Begin at the beginning

October 18, 2007

To begin at the beginning, as the king tells Alice at her trial, I was born. Actually, go back a bit — to Christmas of 1969. That’s when I began. Too much information, I know. But true.

Fast forward to the first anniversary of Woodstock. Both my mother and I experienced pain that day as I was born under a full moon — something that, if you put any stock in astrology, has hurt me from the get go. It would definitely explain some things: like my Dichotomous Woman title, aptly bestowed on me by a college friend.

I grew up in a small town, blessed and cursed to be the eldest child.

My first memory is of breaking the turn signal off in my father’s Volvo when I was very small. This would not be the first time I would hurt an automobile of his. It was Dichotomous Woman’s first strike.


It has been said that most of our personality is formed by the time we are 10. That theory intrigues and frightens me, because I don’t particularly remember my childhood as a happy one. Maybe that’s because my mother didn’t have her nervous breakdown until I was 7.

Being raised by a perfectionist has its advantages and disadvantages, and I’ve only recently begun exploring my mother as less than the perfect creature I always thought she was.

In fairness, my mother is pretty spectacular, which is part of the problem. She has shone brightly, and I have not been able to keep up with this image in my mind of who she was. It’s always hard to follow in the footsteps of the fantasies we create.

I could talk quite a bit about my childhood: about the first time I left home because my parents were sleeping and dammit if I didn’t want candy from the corner grocery store a 1/2 mile away. They awoke to find me missing and searched for quite some time before they found me. My mother said she was so panicked that she even looked in the mailbox, of all places. I was two-and-a-half at the time.

Early indicators of my independent streak.

I could tell you about my dad’s temper and pride and how it has hurt our relationship. I could tell you about my mother’s self-righteousness, enjoyment of the martyr role and her intense (and sometimes successful) attempts at religious indoctrination that have also separated us.

I could tell you about my own pride and judgment of them as closed-minded people, my don’t-cage-me-in mentality that they have trouble understanding and respecting, and my frustration at having to wait until I was 18 to move out and on with my life.

But what would I say?

It took years of weaving those wishes together and trying to make each other wear them to bring us where we are today. My silent demand that they accept me for who I am as different from who they are, and their silent and no-so-silent reciprocal demands.

I try not to let it bother me anymore. But it does. It bothers me the way it bothers all children who aren’t accepted and loved the way they wish they were.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents feel love for me. I don’t doubt for a second that they do. But the love they give is stingy and more about them than about me. Perhaps my love for them is the same.

I’ve tried to reconcile my relationships with my parents so that if one of us goes tomorrow that I will have peace. I believe that I’ll have peace especially if I’m the one to go. But I seem to long for peace more than most folks, so I add this wish to my list and try to keep doing my best.

At the end of the day, I grieve — as many people grieve — because our relationship could be so much better than it is.

I’ve tried to do some self-exploration and critical examination to see what it is on my end that should be changed. Relationships are always a two-way street. And I’ve made some adjustments.

But my greatest relief on this topic came when I asked my mother’s older sister, a very critical woman in her own right, what part I was playing in the less-than-close relationship.

“Angie,” she told me, “that one’s on your parents.”

I thanked her as a man dying of thirst thanks someone for a drink of water. It’s good to be loved.



  1. You look like DREW BARRYMORE in ET in that picture…. WOW.

    Okay… now back to actually READING this post

  2. If it is true that our personalities / identities or whatever are formed by the time we are 10, I am in big fucking trouble.

    I can really relate to this post. Especially the part when you said:

    “Don’t get me wrong, my parents feel love for me. I don’t doubt for a second that they do. But the love they give is stingy and more about them than about me. Perhaps my love for them is the same.”

  3. I’m with Meleah Rebeccah. That quote strikes me as particularly on target.

  4. Angie, that was very moving and poignant. I think you and I relate so nicely because we grew up with the ‘same’ parents. I see you in the mirror of me (albeit you are much prettier, and a girl — which is also a very nice thing, in my esteem) But seriously, your tale was so reminiscent of my life and my childhood, albeit a few years before yours. The trouble is, it takes us ages to get past this shit, and I don’t think we honestly really do. But, and this is a big but, we can grow from it. My parents have gone now and I reflected how somebody asked me, sometime after my dad died, if I missed my parents. I replied, truthfully, “not for five minutes.’ In fact, it sometimes bothers me that I’ve literally never grieved. And, that’s ot because I’m cold, for I’m a very warm and loving person. But, I must say, I do envy those who have a wonderful parental relationship. Obviously, from your reflections, you do too. Anyway, before this becomes a book, you’re doing well in your own life, and that’s what counts. Carry on, my friend.

  5. Meleah ~ Oh my god, I DO look like Drew Barrymore. How funny! And you see, once again, more confirmation that we’re soul sisters. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I think that this deep-seeded feeling is more prevalent that most of us will admit or perhaps even know. For me, it’s the quest for knowing that I’m convinced will get us all (and me, especially) into better relationships with everyone, not just my parents. When I can stop expecting and wanting so much, I believe I’ll be more free to just love everyone in my life exactly where they’re at. It’s happening. Like the unfolding of a flower. It feels good.

  6. Chani ~ Thank you. Sincerely, from my heart. I always have phrases like “you get what you give,” etc. running around in my head. If I want love without conditions then I’d better damn be willing to give it. (Without allowing myself to be abused by any disrespect.) I’m convinced that love for others begins with love of self. I’m trying to work on that, but I think that I probably put as much time in to it as I do into my sadly neglected side yard — in other words, not much. Add that one to the “to do” list!

  7. Thank you, Ian. It’s hard to write because I had so much more than the vast majority of the world. I have felt ungrateful that I didn’t appreciate them more but as I begin to realize how costly those things they provided me were, I find myself grieving for all the things I wanted that they didn’t know how to give. It’s not really even their fault. They did the best they could, and in many ways, they did a hell of a lot better than I’m doing. I’m trying to learn to take the best of what they taught me, and like chaff in my hand, blow the rest away.

    And please do feel free to type as long as you would like to. I love the long comments. They help tremendously. I took an attachment test a few weeks ago because some silly Internet quiz offered to test my attachment to the people in my life. My parents are at the bottom of the list. My husband, daughter, brother and best friend are at the top — those people whose loss would cause significant trauma for me. My parents aren’t two of those people, and I just think that it’s damn sad. BUT, it is what it is, and I’m not going to change it on my own, and my mother still, at 37, lectures me on my rebelliousness and how horrible I was to have lied to her when I was 15 so that I could go to a school dance (and then again at nearly 18) so I could spend the weekend with my boyfriend. Never for a second do they think, “Gee, maybe we shouldn’t have been so restrictive. Maybe our poor daughter was just starving for independence. Maybe we could have done something differently.” Doesn’t matter that I was a president’s scholar, worked hard, got great grades and was basically a very nice and very good kid. None of that stuff matters to them (except as it related to their own bragging regarding my accomplishments even though they never really helped me with shit). The only thing they continuously bring up are the times when I didn’t do exactly what they wanted me to do, especially if it turned out poorly (as my first marriage did). No one needs or deserves that kind of abuse.

    Whew. Talk about a book. Thanks for opening that can of worms, Ian. Your lil’ sis, Ang

  8. Great comments, Ang. Tells me even more about some of our parallels. Yes, I think you are my ‘lil’ sis’ Hey, maybe Mom and Dad could put us in the bathtub together, like good little siblings. Sorry, but I sometimes have an evil mind. You understand.

  9. You know, just because your personality is formed by the time you’re ten, that doesn’t mean that the person you are (or will become) resembles that child. An acorn already has the oak tree inside it, but you’d never know what the tree was going to look like from the acorn.

    Damn, that was almost profound. I should be a writer or something.

  10. Angela, don’t let that “personality formed by the age of ten” stuff convince you that you can’t change. You can change simply by accepting what CAN”T be changed.

    My relationship with my parents — especially my mom, since my dad died in 2000 — is somewhat similar to your relationship with your parents. I never doubnted my parents loved me, but the ways they showed that love were often awkward, embarrassing, inappropriate and even hurtful.

    I spent DECADES brooding over that, even as my mom becomes more inappropriate and narcissistic and drama-generating.

    And then I set myself free. Simply because I realized that she’s never going to change. So all that left me with was my acceptance of her inability to change. That moment of clarity has not only released me of all the old baggage, but allows me to turn a deaf ear to my mom’s emotional button-pushing (which she does without even being aware of it, I believe) and not feel guilty about putting myself first (except in cases of real emergency).

    I love my mom. I believe she loves me as best as she can. I’m living my life. I’m letting her live hers. And not letting her live mine.

    And that’s plenty good enough.

    If you can’t get to that point, then “that one’s you you.”

    And if that’s the case, what are you going to do about it?

  11. so many of us have similiar relationships with out parents. Much of this could have been written by me.

  12. Ian ~ I do! I think it means that you’re a healthy man. Just be careful with that vacuuming. We want you here for a long, long time.

    Diesel ~ Yes! You *should* be a writer. And I agree. If I had only become what I was at 10, I’d be screwed. Fortunately for me, I had many people who came along and offered real encouragement and confidence-boosting skills. Y’all are part of that group. Thank you!

    Jim ~ I must have sounded very defeatist because I know that I am growing and changing and deepening all the time. The theory still fascinates me though because it’s about our base personalities and how quickly they develop and the influence that all of us are subject to as children. I have grown, but my personality is pretty much set, thanks to — or in spite of — my parents.

    I’m glad to know I’m not alone in this journey. I had hoped that many of you would say that you’d experienced something similar. Thank you for sharing so much of that, Jim. There is a book’s worth of wisdom in your comment. I feel good about where my relationship with them is; I just wish it could be more. Fortunately, that wishing no longer carries with it the expectation that it will ever be anything different than what it is. That’s freeing.

    Seventh Sister ~ Thank you. Sometimes I wonder how much of it is the collective unconscious — that every child, no matter how wonderful or loving their parents are, feels this way. I suppose I’m already psyching myself up for those angst-ridden teenaged conversations with my daughter where I imagine that my gut reaction will be to defend myself or run. Hopefully I will just remember to shut up and listen. 😉

  13. Try to forgive them, love yourself and love that little girl you once were. She’s still with you. And hurting.

    Such simple advice but not easy to do. I was given this advice re: my relationship with my mother. I’m still working on the forgiveness part.

  14. *Deep breath* Such good advice, Beth. Why is so hard to accept our parents as being so horribly imperfect? EVERYONE’s imperfect! But what is it about the parent/child relationship that makes us wish for so much more? Best wishes on your journey. These journeys are difficult ones.

  15. “But the love they give is stingy and more about them than about me.”
    I love this line… it’s exactly how I felt about my parents. Learning about their backgrounds and what made them the way they were, helped me to understand the people they had become. I learned to accept them they way they were because ultimately you cannot change anyone… accept or walk away. I chose to stay.
    A beautiful post… and yes you look like Drew Barrymore!

  16. Thank you for such an honest and insightful post. You’ve learned much sooner than I did that the only person one can change in any relationship is oneself. You’re not responsible for other’s “stuff”.

  17. Oh Ang, the crap our parents left us with is so hard to sort through and throw away. If your writing is a reflection of who you really are, you’ve done good. Your family is getting someone who is independant enough to examine her actions and how they affect the ones she loves. You are making your family’s life better and that’s what counts. You are awesome.

  18. Hi Dawn! Acceptance. Such a key word and idea, isn’t it? I read some good advice a couple of years ago that talked about grandparenting your parents. When I realized that I didn’t have to keep pining for this perfect love that neither they or anyone can really give me, I was much freer. I just get tempted to go back to those hurt places when I do things like mill through pictures or realize that they’re coming in 10 days. 😉 Helpful to get it all worked out before they show so that I can operate more from my benevolent side rather than my wounded child side. As the surfers say, “It’s all good.”

    Hi V. ~ Thank you for being kind enough to read and comment. It’s truly amazing how much it helps me to write and have the conversations with everyone — so much wisdom and insight and encouragement. I truly treasure that. I think it was Ruiz’ “Four Agreements” that really drove home that other people’s stuff is not as about me as I thought it was. Again, so freeing.

    Hi Pool ~ Thank you for your sweet words. It *is* hard, and I’m fearful that my daughter is going to have to work her stuff out even more than I did. Fortunately, I think that knowledge alone puts us ahead of the game. Perhaps counseling is more common or accepted now, but I sure could have used it at a couple of points growing up. I do wish they saw me and appreciated me for who I am instead of who they would like me to be . . . but . . . I’m also infinitely grateful that I don’t let it trouble me the way I used to. Writing this was just another step in letting go. Letting go rocks!

  19. Reading through the comments along with your post, I wonder if the blogworld is much like the world of therapists – that few people go into it from completely happy childhoods. But I have reached a partial measure of acceptance abiut what I will and will not get form my own parents, and that has helped. Not that it doesn’t sadden me still, but I no longer assume responsibility for it. Nor should you. They are who they are, flawed and unable to be more than that.

    (But, I do have to say I am loving your Dad’s sideburns.)

  20. C ~ I can see that. There are folks like Bernie Siegel out there who say that most of us don’t feel like we had particularly happy childhoods, so maybe it’s “normal”?

    That’s not to say that there weren’t happy times, because there were. And I am definitely learning to let go in many areas of my life, that one included.

    Aren’t the sideburns great?!!! I do love this photo.

  21. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s possible for anyone to have a relationship with parents that doesn’t have yearnings and regrets attached. It seems that everyone I have ever talked to about this topic has some issue with their parents.

    Thanks for putting words to what many of us feel!

  22. Hi Lee ~ I definitely think that you are on to something. I think it’s one of those unspoken fairy tales we carry around in our hearts: like the dream of the Happily Ever After marriage. Where do these idealizations come from? And why does it seem like we all have them, regardless of circumstances?

    Thanks for your comment. I’m happy that you chose to visit!

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