Family Matters

It was 8:15 on a Tuesday night, and I’m leaving dinner with a friend. I noticed that I missed a call from my dad. My parents are at the age where I’m both grateful for getting to talk to them regularly and worried when I get a call. So as I drove home, I called my dad back to see what was up.

After answering, Dad switched over to the speaker phone so I could talk to them both, and we started talking about our day. Then, like many nights, our conversation reverted back to Ally — my sweet daughter who died in 2020. We talked about losing Ally, but we also discussed the world, grief, age, and how sometimes life doesn’t turn out as we hoped. It could be the cocktail I just had with my girlfriend or maybe just the wisdom of growing older, but I felt acutely aware that our relationship is rare – that not everyone can say anything to their parents. That night, I felt especially grateful. I know I am lucky to still have both parents, and I’m lucky to have parents who love me unconditionally. More than that, as I was hanging up, I could hear love and pride in both of my parents’ voices. Even though I’m a grown woman, it still gives me joy to make my parents proud.

Readers, I’m sure you’d all agree that family is not always easy. I love my family to death, and sometimes they (still) drive me crazy. As a teenager, I felt like we were fairly dysfunctional. And yet as I’ve grown up, I’ve seen some truly dysfunctional families. I know now that mine is only moderately dysfunctional. (Kidding/not kidding!) I feel badly that when I was growing up, I had this inner voice telling me that my family was “wrong.” We didn’t have enough money. We didn’t have the right clothes. We didn’t do the right things. For instance, my Dad wore mismatched running attire when we jogged together — often by a “cool” friend’s house. Thirteen year old Crysta was mortified. You know what 50 year old Crysta would say to these notions? Bullshit. That’s right. I call bullshit on my adolescent views on life. I was young and dumb; I know better now.

I’ve mentioned my parents, but I should also talk about my sister. She drove me crazy growing up. I remember liking a boy in 6th grade, and as we were walking home from school, she went out of her way to embarrass me. I was again mortified. Now I know that she was just trying to spend time with me. I remember our neighbor punching her in the stomach, while I, in a near stupor, did nothing. This is one of my childhood regrets — that I did not defend my sister. If I could redo this moment in time, I would. And recently, I learned that my sister punched one of her friends for badmouthing me back when I was in high school. Jaime, I promise to fight back if “she who shall not be named” holds your arms again so her sister can use you as a punching bag.

My sister and I have had some horrendous emotional and physical fights, as most siblings do. We used to share an apartment, and you can guess how disastrous that was. (Don’t worry Jaime. I won’t share all of your dark secrets here!) But after time passed, we both had families, life went on, and we got past these adolescent spats. At the end of the day, I know she has my back and I have hers. I’m pretty sure I was the first person to know about my sister’s impending divorce and the reason behind it. And even though I have an amazing tribe of friends, I called my sister to be with me when my daughter was dying. Sisters. The most interesting love/hate/mutual admiration/I’ve got your back relationship on the planet.

My parents raised my sister and me to be strong and independent women. They wanted us to have our own opinions, and boy did we. That is one thing that hasn’t changed through the years. I’m sure they didn’t enjoy all of our arguing and debating as kids, but as adults, one of our favorite things to do together is to sit at the dinner table and discuss relevant topics. All of us chime in. And as I tell my friends who know what a talker I am, I am actually the 3rd quietest in my family. I almost have to raise my hand to get a word in. I understand now that not all families communicate like ours does — for better or for worse.

On a good night, my dad will get out a napkin and doodle his view of the world. I know someday I will miss his napkin missives. And my mom, well, as a kid she’s always put a note in my lunch when I’d go on field trips. That used to embarrass me; now, I’d love to have saved one of her notes. I know now what I believe no kid understands when they are young — how devoted and hard-working my parents are and were.

When I was in college, my sister and my dad used to create crazy scenarios just to come for a quick visit. Jaime had to “borrow an outfit for school.” Or Dad was just “driving through town” and thought he’d stop by. During my first years of teaching, on the days I felt dejected and ineffective, my mom would come to my apartment and either sit with me or drag me out of the house to get a Sonic drink. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my parents, like my sister, have always supported me. That doesn’t change with age or with distance or differing opinions. For that, I am eternally grateful.

As an adult, I understand that my parents may not like my choices, but they will support me even if they disagree. I know there’s nothing I could say to my parents that would make them turn me away. I can let down my guard around my mom and dad, and even on my worst days, they will still love me. Best yet, my parents don’t just love me; I think they legitimately like the Crysta that I’ve grown into. Good thing I’ve matured because sixteen year old Crysta was a pain in the ass. They must have worked hard to tolerate her.

I am going to end with a quote from Erma Bombeck, which pretty much sums up my upbringing from my parents’ point of view:

“Someday, when my children are old enough to understand the logic that motivates a mother, I’ll tell them: I loved you enough to bug you about where you were going, with whom and what time you would get home. … I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover your friend was a creep. I loved you enough to make you return a Milky Way with a bite out of it to a drugstore and confess, ‘I stole this.’ … But most of all I loved you enough to say no when you hated me for it. That was the hardest part of all.”

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