My dad traveled a lot for his job when I was young. A lot, and at times alot. Like, five days a week for weeks at a time. Not that I remember a lot of absence, to be honest, but I do remember a lot of coming homes.

He and mom would have “date night” on the weekend (like most parents). There would be wine and candles and low music. My brothers and I were on the outskirts, looking in. Sometimes quickly as we said goodbye and left for our own Friday night plans, sometimes not at all, because what teenager notices their parents, and sometimes begrudgingly, as we were kicked out of the living room and away from the best tv so they didn’t have to listen to it. These Date Nights of theirs were a big factor in how I perceived successful adult relationships.

Right after Steve and I had moved in together, he left for a six month military course four hours away. Because he’s a sucker for punishment we like to spend an inhuman amount of time together, he drove home every weekend. One of the first weekends he was coming home, I made dinner, lit candles, dimmed the lights. Date night! Mine at last! It was romantic and grown up. How sophisticated of me. When Steve arrived, he didn’t want to sit and sip wine for hours while we talked and caught up on the week. He didn’t want to cordially eat dinner with our napkins on our knees. The first thing he wanted to do was to have sex.

But! Date night. This wasn’t the equation. How could I be a grownup if there wasn’t wine sipped and napkins on knees? This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. And it bothered me. Maybe because I had some skewed ideas about sex and sexuality (which we would later revisit during my early months as a mother), maybe because I want things a certain way and don’t like someone coming in and messing that shit up, or maybe I was trying to be someone I wasn’t.

That whole scene happened six years ago. I’m sure that Steve wouldn’t remember. But looking back, I see that it may have taken me six damn years to learn my lesson from that night.

We can’t fit into anyone else’s shape. Yes, my parents have a healthy relationship, they’ve been together for 42 years. But their equation for happiness and success isn’t mine. Isn’t ours. And it shouldn’t be, because there is so much of their life together that I’m not a part of, have never been a part of and will never be.

Though they are such a huge presence in our lives, the piece of a parent that a child knows is really quite small. I say that as a daughter and as a mother.

I tucked Leila into bed last night and she was all squirms and giggles and told me she wanted to wait up for Steve. She had broken down yesterday morning, curled into my arms, crying because she missed him. His absence was bigger than I expected, it was different than noticing his absence in the evenings (as he would have been at work all day anyway). It was the knowing he was gone that bothered the girls so much, I guess.

To our children, we are flawlessly strong. We stand united as their parents, our mutual and primary goal is protection and love. And that’s true, God that’s so true. But we are so much more.

I wonder what it is that I’ll decide to share about my life with my girls. About sex and alcohol and drugs and stupid mistakes and dangerous choices. What will I tell them about direction and finding their own path and confusion and darkness? Will what I say to them resonate or will it be brushed off as their silly mother’s advice. Perhaps it will come floating back in years later, perhaps not. Will they stumble, blindly, painfully until they find their way? (Yes.) Will their hearts be broken by lovers and friends? (Yes.) Will their journey be a profound one, inspiring happiness and compassion and charity and love? (I hope so.)

What will you be? I wonder, as I creep into Alena’s room, brush her sweaty hair off her forehead, tuck her blanket back around her. What will you do? I wonder, as I pull Leila’s sheet out from under her feet and back up over her body.

These questions are unanswerable, and in a way, for this I am grateful. But I hope, as I watch them sleep and play and laugh and cry and fight, that maybe they won’t ever have to be submerged into darkness. That they will never feel helpless or worthless. I hope that at the very least, however unrealistic my wish may be, I hope I can protect them from that.

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