The week before the birth of my fifth and final child, the reality of what was to come had finally taken full effect. Not that Caroline and I were oblivious to the fact that we were mere days away from being in charge of guiding, shaping, showing and loving yet another little being. We weren’t. It’s just that the four we were already guiding, shaping, showing and loving had kept us so busy we barely had time to breathe.
But that’s exactly what I was doing on the night which followed that final ultrasound. Breathing. Deeply, at that. Because something about the image had resonated and left me intimidated, which was odd given that I didn’t even flinch on the eve of the triplets’ birth.
Maybe it was because Luke’s my full circle. The fifth child born into a blended family to parents in their early 40s, as was the exact scenario with me. Whatever the reason for my anxiety, my deep breaths were unable to slow the mind that raced at warp speed as it simultaneously looked ahead with hope and back for guidance.
Back to the child who had it, yet never understood exactly what it was. Which stands to reason as I didn’t know very much back then. It was in this state of ignorance that I abandoned it, in fact. It’s impossible to say when, but I assume the process began the first time I let you decide what I should be like. Which was no surprise. Letting you decide, that is. Because most of us just wanna fit in, and I was no exception.
True self esteem needs no such affirmation, yet my brand sure did, which is why I became whatever I needed to become whenever I needed to become it. The changes were subtle at first, but at some point all the subtle changes had multiplied into a drastic one, which fundamentally altered my trajectory.
The person continued to morph until he eventually became a persona, carrying on with other likeminded personas, sometimes toeing the line and other times doubling down on a soft four with a dealer six showing inside Vegas casinos at hours far closer to dawn than dusk.
The beauty I sought was a mask that would eventually crack, suddenly compelling me to move back home. Not all the way, mind you. Just down the street was all, because I finally realized it was missing, and I had to look for it. I wanted it back because it was mine.
Things went so well at first that I fooled myself into thinking I’d found it, but I hadn’t. For other than geography and cash flow, very little had changed as evidenced by my eerily similar surroundings. I frolicked about in the knee-deep waters of superficiality, carrying on differently in a world that remained largely the same.
So I reeled everything in and went on a C.S. Lewis bender and came out on the other side with a firm understanding of Screwtape and the letters he had written. What they meant. Who they described. Why they came to be. And at the ripe old age of 32, I blew up my world and walked away from a career that by all accounts was going quite well.
You have to be careful when you blow up your world, you know, for the pieces will keep falling long after the initial explosion. It was in such an aftermath when I moved back home, in part because I finally realized it wasn’t your fault. It was mine.
And, my goodness, did it feel good to be back. To no longer give one single f%^k about what you thought. To stop being what you wanted so I could finally be me.
The first couple of years, I was inching ever closer to it, and by the time I met her, I was almost there. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to learn that she still had it. That she had never lost it. And I knew as much when she let me lean on but a small portion of hers while she unknowingly ushered me along the final few steps back to mine. And when I finally reclaimed it, I instantly recognized that she was the one I’d been longing for during those loud, smoky nights when the fun suddenly wasn’t any longer.
So I married her.
She knows about the time I used to slap the devil’s ass on my quest for God knows what. And she understands, too, at least as best she can. And that’s all anyone can ever really hope for in a mate, no? For that person to love you enough to try to understand even the most shrouded of your complexities to whatever extent possible?
Not that I’m some mystifyingly complex and incredibly uncommon riddle, mind you. I’m nothing more than a garden-variety case of childhood insecurity perpetuated by the standard coping mechanisms which inevitably accompany such a case.
It’s just that I don’t want my kids to be a part of this garden.
My wife has never had to concern herself with such matters. All she concerns herself with is each and every day that appears before her, and that day had been a particularly big one.
For that day we touched Luke’s imminence, which, I suppose, is why I visited another little boy. To remind myself of the challenges that lie ahead. Both his and mine. To remind myself of what once was so that maybe I can play a role in assuring that it will never again be. At least not for him.
Which is why I try in my own subtle ways to get him, along with my other four children, to understand it better than I ever did. In hopes that they won’t ever throw it away.
In hopes that they’ll embrace it. Honor it, cherish it, depend on it, and trust it. Like a compass. So they’ll never get lost.
I’m not sure how the best way to do that is, but my gut tells me it starts by being more concerned with how things feel than with how things look. By being grounded in that which matters most and oblivious to that which matters least. By being emotionally available and fostering the desire for depth.
Because that’s where it lives, you see. In the deep.
On top of the treasure.
Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of posts about kids and self esteem, inspired by the album Color of Your Heart by Jean Louisa Kelly.