Saturday, February 7, 2009


We have to write autobiographies as part of the home study. This is a standard requirement and the length is typically somewhere between 5 and 25 pages. For those of you who know me, you can probably guess that generating 12 pages of whinging about my mother followed by 3 pages of explaining that I've learned to deal with it (my favorite way of expressing this is to say that I've excused myself from the focus group for her particular brand of crazy) is no big deal. I have some concerns about exactly how much I want to reveal about my mother's (and her family's) particular brand of crazy: should I explain exactly what my brother means when he refers to what they call "family game time" as "guns or knives Pictionary"? should I include the most fantastic liberating moment of my life, the one when my mother told me that once, when I was three, I took my dad's hand and refused to hold her's and she has felt rejected by me ever since (I am not making this up, and it was more than twenty years later she hauled this story out and expected me to feel guilty about my selfish toddler ways) and it finally occurred to me that if an infant's capriciousness was enough to wound her for decades that her emotional baggage was neither my fault nor my problem nor my responsibility and I was free, glory hallelulia, Moses take me to the promised land!

Should I explain that one of the most formative moments of my life was when my mother's twin sister tried to force my youngest brother to eat vomit? And that I wish to this day that I'd had the guts to stand up to her and make her stop? Or even just to be openly sympathetic towards him while he sat at the kitchen table for hours in front of a plate of his own puke? Should I explain that the reason I don't have control issues as an adult was from learning then from my aunt's revolting example that the more you attempt to control others, the more you risk losing control of your own moral center?

These are the issues we're dealing with here, people, and this is heavy stuff. But there is a much harder question that I have to find a way to answer: how do I get a man who once responded to an assignment to write an essay on "What I Did on my Summer Vacation" by writing (and this is the entirety of his essay):

It is none of your business what I did on my summer vacation.
How does that man write a five page autobiography?

But for you, Annie/Oliver, we'd never know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop.

*Update: Nobody's commented about the vomit thing and I understand that because it's just revolting and I was honestly afraid to put it up on a public blog, but after I'd done it, it felt great. We're only as weak as our secrets are strong - it's saccharine but true.

Anyway, I thought it could use some context because as it is it sounds bizarre and because it's kind of cleansing to tell. She didn't start out by trying to make him eat vomit, she started out by trying to make him eat overcooked yellow squash. The stuff was revolting (and I generally love squash), all slimy and gross, and Danny doesn't do vegetables anyway. But it got - fast, head-spinningly fast - into this place where he. was going. to eat. the squash. because she told him to and he wasn't doing it. He took a bite and said he felt sick and she told him he didn't and he said he needed to get to the bathroom and she said he couldn't and he threw up right there at the table (which did nothing to make the squash more appetizing for the rest of us, let me tell you) and she just couldn't let him beat her like that. So she told him to eat it and he wouldn't and then she told him that he wasn't going to get up from the table until he had eaten it and he just sat there for about three hours and the rest of us were told to stay away from him and we did. I'm ashamed to say it, but we did. And we lived in a place where things like that though generally not as graphic happened for about five months and then when Mother moved in too it got a little better and my aunt didn't try the really outrageous stuff anymore but things were still tense for about another five months and then we moved into Mother's house and we got a whole different flavor of crazy, although Mother was always better by comparison with her sister and brother-in-law. Like, for instance, the time that the five of us kids were alone at Mother's and Uncle Bob showed up for a few minutes and, when I told him that I was starting to feel really sick, he collected the other four kids, left me alone in the house and didn't call anybody to let them know that I was ill or check up on me again (he lived about two miles away, in case you're wondering). By the time Mother got home and found me, I was severely dehydrated, fever of 104 and I had collapsed halfway to the bathroom in a pool of my own... why do these stories always involve vomit? But, for extra fun, I'd also lost control of other... it was gross, let's just stipulate the total and absolute grossness of the general situation. Anyway, it was not a super fun time to be me. So for any of you out there who knew me then and for several years afterward and always thought there was something a little too tense about me, now you know (knowing is half the battle, yada yada, etc).

Frankly, I'm surprised I turned out as well as I did.


  1. I vote yes on the toddler story -- particularly because it will allow you to segue into talking about how you can use that skill with kids who try to "push your buttons."

  2. I was thinking that, too. So much of what they're warning us about, kiddo-wise, I keep recognizing as shit my mom pulled on my much younger, much more impressionable, much more vulnerable, much less experienced psyche, and I keep thinking, I don't get how a kid can grab on to me and attack my ego in any way I don't already know how to deal with. Especially since the kid doesn't have the starting advantage of being somebody who I look to for solace and protection. I have vulnerabilities, but they tend to cluster around older female authority figures who express anger freely. I'm more likely to be intimidated and put off balance by the social worker than by the kid.

    That and snakes. I don't like snakes.

  3. As always, it's not the things they warn you about that become problems. It's the things that no one ever dreamed to mention that take you by surprise and bowl you over. Of course, that's for the good as much as for the bad.