Grieving the loss of what I always wanted: a “nuclear” family

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Have you ever asked a child this question? Their responses often range from common to comical. My son wants to be a football player and a youtuber. My daughter wants to be a hairstylist. Some kids want to grow up to be a teacher, a scientist, a veterinarian or a race car driver. I’ve heard some really fun things, like clown hairstylist, dragon breeder, a mailbox and cat ninja (what even is this?!).

If you asked me this when I was a kid, I would have told you that I wanted to be a dancer on the castle stage in Magic Kingdom and to be a mom with a family. We were just like the Griswold’s; the quintessential nuclear American family with a touch of dysfunction. Sunday meals, annual traditions, sibling arguments, family vacations, family “camp outs” in front of the fireplace. I was eight years old when my little brother Doug was born and I was his “little mom”, as everyone called me. I remember thinking, “When I grow up, this is exactly what I want to have.”

Fast forward to growing up, for real: I went to college, dropped out, went back to college, left again. Though I did work for Disney in NYC, I never made it to Orlando to dance on the castle stage in Magic Kingdom. Yet, my other life goal was coming true. I had met “the one”. We got engaged, got married, bought a house and started a family. My dreams were now becoming a reality.

An insidious disease began to cripple my dream. It slowly eroded my vision for family vacations, Christmas cards, “camp outs” in front of the fireplace. My idea of what I saw for myself was not a reality. My husband was an alcoholic. My life was falling apart. After 6 years of hoping things would change, I realized I had to be the change.

How could this be happening? This was not part of the plan I had for myself.

In 2016, I quit my day job, filed for divorce and pursued my passion by opening up a dance studio for all ages and abilities. During a very dark time, I put my focus on what I could bring to others’ lives.

For a long time, I was grieving the loss of what I always wanted: a “nuclear” family.

I have found happiness in the sincerity of my life. I don’t have the “normal” nuclear family, but, what actually defines “normal” when it comes to how family’s look? I have found an amazing boyfriend who brings me so much joy, love & support, my 2 children are happy & healthy, my extended family is always around, my friends are more like family and I have a career that I absolutely love.

I define my joy and my life by the way I feel, not by the definition of what society says is “successful” or “normal”. Seeing nuclear families smiling on social media has made me feel less than, thinking back to my childhood dream of having a family. How easily we can be influenced by what we see online and how we think everyone’s else’s “perfect life” is.

But now, I decided to rewrite that narrative.

Why can’t my Christmas card be the three of us? Why can’t we take our own family vacations? Why can’t I live in a home on my own, snowblow my own driveway and be a strong, empowered mother? Why can’t I be the one to define what a “memorable childhood” is for my children?

It’s very important for me to say this: my ex-husband is over 2 years sober, is the most amazing father to our children and continues to show what it means to be courageous and committed. I’ve learned many lessons in my life, and one is that alcoholism truly is a disease that cripples families. It’s an evil drug that completely alters a person’s judgment, behavior and personality. But, there is always hope for recovery. Where there is a will, there is a way. I’ve seen the transformation firsthand and couldn’t be more grateful.

Here I am now, sitting on my couch writing this as a single mother in my home, with my two children sitting at their desks, remote learning from the room next to me. If you asked my eight year old self what I would be doing at 34 years old, it wouldn’t be this. And, just because it does look different doesn’t mean I’m a failure. Or that I haven’t succeeded. My heart is full of love and genuine joy in this moment. This life, just the way it is, is a dream come true.

Power of positivity

If only I could park my car in my garage.

Jealousy. What causes us to feel this? And why does it seem to consume us and eat us up inside? I remember feeling lots of jealousy growing up.

Jealous of the girls with clear skin. Jealous of the dancers who were naturally flexible. Jealous of Linnea Bauer who always got a 110 on her tests. I mean, how did she ALWAYS get 10 points over perfect?! And, she was tall. Talk about double whammy of jealousy.

In many ways, those jealous feelings are what motivated me to work harder and be a better version of myself; as a person, dancer and student. It had me doing my splits to improve my flexibility, studying hard to get an over-perfect score on my test. I tried every acne medication to help me clear up my skin (literally, everything. Props to my parents for that). Can you remember back to what made you feel waves of jealousy as a teen growing up?! Funny how those things seem so silly now, but how important they were to us then. And, how they helped shape who we are today.

Fast forward to adult life: I still feel jealousy, not as frequently or as often… but about the most ridiculous things.

What am I jealous of now?

People who don’t have to clip a tooth in everyday. Broadway stars with voices that fill your soul with their power (though I do pretend I have the voice of an angel when I’m belting out show-tunes in the car). People who don’t have bunions (#dancerlife). Those who have the willpower to say no to a Wendy’s Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger with fries and a Diet Coke. Cars parked in a garage.

Do you hear how crazy that sounds?

Cars parked in a garage.

Whenever I drive by a house and see their cars parked IN their garage, I get jealous. Am I jealous of the cars because they look so cozy tucked in there? Am I jealous that the homeowner doesn’t have a slew of bikes, buckets, firewood and plastic lawn ornaments cluttering their garage? Maybe I’m jealous of their sheetrock walls with perfectly organized shelves. Why does it give me a feeling of not being good enough?

I’ve been obsessing over it and have made it my mission to clean out my garage, just to park my damn car in there. And then, of course, garage-envy leads to shed-envy which leads to shed-location envy which leads to how-is-their-grass-so-green envy which then makes me green with envy… it’s a vicious cycle! So, when I finally do park my car in my garage, will it make my life better? Will I be happier? I finally checked myself and changed my perspective. I now look at my garage as what I want to define it as: a tiny home for all the fun toys, gadgets, bikes, decorations and remote control cars that will bring us countless memories to cherish. My car is currently parked in the driveway and will be for the foreseeable future.

Funny how we can’t just be content with what is. All these things we wish we had or could do. But, look at all we do have; the blessings all around us.

I’ve done a lot of self-work, read a lot of books about focusing on what matters and have really discovered what it means to be happy and content with what I have. I have posted quotes on my vision board about how “we spend so much time worrying about what we don’t have that we forget about what we do have.” I’ve found so much truth in the blessings and fulfillment that “community over competition” brings. I’ve had the realization that I may not have everything I want or need right now, but what I’ve got is pretty damn amazing. We’re human, jealousy happens. But let’s check ourselves when it does. What we do and don’t have, eat, wear and own doesn’t define us. We define us. And that is a beautiful thing. 💛