Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thoughts on Childhood

I was a strange child. Wait…that’s not right…let’s try again.

I was never a child. Yes, at one point I was a small person, but I have few memories of childhood, and even fewer that are happy.

I am my parents’ only child. I showed early signs of giftedness, including reading from the age of 2 ½. My parents separated when I was five, and my mother became emotionally dependent on me. In kindergarten, noises were made about moving me to 2nd grade, but my parents would not allow it. Later that year, I was taken to a 6th grade classroom to read to the students; my tested reading level was higher than the best reader in that class. When I reached 2nd grade, I asked my teacher if I could stay in during recess to talk to her; I felt I had more in common with her than with my peers.

Few toys held any interest for me. Baby dolls were hated, and would be immediately broken and/or discarded. Even at a young age, they gave me the willies (and still do). Crayons and other art supplies were good things. I wanted Legos desperately but never had any of my own. I never played with Barbies until 4th grade or so, but I used them only to develop the characters in the stories I wrote. Always, books were best.

After my parents separated in 1981, they engaged in a protracted legal battle. Three years later, they were divorced and my mom won full custody. Shortly thereafter, my dad married a manipulative, hateful, nasty woman. They will celebrate their 27th wedding anniversary this year. My parents’ separation was a direct result of my mother’s depression, or rather, her refusal to submit to treatment for it. My maternal and paternal grandparents are old-school about mental illness. Depression isn’t a disease, it is indulgent behavior. You don’t need to see a doctor, you need to just get over it. Because of this attitude, and because my mom would’ve sooner set herself on fire than do anything that might disappoint her parents, she suffered. She is still suffering now. Mom has occasionally seen a therapist for a short time, but she refuses to be medicated, and she will not open up during talk therapy.

So there we were…a barely functional (and sometimes non-functional) woman and a small, strange child. Mom only worked for about six of the eleven years I lived at home after my dad left. My grandparents’ connections got her two of the three jobs she’s had since I was five (she could hold a job, she just couldn’t get one without help). My grandparents and the child support my dad paid supported us when she was unable to work. She did not - and does not - have friends. She did not cook one single meal after my dad left. We ate fast food or had pizza or Chinese delivered twice a day. She rarely did laundry and hygiene was spotty; I was the stinky kid for a big chunk of elementary school. That stuff I could live with. What bothered me was mom’s need to control me. She wasn’t overly concerned about what books I was reading, or what time I went to bed, but if I talked to my friends on the phone, she had to know everything that was said. When I came back from my dad’s every other Sunday night, I had to sit with mom for at least one hour (and sometimes much longer), describing every single detail of the entire weekend.

I fought with my mother from the age of ten or so. These were not little spats. We fought daily. I screamed, cursed, threw things, and slammed my bedroom door so often I’m surprised it didn’t break off its hinges. I hated her. I didn’t feel like a normal kid, and never had. I was expected to be my mom’s emotional support. I was expected to act like an adult, yet I had more restrictions than most of the kids I knew. And the more I rebelled against that control, the more mom tried to control me. Finally, three weeks into my senior year of high school, I moved into my own apartment. Until I turned 18, my dad paid me the child support he would’ve paid my mom. Everything else was up to me. I worked my ass off and still graduated tenth in my class.

I’ve been on my own now for more than half my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it’s hard for me to relate when my friends talk about the joys of being a kid. Maybe they really did have happier, or more traditional childhoods than I did. Maybe it’s because they are seeing the world through the eyes of their own kids, and they’ve forgotten the things they hated about being a kid.

Or maybe I wouldn’t have enjoyed being a kid even if I’d had “normal” parents. I'd sooner set myself on fire than be a child again. I was never a kid, anyway.


OutsidetheLinez said...

Sometimes I wonder if being gifted automatically comes with a dysfunctional childhood. As you well know I have the grand pleasure of having my very own alcoholic father. I remember a house of violence and secrets and a mother that was so withdrawn from herself that I don't even know how she managed to do for her kids. She put everything she had into us and out happiness; never her own.

Believe it or not I always knew your home life was unhappy. My mom, even though she isn't always perfect KNOWS EVERYTHING. I remember coming home from kindergarten and bragging about you. I was so impressed that you could read "even better than me" and I remember when you were shipped to 6th grade like an attraction at the fair. Mr. Brooks even made an announcement about it. I was always painfully shy and growing up in a house of secrets made it hard for me to make a friend. I confided in my mom that I thought you would be a good friend. I guess I knew then that we had a lot in common. This is what she told me: "She is a very gifted girl, but her parents don't get along. She's always being pushed and pulled between the two of them. She's like a pawn in a very sick game." I'm not sure if that was a word for word quote but I remember the conversation vividly (you know me). But my mom knew that and I don't know why. In my own little sad way I thought it was nice that there was another smart kid with a screwed up life, too.

I was always a fan and a friend, even when all I did was smile. I wish I had been braver back then. Imagine the adventures we could have had. We would have probably started the world's youngest book club. lol And we could have avoided the creepy ass blinky eye dolls together.

Oh, and here's an interesting fact: The first time I ever moved I was 4. I had no real concept of what we were doing but I wanted to help. Mom handed me a box and told me to go in my room and pack. She said to start with the most important things first. I came back in a few minutes and told her I was done. I had packed my reading lamp and my books. :)

Carol said...

Oh, Sissy, thanks so much for posting this! You brought tears to my eyes. I think about the adventures we could've had, too. But since we reconnected in 2006, you have been one of my biggest champions, and I am so thankful to have you in my life. I am a fan and a friend, and even though we never see each other (WTF is up with that, anyway?) you are one of my bestest friends. Luvs you, girl!