My dad was volatile. His open-mouthed, buoyant laughter would, in an instant, evaporate into flared, enraged nostrils as some shift, invisible to anyone outside of my dad's head, occurred in the room. He'd then proceed to yell or break out his belt.
As a young child, I held my breath for years, worried that inhaling too loudly would be the thing that would ignite the flame that would cause my dad to boil over. Would walking into the room at the same time as him throw him off to the point that I'd deserve a spanking? Or would my early morning cries after I fell stepping out of the shower wake him up and cause him to call me an asshole? I didn't exhale for most of my adolescence. It was safer to suffocate than it was to feel the deep shame.
At 12, I was finally able to breathe normally when my mom separated from my dad. Suddenly, I didn't have to worry about being called a dumbass or getting hit for no discernable reason. Not only was the threat of a beating off the table, but I had an overworked, exhausted mother as the only caretaker in my life. I was able to (mostly) get away with everything. And when I exhaled at 12, I breathed out cigarette smoke and immediately downed a beer bong. A year later, I smoked pot. I decided to make 14 a banner year and did even more drugs and had sex. At 15, I decided to do more of the same.
While my mom worked all day, I did bong rips at my older boyfriend's apartment as he played video games. While my mom slept, I snuck out with my friends to ask adults, with dubious morals, to buy us beer. We both knew my flimsy "I forgot my I.D. at home" line held no water since my Strawberry Shortcake cheeks clearly indicated my age. Everything I did from seventh grade until my Sophmore year would make me, as a current parent, barf with anxiety. My mom barely made it through my teen years.
In short, my parental karma is screwed, which is something I'm aware of every day. Add to the fact that my husband Greg did many things to make his parents' lives hell, stuff I won't mention here lest I besmirch his good name, and we're in for some rough teen years with our kids.
I see little glimpses of what this hell will look like in my daily interactions with the kids. I see the future when Darla screams "I hate you. You're the worst mother ever" before she slams the door to her room. Or when Jude runs to his room and slams his door because I said I wasn't going to buy a toy for him just because it was a Tuesday and he ate all his broccoli. Mostly, I see unrestrained door-slams dominating my future.
What I'm most worried about is their unwillingness to listen to me. Ever. This is as clear of a warning sign as there could be because I was the queen of not listening when I was in elementary school. When my mom would say I couldn't do something, I would ask "but can I" repeatedly until she'd acquiesce.
If I was the queen of not listening, Darla is its god. If I ask her to do something, it's never a matter of when she will do it, but if she will do it at all. Most times, when she doesn't listen, it's a total experience. I could ask her 40 times in front of another adult to please please please get off the swing. Darla will not only ignore me, but she will make movements towards complying just to double back and get back on the swing.
One morning, I hit my boiling point when I was about to get in the shower, and both kids asked if they could go outside.
"You can't go outside because I can't watch you," I said, thinking this would be enough of an explanation. I've explained kidnapping enough to my kids. This should've been easy.
"No, no, but," Darla said, her version of "but can I?." "I'm just going to go out front."
"Darla, you cannot go out front," I said, already ready to start yelling because I'm aware of the mountains of explaining that lay ahead of me. "You can't go out front because I can't watch you."
"No, no, but I'll just be out front," she repeated.
"No, Darla," I yelled. "You cannot go outside."
"No, no, but, I'll just be on the steps," she yelled.
"You can't go on the steps because I can't watch you," I yelled. "Someone could walk up and take you."
"No, no, but, I'll just be on the steps," she said.
"Stop it stop it stop it," I yelled. "You cannot go out front."
She then started crying, and I didn't take a shower. This scenario is us every day.
And this is supposed to be the easier part of raising a kid; everyone always likes to remind me that the teen years are the hardest. I worry over raising to two teenagers regularly until my stomach is in knots and I'm short of breath. And then I remember that time I hitchhiked at midnight and got a ride from a middle-aged guy. That's right about when I get dizzy and pass out. I don't think my constitution is strong enough to deal with raising a miniature version of myself. I know how hard I was and I know that I have some penance to pay.
Or, maybe my kids are getting their defiance out of their system now, and we'll be the type of family whose high schoolers are content to play Pictionary with their folks rather than drink Strawberry Hill on the beach. If that's in our future, I'm really looking forward to their teen years.