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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hidden Secrets: Surviving a Dysfunctional Childhood: The Middle Years Part 1

Dysfunctional Family


It's been a few weeks since my last post and I would like to apologize for leaving you, my loyal readers, hanging.  My fibromyalgia has been kicking my butt!  Between the fibro and the end of the year activities with my kiddles, I just haven't been able to write. 

In my last post in this series, I explained that at the end of my 4th grade school year, my family and I moved away from the town I had spent five years in.  My mother had just finished getting her college degree and had decided to pursue her Master's Degree at an esteemed college in another county.  She had also secured a job working for a man we will call Dave. 

So we packed up our belongings, cleared out the double-wide trailer we had been living in, and we moved into a big old farmhouse in the middle of the country a little more than an hour away from my grandparents.  It was about a 30 minute drive to her school from this house, and about a 5 minute drive to her job. 

We had moved in the summer, so my brother, sister, and I enjoyed countless days of roaming the property the farmhouse was on.  There was a big old bar, a pond where blue herons would bathe, creepy, old chicken coops to explore, and plenty of old scraps of junk that had been carelessly tossed into the woods many, many years before.  There was even a row of old, rusted out cars lined up just behind the wood line...Volkswagens, I believe, though my memory is sketchy on this point. 

The house was down an old dirt road and I can only remember one neighbor nearby.  At night, there wasn't any light pollution, so the skies were pitch black, but for the stars.  Bats, swooping down from above us to engorge on mosquitoes would occasionally frighten me as they rustled my hair with the breeze they'd create.

We lived in this child's paradise for just around a year, and in that time, I can recall a few things about my family life, but much more about being a student in the local elementary school.  This would be the first time I would have to start over as a new student, but it wouldn't be my last. 

As a child, I think the most challenging part of beginning the new school year in a new town and school was when we had to keep secrets about who we were and where we came from (just in case my biological father tracked us down and came looking for us).  Other secrets began to pop up, too, that at the time as a 10/11 year old didn't seem strange to me...because it was just more of the same.  The same strange life I had been living so far that somehow seemed normal.

Shortly after we moved here and my mother began working for Dave, she would need to go to his home (where his office was) to do work.  The three of us kids would tag along, and would even play with his own children at times (he had 5 of them).  They had a lot of property, too, which we would roam around on, playing with their pets, and climbing in and out of their parked camper.  I quickly became friends with Dave's daughter who was around my age (but possibly a year older because she wasn't in my elementary school). 

And then, more secrets evolved.  Dave would sometimes come over to our home to visit (or work or whatever) and before we knew it, he was destined to be our "new daddy".  I can recall many conversations around this...Dave and mom would marry, he'd take care of us, we would move into his giant home (though, who knows what would happen with his family?!) 

But!  We just needed to keep it a secret from his children and his wife...whom we spent time with!!!  I remember being in their home and thinking about how it would become ours.  I remember looking into the bedrooms as we played with his kids, making a mental note of which room would be mine!  And I remember negative comments about his wife (that didn't make sense to me, as I had experienced her as kind).  It was very stressful to me to be around these kids (even staying overnight once!) and thinking all of these things about stealing their daddy and home...and keeping these BIG SECRETS! 

As the year went on, there were many incidents that continued to add stress to our family, and me.  I recall a tiff between my mother and our one neighbor...and then we weren't allowed to speak to them again.  They had had a young daughter around my sister's age, but we were no longer allowed to play with her.  I am not sure what had occurred between our two families, but it must've been pretty bad if we could no longer play with their daughter, right?


Many of the details of this year, are of course long-forgotten.  But a few other tidbits do come to mind.  As children of a single-mother who is getting her master's degree and trying to support a family of 3 kids and a dog, responsibilities for the children become essential to survival as a family.  Often, we were responsible for packing our own lunches, helping with housework, doing laundry, stacking wood for the woodstove, etc. 

Those are all typical chores that any family would expect children to contribute to the family by doing.  And when you're in a single-parent family, not only is each child expected to pull more weight, but sometimes there are responsibilities that fall on the kids that are not within the typical purview. 

For example, I became much more responsible for my little sister.  I was like a second mother to her.  I helped her with her room, packed her lunches, and even helped her with homework.  I will never forget the one time when she was having a really difficult time with her homework and we had to keep erasing it.  We erased it so much that we accidentally tore a hole in the paper.  I felt so badly about that that I wrote the teacher a note on her homework to express my apologies...but I couldn't remember how to spell "erase" at the time.  I was a great speller...even made it to the district spelling bee that year...so this little mistake in spelling was embarrassing to me...and has always stuck with me.  In hindsight, it's kinda funny and cute.  As an adult now, I feel the enormity of what I had been tasked with...basically helping to raise my little sister.

There was always stress, frustration, and anger in our home.  But this year marked my first year of really feeling it to the point where I felt like I was "different" than other kids, and I really started noticing that I felt unloved.  I also had a harder time controlling my own feelings.  One day, I got angry with my sister and tried to hurt her. I pushed her...not paying attention to my surroundings...but we were at the stop of the stairs.  Luckily, she didn't fall down the stairs, but obviously she very well could have.  And she could have been seriously hurt.  The guilt doesn't ever go away.  Neither do the memories of the first time your own mother calls you a bitch.

I do not excuse my behavior in any way.  I'm incredibly grateful that nothing bad happened to my sister.  And as an adult I can completely understand that we were a family under duress, and that shit happens.  Your kid does something stupid and dangerous and you blurt out words you wish you could take back.  Knowledge and understanding never take away the sting of such hurtful words, though.  I hope with every passing day, that I do not hurt my daughter like that.  Oh gosh, believe me there are times when I am thinking it!  How could you not with a sassy tween?! But, I have yet to say it out loud, and I pray that I never will.  One can only imagine the hurts I've already caused her that she will one day blog about!!!

As our year in the farmhouse continued, at some point, we had to start going to my friend's house after school on the bus so that we wouldn't be home alone...for fear, once again, that our father would come kidnap us.  It didn't start out that way, but something must've happened to reignite the fear, because we were no longer latch-key kids.  I did like going to her house, though.  It was nice to have a friend to spend time with and she was one of 5 children, so there were a lot of kids around us.  They had a piano that I would sit at and pretend to play, and they ordered from the Schwann Man!  I loved being there when their frozen packages would arrive, especially considering that we were always treated to one of the ice creams they had ordered!

I don't recall when exactly, but somewhere in this year, we began doing drive-bys of Dave's home, and the other house he owned in town.  We even went into this second home using a key and checked it out.  I think this was going to be a new temporary home we were going to move to?  But I do remember for sure being told that Dave had brought my mother here on several occasions (hmmmmm....???). I know that I felt guilty for being inside this house...we weren't supposed to be there.  And it was another BIG SECRET we had to keep. 

I think that what had happened was that the relationship had soured and she may have been grasping at straws at this point, and probably also trying to deal with the rejection and broken promises of a man who, in the end, refused to leave his family, thereby also refusing to be our savior, her shining knight.  No white horse this time. 

Our landlord lived far away, but had a camp somewhere nearby. He would come up on the weekends (or something like that).  We would occasionally spend some time with him...going to his camp, riding his dune buggy, or going up to this other home (he may have owned??) where there was a pond with a dock.  I remember swimming there, in particular, because this was the pond where I almost drowned as a kid.  I had been swimming around but I wasn't a very strong swimmer at the time.  I was a bit tired, so I put my feet down to stand and take a break, but there wasn't any ground below me!  It was deeper than I had thought in that spot.  And that's when I panicked and started bobbing up and down in the water, gasping for air.  My mother had to jump in and come save me.  It was such a frightening experience that it definitely still colors my world. I am absolutely paranoid about my own kids being in water. 

Later on, there was apparently some kind of argument/disagreement/lack of payment or something like that with the landlord and he was deemed a jerk.  So, the summer after fifth grade, we packed up and moved from this home into another house closer to the city where my mother's school was.

It had been an eventful year in my childhood, to say the least.  In my next post (hopefully it will be much sooner!), I will continue on with my middle years...there's really so much more to come! 

Resiliently yours,
Marathon Momma





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