Native American

Native American

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Reality Check

I grew up in a dysfunctional home.   Bored yet?  I don't know ANYONE who didn't grow up with some level of dysfunction going on.  I know there are people out there who claim to have had very normal, loving parents and families, but I've never actually met any of them.  The kids next door to me were raised by their grandmother because their mother was an alcoholic and their dad just couldn't be bothered; the kids across the street, their mom died in childbirth with the youngest, who suffered a permanent brain injury during the birth and both were raised by their heartbroken single dad and his mother; my best friend's family was like a whole season of Law and Order - someone was always being arrested, being shot, disappearing, or involved in a serious, drug related accident; another friend's father tried to stick his tongue down my throat in his garage while my friend and her mom, his wife, were inside cooking dinner.  I was 12.  What do you think was going  on in that house?  Even my husband's family, by far the most normal I've encountered so far, had its dark side. 

My parents did the best they could. My dad was a workaholic and an alcoholic and very passive, but as a dad, he was nearly perfect.  He did a lot of things wrong, but I grew up knowing, without question, that he loved us - me - unconditionally. 

Mom did her best too, but the truth of the matter is, her best just sucked.  She did a lot of things right - probably saved my life several times over by the things she taught me - but what she called "love" had a greater resemblance to being marched at bayonet-point through a minefield - one wrong step and BAM! everything went to hell, and NO AMOUNT of begging would get her to stop the march.

As a child, dad was heaven and mom was hell.   Dad was safe, predictable, comforting, joy.  Mom was  volatility, unpredictability and a constant source of fear, stress, angst.  I was infinitely happier with my dad - completely relaxed and safe.  I skirted around my mother, struggled with wanting her attention and being terrified of gaining it.  I never knew what to say or do to get any given response from her.  She was completely random to me, sometimes kind and affectionate, the next minute oblivious, even if I'd been on fire I think, and the next a raging maniac, with the coldest, deadest eyes I'd ever seen.  I had nightmares about  her flat, green-eyed gaze for years after I grew up and left home. 

When I was in the 4th grade, my parents separated.  Mom moved out and left my safe, predictable wonderful dad to look after me and my siblings.  I remember how much more fun it was getting up in the morning for school, even though we had to get up earlier so dad could fix us breakfast before he left himself.  I remember how nice it was the way my dad would wake me up in the morning, standing at the foot of my bed, grabbing my foot, or gently shaking the mattress with his own bare foot, saying "Up, up up; rise and shine, hit the deck,"  his lovely, deep baritone, resonating love and ... sadness. At the time, I thought he was sad because mom had left, but now, I wonder if it was more because he could see the terror in my face every day - the terror arising from my fear that my crazy, volatile, scary mother, WOULD NEVER COME HOME AGAIN. 

Even though my parents didn't really go to church and rarely brought us to church, I knew there was a god, and every day, on my way to and from school, I would pray to that god with every ounce of my childish will for him to send my mother home.  I didn't think about how scary she was.  I didn't think about how much nicer and quieter it was to go home after school, and how fun it was to hang out with dad, who would hold court in our small kitchen and get us to help him fry shrimp, or redfish, or whatever.  All I thought about was that my mother had to come home.  It was like living with a fist around my esophagus for those months that she was gone.  I felt like I was choking all the time, like the earth had dropped from beneath my feet and I was in free fall everyday. 

I spent everyday trying to get my breath.  Until she came home.  And then the world was right again.  It was cured.  I went back to tiptoeing around her, missing my dad, b/c I saw him less, and worrying about what her mood would be at any given moment.  But she was home and all was right in the world.  I could breath again.  I could pay attention in school again.  I could think about something else again. 

In my line of work, I hear a lot of people tell me that they love their children, and would do anything
for them.  Anything.  Except stay with that child's other parent.  Or give up drugs/alcohol/gambling.  Or the mistress/paramour.  Or put aside whatever differences he/she might have with the other to make it work.  Obviously, this isn't an option when there's violence or abuse involved, but that's not the case in most divorces.  In most divorces, one or both spouses is just bored with the other.  The thrill is gone; the infatuation is worn, the chemistry is stale and suddenly, you can't be bothered. 

Don't fool yourselves, though, and tell yourself you're leaving "for the kids."  Before you decide you can't take it anymore, take a few days or weeks to consider what you're going to do to your kids.  Because I can assure you that most kids will run headlong into a beating from a parent rather than go happily with the other in a divorce.  No, it doesn't make sense to most of us adults, but kids aren't adults.  They don't see or understand the world the way we do, and we don't see or understand the world the way they do.  Try to remember that when you're reassuring yourself that your kids "will understand."  They don't; I promise.