Thursday, September 4, 2008

Backseat Questions

Childhood memories are kind of weird snapshots. Fragments of smells and images not really pieced together in any semblance of order.

I remember riding in the backseat of my mom's Oldsmobile. We were on our way home some evening, having just turned into our subdivision we were driving down the street towards our house. I leaned up against the front seat and struggled to formulate the question:

Mom? What is a bastard?

I could not see my mom's face, but I am sure it was a question she never expected to hear her elementary school-aged daughter ask.

I remember she fumbled a bit and responded that a bastard was somebody who didn't have a father. That they were born out of wedlock (this was the early 80's remember).

I sat on that for a minute, then asked:

Well then why does dad always call me that? He is my father, so why does he always call me a bastard?

As a mom of two little ones, I cannot even now imagine what went through my mom's mind. Of the sorrow. The anger. The frustration. I don't really remember what she said to me save that my dad shouldn't say such things and that it was a bad word.

It was left at that.

I was so confused.

I don't know if my mom ever said anything to my dad about it. I doubt it made any difference if she did.

My next and only other recollection in that same vein is that of my dad chasing me out of the house one afternoon intent on spanking me for something I had done. I ran like hell out the front door with him right on my heels. I was faster and was running across the front lawn when through gritted teeth he yelled at me You little bastard!

I remember that I whirled on the the sidewalk and screamed at him that he was my father. That I was not a bastard, and that he shouldn't say that to me.

Close curtain. End of scene.

I am like my father in so many ways. I look like him. I have a terrible temper. I am overly sensitive and do not always communicate my feelings well.

But holy christ do I love my kids. I do not ever, ever want to put them through that kind of anguish. That verbal abuse. I know that potential is inside me because I lived through it.

They say when you know better you do better. I do know better, but sometimes it is just so hard when you don't have any other model. There are days I catch myself in the mirror. When the kids are screaming and fighting with each other and my blood pressure puts Mount St. Helens to shame.

I can't go there. I won't go there. God help me not go there.


Anonymous said...

It is such a hard thing not to repeat history.

Hang in there, Natui, knowing is half the battle. God bless you for trying. :-) And I'm sorry you lived through that...

Patois42 said...

Wow. What a tough, tough thing to have to survive. I'm with you. I catch myself, but I'm afraid I often don't catch myself early enough. I don't want my kids to have memories similar to yours.

Anonymous said...

We've been discussing when to stop calling Zach little names that we may not want to explain at a later date (I'll leave them to your imagination). You've convinced me that now would be a good time.

RiverPoet said...

Oh honey - you won't go there, just like I didn't go there. I never treated my kids the way my parents (especially my dad) treated me. I never wanted my kids to feel unsafe the way I did, to feel the weight of the world, the way I did.

You are going to be fine. Unfortunately, it's hard to get rid of those old tapes running in your head. That's the worst, but I think those tapes are a model of what not to do for us.

Peace (and hugs...) - D

CPA Mom said...

Trying hard not to repeat my history as well. Thank you for this. For putting words to my own struggle.

Shelley Jaffe said...

Sounds like your dad and mine could have been from the same gene pool. I spent half my life walking on eggshells. Who knew when the tantrums would begin?

Just like my father, I have the capability of just losing it - and it scares the bejesus out of me.

But the difference between he & I? If I say something out of line, I:
1)acknowledge I messed up

Sounds like you've made leaps and bounds up that evolutionary ladder yourself, Missy!! Keep on.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's a tough thing to live through and remember...

I remember being called a 'little sod'. When I found out exactly what that meant it was like a smack in the face. I realised that they didn't actually, really, mean it like that, it was just an insult, but even so. Not nice for a kid.

For what it's worth, I think it's OK to yell at kids now and then, so long as it's not habitual and so long as they're secure in your love. If you do let slip and swear at them in a temper, talk about it with them afterwards and you'll find they appreciate that. Explain, if you feel you can, what happened to you and let them know that you 'fell into the pattern' and apologise to them. Even quite young children can sort of understand this on some level and .. well, if they know you love them, they'll be OK. Hugs to you.

Molly's Mom said...

Oh, oh, oh. What hell to have to live through. I don't know what else to say except I'm sorry, and that it's AWESOME that you have the strength to keep yourself from repeating the same pattern.

Irrational Dad said...

I worry about the same stuff. My dad wasn't there for much of my life, and I swore I'd be around for EVERYTHING that my son (and future offspring) does.

The way I see it though, is that there's no way you'd go down that same road, because you know where it leads. I don't have a relationship with my bio-dad anymore because I didn't really have a relationship with him then... I can't imagine my son not being a part of my life because I was a bad daddy, so I won't let it happen.

*Doesn't mean that I won't call him a bastard at some point though. I just hope to have the state of mind to do it under my breath when he gets me to that point.

KJ said...

Wow, that's fucked up but so well written.

It aint easy. There are so many little things. My temper goes from 0 to 100 in a flash sometimes, and I yell, and I hear my mother. Not me - my mother. She did that. I said something to my god-daughter last week which humiliated her. It was awful. I apologized. She was okay. But, that? That was my grandmother, humiliating me for something similar when I was 12. I eat crow when I screw up, and I try to do better, watch out for the triggers, count to ten... but fuck, I'm a pretty calm, generally sane person. And it aint easy. It just isn't. Better to know that and keep your eyes open for it, I think.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Oh, darlin'. I'm so sorry. I, too, have a bad temper, something I have to watch out for but something that overpowers me at times.

I'm glad that, at this moment, the worst they'll remember is being called "you little booger!"

Is that how you spell booger? Well, you get the idea.

Much love and hugs. :)

Gypsy said...

It's hard not to repeat learned behaviors. But you're right -- you know what it's like, so you try hard not to go there, which is admirable.

Would pissant work for you? My grandmother called me a pissant. Better than bastard anyway. {hugs}