Last week I sat in an overstuffed beanbag chair on the floor of my middle child's room, as she worked on a school project. We were joking and chatting casually about school, friends and work, when she turned to me and said, "Mom, you wrote your book about how you used to drink and how you don't anymore, basically, right?"
I shrugged and nodded, "Yep, basically!"
She responded, "Because you used to really love to drink. You used to love it A LOT. I remember."
Wow. Really? She's 12. I stopped drinking four years ago, and she remembers that I used to love it? A LOT? So much so, that she believes my entire book is about it?
My memoir is about more than drinking, of course. I wrote it as part of my recovery process, yes, but I dive into many topics that she knows, and some that she doesn't, because some of the content is more adult in nature. However, she knows the basic premise, about how alcohol was destroying my life, and that removing it has helped me be a better mom to her and her siblings, a better wife to her dad, and a better human being in general. We've talked about my book many times in our house. It's old news.
Or so I thought. I didn't realize until this conversation that she thought, or rather, knew that I used to love drinking so much.
The middle child of five, "M," has never let herself be forgotten. She has always been very inquisitive, observant and wise beyond her years. Facing her own challenges in school as a child with dyslexia, she has gained an enhanced sense of organization and incredible listening skills, along with a hilarious sense of humor. M's emotional intelligence is, and always has been, beyond her years. So, I wasn't surprised by her inquisitivity—I was, however, shocked by her recollection at 8-years-old of her mother's adoration for alcohol.
After a longer-than-usual pause, I said, "You know, I really did love it. Or at least I thought I did. I loved the feeling it gave me at first. And then I didn't like the feeling it gave me. And after a while, I really didn't like it anymore at all."
She nodded and twirled her purple-tipped hair between her fingers.
"What do you remember about how much I loved it?" I asked.
"Like, I remember when you had people over and the whole room (motions with hands as if she's directing an airplane to land) would be filled with bottles of wine and stuff," she offered. "And you went out lots more, out of the house, with other people. You were here less."
Trying my best to not show the heartache of that statement on my face, I asked, "How did that make you feel? Were you sad or anything? Can you remember?"
"I don't really know," she shrugged. "I guess I just noticed it. It's hard to remember. But I do remember, you know?"
I nodded, unable to form a sentence, and thought, 'Yeah. I know, I know the things that are hard to remember, but I remember just the same. Because they are the same things I barely remember. I wanted to say that I don't remember why I thought there was a better place to be than home with you! It's hard to remember, but I do remember.'
She continued, "I mean, I loved you just the same and liked you just the same as I do now. But it's different. It's good different."
Finally, my words found their way to my lips, "Yeah, I felt the same about you back then too, and now. I hope you know that."
"Oh, I know."
I have spent time hemming and hawing about how my drinking impacted my kids. I know it did. I know from my conversations with my older children. I know from the many payments to babysitters on the evenings I spent escaping. I know what I have now, the relationship I've built with them over the past four years, which has brought to light exactly what I missed out on when I was deep in my addiction. I've been rewarded with snuggles and bedtime conversations and connections that I wasn't mentally, physically or emotionally present for much of the time.
Nothing takes away the fact that they are part of the statistic of children who grow up in a household with substance abuse, at least for their early years. But as they get older, I see how my transformation has not only helped me to grow, but helped them to grow too.
My oldest son did a presentation in Driver's Ed about driving under the influence, and we had a long discussion about my experiences. My oldest daughter has listened to some of my podcast interviews. My youngest two don't remember when I drank, but they know why I don't. Drinking is just something mom doesn't do. It's not a big deal. It's part of the dynamic of our family.
With each conversation, as things like this come up, I realize that no matter what I look back on and wish I'd done differently, my kids still see the best in me. Our kids see the best in all of us.
Despite our shortcomings, mistakes, heartache, heartbreak, and despite what they witness—and they do see more than we think they do—even when we don't think we are doing a good job, our kids are rooting for us. Even this year—especially this year—when we are juggling all the things and falling short of all the things day in and day out, they still see so much more in us than we see in ourselves. When they are old enough to talk about those hard things, ask questions and be heard, that honesty can bring relationships with your kids to another level.
I smiled and sunk back into the beanbag chair, my daughter smiling back with her mouth full of braces. "I like it better now, this way. That you don't drink anymore. I like that. Do you love it as much?"
"Oh yes!" I said emphatically, "I love not drinking more. Actually, I love all the things I get to do now that I don't drink, that I couldn't do before. Like have this conversation with you!"
She laughed… "Yeah, that would have been weird If I brought this up and you were still drinking. Awkward!"
Bless that sense of humor.