Recovering (From) Faith: Parents

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It’s hard for me to write about my childhood because of how spotty my memories of it are. A lot of it I have had to piece together bit by bit from later things, stories I’ve heard and things that have been implied. My family isn’t one for talking, which made it hard for me to be part of them in some ways, since that was all I ever wanted to do.

This is what I know. My parents met when my mother was about 28 and my dad was about 26, somewhere in that neighborhood. They were married when dad was 27 and mom was 29. My mother had spent from high school until around a year or so before she met my father as an alcoholic. She had gotten sober and was apparently trying to start a new life. She never dealt with why she was drinking to begin with but she had stopped and that was important. They met at a church single’s night. My dad was playing volleyball (the only sport he ever enjoyed playing). On their second date they drove from Seattle to Canon Beach and back in a day, so I guess they got along pretty well. My dad proposed in his car. It wasn’t planned, it was just part of a discussion. My mom said yes but he needed to come back the next day and do it right. He did, down on one knee and the whole bit. The phone rang while he was doing it, they never found out who was calling.

My mother had not planned to have children until she met my father and apparently decided she wanted children with him. My father was unsure about having kids, I guess until I was born. There’s a picture of him holding me right after I was born. I’ve never seen him smiling like that. He has tears in his eyes, he’s incredibly happy. I am positive that his main goal in life was to not be like his father, to not walk out on us. My mom got pregnant again a year or so after me. The baby was born quite prematurely and only lived a few hours. His name was Daniel. I was 2 years old. I don’t know a lot about this period in my parent’s life but I can gather from what they’ve said that it’s an open wound that’s never been dealt with. I think my mother’s hopes at happiness sort-of shattered with that. I suspect my parents were pretty emotionally distant from me during this time, more than they would be later. From what I know about child development, that was probably not awesome. Still, life goes on. My mother got pregnant again and my brother was born. 16 months later, my youngest brother was born. And then there were 3.

I don’t know how my mother coped with that exactly. I suspect not well. I don’t believe she was ever really cut out for mothering. She wasn’t particularly nurturing and she had too many things left undealt with. I imagine 3 of us at home 24 hours a day must have been very overwhelming. I remember more good stuff from when I was a child though. She read to me every night until I was 9. She did all the voices, read the entire Mary Poppins series to me in a British accent. Sometimes she suddenly out of nowhere took on the character of an old woman who pretended not to know who we were. She would do this for the entire day and we loved it. But she was also confusing and unpredictable. The rules weren’t set. There were times she would fly off the handle, start screaming at me for seemingly very small things. I stopped telling her I was sick if I could hide it when I was about 9 or 10 because I didn’t want to anymore. Our “homeschool” was mostly a joke, an excuse to keep us away from the evil public schools that would brainwash us.

When I was 3 or 4 years old, I was molested by neighbor children. I came running home sobbing, crying that they had pulled my pants down. I don’t think I had words for what they had actually done. My father went next door to talk with the parents, I guess. I don’t remember if I knew that. I have no idea if anything was done past that point. I don’t believe they ever took me to a doctor, ever reported anything. I now know they should have, now know it was in fact their responsibility to follow through on a thing like that. But the funny thing about having so much hurt in your own life is that sometimes dealing with other people’s means looking at your own. I don’t think my mother was up for that.

My father was home every night, home every weekend. I worshipped him. Unlike my mercurial mother, he was freakishly predictable. Everything he did when he got up in the morning, when he came home at night, we could predict every move. He told me he loved me every day, he called me little girl. When I was a child he hugged me and played with me. I sat on his lap while he read to me. I literally didn’t even care what he read. There are pictures of me sitting on his lap while he read me Car and Driver magazine just because I wanted him to read to me. I have dim memories of just falling apart a few times when he was going somewhere and refused to take me with him. I desperately wanted to make him happy, to impress him, to make him believe I was smart.

I was a somewhat strange child. I spent my whole life homeschooled, quite isolated. My only social life was mostly church. I was quite at ease with adults but had no concept of how children’s relationships worked. People were constantly telling me how smart I was but I don’t remember necessarily feeling that way. My parents also told me I was smart but mostly that seemed to mean that I thought the same things as them, I could work my way through to the same conclusions with them. I asked questions, I wanted to know everything about people. I was imaginative and with the friends I did have I liked to make up pretend games for us to play, usually dramatic ones that involved me getting to die somehow. I read constantly because school didn’t take me long but my friends were in school all day. I had periods of depression even then, sometimes getting weirdly obsessed with death or after my grandfather died having occasional days where I would refuse to play with my friends and just sit against the house overwhelmed with sad feelings where I couldn’t move. I never told my parents about these things. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that I could and even if it had, I wouldn’t have had a clue what to say. We didn’t talk about feelings. We talked about ideas.

I don’t remember it being a great childhood but I won’t say it was the worst. It was, however, setting up for a whole lot of trouble to come. Someone gave me one of the “power and control wheels” that we use at my practicum the other day; this one specifically focused on child abuse. She pointed out the part about emotional abuse and suggested perhaps some of it would resonate with me. I have to admit that it did, although I still struggle to use the word abuse in relation to my family or what I went through. When everyone is doing the best they know how to do and it’s all such vague and spotty memories, it’s hard for me to attach such a hard word to it. What I can and will say however is that it wasn’t healthy, it wasn’t good. Not for me and I think not for them. We were all drowning in fear we couldn’t talk about and that no one seemed to fully understand. It was a pretty dark time and, with the onset of adolescence, things were about to get a lot darker. But that’s next week’s story.

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