Tag Archives: Childhood

Lessons Via Bastards Telling You Painful Stories

Once upon a Christmas Eve while visiting home for the holidays, my step-father, after having consumed his customary seven to eight gallons of cheap, rotgut whiskey, cornered me in the kitchen and apologized, ad nauseam, for being such a gigantic douchebag my whole life. He then elaborated on his sorrow by telling me a story I could have happily lived the rest of my life never having heard.

Before I relay the details of this glorious yuletide tale, (cause shiz about to get real……personal, that is) I want to pre-defend my mother’s honor. She was a very good mom, my mama: sweet, warm, loving, super fun and deeply devoted to her one and only child. As a human being, she is equally stellar: funny, intelligent, strong, reliable, incredibly talented and in possession of a heart as big as the mighty universe. But she came into this world with birth defects, back when ruthless bullying didn’t make the news or launch outraged media campaigns to abolish it, so she suffered. Greatly. Horribly. And, naturally it follows that, with low self esteem so instilled, perhaps she didn’t make the best choices in men. To this she always said, “I didn’t have that many options.” Given the right guidance in life, she may have felt differently. She may have empowered herself and she may have discovered many more desirable options, but that’s just not how our collective cookie crumbled.So….what happened was….

Back in that 2007 Christmas Eve kitchen, with my mother and my boyfriend serving as the audience, my step-father cornered me and muttered sloppy, random apologies about my upbringing over his ethanol-laden breath. Then, out of nowhere, he slurred the following cringe-inducing confession: “I feel bad sometimes…..like for that one time…..that one time me ‘n yer mom went to the bar……and you were sleepin’ in the backseat…..you musta been about three years old….and we left you asleep in the car….. while we had some drinks…..I don’t know how long it was….but then this one fucking asshole comes in…..he’s all pissed off….and he yells, at the top of his lungs, ‘WHO THE FUCK LEFT THEIR FUCKING KID ASLEEP OUT IN A FUCKING CAR???!!!’ ….and I kicked that guy’s ass. That guy was a fucking asshole!”

Isn’t that great?! Wonderful story, yes? One to snuggle up with loved ones and tell by fireside every Christmas, for generations to come. Warm family fuzzies for EVERYBODY! (Christ Almighty.)

As Step-Daddy-Dearest recounted his version of deplorable events, I remember turning to my then-boyfriend, now-husband, with wide dear-god-make-it-stop eyes. In that moment I felt an awful mixture of absurdity and embarrassment, and I sent the following message with my fully rounded, please-kill-me eyeballs: “Oh Scottie, I knew I was fucked up. I knew my childhood was fucked up, and that I am ultimately, psychologically, and possibly irreparably fucked up. But I didn’t know I was THIS fucked up! And I’m sorry. I would have warned you if I could’ve. I’m so sorry. If you leave me, I will completely understand. Matter of fact, you should probably leave me now. Save yourself. This ship isn’t sinking. It wrecked a long, long time ago.”

He didn’t leave me, though. He married me instead. Turns out he had a less than Norman Rockwell upbringing himself. Not Child Protective Services worthy, not even close, but his parents’ marriage couldn’t be categorized as a healthy one – and he picked up a good number of his own relationship-killing habits watching that mess go down. Even still, 2015 will mark our ten year anniversary. Ten years of working on taming our inner-insulant-children, and ten years of helping one another to do a lot of growing up. Progress. Improvement. Growth and expansion. My oh my, but it’s a marvelous thing.

I only wish my mom could revel in the same sense of accomplishment, having battled and won so much in her time. Because, while her husband sat spewing old, drunken, dirty family laundry that Christmas Eve,I looked over and found her with her head hung in shame – which simply broke my heart. I hate to see her in pain. I’ve seen much too much of my mom in pain. She’s dealt with more than her fair share of suffering this lifetime, and she really did do the best she could by me. Her parenting wins far outweigh her parenting fails. She taught me honesty and integrity. She taught me compassion and (though it took me something like 25 years to show it) responsibility. She taught me how to love with my whole heart. And, whenever anyone compliments me on what a good mother I am, I let them know I’m only emulating her example – and her overall example was LOVE.

Again, I could have died a happy woman never knowing that I was once a tiny, blonde, pigtailed three year old left alone in the back of a car (1979 Camaro? 1976 Nova? It’s anybody’s whitetrash guess), while her mother and her mother’s jerk of a boyfriend went to drink in a bar. In fact, after hearing the story, it took me months to absorb it. Sorta shook me up. In a logical sense, it shouldn’t have. There are much lousier childhood incidents I can recall easily and vividly, but I still tear up when I think about that little girl left alone.

It’s not the worst thing that ever happened to a child. As far as kids and atrocities go, I got off all sorts of lucky. But a wound is a wound. A scar is a scar. And a drunken stepdad on Christmas Eve is a pitifully old, selfishly unburdening-himself bastard. However uncomfortable inebriated step-dad’s over-sharing might have been, it afforded the opportunity to confront a bunch of my ancient mental bullshit, and it prompted me to work on getting the sam hell over it. I’m far from all the way over it (clearly), but I’m getting there.

What I find truly fascinating, even encouraging, is the idea that I might just be a better person for it. For ALL of it. All the sad, all the shame, all the massive heartache: the whole tumultuous lot of my youth. This notion that it didn’t just “all work out in the end”, or that I didn’t merely “turn out okay”, but rather than it all meant something and it was all intrinsically necessary in order for to me be ME…….well, I dig that. I get that. It makes sense. I lived it all, and now the trick appears to be learning to love it all.
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If you pay attention, all existential roads seem to lead back to love.
And if you’re not getting there….maybe you (we, US) are doing it wrong.

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Moments and Mementos

Throwing the first of what will likely become an annual holiday party in our home, we invited our guests to bring wrapped, inexpensive mystery presents to be won in a dice game. A “Dirty Dice” holiday game (not that kind of dirty) that my family has played every Christmas for the last twenty years. We just call it “The Dice Game” but when I searched it for its official rules, “Dirty Dice” it was. So named for the last, frantic fifteen minutes of cut-throat present stealing. It really helps draw out the inner greedy, materialistic bastard in us all – otherwise known as “The Christmas Spirit.”

TreeThe game was a smash, hence plans for future events, but a couple of unexpectedly cool things happened besides good times, gift hoarding, and my husband dressing as Santa, passing out presents to the little ones. See, some of our friends identify themselves as introverts. And I can relate to the socially awkward. I grew up in a tree talking to a cat. I believe the movie “Nell” was loosely based on my childhood. But I watched the socially uncozy unite during our gathering. There was a fellow, a new friend’s husband, who was, to the watchful eye, clearly uncomfortable in the crowd of strangers. Another of our self-proclaimed wallflower friends took the goodwill initiative and led the newcomer on a tour of my husband’s action figure packed man cave; more commonly referred to as the “Joe Room”, but also known in some circles as “Geek Mecca.” When the newcomer and his wife bid us goodnight he said, “I just want to tell you, I normally hate parties. My wife had to drag me here. But I had such a good time! You guys are awesome!”

Best compliment of 2013. God it feels good making others feel good.

Highlight dos arrived when a few friends recognized some of my holiday décor for the vintage childhood memorabilia it really is. I had no idea the Christmas Countdown Mouse Calendar had once been so popular. And I don’t know how it went down in other 80s and 90s homes, but in mine, my mother told me the elves came each night to leave candy in the pocket of the newest December day. My most vivid memory of this calendar was the year she underwent back surgery. Being that I was 10 years old, and no longer bought the elf story…but still liked candy very much, my mom pre-packed all days she’d be away in the hospital – a little over a week. I remember looking at that calendar, and the numbered pockets full of chocolates, feeling sad that she would be gone so long, feeling worried and scared for her health, and feeling loved because she’d taken the time to fill my calendar. I felt a mixture of trepidation and reverence. And then I ate ALL the candy at once.

I may have left a few days worth, for sentimentality’s sake. I can’t recall. That was so last century.

IMG_0079But the conversation of youthful yuletide totems led to the pieces of personal history that hung from my tree. Moreover, the ingenious tradition my mother began in 1979, when she bought me my first ornament featuring Pooh Bear and Piglet. Every year afterward she took me to the Hallmark store and had me choose a keepsake. She told me they’d be the ornaments I moved away from home with, someday, and the very first tree of my own would sparkle with the memories my childhood. And that’s exactly what happened.

IMG_0089Every year, when I unbox the squirrels on the telephone, I’m reminded that when I was 13 years old I could not be pried from the phone. And when I hang the Heathcliff ornament on my tree, the one I picked out when I was 7 (my mom labeled all the boxes with the year I chose them, because she’s awesome like that), I wonder if anyone even remembers who Heathcliff was.IMG_0073 There are adorable years, like racoon-riding-a-skateboard year, because I was into raccoons and cute skateboarders. And there are solemn years, like the year my mentor lost her young life in a head-on collision with a semi-trailer, and I chose an angel to represent her.IMG_0075

IMG_0096As I pointed out these artifacts, sharing their stories, a few people said, “Wow. I’m stealing your mom’s idea.” And they should. And you should, too. It’s a beautiful thing to give your children; little memories of long ago Christmases to adorn their someday trees, all their later on lives.

IMG_0109Naturally, I carry on this tradition with my own daughters. Though we’re not bound to the sacredness of the Hallmark Keepsake Ornament. In fact, this year’s additions were hand painted and shipped to us by my talented auntie Holly (I share the link to her Etsy shop and Facebook page every chance I get, she’s amazing). My eldest received a Hunger Games inspired ornament, a Sally one was made for my “Nightmare Before Christmas” obsessed youngest, and a surprise “Breaking Bad” piece came for me. Yay! Because what says “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” better than a little Heisenberg?IMG_0106

Now, I’m not sure my girls appreciate the ornament ritual just yet. I mean, they love choosing their annual baubles, but they’re already critical of choices they made just a year or two previous. My eldest rolls her eyes at her 4 year old “Barbie Princess” pick, while my youngest is so over her 2 year old “Go, Diego, Go!” selection. And that’s fine. It still goes up on our tree, just as I hope they will one day be displayed as lovingly upon the girls “someday” ones.

And we’ll wonder if anyone remembers who the hell Diego was.
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