Tuesday, August 24, 2010
The Law of Unintended Consequences
The Law of Unintended Consequences - idiomatic warning that an intervention in a complex system always creates unanticipated outcomes.
I'm a terrible son. No, really. I am.
I never call my mom. My sister frequently sends me text messages to let me know how disappointed my mom is that I didn't come over when I said I would or cancelled a dinner date at the last minute. It's hard for me to admit but I'm still extremely bitter at the level of selfishness that my mom displayed when I was a little kid. She would leave for days on end, out with friends binge drinking and doing drugs, while I cuddled up next to my grandmother, who I affectionately called "mama" while I called my birth mother by her first name, Patricia. My grandmother, who battled obesity and heart disease for most of her life, worried so much about the safety of my mother and all of her children and grandchildren that she eventually worried herself into an early grave.
I still have difficulty wrapping my brain around the level of callous disregard that would allow a mother to leave her children at home alone while she danced and drank at the local hole in the wall saloon. My little sister is too young to remember those long walks on chilly autumn days when my aunts, after they got tired of watching us, kicked us out of the house, telling us not to come back until we found our mother.
I wish that I had been too young to forget.
When my mom called this past Saturday, a part of me wanted to let it go to voicemail. My mom is such a worry wort and I have very little patience for worriers. I knew that, without fail, within 5 minutes of picking up her call I would be hanging up, frustrated because my mom was raising her blood pressure (and mine) over someone or something that she had no control over. I would also be frustrated because my mom would be sad that she couldn't have more than a 5 minute conversation with her first born child.
I'm so glad that I answered her call.
My mother is in a much better place now. She has been clean and sober for over 7 years now. She is a nurse at a great nursing home in Lincoln Park and just moved into a new apartment this month, leaving behind the abusive boyfriend that enabled her for years before she got clean. He's battling a recurrence of throat cancer now so I guess there is a law of reciprocity operating in the universe. Like any mother, she still worries about me even though I've been on my own for 8 years now. She always asks how my job is going, whether I have enough to eat, and if I've met someone special yet. More than anything, she worries about my little sister Candice.
Like my mom, Candice became a mother at a young age. My mom was 20 when she had me. Candice is only 18. The father is almost twice her age and as useless as he is old. My little sister looks up to our mom and that's why she is attending school this fall with the intention of study nursing. I love my sister with all my heart. She is beautiful, smart, loving, gregarious, and funny - basically all the things that I'm not. I sheltered her from a lot of the negativity that infested our family because I knew that I was mature beyond my years and could handle it. My expectations for her were so high and I think that's why I was so disappointed when I found out that she was pregnant. That's why I'm still so disappointed.
My grandfather and uncle were disappointed with my mom when he found out that she was pregnant. Like my sister, my mom was in college studying nursing when she got knocked up. My grandfather wanted the best for his daughter and her future so he gave her $200 and made an appointment for her at Planned Parenthood. My mom took the long train ride from our south side neighborhood down to Clark and Division. She went into Planned Parenthood three times. Each time she would sit in the waiting room for a few minutes reading a magazine and then abruptly leave, claiming each time that "she was hungry." Eventually, with the help of my grandmother, my mother stood up to my grandfather and her brother and told them that she was keeping the baby. This was the first time that my mom had relayed this story to me. I can't explain how much more I appreciate my mom and my life in general than after hearing how close I was to not being here.
The Law of Unintended Consequences at its best.
My mother went on to tell me how I could read the newspaper at the age of 4 amd, at age 5, I was reading the sales papers and mail to my grandmother, who couldn't read and could barely write. We talked about how I would look for special promotions in the newspaper like Funny Hat Night at Comiskey Park so that our less than wealthy family could afford to go to Comiskey Park and take in a baseball game. I wouldn't let my mom put her hat on until we got right in front of the gates. My mom talked with a mixture of pride and disdain at my ability at an early age to decipher the matrix of movie showtimes, making sure that Freddy's Dead and other horrible movies that little kids like were playing on her days off. In the aftermath of all the negativity that had engulfed our family, I had forgotten about all of the good times we shared.
None of that would've been possible if my mom hadn't been so damn hungry all the time.
My mother is so proud of what I've become. She tells anyone that will listen about her handsome son that graduated from DePaul with Honors. She walks past the DePaul bookstore on the way to and from work and wants to buy matching "DePaul Alumni" shirts for us. I refuse to wear DePaul branded merchandise but I gave her my blessing to wear whatever she wants. My mom wants me to go back to school for a graduate degree and to have some grandchildren so that she can spoil them. More than anything, she wants me to stand by my little sister the way I used to when all we had was each other.
"I know you're disappointed 'D'. Your sister made a mistake and I know you want the best for her but Jaden is here now and there's nothing you can do about it. Your sister loves you so much. She is always talking about you. It breaks her heart when you won't return her calls. The best thing that you can do as a big brother is to support her and your nephew. Just like no one knew that you would grow up to become this exceptional young man, you don't know what Jaden will grow up to be."
It's the least I can do in payment for my mom stepping out into the dark, not knowing where she would land. The least I can do is to show my little sister and nephew the same love and consideration for life that my mom and, eventually, grandmother, grandfather, uncles, and aunts showed for my life.
After being angry and bitter for so long because of all selfish, hurtful things my mom did to me, I'm so thankful for what she chose not to do.
Here's to second and third chances.
Here's to filling your heart with love when hate would be easier.
Here's to hoping like hell that little Jaden takes his time figuring out those movie times.