One day, my kids will leave. They will meet people who have never met me. Or their dad. Or their aunts or uncles. Or their oma or poppy. They will meet all new people, who they will have to explain to. It might be on a third date, or while sitting on a curb late night after a college party. They will have to tell people who they just met about the family that raised them by the edge of the Chesapeake. And I wonder what they will say. I wonder which parts they will include. Which parts they will skip over. The parts they'll exaggerate. The parts they are proud of. The parts that bring them shame.
I've perpetuated a myth, a story about my family that is only tenuously connected reality. I frequently speak and write the truth as I want it to be, rather than the truth that is. Sometimes, speaking it and writing it makes it real. And sometimes it makes me a fraud.
I remember trying to explain my family through writing in the creative writing class I took my freshman year of college. Tom was in the class too, but he was just a quirky guy I sort of had a crush on. The hours of explaining my family to him didn't happen for a few more years. In that class we had to write a list poem: "ten things you have seen." Everyone's list seemed to include the sun setting or rising on some monument or landmark. We wanted to make sure everyone else knew that we were well traveled. I remember one of my lines was vaguely connected to a kayaking scene, and thinking of it embarrasses me now. These ten lines gave us the chance to define ourselves. I can't believe that made the cut.
Most of the lines were about my family. My mom praying. My dad crying. Even then, I knew that it would be hard to define myself apart from them.
I wonder how my children will define themselves. I wonder if they will think that their parents were eccentric or young or fun or interesting. Or will their parents just be parents. Just like everyone else's. People who tell them not to do things they want to do. People who don't understand them. People who are so painfully disconnected from the world they want to inhabit.