…a dreadful ride.
When I became pregnant, the already weird family dynamics became even more so. I’m not entirely sure what caused the giant explosion but there was one and little bits of dysfunctional family whatsits lay higgledy-piggledy throughout the Central Atlantic region. By the time the Milkface arrived, X wasn’t speaking to Y. Y wouldn’t acknowledge Z’s existence. Kang tried to mediate which proved as fruitful and productive as herding the metaphorical cats. Only one thing came out of that attempt and it was a spate of vicious emails. My sister (we have a mutual disdain for each other) said to me “Just you wait. After you have been a parent long enough, you’re going to become really angry and here is why: being a mediocre parent is easy. Being a good parent takes a lot of work. Being a shitty parent takes a lot of work, too. Think about it.” Then she hissed something about that being her rationale for speaking to no one in the family (save the most dysfunctional, imho, branch). From my esteemed perspective, my sister’s emotional fuels of choice have been anger and resentment. They propel her. It’s her base. My base is sadness and confusion so I cannot relate. I’m too busy scratching my head, crying and trying to figure out why everyone acts like a blistering, selfish asshole which, I hasten to add, is a total fucking waste of time (my insatiable compulsion to understand the incomprehensible).
That wisdom was filed in Kang’s “Big Book of No.” The Big Book of No is, essentially, how I parent. I look back on my experiences as a kid. I think of what my parents did. I do the opposite 90% of the time. Right now, the outcome is one Milkface who is compliant, happy, well-adjusted, exceptionally intelligent and a genuine pleasure to be around. Granted, I’m only five and a half years into the whole parenting gig but I’m confident I’m on the right path. The Big Book of No, combined with advice from anyone remotely sane seems to be working. Suck on that, those who say you can’t break cycles and unlearn bad behaviors. This bitch isn’t accepting that excuse at all. This bitch has also been in therapy for fourteen blissful years trying to be anything other than some of her parents (when you have more than two parents, you get to use the word some). It’s not fun. It’s not a comfortable admission. But, it is the truth and my reality. Furthermore, if it makes Milky’s life better – then, by all means, I’ll spend another 14 years’ worth of time and money in therapy and maybe my darling shrink can get another boat out of it, as well (The man works hard and puts up with my shit. He should actually get two boats. Possibly three.).
This past weekend was graduation at Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. The graduation ceremony is dramatically different from the traditional ceremony we have come to accept. To me, it was lovely but emotionally exhausting – pretty much like a majority of my experiences with the school this past year for I have learned that being in a loving environment when you’re not exactly used to such a thing is fucking overwhelming. Each of the students had a letter read to them by a faculty member. The letter was actually written by the family (parents or grandparents). It was loving, supportive and nurturing. Then, each of the seniors prepared speeches. As with most things PCSGU, the students are encouraged to put themselves out there. Filtering is not something that happens at this school. Exploration is desired. Expression is encouraged. These were positively amazing expressions of love, support and gratitude. For someone raised in an environment where there was very little of this, it boggled my mind. Emotional feral cats don’t receive this. Wait – I really shouldn’t use that term without a qualifier. I wasn’t entirely emotionally deprived. I was on the receiving end of a good amount of emotional feedback; the majority of it was of the soul-crushing, esteem-destroying variety, however. While I had more of my fair share of the negative, I was starving for the positive; distended belly and all. By the grace of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I did have some decent adults in life: my father (with whom I did not live), Kate’s parents (who become more and more heroic to me as my journey down Parenting Lane grows longer), my Swedish parents (to whom I will never ever begin to articulate how much they mean to me or how they actually saved my life) and some amazing teachers and school administrators who knew to look beyond the propaganda (the smear campaign towards anything related to Kang’s paternal side) and see the hungry child beneath the surface.
Approximately a third of the way through the commencement exercises, I was a legitimate mess. While fumbling through my sack of magic tricks, I managed to locate the tissues but realized the much needed bottle of Klonopin had been left on the kitchen counter. On the verge of becoming overly emotional and feeling like I would cause I scene, I excused myself and slithered to the bathroom to get my shit together. Because while the glowing words from the parents were read and the seniors spoke candidly of their experiences, something was overriding everything in my head. My selfish bitch wouldn’t stop whispering “Soooooooo very different from your graduation, innit? These kids are really lucky.”
My graduation was different. It was typical. 252-ish students packed in the circle gym of our high school (we had two gyms – check out the badasses up in here) in the stagnant June air. Everyone in their nice clothes, polyester blue robes, caps, etc… Aqua Net, Drakkar, Ben-Gay and boy sweat (the boys had the circle gym, the girls were stuck in the creepy, old, wooden gym) fumes permeated the room further contributing to the inability to stay awake while people droned endlessly about whatever it is we’re supposed to drone endlessly about during occasions such as these. I was separated from Kate because her last name begins with an M and mine begins with an L. The bobby pins holding the mortarboard in place were stabbing me in the scalp. My coworker tied my hair into a nice french braid but it was a bit too tight so I was crabby about that. The darkest cloud came from looking in the stands. I saw my father, his girlfriend, my then boyfriend (a college lad…ooooh) and my aunt and uncle. So, 50% of my parents were represented. 50% were not. Incidentally, the absent party included a teacher in the school district. One who worked directly across the street from the building we were in. And if you didn’t think that wasn’t the dominating thought of the evening for me, you’re wrong. It was so present and cause of so much shame for me, it was a large contributing factor to why I drove the 40 minutes back to my father’s house instead of going to a post-graduation kegger. Yes. 40 minutes to a house that wasn’t even in the school district.
You see, my mother’s house had a very unique feature: The Magic Slide. If memory serves me correctly (and it does because I have one of those weird memories that recalls just about everything vividly), my sister and I came up with this one day at my dad’s house. Where my sister lived. She lived with him from the age of 14 onward and not by choice. My mother decided that she no longer wanted to parent my sister so my sister was shoved down The Magic Slide and landed straight in my father’s yard. Locks were changed. My sister was banished. I only saw her on my father’s custodial visitation schedule. I was seven years old and I basically became an only child. This was only mildly upsetting since my sister wasn’t exactly the nicest person to me, even then. But still, personal contempt for my sister aside, shoving her down The Magic Slide, separating siblings and the trauma it caused her was pretty horrific. I also knew that I would eventually suffer the same fate. The only questions were “when?” and “how long could I evade it?” My father moved out of the school district to a more rural area and this bitch wasn’t going to a cowtown high school in the middle of nowhere. This bitch had visions of going to college and nothing was going to get in the way of getting the fuck out of dodge for good. Sweden was a legitimate way to run away but that was only a temporary escape. Even I knew that. Returning to America remains one of the saddest days in my life.
My mother and stepfather were long convinced that I was a loser with zero prospects in life. They would have lengthy discussions at the dinner table (my presence irrelevant) about how I would amount to nothing, how I would be lucky if I could score a place at the lowly (they looked down upon it yet my stepfather eventually taught there so go…irony?) community college. I was my father’s daughter and therefore I was only partially human. The fact that I had a solid B GPA was irrelevant. The fact that I wasn’t a troublemaker at school, also irrelevant. The fact that I worked two jobs in high school also did not factor into any character assessments. Rather than spending time parenting me, I was, more often than not, grounded for the slightest infraction. Granted, I did develop quite a sarcastic mouth and contempt for their authority but it’s next to impossible to respect those who have zero respect for you and spend most of their time shitting on you for things you cannot control – like your own fucking DNA. That I loved my dad did me no favors at all. That I didn’t care for their incessant trashing of me and that I would stand up for myself didn’t bode well for me. After a while, when you realize whatever you choose leads you to punishment, you start to care less and less. You cannot change the opinions of others so why bother? Survival mode kicks in and all you do is try to make it through the day without sustaining some form of abuse. You cling to your friends, your hopes and your dreams. You build a strong work ethic and save your pennies to get the fuck out of the hell you’re in as quickly as possible. You stop caring altogether yet you don’t because there is no possible way to fully accept that the person who is supposed to love you the most, your mother, not only doesn’t love you – she hates you. She hates you because you remind her of a mistake she made. You remind her of her bad judgment. You’re a scar but you’re human so you can’t literally be thrown away. You can, however, be used as a pawn, belittled, emotionally destroyed, mocked, slapped around, deliberately deceived and outright tricked.
I knew I had a game to play if I didn’t want to go down my sister’s road to cowtown high. I had to eat the shit, develop ways to minimize the damage to me (as my father referred to them, “catatonic fits.”) and generally try to be as invisible as possible. Unfortunately, being a teenager and knowing everything, I was a bit too precocious and audacious so I would battle back. It’s unrealistic to expect a human to be trampled on so many times before they rise up and say “Really? Fuck this shit.” and return fire. I returned fire one too many times. My punishment: hearing in May of 1989 that my ticket for The Magic Slide had arrived. My mother declared that she was done with being a parent and that I was my father’s problem now. Like my sister before me, I was given my termination date as her child which would be repeatedly barked at me in a harrowing, taunting fashion. No one stopped her. No one corrected her. She was rife with fury and completely out of control. In her mind, she had “suffered” enough and was done. Her horrible, evil ex-husband was to pick up the slack he never did in her mind. The minor child of whom she had custody was no longer her problem. Let’s completely disregard what the law would say about that, too.
Here’s the thing she never fully understood: be as angry as you want at your ex-husband. Rage all that you want towards your ex. You do not, under any circumstance, let your child see that shit go down for every time you do, you send the message to the child that 50% of that child is a piece of shit. You send the message to the child that you think the child is garbage. You send the message to your child that you don’t love your child because you don’t love your ex. You send the message to your child that you hate your child because you hate your ex. And this is exactly what 17 year old Kang received for high school graduation. Validation that her mother hated her. Plain and simple. Then, after packing her bags with the help of some friends (because she received none from the parents who were all too anxious to get rid of her), she was pushed down The Magic Slide, just like her sister before her.
The school district, having seen this happen with my sister, had mercy on me and allowed me to finish the year and graduate as a student in spite of no longer residing in the district. They knew the score. They felt badly for me. My college recommendation letters from staff and faculty had references to my stellar home life. “Look at what this kid did in spite of…” Yay. I was marketed not on my achievements but on the fact that I came from a fucked up family and managed to survive. And this is why I loathe pity from others.
The Monday after my magical ride down The Magic Slide, I foolishly returned to my former residence to collect my mail. It seemed like an obvious thing to do. I was paying a good amount of my own bills then (because I was treated like a tenant rather than a child). I arrive at the door, stick my key in the lock and turn. Nothing happened. I had been gone less than 48 hours and the locks were changed. It was then I accepted that my mother didn’t love me and likely never would. I walked to my car and broke down in tears. To be dismissed and rejected by your own mother is a special sort of agony. It’s a pain that doesn’t abate. Ever. You will always walk around with that and wonder if people know that part of you. You can convince yourself that it says more about the other person. As a parent, I cannot wrap my head around this behavior and think it speaks volumes of a parent’s failure and character flaws. As an individual, it’s a shame I’ll never be able to scrub off, no matter how many showers I take, no matter how many times I may be decontaminated, no matter how many years I will spend in therapy. Not only was I told by my mother that she was done being a parent, the locks were changed. The message was driven home – not only was I not welcome, I no longer existed. It set the tone for the rest of my life. And for as many times as I tried to build a relationship with her after (why on Earth would I even try, I have been asked – because…no matter how hard you work to get better, being rejected by your mother is insuperable and I’m only human), I know in my gut, she will never love me. So, I tried building a relationship with her for the sake of my son. It has been a very hard struggle for me. I feel like I have built a constructive relationship with my stepfather (finally…he approves of me and is proud of me). My mother – not so much. Today was another exercise in stepping on an emotional landmine and I’m not sure how to proceed or if I should even bother at this point. I will not have my perspective devalued nor will I sit and be screamed at.
Sixteen years ago, I made a promise to myself to take myself out of the line of fire. Two years ago, I put myself back on the range as a target to do the right thing (I maintain zero regrets there). Two years later, knowing full and well that people don’t change, I remain heartbroken that lessons haven’t been learned by either party. Fourteen years of missed opportunities – a wedding, amazing career progression on my part, the arrival of a grandson – have taught her nothing. Fourteen years of deep introspection and I’m left to wonder if I’m making a huge mistake letting certain people into my life. And what do I do about my child who has developed an attachment to a potentially harmful person? He can’t be pushed down a Magic Slide but he can be hurt if he doesn’t toe the line to the exacting specifications. Right now, he’s perfect. What happens when he isn’t? What kind of mother will I be if I set him up for a similar disappointment – to be emotionally dumped on the side of the road because of whatever reason my mother deems fit?
The families who experienced the joys of commencement on Saturday – outwardly – had a blissful, wonderful experience and I’m genuinely happy for them. I hope that the same is going on behind closed doors. Shit, a reasonable facsimile would be fine with me. Anything other than my experience, at least.
I think I’m still going to wrestle with the positivity that surrounds PCSGU for years to come. Milky thrives there. My struggle to manage the feels and the good vibes will not become his burden. I’ll slink off to my car and save the tears from the overwhelming feelings for the ride home or share them with my dear friends who understand the same pain, the random internet people who read this rambling nonsense and the wise shrink who has made me well enough to parent my child in a very different fashion than the models I had. Eventually, I will learn to accept them as familiar. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully embrace them as normal, however. My normal is different. My normal is rooted in confusion, heartbreak and consistent disappointment. My normal, no matter how far away I get from the hellscape that was my childhood, is always going to have an undertone of “Why?” and “How” and “Why? How? Who?” To be able to entirely let go would be ideal and the desired outcome but I’m realistic. I don’t think that will ever happen. There is a part of me that doesn’t want it to happen (for now, at least), either. That part of me allows me to remain hyper-vigilant and ensure that my son’s childhood isn’t mine; that he grows up knowing his parents love him, that his parents will always be stable and reliable and will do anything and everything it takes to make sure he is secure and provided for. It’s my touchstone. It’s my Big Book of No. It’s my parenting manifesto, if you please.
And to those who may think that I’m disconnected from reality or not focused on my son – they should take a long, hard look in the mirror. When Milky was a few months old, my father stopped by to visit. Milky was fussy that afternoon and crying a bit. I turned to my father and said “I don’t want to fuck this up. I want to be a good parent.” My father turned to me and said “You’re already a much better parent than most.” And with that, I knew that things would be ok for my kid. That, at the very least, my priorities were in the right place and the behaviors weren’t inherited. There would be no Magic Slide in my back yard.
The cycle was broken.