Can I make a happy family?

I spent my summers at the public pool as a child. First memories were of chilly morning swimming lessons at age four. By six I was walking the ten blocks with my brothers or sitter, with or without shoes. Oh yeah, that was the year of the yellow and white polka dot bikini. Seven came and went and I learned to time my bathroom trips so I could go to the community center rather than use the poorly maintained one at the pool. I would be nine before I was brave enough to go down the two story slide, ten before belly flopping off the flimsy high dive.

What I didn’t do during those summers was spend a lot of time with my brothers. Being two, four and six years older than me, they weren’t very interested in playing with me and my friends in such a public venue. Their only duty was to make sure I got safely to the pool and safely home. When I was big enough to carry more than my own towel, I also became their toy, snack and sun lotion mule. It worked out for all of us.

But there were those rare Fridays maybe two a summer when my mom and dad would come down to the pool after work and we would play together as a family. We would toss around  a Nerf football, have chicken fights or play Marco Polo. Mom would join in or just swim laps. Dad would usually hang out on the side of the pool in his cut off jean shorts, his ghostly white legs dangling in the water, innocently embarrassing all of us.

After a couple of hours of family fun we would jump in the back of Dad’s ‘67 Ford truck, bumping along on the brick streets, two of us on the wheel wells and 2 of us sitting on the tailgate. (It was the 70’s, early 80’s, come on, seatbelts were optional.) Mom and Dad would take us for a rare trip for ice cream at the Dairy Queen. Dipped cones all around, a dilly bar if we were lucky. There was no bickering, no leaving one of out of the conversation or game. It was as if we had a silent agreement to be the perfect happy family for those few hours together. We cherished these moments when we weren’t required to clean up after each other or put on a happy face. These moments weren’t laden with tedious traditions or overtures of expected sentiments.

As I look at my family today, siblings and their families living in 4 different states, rarely connecting, never speaking by phone, I think about those few times we were the happy family. I want to fill my children’s lives with these kind of memories, far more than the number I had. I don’t want them to look back at their childhood and remember cruelties dealt to them by their siblings or absences of their parents from important events.

My parents did the best they could with the poor examples of parenting they had experienced from their own distant parents. They did the best they could raising too many children on too little money and with the demands of them both working. They showed us their love the only way they knew how by providing for us.

My parents are now doing their best to make up to us by being the best grandparents they know how. And for that I am grateful.

This post was written as part of the Red Dress Club. The prompt was to recall a memory and discuss its importance.

24 Responses to Can I make a happy family?
  1. Cheryl @ Mommypants
    February 21, 2011 | 8:18 pm

    Aw..it’s so tough to make up for what me missed as kids. I feel you, friend.

    Love the image of your dad’s ghostly white legs. We used to freak out if my parents even attempted shorts.

    xo

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  2. Coffeypot
    February 21, 2011 | 8:56 pm

    What’s a happy family. I wasn’t raised in one. But I had a good time on my own. Swimming in the Chattahoochee River, running through the woods, playing with snakes and bugs. Not many kids around where I lived, so I grew up a loner. Sill am. And my daughter and my grandkids do not have the freedom of the outdoors that I had. Sad!
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  3. magnolia
    February 21, 2011 | 9:03 pm

    it’s funny how those things stick with us, and how our parents make us strive for what we missed. beautiful, beautiful piece.
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  4. Jessica
    February 21, 2011 | 10:40 pm

    I remember as a kid we always went swimming in the summer and it was so much fun so I make it a point to take my kids to the pool as often as possible during the summer. It is hard sometimes to spend time as a family because life gets in the way but you are right that it is so important and it creates lasting memories.
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  5. Symdaddy
    February 21, 2011 | 11:31 pm

    I grew up with this adapted quote from Mr. Lincoln.

    You can please some of the family all of the time and all of the family some of the time but you can’t please all of the family all of the time.

    I learned that ‘happy’ families were always someone else’s.
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  6. tulpen
    February 22, 2011 | 6:09 am

    I strive to be the opposite sort of parent from mine, to be more mindful of the childhood I am constructing for my kids. I know I fall short though, all the time.
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  7. John
    February 22, 2011 | 7:17 am

    Hey – if you figure out how to actually fill your kids’ lives with these memories, can you pass along the secret? It was just me & my sister (I actually have step-siblings, but my dad remarried when I was 22, so it’s a very different situation). I have both great & horrible stuff that I look back on, but my sister is a great friend in my life today, so something worked right.
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  8. Sue the Desperate Housemommy
    February 22, 2011 | 7:34 am

    “It was as if we had a silent agreement to be the perfect happy family for those few hours together.”

    Yep.

    That’s my family on dinner-and-a-movie excursions. Love those times. there’s something sacred about them.

    Well told.
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  9. liz
    February 22, 2011 | 8:09 am

    I love that they are doing their darndest now. That says a lot about them.

    I, too, have dipped DQ ice cream cone memories from my childhood.
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  10. MommaKiss
    February 22, 2011 | 8:21 am

    Honey, we had so very little money growing up, but we had each other. 6 of us. Not the perfect family, mind you, with divorce and welfare. But I have such amazing happy memories. I do. With cousins and extended family. I’m sad that my children are missing out on those opportunities because we live so far from family. I’m still close with siblings, but we don’t see each other often. We have more money to raise children than my parents had, but some things you can’t buy.
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  11. JP
    February 22, 2011 | 8:47 am

    It is far to difficult to labor over what we needed. Today, we must go and find it for ourselves! Nice work!…:)JP
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  12. Shell
    February 22, 2011 | 8:48 am

    Some of us learn to parent by our parents’ example. And some of us just learn what we want to do better.
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  13. NotJustAnotherJennifer
    February 22, 2011 | 10:36 am

    I’m so glad you have some fond memories to look back on. I was very blessed to have what my friends call “A Norman Rockwell Childhood,” but I know not everyone does. Great job with the prompt!
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  14. Caitlin's Concepts
    February 22, 2011 | 10:51 am

    Even through all the shortcomings and faults, I think it’s great that you can still pick out those happy memories and remember them so vividly. It’s not always an easy thing to do – you did it wonderfully.
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  15. CDG
    February 22, 2011 | 11:01 am

    I love the vision of your Dad in the cutoffs, and the late 70′s early 80′s danger driving.

    Sometimes I miss the casual neglect of the era.

    It’s good that you have those Fridays to balance out the other times a little.
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  16. Rebel Chick
    February 22, 2011 | 11:31 am

    I think you captured that summer feeling perfectly – no matter the circumstances, our parents always tried to make summers special for us.

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  17. ksluiter
    February 22, 2011 | 1:03 pm

    I adore this post. It brings back so many happy summery 80′s memories for me too. It’s so easy just to focus on the crap sometimes…but goodness this made me feel so great! I hope some day my kids reflect back and come back with this sort of family togetherness like you did. awesome!
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  18. julie gardner
    February 22, 2011 | 3:56 pm

    I especially love the vision of the car ride – times so different and today’s fears nonexistent.

    When I was 4 and my sister was 2, my dad nailed two folding beach chairs into our chevy station wagon that had no back seat.

    That’s where my sister and I sat.

    I laugh now when people completely freak out over PROPER car seat placement. Not because car seats aren’t important. They are.

    But anything is better than folding chairs nailed to the floor.

    Glad I survived to read this post…
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  19. tracy
    February 22, 2011 | 7:39 pm

    Such a beautiful story of family. So easy to lose myself in some very similar memories.
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  20. Mandyland
    February 22, 2011 | 7:49 pm

    Finally getting to this!

    This was a fantastic post with such vivid wording!

    I loved how you ended with your understanding that they did the best they could. It shows an acceptance that I don’t think a lot of people ever find.

    And it may be “wrong” of me, but it makes me a little sad that my children will never know the singular joy of riding in the bed of a pickup truck, bouncing along on the wheelbeds.
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  21. Lydia
    February 22, 2011 | 10:47 pm

    I want that too, I don’t want my children to look back and have trouble remembering the good days. That thought scares the heck out of me.
    This memory felt like summer to me, not just one summer but a childhood of summers. It was full of what summer should be. (And seriously why dos the toliet closest to the swimming pool always have to be nasty? It’s like a law or something ;) Loved this.
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  22. Kir
    February 23, 2011 | 9:25 am

    this post really really spoke to me today. During the prompt I was trying to really think of a time when my memories were “HAPPY” for a long time and I couldn’t…my parents did the best they could and now my mom is one of my best friends, but getting there, WHOA.

    I loved all the imagery, all the feelings I felt with you.
    I also worry very much that my children will be able to look back later and have something to “Talk” about in that makes them smile, that reminds them how much they are/were loved.

    LOVED THIS.

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  23. Karen Peterson
    February 23, 2011 | 10:15 am

    I have to say ditto to Cheryl’s comment. We used to tease my dad relentlessly for his pasty legs. Now that my own have gone several summers without seeing the light of day, I don’t cringe. I laugh and make fun of myself.
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  24. Alexandra
    February 25, 2011 | 8:59 pm

    I know what you mean.

    Sometimes, it’s so easy to just think it was all bad.

    And I think on the bad, and then a bit of good pokes it’s head out.

    But, I don’t want to dwell on the good, it’s as if me doing that, negates the pain of the bad.

    It’s like I want the bad validated.

    You’re much more mature than I am.
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