The Almost-Divorce

My parents almost divorced when I was nine. I remember the conversation my mom had with me when she attempted to try to explain this. She pulled me into her bedroom and we both sat on her and dad’s enormous bed–the kind that are so wide, they’re almost square–and told me she wanted to tell me something important, something serious.

Dad, she said, had done some very bad things, and mom was very angry at him for being selfish and unfair to her. To this day, besides watching pornography, I’m not really sure what he did to make her so angry that she wanted to kill him. She told me that in her fury after hearing his confession of sin, she’d thought up dozens of ways she could kill him to avenge her anger. Obviously, she’d reflected, she couldn’t do this because she’d go to prison, and she didn’t want to put her children through this.

Uh, well, thank God.

This reasoning also helped mom conclude that if she really wanted to not traumatize her children, she ought to forgive dad and stay married to him instead–which, of course, she did. Their relationship healing has been an arduous journey to witness, and to this day it’s still not top-notch.

Throughout the years I have been made the mediator between them for various disagreements, to an absolutely unhealthy degree; however, as a kid, it’s hard to tell your parent that venting to you about their relationship troubles, ones that often involved siblings, sex, and other married couples, was inappropriate. I just listened, and gave them advice when they asked, which they mostly didn’t listen to.

From this I learned many things:

  1. My parents never should have gotten married. To make a long story short–my mom was a virgin when she met dad, and my dad had slept around. They both came from fucked up families; my mom was born out of wedlock, and didn’t meet her biological father until she was an adult, and my dad experienced the trauma of growing up with five different dads. I absolutely give them their due credit as parents trying to parent without positive examples to follow. They met at church, and my mom, against her “better judgment” lost her virginity to my dad, something she now feels has caused a great deal of spiritual attack on her and my dad’s marriage over the years. Based on what Christians believe about pre-marital sex being wrong, she and my dad both feel that having sex before marriage caused their marriage to collapse later on because of a breach in their relationships with God. Something about their purity being blemished…  Anyway, my mom had a best friend during my parents’ dating relationship who had feelings for her, and my dad maintained jealousy toward this relationship throughout. My parents got engaged when they were twenty-two, and eloped two months before their wedding, secretly. Because it was a secret, my mom’s best friend didn’t know, and he ended up proposing to my mom right before the wedding. Had my mom not eloped, she would have broken things off with my dad and married this guy instead. She has since compared my dad to him, and it’s wrought nothing but havoc on their relationship. My mom relayed this to me years after she discussed almost divorcing my dad with me, and I swore never to tell him, since–obviously–it would devastate him. The whole situation is fucked up and immature, but it’s made my parents’ relationship so stressed and arduous over the years that I believe it isn’t worth what it has cost. Of course, my siblings and I wouldn’t exist if my parents had never gotten married, but strictly as a third party spectator, I believe my parents could have been happier if they’d married different people.
  2. My parents are not the infallible adults they promised they were with every “because I said so,” “because I’m the adult and you’re the child!” and “don’t talk back to me” that they  snapped at us kids when they were tired and angry. I grew up as a kid believing that when I was an adult I’d finally have an opinion that was not only given the weight that my parents’ favored their own opinions with, but that I’d somehow automatically be right…just as my parents were. In some ways, I thought I’d be kind of like God, in how perfect and correct I made my parents out to be. The realization that this was not the case when my parents proved their faultiness was a crisp, dark moment for me that I remember experiencing repeatedly throughout my early high school years like Polaroid snapshots, which I can still feel the heaviness of. However, I was lucky enough to take away from these victimizing feelings that while my parents are very much flawed, and I am too, I have the opportunity–even the duty–to simply do better than they did for the next generation. As my boyfriend’s mom has also said, “I don’t need to be a perfect mom. I am happy simply doing my best and knowing that I am doing a little bit better than the generation before me.” What a freeing thought! That thought has made it so much easier for me to imagine myself parenting children who I will not screw over because of my past.
  3. Children are responsibilities that–once born into the equation–should never be excluded as a factor in the decisions parents make thereafter. This is a heavy realization, one that I have experienced first-hand as a regretful priority to my parents–namely my mom–growing up. For religious purposes, and due to my parents’ own jaded experiences in high school, they decided to home school me and my two brothers. My mom, thanks to the patriarchy movement, also decided she would not be working, and would instead be a stay-at-home-mom, which, over the years, translated into an inability to identify herself with anything other than her children. I believe this has greatly factored into her issue of vicariously living through us children and our successes and failures. By default, we have been her entire world.

To flesh this idea out a little bit, because it’s certainly confusing, I want to clarify that we children have not been neglected, per se. At least not in the usual parenting way. My mom has definitely shown signs of resentment toward her duties as a wife and mom, though, through her random Dinner Strikes, apathy toward teaching us certain subjects, such as geography, math, science, history, English, second languages…basically anything other than religion, come to think of it, and from her hesitation to drive us kids, well, anywhere. We led odd, socially-limited, very uneducated childhoods, and we ate a lot of Taco Bell and spaghetti.

Not terrible, but not really ideal.

Due to her slack in these areas, we had to learn to compensate–or go without. I taught myself my school subjects, and my brothers often got away with neglecting their homework. We cooked our own meals or made poor food choices. Our social lives were either local, or mostly digital. Children always find a way to cope with their circumstances, healthy or not. It is these coping mechanisms we learned as children that still impact our daily lives today.

Today I have an eating disorder. I struggle with constant loneliness and have very few friends. I graduated high school without any knowledge of algebra, and spent two years catching up just to pass algebra 1 in community college. My interest in math absolutely blossomed during that experience in college, too, and I realized that if I’d had access to a math teacher in high school, or even a tutor, I very well might’ve pursued a math-related career.

My brothers have also inherited the poor food choices issue, mainly my younger brother, but have been less proactive in compensating for the school subjects we ought to have learned in high school. On the other hand, they are incredibly social, in ways that even the introverted side of me envies.

Luckily, for Derrick and I, our career paths don’t require a lot of college education. Derrick is pursuing a career as a computer technician, and has been running a business part time for years now. He is also attending a trade school to improve his coding skills. I have also compensated well by starting my own business as a wedding planner, and have received the education in that industry through previous experience and trade school to be successful.

It is Adam, our younger brother, who we are most concerned about. His IQ is off the charts,  he has nearly a photographic memory, and we feel that he will absolutely need the education of a college degree to pursue the science career he is dreaming of. Luckily, he is still in high school, and since I still live at home, I keep pushing for him to be given the high school education that Derrick and I ought to have had.

I do think he will be alright though. Now that mom is only homeschooling one kid, she has much more time to focus on just his classes, and has started reaching  out to other home school groups to help educate him in the science and math areas he so clearly needs.

Advertisements

Child Author

When I was around seven, I looked at teenagers and thought, “If I can just turn thirteen already, then I’ll have made it. I’ll be all grown up.” And then I turned thirteen and didn’t know what seven-year-old Emmalyne had been thinking. All the so-called “grown up” thirteen year old’s I interacted with (including myself) were nowhere near fully grown–inside or out. When my older brother, Derrick, turned thirteen, and became too busy to play with me, I told myself, “I’m never going to get busy. There’s no time for playing!” even though I eventually did get busy–just as busy as Derrick still is today.

I find it interesting how we often idealize our visions for life–up until we get to the same fork in the road and make the same hard decisions we vowed we’d never make. That’s when we finally understand. That’s why they didn’t stick XYZ out. That’s why they weren’t grown up yet. That’s why they stopped having time to play.

As children, our minds are so small that we often develop tunnel vision toward the things we want, since we cannot help but be–for the most part–self-focused. We want to be constantly entertained, we want to eat macaroni and cheese and candy every day, we want to play with our friends, we don’t want to do homework, we don’t want to go to bed, we are not interested in finishing all of the veggies on our plates. It’s hard being a kid and not understanding what our parents experience every day as adults.

Some of us, like me, looked at adulthood as the end of life, just because it was the end of childhood. Certainly it would be the end of life as I knew it, but not the end of who I was. For some reason, I never really thought about my life post-high school, although, obviously, I knew how to have a conversation about it, for instance:

Friend or adult: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Emmalyne: “I want to be an author and write books!”

Friend or adult: “Wow! That’s great! Do you want to get married and have kids?”

Emmalyne: “Yep! I’m gonna live on a farm and have twenty kids and a nice husband.”

But those ideals were two-dimensional and uninspired to me. I’ve always been a writer, and continuing to be one was just a fact, so the career question didn’t constitute any real change for me. Getting married and having twenty kids was also just a goal my fundamentalist culture wove into my mentality growing up. (More on that later.)

Today I am so forward-focused that I’d hardly recognize my young self looking back, and that too has had an impact on my upbringing. As a child, however, I couldn’t fathom my future as an adult. Young life was filled with homework and friends and trying to develop my hobbies so that they could turn into a career as a writer. A child-celebrity, to be exact. That never happened, but I sure wanted it to, because I wanted to make money without having to go to college. That sounds lazy and ignorant, but there’s a lot more to it than that, and I’ll get into that later. A huge reason why I wanted to become published as a child was because my parents really pushed for this. They tend to swing between wanting what’s best for their children, wanting to live vicariously through their children, and wanting to be recognized within their social circles as successful parents. Of course, us kids didn’t catch onto this until our high school years, so we truly believed that the potential we had as young, drippy-nosed kids to become immediate successes was much higher than what was realistic.

To clarify, there is a difference between encouraging your children to shoot for the moon, and guilt-tripping them into believing that their lack of success is directly correlated to their lack of motivation and effort.

Regardless, my parents wanted me to become published young because the younger I was, the more novel (pun not intended) it would be. Just look at Christopher Paolini (remember Eragon?), published at nineteen! Publishing at fourteen would be a miracle! This was something I aspired to and worked toward constantly, and ended up turning out a 410-page, 180,000-word long fantasy novel (within a year and a half) when I was in Jr. High, but never ended up submitting it to publishing houses for a number of reasons.

One big one was the fact that my parents seemed to be breathing down my neck about it. They attempted to be strict about what I could write about (magic is BAD!) but also wanted me to “publish it already” because “wouldn’t it be nice to buy a house?” These feelings were very subtle, but they were there, and still bother me today.

On the other hand, because my parents made it clear from the start of my interest in education and career-paths that they did not–for both religious and financial purposes–believe in college, I felt that my ticket to higher education depended on my ability to publish young, and so I wrote very vigorously.  Me becoming a published author meant to them that I would have a career established without the need to obtain a degree (at the expense of my innocence as a home-schooled kid exposed to the wild sins of college life). Becoming a published author meant to me that I could afford to do what I wanted, including paying for college, if that’s eventually what I wanted to do. At that point, I wasn’t sure; I knew what my parents wanted for me wasn’t completely what I wanted, but I was also greatly influenced by their opinions, which they backed by religion.

Also, obviously, a huge reason why I wrote was because I loved it. It was my way of having purpose, and it gave me something huge that I could pour into and become a part of. writing this book was honestly my whole life, for a time. I got into a rhythm where I would be excited to wake up in the morning just so that I could write more pages to email to a couple of my loyal readers, and I’d write myself into a frenzy once homework was done too. From waking to sleeping, it was my most common pastime, my deepest interest. I’d go on walks to brainstorm what to write about next. I became obsessed with coming up with realistic problems for my characters to face, and would then resolve them with solutions that came to me as I was writing. It was like the characters were solving the problems just as I was. In many ways, as other writers–I imagine–are want to do, I lived vicariously through my protagonists. This attitude, I believe, serves to reflect on how little I felt real life was worth experiencing at the time.

Yet another motivation for so determinedly writing was the simple fact that I literally didn’t know that I was good at doing anything else. I’ve always been a decisive, committed person. Once I committed to becoming an author as a 7 year old, that seemed like IT. I was set; I was good at story-writing, I was creative, I was driven, and that was all I needed. That MUST have been what I was meant to do. (My parents have always been really into meaning, almost like destiny, except they call it “God’s Will.”) I guess I never really took opportunities I had to explore other skill sets I might have been interested in pursuing, other than sewing and clothing design, and singing (even though I was terribly untrained and vocally undeveloped at the time).

So…in high school, when I joined competitive speech and debate, and realized that I had potential as a speaker in the league we joined, that became my new obsession, and I loved it because I had so much control over what I was doing and the decisions I made. Competitive speaking is not for the faint of heart, and mine certainly grew in character over the course of the four years I was involved; but it was wonderful growth, and it changed me forever.

Anyhow, that got me off the hook with authoring books to make money for my family. It also put me back on course to pursue myself instead of a way to make money. Isn’t that bizarre? I never really fleshed this part of my life out until now, and I’m seeing how crazy and unusual this kind of situation is. I don’t want to give the impression that my parents were pushing me in the direction of an early career without a lot of willingness on my part to cooperate, but the way they handled my eventual push back with stress and disappointment as I let the Novelty Age Window pass me by says enough. My parents have deeply struggled to raise us children to grow up freely as ourselves, and have instead attempted to lay heavy burdens on us to redeem various mistakes they have made throughout their own lives.

On the other hand, it’s not like most other parents don’t struggle to do the same thing. I must give my parents credit because they grew up in extremely broken homes, and managed to keep our family “together” for the sake of our emotional well-being as children.