Friday, May 29, 2009

2414 Growing up wild

Friday, May 29, 2009

Most adults who say they grew up wild say it with pride. They usually mean they grew up in the country, farmland or forest, and that they got to climb trees and race bikes and build forts in the woods and float rafts down the creek, and do some rather dangerous things. In most cases growing up wild was fun, and involved loving and approving (although hopelessly "tsk"ing) parents at home.

My siblings and I grew up wild, but not the fun way.

I left home for college at 17. My siblings were 12(M), 11(F), 9(F), and 2(M), so they did a lot of their growing up after I'd left, in a different place and time, which means that their experiences may have been different. I doubt that it was much different. We had the same parents, and they were still the same kids as when I left.

Our father was denigrating, unsupportive, and violent. More than violent, because he would set up traps a child would fall into, so he'd have an excuse to beat us. He left his mark on us, long after the bruises faded and the broken bones healed, and for the first 55 years of my life I thought the family dysfunction was all his.

Mom got beaten, too, the most often and the most severely. It made us kids feel protective toward her. It was only after my mother died and I was released from pity for her and loyalty to her that I realized she was a big part of the problem, too.

Her life was devoted to keeping her husband and herself happy. I don't know why she stayed with him, frankly. Anyway, she didn't pay much attention to us kids. We were like a pack of unwanted puppies someone had dropped on her doorstep, and she had to keep us and feed us until we grew up. That was pretty much the sum total of her responsibility.

We got no guidance, no support, no encouragement. I don't remember her ever hugging me. There was no love, no compliments, only criticism. When the kids got into fights, she ignored it. No mediation. No settling of issues between siblings. We got no socialization, never exposed to adult conversation. When we had problems, she didn't notice.

On the not noticing, one perfect example is my first bra. I was twelve. For Christmas my mother gave me a doll. A large doll, but a doll. The next door neighbor gave me a bra, a 32B, which fit perfectly. Mom hadn't noticed I needed one. I wore that bra every day for a year, patching it when it wore out. Mom didn't buy me another until I cried because I couldn't patch it any more. Which sort of points out another problem - I think she saw us girls, as we grew up, if she noticed us growing up at all, as competition for male admiration, so we were told to "go play in your room" whenever company visited. Imagine being 15 or 16, and being told to "go play in your room".

My siblings were savages when they were young. They learned that if they got something on their mother that would anger their father, they could blackmail her for favors. They learned that they could blackmail each other. If it looked like they were headed for a beating, they could deflect it onto a sibling, and they felt no guilt in doing so. They enjoyed ratting on each other. They stole or destroyed each other's toys or prized possessions with no compunction.

We grew up wild.

After I left for college, I didn't look back. I had to "live at home" for one semester, but I coped by locking myself in my room as soon as I got home, and not leaving the room until everyone else had left the house the next morning. After graduation, getting away from my family was probably one of the factors that pushed me into the unwanted marriage to Ex#1.

In my mid twenties, I went to my youngest sister's wedding, and ended up standing nose to nose with my father, telling him that if he ever hit my youngest brother, "ever again, and someone will tell me, you know they will, I'll get a gun, and I'll come back here, you won't know when I'm coming, and you'll turn around and I'll be there, and I'll kill you. And if I can't get a gun, it'll be a knife. But I will kill you. Don't you ever hit that kid, ever, never, never again." My next two siblings stepped up and told him that if I missed, they wouldn't. That was the first time I felt like we kids were something like family, more than just competitors and enemies.

After my father died, a few years after the episode above, I think Mom finally looked up and saw all the damage that had been done. I think she tried to fix things, but of course it was too late. Kids who grow up wild tend to live wild. It took many years for each of us to find ourselves and our place in the world.

Some of us never did.

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The exception proves the rule.

Common expression, but few people knows what it means. Shouldn't the exception DISprove the rule?

It comes from contract law. Contracts must be clear, but it's sometimes difficult to list all factors. So if a simple contract says that someone would be paid $14 per hour, except that on Sunday they would be paid $16 per hour, that "proves" that Saturday it's $14. Saturday is not a bonus day. The exception proves the rule.

There were exceptions to my relationship with my mother.

My last months of high school, I couldn't sleep, and wandered the house in the wee hours. Mom found me in the kitchen one night, and asked why I couldn't sleep. I said that I wanted to go to college, but I didn't see how I could do it. (This was the first time college was mentioned. I had won a full Merit scholarship covering tuition, but had no money for other costs, and, in 1962 campus and town jobs went to boys, since boys needed college and girls didn't, so if a girl went to college, she couldn't get a job to help.) She said of course I should go to college, that she'd "scrub floors" if she had to. She and I both knew there was no chance of that, but she did pull some strings and got me an Air Force grant, and a federal loan.

My last weeks of high school, I was passed over for valedictorian and salutatorian, because I "wasn't a regular student" (the Air Force paid tuition for us). My mother raised Holy Cain. She raked the principal over the coals for literally hours, and went to the (tiny weekly) local newspaper with the story. I was surprised by her reaction.

The day I graduated from college, we were in the car, and I wanted to draw her attention to something. I touched the back of her hand on the steering wheel, and I was shocked at how soft her skin was. That's when I realized that I couldn't remember ever having touched or having been touched by her.

The fact that those exceptions rank so high in my memories of my mother prove the rule that she ignored us. Stuff like that should have been normal, taken for granted.
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4 comments:

Wondering Woman said...

but here's the thing about "normal".... it must be all in our heads because almost everyone I know had a childhood that was "normal" only from the outside looking in.

~~Silk said...

Yeah. I was so jealous of Jay's childhood, his entire life in the same house in a beautiful suburb with parents who loved him, supportive grandparents, never any hitting or yelling. And then I discovered that nothing he ever did, no decision he ever made, was good enough for his father. His father put him down at ever turn, destroyed his confidence. But, he did it lovingly, you know. Just loving guidance.

sizzie said...

Did you feel as if you had been dropped into the wrong family? Little about what you write, the subjects you choose, your diverse interests and links fit with the early childhood stuff. I always find that fasinating; how the same bloodlines and parenting skills...or usually lack of them...produce different people types. One child sees it all as 'normal' and another knows there has to be a better way of living. And I agree...there is no 'nomal', but it fits better than any word I can think to use to describe the green grass on the other side of the fence.

~~Silk said...

Of the five of us kids, one went to violence, one to faith, one to drink, one to drugs, and one to logic.