Chapter 1 of Questing France:
It's Good To Be Home
Chapter 1 of Questing France:
Personal Growth Through Travel
By: Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem M.Ed.
A Return to Familiar Territory and Seeing with New Sight
Returning home from my reflections over a coffee by the lake, I am on time for my twelve year old son Matt, to cycle home from school for lunch. I scavenge through the fridge to make us something to eat and as we chat, he tells me about his news and his contributions to The Book. I hadn't seen The Book before in all the excitement of returning home.
It is a large ledger intended for some legal purpose, perhaps when court notes were all taken in longhand. It has a hard cover, green leather binding and about an inch thick of lined numbered legal size pages. Matt hauls it from the kitchen desk and tells me his dad had brought it home the day I left and told our children they had to make an entry for every day I was away. It was kept in the kitchen and Jack supervised the entries. This was to be the record of what they had done while I had traveled on my Quest to England and Ireland.
I focus on Matt and leave The Book to read after he returns to school. Once he has gone, I undertake the daunting tasks of regaining order in the house. I move swiftly, loading the dishwasher, unpacking my dirty clothes and starting the clothes washer, assessing what part of each child's responsibility for their own belongings to challenge them on first, then find something in the freezer to prepare for dinner. I plan a barbecue meal. Many of our meals on the trip were vegetarian. I missed barbecued meat. I take a break with a glass of lemonade and sit down with The Book to see what has happened while I've been away for three weeks. Our dog Pickles, stays close to me. He jumps on my lap and paws to be petted.
There are lots of anecdotes from my daughters about a school project or test, something they have done with their friends and what Dad made them for dinner. My letters home are tucked in the back. It starts out as a fun read.
As I progress, I see that one of my friends has been to visit on a Saturday afternoon with her daughter. She has two children from her first marriage, a daughter sixteen, the same age as my second daughter Kathy, and a son who is two years older than Matt. Her son and present husband are not mentioned. They must not have been with her. Our children have known each other all their lives. We have skied together in winter and hiked throughout the year on the Bruce Trail. Pot luck dinners, shopping excursions and meals out, have been shared. Everyone gets on well, although my eldest daughter Julia feels left out at times. She is eighteen months older than the other two girls.
Kathy wrote about the visit and how the three girls went wandering about Oakville in my car. They were apparently delivering packages. What were Jack and Beth doing while the kids were away? Where were the boys? A slow burn starts behind my chest bone and my jaw clenches. I have had too much of this woman's flirtations with my husband over the years.
I also see Kathy went to stay at Beth's for the long weekend. Jack and Matt had been there for dinner when they went to pick up Kathy. Julia notes in large block letters that she didn't go and insisted her father drive her home to Oakville on their way from our Muskoka cottage. Oakville is considerably out of the way on that route. She was obviously upset. The subject is not made reference to again. I'll have to ask her about that.
Had I heard mention of this when I was away? Perhaps some tension in the tone of a phone conversation had alerted my subconscious. Did one of my children tell me and I blocked it? Funny how things we do not want to accept, actually register in some region of our brains to resurface later.
Unhappy family interaction is hard on the mental health of all family members, but especially children. They are powerless to change their environment. If, when the parents are in conflict, the child is made the confidant of either or both parent, they are burdened emotionally beyond their ability to cope. They are in loyalty conflict. Children who witness behaviour that they feel they must keep secret from the other parent, stresses their psyche. They want to believe, love and trust both parents.
Problems with eating, sleep, bed wetting, compulsive behaviours, withdrawal, aggressive behaviour and lack of ability to form relationships can result from unresolved parental issues The concern for adult problems can also effect concentration and academic performance.
Some children learn roles to cope with family conflict. They may act as a gatekeeper by controlling communication and passing messages between their parents. Others try to ease the tension by being a joker, acting foolish and often immaturely. In some families a child will be a record keeper by keeping score and holding memories to be revealed in the parental verbal conflicts.
Other children learn to interpret what other family members mean to say. They explain motives and feelings and tones down the emotional intensity through telling that things will improve or aren't that bad. This is often done by a child who is acting more mature than the parents. Unfortunately, some children learn the role of scapegoat. By attracting attention away from parental conflict by inappropriate behaviour the tension between the parents is deflected.
When Beth had asked me how she could help my family while I was away, I asked her to stay away, and let my children have some time with their father. From past experience, I knew she was likely to show up with dinner prepared and a bottle of wine. She would come in like Jack needed rescuing. He did not. I hoped that he would understand the challenges of getting all our children off to school while getting himself ready for work, supervising their coming and going, preparing meals and shopping for groceries, packing them all up for weekends at the cottage and in general he would miss my efficiency and companionship.
It is important that teens have supervision and structure, so their school work is kept current and they do not get into mischief. The girls also had the use of my car. I hoped it was being supervised. Rules are necessary for smooth family functioning. Children need guidelines. Where was Jack?
I'd wanted him to miss me and welcome me home with open arms. I hoped he would have a new appreciation of how much effort it took to keep the house running smoothly. I'd hoped he would appreciate me and all the effort I put forth for our family. Instead he had avoided my arms when he met me at the airport. He physically distanced himself every time I tried to get near him. He didn't even want to snuggle in bed.
My heart is pounding, my palms are sweaty and my mind races. I do not like the implication of the words I am reading. Is this something else I heard over the long distance wires with my mind's ear that didn't consciously register?
Reading between the lines, as I scan the remaining pages, I see my daughters had ordered in pizzas with friends over. Matt was away overnight at one of his chums. A comment insinuates the girls were left alone until very late one night. They were not sure when their father got home. I must be aware of my feelings but not let them control me. I must not just react. I must keep my thinking brain in gear before I act.
This woman has been a problem between my husband and me in the past. She is very flirtatious. She finds ways to be with him when she knows I am committed elsewhere. There has been embarrassing gossip about them over the years, but I have been assured they are just friends. My mind in a whirl, I return to my household responsibilities.
By late afternoon, when my children come home from school, I am feeling familiar again with the routines of my household and beginning to feel some semblance of control. I have used my anger to fuel my actions. I tackled chores with a vengeance. If I cannot control some things, like my husband's behaviour and my emotions, I must control the physical things or I fear I will go mad. Any outward sign that I have been absent has been packed away. My newfound inner confidence in my own abilities is raging. Thankfully, I have the weekend to get over the time differences and get a grip on myself, before I have to return to work. I do not feel like the happy relaxed woman I wanted to be on my return from an overseas vacation.
I decide to keep quiet about the contents of The Book for now. I will avoid a conflict. I want to enjoy being with my family again. My children are full of stories and questions. I am so glad to be home. We eat outside in the warm spring evening. I watch Jack and he seems nervous and distracted. I wasn't expected home until tonight. My early return caught him unaware. I wonder what plans he had for last night. As I wander the garden, I try to act as natural as possible. Anxiety grips my heart. Exhaustion weighs heavily on my body. I am not yet back on Eastern Time.
Discover more about Marilyn's professional experience here.
Read what other readers have to say about Questing France here.