Sunday, February 28, 2010

Who are you?

In families we all tend to fill roles. The good kid, the prankster, the troublemaker, we all have a label and a place to fit. I was the good daughter. Not a hard battle for the title really as you can see. As the good daughter you have a few responsibilities, you get good grades, you do as you are told and you don't rock the boat. So for a long time this is what I did.

But I am going to back up again here, bear with me it's a long way to back up, about 75 years. When my mother was growing up her older sister was the favorite child. She was the princess, the perfect daughter, the angel of the family and my grandparents made no secret about their favoritism. This caused my mother and my Aunt Dorothy to HATE their older sister. I guess since Aunt Annie knew she was the favorite she really lorded it over the other two. She was mean and nasty to them and was never in any trouble over it but if they retaliated they were punished. Well my mother decided that this was not going to happen in her household when she had children and so she went about making sure we were all even. And she does it even to the is day with her grandchildren.

Sounds great right? And I do appreciate the thought process behind it, it's the execution of it that caused issues. I will give you an example with the grand kids. When Christopher was in 8th grade he made the All-City Honor band. I was very proud of him and called my mom to let her know. Her response? "That's nice, [your nephew] is off of parole." Let that last sentence sink in for a second. But she had to balance it. She had to find something good to say about one of the other grand kids and that was the thing that popped into her mind quickest. I just shook my head. Off of parole is equal to honor band. Okay, got it. And the funny thing is I knew that Christopher's news would be treated the same way on the other end. One of the other grand kids would do something soon, maybe my oldest nephew would get cast in a play he wanted and when he told his grandmother the response would be, "That's nice, Christopher made the honor band." She loves all of us equally and she wants to show it but instead of breeding feelings of equality it breeds resentment.

The other thing it does is make you wonder why you are trying so hard. Once my sister straightened up her drug use was only mentioned briefly and in passing. And what happened during the time she was using was never talked about at all. If I said anything my mother would say something along the lines of how good all of that was in the past. Sweep it up, box it up and put it away. Because she was using during the time period where you are learning who you are and how to take care of yourself on your own and find some independence she didn't develop those skills in the same way as the rest of the siblings. This led to her needing to be bailed out a lot. And I think my parents were so happy that she was "back" that they wanted to make sure they gave her every opportunity they could to do well. So when you are working hard to do the right thing and you see someone else not (in your opinion) and you are both being rewarded in the same ways it starts to eat at you just a bit. And on the other side of it, she stopped using so she got better but it took me much longer, I didn't have a switch to flip to make it all go away. So as she got healthy and started a normal life again and everyone else was able to move forward I was stuck. And I didn't even realize it.

My parents are really good people. Let me put that out there because I know a lot of what I am writing doesn't make it sound like they were or are. This is another area for disclaimers. I really do believe that they did the best they could with what they had. They were both working very hard, Mom had a full time job (by full time I mean probably 50 hours a week) and Dad worked two jobs. My brother worked one to two jobs at a time as well. They were very busy trying to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. So the things that seemed important to a 12 year old really weren't all that big in their minds. Doesn't make them bad, just makes them busy.

When I was in fourth grade my teacher held an end of the year conference with my mother and told her they really wanted to double pass me the next year. Basically have me skip fifth grade. It was apparent I was very far ahead of the class and I was bored. To head off the disruptive behaviors that come with smart kids getting bored in school she wanted to send me right to the sixth grade. My mom would have none of that. If the pubic school system couldn't educate me then she would find someplace else that could. This lead to me going to Parkview Baptist School from 5th - 8th grade. It was the least expensive private school they could find and it would let them pay on installments instead of all up front. This was a huge decision for them to make and I am really grateful for Back then I was just furious. How dare they take me away from my friends right at the end of my elementary years? We were going to RULE THE SCHOOL in 5th grade. We were finally the oldest kids there and instead I was right back in the middle of the pack and in a BAPTIST school? We weren't even baptists!

Looking at it now I am amazed they made that choice. First off, we were barely getting by as it was, to add a few hundred dollars a month to our budget must have been the straw the broke the camel's back. Secondly it meant making sure I had a ride to and from school, where I had been a latchkey kid since first grade. If you are working full time all the time this isn't that easy to pull off. But it was a really good choice on their part and they didn't even realize all of the repercussions it would have. When I went back into the public school system in high school the first day of freshman registration I ran into the group of kids that I had hung out with in elementary school. Middle school is a time of serious changes. The group had split down the middle, half went the preppy jock route and half went the stoner freak route. Well, as we had no money and I have very little athletic ability you can see which group I most likely would have gone with. Instead I didn't hang with either of those groups in high school and spent most of my time floating.

So, the middle school years. My first day of school my parents were both working so it was up to my brother to take me. And I was not pleasant to be around, wasn't happy to be there and then really wasn't happy when all of the other kids were sitting in the first day Welcome Chapel service with their parents and I was there with my brother, poor Jeff having to deal with all of that. One of the girls asked me the next day if I was an orphan since she had never seen someone's parents miss the first day. Ouch.

Well that started my first experience with being ashamed of who I was. We were poor. Most of the kids there weren't. My parents didn't always make it to every event. When I pointed out to my mom that all the other kids had someone there for all of the programs she went about fixing it very pragmatically. Who ever had a day off went. Mom, Dad, Oldest Brother, Sister-in-law, Middle Brother. Who ever could fit it in the schedule that's who was going to be there. My seventh grade year, the morning of the Christmas program I told my mom I would see her at lunch time. She just looked at me, I said, "Remember? the Christmas play is today?" Oh yes, of course she remembered! I can only imagine the panicked phone calls that went around that morning trying to find someone who was free. My sister-in-law was the one that ended up stuck going. I am sure it was how she spent her lunch hour that day and I am glad she made it, since I was about to be the only one there again without someone in their family in the audience. Which is what happened the following year. When the play we presented was written by one of the students. Yeah, that would be me. Though I was a little grateful no one was there since the performers botched a middle scene which then threw the whole production off. I remember wanting to hand out scripts to everyone in the audience so they could see how it was supposed to go. :-)

When I was in the 8th grade at the end of the school year I came down with chicken pox. I got sick first at school. High fever and headache were the first symptoms. I went to the nurse's office (a cot outside the bathroom) to lay down and wait for a ride home. It took two hours for someone to come get me. My oldest brother pulled the card and he couldn't come until he could get off of work. Now by this time he was married, out of the house and had a baby of his own and he was still being called into duty to take care of things in our house. On one hand it shows the good things about my family, still pulling in and helping each other out, but at 12 when the teacher is checking on you again and again and no one has come yet it's just embarrassing.

As an adult I completely understand. My parents were running as fast as they could to keep up. We were sinking under financial strain, including my tuition, every time they thought they were making progress something would happen that would set them back. A car would blow up, dad needed knee surgery, a loan would come due. Two steps forward three steps back. So I can see how the day to day things sometimes got skipped. But when you are a kid, all you can see is that you are invisible. That even though you are working hard and doing what you think you are supposed to nobody is noticing.

And it didn't help that twice in that time period the set back was bailing out my sister. After graduation she went to Grand Junction to college. When she first left it was like I got a chance to take a deep breath for the first time in my life. I had my own room! I had space! How exciting! I am not sure what happened exactly but she didn't make it for more than a year. This meant going and getting her and bringing her back home. So back to half of everything again. Then she moved to Dallas for a stretch, she was gone longer that time and I was just getting used to the idea of her not coming back when they went and got her again. Everything that happened to her in those time periods really is her story to tell but I will talk a little about the Dallas time in another blog (possibly tomorrow) as I need to talk about our evolving relationship as well. But at the time what I didn't really understand is how much buried resentment I had towards her and towards my parents for everything. So every time they bailed her out I got angrier and angrier but instead of expressing it I squashed it down. Anger can only be squashed for so long before it explodes.

I was also disconnecting even then from my parents. Like I said my mother will tell people I was born old and could take care of myself at a very early age. But the truth is I didn't trust them to take care of me so I did it myself. I also had a lot of responsibility for a young kid. The housekeeping was all on me. Cleaning house, doing the laundry, even part of the cooking back when we were eating at home. When I was in middle and high school my mother would bring her mother out for the summer. The times when my sister was home it was split between the two of us to take care of her. She was in her late 80s and had the beginnings of Alzheimer disease. When my sister moved out it was all on me. That's too much responsibility for a 14 year old. I felt for my sister because she was forced to take care of me at the same age. It probably helped me to start understanding the frustrations she must have been feeling at the same time in her life.

But by the time I was finishing 8th grade I was very independent. If you had asked me I wouldn't have been able to articulate it, but I was already feeling like my parents weren't parenting me so much as they were bankrolling me. Food, shelter, clothing, a set of rules that had to be followed, but that was about it. Did they and do they love me? Absolutely. But I was already closing off from everyone, including them and so I wouldn't be giving them very many opportunities to show me. And when they tried I didn't trust it and I rejected it. But they did love me, and they did do a number of things to show it. It was just bouncing off my shell by then.

Too long so enough for today!

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