You are (not) here. And neither am I.

My childhood was happy with an asterisk.

Those closest to me – my immediate family and more intimate friends – provided the love and safe environ in which I could develop, explore, fail, and adjust without fear or at least without more than a healthy dose of it.

The asterisk is there to account for stronger developmental punctuations like separating-then-divorcing parents and the enduring accompaniment of grandparents’ Alzheimer’s/dementia. These things happen.  It’s part of this thing called life, I suppose.

Looking at these things, I see each circle – the inner and the outer – varying in the amount of control we have over them. The experiences from each are formative. Take the separating-then-divorcing parents for example. Now a parent myself, I’m set on making marriage work no matter what comes our way. Other things, like my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s … well, I can do little to stave off that, save health decisions of today, at least on a physical and mental level.

Focusing on the outer, unrefined landscape though, I recall something that recurred in my childhood around the age that Gabriel is now. We lived in Jonesboro, Ga., a great place for young boys: bikes and backstreets, camo pants and acres of woods, allowances and five-and-dimes. One by two miles, it was fun to grow up there, my brother and I having our run of the place … within limits … without my mom having to worry about much.

Next door to us though, in the back of the neighboring (and I use that term loosely) lot was a small house that housed a contentious couple, the daughter and son-in-law of the neighbor (ibid.) occupying the main house. They’d argue from time to time, frequently coming into the yard to do so. Frequently at night. Frequently around my bedtime. Apparently, they wanted to share it with everyone on our street. It bothered me, frightened me really, and I know it must have concerned my mom.

A few months ago, our neighbor, with whom we’re really close, had his son and daughter-in-law move in. Ironically, in the back of the lot, there’s a small shed, and we think they’re fixing it up to stay in. Hard to tell, really. Our neighbor’s a good guy – gone through some rough patches himself – but gotten through, smoothing out some of his own inner landscape in the process. Long story short, he’s great. His relatives, not so much.

Last night, after G was asleep, there was a household falling out of some kind. It resulted in the young couple’s walking out and heading down the street, trading expletives – in their outside voices – with the dad. Not good.

I try to take things like this and reflect a bit on why they happened, not so much in the secular cause-and-effect sense, but rather “Why am I meant to witness this?” (Yes, friends have told me I think too much, btw.) For me, I took it as a chance to ask myself “What am I willing to accept in my life?” I’m not willing to accept that kind of situation. It’s a unique blending of the outer and inner landscapes, yep, but I feel that to fully take responsibility of my family’s inner circle, I need to press out into the outer circle and ensure my standards there as well.

Our white picket fence needs a-paintin'

Our white picket fence needs a-paintin’

The ironic thing is that we’re making efforts to move, which would “solve” things. But instead of leaving the status quo well enough alone (as I’m wont to do to my frequent detriment), I need to step up and out. Hard task, but needed.

Have you experienced any situations that blended your own inner and outer circles? How’d you deal with them? Any lessons learned?