Growing up I considered my mother’s family as very “upper crust” clan, filled with educated home owners, with respectable jobs who basically lived the American dream. Just not us. From what I saw my grandmother had successfully raised 4 ½ out of 5 of her offspring. One of my uncles had three children they lived out of town and when he would visit during the summer or holidays he would always take us all to the fair, bring lobsters and his pet ferrets for us to play with. For some reason at the time I equated those things with success. In my eyes HIS life was the one my family should have been living. Both parents in the house raising three “privileged” children, I know no matter how my brother and I tried to hide it we were green with envy.
My other uncle was a teacher at the local high school. Before I attended school I thought it would be cool to have a relative that would look out for me. He had no children of his own so I thought maybe he’d be like an extra dad to my brother and I. I imagined that he would help guide me and keep me motivated to do better. He worked with special needs children, and lord knows we were especially in need of attention.
My mom’s youngest brother always seemed to be the cool one to me growing up. He was political and it always looked like he knew a lot of important people. He always knew the ends and out of what was happening with education and the law. He also was a bit of a gadget geek so it was always cool to see what new things he would expose us too. He also had no children and I found it kind of fascinating how he was always so passionate about what was going on in the world.
Rounding out the bunch was my aunt who was the baby; I looked at her more as a big sister growing up because she was just everything in my mind. I wanted to be her. I even changed my name to hers when I was little (it didn’t go over well with my dad). She would babysit us and we would have movie nights. It was the greatest experience of my young life.
As a child I could tell there was something different about my mother in regards to her siblings. They were all high school and college graduates where she struggles to get her GED. We lived in the projects, we had roaches, and we were on public assistance. My mother had two emotions and those were mad and pissed. Mad was every day. She yelled she cussed, she threw things, pissed was a little more creative, she’d pull, punch, and belittle then. It could go on for minutes, hours or days. You just never knew who you where waking up too.
The leader of this clan would be my grandma. She was always classy. She stayed dressed and it seemed like her and my granddad made a power couple in my eyes. They threw parties and cookouts and it seemed like half the town attended. My granddad was always quiet, his voice was a little louder than a whisper and it was always so hard to understand what it was that he was saying. But he was cool. And you can tell he was loved. When he passed away years ago there was a church full of mourners to celebrate his life. I thought that was an important moment to know just how many lives he had touched.
With all this greatness floating around us I think it’s fair to say my brother and I felt like aliens. Or maybe I think we felt like orphans who were adopted into a well to do family. Well maybe that’s not fair to say. I can’t really speak for him, I felt like an adopted orphan alien.
For all of the great things that you saw when you looked at my family there were things that people didn’t see, things that too this day causes me to hold on to anger. My uncle with the “privileged” children and I had an argument when I was about 16 years old, I complaining about his children’s laziness and he about my mouth; I wasn’t surprised when he grabbed me, slammed me into the refrigerator and told me how I was never going to be shit. I believed him. And just that simple, I closed the door on him, his children and any attempt for a better understanding.
When I entered high school I’ll be the first to admit I was a borderline alcoholic. I’m sure my behavior was disgusting and I had to be an embarrassment to my uncle who worked there. He would let me know every chance that he got. So one day when he called me into the office to tell me how I was failing most of my classes and how I was a complete embarrassment to him. He said things that I’m sure at the time were meant to motivate me to do better. They just didn’t. So as I walked out of that office with some flip comment rolling off my tongue, I ran to the bathroom sat on the floor and I cried. I gave up the notion that we would ever be more than what we were in that moment. And I closed the door on us also.
Almost a year after high school and moving out my life changed quickly. I had begun a relationship that would eventually lead to permanent scarring. I wanted out but I didn’t know how. I was lost because my friends were all living their lives, in college and being teenagers. I was the fool who wanted to grow up quickly. I wanted to turn to my aunt but I didn’t know how, she was married now and I just didn’t think that we were in a place where I could talk to her. Our relationship changed and I wasn’t able to tell her that it hurt me. At that time I was a firm believer that telling people how I felt would only be used against me. So I said nothing.
So at 19 my life completely changed all with one phone call. I was sitting in front of my mother who by the look of joy in her face already knew the answer when she asked me “what did your doctor say?” I’ve never been a good liar. I couldn’t think fast enough on my feet to tell her something else. I wanted to say “I have an infection and they are calling in a script” but I knew that would lead to “what kind? How’d you get it? I told you he was cheating on you” I just wasn’t ready. So in my heart I said a prayer that she would understand. That for once she would just be my mother and help me. I was scared; I didn’t know what to do. “They said I’m pregnant but…” I wasn’t ready to be a mother. Before I could get it out my mother’s face grew this devilish smile and she picked up the phone dialed a number and said “good, now tell your grandmother”
I started sweating and I wanted to throw up as my grandmother said “hello” I tried to make small talk but all I could say was “grandma my mom said to tell you that I’m pregnant”. What I didn’t expect after the long pause was for her to say “well I hope you know that having a baby is not going to make him stay with you…” I wanted to die. She went on to tell me that my child was my responsibility so do no t call her or my grandfather for diapers or money when I don’t have it. I felt dismissed and embarrassed. I know that it wasn’t her intentions to make me feel that way. But that’s not what this is about. So I cried, I cried while my mother reminded me about all the negative things that my family has always thought of us all. How we would never be good enough to fit in. and for once, I believed her.
What I had to do next was tell the rest of my family or so my mom said. I could smell the satisfaction that radiated from her body as I slowly sank into depression. I took my dad to breakfast thinking that in public he wouldn’t lose it on me. I was wrong. He yelled and I cried. And after he saw how hard I was taking it he held me. And it helped. For a while.
I no longer had a relationship worth mentioning with my dad’s family so their opinions didn’t matter to me. What was the hardest for me was my aunt; she let me know how she wouldn’t have time to be waiting on me to find a babysitter when she was ready to go out. I was crushed. I was secretly waiting to make it to 21 so that I would be able to be a full-fledged adult and hoping that we would be close like I thought we use to be. At that moment I realized I was wrong. Then to my surprise after a day of tears and what I can only equate to rejection I came home to the following message, “I heard about your situation and I just wanted to make sure you knew that the government has changed the welfare laws and you can only be on public assistance for five years now” that was from my uncle the gadget geek, who stayed up on all things political. At the time it took everything I had in me NOT to jump out of my third floor window.
But then something great happened. My “in laws” where ecstatic. I never felt more loved or more welcomed by anyone as I did by them. It was everything I ever wanted from my own family. And they made it clear to me that I was a part of them now. Nobody made me feel like I was ruining my life no matter how hard I knew it was going to be. They accepted me. And that’s when I decided to close the door on my family. I gave up that fight. And even though I still attended thanksgivings and Christmas with them, in my heart I sectioned them off and locked them away. I stopped sharing my life with them because I felt like they didn’t want to be part of it anyway, they never did. When there was family functions id always be late because I had to force myself to prepare for whatever my heart would hear as judgment.
When I got pregnant twice more and had miscarriages. I told no one. For every time I ran from my own home because the abuse I suffered from the father of my children was too much to take. I would just stop running. Because I realized I had nowhere to go. And if I left him that meant I had to leave his family and I wouldn’t survive without them. So when I was pregnant with my second child I waited until I couldn’t hide my stomach anymore before I told anyone. I didn’t want to be judged. I didn’t want to be hurt again. My bubble had become so small as it was, I just couldn’t take anymore negativity. I’m not sure if it was the best decision but it was the choice I made with the information I had at the time (as Iyanla would say). I had decided it would just be us, me and my kids and him. And I allowed myself to just take it. And everything else that was thrown at me. I needed to stay with him because then I would be alone. That’s what I would tell myself after every fight, every demeaning and degrading comment, everyday. I had to prove to my grandmother that he wanted to be with ME not just because I got pregnant and that I didn’t trap him. (I was the one that felt trapped). I wanted my uncles to know that even if I didn’t amount to shit that I would be a good mother and have a family. Something that they seemed to not want, I was good at. I wanted them all to know that even though there were times when the only thing to eat in my house was what came on a WIC check I wasn’t a welfare case. I had to make my mother see that I was loveable and wanted. Two of the things she swore id never be.
As much as what happened hurt me at the time I will say that I was motivated by it. I didn’t want to be those things. I am proud of the fact that I have never called and asked my family for money for diapers or anything else. I never was on public assistance, although I did get food stamps for about six months while I was pregnant and in nursing school. I made sure that I did it on my own. I worked full-time and went to school full-time with two toddlers because I felt like I had to prove myself. I work two jobs killing myself and I go without at times because I don’t ever want to be needy. There are times when I have stumbled and I’ve had to lean on my close friends because they have become a surrogate family to me and my children. And there are still times when me and my children sit home alone on holidays or celebration because we just feel like we don’t belong. There were times that I cried about it. There were moments when I wanted to end it all. But my children motivated me to make it through.
As I’ve gotten older I have come to terms with how my family functions. It’s not that we don’t love each other or want the best for each other; we just don’t function on a level where there is an overflow of emotion. I accept that. We’ve also made more effort to gather together more. This is good for my boys because they aren’t really around any other relatives. What still bothers me is the silence. How nothing is ever really talked out, just talked about. There is never any closure. So we smile at the table and we joke and then when we have to gather for anything other than a holiday there’s a strain. I’m not sure if that will ever go away. I try to make an effort to show up to things on time because I’m learning that sitting on the bed or in the car praying for change won’t get me anywhere. At my age I’m also learning to speak my mind and my heart. I still struggle with sympathy because that was something I learned to let go of long ago. I don’t want to repeat this cycle with my children. I don’t want the thought of disappointing me push my kids or grandkids to the types of things that I have endured just so I wouldn’t look at them differently. But I am slowly learning that after all that has happened or has been said family is all that matters.