Disconnected

I want to emphasize I am not perfect, I never claimed to be, and I know I never will be.

However, I find the older I get and the more I learn about my family, the more disconnected I feel from them. This is especially true of my father. It amazes me how I had the best relationship with him as a kid, but as an adult, it’s the polar opposite. I suppose that’s the curse of losing one’s innocence.

The biggest barrier is my attempts to learn financial responsibility. It really astounds me no one – absolutely no one – in my (immediate) family has any clue about finances, and at this point, it’s now a case of being unable to teach an old dog new tricks. My biggest mistakes – attending college when I wasn’t ready and financing my first car with a co-signer – came out of pressure, but the upside is those mistakes made it abundantly clear my family, no matter how much I love them, are not the people to go to for life advice. Regarding cars particularly, knowing about them does not correlate with having any financial sense.

For the record, I am aware financing a car can be a good decision. However, my father makes barely more money than me (I bring in roughly $2K a month), but his car payment plus insurance nearly equals my household’s rent. And in all the years he had to save money with his late girlfriend paying most of their household expenses (including rent), he never did. Simultaneously, my dad complains constantly he hates living with his dad. Find the problem.

I taught myself planning, budgeting, and saving, and as of late, I’m learning about investing, which a good friend got me started on. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. But I reached the point I’m able to plan out a month’s worth of expenses, and move them around as needed. Though I have a bad habit of frivolous spending I’m trying to kick, I stick to my budget, including savings, and I don’t sacrifice bills for pleasure. The bit of money I spend frivolously is the remainder after all my week’s expenses are paid.

It’s indeed strange to be berated for trying to be responsible, and I feel the more I try to pull myself together and recover from my mistakes, the more distant I grow from my family. It’s truly not something I like, but have no clue how to fix. How do you re-connect with people you can’t talk to, you can’t look up to, you can’t trust with advice? I don’t mean my personal goals. I can’t talk to them about the future, about finance, about feelings, about anything. How do I re-connect without feeling like I’m making myself small?

If you know, please teach me.

The Past Is Alive

Lately, I did a lot of thinking about my past. Or rather, my family’s past.

I don’t know the history between my parents and I probably never will. Each tells a different story. What I do know the two sides of my families were never civil until recent years. And “civil” in this context means “don’t associate with the other”.

Some say children are blessings. That doesn’t describe my birth into my family. My at-the-time impending arrival was not met with the impatient excitement I often see on Facebook. My parents were never in a committed a relationship. They dated for a few weeks or months, banged at least, and split. Neither wanted to be a parent, nor was either in a position to be a parent, but three fourths of a year later, I would come out.

Eventually, I learned my family’s actions weren’t my fault, but I still thought of myself as the reason. After all, having a mouth to feed when you can’t feed your own hardly makes life easier. My mom was utterly lost with parenting after I was capable of doing more than crawling around with a bottle. My dad never tried to begin with, and made it known he wasn’t interested. He was involved in my life, but not beyond being the “fun guy”, and even that was only because his parents made him take part after I was proven to be his.

My dad started a relationship with a woman who had a son, and treated that kid worse. Most of the time, my father was nice to me, but to the son of his now late girlfriend of 19 years, he made it blatant he didn’t like him. He abused him. I didn’t grasp the situation until I was an adult and realized my then-stepbrother was mistreated and ignored by everyone: his mom, my dad, and his dad. Yet was still nice to me. He ran away at the age of 13, and I regret I wasn’t a better little sister to him.

And of course, there’s the simple fact my birth brought together two families who utterly despise each other. The dysfunction peaked during my teen years, but they hated each other long before that. Had I not come, my parents would’ve stayed apart, and two families who dislike each other wouldn’t have had to be tolerant (to put it nicely) for two decades. That’s a weight I can’t quite get off my conscience.

My parents are in a relationship now, but only because 1) I am an adult, which frees my father of any and all parental responsibility, and 2) loneliness. Yes, throughout all of those years, even with his girlfriend, he was attracted to and wanted to be with my mom, but I was there and being with her meant being a full-time parent to me. I’m still in the way, as I live with my mom due to finances and her being schizophrenic, and my dad’s view of my sister (not his child) and me is we’re “cock blockers”.

What’s on my mind lately is how much of my family’s dysfunction is the result of me and how much is the result of their own choices.

It goes without saying the responsibility of kids brings on a whole new kind of stress. It’s the one choice that cannot be undone. Breaking up a relationship or moving to a town aren’t easy processes, but they can be done. Once a person is born, there is no going back. Only age or premature death removes the parents’ obligation, and that’s still only the obligation, not the person’s life itself. In other words, birth cannot be reversed.

“Well, duh, Kaye. Everyone knows that!”

Yeah, me too, and yet, many people put more thought into their dinner plans than becoming parents. If statistics are to be believed, roughly half of the time, it amounts to “oops!”. Yes, I know happy accidents exist, but I was not one of them, which is what this post is about.

My mother was against abortion (take note I said was) and didn’t adopt me out. While I recognize those are sometimes hard choices, they are still choices, correct? Or does being against abortion and adopting out render having a child no longer a choice? I consider my mother better than my father for being a parent, but it was clear to me before my age hit double digits she was doing it because she was stuck with me. Granted, there is no manual for parenting, so she didn’t know what to do when the baby grows beyond being an autonomous crying burrito that needs more than milk, a bath, and a clean diaper. Err, what do you do with them?

However, if beliefs about abortion and adopting out your child are choices, that means keeping the child is a choice too, right? Does that mean the true reason for my family’s dysfunction is my parents’ choices? Or am I assigning too much blame, and my being still plays a part? Are my being and their choices equally responsible for my family’s dysfunction? Is it possible my existence truly is the sole reason? It goes without saying life was easier for all involved before I came to be, and in almost three decades, their positions haven’t changed. Yes, both of my parents are in the same places they were in almost thirty years ago.

I don’t doubt my mom loves me now, but while I hold respect for her, she truly was not a good parent. She was better than my father only in the sense she was there, not that she was competent. She tried her best, and I will never say she didn’t, but her best is on par with patting one’s self on the back for not driving drunk. Given the choice, I would venture into the past to erase my birth for the sake of my mother’s life. I have no hesitance about that.

Ultimately, what’s done is done, and since my attempts to take myself out never came to pass, I’m here until something outside of my own hand removes me. Three events so far failed to do so, so it seems that’ll take a while, but I won’t push my luck.

Although, my boyfriend tells me I am a blessing to his life. It’s nice to know my existence benefit at least one person (of course, sooner or later, he would’ve met someone else; I’m one of about 166.7 million women in our country, after all).

I Lost Myself

A warning for this post being extremely personal. I’m wary of posting such things on my blog, but there are times I cannot say what’s on my mind to someone who will listen because the words won’t come out the way I want them to. I am fine with this post being read – I wouldn’t post it publicly otherwise – but if my deepest thoughts are uninteresting, I heavily advise skipping this post because it is depressing and very long.

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The Real Loser

There’s an expression that hard times help you discover your true friends. I agree.

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Bad Lessons From My Family

“Stranger danger”

This one is bad for so many reasons, namely that most people are not out to kill you. I mentioned this once to a parent, and she (admittedly, to my surprise) agreed. Yes, kids should know not everyone is a kind person and some people will hurt them, but there must be a better way than teaching them to assume everybody outside of their family and schoolhouse is a murderer in waiting. For me, this got so bad, I feared walking down the street alone (not that I was allowed to begin with). In truth, most strangers couldn’t care less, and statistically, a child is in more danger with their own family than from a stranger. Abduction by strangers are the least common. Most kidnappers have a familial relationship with the child, or knows the child via friendship with the parents or other family. In other words, in most cases, the kidnapper isn’t a stranger to the kid.

“If you don’t behave, the police will arrest you.”

Bad police officers will do this (aka police brutality or profiling), and I know there are cases of children being arrested for temper tantrums and given charges. I won’t pretend there aren’t bullies out there in blue with a badge (I also believe if you work with kids and your solution to a tantrum is calling police, you need an immediate career change; on a different note, all of those cases happened in the south and every child was black, so I think that says enough). If you live in a community where the police are notorious for profiling, maybe this is a legitimate worry, but I didn’t grow up in any such area, so this was nothing more than a scare tactic. It failed spectacularly when I found the police to be a lot more helpful than my family. I know some officers went so far as to ask parents to stop doing this because if a child is in legitimate trouble, especially life-threatening trouble, the police will probably be the people you want involved. In fact, when I was growing up, one bit of advice I read is if you think someone is chasing you, run into a police station. A kid who’s scared of the police would probably assume they’ll be in more trouble if they do that.

In same vein, “that [lady/man] will kick you out if you don’t behave” when it comes to store workers. As I said several times in my posts, I work in retail. No, I will not kick your kid out. I can’t kick actual bad customers out. If I had the authority to kick anyone out, your kid would be very low on the list because as annoying as their screaming is, this person at my counter having a fit her receipt is invalid is much more annoying.

That everyone cares how you look

Just like most people aren’t out to kill me, I learned most people couldn’t care less what I look like either. In fact, the only people who did care were my family and the bullies at school. The passersby on the street have their own lives and problems, and a stranger’s appearance does not make the list. I confess I am self-conscious about how I look, but that insecurity came entirely from my family. Even my job, the people who pay me, don’t care how I look as long as it’s within their dress code. One of my jobs has a rule about hair: tie it up. Surprise, surprise. It’s a safety rule, not an “avoid being ugly” rule. And if any stranger is taking a huge issue with how I look, that’s on them. Interestingly, constantly belittling others and needing constant praise are signs of narcissism.

Similarly, “you don’t like to look pretty”. There’s totally nothing wrong with teaching girls they’re ugly if they’re not in a dress and jewelry, right? Yes, that’s sarcasm.

“You shouldn’t do what everyone else does” at the same time as “Don’t you want to be like the other girls?”

In case it’s not obvious, contradiction. Many times in my teens, my family told me not to do what other teenagers do until it came to attire and hobbies. Suddenly, I was questioned about why I wasn’t like the other teenagers. Normal teenagers spend every Saturday at the mall with their friends, going shopping, and dressing like fictional high school characters. Recall I said above my family was paranoid of letting me do so much as walk down the street, and they certainly weren’t willing to be my weekend ride or give me money for these supposed mall trips (before you ask why I didn’t get a job, this nonsense started when I was 12; 12-year-olds cannot legally be employed and I wasn’t interested in the mall anyway, nor were my friends). Ironically, nowadays, I shop a lot and go out frequently, and my family wants me to stop because I’m almost never home. Can’t win. Perhaps it’s not surprising I got into certain hobbies and likes when I stopped being told I should like those things.

Pressure about college

I understand this came from a place of good intentions, as this often does, but it turns out going to college for the sake of going to college is a really bad idea. To my family, specifically, it mostly had to do with bragging rights. The majority of them do not know anything about college besides it’s simply “the next step”. This was more annoying from my mom, however, because she went to college and nothing came of it. How the heck can you pressure someone to go to college to have a better future when the outcome was the very opposite for you?

I did eventually go to college – trade school – and I wish I didn’t because the jobs I got didn’t require college. They were jobs I could’ve succeeded at in high school. On top of that, the job I currently commit myself to pays higher than both jobs and involves more than sitting at a desk for the majority of a shift with nothing to do. I’m not against desk jobs. I would love to have one again. Just give me something to do besides talk endlessly until the phone rings. Getting paid to do nothing sounds fun until you realize it means almost literally nothing. Not fun at all.

Finances

Non-existent. My family is the absolute master of bad finances. From my mom spending her last bit of money to ensure I went to the hair stylist that month as a kid to my dad pressuring me to go into further debt to have a car, and considering a bus pass and education a waste of money (fun fact: Dad has never 100% supported himself; he can afford to trade in cars like candy). Unfortunately, this is very hard to learn on your own and spending impulses don’t make it easier, but I’m trying. At the very least, I can say I have more in savings than anyone in my immediate family does and I’m now trying to save at least $100 a month to continue growing it (after it being stagnate for a long time).

Family planning

Why does this seem to go hand-in-hand with the above? To my family’s credit, they never let me believe having a child is easy. The problem is they still went the paranoia route and discussions about sex were closed. I never dated until I was 19 anyway, but it still would’ve been nice to know pregnancy does not randomly happen and isn’t inevitable. I’m not fond of the whole “children will ruin your life” shtick either. First of all, no child deserves that. Second, that probably wouldn’t happen if any thought was given to having kids instead of parenthood being treated as something that happens outside of someone’s control. Speaking personally, yes, parenthood would destroy my life because I absolutely do not want to be a parent and I have no support (financially and emotionally) for that child. But if I wanted kids, the latter alone would stop me from having them until that situation changed. A common retort to this is “you make it work” or “you figure it out”. As the product of such, I can tell you my family definitely didn’t figure it out. They still haven’t.

“Don’t trust men.”

This came from women and men in my family. Unsurprisingly, the men it came from aren’t stellar themselves. Projection much? I had my fair share of bad relationships (and I wouldn’t call them even that) with men, but it taught me to be more careful and not to expect my profile to be read. And don’t sleep with anyone I’m prepared to kick out of my life the next day. Sadly, the only long-lasting relationships I grew up with turned out to be toxic, so they weren’t good models at all. This is another difficult thing to learn, and my own relationship is struggling at the moment.

So, what did my family do right? Well:

  • I’m incredibly far from perfect, but they did raise a person who works hard, tries to learn from their mistakes and her own, and is no longer ashamed to be herself (though I don’t think they’re happy about that last one).
  • They taught me to never be fully dependent on anyone, especially if you have kids. Before the stay-at-home parents stab me with their pitchforks, I’m simply talking from a place of practicality. Spouses leave, get sick, die, get fired, and so on. My point is anything could result in me suddenly needing to support myself (and my supposed child), so there must be a back-up plan. TV Tropes calls this “wisdom from the gutter”.
  • They showed me parenthood is not a cakewalk. I don’t like how they did it (making me paranoid of pregnancy, and that parenthood is always a disaster), but parenthood is difficult, even in the best of circumstances. There is so much more to it than cute clothes and photos, and helping someone grow into a functional adult is a huge, demanding job that takes everything you have and more than that.
  • Both of my parents called it quits after I was born. My mom had another child, but my sister’s father supposedly had a vasectomy. Either it failed or he lied, but either way, my mom really was trying to be careful. She’s had no more kids since then, despite she wanted at least one more, so that’s saying something. Neither of my parents pressure me for grandchildren either.
  • They were open-minded when I finally introduced my boyfriend. As much as I disagree with their teaching style (“don’t trust any man”), it still came from a place of concern and not wanting me to end up struggling to raise a child with a man who couldn’t care less. It probably helps I waited three years before letting my boyfriend meet them. Three years isn’t really long (I don’t think…), but it was long enough that it was obvious we weren’t a fling and he wasn’t knocking me up.

In spite of the above, I still think my parents were better off not being parents because it was all too obvious they didn’t want to. My dad was involved from age two, but didn’t care for fatherhood (I was more like a tiny roommate) and while my mom tried her best, it was obvious to me as a child motherhood wasn’t her forte. And I don’t say that as a kid who was a terror because even she says I was an overall good kid. Kids don’t come with a manual, but that doesn’t mean everyone can “get into the swing of it”. Some people never do and merely deal with the cards as they’re tossed.

My parents are not good parents, but they are good people. Close enough.