Following our brief progress with your homework, I was hopeful. Not only that you would perhaps dedicate more of your time to being a better student (which could only be of benefit to you), but that our relationship would improve.
In some ways, it seemed to. Perhaps it was just because I had renewed my motivation to be present in your life, but it seemed like we were interacting more and on better terms than we had in quite a while.
Jane: “I love you, darling.”
Janie: “Did you just publish the book on 5th graders? I wanna read it when it comes out!”
Janie: “Here, Mom, I’ll get the dishes!”
Janie: “Mama, I aced my math test!”
Jane: “I’m so proud of you!”
Even my relationship with your father improved a bit. He started showing affection again, it little ways. I won’t lie, Janie-I craved that approval from him. It was like a drug to me. He had disapproved of me for so long-from the moment you were conceived, it seemed-that this small burst of appreciation from him was addictive.
Jalen: “I’m glad that you’ve started getting along with Janie again. Means you’ve stopped being so selfish.”
Jalen: “You actually got off your lazy bum and made dinner? Thanks.”
Jalen: “Have you stopped eating so much? You don’t look as fat anymore.”
It was like I needed his praise to survive.
I took a break from my writing for a while. It made Jalen happy. It made you happy. You liked that I was around and active in your life. No, don’t make that face at me. I’m not suggesting that it’s your fault I quit writing for a time, not in the least! It was my own choice entirely. However, I took your opinion into account when making that choice. I wanted you to be happy-I always want you to be happy.
I took up hobbies-things to do to distract me, in between doing household chores. I started reading more.
Jane: “This book is… bad. I could write it way better.”
I paid more attention to my appearance (Jalen appreciated that).
Jane: “I should really lose weight… I’d like to get back to my size from before Janie was born, when Jalen first liked me…”
I started cooking more: bad for my weight loss goal, but good for my foodie husband, who had more… refined taste than my okay Mac and Cheese.
Jane: “I wonder if we have the ingredients for French Toast…”
Mostly, though, I spent time with my husband, trying to make him happy.
Jalen: “Suck your stomach in! I won’t have my buddies think I’m married to a fat lady.”
I don’t know why I had become so willing to change my lifestyle in order to better make my family happy. It had always been in the back of my mind-the notion that everyone thought I should consider my family’s happiness to be my number one priority. Before, I had been selfish, I told myself at this time. Tending too much to my own needs, my own desires-the passion to write, the desire for someone to see my worth, the need to flourish financially. Now, however, I was maturing.
This maturation started developing in me about the right time too. I was becoming an adult. Soon I would be thirty. If that wasn’t the time to buckle down and do what one should, I don’t know what is.
My thirtieth birthday was quiet.
Janie: “Happy birthday, Mom.”
I made my own cake, and Janie and I sat down around the table so I could blow out the candles. Jalen didn’t come down to the small party-he had to stay late at the office-but… that was alright, wasn’t it? He worked hard. I couldn’t expect him to make time in his busy schedule, put even more stress on himself, just so he could come to my thirtieth birthday.
Janie: “Make a wish, Mama!”
You more than made up for his absence anyway. Though we still weren’t best friends, you and I had grown closer-I think, on some level, you forgot why you had been angry in the first place anyway. And you wanted to make sure I had the best birthday possible. It was adorable.
Jane: “I wish for the courage to do what I should!”
Jane: “Wow… thirty…”
Janie: “Happy birthday.”
Such a sweet child, when you wanted to be. I was loathe for it to end. But part of me knew (I was in a bit of denial about it at the time, I have to admit) that you were maturing too. That your willingness to grow close to me again wasn’t just because you had forgot about me crushing your dream, but was because you were maturing too. Soon, you would be a teenager!
I held onto your childhood as hard as I could. Your father did, too-I could tell your impending teenagedom was giving him stress.
Jalen: “Samuel, she’ll never get rid of you! Right? She’s going to be my little girl forever!”
No, you weren’t going to be our little girl forever. There you were, developing into your own person, all on your own. I was so proud of you Janie, despite my reluctance to part with this innocent part of your life. So proud of the person you were becoming.
Janie: “So it’s a C-chord, then a G…”
Janie: “We’re going on a school trip to the opera! I’m so excited!”
But, as you matured even more, I grew less confident in my own maturation. I had spent the last few years dedicated to making you happy, and to making your father happy. But soon, you would be you person. You wouldn’t need me to make you happy anymore, because you would be making yourself happy… What would I do with my life then? How would I spend my time? What would be my purpose?
I would spend hours, in those days, just staring at the wall. Not sad, necessarily, just… down. Lethargic in my contemplation.
Jane: “What am I doing with my life?”
One particular day, a Monday in July, I was performing this ritual of contemplation, just standing in the kitchen and looking at the wall. Out of nowhere, it seemed, Jalen came down the stairs.
“Hey love,” he said, casually. Like he called me “love” all the time. Like he said “I love you” on a regular basis, instead of every once in a while in bed.
It was enough to shake me out of my thoughts.
“Hi?” I said.
With no warning, he reached out and kissed me.
It sent me into a daze. “Love” and now a kiss? What was up with him today? He was never so liberal with his affection-that’s half of why I worked so hard for it. Maybe I had finally done something right?
We sat down at the table, I still in half a daze.
“What was that about?” I finally asked.
Jalen: “Nothing in particular. I’m just happy.”
Jane: “Just happy? Just because?”
Jalen: “Yeah. Just happy. Well, and-”
Ah, now I would figure it out. Whatever it was, I was going to do it all the time!
Jalen: “-I just saw a letter from your publisher. Saying that you were far past your deadline on your latest book and that they were dropping you. I’m just glad you finally did what I asked you to. What’s right for this family.”
Jane: “They’re… dropping me?”
I stood and left the table. I couldn’t just sit there, letting that knowledge hang over me. My publisher was dropping me. I hadn’t written anything in so long that they were dropping me. I hadn’t meant to stop writing altogether, really. Just… put more emphasis on my family. And unintentionally, I had quit??
I tried to think back to the last time I had published something… the book on the 5th grade, one I had written just so you would have something to read if you asked about it again.
By the creator, what was wrong with me?
I felt sick to my stomach. In all my thoughts of making Jalen happy, of making you happy, had I forgotten to make myself happy? I had. I wasn’t happy. Not at all. To think that I had once believed that Jalen’s praise was all I needed to be happy!
I thought on it for days, weighing the pros and cons in my mind. I read a few self-help books. I called some old acquaintances for advice. I Googled information on how to happy. At the end of it all, I concluded: I was not happy. And the only way to be happy was to stop depending on my family’s happiness to make me happy. All I could depend on was myself. Most specifically, my writing.
That day, I sat back down at the computer.
Jalen: “What are you doing, honey? I was about to use that for work.”
Jane: “You were about to use it for BlicBlock. You can have it in a few hours. I’m working on my next book.”
I sent an email to my publisher, asking for forgiveness. They didn’t drop me. But, as a condition of my continued employment, they required that I meet a quota of books (which, previously, they had been somewhat lenient about) and that I become the best writer possible. If I wasn’t a best-selling author within a year or so, they would drop me.
I accepted their conditions.
You had a hard time with it.
Janie: “Mom? I’m going to bed. Can you come tuck me in?”
*a few hours later*
Jane: “Just a few more minutes, darling, then I’ll come tuck you in.”
Your father was the opposite of pleased.
Jalen: “You know, I really wish my wife was a better mother. I wish she cared about people other than herself. I wish she wasn’t such a bitch.”
I ignored him the best I could. As much as I craved his approval, I had tried that route to happiness. It had failed. My happiness was tied up in creativity, in writing, and publishing and being acknowledged. Jalen would just have to get over it.
Jane: “Once upon a time…”
Jane: “Are you coming to bed, darling?”
Jalen: “Definitely not. I barely fit in the bed next to your fat butt anyway.”
We had never been so open in our conflict before. I hoped that it wasn’t affecting you.
Janie: “23… 24… 25… Gotta lose weight…”
Your birthday felt like a momentous occasion. I made your favorite cake: a hamburger cake. I made it first thing in the morning, so you came downstairs and saw it there, and it was like a surprise.
Jane: “Happy birthday, darling!”
Your father didn’t come downstairs. By this point, I was “too fat to share a room with” and he didn’t want to risk “catching my selfishness.” But we had a good time anyway. And you grew up so well!
Janie: “I’m tall! And… large…”
We were all growing up, it seemed. Myself, in finally acknowledging that I couldn’t rely on Jalen for my happiness. And you…
Jane: “Look at you! You certainly got most of your genes from me, didn’t you!”
Jane: “I’m so proud of you.”
If only my dear husband was growing up with the rest of us…
Jalen: “Samuel! Jane’s back at writing again, spending all her time away from us. And, did I tell you, Janie looks just like that selfish bitch. I bet she takes after her too. Does she even see you anymore?”