Thursday, July 21, 2005

Parenting Don’ts

I grew up in a typical American dysfunctional family. My parents had both been married before and were a little older than the parents of my friends. They also fought like cats and dogs. Witnessing my parents fight put a lot of strain on my brother and I. When they’d fight, we’d fight. We had some pretty good knock down, drag outs with biting, scratching, and blood. I can’t even remember what my parents fought about, but I do remember plates of spaghetti being thrown at a wall in the kitchen, and I remember my mom in my room with me, staying away from my dad.

Remembering the way my childhood was seems so strange to me now. These days my parents are completely normal, well, as normal as anyone’s parents. My dad is still a little uptight, but not nearly as bad as he used to be. My dad was a drunk, and he was a mean drunk. He’d come home from work at night and drink probably a case of beer. My brother and I were terrified of him. On more than one occasion my dad beat us. Typically when he took off his belt you knew you were in big trouble. Once, as my mom was tucking me in to bed, I heard my dad yell for me from the basement. I bolted up and out of bed and took off down the hallway, and stepped on a nail, which impaled itself into my heel. I stopped dead and started screaming. My mom, who was a bit confused as to why I took off, came running, removed the nail from my heel and took me downstairs to the bathroom to clean my foot up. Meanwhile, as I had never answered my dad, he came up the stairs furious. He screamed at me, and my mom. He wanted me to come all the way downstairs just to get him a beer. He didn’t care that I skewered my foot on the way down. That was one of the first times I remember hating my dad. It wasn’t the last.

The last time I remember my parents having a terrible fight, I was 15. We were eating dinner, which was the prime time for arguments to start. We were talking about our trip to camp the following week to go to the Autumn Leaf Festival in Clarion. Back then I had my first real boyfriend, so the idea of leaving town for a weekend didn’t really excite me. I said something that my dad apparently didn’t like and he flipped out. He grabbed me by my hair and pulled me out of my chair, all the while almost ripping my earring out of my ear. My mom once again came running, and for the first time, I witnessed one of their fights get physical. Before I knew what had actually happened, my mom was on the floor and my dad was over top of her. He didn’t hit her but she was begging him to. He just pinned her down and they screamed at each other until I finally grabbed my dad by the shirt and started pulling him off of her. He turned on me and I ran up the stairs to my room. My mom followed and told me to pack a bag, because we were leaving. I met my dad at the bottom of the stairs and he got right in my face. He told me to hit him. He taunted me. I just stared him in the eye and projected all the hate I had in my body into the look I gave him. That’s when my mom and I left. And, incidentally the first and only time I missed an Autumn Leaf Festival since I was 13.

For whatever reason, we left my brother, who I think ran and hid during the fight. He was 11 at the time, and just stayed with my dad. My mom and I stayed in a hotel room that night, and I went to school the next day. The next couple nights we stayed at my moms best friends house and within a few days she found us an efficiency apartment. I remember that month of my life being one of the happiest ever. My mom and I, living as independent women, free of my dad. I never felt more liberated. I don’t know how it happened, but my mom and dad somehow worked things out. He agreed not to drink so much, we moved back in, and things weren’t so bad.

I don’t regret or feel bad about anything that happened to me in my childhood. My relationship with my parents now is great. We had a lot of rocky times, but I think it helped make me a stronger person, and not such a spoiled brat. My dad and I still don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but he treats me like an adult and respects me. I think he knows that he hasn’t always been the best dad, but he tries. My mom is a saint. She’s stayed married to one of the most high maintenance men in history for 30 years. I won’t deny that my mom and I didn’t have the best relationship while I was growing up, we had some pretty good fights, some of which were pretty physical.

The crazy thing about Ryan and I is that our childhoods mirrored each others in that respect. Like me, he and his parents, especially his mother, had a very rough relationship. Except he was an only child, so everything was focused on him. His mom denies up and down that she ever so much as swatted his ass, but I know all of his stories, just like he knows mine. And we know our parents did the best they could, but were just a little (ahem) misguided. The torch has now been passed to us and it’s time to raise our kid like we were never raised, in a happy, healthy environment.

I think what has been freaking me out lately is remembering all of that and knowing that I don’t want my child to experience any of what I went through. I suppose it filters down, little by little. My grandma used to beat my dad with electrical wire and lock him in the coal cellar when he was bad. So my childhood could have been worse. I know that everyone says that they’re not going to be like their parents, but I think it’s fairly unavoidable. I’m a lot like my mom most of the time, but when my temper flares up, my dad totally comes out in me. I’ve been known to kick doors off of its hinges when I’m pissed, or throw things, or worse. And I’ve never been patient. Ever. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea and think of my parents or Ryan’s parents as bad people. They’re not. They’re wonderful people and I love them. I love my parents so much that I can’t even bring myself to move out of the town that they live in.

But I’m glad they don’t live next door... only because it would be super annoying.

I guess what it is is the uncertainty of what I’m facing. It’s a road I’ve never traveled upon. And everyone tells me how good I’ll do, and I know I will. It’s inevitable. People become parents every single day, and not to sound arrogant, but I think I’m more intelligent than a lot of those people. But it’s hard to face the unknown sometimes. At least I know where my fear comes from. That old trauma just hangs on like a parasite.

Aren’t childhood memories fun?

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