Those of you that are reading this are probably thinking that I’m about to tell you at length about someone that really inspired me, that really motivated me, that really changed my life for the better. Sorry. As much as I would LOVE to do that, I’m afraid that’s a story to be told by someone else, my friend. My story is about someone that came along during my formative years and changed the trajectory of my life along with my self worth in a very short period of time. I don’t believe for a minute that that was their intent. I think they really did have the best of intentions, but things don’t always go as planned.
I was initially a very happy-go-lucky, joyful, curious child. My biological father, even though he was a ‘deadbeat dad’, was actually quite kind to me and very adoring and made me feel extremely special and loved. After he and my mother got a divorce, he stopped by on a regular basis and treated me to ‘special’ days, and this went on for years. If it wasn’t dinner at KFC, Skipper’s or Herfy’s, he’d take me out to watch a movie, or to go bowling or swimming or any number of fun, engaging activities. And I still remember him dropping me off in front of the house, after we spent the day together, and reminding me to spit out my gum before I went to bed. Of course, I never did. I would chew on that wad of gum until I fell fast asleep and not surprisingly, wake up the next morning with it hopelessly tangled up in my hair. My siblings would try to use peanut butter to remove it, but if that didn’t work, someone would grab a pair of scissors and simply cut it out.
So what exactly happened that changed the trajectory of my life? My mom remarried. I was eight years old on the day my mother married my stepdad ‘Larry’, and life as I knew it ended abruptly. Several things happened, actually, that created the perfect storm. If my biological dad had stuck around, maybe it would have offset the harsh reality that I faced with my new ‘dad’, but he didn’t. He blew town and I never saw him for the remainder of my childhood. And maybe if our family was a more cohesive unit, things may have ‘shaped up’ to be quite different, but that also wasn’t the case. Our family was a mess. My older siblings were out of control and my mom was ready to crack. So when my mom initially met my stepdad, a lifetime bachelor in his mid-forties, and told him that she was a single mother of 9 children, you’d think he would have raced to the nearest exit and never looked back. Well, he didn’t. Turns out that Larry liked a challenge. Maybe he felt that he could save the sinking ship (our family) if he could assert some authority and instill some discipline. I cannot say. But once the two of them said their vows and exchanged rings, life was never quite the same.
Let me be crystal clear, I think my stepdad meant well, but he was obviously WAY over his head. When he came into the picture and joined our family unit, he was determined to turn things around. He saw the chaos and the lack of structure and I’m sure he was confident that he could ‘fix’ things. What ultimately happened, was that he drove off most of the older siblings because they weren’t used to someone telling them what to do. They absolutely rebelled and refused to conform to any of the new ‘rules’ that were being imposed upon them. What did that leave? It pretty much left the three of us at the bottom.
The three of us at the bottom were my 2 older brothers, ‘Clover’ and ‘Dapper Dan’, and me. And we were still young enough that we didn’t put up much resistance when my stepdad entered the picture and started expecting more from us. One of the significant things that changed was that we were now required to do chores on a daily basis. And these weren’t simple things like ‘take out the trash on Tuesday’ or ‘keep your room clean’. A schedule went up on the refrigerator with what we were supposed to do (a week at a time) and what the expectations were. If Clover got the kitchen and Dapper Dan got the bathrooms, then I got the dining room and living room, and the schedule would rotate accordingly each week. This ‘change’ started right away and my stepdad had very high standards and precise requirements about how things were to be done.
If you happened to be assigned to the kitchen, you had dish duty all week long. You were also supposed to wipe down the countertops, and sweep and mop the floors (every single day). And it didn’t matter how many other people were part of the household or who made the mess in the kitchen, we (the bottom three) were expected to clean it up. If you were assigned to the bathroom(s), you were to scrub out the tub and/or shower, sink and toilet (using a toothbrush to get into the cracks if necessary) along with cleaning the mirror until it sparkled, and sweeping and mopping the floor(s). Seems a bit unfair? I thought so. I was eight when this whole new dynamic started, and I was held to the same standards as my older brothers.
With all of that in mind, still, I think things could have turned out quite different. I think maybe the three of us at the bottom maybe could have ended up with more confidence, and not struggled with depression and low self esteem for the better part of our childhoods and the entirety of our adult lives. But that was not to be. As I said, I think Larry was in over his head. And I think he had the best of intentions. But I also believe he had very few tools ‘in his tool chest’, meaning that I don’t think he had the slightest clue how to raise someone else’s children, let alone his own (if he ever had any).
Alas, my friends, I think I’d better wrap this up for today. I am barely halfway through with my story so I think it’s best that I continue tomorrow as I’ve ‘driveled on’ for some time now and am still not even close to being done. Anyway, ‘stay tuned’!