Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Letter to My Mother Concerning Parenting

This is a substantially large sized letter that contains no real outrage, no hippy explanation of the world, and not a lot of humor. It's just a public display of something I feel like talking about. And, will probably be extremely unpopular, to boot, as it deals with my opinions on what a lot of people do wrong.

It's also an attempt to write a letter that actually means something to me, rather than one that is just making fun of something petty, or airing a justified grievance. I know you guys got used to the format of 'funny rant' and I apologize ahead of time for not making with the chuckles. I really, sincerely, am sorry for that.

Maybe I just need to work some of this crap out before I can feel like making jokes again. Maybe I never will and I'm just wasting your time.

Dear Mom,

Parenthood is a funny thing. An oddity to me. A series of exhaustive exercises designed to constantly program and then deprogram another human being in their formative years. Only to then stop abruptly and assume that the constant rebooting has resulted in a perfectly normal human, ready to start and stop his own child's brain after finding an appropriately rebooted mate.

It can't possibly make sense to you, can it? I mean, I know that you tend to adopt the lifestyles and habits of the people around you, and you decided to leave your Christmas decorations up year around even though you don't believe in Christ, and you have this interesting knack for hanging out with exactly the kind of people you shouldn't for that given situation, every single time you go out. But, I also know that underneath the epidermis of your random life there is a woman who is travelled, educated, cynical, and maniacally enraged at the drop of a hat. Because, I'm that way, and I knew you before it was cool to know you.

So, given that we share the same base code, I know that parenting can't possibly make sense to you, and maybe never did.

It's hard to tell, though, because there is an aberration. Your daughter, my sister, is someone who does, and will always, require constant supervision. So, it looks like you are doing the parenting thing full steam. But, supervision isn't the same thing is it? It's not. I supervise hot pockets in the microwave; it doesn't mean I ground them if they don't do their homework. I don't mean to say that you don't provide for my sister, or that you don't try to make her life as comfortable and fun as possible. I just mean there's not really a way to separate the parenting from the care giving in a situation like that. So, for now, let's forget the Autistic variable and focus on your normal kid.

I won't go into details but for a long time now you and I have been on equal footing when it comes to our places in the world. I have always thought that was very fair, but, recognized that it wasn't very common. You haven't told me what to do with the expectation of it actually being done since I was about 11.

You're not a dumb woman, so I think that means you realized at some point, you were a colleague in our relationship; someone to consult on decisions but with no real veto power.

Oh, you got pissed. Let's not pretend it was all head nods and hand shakes. But all that did was teach me how to lie to you just enough to get you to go away so I could continue to do exactly what it was I was doing before you knocked on my locked bedroom door. Just like you used lie to me just enough to get me to stop asking questions.

But as time went we didn't lie to each other so much. What would be the point? We liked hearing the lies but it didn't cover up all the accumulated evidence against our cases did it? So, we became more honest, but less interested.

As more and more time went by where you were pretty much only responsible for stocking food and supplying clothing, and, the longer that went on without me becoming a crack head or a serial rapist, the more you decided that your time card had been punched at the Mom factory and you focused that little left over attention on your work as a teacher (irony is so awesome) and my sister.

And now, this is where we are. You are the mother of a happily married, college dropout, with aspirations of notoriety, and nobody's been in jail or had to move back in with their parents or even fathered an illegitimate child.

So, why the recap? Why the letter dragging all this stuff you already know out into the open?

It's an apology.

It's an apology for putting you through all that guilt you may be feeling for thinking you were a bad mother. For thinking that maybe you didn't pay a lot of attention to me because you went back to school to get a career when I was 8. Or, for not realizing I hadn't been home for 3 days once in high school. Or, because we lived in a house 6 miles away from my nearest friend when I had a Dad that lived most of his life in Singapore, a sister that couldn't have a conversation with me without screaming gibberish, and a Mom that left cold pizza in the fridge for breakfast because she needed to student teach on Saturdays.

It's an apology for bringing that up and thinking that I'm owed something. It's an apology for the sense of entitlement I wear around me like a dark tattered cloak whenever we're around each other. For forgetting that there was just as much attention as neglect.

Remember you used to check me out of school so we could go see the early matinee movies at the theater? We wouldn't have to deal with crowds and you knew I hated that goddamn school anyway. And we used to spend weekends watching old black and white comedies before you went back to school, remember? You taught me about Steppenwolf and Led Zeppelin. You didn't mind it when I would monopolize the house for whatever kind of experiment or building project that had struck me that day. You thought it was awesome that your 9 year old understood and loved the movie Doc Hollywood when it came out.

They fished with dynamite! That's always going to be hilarious!

And for all the pissing and moaning and fighting and awkward silences, I just can't decide what I think would be better if you had been there for me my entire life. I don't know what I think I would have achieved at this point. I get into moods where I think I'm sad that you weren't around, or that I thought you just didn't care about me, but I know that I could really give a crap.

I don't mean for that to sound harsh, but it's the truth. I could give a crap whether you cared or not, and, that seems like the way it should be, you know?

I mean, what do parents teach? They teach babies that there will always be someone there to protect them and to nourish them, but that's a lie. Later they teach that there will always be someone to help with homework and drive them to events and to take them trick or treating. That's a lie too. Then they even go so far as to teach them that someone will always be there to pick them up from a car crash, or bail them out of jail, or pay off their debt. Big lie. Huge.

Every stage of the learning process from "loving" parents is just another set of truths that are later revealed to be total bullsh*t. Is that something you do to someone you supposedly love? Set them up for a big nasty reveal every 6 or 7 years?

You taught me what things were and why they were that way to the best of your understanding and then you let me handle it on my own. You didn't go so far as to kick me out and you also didn't tighten down and set some kind of invisible arbitrary boundaries. At first you tried punishment. No TV, bed at 8, no phone, but it was too late. You'd taught me how to deal with pain and so every time you took something away I just dealt with the loss and moved on to something I could still have. Something that couldn't be taken away.

I wrote stories and painted pictures and (tried) to compose music, and, when the TV got put back, I watched TV. Not all the time. Just when I wanted to. And to keep me company.

You know. Like someone is supposed to.

It must have been frustrating, but, I hope at the same time it was a little comforting. If I had a child I'd like to know that something like a television wasn't so important to his very existence that he couldn't conceive of a life without it.

You taught me that a lot of life's changes are bad ones, because if you're happy, a change almost by definition has to interrupt that happiness. You taught me that if I don't do something, it doesn't get done, and then on top of that, you taught me that if I don't care it doesn't get done, then it didn't matter in the first place.

You taught me a lot, almost exclusively through inaction.

I got rebooted once from infant to child, and then rebooted again from child to adult, and that's it. None of those pussy baby steps that other people go through. You let me stay in a state long enough to evolve it instead of just throwing up a checkered flag and saying, "CONGRATULATIONS!!! YOU ARE NOW A TEENAGER! YOU WILL RECEIVE AN OLD CAR, A LATER CURFEW, AND THAT'S NOT ALL. YOU'LL ALSO GET A CREEPY SEX TALK, A MORE RELAXED DRESS CODE, AND, A LAPTOP FOR SCHOOL!!"

You know what I got? Left the hell alone. Thank the Big Cheesy, Jeesy Creesy, for blissful, uninterrupted silence.

I was raised in this wonderful sweet spot between provision and neglect. I got good food and a warm house and presents at Christmas, but wasn't expected to live up to any kind of preset expectation as payment for these items. That is probably why I'm not a crack addict, or a serial rapist.

What can a kid rebel against when his parents don't really give a sh*t about how he spends his time? I tried achieving, but that just got the same cardboard smiles and nods, and was really hard. I also tried drinking, destroying public property, and running from the police. No response, except a warning that any consequence earned by my actions would not be shared by my parents.

So, how did I turn out? Well, I'm travelled, slightly educated, cynical, and maniacally enraged at the drop of a hat. But, I'm not bitter. Anymore.

I never was. I just thought I should have been, so I acted that way to fit in with the way other people act. That was a mistake. My mother raised me better than that.

Anyway, I'm sorry for the holier than though crap I've been giving you the last few years. You know there's more to it than what's in this letter, but the core of my attitude towards you is the subject of the letter so that's what the apology is for. You never interfered with me, so, you just do what you want to do, please be careful, and call me sometime if you want to catch a movie in the middle of the day.

Your Son,

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