It's One Big Happy Family season here at This Writer's Life. In celebration of the book's paperback release, I have asked a number of the writers from "One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Polyamory, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love" to reflect upon how things have changed (or remained the same) in their own lives since they wrote their essays over a year ago. Further, I've also asked various writers I admire to discuss their wild, messy, loving, non-traditional families as well. Below, Stacia L. Brown talks about her family:
Letters to Keep Us Off the Ledge
by Stacia L. Brown
About twice a week, I write to my unborn child. Sometimes, I weave wild and colorful narratives or small, secret parables that only we'll know how to interpret. On other occasions, I pen the baby treatises about family, to prepare it for the unconventional nature of ours. Then, there are times when I scribble these earnest, willful manifestos, designed to pit us again the statistical probability of single-parent failures. In those, I vow to ensure that the child has just as high a rate of vocabulary acquisition as it would if two parents were chattering to it all day. I tell it I'll insulate it from as much loss and rejection as I can, by being as attentive and emotionally available as possible. I tell it the jails and rehabs are full, but our goal is to wind our way past them.
But mostly, I offer it explanations and apologies. I know that no matter how much I believe what I'm writing and regardless of how eloquently I express these ideals, I've chosen to deliver and raise a child of absenteeism. And because I was one, for a number of years, I know this child will someday hold me accountable for that choice.
I must keep a defense at the ready. But I should be equally prepared to offer a kind and soft word, to quell the kid's anger.
Anger is inevitable, in cases like these. I'm sure some of mine has coursed into the growing fetus right alongside all that iron and folic acid I've been ingesting. When its father, my partner of eight years, found out I was having the child, he flatly refused to be cooperative, declaring that my choice to give birth to our child before he felt adequately prepared to parent it meant that I should have to assume sole responsibility for it. Perhaps some time later, when he deems himself "ready," he'll reappear.
This will require a whole new set of stories, and he will probably leave it up to me to tell them. I'll be angry then, just as I'm often angry now.
Until that time, I write down my version of things, careful not to speak ill of this man I've loved enough, for the better part of a decade, to procreate with in the first place.
I do this instead of nesting. I do it because too much time in a Babies 'R' Us exacerbates my parenting panic, and I'd like to put off the necessary trips there as long as possible. I do it because, for a while, my words will be the only ones our son or daughter will have. I do it because the right words can rock a child to comfort far better than any bouncing chair or cradle.
But most importantly, I write to my unborn because there will come a time when there is as much silence between us as there is right now. We'll drift through the same residence, me slightly curved by the weight of another fifteen years and he or she amazing me daily with sudden height and depth of voice, and stubbornness. There will be those thorny patches of misunderstanding and withholding, of demands for privacy and bedroom doors pressed firmly shut. We'll knock first and there will be days when we'll wait for a voice of invitation that simply may not come.
When that child has grown, so much like me, but also so unrecognizable as the swaddled infant I spoke to in double-time so he'd have all the advantages of language that two-parent children had, we'll need these writings.
They will remind us both of what has held our family together in happier pasts: communication, accountability, and the willingness to apologize.
Stacia L. Brown is a writer and adjunct professor of English in Grand Rapids, MI. Her work has appeared in Mosaic magazine and It's All Love: Black Writers on Soul Mates, Family, and Friends and is slated to appear in Reverie: A Journal of Midwest African American Literature. She also writes about pop culture for PostBourgie.com. You can read some (but not all) of her missives to her forthcoming child, along with excerpts of short fiction, poetry, and other creative nonfiction at her own blog, stacialbrown.wordpress.com.