September 2, 2017
I’ve written previously but rather vague about what it was like growing up. I mentioned the abuse that I was subjected to by my mother and her husband.
My own children don’t really know what happened during that time period in my life and them not knowing what it is really like to be “poor” has skewed their perception of the life they have lived so far.
I grew up mainly in the small rural towns of Oklahoma. The reservation boundaries of the tribal nation I belong to is situated between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The major highway between the two cities runs through the middle of it.
As mentioned in previous posts, I bounced around between grandparents and other relatives not really knowing my mother and her family until I was forced to live with them at the age of 9.
Living with grandparents had it good parts and its bad parts.
The good part was living with my mother’s parents. I was poor, didn’t have toys, grew up in hand me downs, ate government commodities and sometimes there wasn’t a lot of it. I never had birthday parties or went on vacations during the summer. I didn’t mind though because I knew they loved me and that was all that mattered.
My grandpa would tease me, tell silly jokes, he would always be whistling a tune or singing an old Euchee song, he always seemed to come up a piece of candy he had hidden away or sometimes take me to town for an ice cream and we would always go fishing together.
My grandmother saved every drawing, report card or award I ever made or received and kept them in a special drawer in her dresser. She would talk to me about a lot of things and tell me things that were important later on. She always took me with her when she went to church lady events and made sure if I was in a school play or activity that I had what I needed. She always managed somehow. I learned how to make do with what I had and be grateful even if it didn’t seem like a lot to others this was because of what they taught me.
To be gracious, kind and understanding. To stay positive and focused. To laugh often and enjoy the company of others. To listen but know when to speak up. To get an education and save money.
Then there were the other grandparents. They were the parents of my mother’s husband.
I did learn how to be a caregiver to others through this grandmother. She was stern, her words were sharp and she didn’t show much affection. She taught me how to cook, clean and sew. Her husband who was not the biological father of her sons was a horrible man and he abused me as well. My grandmother never knew about this as far as I know. When I was there with my half-sisters I was constantly reminded about how “plain” I was and that I was more like a boy than a girl because I didn’t like to wear dresses or have my hair fixed. I was a tomboy. I never really wanted to be there and was defiant most of the time which often led to spankings with a belt or a switch. The town where they lived was small and unfortunately, racism was prevalent and could be seen through the neighborhood children. I was constantly getting bullied because of my skin color, the glasses I wore, the way I spoke, my hair and the clothes I wore. I dreaded going there and constantly had headaches or stomach aches.
The only thing that I regret was that I never really got to know anything about that grandmother. She passed away before my 15th birthday. My grandfather passed away 2 months later. That was the worst year of my life.
During the time when I lived with my parents, I was made aware that I was not significant in their life except for what I could do for them; cook, clean and take care of their daughters.
What I remember most was how “intentional” it seemed that my mother wanted me to be embarrassed most of the time. She would buy clothes that were always too tight, too big, too long, too short, weird colors or fabrics. She bought most of my clothes at garage sales, thrift stores or they were given to her. If I was in any school function that required specific clothing such as a certain color she would always find something else or send me in something that was not appropriate for my age and of course, I would stick out. The other kids would make fun of me afterward.
The small town where I went to school was notorious for being racist toward anyone that was a minority so every day that I attended school there was just a struggle to survive it. I was in a constant fight with someone from 4th to the 7th grade before school, during school and sometimes after. I didn’t have any friends and the teachers or adults that witnessed it would walk away like they never saw it.
I grew up with parents who sometimes didn’t pay their bills and I would come home not knowing if there would be electricity, water or a note on the door saying we had to get out. They spent most of their paycheck on going out starting on Thursday’s and be gone until Sunday. Then when they came home I got the privilege of listening to my drunk mother tell me how I ruined her life and how much she hated me. All the while her husband was abusive toward me. He had a temper and if things were not going well it was taken out on me with a belt, switch, extension cord, shoe, fist or whatever was handy at that moment. My mother would stand there and decide when it was enough.
This was the life I lived. This was the life I survived. This was the life that broke me emotionally and mentally. I grew up not trusting anyone. It’s still an issue with me and I’m not sure if it will ever get better but I can keep the hope that it does like my grandmother taught me.
So when I hear my children say “How poor we were…” I realized that they say this because they have no idea what it is to be poor.
I was determined that my children would have a better life than I ever did so I pushed them to excel at academics. I ensured they got everything they ever wanted. Whether, it was soccer, band instruments, band competitions, orchestra trips, field trips, book fairs, school carnivals, school pictures, dances or elaborate birthday parties. I wanted them to have good memories from their childhood.
I disciplined them when they were small before they started school with spankings by my hand if it was something I did not want them to do again, like jumping off the stairs, running into traffic, putting knives into wall sockets or throwing sharp objects at each other. Otherwise, they were put into time outs with their noses in the corner 1 minute for each year of age they were if it was something like lying, being disrespectful or intentionally hurting each other. I wanted them to understand that there were consequences to their actions and that I was the parent. It was my rules and my house. The last time someone was put into time out was at the age of 16. They were embarrassed and I was embarrassed for them.
I did not have to deal with disrespect until now. Now they are all young adults who for some reason still think they grew up poor, constantly question me and act like I’m incapable of coping.
Yet they lived and grew up in one of the best school districts in our city.
They grew up in nice neighborhoods granted they sometimes had to share a room with their sibling but that’s better than not having a home.
They grew up with a stay at home mother who was there for every school program, awards ceremony and event except when I was doing my military duty or going to school myself.
They were driven to school every day and picked up every day; we could not afford to buy them cars at 16 like their peers.
They didn’t get laptops or cell phones until they were in middle school and high school.
We couldn’t take them to exotic locations for spring or summer breaks.
I instead made sure that their life was easy for them growing up.
I made sure they know how to take care of themselves, always had food, clothing and warm beds.
I made sure they knew the importance of money and not to do what their father & I did with our paychecks; overspend, not save and go into debt.
I made sure to tell them how beautiful and smart they are every day.
They have more opportunities than their father and I did through receiving scholarships to college and being able to pursue the things they want.
They grew up not knowing about my past or the depression & anxiety that came from it and that I have been living with their whole life and mine.
The one regret I have is the fact that they saw an unstable relationship between their father and me. I can only hope that they find that right person for them who will love them unconditionally and will show them how to love. Something I cannot do for them because I’m still learning that myself.
I know that I sometimes laugh too loud, find the silliest things funny, get too excited over things, sing too much in the car, and embarrass you when I dance in the living room. I know that I spend way too much time on social media and you’re irritated because I have more followers because that surprises me too. I know you get bored with my conversations. You think my ideas are chaotic. I know that you don’t understand when I get quiet, sullen and weepy. I’m still learning how to live and enjoy my life.
Now, we are all learning to adjust without their other parent. I’ve been giving them so much leeway when it comes to simple things like chores or taking care of their pet because I understand the grief they are going through. I’m still trying to make it easy for them even though I know they are taking advantage.
All I can do is keep telling them that I love them, that I will always be here for them and that it will get easier.
I know that they have no clue what “being poor” really is but that’s okay because I was poor for all of us so they could have a richer life.
Thank you for stopping by.
Have an awesome week!