A long long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I felt like my Offbeat-ness was something to be suppressed. In my trying to assimilate, I married a very Onbeat boy. I knew it wasn’t right, but for reasons that seemed good at the time, went through with it anyway.
One month later, found out I was pregnant. All of the brewing troubles were brought to the surface with this news, and the marriage was as good as over. We finally split for good when my daughter was two and a half. Our parenting relationship was initially pretty stable, but as we began to grow and pursue our own paths, those paths diverged greatly, and the tension began to rise.
I worked within the local music scene and tended bar because it paid better than a 40 hour workweek. I quit my office job and went back to college to study art. I dyed my hair, tattooed my body, and allowed myself to be the person I had been suppressing for years. I fell in love with a banjo-playing Irishman and we turned bluegrass punk. It felt so good to finally let my freak flag fly … until I was served with papers suing me for custody of our daughter.
Our once-amicable pending DIY divorce turned into a custody battle. Even when we tried to get along for our daughter’s sake, it was never smooth sailing. Every couple of months there were clenched jaws and shouting matches (thankfully never in the presence of our child). I felt like I was seen as a pleasure-seeking drunk punk mama who was more interested in my own pursuits than my child. Me coming into my own seemed to have been perceived as some sort of second childhood rebellion.
I tried my best to be a bigger person, but I didn’t always succeed. I felt ostracized for being different and pressured to straighten up and be more traditional. The tense give-and-take of anger and resentment continued for another couple of years, until I gave birth to an unwitting catalyst — my second child, a son.
Before he was a month old, my son was diagnosed with a genetic disease. My daughter was worried, stressed, and began acting out in ways that concerned all of her parents. My ex-husband’s partner reached out to me in a phone call that was filled with concern. We all spoke enough to agree to take my daughter to some counseling, and to participate in group sessions for her benefit as well. It was something I had wanted to do, but it took a crisis to bring it to make it happen.
Regardless of how it came about, it changed everything … for all of us. The therapist listened to all of us, and helped us understand each other, even when we didn’t agree. Our therapist’s experience and guidance helped me feel humanized instead of just “the ex-wife.” Likewise, I was able to let go and stop feeling so judged all the time. We were all able to embrace that the experience of growing up in two wildly different households could be a huge benefit to my daughter … if we could work together, rather than struggling against each other.
We still disagree. They think our organic diet and rejection of mainstream culture is ridiculous and borderline offensive. We feel the same about their desire to wear branded clothing and eat McDonalds on a regular basis. But we don’t feel like we are in opposite sides of the ring, waiting to be sucker punched, and that makes all the difference.
As my daughter grows, she will have the choice to become who she wants, be it Offbeat or otherwise. She will have models of two vastly differing lifestyles, both functioning to her benefit. And we, all her parents, hope that the biggest lesson we can teach her will be to embrace the differences rather than fight them.