Crazy Parenting: Writing Keeps Me Sane
Parenting is tough. I’ve made no secret of the teenage circle of Hell Dante clearly forgot to chronicle. I’m not only a writer. Motherhood became an all-consuming profession with the birth of my daughter. Women, equal rights aside, we didn’t think the whole working mother thing through when we started out on this ride.
The flip side of this roller coaster is parents receive zero certifications. I spent four years of training under close supervision to be certified as an air traffic controller and a top secret security clearance. I needed a teaching degree and a license to step into the classroom and a Colorado Bureau of Investigation clearance. Any fool can get knocked up.
Some lucky few are raised by wonderful people. The rest of us are raised by damaged folk doing the best they can. There are no required classes, no supervisors, and no accountability, unless things go horribly wrong. Teaching proves this out. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If the apple would like to be far from the tree, it has to get up and walk on its own.
I joke about my mother’s crazy. Truth is, I come from a long line of crazy on both sides of the family. Crazy attracts crazy. Crazy can whip their fellow sufferers into a high peak frenzy or somehow codependency develops allowing for a pretense of normality to emerge.
Sometimes, very rarely, crazy attracts wicked stable. It works in this way, a kind, nurturing soul recognizes the wonderful person buried beneath the rubble and decides to unearth them. A few people in my family have struck gold in this department. Some of us hit iron pyrite first, but we’re smart enough to recognize it. Some of us need thousands of hours of therapy to adjust our perspective.
In this way, parents are only as good as the people who raised them, unless there’s impetus to change. In my case, there is an unbroken chain of tragedy and sadness linking me to my mother, to my grandmother, and to my great grandmother. My father isn’t without his baggage either. It doesn’t do much for self-identity, but it sure makes for some fabulous story telling. I don’t blame my parents for anything. They love me in their way. It’s the best they can do because change isn’t in their generation’s nature.
This one time, at band camp….oh wait, wrong story. How about the August, after some violent fight, my mother decided to take me and leave my father? She packed up the El Camino, yep, Eeeel Camiiiino, with the intention of driving from Phoenix to L.A. to take refuge with my grandparents. Desperate, she must’ve felt for that to be the plan. We stopped at the mall to return a gift she’d bought for my grandfather, where she discovered my father had removed her license, her credit cards, her cash, everything. Her wallet gaped emptily.
She flew home in a rage screaming about how we could’ve died in the dessert with no money for gas or food. My father stood waiting in the carport laughing. I don’t know how long he stood waiting, but there he was. Rather than jump from the car to fight hand to hand, my mother gunned the El Camino aiming for my father. He leaped into the laundry room a hair’s breadth before the vehicle plowed into the wall. The neighborhood came out in a crowd to catch the show. Miraculously, none of us was hurt, but we did have a full on garage within a few weeks of the incident and my father never stood in front of any vehicle my mother captained again.
My father contains his explosive anger until it spills out, usually over some little thing. It’s rare but volcanic. The only thing you can do is duck and cover. As an adult, I’ve learned to get in his face, but as a kid, I cowered and cringed.
My childhood is filled with smashing plates, screeching rants, pushed over motorcycles and shredded belongings. As they’ve aged, their fights have mellowed. My father closes down and goes silent, easier now that he has hearing aids he can turn off. My mother, after back surgery, foot surgery, hand surgery, and eye surgery can’t chase him or throw things. Their disputes have become an endless chatter of bickering and pecking. As long as my father continues to worship my mother, it’s going to work until the end of one of them.
It’s no surprise I found my own brand of crazy. After my disastrous first marriage and Jerry Springer divorce, I took a year-long look inside of myself. Not a fun thing to do, mind you. I decided I would be a different kind of parent. “We raised you this way and look, you turned out just fine.” “We spanked you and now you’re a good person.” “I suppose I was a terrible mother.” If you’ve made the choice I have, you are familiar with this line of conversation.
It’s pointless to counter with the facts. No, I didn’t turn out fine. I married an abusive, narcissistic sociopath who tried to kill me. Or yes, you hit me and I still occasionally cringe when someone reaches toward my face. Or I’m not judging you as a mother, I’m choosing to be a different kind of parent. Or this one, I’ve spent over three years in therapy to become the person I am. You had nothing to do with it.
Instead, I take a deep breath and sigh it out. I listen to her maladies for the sixteenth time. I offer mild condolences and try to wade through the muck that is my relationship with my parents and has been since I was a kid. She loves me the only way she knows. It will never be more or different. Most of the time I’m okay with the idea.
This Christmas I laid down the law, no presents. Not for us, not from us. The kids could use a little money, but we’re trimming down Christmas. The Beard and I talked briefly about giving her the generation one iPad, but it became obvious it’s only good as a door stop. She bought the Beard a shirt on clearance. She bought me some thrift shop jewelry. She looked expectantly under the tree. I reminded her we weren’t doing presents.
The holidays came and went in blissful silence. I did call her New Year’s Day.
“Happy New Year,” I said.
“Is it snowing? We’re supposed to get snow. Grandma says she’s never going to Uncle’s for Christmas again.” She took a breath.
I jumped at the break. “Did you have fun with your friends?”
“Oh yeah, we had dinner and wine. It was nice. We all went shopping. Are the kids home?” She asked.
She cut me off. “So where’s my gift?”
“Gift?” I was completely confused.
“My Christmas present.” She said in her perfectly snide and self-deserving tone.
I took a minute. I tried to let it go. I dug deep into my higher self, but it escaped me. “You’re a piece of work.”
She offered an uncomfortable laugh. She realized she’d overplayed her hand. “Oh, I know. Haha haha.”
“Bye mom.” I ended the call.
It hit me. I’ve been moping for a couple of days. My friend, Jodi told me my mother gushed and praised me at the party. I reminded myself it’s the best she can do. Even if she hasn’t read my book, even if she imagines she has cancer, even if she rewrites history. I pulled a package of the tortillas she brought out of the freezer for dinner. I noticed the next day they were moldy. It was the third pack to go bad so quickly.
I complained to the Beard. “These tortillas have all gone moldy.” I flipped the bag disgusted and saw a date written in my mother’s hand on the package. 2-14-2014. I rolled my eyes. “Here I’ve been feeling low all week about my mother and she brought us tortillas almost a year old. They’ve been in her freezer. She didn’t buy them fresh, no wonder they’ve been molding.” I shook my head and gathered them all to toss into the trash.
“She did bring us napkins too.” The Beard reminded me.
I slapped my forehead and poured a glass of wine.