Thursday, December 13, 2012

Moms and other mysterious creatures, part two

Now for my stepmother.  Again a woman I did and do love.  I don't like her much most of the time.

When she got me and my sister, I had been the head of our little family unit.  Even at eight.  I was the one who went to the store for food and milk.  I was the one who bought cigarettes for my mother.  Obviously this was before there were age restrictions on buying cigarettes and alcohol.  I sometimes picked up my little sister from daycare, and sometimes made dinner for the two of us.

Immediately upon integrating us into her household, CC made it known that that behavior was not welcome. I was an eight-year-old girl and she didn't want me parenting or protecting my three-year-old sister.  I think of all the changes she made to my life during that first year, I hated that the most.  I wasn't needed anymore.  I felt superfluous and useless.

I was allowed to call her by her given name for a couple of weeks, until my sister and CC's own daughter began doing it, too, and then she made me call her Mom.  Oh, did I rebel against that, but being the eldest-perfect-child-hero stereotype, that rebellion came out sideways, never head-on.

I was nasty to her.  I disliked her intensely - hated that she had married my father, and hated that she was trying to be my mother when I already had a perfectly good one (not so much from an adult perspective, but it was what it was), hated that because of her, I had been taken from my mother and was no longer allowed to see her.

On the other hand, she had five brothers and five sisters, so I had aunts and uncles galore.  My youngest uncle was twelve, and the next youngest was sixteen.  I simply adored the two of them, to the point of hero-worship, and they put up with me and my sudden constant presence at family gatherings.  In those days, nearly all of the original eleven were still located in and around Denver, so a family dinner on Sunday was a mammoth affair to my previously one-aunt, two cousins mind.  Though CC resented my place in her life, her family accepted me immediately and with open arms.  I am no longer close to many of them (I mean, it's nearly forty years later, after all), but I love them all, without exception.

I was the eldest of the grandchildren.  CC was only 22 at the time, and most of the other originals were not yet married, and none of those who were had children older than two or three.

As fractious as our relationship was, we came to some kind of detente, because she was the only mother I had for seven years.  She fed me, clothed me, taught me how to set a table regardless of who was coming to dinner, enforced manners and proper behavior, let it slide when I'd rather read than go outside, and put up with my bad attitude with questionable grace.

She also regularly beat me, slapped me, berated me verbally and emotionally, and took all her resentments out on my physical and emotional person.  From this distant perspective, I know that she did the best she could with what coping tools she had, but my inner child says it wasn't good enough.

There were moments, though.  When I came home devastated in the sixth grade because I'd gotten my first B, she put her arms around me and let me cry, and made sure I understood that a B was plenty good enough.  Perfectionist me didn't believe her, but not through lack of trying.  When she caught me sneak-reading the Playboys, she didn't berate me, but sat me down at the dinner table, made me look at them from cover to cover and asked me if I had any questions, reassured me that those women in the pictures didn't look that good in real life, that real women had hair on their legs and didn't have to wear makeup to look pretty enough.  When my sixth grade teacher (ah, Mr. McCormack!) spanked me for some transgression, she stormed to the school and made sure he knew that it was NOT acceptable for the school to spank me for any reason whatsoever.  After that, I had to run laps.  I'd rather have been spanked, frankly.  When I got my first period, she was matter-of-fact about showing me how to use the sanitary belt and how to attach the pads to it (yes, I am that old), and calmed me down when I was sure that everybody could smell that I was on my period.

We functioned on an uneven keel until the year my dad had a solitary tour in Korea, and was gone for an entire year.  Our little family had to learn how to function without daddy around, and my relationship with CC changed and was sometimes less antagonistic.  When he came back, we all had to learn to deal with that again.  Anybody who says it's only the active duty member who really sacrifices is full of shit.

Anyway, during what we now call the tween years, particularly while my dad was gone, beatings and threats to send me back to my mother (for some reason, I was terrified of this) were the norm.  Anything that went wrong, I got punished for it.  Any chore that needed to be done, I was assigned to do it.  Basically, anything that made her life easier was my responsibility.

Things happened when I was fourteen, outside the immediate family, and things came to a head with CC the summer I was fifteen, when I was walking from the bathroom to my bedroom, and CC randomly reached up and slapped me as I was walking past her.  I got completely still and silent (people who know me well tend to disappear on the exceedingly rare occasion this happens now), then shoved her into the sliding glass door and very calmly told her, "Don't. Ever. Touch. Me. Again."  She didn't ever beat me again, though she still yelled at me plenty.

I got through high school, nearly always on restriction or grounded from something (or everything), moved out as soon as I turned 18 in the middle of my senior year, and graduated.  Fiddled around, continuing to live a directionless life for a few years, then moved completely away, to another state, and got into therapy as a result of my aunt's inpatient treatment for something.  Learned a lot about myself during those five years, grew up a lot.  Came back to Texas and stayed in Dallas.  Since I left for Missouri in 1987, I've never lived full-time in San Antonio, though I have always considered it home and hope to return there in the very near future.

When I came to Dallas, I met and married my ex-husband, had Mrs. Potatohead ten months later (on our ten monthiversary, as a matter of fact) and CC all of a sudden got nice.  She bought the wedding announcements when we told her we'd gotten married, invited us to visit for the holidays and was generally a much nicer person to be around.  This lasted a while, I guess, but eventually she reverted to form.  She'd badmouth me to my daughter, talked about me to my sisters behind my back.  Again, I was the scapegoat for pretty much everything wrong in her life, though she was nice as pie to my face.  All kinds of lovey-dovey.

When Mrs. Potatohead  was old enough to spend time with my family on her own, CC was always happy to have her visit, creative with activities to keep her occupied, and generous with her time and material things.  We lived in an uneasy peace for years, with her being supportive on the surface, and ugly when I wasn't there to hear it.

CC kept up the surface support, even during some of my most trying emotional times, and I continued to accept this dichotomous behavior from her.  I've made my peace with it, and kinda figure she's given me what she's capable of giving, all things considered.  It's not good enough, but it never will be, and yet, it has to be.  It's all there ever will be.

Three and a half years ago, we had to move out of the house we'd been living in, and she offered to pay for an apartment for a year, if we'd move into the apartment she chose for us (that is, Miss Not-Yet-Potatohead and myself).  We made the move, Miss became Mrs, Mr and Mrs had Baby Potatohead, and Mrs graduated from high school in spite of everything.  My kid is something special.  Anyway, the year of financial support became six months, and with a fifteen-month lease, we struggled to stay in that place and pay all the bills, until Mr Potatohead went into the USAF.  He got out of basic training, started getting paid, and Mrs Potatohead started paying all the bills.  The child had become the parent to some degree, and I'm willing to bet part of her resented it.

During the last part of this, my truck started needing more repairs than it was worth, and I sold it.  We went without a car for quite a while, dependent on others to get us around for anything.  Nearly two years ago now, CC told me that if I could find a car I liked, she would pay for it, with one stipulation.  She was done with me.  I was to stay out of her life for good.

At last, after almost forty years, the gloves came off and she was honest about what she wanted.  I have to recognize the powerful moment for what it was, and I admire her for finally saying what she actually felt instead of catering to the party line that family is family and we should all be happyhappy together.  What a crock that is.

Last year, CC let me know via email that if I wanted to come over, I'd have to find a way to get there (remember I didn't have my car for a year because of that horrid mechanic).  My sister insisted this would be considered an invitation, but I found it less than gracious, and insincere, so I didn't bother making any effort to find a way over there.  I live half an hour away.  If she really wanted me there to any degree whatsoever, someone could have come and got me.

On the other hand, she sent bits and pieces of xmas dinner with said sister when she drove to see me on her way out of town.  I did enjoy the traditional family fare, even a day late and cold.  lol

I'm OK with not seeing her.  However, staying out of her life means that I don't get to see my dad, and I miss him something awful.  He last spoke to me at xmas, the month before she bought me the car I have now.  He sent me an email for my birthday that year, but didn't actually speak to me, and last year, I got nothing at all from him, not even a text message.  I'm trying to get to my happy place with that, but man it is difficult to do.  I'll admit that I had myself a little pity party over my birthday last year.  Staying out of her life also means that I don't get to see the rest of the family at Thanksgiving and Christmas, though Thanksgiving is usually spent with my girlfriend in SA.

As painful as it is to have my dad be out of my life, I prefer this honest-to-herself CC over the previous two-faced one.  If she doesn't like me, she shouldn't have to pretend that she does.  Much as I love her, I don't have to pretend to like her anymore, either.  I can live with that.

None of this should be construed as meaning that I am blameless and perfect.  I so am not.  I, too, am doing the best I can with the coping tools I have.  It's a wonder I'm still sane after all I've been through, as a great man once said.  :D  Actually, I don't think I am sane, but don't tell anybody.