• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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And So Become Yourself

They fuck you up your mum and dad, wrote one of my favorite poets Philip Larkin. They fill you with the faults they had and add some extra just for you.

Do your parents fuck you up?  On purpose? By accident?  Benign neglect? Intrusiveness? Abandonment? Smothering? Guilt? Disapproval? Rejection? Death of Salesman? Do you write in spite of them? Because of them? To escape from them? To hide? To reinvent? To damn them? To love them? Are they the source of your strength, your creativity, your discipline? Your gift? Are you the whistle blower? THe ticking bomb? Mommy Dearest?  Do you write out of pain? Are you lonely, lonely, lonely? Will you never be good enough? Are those your parents sitting in the auditorium as you collect your national book award? Is your dad wearing a knit tie? Is he eager to get the car and get back to New Jersey? Mom loves you but hasn’t read your book, can’t really approach it. She is very proud but is fixated on the girl two rows up whose neck is covered in an enormous butterfly tattoo. What kind of a family could she be from?

Did they fuck you up?

39 Responses

  1. Yes I think everyone’s parents mess them up in some way…or set them up for “stuff”. I do believe it can be unintentional too. My mom was strict and humorless while I was growing up. She controlled us through fear and it didn’t work well once I became a teenager. After 15 years, me married and with three kids, my mom and I had it out and set it all straight.

    She came from an abusive background – mentally, emotionally, sexually. She had four siblings to whom she was more parent than anyone else in their life. Her entire family had one messed up thing after another and she grew up in the bad parts of the city. She was determined her kids would not grow up that way and have those pitfalls in life.

    She is the reason I write. I tried many times in my early 20s to write about my life with her – how I have to deal with her. It never came together. Now in my early 30s (after we’ve reconciled) I’ve heard her stories and those of her siblings. She is my reason for writing still. But now the memoir is of our journey together and her inspirational story behind it all. In the end I found that good intentions can go bad, but they are good intentions nonetheless.

  2. I’m preferring to see it as immersion research for current and future WIPs. Parents who embrace the closet-alcoholism lifestyle are masters of presenting one picture-perfect face to the world while creating a whole other dark reality behind that nicely painted front door. Took me years to be able to disengage myself from that madness.

    Now, my mother sends very expensive cards with lovely sentiments and wants me to believe ours was a lovely, loving family. She is elderly and alone and perhaps remorseful. There would be nothing gained by demanding she face the truth; I try to enjoy this last, bittersweet bit of fiction as her olive branch.

  3. My dad and my dog are now senile and deaf at the same time, so that’s a little wearing. I blog about my parents but they are never in my fiction. I want to think I am unlike them. I’m pretty fucked up, but I don’t think I blame them or even attribute.

    But what do you have that you didn’t get from having them as parents?

  4. My mother is amazing. She just called the other day to say she’s built a fire on a rainy day and read my novel, Daughters of the Revolution, again – for probably the 19th time. In several chapters, a character entirely fictional (but also remarkably like my mother) masturbates directly on the page and (later) seduces her daughter’s boyfriend. Having now passed into the humiliating stage of having rebelled against my Mum and having fucked up my own kids in wholly original (to me) ways, I feel that my mother was a possibly more vulnerable and honest parent than I am. The other day I sent the Philip Larkin poem to my daughter. What mother wouldn’t? It is perpetually apropos of something.

  5. Parents completely uninterested so I was left to raise myself in a single-parent household. As a result, men are still like these exotic alien fascinating creatures who spit and snargle and wear tighty-whiteys and think in inexplicable ways. And I’m learning things as an adult that kids who are twelve already know. So, yeah, but what can ya do.

  6. the highest functioning of family comes when everyone sublimates his/her identity and desires and beliefs in favor of the collective. Problem 1. Problem 2 is, even allowing the offspring their individuality, the family leadership must be forever on guard because offspring presentation reflects on them. Fucking up in school: reflects on them. Wearing that ugly ass shit you wear? Reflects. That fat, those teeth, it all reflects. Problem 3. Much of what you do reminds them to be afraid. The greatest thing you can ever say as a parent once a child is over the age of 13 or so is, I don’t care what you do, I’ll be right here, by the phone. I will make a space for you as safe as I can make it, so that you can venture out into the perils of the fresh world and know that space is here. To which the kid says, yeah. can we talk like later? I’m doing something.

    • So true. I’m here by the phone. Moronically, fucked-upedly. And yet, my kid is braver and truer to herself than I was. Interesting, exciting to watch.

    • I’m grateful my oldest has always felt he can come and discuss his life. We were quite strict with school and respect, but it was never because I felt it would reflect on us. I wanted him to build necessary life skills. His father and I always keep an open mind and hear him out, and usually he will ask for our thoughts. He’s made a few choices I wouldn’t have for him, but I’ve supported him because he gave such good arguments for why he made them. I respect he’s turned into a strong, independent thinker. When he’s screwed up, I’ve listened without judgment. Not condoned mind you, because at times I’ve told him yeah that was stupid, but I know that he’s smart enough to learn and not repeat. Besides, it’s all part of the process of life. He’s a man now and I truly like him. We have fierce debates and he always shows up on Mothers Day with a bouquet of my favorites and helps his little sisters cook breakfast.

      • Holy smokes. Sorry for the sermon. It’s just at times, I realize what a nice family I have and wonder how it could have happened, considering where I began. Despite where I began.

  7. My mother has passed away years ago. I remember her as a source of encouragement (though she always was a soft and fragile woman behind my father). Now I’m a mother of married children. The ways they react to my good intentions and care make me get confused. Is that how life is? Life is indifferent, or the issue of “the aging and the growing up” is just normal part of it? I’m travelling for summer holidays in Europe but still feel something heavy in my chest. I tell myself, things all will be forgotten and forgiven, with love. I have a number of topics for my writing project, but now “motherhood” would be something to write about in future–the pain and love with it.

  8. I grew up with guns, and voices I couldn’t hear. Dinner was tasted by someone else first, to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. The forever they were always up to something. I once ate a pet rabbit for dinner and pretended to like it. Whenever I approached the door, when all options of someplace else were exhausted, the whatever it was that lived in that house would seep out and wrap me in fear. A tangible entity.

    A few years ago, I faced it down and dragged its victim out of the darkness. Two hospital stays, a psych rehab center, and many medications later it was gone. A few months ago, I would have crowed over that victory. A few weeks ago, I watched the face twitches and the constant blinking and listened to the conversations with no one. I cried when they sliced me open. I cried just because. The thing, the fear monger, is back. It’s unbeatable and I’m too tired to try. It’s won. As it always has. So I turned my back and put it on a plane, and someday karma is going to make me pay.

    Fucked up? Maybe.

  9. Did they fuck me up…they were human. They made mistakes, they triumphed too. I try to be better. I think I have succeeded so far.

  10. wait, i changed my mind, I’ll take dare.

  11. In some ways, yes, in some ways, no. It wasn’t easy but we’ve all made peace, with less PTSD than you might imagine (though perhaps a little more).

    The answer would have been different before I had children of my own.

  12. “Did they fuck you up?”

    Of course. It was in their contract. They were nothing if not diligent.

  13. There is always this nurture or nature mess and I could conveniently use either to blame my parents for my shortcomings. No I pretty much came into the world the captain of my own ship. I miss my parents, especially my mother. She died while I was away at college and my father three years later while I was in the military. I would throw away every book I’ve written or hope to write, push away a movie deal, a seven-figure bonus and a Pulitzer for five minutes with my mother. .

  14. I’m not sure there is any relationship between parent and child that doesn’t have some garbage that screws the kid up. Not even the relationship of Michael Phelps and his mom…

    It’s a strange relationship…., the one I have with my mother, and with some of the weird shit that went on when I was growing up, I doubt I’ll ever figure it out. Pulling a knife on my dad. acting afraid of him, as if he was going to kill her, waking us up in the night laughing hysterically – while feigning she was asleep. My dad, worried and concerned, “Wake up! (crazy laughter) wake up! (More crazy laughter.) It used to scare the shit out of me. Then, when she decided she’d sufficiently done just that, she’d open her eyes and say “Huh, whaaaa?”

    If she was mad at me, there would be lies to my father about things I said or did. I would stand at my bedroom door and hear her say “then she tried to hit me and she called me a bitch.” Pets disappeared, hauled off to the pound when Mom grew tired of them. I’d come home from school over the years to find that Star, Brownie, Smudge, Lord knows how many, gone.

    My resentment grew until it exploded when I was eighteen. I left a note on my bed and walked out the door while Mom was at church portraying herself as a Godly woman. Dad was in his recliner, watching T.V. I went and married to someone who was no more ready for marriage than I was.

    Am I fucked up from all that? Probably not as bad as I could be. Today, our relationship is intact, but she still exhibits behavior that will never allow me to be as close to her as I’d like.

  15. I was raised in a house of mirrors by Royal Tenenbaum, with a bit of Cheever & Beattie thrown in on the side. Watching my parent’s sophisticated crazy dance made me realize what I didn’t want in life. It worked. I broke the chain. Yes, there are remnants swirling around, but I’m a liberated orphan now, which suits me well.

  16. Yes and no. High expectations, rigid, critical, strict discipline, ungenerous, mismatched words and deeds.

    When I was struggling with marriage and fatherhood, I figured it out: the old man is just a man, not superman. When that happened, I judged him less harshly, and myself as well. That was probably my first expedition outside of my cell.

    I discovered that I didn’t have to be the same sort of father and man that he was. Let me be clear, though- he was in many ways a good man, with much to admire. I tried to learn from the old man’s successes and not repeat the bullshit, to parent and husband deftly, rather than with a boot in the ass. Sometimes I did okay. Lola, on the other hand, was a genius.

    Our sons were encouraged not to be like me, but to be better. They seem very happy and make their own ways. That is very cool, and if I had anything to do with that, it goes back to the old man.

    Odd, ain’t it?

  17. My mom would read an article about a woman who left her newborn child in a dumpster and say, see, I wasn’t that bad. Last May she was diagnosed with cancer and died 2 months later. I cared for her until the end, caressing her arm and telling her she could go, we’d all be fine without her. The last lie I had to tell.

  18. “Oh Deb, it is wonderful, so well written. You are such a good writer. Your descriptions are beautiful, clear and strong. So well written. You must get on with writing your book now, my girl, so that I can read more of it. See?”
    “I’m trying my hardest. I’m taking a writing class now.”
    “Well, I think that will just slow you down and stop you from writing enough. Oh well, you know best what to do.”
    My mother died three months after that conversation. I had not finished my book.

  19. Maybe. But they’re all gone now, and I realize how fucked up they were, too. Way more that me. I feel for them, and I miss them.

  20. Nope.

  21. That one reminds me of my 19th nervous breakdown….

  22. Hey Tet,
    You and I, the ones which seem to spew opinion like yesterdays chicken, are pretty quiet today. I wonder why that is. Is it the question or the answers?

  23. My parents did the best they could, which is what I hope our kids will be able to say about us.

    Most of the blame lies with my self-service fuck-up w/drive-through, which was open alllllllllll night long.

  24. I can’t go with the best they could or all they knew. How many times have all of us sought more knowledge or tried harder to make it better for our kids? My folks were just “there”, usually with a drink in hand. So, I guess this is a retraction. I guess they are the reason I am the way I am. Maybe.

  25. Bingo! Yes and yes again. But I’m here and still standing. They are “loosely based” on two characters in my WIP and one of the people reading my stuff said the father character said things about the protagonist that seemed “specifically ignorant and cruel.” I sometimes falter because in spite of everything, I would never want to hurt them (they are also hugely wealthy, and love to be harsh if and when they give you something). I just plod ahead because no matter what I do, they will twist, criticize and judge. Writing is the only thing that sets me free of them so I guess in a wierd sort of way, I am thankful–I’ve got a ton of stuff to write about.

  26. Yeah. My father split when I was two and my sister just an infant. He married my mother’s best friend and became financially successful while my mother struggled to get by. She did alright and even though we were poor we still managed to have fun and ate meals together nearly every night and breakfast every morning. Ten years later she married an alcoholic with a decent job and our creature comforts grew but his anger and abuse took its toll on what was once a happy single parent family. As soon as I could, I left home and tried not to look back, but that was much easier said than done. My father and I grew closer when he divorced his second wife and wanted to reconnect with his children. My stepfather stopped drinking and at his funeral I couldn’t understand why I felt so bad about losing someone I hated. My mother died because she refused to have her leg amputated, diabetic foot infection left untreated. I would have been happy to have her around with no legs as long as she was still alive, but that was not what she wanted. My daughter was born in January, 2006 and my mother died in December later that year. She got to hold her grandaughter a few times and it was the happiest I’d seen her in years. I try to give my daughter all the love in the world because that’s what my mother did for me and my sister and I struggle to be the husband my father wasn’t. As for my stepfather’s legacy, that’s still one I’m trying to figure out. Fucked me up, oh yeah, but to be honest, I had to figure out a lot of stuff on my own.

  27. My parents struggled together. Six kids, a world war, a new country, life was not a bowl of cherries or a snake pit. It was tough. It toughened me up. I raised four wimps. One is a doctor, one is a furniture maker. Two others are borderlines or bipolars or something. None of them are as tough as the forebears. Four bears either. My brother put the US Air Force on computers back in the fifties. We didn’t think too much of it. I’d like to write his bio but don’t know where to start. Maybe when he fell out of a third floor window? He was three.

  28. Parents are the instruments of our karma. One of many. If I slap myself in the face, can I rightfully be angry at my hand?

  29. My parents did the best they could, and the extent to which I am messed up is partly my mother and partly my own doing, but I wouldn’t have wanted any other mother, both despite and because of her eccentricities. She struggled with alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression. I lost her three months ago to cancer – she was only 57.
    During the past six years I have been working part-time with children as a reading tutor or classroom teacher, and I wouldn’t be able to show these kids patience or love if my mother hadn’t given that to me, even if that love was tinged with sadness and desperation. It also gave me the patience and understanding I needed to help take care of her the year she was an invalid.
    I miss her incredibly, mostly because she was so cynical, unorthodox, and blatantly hysterical, and I have also found that I haven’t been able to stop writing about her: http://heroicthinking.blogspot.com/
    Fucked up? Probably, but who isn’t? Reading these posted stories and anecdotes has been illuminating and in some ways reassuring. And it makes me grateful for what I was lucky enough to have.

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