Thursday, January 19, 2006

Juxtapositions


James & Delores Hebert
I am now the same age my parents were when they had me, thirty-six. And yet when I compare their lives at this age to mine, I am astounded at the differences.

  • They had six children and a seventh -- me -- about to be born. That's Seven. I have no children.

  • They had to scrimp and save every penny to put food on the table. My wife and I both make very comfortable livings and, while not rich, rarely worry about paying the bills.

  • They were devout Catholics. I do not participate in any religion at all.

  • They ate out -- with all seven kids, mind you -- maybe once every few months. Getting ice cream after church or pizza from Shakey's was a Major Event. My wife and I eat out very often.

  • My mother had severe chemical depression that went undiagnosed for years while my father was manic-depressive and an alcoholic; they had nowhere to turn to for help with their medical and psychological demons. While Annie and I each have our issues, we have been able to get good, professional, medical and psychological help dealing with them and, more importantly, we live in a time when seeking such help is acceptable.

  • My parents lived in a very typical suburban type of neighborhood, where their kids knew all the neighbors, they all went to the same schools, etc. We live in the middle of the country with very few neighbors at all.

  • My parents never had pets in the house. We have nothing but pets everywhere you look.

  • My parents' home was filled with laughter and anger, cheering and crying, tickling and fighting, and all of the other thousands of sounds seven children can generate. Our home is quiet most of the time, and the sound we hear most often is our own voices or that of the characters on TV.

  • My parents were partners, but the partnership was of a very certain kind -- Mom took care of the house and the kids while working as a full-time secretary, Dad went out and tried to bring home money, spending a lot of time out drinking and carrying on while Mom was trying to keep things rolling on the home front. Annie and I are also partners, but I do a lot of things my father would have scorned while Annie is outside shoveling manure, grooming animals, hauling hay, you name it.
Life is about transitions, and about the choices we make that lead us wherever we're going. As I sit at the ranch and think about how different I am today from the man I was even ten years ago, I know that I am even more different from the people my parents were at my age.

But then, aren't we all? We are neither our parents nor our siblings, neither our friends nor our neighbors. We're the accumulation of thousands of decisions, large and small, that somehow, without us even noticing most of the time, wash us up on shore somewhere downstream. We emerge every now and then, wet and blinking and wondering how in the world we got there, usually just long enough to catch our breath before being dragged downstream by life again, hurtling towards a destination that we cannot imagine.

I've made different choices than my parents made and, while I am very happy with my life, part of me will always wonder "What if". What if I had seven kids, or what if I struggled with addiction, or faced any of the myriad of other challenges they did. Would I handle it as well? Would I look back decades later and be proud of how things turned out like they could?

And what if they, 36-years both, could open a window into my life now? Would they find it as full and satisfying as I do, or would they see me as sad and cut off from too many other people? Would they feel jealousy at our freedom or sorrow at our constraints?

I don't know, because I am not the person my parents were. I can only hope to make them proud of the man I am becoming.

7 comments:

Jill Phenix Avila said...

wow deep thoughts. Thanks for sharing... I too have reflected on my life compared to my parents. The scary thing is that Mario and I are almost exactly like my parents... but not his. We have made the same big ticket decisions at the same time my parents did. Such as first cars, first house etc. The only difference would be the horse and donkey we have at your ranchito and the fact that my parents would not let dogs inside but the cats had the run of the place. We don't have kids yet but my parents didn't until they were in their mid 30s. (so I have a ways to go.. whew!) It is always good to do a little healthy reflecting of the ones we love as well as ourselves. I think that most people do not do it enough. They become complacent and never try to do better than the ones before them.

TexasAnnie said...

Plus we do have lot's of laughter here at the ranch, especially when Jill is here to brighten up our days. And then I am guaranteed to have a crying melt down at least once a year, so we have the tears too. I blame those moments on my hormones.

Jill Phenix Avila said...

especially when we all cheat at Trivial Pursuit!!

Denise said...

I think that is the million-dollar, “Pass Go and Collect $200” question – what if I’d made different choices. Most of us wonder if the choice we made this morning was the best decision for our life – do we have the right job, are we leading a good life, are things in order in case it all ends tomorrow? Although I do daydream about the different paths I could’ve taken, I’ve learned to keep my eyes ahead for the wonderful journey that lies in front of me for it is there that Mom, Dad and all my siblings come into play more and more. Their influences on me are always there, sometimes subtle, yet always a part of my heart and my head, and I thank God for them the older I get. Jimmy, Johnny and Joey’s influence reminds me to be kind and spiritual in the face of despair. Diane and Donna remind me to be brave and take a chance and always remember family is there to catch me when I fall. There are always the “what ifs” that will plague and haunt you, and they can make you crazy. I turn around and go into that dark place from time to time, but either I don’t measure up or I am painfully wistful for just one more chance to get it right. For the past few years, all I’ve thought is that I made all the wrong choices. So, I decided to make the best of today and tomorrow, forgive myself for the wrong choices and pat myself quietly on the back for the ones that seem to be working out. I often think that without the craziness and lunacy of the Hebert household, we’d be very dull children and adults. Let’s face it -- our dad bought meat out of the trunk from a transvestite, Mom sang like an angel and taught us the beauty of music, of just being together in the kitchen or snuggled up underneath an afghan watching “An Affair to Remember.” Our grandmother thought we were the most imaginative children in the world because we had a bat for a pet (much to Mom’s horror). And our Lebanese grandparents taught us to take a chance and go for it. But most of all, I think we learned that it takes everything and everybody to make life interesting – noise, quiet, disagreements, acceptance, rejection and finally love. You and Leann have a wonderful life together because it’s based on love, and that’s the basis of the Hebert household. You are the consummate poet in the family, the ultimate artist and the one who can put our feelings into words so tender that I cry when I read your journal entries and so funny that I laugh out loud. I think Mom and Dad are very proud of you, Jeff, but most of all, I hope you know how proud, cherished and loved you are by so many. Put me right behind Leann in that long line, will you? I’m so happy you’re my friend, dear brother Jeff.

Jeff Hebert said...

To me, the thing is to be happy with where your choices have brought you, rather than obsessing over the life you might have had, or that someone else has.

Each choice you make opens an infinite number of possibilities before you. It also closes the door on an infinite number of possibilities. If you wait until you're 30 to get married, you can never know what it's like to get married at 18. If you have children, you'll never know what it's like not to have them. If you live alone, you never know what it's like to have a roommate.

But the opposites of those are true as well. The "married at 18" person won't know what it's like to wait. The couple without children will never know what it's like to not have them. Roommates can't know what it's like to live alone at that point in their lives.

Anyway, enough being deep, let's make some fart jokes or something!

John said...

Jeffrey...pull my finger.

*BRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPPT!!!!!!!!*

Ah, I feel better now.

diane said...

Someone asked me once "Don't you think you missed out on things getting married so young?". The answer is, "Yes, I did". The bigger question is, do I regret it. That answer is a resounding "NO!". We all miss things because of the choices we make but realizing that the quality of life you have is good for you personally makes it the "right" choice. I'm simple and really don't over analyze my life. I just take it a day at a time and look back over the last 20 years and say "What a dope I was" about some things, "Man, I did alright with that" about others and shrug my shoulders, shake it off and go on my merry way. What good does it do to beat yourself up about it? Of course, those people I did beat up deserved it and definitely are in the "Man, I kicked ass on that one" category!