
Our school system has a website where you can keep track of students’ grades and you can sign up for email notifications about grades as they are posted, based on the criteria you enter. I chose to be notified when grades are higher than a B or lower than a C. Lately, most of these emails have been for the latter.
I’m a mother of two and step-mother of three more. I love all of them and am very proud of each of them. Lately, though, I’ve started to wonder what I’m doing wrong with the youngest. I know many of my frustrations are probably shared by many parents of teenagers, but that doesn’t make it any easier, does it?
He’s fourteen and should be wrapping up his last year of middle school and looking forward to moving on to high school. But take a look at his grades and it doesn’t appear likely that he’ll pass or not have to spend time in school this summer. What troubles me is that outward appearances indicate that he doesn’t care.
We’ve tried pretty much everything. We’ve taken things away. He’s been grounded. We did not let him play basketball or baseball because of his GPA. We’ve hovered while he does homework. We’ve given him room to make his own choices about homework and when to do it. Each has resulted in an initial show of improvement and then it’s back to Ds and Fs in the classes he doesn’t like. Those grades look pretty ugly in a report card. Not exactly what parents brag about on their Facebook walls or put in their kid’s baby book or scrapbook.
Maybe you’re thinking: that’s not so ugly. But wait, there’s more.
Ever borrowed or loaned money to friends or family? Bad idea no matter what side of the money you’re on, right? Have you ever been given money and then years down the line the person has asked for it back? This is even worse and what I’m faced with today.
Years ago, when I was in desperate need and feeling my worst, a family member bailed me out with a gift of a significant amount of money. It’s hard to say what my life would have been like if I hadn’t received this bailout but at the time it felt like a gift from heaven. It’s seven years later and I’m in a much different place right now, which can be largely attributed to my new husband. Not because he makes a good salary and is a good provider, but because he takes care of me and loves me and treats me like I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
But because he is a good provider and makes a decent salary, that seems to be an indication to others that we have more money than we need and we should be sharing it with them. The person who gave me the money actually told the both of us:
I know I said it was a gift that you didn’t have to pay back, but you’re doing so much better now I think you should start paying me back.
Maybe I’m just being stubborn or difficult. It’s not that I don’t want to help my family when they need my help. We both recognize that if we are in a position to help our family, it’s the right thing to do. What really rankles my nerves is the way it’s being presented to me. It’s the feeling that my husband is being taken advantage of.
I’m bracing myself for more ugliness in the coming weeks and hoping that my emails this week will finally reveal some swans instead of these ugly ducklings.
After writing this, I feel like I’ve left myself out of the ugliness or tried to make myself seem better than all this. I know that I’m not any better than anyone else. But maybe I’m just not quite ready for that much self-evaluation.