My little Ally was also fair, as was her father, and had an indistinct ethnic look about her; perhaps even a bit Polynesian-like. She became more exotic looking as she grew older. Ally was a cheerful child who loved life and loved to laugh. She was just like I remembered her mother when I first met Christina at age 3. I was 31 and was instantly drawn to her. I later learned that life had been cruel to Christina, and by age 12 she had become emotionally independent, guarded, controlling, and manipulative, and all with a smile on her face. At 16, she was unreachable. Always scheming to get what she wanted; by age 17 Christina determined that Mr. Charming, Amado, was going to be her husband and that he would be a father to Ally. Within a few months, Christina was again pregnant and moved in with Amado. This was the first time I felt I had “lost” Ally. As long as Christina was single and out having fun, I was needed to babysit Ally, sometimes for days at a time. Her mother’s selfishness and immaturity grieved me, but I was delighted to have Ally to myself as much as possible. I enrolled her in Mothers Day Out, Jr. Jazzercise, and dance classes. I took her to church. I sang to her, rocked her to sleep, showed her Shirley Temple movies, and took her shopping, to work with me and to my parents’ summer home in the mountains each year. I even let Christina tag along the first time, when Ally was 6 months old, as well as on business trips, just so I could have Ally with me. After that, she was fine with me taking Ally by herself. After all, it gave Christina more time to be a teenager. My husband, my mother and sisters all thought I was obsessed, and I suppose I was; but I saw it as fulfilling a mission and taking care of the gift that God had given me. When Christina moved in with Amado, she took Ally with her, and I was devastated. I was jealous of Amado and resentful of his new role in Ally’s life. In my mind, I was her protector and caretaker, because Christina was too selfish and immature to be so. My husband and my mom tried to convince me that Ally was not mine and that I did not have the right to be resentful. I couldn’t make them understand that God had given her to me. Yes, I knew she wasn’t mine, but I was supposed to see to her welfare. That meant giving her what she needed, but more importantly, I believed it meant that I was to keep her as close to me as possible and to shield her from the unhealthy lifestyle of Christina and Amado, and the constant arguing, yelling, and emotional neglect. To my relief, they allowed me to continue taking Ally to Mothers Day Out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and more often than not, that turned in to her being with me from Monday night until Thursday afternoon and many weekend nights. Christina also was happy for me to take Ally to church with me on Sundays. I did not know that by then Christina not only had another out of wedlock pregnancy to deal with, and no marriage proposal from Amado, but that he had what she later referred to as a “drinking problem”, and that she was often left alone while Amado was out carousing in the sports clubs and strip bars. She did not have the emotional wherewithal to take care of a toddler. I was more than happy to take on that role. Every day I grew to love Ally more and more. My love for her was intense and consuming, and I saw her as my mission to protect and disciple and also to remove her from their dysfunction as often as possible.
Christina was beautiful and fair; half Caucasian half Mexican with a lot more Spanish blood than Indian. At 16 she ran away from the controlling and prison-like existence her father had imposed upon her. Because her mother had died when she was only seven, and her father had disowned her upon learning of her pregnancy, she had called me, a friend of the family, for support. I went through the pregnancy with her and was at her side for Ally’s birth. When the nurse handed the little whimpering bundle to me, I knew that God was handing her to me. Her tiny brow was furrowed and I gently rubbed her forehead until she relaxed. God was telling me to protect her, to take care of her, and to be there for her. I softly told her that everything was going to be okay, and that I would take care of her. Her father chose not to take responsibility and she had no grandmother so I, having no children of my own, at age 45, asked Christina if I could be Ally’s “grandma”. Christina welcomed the help and the free babysitting.
I did a lot of babysitting and loved every minute of it. I loved Ally as if she were my own. I clothed her, fed her, bathed her, sang to her, and rocked her to sleep. Christina spent almost every weekend with us, so I could look after Ally while she went out to be a teenager. Back in her father’s good graces, Christina had additional financial help and a place to live, and Ally had a grandpa.
Ally was not quite two years old when her mom again encountered the father of her child at a nightclub one evening. She brought him to my house that night to take a peek at their sleeping child, and then arranged a visit for them later that week. He seemed to be happy to have his daughter in his life, and his mother was even happier. After all, Ally was adorable. She was a bright and engaging toddler who warmed the heart of everyone she met. His family fell in love with her instantly and enthusiastically welcomed her into their fold. Incredibly, his wife was gracious and accepting of the child, at which I have always marveled. Whether she was truly a saint or the victim of her domineering, stereotypical Hispanic husband, I am not certain. She had a son only 22 days younger than Ally, which explains why he was unwilling to take responsibility when he learned of Christina’s pregnancy. After several visits I hoped that he would continue to be enough of a presence in Ally’s life to give her the security and connection with her father that every little girl needs. I knew her life would be difficult, and I dreaded the day when she would learn the details of her birth, but as long as her dad stayed in her life, she would know who she was and that she was loved by her father. Christina didn’t see it that way. When she had become pregnant, she was unable to wrangle him away from his girlfriend. She no doubt hoped she could now seduce him with the darling princessa they had conceived together. When that didn’t happen, Christina had little use for her daughter’s father. By now she had met Mr. Charming, a handsome and sensitive man with personality plus and several years her senior, and she cut off all contact between Ally and her father. She told me that Ally had said she no longer wanted to visit her dad, and I believed her.
It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my entire life. Many times I had heard the cliché that if you really love someone, you have to let them go. I understood that and agreed. But I never thought I would have to experience it. I admit that it is one of the many reasons I chose not to have children of my own. I didn’t think I was emotionally strong enough to deal with motherhood and the pain that comes with it. Some have called that selfish or a cop out. Perhaps that is true. But at the same time, I never really had that mother instinct. I never even played with dolls as a child. Are there certain things that God simply wants some people to experience, regardless of the decisions they make otherwise? It seems so in my case. My husband and I had discussed having children many times, before and after our wedding. Neither of us was very drawn to the idea. Our perfectionist natures didn’t want to bring a child into this world. Furthermore, we had radically different ideas regarding child rearing and discipline. I suspect that another reason was our fear of failure. We always came back to the notion that we would probably change our minds. We never did. Fortunately, we have never regretted our decision. I do remember reading about thousands of orphaned Nicaraguan children during the Sandinista Revolution in the early 80s. I told my husband that I would be willing to adopt one of those children. I had always had a heart for the Latino people and been drawn to the Spanish culture. He was not too keen on the idea, so the matter was dropped. Not a problem, as I was very busy with my business and my big-city lifestyle. Then, after 20 years of marriage, she came into my life. I didn’t welcome her; I didn’t want her. I saw the whole thing as an inconvenience and an embarrassment. Little did I know what a blessing she would be and just how much I could love someone that I did not give birth to, who is not mine, and who is not even related to me. I was about to be swept away with intense love, compassion, obligation, and a sense that she had been given to me by God to take care of.
After reading Slidebar’s A Life Without Regret Ain’t No Real Life At All, (see repost) I began to think about all my regrets. Not that I have to read about regretting to be reminded of mine, but Slidebar’s points really hit home with me. I have a ton of regrets. There are some that did not dramatically change my life’s path, and some that did. Though I know that I would not be the same person I am today, had I not been through those regretful experiences, I still wish I had not made some (most) of those choices! Now, I am one to believe that there are consequences to every action, but I also believe that we are supposed to experience certain things in life to become what we are to become, and that those things will happen regardless of the choices we make. After all, if God is God, what sense would it make for humans to have complete and total free will and control over every single aspect of, in, and about our lives?
I admit that I am a recovering perfectionist. I have been admittedly imperfect for nearly 20 years now. Until my recovery began, I did not want to be reminded of my regrets, but I still had them – lots of them. It is interesting to note that back when I was “perfect”, I tended to repeat many (most) of those regrettable choices.
I suppose there are some people who don’t have regrets, or maybe they truly don’t remember their really bad choices. It could be that they are that “glass is half full” kind of people, or perhaps they just haven’t gotten over their perfectionism yet.
Hey, boomers (and beyond) – Check this out. Do you admit that you have regrets?
“It is never too late to become what you might have been.” ~ George Eliot
I recently arrived at the half-way point in the human lifespan. While reaching this milestone hasn’t given me the desire to go buy a red sports car or have a lurid extra-marital affair, it has prompted a significant amount of thought and reflection.
A “Mid-life Review,” if you will.
I’m not obsessing about it, but I think it’s healthy to stop and consider the state of your life. Are you where you’d hoped you be by now? What have you done? What have you left undone? These are healthy questions to ask. They help you evaluate and make course corrections as needed.
As I go through this process, the word regret seems to cross my mind a lot. Regret is one of those words that’s considered bad, that to regret anything is bad. People…
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I volunteered to serve dinner to the homeless men at the Union Gospel Mission last night. This is something I have wanted to do since I read the book Same Kind Of Different As Me. As I filled the space in each divided plate with salad, I tried to make a connection with each man. Most did not make eye contact; some did, and others expressed thanks and appreciation. A few even quipped about not wanting salad or responded to my teasing that they need more greens. Equal numbers of white, black, and brown, they were all there to receive a free meal and a bed in exchange for listening to a sermon. I was told that many were probably drunk and/or high and had spent their day under the bridge, but that some had spent the day in therapy, rehab, training, and job searches. As I looked into their eyes, I wondered about each man’s story. What had brought them there? What had happened to bring them to the point of homelessness? What about their family? What did they think of those of us who were serving them? I wondered about their future. I wanted to talk to each and every one and hear their story. Do they feel unlovable? Do they feel unloved?
It would be easy to assume that they will be helped and tended to and taken care of. They will be taught and trained and counseled. They will learn that they are loved. Yet I cannot ignore this feeling that I should be a part of that. Is it guilt? Sympathy? Or a calling? I have not been able to stop thinking about those men; their eyes seemed to say so much. I don’t know what is in store for me, or how I am to be used, but I think I need to return. Whether it is my life that is to be changed or one of theirs, I am not certain, but I resolve to take this step. I will not let fear or laziness or indifference prevent me from exploring this opportunity and from beginning this journey.
I can barely hear the faint melody of Glenn Miller’s trombone bellowing out Moonlight Serenade in the next room. I’ve always loved the big band sound, as I was raised on it. My parents played the music of Harry James, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and all the rest on our old HiFi in the 60s. Music from the 40s seemed ancient to me as a youngster, but I still appreciated it. Perhaps because they loved it so, I cherished it more. The memories are fond and cheerful. But hearing it now through the walls, the swing music sends tears streaming down my face. My mother is listening to the songs I helped her download onto her iPhone, as she lies in her bed, in the darkness, alone. My father, a few miles away in his bed in the nursing home, is sleeping in the fog and confusion of Alzheimer’s, weeks after his broken hip has healed. The smooth sounds of String of Pearls play at his bedside as often as we can manage. He was a trumpet player in his college band and a bugler on a navy ship. Does he remember? Does he reminisce about the glory days of his youth when he courted my mother? Do the songs playing in his ear evoke the same memories as hers? What a cruel fate, to still have your husband of 62 years, and yet not have him. What does it do to a woman to be waiting for her mate to heal and come home, all the while knowing that she is really waiting for him to die? And what can I do to make the days, weeks, months not just more bearable, but a blessing? Will words be enough? Time spent? I feel completely inadequate. The void she must be feeling seems remote and abstract to me, but I am struck by the truth that I can comfort her. I know that words will be enough and time spent with her will indeed be a blessing. And to the buttery trumpet sound of Harry James’ Blues In The Night and The Nearness of You, I will listen to her stories of college and dance halls and movies and anything else she wants to remember.