By the time I was in the eighth grade I had changed schools fifteen times. Thirteen different towns or cities. That’s like going to two different schools every year. There were actually only thirteen different schools because I attended two of those schools two times, in different grades…the best I can remember anyway. Confusing? I know!
Do you know how hard it is to be the new kid so often? It’s a wonder I even made it to high school let alone graduated….so many different teachers, school sizes, teaching styles, curriculums, students and schedules. That doesn’t even begin to address the dynamics, craziness and insecurities that were going on at home.
Not only did I move schools a lot. I lived with different people a lot. I don’t really ever remember it just being Mother and I. It was usually Mother, Mother’s mother and dad (Nanny and Papa) and I. But then when Mother would get a new husband (she was married five times) I would live with them for a short period of time. The first four anyway. I lived with my aunt, uncle and cousins too. There was a lot of shuffling of schools and homes going on.
I was always more worried about my mother than school. I worried if she was going to be messed up, be okay or if she and Nanny would be fighting again. That was pretty common. Nanny and Mother fought a lot. I mean really fought. Nanny always seemed to win. I remember in kindergarten or first grade as I got off the bus they were physically fighting on the front porch. They were shoving, slapping and pulling hair. Mother was crying. I was embarrassed. I’m sure all those kids on the bus saw. Oh well, I knew I wouldn’t be there long anyway. Mother told me to get in the car. We loaded up and went to stay with my uncle for a while. That was common. Mother and Nanny fought then we packed up and left. When things died down we would return to Nanny’s and Papa’s after a few days or weeks. I really don’t remember exactly. I have no idea how much school I missed. But I’m guessing seeing how I was never really anywhere for very long – I wasn’t missed too much.
I think Papa was probably my mother’s biggest enabler. But he was my everything. He made me feel loved and safe. He showed me how to work hard and always made me laugh. He also always had bubble gum and banana Laffy Taffy. He taught me to bottle feed calves, took me to sale barns and got me some pet goats. He took me to check his opossum and raccoon traps. He taught me how to garden. Papa was at one time a Police Chief. I was proud of my Papa. I was proud of my Nanny too. She had worked hard to become a registered nurse later in life while having seven kids. Nanny was always good to me. Although the way she and Mother fought always upset me. I felt like I was in the middle, like I had to pick a side. I didn’t want to pick a side. I loved them both. I hated the way they fought. I hated the way Mother cried and was hurt.
One time we were driving somewhere in a motor home – Mother, Nanny, my uncle and I. I was in elementary school. I was in the back sleeping when I woke up to someone crying. It was Mother. She was sitting beside me. I sat up and asked her what was wrong. She told me Nanny had hit her on the head with a flash light. I felt bad for Mother. I hugged her and I got a little mad at Nanny. Then I got all these knots in my tummy. I didn’t like it when they fought and they fought a lot. Papa and Mother never fought. He always rescued her and took care of her. I think it made Nanny mad. But Nanny was always good to me. She never fought with me like she did Mother. She took good care of me and always told me she loved me and I knew she did. I just wished she loved Mother too or at least showed her. I think Mother knew Papa loved her but I’m not sure she ever really felt like Nanny did. That makes my heart hurt. I think that was one of my Mother’s biggest struggles – her struggle with her own mother.
One time, I was in the car with Mother, her friend and her friend’s son who was about my age. We had pulled up to a Sonic and they ordered some food. Sonic had some neat landscaping and big rocks. The little boy I was with got out and loaded up one of those big rocks in the car. He liked that rock and wanted to take it home. I was scared. He was stealing. The Sonic people saw him and said something to us over the intercom and I can’t remember if that boy put that rock back or not. But it wasn’t long after we left, before there was a policeman behind us with his lights on. Mother’s friend was driving. She pulled over. I looked over at Mother and she was asleep. She was sleeping really well. I couldn’t figure out how she was asleep with all the commotion going on. There were empty beer cans covering the passenger floor. The policeman walked over to the driver’s window and asked some questions. Mother’s friend was arguing with the policeman about some pills she had in a baggy and how they were hers and he had no right to look at them. She was yelling, cussing and wasn’t being very nice. I remember looking back at Mother and noticed a policeman had drug her out and she was lying on the ground. He was giving her mouth to mouth or something. But that doesn’t make much sense to me now. Mother’s friend was handcuffed and taken back to a police car. I don’t remember an ambulance or anything. I think it was a different policeman who came to talk to me. He was so nice. He asked me if I was hungry and I told him I was. He asked what I wanted and I remember saying something about macaroni and cheese. He told he was going to take me to a place where I could get some. I liked him. My Papa was a police chief and he was my favorite. I knew this guy would be nice too. He pulled up to a really big two story house and took me inside. He talked to some lady and then he told me they would take care of me for a while. I was so scared. There were lots of kids and lots and lots of bunk beds. I wanted my Papa.
The next thing I remember, that strange lady was waking me up in the middle of the night. She was telling me someone was there to get me. I went with her and there was my sweet Papa. He came to get me. He always took care of me. We loaded up in his little Toyota pickup. I asked him where Mother was. He said she was in jail and would be there for a while. I felt bad for her. I hated that house I had just been to and I hoped hers wasn’t like that. I think I saw my Papa with tears in his eyes.
More than 20 years later, I was in that same town with my boys. They were young and there was a baseball camp my oldest was attending. After the camp, I drove to Sonic to get us a drink – just me and my boys. As I pulled into that same Sonic from years before, I was flooded with overwhelming emotions and memories from my childhood event. It was the weirdest and scariest thing. I remained composed with my boys and thought about that memory for days and weeks.
For as far back as I can remember, I was always the adult when it came to Mother. I was the one who had to be responsible. I knew I couldn’t trust her to truly take care of me. I knew she wanted to but she just couldn’t. Like the time she moved us to the Virgin Islands. I’m not exactly sure what that was all about. I don’t even remember how old I was. I just remember we moved to the Virgin Islands – St. Thomas I believe. It was just Mother and I. She was supposed to find a job as a nurse. Mother was an L.P.N. at that time. I was scared and nervous. My Papa wasn’t with me. We stayed in a hotel and within a week, we were out of money and Mother had to have money wired to us to get home. I never felt safe with Mother. She didn’t make very good choices and I didn’t like it.
One of my favorite schools was very small. Kindergarten through twelfth grade were all at the same location. I bet there were only about a hundred and fifty kids in the whole school. It was a small town. Kids drug Main Street on Friday and Saturday nights. Remember those days? It was fun. I was too young and had no business doing it but I did. I loved that school and those people. I moved there in early spring. It was really close to my birthday. On my actual birthday, one of those sweet girls who was a year older than me found out it was my birthday and bought me some earrings from a small downtown shop. That small gesture meant so much to me. I still remember it and it warms my heart and makes me smile. Those girls included me. I played basketball and was a cheerleader. I was terrible because I had never done either before. But for the first time, I felt like I belonged somewhere. It made me feel like I was a part of something. I felt loved and like I finally fit in.
I believe this is around the time Mother went to the penitentiary and one of the more difficult times in my life. I had moved back in with my Nanny and Papa. It was just the three of us. I loved being with them. Nanny was loving but firm with high expectations. Papa was fun, hardworking and just loved people. Nanny was always very good to me. But I had heard her get after Papa and Mother a few times over my life and it scared me. If Nanny didn’t like you, she could be really mean. But she was always good to me and made me feel loved. I looked forward to every minute I spent with Papa. He made life fun. I felt joy, loved and safe with him. I think Mother’s choices and path really disappointed and angered Nanny and she couldn’t help but express it. And I think Nanny’s disappointment and anger only fueled Mother’s addiction. What a terrible web! Papa just loved Mother. Papa did love well. That’s the kind of love I wanted to show my boys. I wanted to show love like my Papa with my Nanny’s expectations.
That sweetness of fitting into the small school, having friends, feeling safe, secure and loved only lasted about a month before my world was turned upside down. Again. In the worst way. Papa had a stroke, lay in a coma for three months and then died while I was at Falls Creek. I was devastated. He was my everything. I was angry. I had had enough. I didn’t have my mother, father and now my Papa was gone. I rebelled and acted ugly. Really ugly. Then I moved in with my aunt again (who had always been like surrogate mother) her husband and my cousins (who were more like siblings).
I moved schools. Again. At the new school, there were only three grades, sixth through eighth and there were a lot of kids. I bet there were well over five hundred. And there were two more schools just like it in the same city. It was huge! I didn’t like the new school. It was too big. I cried every day. Can you imagine what the other kids thought? I remember they had assigned another girl to me to help show me around and make me feel more comfortable. I cried every day. Every day. I missed my Papa and that little school. I heard one of the other kids ask the girl who had been assigned to me “why is she crying?” The girl replied “I don’t know. She does it all the time.” Thankfully I only went to that school about three months or so it seems.
After that, I moved to what would become my final school. By then I was in the sixth grade. I loved this school. The people were nice. The teacher was nice and made me feel welcome. I had to move one more time in the seventh grade because my mother had gotten married again and I went to live with her for a very short time. I didn’t like that new husband. He was mean and beat my mother. He crushed her hand and she never regained full use of one of her fingers. I believe he is still in prison today.
Finally by the eighth grade, I got settled back in my final school the one I would graduate from. I was back living with my aunt, uncle and cousins. My aunt treated me like I was her own and my cousins treated me like I was their sister. I loved it. The people were nice. I developed lifelong friends who helped me, got me and loved me. I loved it so much I stayed. I decided to raise my boys in one school system, one town and much less chaos. I wanted them to be close to family too. I wanted to give them roots just like I had always wanted and now feel like I have.
I wanted to give them a much different path than what I had. I wanted to break devastating cycles. I wanted my boys to be one of the kids who I always felt had an advantage. I wanted them to have a much different life than what I had. I wanted them to have a mom and a dad who actively participate in their lives. I wanted them to know we love them and they are safe with us. I wanted them to know joy!
I can see the kids who are like me. The ones my boys go to school with. I know the struggles. I know the devastations. I know the feelings of being scared, insecure, embarrassed and worried. I know the feelings of never measuring up to the other kids with the home life advantage. I know what it’s like to fight against all odds not to end up a statistic.
The fight is won by having loving people, teachers, coaches, friends, family and strangers SHOW and DO love. This old world is tough and can be really hard. We can make it a little easier by showing kindness and love. You may never really know what someone is going through or how your simple actions can impact them negatively or positively.
I am so thankful for all of those who have loved and do love me, pray for me, and show me a different and better way. I know the ones who were behind the scenes praying for me played a huge part! I am blessed!
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Finding the sweet side of crazy!