Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Parents- Part One

It's probably not entirely uncommon for children to wish their parents were someone else. My first set of fantasy parents I remember were the Seavers, whom I caught on reruns of "Growing Pains." My second idealized parent was "Lorelei" from "Gilmore Girls." There's probably some deep-rooted psychological involvement in my choosing a single mother as my imaginary parent. My mother has been significantly ill for much of my life, and even when she's not ill, she's sometimes too tired to do more than go to work, then come home and go to bed. She's not always asleep during this time, and even if she is, my brother and I are allowed to wake her up for any reason at all, even if we just want to talk. Still, many parenting chores have fallen on my father. He's had to be the bad guy more than his share of the time. My imagining him out of the picture in my perfect world was probably because of all the times he had to function as a parent and put a stop to my foolishness.

My parents' lives have been far from charmed. My dad's mom had and continues to have mental health issues that are hardly ever discussed. When
Dad was around twelve, his parents lost a baby to SIDS. Doctors thought his mother needed a change in scenery and a sunnier location in order to recover, so the family packed up and moved from Massachusetts to Florida. Then the formerly stauch Catholic family decided to convert to Mormonism. If a child has been thoroughly entrenched, brainwashed, or whatever one might call it, in a particular faith, just telling the child, "You no longer believe in this, this and this; you now believe in THIS!" is not necessarily going to take. My father wanted to make his parents happy, so he never complained about the change in religion. He enrolled at the university operated by the family's new church, and he even served a two-year mission for their new church, despite the fact that he says he never believed a word of it. He says that it nearly killed him to lie in the interviews required for him to be ordained an elder, to go through the temple, and to serve a mission, but he did what he had to do to make his own parents happy. He'd seen his mother in the depths of despair, and he didn't want to see it again.

When my father returned from his mission, he took larger-than-usually-allowed academic loads to get through undergrad studies as soon as possible.
He was accepted into the University of California Medical School. His parents were not happy to see him go to California, as they considered it some sort of a den of iniquity. A few years later, their worst fears were confirmed when my father met my mother. She was a (GASP) Catholic! If he married her, their marriage could not take place in an LDS temple, which would mean that the marriage would last for time only and not for all eternity. (My grandparents hated my mother so much that this should have been a source of consolation rather than one of grief to them.)

Shortly after informing my parents of his engagement to my mom, my father was served with papers from his parents' law firm. His parents were suing him for the cost of his undergraduate education and his mission. They offered to drop everything if my father would likewise drop his engagment to my mom. He refused. As a university medical student, my father had access to some sort of legal services from an affiliated college of law (it may have been Hastings). The suit was soon found to have no merit, and my grandparents had to pay court and legal costs.

Under more normal circumstances, this would probably have severed any and all ties between my father and his parents. My mother, however, is one of the most compassionate beings ever to have walked the planet. She told my father to give his parents time to recover, then to resume contact as though nothing of the sort had ever happened. Every gift, card, visit, or any contact has been as a direct result of my mother's insistence, yet my grandparents and many of their children still behave as though my mom is The Anti-Christ.

The wedding happened in Nebraska. My fathers' parents and siblings did not attend, except for my Uncle Steve, who was fifteen and served as my dad's best man. He was treated as persona non grata for months by his family for his participation in my parents' wedding. My father's aunt and uncle from Massachusetts came and sat in the place where the groom's parents normally sit.

My mom was the youngest (by just a few minutes, as she was a twin) in an Irish Catholic family of seven children. Her parents were, by nearly all accounts, good people who loved their children but who also loved booze. My grandfather was a retired U. S. Air Force pilot who later worked for commercial airlines before retiring from there as well. My mom's mom died of cancer when my mom was fourteen.

My mom doesn't know that I'm aware of this, but other relatives have filled me in on a few details concerning my mom's adolescence. She was growth-delayed and physically immature, as I am, so she wasn't a slut, but she was wild in many other ways. Subtance abuse wasn't a problem for her, either, probably because of she possessed the inherent desire of many teens to be different than their parents. My mother's misbehavior took the form of minor organized crime. It started with a sports-betting ring she ran. She was able to start it up with proceeds she earned from playing the organ at church, which is ironic in its own right. The bookie gig served my mother well. Even though she earned a full ride to college, she never had to work a day in college to come up with spending money. I say she never had to work, because she did a bit of moonlighting by authoring term papers for the athletic department of a neighboring university. She was paid to work as a tutor, but her actual duties were clearly understood by all involved, and she never spent as much as a second of time in direct contact with students -- athletes or otherwise.

My mother's other mischief wasn't for financial gain, but purely for pleasure. She was a computer whiz before her time, and programmed the school principal's computer so that any messages he sent on his computer to his love interest (both the principal and the love interest were married to other people in the district at the time) would scroll onto the marquee (facing a very busy avenue) repeatedly until which time the principal sent another message to his lady love, at which time that message would scroll. She would pass strategic rumors that a food fight was to take place in the cafeteria on a particular day at lunch. All the administrators would be ordered to report to the cafeteria for the lunch period. This would allow the students to come and go as they pleased elsewhere on the campus, and it was a closed campus. She once orchestrated an "eathquake" in an upstairs classoom by having students shake desks and pound the floors, solely for the purpose of seeing if it could be done well enough to fool the teacher. (It did.) What I've shared are the very least of the things she has done. A few of her colleagues read this blog, so I'll spare her privacy and her job by quitting while she is ahead.

My aunts and uncles say that my grandfather was too grief-stricken and too far into the bottle to have a clue what she was doing. Her older siblings would occasionally threaten her with bodily harm if she carried anything too far, but they otherwise just prayed a lot.

So anyway, my parents got married and lived happily ever after except for the times real life interfered in various ways, such as my mom's illnesses including leukemia, the loss of premature twins, the birth of surviving twins, one of which (ME!) weighed two pounds, four ounces, and my grandparents' failure to understand that charity should begin at home.

As much as it pains me to admit it, raising me has done very little to make my parents' lives easier. I don't know if I'm just genetically my mother's child (although most of what I've been able to come up with pales in comparison to her antics), if being a small person has made me fearful of being ignored, and so I've behaved outrageously at times to ensure that such is not the case, or if I have a complex about being the less favorite of my parents' two children (I really don't know if this is true or not, but too often it seems that way). I can't really blame anything on my mother's illnesses because I reportedly first asserted my difficult personality in the delivery room.


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