Searching through a box of essays, opinion pieces, nonfiction narratives, and endless notes on scrap paper of ideas to write about, I found an essay I wrote in early 1996 when I was pregnant with my first child. In it, I reflected on my life with my own family as well as what the future held for this new family I was creating.
I thought it might be interesting to write a follow-up blog post today, in 2022, 26 years and two children later. If you haven’t read the original post, you can find it HERE.
First of all, the baby I was pregnant with turned out to be my daughter Emily. At the time, we didn’t want to know if she was a boy or a girl, so there was no gender reveal party, cake, or unintentional wildfire. I wanted to do it old school. Also, nearly three years later, I had a second baby, a son. This time, we found out the sex because I thought it would be better for my daughter to prepare for and to be able to accurately visualize the new baby is she knew it was a brother or a sister. Besides, I thought if she had her heart set on a baby sister and it turned out to be a boy, that might be an issue. This way, she could have her heart set on exactly who he was.
Another development in regards to this statement comes from the original essay: “[T]his ‘splitting’ of the American family (in addition to the splitting of so many marriages) is one of the primary contributors to the breakdown of our society.” Yeah. So I got divorced and contributed to the breakdown of society! I got divorced early, only seven years into my marriage. My older was six and my younger was three. So any expectations or dreams I might have had of my family when I wrote that original essay were, at that point, shattered.
Now, you might think that today I would feel like my words back then were a bit extreme and that I want to roll them back. But you would be wrong. Let me be clear. My divorce was the best possible decision I could make not only for my own life but also for the life of my children. And the past 20 years have proven that I was exactly right about that. However, at the same time, I can also see that divorce and fatherless homes are a disaster for our society. But that is a discussion for another time.
At the time of my divorce and for the rest of my kids’ childhood, I remained not only in Los Angeles but also in my house. On one level, I didn’t want to stay. Los Angeles never felt like home despite the fact that I ended up living there for 30 years (I can hardly believe that). I have to say that I am a bit shocked that even in 1996, only eight years after moving to LA, I seemed to think it was obvious that anyone could understand why someone would want to leave the City of Angels.
But I had good reason not to leave at the time. One reason was thanks to a friend’s advice. When I considered moving, he told me that if I left and my children did not have a relationship with their father, it would forever be my fault for taking them away. If I stayed in LA and they didn’t have a relationship with their father, then it would forever be on him. My kids would not be able to hold that against me. That was an “ah ha” moment. And turns out, he was right.
That wasn’t the only reason I stayed, however. I also stayed because of my ex-husband’s family. I had left my own family in St. Louis and had basically adopted my ex’s family in LA.
As it turned out, that was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My kids’ grandparents lived only two miles away, making it easy to see them. More importantly, they were intimately involved in every aspect of my children’s lives. And my life, for that matter. I may have sacrificed a lot by staying close to them, but doing so has paid off in spades. My life has been enhanced by my relationship with them, but more importantly, the relationship that my children have with them is the single biggest blessing they have had in their lives.
It was even more important because both of my parents in St. Louis passed away. But the photo above is from their first visit across the country to meet their granddaughter when she was only two months old. And sadly, I am estranged from my only sister, also in St. Louis. So my in-laws were the only family I had.
I have a couple of other observations from that original essay Another interesting comment I made was about Kaiser, the HMO where I ultimately gave birth. Kaiser offered multiple classes for pregnant women and new moms. I did go to a couple of classes, but they grew tiresome pretty quickly. To me, someone who had not yet had a child, most of the info seemed to be common sense. But reading it back, I think the concern I meekly expressed about the courses wasn’t strong enough.
Obviously, I was right about the problem of families no longer living near each other, resulting in young women losing the invaluable generational knowledge that we used to have. But there’s another issue. It kind of reminds me of the problem with the nationalization of public education. Kaiser is huge. Kaiser has an inordinate amount of influence. It is one of the largest health plans in the nation, serving over 12 million customers. They have a huge research component, The Center for Health Research, and the majority of their funding comes from an organization you may have heard of, thanks to COVID: the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Something doesn’t sit well with me about that. The centralization of a large corporation that receives millions of dollars from the government is assigned to telling women just exactly how to be mothers. I wish I would have had my ancestral knowledge instead.
Another interesting comment in the original essay was when I wrote that at least we could keep in touch with each other “Thanks to modern technology…” I laughed out loud at that. Who could have possibly imagined in 1996 where technology would be today? Remembering 1996 feels like remembering ancient times.
When I was in college, long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive. I only made calls to my high school boyfriend who was attending school on the opposite side of the country after 11 PM or on Sundays. Even then, my bills amounted to hundreds of dollars each month. But in the 1990s, things were changing. From my memory (and correct me if I am wrong), there was a short period of time before cell phones proliferated when phone companies offered landline services that included unlimited long distance calls for $25, maybe $30, per month. It was some sort of crazy miracle! I remember being in awe at such a possibility. Am I remembering correctly?
Sadly, what I also remember is that it was short lived, and now we are back to spending hundreds of dollars on phone bills.
But how could I have possibly predicted that in 26 years we would carry smart phones in our pockets that not only allowed us to make phone calls from anywhere but that carried all of our photographs, every song recorded, and information beyond our wildest imaginations. How could I know that we would have social media, Skype (already old), Facetime, and Zoom? The advances in technology since then are mind-boggling.
I am also reminded of the limits of communication before the 1990s or before my lifetime. It’s hard to imagine the difference.
Finally, I wrote about the sad affair of American children putting their parents away in nursing homes. That hasn’t changed. That has been the case for a long time, at least for my lifetime. As it turns out, my mother was in a nursing home. For quite a while. It started out as a necessity because she was in rehab for an injury and then a surgery, and at some point my father was unable to take care of her at home. Unfortunately, while there, she deteriorated and eventually passed away. Neither my sister nor I were required to take any responsibility for that. Everything was my dad’s decision.
My father, on the other hand, remained healthy and alert until about a week before he passed. He had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and lived a lot longer than any doctors predicted. He was independent and of sound mind until one day when he fell and wasn’t thinking clearly. He was taken straight to hospice and passed within a week. So we again were spared making a decision about a nursing home.
Since COVID, I have made it more than clear to my children that they had better figure out who would be taking me in because I refuse to be housed away in a nursing home. The cruelty with which the elderly were sacrificed in this country because of COVID policy convinced me that I would fight tooth and nail to stop being housed in such a place. We shall see how that all turns out!
And just to catch you up, I did leave Los Angeles after both kids left home after graduating high school. Now, in 2022, I live in Chicago. My daughter moved to New York City right after college. Eventually she grew tired of the hustle of NYC and began looking elsewhere for jobs. Lucky for me, she ended up in Chicago as well and lives a mile and a half from me. My son returned to LA after college. I am also grateful for that because Grandma passed away in 2019, a devastating blow to me, my kids, and the entire family. She was something else. It gives me comfort to know that my son is there to keep an eye on Papa and to continue to grow their relationship.
Recently, another of Papa’s grandchildren, from a part of the family that had not only moved away but that also virtually disappeared, thanks to an acrimonious divorce, got married. The granddaughters were 9 and 6 the last time any of us saw them or had any contact with them. At least until the younger one graduated from college. She made the decision to reconnect and came to LA a couple of times.
When she recently got married, she invited Papa, who was nervous to make the trip to the wedding alone, without Grandma, post-COVID, and at 89 years old. But it was the best decision he could have made. It gave him the opportunity to reconnect his other granddaughter, whom he hadn’t seen in over twenty years.
When he returned home, he was beaming. The only regret he had was that my two children were not there. He was saddened that everyone could not be together. And I can understand that. But the problem is, my children, who are close to them in age, are complete strangers to them. My kids were 5 and 2 when they last saw them. I mentioned that fact to Grandpa, and he sighed.
“I just wish we could all be together,” he said multiple times.
Yes. I agree. I wish my kids had grown up with their cousins. I wish we all lived near each other. In fact, I also wished this in 1996 when I hadn’t even met my daughter yet.
So now I am planning a family reunion to be held in Los Angeles. A chance to get all of the children and the grandchildren together in one place. Hopefully they will all have the same desire to gather.
Going forward, I still keep my wish alive that my children and their families will desire
living close enough to each other so that their kids will grow up together. And I long to be there to attend ball games, recitals, and days in the park. We shall see…
Cassandra’s Daughter by Vickie Oddino
Available on Amazon