Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Mothers are from Uranus, fathers are from Pluto

I used to rail on my childhood constantly. The people who actually knew me as a youth think it was pretty silly of me to do so because I came from a home of moderate wealth, my mother was born in the town and became a teacher, her parents homesteaded the town, my father was a teacher that became a cattleman, his parents were at one time the morticians for the area, and by the usual standards we kids were socially acceptable (we had clean clothes and had clean bodies, we wore shoes, there were no visible bruises, we used table manners and spoke in turn, and so forth). But there was more than met the eye.Child abuse I don't fault various parts of my youth because I had a damn good time in ways today's parents wouldn't let their kids have. I'd leave the house around 1pm after lunch on weekends/during the summer or 3:30pm on school days, never say where I was going or what I was doing (and was hardly ever asked) and usually wasn't asked with whom I was with, and the only rule was that I had to be back by dinnertime. By today's anal-repressive parental standards, we got away with murder. But this joy applied to the away period, not the here time. And it wasn't because we got spanked or yelled at, or some draconian rules that kept us from enjoying our lives, but because we weren't given expressions of love. Oh, and because some parents are an arbitrary lot who do not care how their actions make their kids feel. It's been said that the reason why the stuff in the antique stores, or for that matter comic book shops, that you had when you were a kid is so expensive is because of mothers throwing everything away. That was definitely the case here. My mother had this weird fascination with the stuff in my desk drawers; she complained constantly that they were too full. Why this would be any of her concern since none of it was visible or required her interaction is a mystery – perhaps she couldn't find whatever she was snooping for expediently. She never had a problem finding hidden candy, you will derive, then would blame the kids for not hiding it well enough when they'd complain about the missing chocolate bunnies. She once gave me an upbraiding about a letter I was in the process of writing, which had been stuck under three books in the middle of a table in the corner of my room, and when asked how she'd come to read it she claimed she knocked the books off when she was putting away laundry – and the physics of that manoeuver didn't work, the table and books were not near the dresser.

The incident I am still steamed about, over twenty years later (and you will see why), is the time my parents threatened to clean my room out completely if I didn't meet some unreasonable cleaning goal, and one day I came home from school and they had – they had thrown out almost everything. Even the things they said they would not. For quite awhile I'd think of things I needed at that moment and owned, yet no longer had. I still resent them trashing the 'Visible Frog' anatomy model I worked hard to construct and paint, mostly because the company no longer makes that model. Adding insult to injury, some quantity of the stuff they didn't throw out they sold at a yard sale when I was elsewhere. That wasn't the first time they'd screwed me over bigtime; when my family moved from the country to the suburbs I was 7, and Mom brought in two boxes and told me to put the stuff I wanted to keep into these two boxes and I could leave the broken bits of garbage in the bottom of the toybox for them to dump. When I got to our destination, the toybox was still full of broken bits of garbage and they'd given the two boxes of nice stuff I intended to keep to charity. Nice move, guys! I decided early on that if I got written out of the will, it would be no surprise. My sister already is, my father told me (though now that she has provided their first granddaughter, that may have changed). Nah, I won't get into the "they always liked my brothers better" diatribe that my sister and I have ranted on about how well our brothers (whom they birthed, we were adopted before our folks got their parts to work) get treated. You could have seen such a proclamation coming.

What was amusing to me growing up was that since both of my parents were educators (there's an irony in there somewhere), they were in the public eye and exposed to quite a few youth and their parents, and these people always came up to me to say nice things about my folks which I knew weren't true. "She's so pleasant to talk to" or "He's so open-minded" or anything that would make my jaw drop and force me to ask if we were talking about the same people. The person who never ceased to speak ill of others behind their backs after she'd been talking happily in person to those folks, and the person whose parenting philosophy was "don't explain it to the kid, just make him do it"? Yes, exactly. The woman who once commanded the kids to act up when we went out to eat with her mother-in-law, but when she realized that our paternal grandmother was rather old and rather rich she made nicey-nicy... and the man who didn't take any photos of his eldest son's wedding, despite being a photography teacher and having the camera in the car trunk (a fact he told the bride at the ceremony but denied to the groom months later). These were the people that moved in February but I didn't find out until May, only because my sister asked me for their phone number (me: "What??"), and my mother's reaction when I found the digits online and called to ask why they didn't so much as send a postcard was "We knew you'd figure it out." (me: "When?! When the Christmas package arrived with a different return address in six months?") I used to complain a lot about my upbringing, but around age 25 I was advised by someone who loved me that I had moved 150 miles away from them and the past is the past. That's what I needed to hear, since the words "get over it" weren't appended to the end but that was the subtle implication, so I did. I see them once every year or two, for an hour or two, and that is quite enough... we're all happy in our separate lives. I've heard worse, like the woman who said that her living on the West Coast and her parents living on the East Coast was still too close, but I believe in forgiveness. Mind you, I'm expecting nothing different from them in the future, I have not forgotten and will not forget [to err is human; to forgive, divine; to forget, stupid], and I do not expect a red cent of their fortune when they've gone, but I can put aside the old bitterness caused by their past stupidity if I let myself be peaceful (and avoid them). As my father told me, absence makes the heart grow fonder... for someone else.

Well, you have the right attitude, although I'm sure deep inside you there will always remain some hurt.
I was blessed with amazingly wonderful parents. My friends used to love to come to my house because my parents were young and cool. They have always showed much love and affection towards my brother and me, and of course, now, the grandkids.
The sad thing is, your upbringing is not rare. I had a friend who was so unloving towards her two sons that I really told her off. I don't know if it helped since she ended up moving to another state and we lost touch. Kids don't need a lot of stuff. They need to be loved. My kids KNOW they are loved. They take it for granted, I'm sure, but you know just how wonderful it is for them to have grown up in a loving atmosphere. If you ever have kids, love them to pieces! I wish your parents had shown all of their kids love. They may have been teachers, but they were not very wise at all.
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