Friday, August 12, 2011


We recently went on a short family trip to Mammoth Cave National Park in the middle-of-nowhere Kentucky. We stopped to have dinner at the one local eatery in a nearby town. When the waitress came to take our order, she asked, "Just these two?"

Um. No idea. I said, "I'm sorry?"

"Just these two kids? Is that all you got?"

What an odd question. I'm so bad. I wanted to say we'd left the rest in the car, but that would have been super rude so I replied, "Yep. Just two."

"At least you don't have seven."

How do I even respond to that? I obviously know nothing about this girl, but she was probably late twenties. Maybe her husband or life partner (she wasn't wearing a wedding band) was home with the kids and she just waited tables at the local dive for a break and some extra money. I'm guessing not, but maybe.

For whatever reason, this got me to thinking about the families we come from and how we end up where we do. My maternal grandparents came from very humble roots. My grandpa grew up in a mining town in Kentucky and my grandma grew up in Covington, Kentucky. Times were very hard for both of them.

My grandpa joined the army during WWII and ended up being able to go to college to be a teacher. My grandma also became a teacher. Then they got the hell out of Kentucky. This is nothing against Kentucky. There are plenty of lovely people and places there. But from what I can piece together from eavesdropping on the adults' conversations growing up, it wasn't so lovely for my grandma and she wanted out.

They built a life in a small town and had a family. It was by no means all rosy-perfect, but it was much better than the life my grandmother had growing up. There was a lot of hurt and anger from things that had happened in her life, but I like to believe my grandma did the best she could. She chose to make a change and give her own family a better hand than she'd been dealt.

My own mother had to deal with some of the fallout of my grandma's pain, but she was determined that she was going to do even better for her own children and make sure they always knew they were loved and never felt rejected. While there were some very tight times in my childhood, my parents did their best to make sure I did well in school and stayed out of trouble and had the chance to go to college.

Yet, when I saw that waitress and heard her talking about her seven kids, I thought, "That could easily be me. Just a few choices different and I could be waiting tables in middle-of-nowhere Kentucky to try to make ends meet with eight or nine mouths to feed." Now please understand I am in no way saying that having fewer kids or more opportunity makes me a "better" person than anyone else. I certainly do not think that I'm better or my life is better. But I probably have it easier. Maybe she has the life she's always wanted, and if so, that is absolutely fine.

I'm not trying to be critical of someone else's life as though it is a bad thing. I don't know if I'm explaining myself very well and I'm really sorry if this rude in any way, because that is absolutely not what I intend. I'm only saying that in my mind it would be a hard life to have a lot of kids when you don't have a lot of resources or opportunities.

Now, I know that we are each responsible for our own choices and ultimately have to make our own way. But it is much more difficult when you start out in a tough spot and don't have easy access to things that could improve your situation. And sure, if my grandparents hadn't moved to Ohio, my parents likely wouldn't have met, and I likely wouldn't exist.... but humor me.

Just thinking about how my grandparents' choices gave better opportunities to my mom and then to me and now to my kids, is kind of sobering. I have to say I'm thankful for the new paths they took, because my life could have easily started in a completely different situation. I hope the choices I make in my life are as good for my kids and their kids as the ones that were made years ago by my family that eventually benefitted me.

My grandma, aunt, mom, and grandpa

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