Friday, May 7, 2010

Happily Ever After

The upcoming Mothers Day weekend makes me think about the kind of home I grew up in.  In large part, the kind of mother I became is a direct result of where I came from.  With a few exceptions, I doubt that even people who have known me since I was a teenager know very much about my family life.  I have never been good at sustaining long-term friendships and I think that's a product of my raising. 

Generally speaking, my parents had issues.  They fought like cats and dogs, they were verbally abusive and sometimes they were physically violent, both with each other and sometimes towards us kids.  It was more than just spanking; sometimes it was fists and belts.  Two of my five siblings are what's now referred to as "special needs." I would say that definitely added to their stress and undoubtedly to their expenses. 

They were never fiscally responsible.  It was not unusual for our cars or our furniture to be repossessed.  My parents never owned a home of their own.  We either lived with relatives or we lived in rent houses.  We moved frequently, because they didn't pay the rent and would be evicted.  (I'll note right here that I went to seven or eight different elementary schools.  My sister and I once made a list of all the houses we lived in that we could remember, the total was more than fifteen.)

We once spent an entire summer with no electricity and no running water.  Our neighbors allowed us to run a water hose for drinking water and for flushing the toilets.  Most of the time we didn't have a telephone. When we did have a phone, bill collectors called frequently.  Disconnected utilities were the norm for us. 

My Dad was an automotive mechanic.  He worked hard all his life.  He was a civilian employee of the federal government, first for the Army, later for the Navy.  Several times he was transferred, laid off and/or fired.  He had "anger issues."  I once saw him pull a shotgun on an electric company employee who was sent to disconnect our service and I know that at least once he was suspended for threatening a fellow employee.  I know now that my Dad had a condition that I'm pretty sure would be diagnosed as "intermittent explosive disorder."  One of my sisters has the same disorder.  Now it can be controlled with medication. 

Mom was a stay-at-home mom.  From time-to-time she did such things as sell Tupperware or cosmetics.  She battled severe depression and bi-polar disorder her entire life.  When she was in one of her low periods she would not get out of bed for days and more than once she threatened to kill herself.  Those times were hard to endure and the impact they had on me was deep and long-lasting.

They did not expect nor encourage us to attend college.  Several of us had opportunities for higher education, but our parents told us they would not help us and, if we did go, we would be on our own.  We were expected to go to work and to contribute significant amounts of our income to the household, and we did.  (To his eternal credit, my brother Charlie went to night school and eventually earned a bachelor's degree.)  We were all told that once we left home we could never move back home.  

As adults, my siblings and I have discussed in great depth why my parents were the way they were and why they couldn't or didn't pay their bills.  They didn't drink, gamble or live extravagantly.  We just don't know what was going on with them and we never will.  As an adult, I've come to understand that they probably did the best they were capable of doing.  It's what I choose to believe and it helps me make peace with it all.  

Don't get me wrong.  I loved my parents and, considering all this, I had a pretty good childhood.  As a kid, I didn't know this behavior was abnormal or unusual.  I thought everyone lived this way, but mostly I didn't think about it at all. As a teenager, it was embarrassing and I came to hate the way we lived.  I always knew that, if I ever had kids, I would make sure they had a sane and stable home life. 

Before our children started school, we moved into the home where we still live.  Our utilities have never been disconnected and we pay our bills on time.  Both of my kids went to kindergarten and graduated high school with the same group of kids.  They both have friends that they've known their entire lives.  They were yelled at, disciplined, and even spanked, but never abused.  And we helped both of our kids go to and finish college.  From the time they started school, they were taught that their education would not be finished until they had earned at least a bachelor's degree.  College was mandatory, not optional.  They're both educated, employed, and happily married.

The mother I am is the result of the kind of home I grew up in.  The difficulties I endured did not define me, they made me work hard to be the best Mom I could be.  I am content and satisfied with the kind of mother I am.  We have always had a peaceful and loving home.  I have great relationships with both of my children and I love being both Mom and Grams. It was a long trip, but I made it to my happily ever after.

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