Published on April 16th, 2014 | by Nina Packebush2
Nina Packebush on GRANNY-MAMA, SISTER-AUNT & UNCLE JESSE
These days we are all well versed in the mantras “there are all kinds of families” and “love makes a family.” Family is not about mommies and daddies any longer, there can be single moms and single dads, two moms, two dads, grandmas, aunties…the possibilities are endless. Hell, in January a B.C. baby became the first person to officially have three parents listed on her birth certificate. Little Della is the official and legal daughter of both of her moms and her sperm donor dad. Times are changing. But sometimes when you’re seven-years-old and all of your friends have a mom and a dad none of this really matters to you. Sometimes when you are seven-years-old and you have a Mama and a Granny-Mama and a Sister-Aunt you feel like you are the only weirdo in the world without a normal family.
Eleven years ago I left my marriage to a man and came out as a big queer. The road was bumpy and dirty and filled with a whole lot of wild mania and crushing sadness. Through it all I kept on parenting my three kids, not always in the most stable way, but I was always there for them and I loved them fiercely.
My middle daughter was a teenager when I came out. She, like my other two kids, was extremely supportive of me, proud even, but there is no denying that it was rough. I lost my giant home in the country, took the two girls (my son was an adult by this time) and moved into my mom’s garage. During this time one of our friends committed suicide, another died of mysterious circumstances, my grandma died, two of my dogs died, and a friend had a psychotic break. The days were a swirling mess of intense excitement and mind-numbing terror. If I wasn’t sobbing then I was running, traveling, reveling in girl sex, making art, and reinventing myself as the queerest queer on the block. What I wasn’t doing, however, was noticing that my teenage daughter was spending her days either locked in her dark room cutting her arms, or living as wild and loud as her mama.
She got pregnant at fifteen and decided to keep the baby. No problem. I had been a teen mama when I had her big brother and most of my friends were teen mamas. Being a teen mom was not the end of the world. I was a wee bit concerned about my queer cred being tarnished by becoming a grandma so young, but I told my kid that pro-choice means just that and if she chose to keep this kid then we would make it work. I had her back.
My grandbaby was born on a warm day in June. My daughter fell in love with him at first sight and vowed to always do what was best for him, even if that meant sacrificing herself. Two years later she would have to keep that promise and she would learn just how painful it is to truly put your child first.
The ups and downs my daughter was having continued to plague her during those first couple of years as a mama, but they were mostly manageable…until she started seeing things and having strange thoughts. Psychosis can sometimes be hard to recognize. Most people think real “crazy” is running naked down the freeway thinking you are Jesus and God and that the billboards are broadcasting your thoughts live to the world, but sometimes “crazy” comes on a little bit more slowly, with a bit more subtly and finesse. Sometimes you don’t even really recognize “crazy” until one surreal night when you realize that your baby girl is in serious trouble. When that night falls on you like a load of wet cement you suddenly realize that things have not been okay for a while now, and you must admit that life will never be quite the same again. Some big scary choices must be made. And the biggest and scariest choice is realizing that you have to take over raising your grandson for a while, possibly forever.
We made the transition to me being Felix’s primary caretaker slowly and over the course of a month. He was not quite two, so it went rather smoothly, at least for him. For my daughter it was devastating. She loved him with such intensity and selflessness that she made the choice to break her own heart so that he could have the stability he needed while she worked to regain her footing in the world of consensus reality. She saw him every day, but left him every evening. She cried herself to sleep nearly every night for three months. This is not an exaggeration. She did find her way back to solid ground, but the journey to wellness took nearly four years and during those four years we worked hard to keep little Felix safe and happy and completely unaware that anything was wrong.
These days my daughter is med free, in college, and sharing parenting duties with me equally. Together we unschool Felix, share a home, and bask in the love of this amazing little boy. We are co-parents and we are a team. Felix is surrounded by baskets of love and has no idea that there were years in his young life when we didn’t know if Mama would make it through. He adores her and he knows no other way of being a family than this gig that includes Mama, Granny-Mama, and my youngest daughter as his Sister-Aunt. He’s happy, sweet, well-adjusted, and hilarious. He loves Legos, his dog, Quinn, and Full House (cringe).
About a year ago Felix made a new friend in the neighborhood. He is the only kid on our street, the same age as Felix, and Felix worships him. The kid often says, “Why don’t you have a dad?” He says, “It’s weird you live with your grandma and your mom.” He says, “Your aunt can’t be your sister too.” He says, “Your family is weird.” I want to punch this kid. I don’t punch kids or even believe in punching kids, but I do sort of want to punch this one. And so we talk to Felix and we reassure him and we try to point out that plenty of people have “weird” families too. Still, Felix often comes home sad, ashamed, and angry. “I wish I had a dad,” he will mumble as he collapses on the couch. “Everyone has a dad, but me. I hate being weird.” And then the tears. And with his tears our hearts break a little bit and guilt quickly seeps into the cracks.
On the days when he struggles to make sense of just how his family fits into the world we hug him and try to talk him through it. Mostly though we just make him a snack and offer him up a little T.V. escape time. He always picks Full House. I could write an essay about all the issues I have with this show; the classism, the sexism, the racism, but I won’t. Every now and then when Felix is watching it I will point out to him how something that was said was not okay and we have intelligent discussions about. Other times I just roll my eyes as I pass through the room and say, “Oh Uncle Jesse, really?” And Felix will sigh and say, “I knew you were going to say that.”
But the other day as I was passing through the room while Full House soothed the stings that Jerky Little Bully had inflicted on Felix a thought hit me. “Felix, you love this show don’t you?” He nodded his head bracing himself for my feminist indoctrination. “It’s pretty neat that Michele, D.J., and Stephanie get to live with their dad, and both of their uncles.” Felix eagerly agreed. Here was my moment. “Man, they have such a weirdo family,” I said. He turned around slowly, smiled, and said, “Good one, Granny, good one. You’re right, Mama is like the Dad because she likes everything really clean, you’re Uncle Joey (whaaa?), and Sydney is like Uncle Jesse always fixing her hair. I think I’m Stephanie. How rude!” So Uncle Jesse, I’m sorry I shit talked you so much. Maybe you are not so bad after all. Sometimes all the Heather Has Two Mommies, and anti-bias education, and queer community in the world can’t compare to one slightly misogynist guy with great hair and a big heart.