Not a blog about my parents nor their parenting skills nor how they would have benefitted from a good therapist earlier in their lives, I feel there is staging required for the story of me. While the early years were fairly drama free in my memory, my folks had their own intra- and interpersonal difficulties.
My mom was, and still is, a driven worker. She always had projects: painting a room, weeding a flower bed, sewing some jammies, canning pears, scrubbing mildew from the aluminum framed windows, cleaning the oven, ironing. While there was work to be done, work required by the economics of a family of 5 on a teacher’s salary, my mom seemed to go above and beyond. The woman in the Old Dutch Cleanser ad is very like my mother’s attention to dirt, grime,
spots on the carpet or cupboard fronts: freakishly strong for a petite-sized person and serious in her work effort. Even now it’s not uncommon for her to begin a conversation with ‘Oh honey, I’ve been grubbing out _____’. The Law of Entropy ensures my mother will always have work to do. She would sit down to read us a story; my favorite memory is her reading The Secret Garden to all three of us. And she always sat down for morning coffee break-sometimes just with us, sometimes joined by her sister who lived next door.
The two moms would gossip, sip their perked-in-aluminum coffee, and nibble on Ayds Diet Candy. It was a given that mom was busy. We were to play with each other inside or outside, with not much attention or notice given until a conflict arose. We lived in a private neighborhood with four houses, including Grandparents and Aunt/Uncle/Cousins, so outside play, away from the house, was normal. A psychotherapist might enjoy delving into my mom’s insatiable drive to stay busy.
My dad was, and still is, a tortured melancholy: intelligent, articulate, but without confidence in or healthy pride of himself. He worked the hours of a public school teacher, commuting 30-45 minutes each way. He taught spanish and the occasional additional subject, to city middle school students. We went to a school faculty talent event once. I remember thinking the school’s performance theater amazing, and remember only bits of the music teacher’s act. I vaguely remember being at the school once or twice while he set up his room for the fall start. Other than that, my dad left his work at work. He had his own projects at home: fixing cars and other mechanicals, mowing the lawn until we were old enough to run the mower, doing house repairs before the term DIY came into use. He was a reader and, pre-internet, would have some current affairs book, Consumer Reports, or the Bible in hand. He watched the news and loved watching television sports, especially football. Memories of playing high school football in small town southeastern Oregon were some of my dad’s favorites. I know how to throw a football. My dad loved language and words, but he also needed for others to hear him, to understand his viewpoint. He didn’t write much, but discussions on politics or religion were common, and when young, it just sounded to me like the adults were fighting. This impression went deep. When I began to find different viewpoints in college, I learned quickly that if I didn’t want to experience a ‘discussion’ I kept these viewpoints to myself.
My dad loves all things Spanish, Latino, South American. A Mexican exchange student once told my dad that he had a Mexico City accent. This pleased him! He kept up on the language by reading it, having conversation with any native speaker he met, and taking trips to Mexico and South America as an interpreter. A point of great gratitude for me is that my dad insisted we never tell racial jokes, take part in racially motivated negativity of any kind-unless they were Ole and Lena Norwegian jokes; we could pick on our own ethnicity. My dad loves beauty and was, for example, behind the photos of flowers in our yard, sunsets on vacation, and plates of food on Father’s Day or Thanksgiving. He appreciated things that my mom overlooked in her busy-ness.
Not uncommon, I think my parents are the products of their families, of the socio-cultural constraints of those families, of the hurt and pain they experienced growing up. Also not uncommon, my parents embraced the religion of their upbringing, using it to try and propel themselves into healthier beings, but not acquiring any skills aside from prayer to make internal changes happen. Using busyness or opinions as a shield, my parents have been unable to heal, have been unable to grow into the full human-ness I believe is available to all. I love my parents and appreciate the life they gave to me. I look forward to moving myself beyond their limits.