Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Change Partners

Posted: November 8, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

The following is a response to my writers’ group prompt: “Take two to three words from a song and write a story”. Change Partners is a song by Stephen Sills.

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1976_Chevy_Caprice

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about setting up a menage a trois. Why? Maybe it’s because I lead such a vanilla life. How “vanilla” a life? I’m a CPA. And if that doesn’t sound vanilla enough, let me add a few other clues:

I drive a station wagon. Not just any station wagon, but you know the one with the fake wooden side panels? Yeah, that one. I’ve had it ever since I inherited it from my parents as they sent me off to college at, where else? Purdue University in Indiana. The heart of vanilla country.

Despite how absolutely nerdy I feel and look driving this car, it comes with a story too good not to share. And, it’s part of the reason I have it in the first place. If you were able to look in the back seat – all the way in the backseat,  you would find a couple of words carved into the faux leather seat covering. They’re all but faded now, with only a semi-perceptible outline remaining. After all, the car is over twenty-five years old. I’m twenty-three. So, if one did the math correctly – and trust me, as a certified, licensed, board approved, vanilla laced CPA living in the heart of nowhere, USA, you’d pretty much be able to figure out what those carved words actually say. Okay, so maybe you can’t. Let me fill in the blanks:

Stanley Norman Alexander Preston, 6-12-83

Yep, that’s good ol’ me, Stanley. Or, SNAP for short. You see, twenty-three years ago, on a warm summer’s night, in the back of my parents’ (now mine) very vanilla, very classic station wagon with the fake wood paneling, semi bald tires and gas guzzling tank, I was conceived – a child born of passion, lust, and the unfortunate by-product of a swingers’ party.

Six years ago, my mom and dad were struggling to get along. Mom had always been the happier one of the two. Dad, well, he was a bit of a prick to both mom and me. I never actually understood why until THE FIGHT happened. Oh sure, I’ve heard them yelling and snapping at each other often – what kid doesn’t grow up hearing their parents fight? Mine were no exception. They’d find the silliest things to argue about – the toothpaste cap was left off, there wasn’t enough gravy for the mashed potatoes, anything unexpected, out of order or just plain annoying to either of their perfectly boring lives was perfect fodder for an argument. But, after a few nits had been picked fairly raw, they’d usually run out of steam and eventually just head to their separate corners – mom to her sewing room and dad to his garage, to find something to dither over until the storm had completely passed.

So it was a bit of a shock, needless to say, when I was studying in my bedroom one night and noticed that the volume of their argument was much higher than any other one they’d ever had. I tried to shut it out the best I could and just cranked up my radio a bit higher. That worked for a while until I heard the crash and subsequent sound of glass shattering in the room across from me. I dashed out of the room to see what had broken, when I heard my mother screeching at the top of her lungs “YOU ARE STILL PAYING FOR  HIS COLLEGE, REGARDLESS OF YOUR PATERNITY, YOU SELFISH ASSHOLE!” My father was cowering in the corner, hands and arms covering his face, small shards of glass glittering in his hair. I wasn’t sure what to do so I just stood there – stunned to all hell, as both my mom and dad (what had I just heard? something about paternity?) rushed over to me and, fight forgotten, pulled me into the living room and forced me down on the couch.

“Son,” mom smoothed her mini-skirt down, crossed her legs and folded her hands in her lap, trying to regain as much composure as possible. Dad took a seat in his leather recliner, leaned back and began picking glass fragments out of his hair. His purpled cheeks said he would need a lot of time to calm down before he could speak, unless we wanted to witness a brain aneurysm happen right there in the living room of 4714 Vanilla Drive, Anywhere USA. Mom continued.

“Son, I am so, so sorry you had to hear what you just did. It was never our plan or intention to mention the subject ever again. We –your dad, er – um, George over there – and I promised ourselves we’d do everything we can to give you as normal a life as possible…um, uh –” Mom was trying, and failing miserably, to get through the story with as little discomfort as possible. Dad just sat there quietly as the blood continued to drain from his face. I, on the other hand, was growing increasingly confused. I begged mom to continue.

“Well, son…here’s the thing,” she stammered a bit, but held on long enough to offer a partial explanation. “When we–” mom pointed to dad, then back to herself “When we were newly married, we, um…kinda. Oh how do I tell you this? We –”

“For God’s sake, Norma, let me do this.” Dad was back to his normal cranky self. I turned to look at dad and, perhaps for the first time, saw that his features and mine didn’t quite match. I had brown hair, brown eyes, and  he had blond hair and blue eyes. I was short and squat, he was tall and thin. As for mom, she was a redhead and from what I know about redheads, they’re sort of a mishmash of genes. Mom was a mutt, so I could have come out anything but albino and mom would have been able to pass off her very differently featured son as hers. My true dad, however, was obviously not the man who I have watched fall asleep in his recliner every night at 8:45 since I was old enough to remember. I felt a little panicky, I must admit.

The man I no longer thought was my dad continued, “Stan, it’s like this. Your mother and I were in a real romantic funk. We had stopped having the kind of mind-blowing, roll your eyes in the back of your head, blow the top off –” “GEORGE!’ my mother interrupted, “I think he’s got enough of an idea…” she chided. She was right. I really did not want to, or need to, hear about my parent’s sex life. For all I had convinced myself, they hadn’t had sex since I was born. However, George insisted on barging forward with the story. I think he was enjoying the memory, to be honest.

“Norma was feeling a bit randy one day, and since it was so close to my birthday, I decided to toss out an idea so wild, so foreign to the both of us, that we needed a bit of time to get used to it. You see, we wanted to find another couple to join us in the bedroom.” I started feeling nauseated. Was I really sitting here hearing about my parents having sex with another couple? What the hell?

“We found the couple through a newspaper ad. Sure, it was a huge risk to take – we were worried they’d come over, hurt us,rob us blind, then steal the station wagon and drive off. The wagon was brand new and back then, it was quite the car because of the space in the back, if  ya know what I mean.” Dad winked at me knowingly. Even though I was seventeen, and knew exactly what he meant, my only thought was eww, eww, eww. I wanted to put my hands to my ears and roll into a ball on the floor. This was becoming more and more unbearable to hear. But of course, dad needed to finish because, we’ll he’s a guy and, now that I’m the age he was when all this was going on, I get how important it is that he bond with his son over sex. It’s a right of passage, so I’ve been told.

“Anyways, things were going along smoothly, Norma and John – that was the guy’s name, and me and Deb – that was his wife’s name, were flirting with each other. I had the booze out and was serving drinks all around. The alcohol was passed between us like a water jug. Then, things just got wildly out of control.” Dad paused a moment, the memory obviously right in front of his eyes. Mom, meanwhile was caught between awkward and titillated. I didn’t know. I really didn’t want to know anything at that point. I just knew things were about to get really uncomfortable for me.

“One thing led to another. Mom and I were together one minute, enjoying each other’s bodies, then out of the blue someone would yell, “Change Partners!” and we’d all shift positions like some kinky game of musical chairs.” Dad poured himself a bourbon on the rocks. Mom finished it up for me, but only after scrubbing the story clean.

“Stan, the man you think is your dad, really isn’t. John, the guy from Dad’s story, is actually your father. He and I had a wild romp in the back of the station wagon. Unfortunately, we didn’t think about protection until it was too late. And,” mom shrugged her shoulders matter-of-factly and finished, “here you are, years later, getting ready for college. We’re so proud of you, son!”

Mom had a way of finishing stories with absolute finality. I could hear from the tone in her voice that what they just told me was all they were going to say on the subject. It was over, done, and life was to go on. However, I had one final question to ask them. I wanted an honest answer, too.

“Mom, dad – can I still call you dad?” I sputtered out. “How do you know dad isn’t my father? After all, weren’t you..um, man this is awkward, all screwing each other at the same time?” There, it was out. “I was really hoping that dad–I pointed to the man in the recliner–THIS dad, I mean, was my real dad. But, now that I know what  happened, I was wondering if I could see a picture of my possible dad?”

Mom snapped her fingers together in an aha! motion and hopped up quickly. “Of course! That’s it! Let me go dig out one of the pictures we took. Geez, we were all so drunk, I don’t remember much about that night except for the other couple’s names. I’ll be right back.”

As mom was searching through her closet for a long ago picture of who might possibly be my real dad, the only dad I had ever known was drifting off to sleep in the recliner, empty rock glass still in his hand. Obviously that wasn’t the first drink he’d had all day. I was still trying to wrap my head around the whole story when I heard mom shouting from upstairs. She was whooping and hollering like crazy!

Dad was startled awake again, and rocketed out of his chair like someone had just set his hair on fire and his ass was catching up. Mom flew down the stairs, shaking an old Polaroid picture pinched between her right thumb and pointer finger. She was practically bursting with excitement. I, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck. I was about to see who my real dad was. I wasn’t sure what to think about anything at this point.

Mom came barreling into the living room and ran right to dad, holding the picture up to his face and grinning from ear to ear. Dad took the picture between his two fingers, shook his head back and forth a couple of times, whistled softly between his two teeth. He looked from the picture to me, then back again. Then, he started to laugh – a deep, belly laugh that practically shook the pictures off the wall. I watched the two of them as they huddled together and hugged each other, laughing so hysterically mom had tears streaming down her cheeks. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just asked, “Well, can I see his picture?”

Dad caught his breath one final time, wiped the tears from his eyes and said, “Oh son, there is no doubt I’m your father.” I perked up, hoping of all hopes that he was being one hundred percent honest with me this time. I asked, “What makes you know for sure?” I challenged him. Dad took the photo between his fingers and chuckled one last time. He turned it towards me and said,

“Because John and Deb, well, they are both black.”

I guess I really am “vanilla” after all.

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ham_with_cider_glaze_leadWhenever I need a quick pick-me-up, I head over to http://www.dogshaming.com to look at the humorous pictures of dogs caught in shameful situations. Being a dog owner myself, I can relate to a lot of the pictures. Nothing says “I’m a beagle, I had to do it” better than a picture of one in a near coma from having eaten an entire ham — while the evidence is still on the dinner table, in the background. I’ve been there. I just wasn’t able to catch Lilly in the act. She’s sneaky that way.

But, fortunately for dogs, their short-attention spans and the apparent lack of a guilty conscience keeps them from feeling shame for any longer than, say, the time it takes them to lift their hanging heads and look at you with liquid pools of love as if to say “I wuvs you, mommy. You wuvs me too?” I fall for this every time.

However, with humans, shame comes with a much heftier price — which can last long after the shameful incident has occurred. And that’s what this post is about.

teenage-pregnancy

When I was nineteen, I got pregnant. I was unmarried, a freshman in college, and completely terrified. I had been raised in the Catholic church, so I was expected to be the “perfect little Catholic girl” and remain virginal until my wedding day. I was also never given the “big talk” by my mom, because her generation of mothers “didn’t talk about sex”. At least not to me anyways.

Needless to say, the boy I lost my virginity to was the same boy who helped me get pregnant. So much for remaining abstinent. It’s also important to add here that, unlike some of my older siblings, I never went to Catholic school as a kid. Unlike Catholic school sex education (which, by the way is woefully inadequate and borders on ridiculous — I know, I had to teach it), I did get the full course of ‘This is where babies come from and here’s how not to let that happen to you.” I wasn’t completely in the dark about sex. I just grew up hearing “Abstinence and natural planning is the only acceptable practice for Catholics. Birth control is WRONG.” over and over again.

When I officially found out I was pregnant, I knew three things right away: 1) abortion was out of the question, 2) I am not prepared financially or emotionally to raise this child and 3) the child deserves a stable home with a mother and a father, and that wasn’t something I could give him. (it was a boy). Looking back on that moment in the doctor’s office, I still stand by my thoughts.

However, despite knowing that I handled my mistake the best way I could at the time, I have recently come to realize how horribly mishandled I was during this time by my parents–more so by my mom than my dad. I cannot blame my mom for what she did and how she treated me – she was only going on the doctrine of the Catholic church and  how it feels about birth control (absolutely NOT), abortion (eternal damnation if you so much as even think about it) and pre-marital sex (yet another sin so evil *insert eye roll and heavy sarcasm here* if any teacher in any diocese is caught having it they will immediately lose their job).

shame_by_bbastos-d33xu55My mom was horrified of the shame I had brought on to her, the family and, most importantly it seemed, the Catholic church. I felt like the “spiritually soiled girl,” destined for eternal damnation. I was certain I could never get married wearing the white dress, or take communion without confession first (another thing she wanted me to do), and all the other forms of penance and emotional flogging I had to do in order to get back in “God’s good graces.”

In an effort to keep the family safe from my obvious disgrace, I was sent off to live with a woman I didn’t know until the baby was born and I could home again and resume my life as an “unblemished, pure Catholic girl.” I, however, had to continue on with my life as if I had no worries or stressors on me. Instead of much-needed counseling, I was told to continue to “lead as normal a life as possible.”

I enrolled at a community college, bought a cheap gold band to wear as a wedding ring for my non-existent husband who was in active duty in the Marines (part of the series of lies I had to tell everyone so as not to blow the cover off my family’s shame). Lie upon lie was told to friends of the family: she went to live in California, to live with her big brother and attend college out there because it’s free– was the mega lie my mom told her teacher friends.

The guilt and shame were poured on thick. My mom  laid the ultimate guilt trip on me when she insisted I not tell my older sisters I was pregnant — because, according to her Catholic point of view–my non-Catholic sisters would just judge and berate me and call me horribly irresponsible. The irony is startling.

Incidentally, I never did tell either of them until about two years ago — thirty plus years after this all happened. And, unlike what I had been told and feared would happen, neither one of them cast a single stone of judgment in my direction. In fact, both admitted they were saddened to hear that I “couldn’t come to them freely” with this news. They were angry at my mom, though, for letting her Catholicism plant false ideas into my head. Again, that good ol’ Catholic guilt was at work.

Once the baby was born and adopted out, I was told “Okay, that’s over. Time to move on with your life. We’ll never speak of this again. Promise?” Sadly, after all of this trauma and what can only be called “emotional abuse,” I agreed.

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It took ten years before I could even talk about the incident to anyone. I was afraid of being shamed and judged all over again. It took the death of both of my parents to allow myself the opportunity to grieve over the loss. It is taking the help of a great therapist to help me recognize and process the enormous, near-crippling shame I have been feeling since that day in the doctor’s office almost thirty-one years ago. It will take courage, strength and confidence to forgive myself for allowing it to happen in the first place. That’s the hardest part.

Now for the “lesson learned” in all of this. And I hope this message reaches as many religious folks as possible who have found themselves on the precipice of their child’s poor choice(s).

Never, ever shame your child for their mistakes.

Yes, you can tell them you are disappointed, angry, upset, or whatever adjective seems to fit your mood. But, how  you treat them after you share your feelings can and will have lifelong effects. Kick them out because they’re gay and it goes against your religion? Devastating. Kick them out because she got pregnant and it goes against your religion? Devastating. Telling them they are destined for hell because they made a single, poor choice that doesn’t align with your beliefs? ABSOLUTELY, 100% DEVASTATING.

It has taken me thirty-one years to deal with the emotional abuse that has permeated my life and has caused many problems for me. I feel if my situation had been handled without the religious judgment and condemnation but instead with more love, patience and compassion, I would be even better than I am today.

If you wish to shame someone, then try shaming a dog. They don’t seem to care enough about your opinion to suffer any permanent effects.

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Today is the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death. He passed away from complications he suffered after being hit by a car. He was 87 at the time of his death.

What makes this post so hard for me to write are the mixed feelings I’m experiencing now that he’s gone. My dad and I never really had that daddy-daughter relationship every little girl deserves. He was a towering, intimidating man with little to no nurturing skills in his parenting toolbox. On a scale of 1-10, I would give him a 3, maybe a 4. In his mind, his job as a parent was to make money, put food on the table and discipline his children when necessary. My mom’s job was…everything else.

But, I don’t believe in speaking ill of the dead. Instead, I will focus on the few great memories and connections we did have.

Dad proved to be a real enigma to me. He spoke very little about his childhood, but when he did, it was always related to money. He was a product of the Great Depression, so he was a very frugal parent. Okay, I’ll say it – he was a real, cheap bastard with it. He was known to drive clear across town to a particular gas station just so he could save ten cents in gasoline.

I can understand how valuable a deal that is these days, but back then, both my parents worked and gas was $1.50 per gallon. He would drive to the grocery store across town, too, because the semi-rotting fruit they were trying to sell before the subsequent fruit fly invasion occurred was now at ‘giveaway’ prices. “Just a little mold on the orange peel – you can rub that off or cut around it, can’t you, Betty?” he would say to my mom, as she rolled her eyes exasperatedly back at him. One time, the mold was so thick the next day, my brother (highly allergic to penicillin) got sick just from touching it.

Bowl_of_oranges

And I can’t go without mentioning the sixty pounds of frozen turkey thighs he came home with one day, because they were only .04 cents a pound. My mom actually ran out of recipes for cooking turkey. TURKEY. I’m still having nightmares about this.

Not only was my dad a cheap, er – frugal– dad, but also an introvert. His two favorite places to be, when I was growing up, was the health club and/or in the woodworking shop in our basement. To this day, the smell of cigars, sawdust and wood shavings always remind me of him.

But, he was also the father of six kids. I’m the youngest of them all. I can’t help but wonder if, by the time I came along, he had just given up trying to wrangle the rest of my siblings into some semblance of order. I know he was tired of going to the hospital whenever my mom had another baby — he dropped her off the day I was born and told her “Call me when you’re done,” then went home to finish putting in the front, brick sidewalk of my childhood home.

I sound bitter again. I don’t mean to be. Actually, I do owe some of who I am to my father. First, I, too, am a lover of words and knowledge. He enjoyed working the NYT crossword puzzle and was even good enough to tackle it in ink. And there were very little, if any, scratch outs. I, however, do not have the intellect or patience for them.

My dad was also an intellectual snob. He felt it important to know as much as he could — about anything that interested him, of course– just so he could carry on serious debates with people from time to time. We were always outsmarted or out-debated. One of my siblings is convinced these debates were really just another way for dad to assert his power over us. I think he just liked to stir the pot. I definitely can relate to this.

Just like I do, my dad always needed to know “the back story.” If he couldn’t figure something out on his own, he’d enlist his “support staff” – one of us kids, his sister — anyone with a computer and the desire to use it — to do his investigative research for him. He hated computers and said they, along with plastic itself, were the downfall of society. Did I mention he was a bit of a Luddite, too?

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My dad loved cats. He was always putting them into strange positions, or trying to get the two we always had in the house at the same time to jockey and fight for top cuddling position on his lap. I will never forget the day he said, “I sure hope I die before Emo [his beloved Burmese cat] does, because I don’t want to have to live without him.” When it came to cats, dad definitely had a soft underbelly.

Towards the last few years of his life, my dad actively participated in weekly tango lessons. He belonged to a community of dancers both in Chicago (my hometown) and Minneapolis, where he moved to a few years ago. And, at his memorial service, that was where we Lueders kids got a major surprise about our father.

Apparently, dad was also a generous man — to OTHERS outside our immediate family. Each Tuesday evening, dad would march into the tango room with two hot, fresh pizzas, and feed the entire club. I don’t ever remember dad actively volunteering to bring me pizza. Surprise #1.

Surprise #2 came when my sister shared with us my dad’s love of tabloid television. In fact, I think the audible gasp from the crowd was predominantly from my siblings and me. One day, my brother in law went over to our parents house to drop something off. When he arrived, he found my father sitting in his comfy chair, watching TMZ.com.

Yes, my father was a secret, tabloid-news junkie. What made this more surreal was in finding out that dad absolutely loved any and all news about the Kardashians, especially Kim. He would employ his research team to find and send him all news articles about Kim Kardashian, even if they were just little blurbs.

While this came as a shock to all of us, I understand exactly why dad was so fascinated by the family. They were famous for….nothing but being famous.  He couldn’t figure out what they had done or achieved to deserve the amount of fame they had. And, this is what drove him into a frenzy. It drives me crazy, too, which is why I must read Star Magazine weekly. Thanks, dad.

Surprise #3 came at the end of my sister’s beautiful eulogy for him. Apparently, when dad had something important to say, he would say it to whomever needed to hear it. Dad had no problem contacting important people and asking favors of them.

In the case of the Port Chicago Naval Disaster of 1944 in Washington, my dad felt it was important and interesting enough of a story for Hollywood to make into a movie. My dad had been there when the ship carrying ammunition exploded in the harbor. With just the right amount of chutzpah, my dad wrote and sent letters to both Morgan Freeman and Tom Hanks, imploring them to consider the event as “movie worthy.” He even included the line, “Seeing as how you are the only directors in Hollywood with the hubris to take on this task…” So typical of dad.

Dad was ashamed of his tobacco-stained teeth and never smiled  much. This really upset  him and because of his self-consciousness, it gave him the outwardly appearance of being a curmudgeon. But there was one way to get him to smile, and it worked like a charm.

I asked both my parents to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. Knowing that dad wasn’t a big smiler, I had a secret weapon at my disposal that was guaranteed to crack his hardened veneer. Dad and I shared a love of The Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson. One morning,  I heard dad laughing hysterically in the kitchen, paper wide open in his hands. He was laughing so hard there were tears running down his face. Wanting to know what was so funny, I leaned over and saw this cartoon:

dobiomatic

Something in it just spoke to my dad’s, and my sense of humor.

So on my wedding day, as we were walking down the aisle arm in arm, and my dad was trying to do everything he could to keep from crying, I kept repeating under my breath: “Dobie-O-Matic, Dad, Dobie-O-Matic”. It worked like a charm.

Here’s to you, dad. Lover of cats, fine Scotch, and The Far Side. I miss you.

I have a dirty little secret. I love tabloid news. I love to read Star Magazine, catch up on all the latest docu-drama on Tori Spelling’s life, Abby Lee Miller’s Dance Moms and, most recently, the new show Raising Asia

Raising Asia is a new show that revolves around the life of an 8-year old girl’s desire for fame, fortune, and world domination. Closely monitored and managed by her evil sidekick Mom, we watch as Asia complains, whines, pleads and demands her way through life. In the first episode, little Asia says some of the “cutest little sayings” that every parent loves to hear:

“Mom thinks she’s in control in this house, but really, it is me.”

“Pop stars don’t go to playgrounds. Their playground is the red carpet.” complete with a sassy eye roll and exasperated sigh.

Charming, huh? Makes me want to go out and pull an Angelina Jolie on her – offer to adopt her right up.

Asia is a symptom of a much greater epidemic in this country: a growing population of humans with an overblown sense of self entitlement.

Somewhere in recent history — perhaps within the last decade, parents of small children began the systematic and methodical process of coddling their children far too much. Parents, guided by psychologists and schools, were growing increasingly concerned about their childrens’ well being. It was critical that little Johnny or Suzy developed a healthy sense of self awareness, self esteem and confidence. This was accomplished by minimizing as many potential threats to their fragile egos as possible: every child gets a trophy for participating, there are no winners or losers and nobody keeps score. In school, teachers were told to get rid of red pens because red is such a critical color.

And that’s when I have to throw out the bullshit flag.

Let’s face it – life is not fair. Not everybody can be first, not everybody can always win and excel at whatever they do. Jobs are lost, accidents happen, people die way too early. And most importantly, life does not “hand you” everything you want, when you want it. Which is exactly what some of these reality TV shows continue to model to the world with shows like Bridezillas, Toddlers & Tiaras, I Want to Marry a Millionaire, and most recently, Raising Asia.

I understand that I have control over what I watch on TV. I can just as easily turn the channel. But, like a slow motion car wreck, it is hard for me not to watch. Not because I want what others have (but I don’t), but because I feel it’s important to remind myself not to become, or to raise my own kids, with such a grandiose sense of entitlement. 

The seven deadly sins are listed as such:

  • wrath
  • sloth
  • avarice
  • pride
  • lust
  • greed
  • envy

If I were to name an 8th sin, all I would have to do is take each of the seven sins above, combine them all into a ball and rename it “self entitlement”. 

In fact, I demand that be done right now.