This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things. This interview is particularly close to my heart be Brooke is one of my closest friends from high school. We spent so, so many Friday nights together drinking coffee at the roadside cafe and discussing two certain boys that we loved in a way that only 17 year olds can.
My dad is the oldest of 4 kids. His mom was a stay-at-home mom for most of his life and his dad a building contractor and backhoe operator. My dad worked a backhoe from the time he was 12, because my granddad broke his back building a bridge and was bedridden for a few years. By the time he was in 8th grade, he had quit school to work full-time. His parents approved.My mom is the youngest of 2. Her parents were both school teachers. She tends to rebel against the normalcy of her childhood… so while everyone else in her small childhood family fit in, she forced herself out. Both of her parents and her sister graduated college… she did not. See next answer for further details…
How old were they when your parents had you?
My mom was 18 when I was born. My dad was 16. … but my dad isn’t my real dad, so that complicates things a bit. The sperm donor was a guy my ma had a crush on; he hit it & quit it… and then there was me. Mom liked the “bad-boy-irresponsible-party-hard-stay-up-late” type, so she quickly found a replacement (the guy I call “dad.”) when I was 8 months old.
How do you remember your early childhood? Where did you live? What was day to day life like?
This was a hard question.
I remember my early childhood in a lot of ways… I remember living in the “townhouses,” (which sounds really posh to people who didn’t grow up in Aitkin!) the low income-housing projects for the broke-ass bitches of my hometown. I remember seeing teenage boys’ penises in snow forts when I was in kindergarten. I remember waking up to a man beating his wife below my bedroom window and my mom telling us to “ignore them and go back to bed!”
I remember moving to Missouri. I remember before we moved, my mom cried for days, because my dad went first… with another woman. I remember getting a package with a stuffed otter from my dad, and a letter telling us he was sorry… and I remember finding out years later that my mom sent it, so we wouldn’t hate him.
I remember my dad always having a motorcycle, no matter how many trips we had to make to the food bank. I remember the smell of pot billowing out from the garage. I remember moving back to Minnesota to live in a trailer park at the end of a long driveway, surrounded by a bog. I remember the trailer only had 3 bedrooms and there were 8 of us. I remember we didn’t have money for heat, so dad would fill up the kerosene space heater and we would all “camp” in the livingroom during the winter.
I remember when my parents told us they bought a house. It was like a mansion to us!! There were 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a big kitchen and a backyard!! I remember getting my own room and finally wanting people to come to my house. I remember my 7th grade birthday party. My mom let me invite 28 people and only one person came.
I remember my mom telling me to try out for anything I wanted in school. I remember always having presents for Christmas. I remember laughing so hard I cried. I remember my mom taking me to A&W in the middle of the day just to hang out, so I could get a break. I remember crying as I stepped onto the school bus, because of all the fighting that had taken place that morning. I remember feeling loved through all of it.
How many siblings do you have? How did having that many siblings effect you and your family?
I am the oldest of 6. It affected us in multiple ways… it’s nice to have a place to belong. I belong to them. They belong to me. It’s nice to know that someone shares my story, because some of that stuff sounds made up. We were broke because there were too many of us. The middle kids got lost in the shuffle for a bit… My brother closest in age to me has a lot of the same memories, so we learned from it & we turned out all right. The 3 after us, chose a similar path to that of our folks, and the baby is just … well, doing whatever he wants, which I have mad respect for!!
Did you feel like your family was different from those around you?
Honestly, not all the time. In the small town where we grew up, there were a lot of people I knew going through the same stuff, so I didn’t think much of it. The areas where we lived promoted a white trash lifestyle, so it seemed “normal.” It wasn’t until I was in late high school that I became grossly aware of the difference. When I went to the houses of friends who parents got along all the time, or who had fully stocked pantries, and we didn’t have to ask for something to eat, we could just take it… Then I felt different.
How did you deal with all of this? How did your siblings deal with all of this?
I am fairly confident I have not dealt with it. I tried to fix it for awhile. I realized I couldn’t and I ran away. I created my own life. One I can control, one where everything runs according to how it’s “supposed to.” I got a good job with good benefits. I married someone who I love and who loves me, and has no chemical or alcoholic addictions. He is someone who would NEVER raise his hand to me and who is very supportive and a good provider. I have 2 beautiful children, after which we consciously made the decision to have my husband clipped. My siblings are a 50/50 split. Three of us are successful by society’s standards and three of us are repeating history in various ways.
Tell us about your life now. How is it different from the one you had growing up?
My life now is PERFECT. A little too much risk calculation/mitigation, maybe… but perfect, nonetheless. Sometimes I worry, though… if we don’t start breeding at least a little dysfunction, I’m concerned my children won’t be independent or have any coping skills. You know, I wouldn’t be this strong or smart had I not been born to this family. I also find that I relate to Marshall Mathers on an inappropriate level and I’m ok with it. You can take the girl out of the trailer park and put her in a nice English tudor, but she’ll still beat you down if you talk trash about her family.
What did you learn from your childhood that you apply to your life now?
I learned that family comes first. My mom always made sure we had something creative or fun to do, to keep us bonded, despite the chaos. I have learned laughter is a requirement to a happy life.
I learned being financially responsible reduces stress. I make conscious decisions about any expense that faces my family, and if we can’t afford it, we don’t do it. My mom would ignore the light bill/phone bill/car payment/house payment in order for us to take a trip or buy my dad a new motorcycle or buy herself something to fill a void… I am not willing to do that. I make sure my bills are paid, my pantry is always stocked, and we either find free/cheap things to do, or we stay home & chill. I have found that money is not evil, if you have enough to be comfortable. If you don’t have enough, you covet it. If you have too much, you take it for granted. I am very happy being middle class. I have come from little enough that I am grateful for all that I have, and I have enough to have most of the things that I want.
I have learned everything in life is a choice. Things do not happen to you, you are not a victim, you create your own circumstance. I have learned personal responsibility and accountability. No one is keeping me down. If I am down, it’s because of me or a choice I have made. Poverty does not just happen to you. Addiction does not just happen to you. Change is a choice. Success is a decision. (I have learned (just now) I might have a career in corporate tag lines or positive bumper stickers. :P)
One of the most important things that I have learned is this: The ability to breed healthy children, does not mean you have an obligation to continue doing so. I have 2 very nice, very healthy children. That’s plenty. Too many children allows for too many missed opportunities, missed moments & mistakes.
I have learned to take care of everything and everyone. This one is good and bad. My mother, the martyr, taught me self-sacrifice to an unhealthy degree. I have a tendency to deal with stress very well, so I keep taking on projects or helping people who are struggling without recognizing my own need for help. Sometimes it’s to remind me how strong & stable I am, and most of the time it’s because I have a need to be needed. It’s nice, because everything gets done, everything is taken care of, and everyone else feels good… However, through counseling & the support of my husband, I am learning to make myself do things for me. I get a massage once a month, and I try really hard not to feel guilty about it. I joined the gym. I am consciously choosing to be friends with people who are seemingly self-reliant and stable. (This was not always the case, however some of them have come around.)
I have also surprised myself in a lot of ways. I figured I would grow up and become my mom. I figured I would grow up and marry my dad. (I lucked out, I only had to live with someone like him for awhile before I made a getaway!) I have some mom-icidal tendencies that I am working on, and my husband has very few of my dad’s negative qualities, none of them serious. I am very happily married to a man who loves and respects me in a way I’ve never experienced before. We understand the need for communication, parental unity and friendship.
I always feel a little bit sad when I say, my parents showed me a lot of what not to do. My mom says she doesn’t regret any of her choices, so I can’t say that I do either. My dad doesn’t regret his choices, because he’s in Recovery for the drugs and the alcohol, and according to the program, it’s not productive to regret. I am ok with everything now. I have learned forgiveness, I cannot forget. I have learned acceptance. I am who I am, because of where I come from. I have learned we’re all ok.
What advice would you give to others going through the same things?
The only things I can share are trite repeats of things that have already been said…
It will be ok. No matter how not ok it feels, it will be ok. There is a lot to be learned from other people’s mistakes. Keep your eyes open for the lessons, and when you’re in the driver’s seat you can take a different road. (ok, that one was exceptionally corny.) You cannot change your family, so you might as well accept them and find those qualities that make them lovable. I would like to say that I am grateful for knowing the big mistakes before I had my own family, because I’m doing a damn fine job now!
Have any of you come from crazy families? Any questions for Brooke?