I’m having a lot of anxiety about parenting lately. And, as much as this is something I know I shouldn’t be worried about, I really think it’s my parents’ fault.
This isn’t some anti-parent thing. Don’t worry, I’m not a musician. But there were many things that I remember from my childhood that I definitely feel I was the catalyst for.
My parents got divorced when I was in elementary school. I was around 1st grade level and my brother, if I remember correctly, was in pre-school.
I remember it hitting me hard. And, as the child of dual custody parents, I remember this made it always feel like something that never healed. I’m not saying that dual custody is a bad thing, I’m just saying I’m not sure it worked for me.
There was just something about spending half the week in one house, with one set of parents, one set of toys, one set of friends, one set of books and then spending half the week with the other halves of all those things makes you feel like you never have a home. Well…it made ME feel like I never had a home.
I always felt more like I was crashing at people’s houses.
Monday through Thursday I was at my dad’s house. My dad, very early, worked on a project that suddenly made him fairly wealthy. So, around the time I hit junior high, we were in this ridiculously over sized old home, over 100 years old, with creaky floors and an old servants entrance from the days where living in Parma Heights was more a positive status symbol than it was a stigma.
I had a TV in my room, a computer with internet access (in the mid-90’s when that was not common), I had a ton of toys, a ton of stuff. I knew a bunch of people in the area. And I had woods I could do run in and build things.
When I left school, I’d be picked up by my mom and go to her house until Sunday morning. My mom was constantly moving from apartment to apartment so this also didn’t help the “feeling like a home” vibe I really wanted.
But we had a TON of toys, I remember having all the He-Man and Ninja Turtle figures. Helped that my mom worked at a toy store.
We were always in very small apartments. The kind who’s bedrooms you could cross in a single bound.
But as we were always moving to various areas, I never really had friends. And I never got to comfy playing outside because we were always in one area just long enough for me to kinda not feel lost if I got to far away.
One day though, my mom finally got a house and stopped moving around. It was in an area near Cleveland where being Caucasian made you a minority. I didn’t really have a problem with this as, luckily, I was raised to not see color. Though, this wasn’t shared with my peers.
I’d go play outside and get viciously mauled by a bunch of black or Hispanic kids. Sometimes, they would even team up if it was sweeps week.
It would go to far as the kids getting help from family members destroying parts of our backyard fence just to remind me I wasn’t safe.
It was definitely a contrast. But, luckily, when I got my Sega CD that fixed everything.
Not sure if you know what Sega CD is, but it was a failed thing that attached to the Genesis that allowed for disc based game play. Most of the games were terrible, but there was this one game, Shining Force CD, that was four times the length of an average role playing game. Needless to say it was a game I could play for a life time (or in my case until the Nintendo 64 came out) but it was something that allowed me to go into the basement and hide from the madness.
But even that was a weird thing for me because my parents were feuding. Always. I’d go to my mom’s house where she’d say back handed comments about my dad, who’d say back handed things when I was at his house.
And that part, I get, for the most part, they had a fairly nasty break up and, honestly, ask me about MY ex and see how long it takes me to stop pouring forth obscenities.
But because of their feud, I was never allowed to bring toys or books back and forth. Once I went to the other parent’s house, that world was closed to me until I returned. And since I didn’t have a game system at my dad’s house (other than the Atari and Colecovision I had since toddlerdom) my escape into RPGs was left at my mother’s.
Another stark contrast was when my dad married the woman who became my step-mom. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those “wicked step-mother” tales. In addition to not being a musician, I’m also not brainwashed by Disney’s divorce is the devil ideology.
But what made it different was that, suddenly, when I was at my dad’s house, I had a little step-sister. This makes things a world more difficult. I can’t explain what it’s like to have a sister half of every week.
It didn’t help that she was a very difficult little kid too. Loved attention. Craved it. And had this delightful habit of breaking the things belonging to me and my brother, causing us to retaliate, causing her to cry, causing me and my brother to just receive next level punishment for hitting a girl.
But to get to where I’m going with this, THIS was my home life growing up. I’m leaving out the constant ass whoopings I received in grade school for a different blog, but this was my home life.
And my memory is amazing when it comes to my childhood. I remember being really little and my parents had parties a lot when they lived together. The basement had three pinball machines, a dart board, and a full sized old school bar complete with bar stools that were purchased from an old malt shop that I used to love laying on, on my belly, while spinning (I loved spinning).
But over time, the partying stopped. And while it seems like that’s part of adulthood, it wasn’t transitional. It was as my little brother started getting older. I was a hard sleeper, but my little bro was the end boss of hard sleepers. There’s even a (now) beloved story of both mine and my father’s in which we went to investigate noises coming from the room where my brother was asleep in his crib, only to find him on the floor, dissembling the crib by hand and putting the pieces into neat piles. I’m not making this up. This is real.
And over time things got worse. I remember something would happen. My dad would come home from a long day at work and would say something to my mom. I don’t remember them ever being anything all that bad, it would just be him venting about his day or something.
Then my mom would just…get this look and my back would lock. It felt like I had wings growing out of my back and were just involuntarily trying to crawl back inside. Every muscle would tighten.
And as they’d talk, their voices would start getting colder and louder. There would be the occasional snark.
One year was when what I now call “forced play” was started. The voices would raise and suddenly me and my brother were told to get our shoes and coats on. From there we were told to go play outside. Once we got outside the door was shut behind us and we weren’t allowed to come back in. Not that we wanted too. If their yelling was that loud outside, I would have hated to hear how loud it was inside.
My memories of that time period, leading up to the divorce are so vivid and I can’t help but relive them now. The working dad, the stay at home mom. It makes me scared.
Now, before I continue, I’m going to run through a checklist of things I’m not saying I’m against.
*I’m not against divorce. I think it’s better to end something bad, than to force yourself to live miserably, you only get one go ’round.
*I’m not against parents that work and/or parents that stay-at-home. I’m totally for however you go about raising your kid as long as you’re not hurting them.
*I’m not against my own parents. I love them both to death and know they tried their damnedest to support some incredibly difficult kids.
I’m just saying it makes me paranoid now. I’m a working dad now. My wife is a stay-at-home mom. And there’s clear parallels.
I’ll come home from a long day, brain-dead and wanting to scream, and return to the mom show, already in progress. And she’s got it hard too, hell, I don’t know if I could do what she does. Especially with our son currently boycotting sleep. Don’t get me wrong, me and her are cool. We’re not fighting or anything. And I love her to death. I’m just worried about the increased stress levels.
But I look at the situation I’m in and I realize that this is it. This is that page in the choose-your-own-adventure book my parents had where the wrong choice ends in collapse. The part that changed their life and my life as well. It starts about now.
And the scariest thing is, while I’ve been able to read the book up to now, I can’t fucking make out what that choice is I have to make or where to turn. What if the page I go to feels like it makes so much sense, only to have my wife hate me for it. When if they page I go to ends with something my child will grow to resent me for. I don’t know.
Anyways, this is me venting my fears. Feel a little better about getting it out there. Now, to get back to work.