Archive for January, 2013


An amazing way to drive me nuts is to say, “Don’t worry about the housework, just spend time with the kids. The dirt will always be there, but the kids won’t be kids forever.”

And why does this drive me nuts? Well, it might have something to do with having grown up in a house where the dirt will always be there.

Or, more simply put, I was just looking at this chart and realized that the houses I grew up in (which, as I’ve mentioned before, were basically all the same mess packed into boxes, then allowed to flow out into the new living space and fill it like water poured into a different container) hovered anywhere between a three and a four, with some elements of five. The Bad House was definitely the most five-like place we lived in, at least in the last two years or so that we were there.

So when I’m talking to other moms, or just other people in general, and they tell me, “Don’t worry about the mess, kids grow up too fast and you need to spend time with them,” “Don’t worry about the mess, just love your kids, they’ll remember that and not what the house looked like,” etc., I usually just grit my teeth and don’t say anything, but it really bothers me.

Fact: the dirt will always be there.

Fact: the kids will not always be kids.

Fact: what happens during their childhood years is very formative.

In other words, it’s all about balance.

There’s this growing trend in our culture in which, “It’s more important to spend time with your family than to work,” is somehow interpreted as, “I don’t have to work as long as I spend time with my family.” Whether it’s housework, a job, whatever, that’s the mindset of more and more people. One obvious problem with this is that a lot of that time isn’t being spent with family. I remember my father complaining about our homework and how it took away from “family time.” This “family time” involved either watching a movie or TV show together (which I don’t say isn’t a viable option for family time, but it shouldn’t be all of the family time) or being told to clean. I distinctly remember one time that my father told me to clean, and I said I needed to work on my homework. He started yelling about homework taking away from family time.

So, let me get this straight: “family time” = children cleaning while father watches movies?

It’s an easy trap to fall into–the sense that our own preferred recreation is more important for us to do for some reason, but that other people are being irresponsible for taking part in their recreation, disrupting our own, etc. I sometimes am doing things on the internet and my son wants my attention. I have to remind myself that playing with him is more important than posting or tweeting. Because family time is important.

But there’s a bigger problem than that. Even if you are actually, legitimately taking that time as family time, and even if your household income is entirely taken care of, and even if you have someone to clean your house for you . . . your children will not learn work ethic that way. They’ll learn to enjoy life. They’ll learn the importance of love and of time with those they love. But work ethic is also an important thing to learn, and they simply . . . won’t.

It’s something I still struggle with in my own life for never having been taught it growing up. I don’t want my children to. So I teach my son (who isn’t even a year old yet) to pick up his toys. I plan to have him help with other household chores, not as punishment or as “family time,” but as something that we simply do. And not with only his own things, but with chores around the house as he is able. I want every child I ever raise to one day leave this house knowing how to do laundry, organize files, budget, plan a list and go grocery shopping effectively, cook a meal, wash dishes, sweep, vacuum, clean sinks and toilets and showers, wash windows, rake leaves, mow lawns, shovel walkways, set tables, and whatever else may come along. I don’t want my children to ever be in a situation where they don’t know how to keep their own house because they were never taught to.

Yes, it’s possible to go to the opposite extreme and make the condition of the house more important than the children. Balance is key. Hard, oh so hard, but definitely essential.

The funny thing is, I know a lot of the people who tell me not to worry so much about the house actually keep their houses better than I keep mine. Perhaps they need the reminder to keep their children more important. What they don’t know is that I have my entire upbringing to fight when trying to maintain my house, and I don’t need an extra excuse not to keep it clean. I need to teach my son when he’s old enough, but I need to teach him by example now and for his whole life.

Because you know what? If there are enough problems with a house–to either extreme, whether stressfully clean or stressfully dirty–then no matter how much love they also remember, children will remember what the house was like.

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Please note: I do not approve of swearing, and will not approve comments with excessive swears, including using the name of God as an expletive, but if I receive a comment with a swear or two in an otherwise acceptable comment, I will still approve it. The views expressed in the comments are the views of the person sharing them, not my own, and will be approved based on respect and readability [if I can’t figure out what you’re trying to type, it’s not getting approved] rather than agreement.

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Words Alone

Words alone do not teach.

This is what my parents never understood. Oh, they would tell us that “actions speak louder than words,” or some other tired equivalent thereof. But the irony of saying that is this: it needs action to back it up. The action of backing OTHER words up with actions.

Actually, words are quite remarkable. In the hands of a master, they can be fashioned into an amazing sculpture. They can paint landscapes, portraits, and entire scenery. Words, properly assembled, can be mosaics. From a well-trained conductor with a well-tuned ear, they can become an entire symphony.

Even from the unskilled, words with actions to back them up can at the very least be sketches. Maybe finger paintings.

But words with no actions to back them? Those are words. Plain and simple. They may be beautifully crafted, but they become nothing.

Those are the sorts of words I was taught with. For instance:

from my father – “You need to take responsibility for your actions.”
also from my father – “If your mother would take care of the budget better, we would have more money for other things.”
Yes, this is my father who is actually the greater hoarder. My mother is more of a support to my father’s hoarding than anything else.

from my mother – “It’s important to brush your teeth.”
same woman who didn’t brush her own teeth regularly and who didn’t actually help us do it every night, even when we were little

from both parents – “You need to clean. This house is messy because you guys don’t clean.”
from my father – “Don’t throw that meat tray away, we can put paints on it to paint with!” “Don’t throw that jar away, we might need it!” “Don’t throw [anything ever] away, it might be useful [some day for something that my great-grandkids need]!”
from my father – “I’m a terrible housekeeper, I know.” “Clean everything else, just leave the dishes, I like doing dishes. It’s relaxing.” “There are too many dirty dishes! Why doesn’t anyone else do dishes?”

Yes. This was my life growing up.

So! Self-evaluation: what is my life now? What are my words? What are my actions? And where is my heart? Who am I to my husband? Who will I be to my children?

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Please note: I do not approve of swearing, and will not approve comments with excessive swears, including using the name of God as an expletive, but if I receive a comment with a swear or two in an otherwise acceptable comment, I will still approve it. The views expressed in the comments are the views of the person sharing them, not my own, and will be approved based on respect and readability [if I can’t figure out what you’re trying to type, it’s not getting approved] rather than agreement.

Shame

I was reminded yesterday of another conversation I had with my counselor in the past. That conversation was about shame. I was constantly ashamed, constantly trying to hide my shame. So I wanted to take some time this morning to explore some memories (of the unscripted variety) about this.

I was a constantly embarrassed child. It was an issue because I also really wanted to perform – to sing, to act, whatever. But I couldn’t. I remember trying out for a school play in third grade and not getting in because I was so quiet they could barely hear me. Now, I don’t claim that it was an otherwise flawless performance and I would have stolen the show if only I’d been loud enough. It’s just that I’ll never know if I could have been in if not for my innate sense of shame. Which sense of shame, incidentally, was compounded by the fact that my never-embarrassed-in-her-life sister did get in.

But I think the times I most often felt embarrassed were pertaining to my family. My mother, in trying (as far as I’ve ever been able to tell) to alleviate some of her own guilt and pain, makes jokes like, “If you want to see me, come any time; if you want to see the house, make an appointment.” She would also frequently tell people, “It’s impossible to keep a clean house with so many kids.” And she’s seen some little plaques for sale with clever jokes about housekeeping: “Please do not disturb our pet bunnies;” “For housekeeper, ring here; if no answer, do it yourself,” with a little wooden “button” glued into place, and others.

Even though she only wished for them most of the time, and rarely got any, they were still always a source of shame for me. As were her blatant jokes to other people. Every time she would make them, all I could think was, “NO! We’re not supposed to tell other people!” I always had a sense that we were supposed to make things look as good as possible. That sense could have been due to my own personality. It could also have been due to the fact that things would be crazy and hectic and ridiculous and we would all be yelled at and . . . then we would go to church and smile and act happy. For example. Among other times that the people I saw at home were not the people I saw in public.

Well, whichever caused it, I developed the sense that everything in public should be a show, and everything else was our secret – not to be discussed.

But everything I did, I felt like people knew “our secret.” I greatly lacked knowledge about personal hygiene, and what I did know I had never learned to be consistent in. You took a shower when you smelled – which, in our house, was hard to tell. There were such things as a toothbrush and toothpaste, a hairbrush, and deodorant, all of which were to be used upon remembrance. In words it was stated that it should be done regularly, but never was I taught to do it regularly. I remember sitting for hours while my mother roughly yanked every knot out of my hair that had been growing there for months on end. Let me be clear about this: she was trying to be gentle, she wasn’t intentionally hurting me. She just doesn’t know how to be gentle with a small child’s hair. So when we were all done, with my head tender for days, she would tell me I needed to be more consistent and brush my hair regularly. But she never helped me do so, never asked me if I had done so, never in any way trained me or held me accountable in this.

And then there were the clothes. Mounds upon mounds of dirty clothes constantly. A fire once started due to dirty clothes getting behind a major appliance. So often, I had nothing to wear but things that were already dirty. And when they were “clean” they were so often piled on top of the couch, falling off the couch, trampled on the floor. If the cat hadn’t peed on it and nothing too obvious had been ground into it, it was still fair game.

So all of this – the personal hygiene, the clothes (which I suppose count as personal hygiene, but that part wasn’t as thoroughly my own responsibility), all of it led to a general sense that I was probably disgusting to everyone around me and they all knew our secret. And still I played my part, I tried to act like everything was okay, and if I never outright lied about my house, I sure didn’t tell the outright truth.

As I grew older, I would sometimes try to be “cool” and as open as everyone else seemed to be. I would jokingly admit to things. But it always led to embarrassment, and I remember those moments with crystal clarity. Even now, I don’t want to type one of the moments that sticks out in my mind – it had to do with brushing my hair – because even though I’m sure the people who witnessed it don’t remember it, I can’t help by feel like I am indelibly branded by it. The short conversation – a remark, and my response – was between me and the woman who is now my sister-in-law, though at the time I had no reason to believe this would be the case. Every single time I talk to her or see her, this memory floods back to me. And yet, for all that I wish to ask her if she remembers (because I feel like it’s a sign hanging over my head for her to see me by every time I see her) I also do NOT want to ask her because if she doesn’t (and logically, I’m sure she doesn’t, even though my sense of shame says, “Of course she does!”) I don’t want to remind her of it.

Such is my constant shame. This shame is to the extent that I get embarrassed when watching television. I have a series that I have watched through completely, and just recently have gone back to and watched again. There is one character who is rather arrogant, but becomes a very loveable character as the series progresses. In the second-to-last episode, he thinks he is going to die and starts making “deathbed confessions” wildly to everyone in the room. The first time I watched this, I was SO embarrassed for him! As I always am when I watch something with a character doing something potentially embarrassing.

But I know I’m getting better. I’m not there yet – I still feel shame about my own house even as I work to improve it, I still feel shame about my own financial situation even though we manage what money we do have very well, I still feel shame about any little misstep. But I am improving.

I know because, as I just finished watching this series a second time, I was able to laugh at the “deathbed confession” scene, as it was intended to be laughed at.

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Please note: I do not approve of swearing, and will not approve comments with excessive swears, including using the name of God as an expletive, but if I receive a comment with a swear or two in an otherwise acceptable comment, I will still approve it. The views expressed in the comments are the views of the person sharing them, not my own, and will be approved based on respect and readability [if I can’t figure out what you’re trying to type, it’s not getting approved] rather than agreement.

My counselor once asked me if my parents actually told us the messy house was our fault, or if I just decided that they thought that.

I couldn’t remember. PTSD can do that to you – mess with your memories, get them out of order, alter them. Well, humanity can do that anyway, but PTSD compounds it.

So I asked my sister. She couldn’t remember either. Dissociative disorder can do that too.

We chatted about it for a while, and concluded that we at least overheard them saying things like, “It’s impossible to keep a clean house with so many kids.” And I know that when my father got especially angry or frustrated about the house being messy, we would all get yelled at, grounded, whatever, and ordered to clean like cleaning was a punishment. (If you didn’t read all my past posts, or need a refresher, I talked more about the connection between cleaning and punishment here.)

I’ve been pondering this – whether they actually told us this or whether we dreamed it up – for weeks, and this morning I have finally concluded this: it doesn’t really matter if they actually told us it was our fault or not. I remember there generally being a lot of blame – at us and between my parents – but what really matters is this: at least two children came out of it feeling like they were blamed for the mess. I haven’t asked my other siblings, maybe they felt like it too. But even if it wasn’t ever directly stated at us, it was implied enough for at least two of us to believe it happened.

The interesting thing (to me, from the perspective of one who loves to study humanity) is that my sister and I came out of it entirely differently. She developed a defense mechanism of keeping her own room clean so that, whatever the rest of the house looked like, she knew that at least what was under her care was clean. She could retreat into her clean room, and it would all be okay. Today, she keeps an immaculate house, with this general sense of tremendous responsibility that there not be clutter or messiness.

I, on the other hand, developed a cyclic defense mechanism that went something like this:

  1. Retreat. Read books, hang out in chatrooms or on message boards, etc. The condition of the house was (in truth) not my fault, so (in my mind) that meant I could deny all responsibility.
  2. Self-recrimination. Feel guilty and responsible that I wasn’t doing anything about, which led to denial and self-recrimination.
  3. Just do it. Sudden bursts of cleaning and a determination that things would *not* be like this.
  4. Futility. Decide it’s pointless, give up, spend days depressed.
  5. Rinse and repeat.

I don’t like this cycle, but it’s familiar, and the familiar is hard to break away from. I find it easy to look at my house now and say, “It’s not as bad as my parents’ house. I’m doing alright.”

Until I realize that it’s worse than I would like it to be, until my in-laws drop by and I’m embarrassed, until my self-recrimination cycles back to the surface. I look at my clutter, I look at my unwashed dishes and my unsorted laundry, and I tell myself that if I could just get caught up, it would be okay, I could keep it that way. I get caught up in one to the neglect of the others, try to work on the others, then give up. The cycle continues.

But no more. Not out of self-recrimination, but because I have been working at it for days and I am going to keep working at it. I’m telling the internet (whoever reads this, and I don’t know how many people that is) that I’m not doing this anymore. The entire internet is holding me accountable. The cycle will be – no, is being – BROKEN. I have spent the past couple of days getting caught up on dishes. When I get those caught up, I will keep up with dishes, and as soon as they’re done each day I’ll then move on to laundry. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on the clutter at my desk. I’ve stayed consistent for several days. I’ll keep posting here about how consistent I remain. In that way, you all will be holding me accountable.

I am not responsible for my parents’ house. But I am responsible for my own. Striking that balance between denying and taking responsibility is difficult, but not impossible.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some dishes to wash.

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Please note: I do not approve of swearing, and will not approve comments with excessive swears, including using the name of God as an expletive, but if I receive a comment with a swear or two in an otherwise acceptable comment, I will still approve it. The views expressed in the comments are the views of the person sharing them, not my own, and will be approved based on respect and readability [if I can’t figure out what you’re trying to type, it’s not getting approved] rather than agreement.

I read this article yesterday. I was interested in finding some tips on how to shop for my parents.

I must admit, I was a little surprised by this statement:

More likely than not, I trundle home laden with gifts I won’t use from people I love but don’t know very well and only see once or twice a year. I don’t blame them, but because I’m a hoarder, the idea of owning even more unnecessary items makes me queasy.

For many hoarders, the holiday season is equally fraught. What are we going to do with more stuff?

I was surprised for this reason: my parents DO want more stuff! It’s their kids who don’t! And it’s my parents, not their children, who are most likely to just find stuff for everyone regardless of whether it’s stuff that they want or not.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this article. Yes, for the hoarders who recognize their problem and are actively fighting the up-junk-mound battle to overcome it, more physical gifts might be very stressful. All I’m saying is, this is also true for children of hoarders, especially children of hoarders who don’t recognize their problem and aren’t trying to fight anything at all. Sometimes it feels like my parents use my birthday and Christmas as an attempt to make my house more like theirs. I’m sure that’s not really their intention, but when gifts are so often things I don’t really want or need, it feels that way.

Actually, I was very pleased this year to get a gift from my parents that I actually needed and is very useful. I think this is the first time in about 4 or 5 years, with the exception of a gift card last year – given inside a handmade pouch I’ll never use for anything, but that my mother was very upset that I (legitimately) forgot because “apparently she didn’t want it.” And a few other things I’ll never use.

But still, this year I got something I actually needed. So maybe there’s hope yet.

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Please note: I do not approve of swearing, and will not approve comments with excessive swears, including using the name of God as an expletive, but if I receive a comment with a swear or two in an otherwise acceptable comment, I will still approve it. The views expressed in the comments are the views of the person sharing them, not my own, and will be approved based on respect and readability [if I can’t figure out what you’re trying to type, it’s not getting approved] rather than agreement.

One More Step

I made another breakthrough today.

Broke another bond.

Lifted a little further out  of the gelatinous ooze from whence I have come.

Moved a little further away from being my parents.

What is this tremendous breakthrough, this monumental step, you ask?

I opened a package containing . . . a PEZ dispenser.

Yes, a PEZ dispenser.

Did you know that that’s really hard to do? Well, not for the average person, I’m sure. But growing up, I was always told that those things are worth so much more still in their packages, and if I kept them in their packages then I could get lots of money for them some day.

Such is the mantra of my father, king of the trinkets. And let me assure you: for all the things that will “one day be worth something,” I don’t think he has ANYTHING that will ever be worth something. A heap of Things that will One Day be Worth Something can only get so big before that man’s treasures are everyone else’s trash. Especially when said heap has bugs and cat mess and rotting food and who knows what else in it.

I recognized the facts of the above paragraph years ago. I was doing well, I told myself. I only had one packaged PEZ dispenser. And even that wasn’t entirely packaged. The very bottom had been opened to get out the candy, then glued shut again to keep the PEZ dispenser from damage. Nevermind that the package itself was dented and bent beyond what any logic deems “salvagable.” The point was, it was still packaged.

But today, while someone was helping me take the first steps in organizing my desk – my mountain of stuff, my pet place to keep like my parents’ house – I opened the PEZ dispenser.

Straight-up honest: between throwing several things away that I might (somewhere upon some time in an unknown kingdom in a galaxy far away) one day use, and opening the PEZ dispenser, I’m feeling a bit of anxiety. But the fact remains: I did it.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I say what I’m about to say with full reverence for the man and what he fought for. I am all for fighting for freedom. Today, my own fight for freedom – not against oppression between people who happen to be differently pigmented, but against the hoarding that was deeply trained into me and that I am determined to train back out of myself – advanced just a little.

I shall overcome.

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Please note: I do not approve of swearing, and will not approve comments with excessive swears, including using the name of God as an expletive, but if I receive a comment with a swear or two in an otherwise acceptable comment, I will still approve it. The views expressed in the comments are the views of the person sharing them, not my own, and will be approved based on respect and readability [if I can’t figure out what you’re trying to type, it’s not getting approved] rather than agreement.

Fighting

When I first moved out of my parents’ house, I was living with some friends. They had lived there before I moved in with them, so there was a definite sense that it was there place where I was living, not our place.

Consequently, even though I really struggled to keep my own room clean, the rest of the house was clean. I told them after a few weeks there that I felt like I was living in a fairy tale. Rescued from the dredges of life, brought into a place of fabulousness.

It was a fairly small house. But to me, it was a palace. Smaller than my parents’ house, but so much more SPACE! They would sometimes get frustrated about the “clutter” and I would look around trying to figure out what they were talking about. When they would point to a counter or end table with a stack of mail and magazines, I would laugh. I honestly could not figure out why they believed that was “clutter.”

Now I have a place of my own. A husband and a child. My husband knew a lot of where I was coming from (though it’s hard to explain everything) before we were married. I know it’s still sometimes hard for him because he’s from such a completely different place. He is loving and sweet and understanding, but doesn’t actually understand, if that makes sense. And so my lack of housekeeping skills, my constant struggle to fight how I was raised and to become so much better, is foreign to him, and sometimes even overwhelming.

I picture it like this: I was raised in a plane of existence made of some sort of gelatinous material. I say this because there’s a sense, in a house overrun by hoarding, of being smothered, oppressed, of having to move very slowly. My husband (and most of sane society) was raised in a house that is up above the gelatin, in breathable air. My friends that I lived with were in that breathable air too, and that was my first taste of it. But I never got my last foot out of the gelatin. All my years of college, I never got completely out of the gelatin.

Now I’m married to this man who’s used to the smooth, breathable air – to the people who can float above the gelatin without even knowing it’s there. And he keeps pulling at me, trying to lift me out, but for all that I struggle, I end up sinking again and again, and he gets some of this gelatin on him too.

While I was typing this, I heard my son playing with paper. I stood up to see what he had. It was a notebook that had been on the floor. I looked at the stack of boxes (my overrun desk) that he was in front of.

Something is going to happen with that desk tomorrow. No more notebooks on the floor, no more boxes. And I don’t say “tomorrow” as a procrastinator. I say it because tomorrow is when someone is coming to help me.

Because I will not let my son be raised in the gelatinous mess that I was raised in. I may still have a lot of struggling to do, but my husband and I, we’ll win the fight. One way or another. My upbringing will not dictate the rest of my life.

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Please note: I do not approve of swearing, and will not approve comments with excessive swears, including using the name of God as an expletive, but if I receive a comment with a swear or two in an otherwise acceptable comment, I will still approve it. The views expressed in the comments are the views of the person sharing them, not my own, and will be approved based on respect and readability [if I can’t figure out what you’re trying to type, it’s not getting approved] rather than agreement.

Scripted Memories

So, I mentioned the other day that I have stock examples of my life growing up that I whip out and use regularly. Thought I’d take a minute to talk a little more about that.

Basically, I can talk to anyone about my life growing up and I come across as very open and a bit blunt. To anyone who hasn’t actually already heard those same stories five or six times.

But the truth is, it’s all carefully scripted and guarded. I don’t want people to know the hurt and the shame. Just like my life growing up was all about putting on a show of perfection (futilely and without fooling very many people) my way of talking about it is also a show. I have, as I said, stock memories that I recall for specific examples, and a script that goes with them.

“I remember one time when my mom was looking for a can opener and shouted, ‘If one person in this house could put just one thing away just once I would be thrilled!’ All I could think was that we would clean and she would come home and not know we had done anything because it was so bad to start with, and she would never notice if someone put just one thing where it went.”

“I remember the first time it really occurred to me that things were really bad and I stopped trying to defend my parents as much. We were trying to find something to eat and complaining that there wasn’t anything, and my father yelled at us that at least we got school lunch, he didn’t even get that, and we were being selfish for complaining about not having supper.”

Those are a couple of my stock answers. There are others that I won’t say because they have too many specifics. But this is my goal, and my pledge to my readers as well as myself: I will not use this blog to simply repeat my stock answers. Behind the shield of anonymity, I will open doors to you that I have struggled to open to anyone. This is to explore and deal with things, not to say the things I’ve always said.

So far, so good! Other than this post, I’ve discovered at least one new thing with each post that I didn’t know before I wrote it.

Thank you all for your support as I do this painful thing.

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Please note: I do not approve of swearing, and will not approve comments with excessive swears, including using the name of God as an expletive, but if I receive a comment with a swear or two in an otherwise acceptable comment, I will still approve it. The views expressed in the comments are the views of the person sharing them, not my own, and will be approved based on respect and readability [if I can’t figure out what you’re trying to type, it’s not getting approved] rather than agreement.

No. No, no, no.

I’ve been working on a lot of different things lately. And as a result, dishes have sort of . . . not gotten done. Okay, really not gotten done.

Today for lunch, I made boxed mac and cheese. Because I really didn’t feel like cooking anything else.

Now, for the following to make sense, it helps to know just a couple of things about my life growing up, and right now:

  1. We had a lot of times of little or nothing to eat in the house. I’ve eaten Hamburger Helper without the beef. I’ve eaten boxed mac & cheese made with powdered milk and no butter. I’ve eaten plain noodles more often than I care to remember. Actually, I ate a LOT of pasta and boxed mashed potatoes. Those are pretty cheap. It was because “with so many kids it’s hard to keep [insert better-for-the-health, non-starch food here] in the house!” That was the story, anyway.
  2. With dishes piled all over everywhere, we frequently had to wash a dish in order to use it – after which, of course, it was dirty again. I have, among other innovative “cutlery,” eaten pasta with a popsicle stick.
  3. I have food in my house. And even though a lot of dishes need to be done, including almost all the silverware, my house is NOT the condition of the house I grew up in.

Okay. So I finished making the mac and cheese, and I said to my husband, “It’s done. I don’t know what we’re going to eat it with, but it’s done.”

The second my brain registered what my mouth had just said, I almost cried. No. No, no, NO! I have a lot to do this afternoon, but by the grace of God, with all the abilities He has given me, this house will NOT be my parents’ house!

Ever.

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Please note: I do not approve of swearing, and will not approve comments with excessive swears, including using the name of God as an expletive, but if I receive a comment with a swear or two in an otherwise acceptable comment, I will still approve it. The views expressed in the comments are the views of the person sharing them, not my own, and will be approved based on respect and readability [if I can’t figure out what you’re trying to type, it’s not getting approved] rather than agreement.

I have very specific, distinct memories that link with specific problems – my examples, really. By this I mean that there’s a lot that I have forgotten, and then there are the things that I not only remember in detail, but have filed away as “specific examples of precisely how things were.”

One of those is a specific house we lived in. Let’s just call it the Bad House. By this, I do not mean that the house itself was bad. In fact, it was quite lovely. But by the time we moved out . . . well, in many ways, I see that house as the crowning shame of my family, the epitome of exactly what was wrong.

When we moved in, the house was, as I said, quite lovely. Beautiful, even. Spacious. Beautiful hardwood floors. A barn next to it.

It was also the proof that having more space does not fix the problem for my parents, as they have often insinuated.

This is where I remember becoming most aware of the problems our family had. I always thought that the problems were because we didn’t have enough money. I didn’t realize that we would have had plenty if not for the junk my parents kept buying. Nor did I realize that many of the problems (other than perhaps the lack of edible food in the house – I say edible because there was plenty of moldy leftover food) had nothing to do with money. But this house is where I first really started to realize this.

But I digress. I was going to tell you about the house itself. Well, this was the house where we had, at one point, 12 cats. Yes, apparently we were hoarding those too. Supposedly, it was because they couldn’t afford to have them fixed, etc. I don’t think they put a lot of effort into that – it was one of the few places they ever recognized they were hoarding, but the hoard was “not their fault.”

Nor were the fleas on the cats their fault. Or anything else.

By the time we moved out, we had spent a winter and a half without heat, using space heaters in the large house. We had entire rooms that we didn’t go into. Our sleeping arrangements had been switched around to include sleeping, among other places, in the living room. Several of us, so we didn’t have to warm other rooms. The bedroom that one sister and I had shared was overrun with fleas, so that we had to put on tons of protection before even entering the room. The toilet had been flushed by buckets of water for months, and the bathtub was being used as a litter box so we had to go shower at my grandparents’ house. In fact, the outhouse at my grandparents’ camp smelled better than our bathroom.

The barn was overrun with stuff. The house was overrun with stuff. When we moved out, we weren’t able to take everything with us, largely due to “not having enough time to get it all.” My mother insists it’s because of several crises with extended family around the same time, but I know that the timing didn’t line up quite right. Even if it had, we’d known we had to move for . . . oh, at least two weeks. Might have been a month. At any rate, we ended up moving out with most of our stuff still there. And that’s all it was – stuff, broken stuff, stuff covered in cat pee, stuff covered in cat feces, stuff with fleas all through it and mold on it and old food stuck to it. Nasty, disgusting, who-wants-it-anyway? stuff.

Whoever had the unpleasant task of cleaning up after us, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I cannot express how sorry I am.

I remember driving past the house later and seeing a dumpster outside. I think my mother cried – she usually cried. My father did his I’m-frustrated-and-not-going-to-say-anything-I’ll-just-stuff-it-down bit, mumbling something about how they were throwing out so much perfectly good stuff and he wished we could take it with us.

Truth? I doubt the kayak we had to leave there got thrown out. It was still in good condition. And I’m sure there were a few other things that were still in good condition too. Probably. Maybe.

But the dumpster was most definitely necessary. It’s where most of the stuff in the house, and a good deal of the stuff that came with us all belonged.

All I felt as we drove past the house was shame. Shame that someone else was seeing that house, that we hadn’t gotten it all cleaned up so no one would know our terrible, horrible secret. I wasn’t entirely sure what that secret was, but I knew it was terrible and that it made our house look that way no matter how hard we tried to keep it otherwise.

Now that I’m older and know it’s not my fault . . . I still feel that shame. When you grow up with it, it’s hard to get rid of. When you grow up knowing that there’s something wrong with your house, and you don’t know what it is, it’s hard to shake the constant feeling that you have something wrong with YOU.

But in hindsight, I’m more affected by the realization that we moved someplace smaller, and moved several more times since then, and eventually back into a bigger place. You would think that somewhere in there, the amount of stuff would have diminished. But no. Every move, the mess got packed into boxes, then exploded back out of them. “Home” was the mess. The various buildings it’s been in just changed the shape, like water conforms to the shape of its container.

And – here’s what really gets me – my parents still don’t see what’s wrong. And of course, it’s still “not their fault.”

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Please note: I do not approve of swearing, and will not approve comments with excessive swears, including using the name of God as an expletive, but if I receive a comment with a swear or two in an otherwise acceptable comment, I will still approve it. The views expressed in the comments are the views of the person sharing them, not my own, and will be approved based on respect and readability [if I can’t figure out what you’re trying to type, it’s not getting approved] rather than agreement.