I remember as a child, the women in my family were relentless about cleaning mirrors. Fingerprints, especially sticky ones, were capable of setting the entire household into a frenzy. Frantically, upon realizing that one of us children had made such a mistake, we would all use the tails of our shirts or whatever could be found to clean up our mistake. Of course, the more we tried to fix the problem, the worse it became. Sure enough, once we had completely distorted our very reflections, the glass cleaner and crumpled newspaper would seem to fly around the corner and the tails of the words of discipline.
As I grew older and had children of my own, I remember wondering how the previous generation had so much time to devote to mirror cleaning. I was lucky if I was able to clean the sticky fingers let alone the scores of things those fingers had touched in their plight of destruction. In fact, with my hair pulled up in a ponytail, pajamas still on at dinner, bags under my eyes that could pass for a purse, and makeup that had not been touched for days, looking in the mirror was not a favorite pass time. I could almost make the argument that the reflection was altered by the smudges and I actually did not look like the bride of Frankenstein.
As the children got older, I was able to once again have clean mirrors. Notably, this was NOT because I started cleaning them or that my children were any less messy. Instead, I solved the issue by adding it to their chore lists!!!! Done! I could once again see my reflection but I was shocked to see what was looking back at me. I had aged a bit. I will even admit that I saw a few silver strands working their way into my hair. I never saw this through the smudged up mirror. I was oblivious to this taking place. Oblivion, I must say, in this context truly is bliss.
Years continued to pass and my children brought home children. It is amazing how little you recognize smudges when the handprints come from your grandchildren. In fact, my children’s grandfather has not painted a small spot behind his television stand simply because of a now 16-year-old hand print! Once again I was in a state of oblivion to my own age as I pretended to monster hunt and danced around the living room to silly songs. True, I could not see in my reflection what others saw of me, but I could see a version of me that I loved.
Early in 2016, my family experienced a chain of events that I could never have fathomed. In fact, most people who know us still cannot wrap their heads around the details that we have provided. My grandson was the victim of child abuse at the hands of his father, my daughters ex-fiance. This opened up a door for child protective services to enter into our lives. The following year, my family was a victim of this system. While two of my grandchildren were in foster care due to my daughter’s “failure to protect and supervise” and my guilt of “allowing my daughter’s family to have a separated portion of my home,” accusations ranging from drug abuse to blatantly allowing this abuse fueled the system’s goal of permanently separating my family. As part of this investigation, the man that I had intended to marry before the rug was pulled from our home, was asked to leave our home. Within a month, the man who was known as Pop Pops, passed away. To add to the difficult decisions and separation, prior to this event the family had decided to move to Florida, my oldest son, due to his daughter’s Down’s Syndrome, had to make the choice of moving ahead of the family so that there would be minimal disruptions to her therapy. Our world would never be the same and all of the smudges that had filled my heart with happiness were removed giving way to a reflection of a woman that I no longer knew.
I began to consider the concept of a reflection and all that goes into making us who we are. The very “mistakes” that we, as children, worked to “fix” should not be removed from our identity simply to make a more pleasant visualization of ourselves. We are our mistakes. We are our successes. We are our smudges. When we remove them, we do not see ourselves more clearly but rather we see an image of a shell that is supposed to be who we are. I did not want to see a shell. I wanted my smudges, both figuratively and literally. After the hardest fight of my life, my grandchildren were returned and we are presently awaiting the trial for the child-abuser. We have all been reunited in Florida where my four grandchildren (2 and under) (Yes you read that right!), are now able to bond with one another and their extended family. When I say we all, I mean everyone (including my mother) with the exception of my youngest son who is working on his music and living the dream!
Now that I have my smudges back, I realized that this goes much deeper. There are things and moments in our lives that we cannot imagine we will ever make it through. For me, I generally go online and try to find stories of others who have successfully made it to the other side of such a moment. Often times, however, I could not find such a story. I believe this is because once we make it out, we do not want to look back. I want to see true reflection including those moments or smudges that seem to have changed my appearance and shaped my very existence and, in doing so, I want to reach out to you and let you know that there is a silver lining. There are ways to move forward. I want to show you what that looks like because, sometimes, what we need is to look in someone else’s mirror to see that we are all the same.
In so much, I look forward to opening up my smudges and telling my story of continued growth, challenges that we encounter, and methods that we use to cope. I look forward to answering questions and hearing suggestions. Most of all, I look forward to sharing our lives with you.
Until our reflection matches our heart,