Ah, clearly I’ve been working myself up to Part III, my mother in my teenage years. And now that I’m here, I want to back out. Never mind, I think. It’s all old news, anyway. She did what she felt she could at the time, and some of it wasn’t enough for me. End of story.
Though of course, if it were truly the end of the story, I wouldn’t still be thinking about it all these years later, now would I? And I suppose it’s not very considerate of my teen self to just dismiss her concerns as “old news,” not if it still feels fresh to her. I started to write about it from her perspective. And it really turned out to be her story, with my mom as one of the supporting actors.
Age 14, February – June
We moved across country to New England in February. It’s completely freezing here, and I don’t have any of the right clothes or boots. Not right meaning they aren’t warm enough and even the new coat and boots my mom bought are not right because they are cheap and completely uncool.
We live in this big old house, and Debra and I have bedrooms on the top floor, and it’s really, really cold up here. The heat only blows on the first and second floors. I feel like we moved to the Arctic Circle.
It’s also a cold place in terms of friends. Maybe since it’s the second half of eighth grade, everyone already has all their friends. I feel invisible. The first day or two a few people asked me questions, weird ones like if I knew any movie stars, since we moved from California. After that, I wasn’t interesting anymore. The only girl who talks to me is Monica, and that’s because everyone hates her and treats her mean and she’s lonely. I feel sorry for her and I’m nice to her, but honestly we don’t have much in common. She isn’t good in school and only talks about make-up and boys, especially the boys who get in trouble.
I’m in junior high, and we share the building with the high school kids. They go in the morning, and we go 12:30 to 6:30 pm. So in the morning everyone gets up and has breakfast and the others go to elementary school and I do the breakfast dishes and my mom starts laundry and then she goes to help Leo at the store. I finish homework if I haven’t already. Then it’s boring. I started watching soap operas at 11 sometimes, but I’m always afraid mom or Leo might come home to get something and I’ll get in trouble.
Because now we get in trouble for everything. Leo seemed nice, most of the time, before they got married. But he’s not. He yells a lot when he gets mad, and he gets mad easy. He has a ton of rules, like we can’t touch his stuff (but he can go in our rooms and take things). We have to sit at the dinner table and wait to be excused until he says we are excused, so he can make us sit there for ages listening to him tell us everything we did wrong. He has ideas like blue and brown don’t go together so he wouldn’t let me wear my brown sweater with jeans. He doesn’t like if I am talking to one of my sisters and laughing; he says we are too loud. It’s like he wants to be miserable and grumpy and can’t stand if anyone else is happy. I think sometimes he makes us cry on purpose. He’s just mean. He grounds us a lot. We never used to get grounded. We used to get spanked or sometimes talked to. But mostly spanked when we were little.
My mom lets him be mean to us. She tries to keep him calm by giving in to everything he says. She tries to imagine what he wants and do it before he says it. She lets him punish us even though she should be deciding that. He doesn’t even know us. And I know he doesn’t like us. He hates us, I think. He makes fun of us. He says stuff to us like, “That’s just stupid.” I think he wishes that he married my mom but she didn’t come with kids.
I am glad we are going to California for six weeks this summer. I want to see my friends and family and be away from Leo.
July – August
The day before we came to California, my mom and Leo had a huge fight. I don’t know what they said, but I could hear him yelling at her, and she was crying. It was the weekend, and she took us to the river to go swimming. While we were in the river, I could see her sitting under a tree, still crying. She wouldn’t tell us why she was crying, but this is what I thought: Leo told her that she had to get rid of us. He ordered her to have us killed, so he wouldn’t have to put up with us anymore. She was very sad about it (that’s why she was crying), but she had agreed in order to make him happy. I thought maybe he would have the airplane bombed, and the whole time on the plane to California, I was afraid. Well, maybe that sounds dumb to you, but that’s what I thought. I didn’t tell my sisters or my brother though because I couldn’t stop it anyway, and I didn’t want them to be scared too.
It’s great to see Grandpa and Grandma. I missed them so much. Mostly we stay at my dad’s house, the new one he bought with his girlfriend. The pool is fun but the house is really small so we have to sleep in a tent outside in sleeping bags. For a month. Because I guess we aren’t really his kids anymore so he doesn’t need to make space for us?
My mom sends us letters and doesn’t say she wants us to never come back. That’s good, I guess. Or maybe on the airplane home… ???
We saw our old neighbors including Creepy Neighbor who kissed me and felt me up like a whole year before we moved, when I was still 13. Or 12? I try to stay far away from him. Then I see he is complimenting my sister Debra all the time, so I try to get her away from him. They don’t live in the same place anymore but in a new, fancier house. My dad and Creepy Neighbor decide I should spend the night at his house so I can spend more time with his son, Caleb, who is my age. I have known Caleb since kindergarten. I thought we’d place a board game or something. But instead when we were upstairs he started kissing me and trying to take my clothes off. I tried to make him stop but he didn’t. I don’t even want to talk about the rest. In the morning it was hard to eat anything for breakfast. I just cleaned myself up the best I could and was quiet until my dad came to pick me up. I didn’t tell him what happened of course, way too embarrassing, and I should never have let that happen. I’m just going to forget about it and never tell anyone.
August – September
The plane wasn’t bombed on the way home either. But I still think my stepdad made some kind of final ultimatum or something to my mom, and she accepted. She just goes along with everything. It’s like she is part robot, following his orders. She doesn’t seem all that happy to see us again.
Now that I’m starting high school, I have to get up at 5:30 and leave for school around 6:15. Leo told my mom that it wasn’t worth it for her to get up with me. It would only make me spoiled. So I get up by myself, and I’m supposed to be really quiet so I won’t bother them. My mom puts cereal out or eggs, and I make myself breakfast. It’s sort of lonely.
But anyway, I don’t care. I just hate everything. I feel like me life is suffocating me. I was at the orthodontist the day after we came home, and I just wanted to smash up the whole office, throw things and break things. I never felt like that before, crazy and destructive. I threw a total fit in front of Debra. I feel like I can’t help it; I’m just mad most of the time. And I hate everything. I hate my mom for marrying this person who hates us and bringing us to this stupid place. I hate myself too, because I do everything wrong. Sometimes I feel everything is hopeless. And I just think, what is even the point of life? There is no point. When I feel like that, I try to think that there is one little candle still burning in the darkness. I am not sure of the meaning of the candle, but I just think I’m supposed to keep it burning.
I am glad you aren’t dismissing her and her story. She has been hurt. She (and you) are so very strong. I am glad you have your candle in the darkness.
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Q, I have been reading your posts about your mother, and I just keep thinking how much a mother impacts her children, but also how much a mothers life prior to children can impact how she raises her own children. I know that all of my past, my whole story– the good and the great and the bad– has influenced how I respond to and care for Kat. It can get very difficult and confusing when we look at our own mother’s history, to try to understand why she did the things she did. Understanding where or why or how your mother became, well, your mother, does not take away from the hurt the teenager feels/felt. I’m glad the teen is finding her voice and telling her story. It matters, her voice is important. Xx💟
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Thanks Alice. I think it’s good that she’s trying to tell her story instead of just covering it up because she is ashamed of some parts.
I have to say, all this thinking about my mom and my teen self recently has also made me think about the impact of mothers. It’s made me feel I missed some things in parenting my own children. I could have had more explicit conversations earlier. My younger one is very reticent about his feelings–I could have done more to help him with that. Now it’s too late–he won’t let me in anymore. Kat’s lucky that you are more aware of this while she is younger.
Q, this was a tough read. About the neighbor and his son.. I feel so sad for teenage you. I really, really do. She had so many traumatic experiences, and you parents never protected you or gave you emotional nurturing that you needed. It is really, really sad.
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Thanks Rachel. I have been worrying that I am overthinking this whole time in my life, indulgently spending too much time on it. (You know, the “get over it already” voice.) But the truth is, it was a hard time for the teen. A hard age to be, major transitions in her life, and adults around her who were so occupied with their own lives that they really didn’t notice what was going on in hers. Maybe it’s reasonable to acknowledge that this was sad and difficult for her. Quite apart from the shame of what happened with Caleb, the dominant message she actually took from this period of her life was that her feelings were not important, that she was not worth paying attention to. So I have been setting aside the “get over it already” voice and just trying to make a lot of time and space to process what bothered her.
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I found this very powerful, stoical and bleak at the same time. My heart goes out to the teen you.
The sleeping outside in a tent is so impactful, and so symbolic of how your relationship with your parents felt. Always at the edge, isolated, never brought in close somewhere safe and warm. I’m sorry about what happened with the neighbours son, and I’m very sorry and sad that you had nobody to tell.
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Thank you for noticing the tent. It took me a while to realize that the tent meant that my father and his girlfriend bought a house that had no place for their children. That says something about the place we had in their lives. And meanwhile, I was believing that my mom would agree to a plot to have us killed. I’m starting to see why my teen can get so worked up sometime, especially when she felt that E didn’t care about us.
this really impacted me Q. to the teen, I think you were so brave to share all that. That took guts. I am so very sorry for what the neighbours son did. I am also sorry that you did not get the protection or love you deserved from your parents. xxx