To say I was raised in an unconventional household seems a little bit of an understatement.
OK, it wasn't that unconventional: I had hetero parents who owned their own house, a three-story Victorian in the Castro (then Eureka Valley) in San Francisco. My parents were teachers, my mother at the venerable public high school, Lowell, my alma mater, my father at the College of Marin across the Golden Gate. They met as students at San Francisco State, in French Film club. The rest is history. Or maybe fate. For a girl who escaped her family in Mexico City and a boy who left a tiny village in the South of France, this must have seemed fated. If you believe in that sort of thing, I think it must have been.
What was unconventional about our household was my parents themselves. Not where they were from, which makes theirs truly a quintessentially American melting-pot success story, but the way they were with each other and in relationship to us and in relationship with the world itself. It's like they were new pioneers, new Gold Rush 49ers come to the promised land of San Francisco to make a life from scratch, without the weight of tradition on their backs. Free. That lesson is in our bones.
Is it any wonder that I grew up on a street called Liberty?
That's true, you know, literally. On New Year's eve 1969, we moved into our house on Liberty Street. It was a beautiful place to be. The name couldn't have been more fitting.
To me as a kid, my mother was clearly the boss of our house. And in the late 60s and early 70s, this wasn't the norm. That was the period of Women's Lib, but that was always confusing for me growing up. All I could see was liberation right in front of my nose. My mother always worked, worked hard at the thing she was totally brilliant at -- teaching -- which was, is, her true vocation, her purpose on this earth, besides enjoying the hell out of everything. We three kids were trained to the sound of her car returning at the end of the teaching day, and would line up, quickly, to troop out and help unload all of her stuff. We were attuned to her every mood, we watched closely, paid attention, tried until it was impossible to overcome our natural inclinations, not to piss her off.
She wore the pants.
OK, my father worked, too, of course. But his was a different approach, one with less ferocity. His work didn't follow him home as much. He made dinner.
And because my mother always worked, did the thing she loved, the thing she was born to do, that's what we three girls learned. We never saw Housewife. We didn't learn that. We never saw Mommy. We didn't learn that, either.
It was never an aspiration for me to have a wedding, to get married when I grew up. It was never an aspiration to have children. We never even had that board game called Life, which had as its purpose to fill your car with the blue peg and the pink peg drivers, little baby pegs in the back. My aspiration was, instead, to be a scholar, to be an adventurer, a diplomat like my beloved Shirley Temple Black. It was to read all day long if I wanted to, get educated, learn everything I could, travel.
That's what happens when you grow up on Liberty. Even with as restrictive as our parents could be with us, true culture clash between the 70s mores we were imbibing and who they were, still we learned this lesson of freedom, of self-definition, from our two primary teachers, even when the learning was painful, above all for them.
Liberty is in our bones.
And it's probably why it never occurred to me that I had to be married before having The Kid at 24, in love with the child even as I studied for my exit exams from graduate school in Russian Language and Literature. Why I had him, a surprised single parent, never feeling that I was missing out on the white dress and the registry (although some matchy-matchy towels and food in the fridge mighta been good, too). I knew, thanks to the daily diet of ferocious liberty I was raised on, that I would be fine. The Kid would be all right.
But I have to say that yesterday, when I went for a brief visit to The Kid at his work, The Kid whom I haven't seen for a few weeks, on a Super Mom Mission to drop off a migraine pill + a bonus coconut water, I realized with a start that I almost forgot that I, myself, am a mother, too. My world is filled with friends with much younger children, whose worlds still revolve around that of their kids. And me, although I do think of my beloved Kid lovingly every day, I'm so busy living my life, spinning out my own dreams that sometimes I forget that half-my-life ago, to quote a lovely poem by Bentlily:
I grew him
in the axis
of my being
This nearly-forgetting doesn't mean I love him any less. On the contrary, yesterday I realized again (always again, with deepening wonder) how much I love that creature I helped make, now making his own way in this world. But here's the deal: he is not me. He is some remarkable other person, one I used to know so closely, to whom I am tied forever by inseverable bonds. Best of all:
He is free.
I look at him, listen to him, see what he's making, and know, in my bones, that the gift of liberty that my parents gave me, I did it: I passed it on.